Saturday, April 23, 2016

Poetry in Motion

Taketh the temperature of
the fools above ground and
compareth it with that of the dead beneath
the sloping graves
Verily, art they not the same?
Scorneth they the warm fireside hearth and
the red wine that stirreth their words

Cold, cold and thrice cold was
the burial ground at Kiltearn
More life, methinks in fallen stones than
In the wits of the living
Exit and entrance there was but one –
an unkissed and sighing gate

Players? In truth a happy band of three –
nay, four if thou countest the angry moon
mayhaps four hundred if thou countest
the awakened dead

Did e’er Shakespeare cometh to this lonely ruin
to glimpse the sea through these trees
to stand upon this grass, this moss
This day – this cold, cold day, verily he cameth
Not him, but an echo of his words
proclaimed through other men’s lips

Fat crows standeth still on winter trees
The eye of heaven shineth not as
the rough wind whistleth round the church

Draw hither, fair Titania
Oberon, bloweth away thy contagious fog
Thou art not forgotten
Thy story lives this day resurrected
by your new lovers

The event was “Poetry in Motion”, organised by Creativity in Care. It was the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare. Poets and writers all, we met not on some blasted heath, but at Kiltearn Burial Ground to walk a while and listen to some of his famous speeches. Not a sunny day, not a warm day, we sat on picnic chairs nestled in blankets while our hosts acted out Romeo and Juliet and tested our knowledge of Hamlet and Macbeth.

Of course, we all had our parts to play.  Fat crows, frozen roses and the angry moon dragged us from our seats into the world of “let’s pretend”.

It seemed almost obscene to laugh as loud as we did, in such a quiet and tranquil place. Pranksters and players on a patch of sloping ground, we chanted our way through Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 11 Scene 1, striking a fat crow pose when the moment came.

 It wasn’t a day for being outdoors too long and we found shelter in a cafĂ©. We compiled a list of words describing our outing – COLD was there in capital letters.  Free to use the words or not, and encouraged to mimic Shakespeare we set about writing something.

I could tell by the banter that they were a group that knew each other well. I’d met some of them before at other events organised by Creativity in Care. They laughed together.

It won’t be the cold cemetery that I will remember today, or the words of Shakespeare spoken among the gravestones. It won’t be the picnic chairs or the fat crows we pretended to be. It won’t even be the poetry.

The laughter among good friends – that’s what I’ll take from the day.

Yes, laughter.

I think Shakespeare would have laughed too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"As One" - Pray for Scotland

Remember Jesus’ story where the certain man prepared a great banquet and sent out the invitations? The guests come out with excuses why they can’t attend, yes? And the servants are sent to collect the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame from the streets and alleys?

I got an invitation to a prayer meeting on Monday.  It was organised by “Pray for Scotland”. A member of the team had a picture of a shield.  The Romans used a ‘shield’ formation where they would stand together and click shields, front, back and sides.  The soldiers in the middle would hold their shields above their heads and the whole group would be shielded from the enemy’s arrow. , To get them into at formation the Roman Officer would say ‘As One!’ The formation was only as good as the unity demonstrated by the soldiers.  It was a powerful image and a shield was made and the group took the shield on a tour of Scotland, encouraging churches to pray together calling on God to give help to the nation of Scotland.

Back to the invitation. I hadn’t just bought a field, or a pair of oxen that I need to try out. I haven’t just got married either. I had, however, had a long day, ending in a series of meetings that stretched into early evening. Then came my list – I was tired, very tired. It was raining. Finding a parking space near enough to the venue was going to be tough. There were interesting programmes on the TV and a pile of ironing.

“I’m going,” said God. 

I’m a sucker for the presence of God. If He was going, then I was going too. When God went to prayer meetings extraordinary things happened and I didn’t want to miss out on any of His extraordinary things. I had enough time to slam something into the microwave before heading off.

The shield was there – a lovely piece of workmanship, but also a focus to remind us of what we were doing and why.

Worship was led by a trio of musicians – a guitarist, a violin player and a cellist. They created a wonderful atmosphere for worship taking a Celtic theme of music and song. Awesome stuff.  Very stirring.

