Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Dandelion Clock and the Hour for Letting Go

Finally.  Yes, finally I have got someone to come around and mow the lawn and clear the borders of weeds. They arrive tomorrow with rakes and spades, mowers and strimmers – but not weed killer. I gave the man strict instruction to spray nothing.  I may not have a liking for insects but birds do.  Enough that so many gardens are paved and pebbled over, not mine, I say, not mine!

I have been saying a last farewell to the long grass and the dandelion clocks. The grass has got to that interesting stage with vertical lines from the tall grass.  There is always movement and the grass seeds are ready to be tossed on the wind. A cloud of tiny winged things scatter everywhere I place my feet and the lawn is dotted with forget-me-nots and buttercups. What’s not to love? I’m not sure that I like the manicured look but my neighbours will stop frowning at me.

I know I should wage war on dandelions and dig down to the roots to get rid of them – but I like them. I am glad that God doesn’t rank flowers according to garden centre pedigree.  I like their persistence. I like their deep shade of yellow.  I like their clocks. I like their mechanism for reproducing. It’s a perfect strategy.  Over a hundred and fifty seeds, equipped with parachutes, just waiting to be loose enough to take to the air.

In our weekly prayer meeting I drew a picture of a dandelion clock with a few seeds sailing away. If the dandelion clock held on to its seeds and refused to surrender them to the breeze they would go nowhere. They would just shrivel on the end of the stalk. They would not be allowed to find a bit of soil and send down roots. I suspect that some gardeners, the lawn manicurists and the border patrol types would not object. There are plenty of out-of-the-garden places they could go – let them go there! But the breeze doesn’t discriminate.

I would like to have more of a dandelion mentality. The truth about Jesus I have learned over the years should be like the dandelion seeds loose and ready to take to the air.  The Holy Spirit blows where it wills, but I stubbornly hold on. My truth I would like to pass on to someone who is worthy of it, who won’t brush it aside, or smirk at it.  I want to know, before I pass it on, that it will germinate in a ready-to-listen heart and it will be bear fruit. It’s not as if it’s the only seed I possess. There is a lot of truth in me.  But it’s not for staying in me.  It’s for giving away.

A wise friend of mine suggested that the world, not always embracing the spiritual or the Christian, has of late become quite hostile. Humanists and atheists alike are not content to live and let live. It’s hunting season all year round and the prey is the man, woman or child of faith. Calling us idiots and fools they want to skin us of our faith and present us as naked, stripped-of-all-superstition life forms that finally face up to the real world.  They insist we will be happier knowing the truth. They are doing us a favour! Tough love!

We stay silent and hold onto our seeds of truth because we don’t want to be called idiots and fools. How the world labels us matter too much. We should not let the world dictate to us about truth and the real world. Their's is a looking at the world with only one eye barely open.

The breeze doesn’t discriminate – it blows on field and garden alike. The dandelion clock strikes the hour for letting go. The breeze comes and it holds nothing back.  The poet in me would like the hear the inner dandelion wishing every seed the longest of journeys, the brownness of soil, the warm touch of sunshine and the absence of trowels and green fingered gardeners.

The Christian in me knows about the path, and the rocky soil. Knows too about the choking weeds and thistles. But right at the forefront the Christian in me remembers the good soil and the harvest.

I pray for every seed of truth the best of journeys, readiness of spirit and soul to embrace God’s truth, the transforming touch of Holy Spirit and the resilience to flourish despite the enemy’s trowel.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Spiritual Blessings in the Heavenly Realms

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." (Ephesians 1:3)

I read this verse earlier this week. I wasn't feeling very blessed at all - not on earth. I sat for a while and wondered about the blessings in the heavenly realms.

I was reminded of a poem I wrote many years ago. We had a worship workshop.  The theme might have been something like "less is more" and involved learning how not to have everyone playing every note and to not have everyone singing every word.

