Friday, September 30, 2016

Fig Trees and Fertilisers

“Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” Luke 13:6-9
I read this story earlier this week. Fig trees always put me in mind of a lady called Dora, a friend of mine who taught with me in a school in Cyprus. She lived with her parents and there was a fig tree in the garden. I don’t recall ever having seen fresh figs before, certainly not as fruit on a tree. There are times when our local supermarket does a deal on fresh figs. I buy them only to be a little disappointed that there’s no juice to them to drip off my chin!

I had written a poem about fig trees earlier in the year as a part of a challenge to write a poem every day of Lent.

Soil Space

twelve million square miles
just thirteen percent
of the earth’s surface is
arable land
how much soil space does a fig tree need?
none at all if it bears no fruit
for all its leaves
for all its appearance of life
it cannot meet my hunger – it is
a waste of soil space

two point two billion people
thirty two percent of
the earth’s population are
how quickly can we turn the world upside down?
not at all without love
for all our buildings
for all our programs
we leave too many people hungry – are we too
a waste of space?

As I was reading the parable I had a picture – just an image. I imagined myself to be the fig tree. I looked down to see the roots had been dug around, the soil loosened a little and piles of manure being shovelled in. (I am assuming that it would have been manure the famer was using as a fertiliser.)

I remember looking up the man who took care of the vineyard. I was incredibly distressed.

“Am I not bearing any fruit?  Am I about to be cut down?”

The farmer laughed very gently, “Of course you have been bearing fruit! I want you to bear even more fruit – that’s why I am digging around your roots and piling on the fertiliser. Do you think I would do anything less for a healthy tree?”

I have to admit that I have felt challenged by so many things of late – a little unsettled and uncomfortable. God’s word, his fertiliser, has been demanding a richer, more defined response from me.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Poetry in Motion - Autumn

Yesterday was that time of the month for spending time with my friends from Poetry in Motion. The plan was all set, a short walk somewhere, a coffee shop for tea and biscuits and something to write about.

I wasn’t that sure about a short walk. My usual walks anywhere are based on the availability of a toilet. And it looked like rain was about to spill. My brolly was in the boot of the car.

We decided it wasn’t really a day for walking. One of us was really not up to it so we drove the minibus up to the woods. Beside the woodland classroom, on the veranda, under a sloping roof, was a picnic table that we could all sit around.

The topic was autumn. The forest wasn’t quite there yet – just the occasional splash of golden leaves on an otherwise green leafed tree.

Autumn isn’t my favourite time of year.  I’m a spring girl at heart. Autumn speaks to me of short days, long nights and an absence of much required sunlight. It’s not the absence of heat that bothers me, but I need my dose of sunlight.

We listened to a few autumn inspired songs and there was a sheet of famous poems - Yeats and his season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. We settled into writing.  I made lots of notes but there wasn’t an emerging poem in the words or phrases. I had an idea of a just-before-bedtime feel about the forest.  The year of spring with its furious bursting of life, and summer with its enjoyment of sunshine and breezes was not yet at the winter sleeping under the snow blanket stage. It was as if the forest was in the time just-before-bedtime. There was a changing of the outdoor playing clothes of green, to the indoor almost-bedtime of something softer and gentler like gold. I know some children that resent going to bed and put it off, and put it off, and get grizzlier by the moment.  The forest seemed to embrace the winding down of the year.

Short poems are good, right? We sat around the picnic table and read the things we had written. As ever, I recognised that I was in good writing company.  There were poems and pictures of squirrels and the autumn scavenge for food to hide away. There were poems of blackberry picking and pie recipes to bake them into. There were childhood memories, and observations about the wood itself and the dogs and children we could hear exploring.

A forest drifts into rest
Bright green garb softens to gold
As birds sing lullaby songs

I liked my line about the birds singing lullaby songs. It’s a first draft.  I will plough through my notes to see if I can see some other gems in my scratchings.

We had been there no more than ten minutes or so when it began to rain. Such rain! It was the lightest sprinkling of raindrops. We were under the shelter of the sloping roof. The sun was shining on the rain creating what looked like as gossamer jewelled shawl.  So light was the rain and the so delicate was the sunshine hitting each tiny drop – it really was beautiful. Turn your head just a smidgen to the right and there was no rain at all.

“We’re in a rainbow!” someone declared. Had we been back in the town looking up at the forest, we would have seen the rainbow.  But we were too close to see the rainbow from the right distance and the right angle.  Apparently there is a way to see the rainbow you are in if the light comes from behind you at just the right angle.  I moved to stand in the shower to see if I could have my rainbow moment but sun was at the wrong angle and the curtain of water had moved on.