God was sitting next to me.

“Remember those days when the church did times of refreshing?” He said.

It was a phase we went through.  The midweek meeting moved out of people’s homes and into the local community centre. There was no structure to the meeting – just a man, or woman, with a guitar and a few chord sequences and the church people standing, or sitting, or kneeling, or lying flat on the floor – whatever a person felt led to do. We sang. We prayed. We danced. We wept. We laughed – as the Spirit directed.

“Remember you, in those meetings?

I was always near the front and I was always there, in the presence of God.  Most times I could have been in an empty room for all I noticed what others were doing.

“I saw you then.  Where are you now?”

At the forefront of my mind over the last few weeks has been my application for voluntary redundancy. I’m a couple of years off retirement. I think of myself as not young any longer and I suppose I have clothed myself in an older person’s mind set. Worship has become quiet serenity rather than wild dancing.

God left the seat and headed to a bit of empty space in the room, nodding his head for me to follow. I unravelled the scarf from around my neck and together we began to find the flag-waver in me.

I had a sense of the throne room of God, much the same as what Isaiah saw.  I just had a sense of it. I didn’t see it. It was just a sense of it. In Isaiah 6 he was there.  He saw the seraphim and heard them calling to one another and had the hot coal placed on his tongue. My sense was as if my heart had been ripped out of me and thrown into the fire. I had a sense of it catching fire, being retrieved – this burning object – and placed back inside of me. It was just a sense of it. I wasn’t there in the throne room.

“Better now, are we?” said God.

And I was.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

In This Together?

“I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.” Isaiah 45:3

I read this Bible verse sometime last week. I will leave you to read it in context, but the lines captured my imagination. What are God’s hidden treasures?  Where are these secret places where His riches are stored? I confess not to know.

I brought the word in church this morning. I have, not just a bee, but a whole hive of bees in my bonnet about being the body of Christ. We read the Bible not as a story about God’s people and the love He shows towards them, but as a story about God’s person – me.  The Bible is written not to me but to us. OK salvation is an individual surrender of a person to God but then God plants us into a church, a local expression of the body of Christ. Being a Christian and not being a part of a church is an impossibility. People might choose not to go to church, but that’s never God’s choice for them.

“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their work.  If they fall down one can help the other up.  But pity those who fall and have no one to help them up.  Also if two lie down together they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone.  Though one may be overpowered two can defend themselves.  A chord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4v9-12}

I ran through the main points of what I was going to say with my husband.  Had I missed anything? Had I said too much, too little? Did I labour a point too long? Did my illustrations add to the message or were they a distraction?  He told me a story that featured in an episode of “The West Wing” – he is currently working his way through a boxed set.

A man was walking along a road and fell into a hole.  It was a deep hole, smooth sides, with no way out. He called out for help.  A doctor happened to be passing by.  The man in the hole shouted loudly, “Help me, please!” The doctor scribbled on a piece of paper and tossed the paper into the hole.  It was a prescription – tranquilisers or painkillers, nothing of any use to the man in the hole.  A priest came by and the man in the hole shouted, “Help me, please!” The priest scribbled on a piece of paper and tossed the paper into the hole. It was a prayer, eloquently written, but nothing of any use to the man in the whole. A friend, Joe, passed by. The man in the hole shouted loudly, “Hey, Joe! Help me, please!” Joe, without another thought jumped into the hole with him. Nice as it was to see Joe, the man was not happy. “Why did you do that? Now we are both stuck in the hole!” Joe tapped the side of his nose. “Ahh,” he said, “I have been in this hole before…and I know how to get out of it.”

Someone who had never been in the same hole I found myself in is of no use to me. We spend too much time looking for an easy life and avoiding the struggle. We want comfort. We want spring without the showers, or summer without the sunburn.

We have no comfort to offer others because we have skirted around the difficult times they are struggling with. I think that is the hidden treasure and the riches in secret places – the things we learn about God, about ourselves, about other people, about the enemy and about all the resources we have access to.  That’s the treasure. The dark places, the difficult places, the painful places – these are the hidden places and secret places – the very places we avoid. 