We were asked to bring along a few lines that we could use in worship - the spirit-led part when we came to the end of a song and moved into something more spontaneous. The fledgling poet in me couldn't stick at two or three lines and a poem emerged. As the musicians played a sequence of chords I sought out a melody and launched into singing the lyrics of the poem. It worked for a verse before I began laughing. It felt so awkward trying to mould the words into a melody. It was a poem that wasn't looking for a tune. The man leading the workshop also laughed. He commended me for my bravery in rising to the occasion, but agreed the poem was too strong, too structured and wouldn't bend to music.

I think the words emerged from my personal Brethren Church experience.  The hymns we sang were strong and repetitive. We sang them with a spirit that marched rather than soared. I loved songs that were full of doctrine and had a melody and meter that lent itself to singing.

Written in every line are the spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms.

All this is mine

No longer bound, for You’ve set me free
No longer blind, for my eyes can see
No longer lost, I'm a lamb that's been found
No longer sinking - I'm on solid ground.

No longer in darkness, I stand in the light
No longer defeated, for I've won the fight
No longer silent, my lips sing Your praise
No longer aimless, I walk in Your ways

No longer broken, in You, I'm made whole
No longer at war, Your peace floods my soul
No longer a stranger, for You call me 'Friend'
No other allegiance, I'm yours to the end.

No longer in Adam, but in Christ I stand
Salvation secured, I'm safe in Your Hand
All this is mine, through Your Grace alone
Through Jesus...My Saviour... Redeemer...My Own.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Shaking Off the Dust

“Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck.  Daughter Zion, now a captive.” Isaiah 52:2

How much does dust weight? I ask because I have done a clean-up this morning and pulled out things from walls and moved boxes.  After an hour and a half of dusting the long undisturbed corners of my house I am sweating. I am not glowing.  I know glowing and I know sweating – come to think of it, I almost always sweat. I swear I have more than my share of sweat glands.  I don’t know how to look cool.

How big the dust particles are and where they came from makes a difference. Particles of dust from a stone weigh heavier than particles of dust from old clothes.

How much might the dust of forgotten dreams weigh? Or disappointed hopes? Or the dust of last year’s successes? The dust from neglected friendships?

Wednesday it was when God drew attention to my dust.

He told me that I was carrying excess dust. My life had fallen into a pattern. Just as in a dusty house you might be able to trace the route someone took through the room by looking at the footsteps in the dust, God said he could see my comings and goings clearly.  There were just places that I had stopped going and the dust in those places had settled – places in worship, dancing places, singing in the spirit places, kneeling on the floor places.  The kneeling on the floor that I no longer do is down to a dodgy knee. Getting up afterwards is an issue. But, you get the picture. I have surrendered a lot of the things I used to do. I am comfortable.

Wednesday it was when Broken Walls came to town. I had every intention of going.  There are things where my heart really isn’t in it and I allow myself to talk myself out of going. This was not one of those events.

“But are you going to spectate, or to participate?” said God.

I didn’t know whether I was allowed to participate. Was it a concert? Broken Walls is a band made up of native North America Indians.  Some of them have Scottish connections. They communicate a message of freedom and respect told through music, songs, dance and storytelling.

They have a Mohawk water drum! They invited my friend, George, to take his seat round the drum and join in. I have seen my share of westerns and know about Indian drums and war dances. On Wednesday I was introduced to Healing dances, singing and dancing over a patch of ground before building a tepee and a Good Dance song that celebrates unity and friendship. Just for a while I was an eagle. Every step matters. I am sure that there are right steps and wrong steps as in any professional dance but what caught my heart on Wednesday was just dancing. It was a joy to fling arms and stamp feet and know that with each step I was making a stand against the enemy.  In the Healing Dance I knew that I was claiming healing – that dust that had been weighing me down was being shaken off.  The inner Mel that had slowly been pushed down by tiresome circumstances began to stand tall. The music offered me freedom and I took it. 