We headed back to a coffee shop to tinker with our words.

As ever, the afternoon didn’t disappoint. I might not have written my best poetry but I sat in the quiet with a group of my friends and we enjoyed the silence and the peace of a forest almost in autumn. There was, as there always is, a lot of laughter, a lot of teasing, a knitted bonnet that did the rounds of various heads and people enjoying each other’s company. Take away the poetry and I would still want to be with there.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Why here? This Moment?

A friend posted a link on her website to a youtube where a poet, Dave Harrity, encouraged his viewers to take ten minutes out of their busy lives. They were to find a bench, to sit and observe people and traffic, and then write something about them. I think it was supposed to be a busy town centre where there were lots of things to observe. I chose a bench beside the river, not in the centre of town, not much traffic, but people strolling, and dogs, and bikes and pushchairs, and a river in full flow. The trees were in heavy leaf and the paving stones were damp with almost dried-up rain. It was nice to sit still and watch the water, and the people, and to be just an observer rather than a participator. It was restful, a space to breathe, to do nothing, to think. I made notes.

Afterwards I downloaded his book “Making Manifest” which promised a programme of meditations and writing prompts on bits of scripture. Apparently I was supposed to put away any other notes I was following and allow my writing heart to be exposed to the stirring of the Spirit.  I’m supposed to be discovering myself, peeling back the onion layers, as it were. I’m not sure that I’m doing it right. All too much of my thinking life is navel-gazing already.  I’d much rather think about God – which is probably where the book is heading!

At the end of every chapter there is a writing prompt.  Exercise 3 - What events led you to this moment? Take time to think about the recent epiphanies in your life – moments of awakening and realisation.  Pick one and reflect on in in no more than ten sentences.

It’s my notebook and no one is going to read it.  I can write more than ten sentences if I want to. No doubt keeping to the task is all about discipline and developing essential writing skills but it wasn’t a recent epiphany that came to mind. What events led to this moment? This living in Inverness as opposed to somewhere in the Midlands where I have my roots? This job that I do, teaching in a secondary school? This church that I go to?  This poetry writing vibe I possess? “This moment” is too vague.

I settled on why Inverness?  What event led me here? Nothing recent.

I went back to 1986 or thereabouts.

It was a letter written by the pastor of a church that my mum had started attending. I was working in Cyprus while she was living in Rugby. I was a member of a highly conservative Plymouth Brethren church and she has just joined a happy-clappy charismatic church planting project.

It was a neat letter, a very long letter, written by someone I had never met and had every intention of distrusting.  Plymouth Brethren and happy-clappy churches had little in common. Did I not know my 1 Corinthians 13 – the gifts of the Holy Spirit coming to an end now that we had the complete written Bible truth? It would appear not – that same Spirit and His gifts were soaked into every line of the letter. The pastor spoke of a way of living as a Christian that had little to do with the way I was living mine. A walk of faith went beyond following rules and regulations.  If the Holy Spirit was like the white rabbit, and I was like Alice, I was supposed to be on an adventure.

The letter provoked a response. A yearning, a hunger, a longing for the adventure. My mum had found a way of being a Christian that brought her joy. Now, I’m not saying I was not joyful. It just seemed that joy oozed out of her. She breathed joy, she sang joy, she prayed joy – she enjoyed Jesus in a way that I didn’t.

Somehow, in those pages of the letter, the Holy Spirit, leaked into me.

I still went to the Brethren Church on a morning and on an evening, but I went elsewhere in between – a charismatic church that met in a hotel somewhere along the beach.

The Holy Spirit settled and made Himself at home in my life. He rearranged my spiritual furniture and put His pictures on my wall. He was never intrusive.  I don’t think He ever needed to ask because He already knew I’d say “Yes”.

And then one day He asked me to make a decision. It was time to choose. My Sundays had become almost unbearable. I was finding it increasingly harder to live as a Brethren – the kind of Brethren in that place and at that time which is not everyone’s experience of the Brethren Church. The charismatic “me” was becoming hard to restrain. I was leaking in the Sunday evening gospel meeting. I became a woman who would not be silent.

So I gave in. I recognised the call and began an adventure.

I wouldn’t be here in Inverness without that letter, the words of the pastor, the hunger it created in me and my capitulation.

And the adventure continues.