I’m not saying we take great pains to make our lives miserable just so we can access this treasure, but I think we need to stop avoiding the hard times, walk through them rather than around them, with God, whether we feel him close or not, and collect the treasure as we go.

In This Together?

I have no use for you today
You have no words of truth to say
My depth of pain you do not know
You have no scars or wounds to show
You tip toe round the pain in life
And glean no treasure from the strife
How sad, you cannot comfort me
Or wipe away the tears you see

My God allows both light and shade
I say to you “Be not afraid”
Through fire and storm He carries you
His faithful care will see you through
He tells you, “Go!” with broken heart
A healing touch to then impart
To lift the man who’s fallen down
And smooth away his troubled frown

Friday, April 15, 2016

What He Has Said...

“What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.” Isaiah 46:11b

We are an inattentive people.  We have a short attention span and an even shorter memory – except for my husband who remembers everything! He quizzes me on dates and places of various films we have seen over the years and hands out points when I get it right! The points in this case don’t add up to prizes.

I have been reading through some chapters in Isaiah. Verse 4 of the same chapter made me smile:-

“Even to your old age and grey hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

There are days when I feel older than I ought to. I am encourages that God hasn’t put me out to pasture but has new things for me to do.

I was thinking about what God has said to me over the last few weeks and what I have done with them. I’d like to say that I have built them into my prayers for myself and for other people but it’s stretching the truth somewhat.

During our church prayer meetings there is an opportunity to worship and to listen to God. There’s plenty of paper and pens for people to write things down or draw pictures.  And there’s a time to share with others what God is saying. I draw something, usually. I can’t draw as well as I write poetry but I think they have some merit.

Dancing on the Doorstep of Opportunity

OK so the man doesn’t look like he is dancing. He looks like he is freaking out.
I thought this might be the doorway into heaven and people dancing close but not yet making the commitment to cross the threshold. In the gospels it speaks of counting the cost – the king going out to war or the man building a tower and working out whether the task can be done. People tend to think about what they might lose by committing themselves to God, rather than what they might gain. They see the Christian life in terms of “thou shalt not”.

This speaks to me of my own doorways, not into heaven, but into the greater works that Jesus promised we would do. I skip around the steps hesitating to commit myself. The task is greater than I am – but I don’t do it by myself so it should not be a problem.

The Colour Grey

The other day I was reading an article in one of the Sunday papers. The most recent census answers were being compared with a census from fifty years ago. The conclusions they drew about religious faith were not encouraging. There were less people confessing faith in God, or attendance at church. “What are we doing wrong?” I asked God.

“You’re too grey!”

I had this idea of God going through a wardrobe and tossing out old clothes that were out of date and frumpy, the grey, the brown and the blacks. They represented prejudices, resentments and grudges that people hold on to.  They might also be habits, ruts in our thinking and reluctances to explore new ways of worship or prayer.

God began filling up the wardrobe with colourful attire. The robe of righteousness, He assured me, wasn’t grey.

Ask Me
In this picture someone was walking beside a river.  It looked as if a cloud of tiny flies swarmed around their head. Possibly one of my first encounters with Scottish midges occurred when a lassie from the church invited us out on a picnic.  There was a nice wood not far from the house.  We found a clearing, plenty of sunshine through the trees, and spread out the feast. Seconds only went by before the cloud of midges descended. I am sweet meat. I became bitten meat and itchy meat and driven-to-distraction meat.

In my picture, however, a closer look revealed not midges at all but questions. The person was plagued by questions.

Standing nearby was someone wearing a badge with the words “Ask Me”.  So often we think in terms of going out to people and witnessing or door knocking – taking the gospel to people. God was saying that we are coming into a season where people are going to come to us and ask their questions. We need to be ready with our answers, or with our honesty in saying we don’t know but we’ll find out and get back to them.

The Treasure in My Heart
When Jesus called His disciples it was firstly to be with Him, and then later to preach and minster to people.  The being with Him was to take priority.  It was in the times of being with Him that they gathered treasure, for want of a better word, the equipping and resourcing for the mission.