The band abandoned the big drum and picked up guitars. The volume was loud. The floor shook. I decided that I could do without my hearing aids. The ponytail of one of the Indians was shaken loose as he sat inside a normal drum set hammering away.  He did a drum solo. I wished I was fluent in drum-speak – the drums whispered to one another, they spoke, they listened and they responded.  There was a conversation happening and I wanted to tap into it. It was awesome.  Some people would have called it prophetic.

We were reminded that we were all created to be different, to be unique. We are created - I am created to do something that only I can do. I can never be satisfied when I am not doing what I was created to do. When I know my place in God’s Kingdom, and step into the role God has planned for me there is so much joy to be had.

Wednesday was followed by Thursday, Friday and the weekend. I might not be dancing on the outside, but on the inside?

Since then I’ve not stopped dancing
I’m not keen on sitting down
I love to feel beneath my feet
The firmness of the ground.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Strictly Forest Ballroom

Beneath the rays of the glitter ball sun
On a forest path a dance has begun
Two butterflies waltz on gossamer wings
A light leafy bough gently dips and swings
Lindy-hop birds lightly skip on a branch
Scattering blossom in a soft avalanche
A tuxedoed beetle all dapper in black
A bouncer watching the crowd from the back
A flush of flies in a frenzied display
Out of control and in everyone’s way
A fat drunken bee kissing flowers in blue
Humming a melody as he drifts through
A grey boulder clad in a thick moss cloak
Refuses to dance with a sprightly oak
Too soon it’s all over, they all drift away
But promise to gather some other day

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Dem Laptop Blues

It was after the Easter holidays that the workplace replaced the desktop computers with laptops. It came with an untidy mess of cables.  At the end of each day it was to be carefully locked away in a filing cabinet or a cupboard. I made a diagram of which cable went where so I would be able to assemble it the next day. No one told me what each cable did but I worked it out.

As we moved from one desk to another, the laptop came with us. We were to detach it from the cables, carry it to the other desk and the plug into another set of cables. It was tedious, but like highly trained seals we caught on.

Docking stations began to pop up about the place. The untidy mess of cables was tidied up. The laptop clipped on to the top of it, lid closed down, and stand-alone monitors and keyboards would take away the need to squint at the small laptop screen.

On Thursday I took my laptop to a desk with a docking station – I didn’t have one yet. I clipped the laptop and hands hovered over the big keyboard and monitor. Nothing happened. Nothing kept happening. Eventually someone came over. Her advice was to remove my laptop and pull out the relevant leads from the docking station and plug them into my laptop. Hey presto…I had lift off! I did my stuff.

Back at my own desk, the one without a docking station, I plugged cables back in. Nothing happened.  Nothing kept happening. The blue ended cable that connected to the projector to the laptop wouldn’t do its stuff.  That’s not quite true – the laptop screen was blank, but the projector screen wasn’t. I could use the screen and the remote if I twisted my head and pointed it over my shoulder. It wasn’t ideal but I worked with it for a while. At the end of the day, despite knowing I had coffee appointment, I stayed to see if I couldn’t fathom it all out. Let’s just say that the cleaner and I gave up after him standing on a table and pushing buttons on the projector. The laptop screen was still black and the picture on the projector screen was now upside down.  I dashed off a memo to the workplace in general, sending out an SOS.

I was frazzled to say the least.  I was also late.  I spent five minutes reverse parking somewhere close.  It was private carpark happy to open the barrier after 5.00. It was 4.15 and the barrier was up. Notices in yellow warned me that CTV camera were operating. My dance with the car, in and out of a space had been recorded and it was just 4.15. I sensed the possibility of a fine and drove off.

I was also breaking in new shoes. This little detail tells you I had the promise of a blister on the back of my heel.

My coffee companion was a no show.  I ordered tea and a cake anyway. The tea was good, the cake was stale. Always be suspicious of a cake with lots of frosting.  My domestic science teacher’s words came back to me.

Thursday night is prayer meeting night. I seriously didn’t want to go. I knew I would end up crying over my bad afternoon.