As much as spending time of Jesus is good for us, it’s also about taking what we have – the treasure in jars of clay – and giving it away.

A friend of mine way praying that she would talk about Jesus more confidently with her neighbours. The treasure she has to give away comes out of the time she spends with Jesus.

So, that, among other things is what God has been saying to me. It’s now recorded so I can read it again and again and let the words fire my prayers.

Feel free to pray with me.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Cry With Me

I added another book to the pile of quiet time fodder on the coffee table last week. My time with God in the morning is no longer a quick snack but becoming a five course banquet.

“A Prayer in the Life” by James Whitbourn came out of an invitation to 65 famous celebrities sharing a favourite prayer and a time in their life that it relates to. As ever with famous celebrities that are plenty of strangers among them. My own list of celebrities would be very different.

The book kicks off with the Marchioness of Aberdeen, and Haddo House and the Haddo House Choral and Operatic Society – not a household name or place or society to me.

June talks about the death of her husband who she loved deeply.  She went for long walks and railed at God about the unfairness of it all. She reached a stage of acceptance and serenity. She went on to say that the face she presented to the world was “high hearted happiness and good courage”.  She believed it was important to show people that they could weather the storms and carry on in the face of difficulty.

“If I am feeling low, I shut myself away.  That’s always been my motto.  And right at the beginning, when I was totally devastated and the whole of my life was shattered, I never wept in public.  I used to go and cry alone, because I think tears are very private things.”

I am not sure that I agree with her, entirely. I am not sure that crying alone is the best thing to do, or even that tears are very private things.

As part of the Lent poems I was supposed to write a poem about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. I am on to it.

“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Luke 19v41-44

Weeping in Jesus’ time was a social thing.  Tears were meant to be seen. Empathy and support were meant to be elicited from a watching crowd. Tears were expression of  attatchement and a confirmation of a social bond. You can work out what it meant to stay dry eyed.

People preparing for funeral of loved ones would hire keening women.  They were professional weepers whose job was to simply get people to cry.  It was a skill that older women passed on to the younger women. Perhaps that is what is wrong with our society today – we avoid weeping.  Like the Marchioness of Aberdeen “we never weep in public.”

In the Old Testament when God weeps it is more than empathy or support He is looking for. Some people don’t like the idea of God weeping at all – they want their God to be invulnerable.  Besides, it’s a poetic contrivance anyway to suggest that God weeps anyway as He is spirit.

In the book of Jeremiah, God weeps because He is on the verge of losing His son, Israel. He loves Israel and they are on the verge of exile. God weep because of His love, but He weeps too because He is agent of Israel’s exile. He cannot leave their idolatry unpunished, but it hurts Him to punish them. I wonder if this is what all parents feel – the need to discipline and the hurt it causes not just the child to punish, but also themselves. That’s probably why some children are left to run wild because their parents don’t want the pain that inflicting punishment brings.

When God weeps, He wasn’t to get more than sympathy and comfort.  He want people to realise that they are causing His tears. He wants people to acknowledge their part in His tears. He wishes to move people towards repentance and restoration. They should soothe His tears by changing their behaviour and taking away the exile that is coming.  There is a detachment of God from His people that came as He prepared to punish them, a withdrawing of his help and support. He is instructions for Jeremiah were to “not enter the house of mourning, or go to lament or grieve for them, for I have taken away my peace from this people, my steadfast love and mercy.”

Jesus, when He wept over Jerusalem, perhaps it was also more than a request for sympathy and soothing.  God in human flesh, He want people to acknowledge their part in His tears, to move towards repentance and restoration. He wanted them to weep with Him.

Jeremiah 8v18 reads “My joy is gone; grief is upon me; my heart is sick within me” and later in v22 “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” Just as nation had no peace then, Jesus was saying that there would be no peace now. In putting to death the Prince of Peace, peace was hidden from their eyes. For Jesus it was not a taking away of peace, or love or of mercy. It was a restoring of all those things. People had chosen to turn away from them, convinced that their own brand was far better, less costly, distributed to others on their own terms.

I think we all need to cry a lot more in the presence of God – to cry with Him.