I went. I picked up my Bible (one should never go into battle without one’s sword) – and grabbed my stiff upper lip from its dropped and quivering state and headed off.  I repeated the mantra “I will not cry!”

I didn’t cry. In the midst of worship and prayer, I didn’t want to cry. Being surrounded by church family, the angels in heaven and God in the midst of us – I didn’t want to cry. Tomorrow I would have to deal with the laptop and the projector and the upside down picture on the projector screen – but that was tomorrow.

There was a lot of love in the room Рyeah, that old clich̩! There was. I felt loved though no one told me I was loved. All the angst of the afternoon Рthe laptop horror, the parking CTV images, the no-show coffee friend, the stale cake and the sore heels РI knew myself to be deepy loved.

Isolation is the worst kind of strategy when things are not going well! Take it to the family. They may not have the solutions you want but they have what you really need!

I went home.  I hummed a tune as I drove.  Has I a tail, it would have been wagging.

The idea of a poem was in my head. The next morning I wrote this.

Mu baby got dem laptop blues…oh yeah
Mu baby got dem laptop blues
Dey took away her desktop
Now she’s hitting the booze

At work there was a docking station on my desk. The SOS memo had been effective. The boss had sent the IT man to solve it. The projector screen was the right way up. The laptop still wasn’t talking to the other technology. A maths teacher came by and pressed lots of buttons and the laptop fired into action. The IT man also came by to check I was up and running. A senior management lady visited to check I was fine.

I emailed my poem to everyone and all the laptop and docking station troubles surfaced from all the corners of the building. Perhaps the poem had given them permission to admit that they had their own laptop blues. Everyone had their own story to share over coffee in the staffroom. The IT man had been told to write a troubleshooting article. It felt like family – and we haven’t felt like that in a long time.

There was a lot of love in my workplace!

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Altar Boy

There are some churches that have dispensed with so much that is traditional. So many celebrations along the way that punctuate the year have been passed over. So much of the ritual and the liturgy that frames many traditional church services just don’t happen any longer in many churches.

On Thursday I went to a mass celebrating the Day of Ascension – that part at the end of the gospels and the beginning of the book of Acts where Jesus is taken up into heaven. I had been invited by a young friend of mine. He told me that his confirmation class would be there and he would be taking an active role in the service.

He has plans to become a priest, my young friend. The teenage girl in me cries out for him not to enter the priesthood.  He would make someone a fine husband one day. He's a lovely boy! His mind is not quite made up but nearly there.

My husband is wrestling with the idea of going to confession so that he can participate in Holy Communion. It has been a while, years, since his last confession. He fell out with the church in his teenage years, as many teenagers do. He began wearing a beret and talked of Marx and socialism which the church didn’t encourage.  Confession was more of a negotiation rather than a flat acknowledgment of sin, and penance and absolution were skillfully worded.

My friend and my husband both love the Roman Catholic Church. They are both comfortable with the ritual.  It doesn’t replace God, or become the focus of their worship.  All the elements that make up mass are like stepping stones drawing them nearer to God’s throne. Where some might see meaningless actions, they don’t.

I have to admit that there is a bit of me that’s jealous.  I grew up in a Catholic home and went to mass.  I went through all the rites of passage.  I didn’t love it though.  It was what we did, a kind of external thing without the warm beating heart. I learned only that God was remote and I was far away from Him and would never measure up.

A friend reminded me today that a lack of ritual and the empty walls of a modern, non-Roman Catholic Church, for all its charismatic leanings, can be unsatisfying too. It can be hard to engage the spirit when there is nothing that appeals to any of the senses.  It makes for a bland feasting menu when it comes to worship.  We see only the danger of turning the objects into what we worship and fail to grasp that they can lead us to the throne of God.

I loved what the priest said during the service as he talked to the confirmation class.  He commented on the evening light shining through the stained glass windows and the patches of colour on the walls. He waved his hand at statues and candles, at the altar and the vestments. He reminded us that we were not there to merely look at all that stuff but to be drawn onto a higher path. As we sing the songs and speak the litany something of God’s way of living should filter into our soul and spirit and be seen in how we walk through our daily lives serving one another.

Altar Boy

A cloud of sweet fragrance
Purifying, sanctifying
An echo of another cloud
an encounter with God on
a holy mountain
He loves the smell of incense

A steady rhythm, a slow chant
Sounds and words on his tongue
Repentance expressed
Forgiveness embraced
Promises claimed
He loves the sound of the liturgy

Busy windows
Stain walls as evening light floods in
Stories told in rainbow colours
Dust motes transfigured
Beams of soft haze
He loves the play of light

Dry on his tongue
Melting wafer that bears so much
Wet on his tongue
Crimson fullness of wine
Transforms soul and spirit
He loves the intimacy of communion

Skin thin and fragile
Ink black and paper white
Crowded words
Their words, his heart in harmony
Read and consumed
He loves the feel of the prayer book in his hands

A priest’s graceful wave
At all this ritual
This isn’t the end of the journey, he says
These things are only lights along a path that
Leads to the Saviour
And lets us lean on Him

Monday, May 02, 2016

Doing the "Do"

Last night while watching Morgan Freeman explore ideas about the nature of evil from different religious and scientific perspectives, I did some ironing.  You might not be able to tell from the size of the ironing pile still there that I had made any inroads but I did!

A man in prison was interviewed about his history of serious crimes against women. His brain scan was picked over by a neuroscientist. The neuroscientist said that the man with his crimes was wired differently in his brain to most people. He had pathways missing and bits that didn’t light up. The neuroscientist declared the criminal unable to tell right from wrong, but did not excuse him from any responsibility,

I ironed a t-shirt belonging to my husband. Fastened on the T-shirt, somewhere in the vicinity of the heart was a pink ribbon – something to do with breast cancer. It was girly-pink, not boy-pink and, perhaps not something a boy would consent to wear.  I thought about the contrast between the man and his crimes and my husband and his pink ribbon and what they said about the two of them. Could the man and his crimes ever wear a pink ribbon?

My husband has a collection of ribbons, enamel pins and plastic bracelets for different causes. He doesn’t just put the money in the box and the ribbon in his pocket – he wears them long after the campaign has finished. He wears his heart, not on his sleeve, but on his wrist, or on his lapel or on his heart in a pink ribbon.

I was reading the story of the rich man stumbling up to Jesus. What could he do to inherit eternal life? If it was down to being justified by the law he might have scraped something together with his keeping from a boy some of the Ten Commandments.

“You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honour your father and mother.” Mark 10:19

There are too many of the commandments are missing for the man to be that confident. None of the ones about God are listed, or the one about coveting the neighbour’s donkey. How easy it would be measure our qualification for inclusion in the kingdom on the basis of what we didn’t do. The man with his crimes – he did commit murder.  He has excluded himself through his actions from God’s Kingdom – or perhaps not depending on what he does later.

Murder is defined as “the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.” Someone takes away the life of another and plans to do so. What would be the opposite of that? If murder is the “do not”, what would be the “do”. How might we restore life to someone? Maybe it’s a word of healing that restores their life.  Maybe it’s a word of encouragement that restores a broken spirit within.

To steal is to “take (another person's property) without permission or legal right and without intending to return it.” Again with the taking, not a life this time but a person’s possessions. What would be the opposite of that? If stealing is the “do not” what would be the “do”? What should we be giving to someone rather than taking away?

The rich man perhaps never had the need to kill someone. He certainly never had the need to steal from someone. But he had the riches to give to someone and take away their need to steal. Maybe Jesus would never have challenged the rich man if he had been using his riches to bless other people.

Living life according to “do not”, when we probably “would not” anyway seems to give us an advantage. It is a different story when we work out what the “do” is in each case and make steps to do it, not to earn our way into the kingdom, but to show that we are participators in it.