Monday, February 26, 2018

“Postscript” Moments

Going for a walk is always on the to-do list but doesn’t often get done. Mostly it’s on account of the weather. I know I’m not made of sugar and I won’t melt but I don’t like getting wet or being cold. Just lately access to a toilet needs to be factored in. Today was an almost-spring day and I swear the sun called to me to come out and play. The sun and Seamus Heaney that is.

I read his poem, “Postscript”, this morning. In the poem he had driven out west and the wind and the light played off each other. The sea was on one side of him, wild and wave tossed. On the other side of him was a slate-grey lake and a flock of swans. It was one of those moments of rare beauty.  Nature lines up a spectacle and most people miss it. They are, writes Heaney -

“…neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass”

I suppose I didn’t want to be “a hurry” through which things pass. I wanted to be there when those moments happened and to not let them pass. Heaney had climbed into my head, I climbed into my car and off we drove to a forest trail that I like.

It might have been a sunny day but it wasn’t warm. The tide was out as I drove along the road that skirted the Beauly Firth. The firth stretched out in a dozen shades of the pale blues and the distant mountains were snow-capped. It was breath-taking in its beauty.

It was a Seamus Heaney Postscript moment.

I tried to stir the poet in me to write something. The Seamus Heaney in my head kept poking me to describe what I was seeing and scorned my choice of words. Later, not then, I wrote something -

I rest my eyes
Gazing on a distant horizon
Snow brushed mountains blur into
Cold blue sea
I inhale deeply and
My soul settles

I have worn glasses since I was three years old. I have worked my way through a number of NHS plastic frames of every colour of the rainbow. I once asked the optician if there was anything I could do to improve my eyesight. I’d read somewhere that there were exercises a person could do to improve the eye muscles. There were inspiring case studies of people tossing their glasses away because they no longer needed them. My eyesight problem did not fall into that case study category, said my optician. If I was looking for an exercise to do I should relax my eyes by looking at a distant object. It wouldn’t improve my eyesight but it might slow down the deterioration that would come with age. Looking at a distant object seemed more like putting strain on my short sighted vision but I did it for a while.

I relaxed my eyes by looking at the snow-capped mountains far off in the distance. Nothing was moving. Seamus Heaney might have had his wind tossed sea and a flock of swans with ruffled feathers. I had a light blue sea and stillness.

The stillness crept into me, through my skin and into my soul. The “hurry” in me slowed down and the known and the strange things stopped and tipped their hats and we engaged in conversation.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Things Tied to Us

Yesterday’s Streetwise was all ours. The usual three people was down to just Joe and myself. It’s a Sunday evening ministry – preparing a meal for some of the people that the Street pastors meet on the streets over Friday and Saturday evenings. I try out various soup recipes, some more successful than others and there are sandwiches, crisps, tomatoes and cucumber. And there's pudding.

There is also a time of reading the Bible together, sharing our stories and praying together. Last night we read through the opening verses of Hebrews 11. I am working my way through a Lent poetry book and Hebrews 11 was one of the readings given for Sunday. It’s a lot to live up to when we read through the list. We have a habit perhaps of dragging out the mental plumb line to see how we measure up. What God calls us to is not Enoch’s calling or Abraham’s but our own. How we work out that calling doesn’t always look like Noah building an ark in the desert.

Verse 8 reads, “By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going.”

When I left Rugby to join a gospel outreach team in Inverness way back in 1989, the church prayed for people who it was sending out and they were sending me out. They spoke words of encouragement over us. This was one of my words. Just like Abraham I was responding to a call from God. I was called to travel to a place I didn’t know. I’d looked up Inverness on a map. It was a long way north of where I was. I left not knowing much about where I was going.

There were eight of us on the team, piled into a minibus heading north on the A9. We stopped in a layby in the middle of nowhere. I wasn’t just having second thoughts about the destination and the job ahead. I had convinced myself that I was not the one for the job. This shy hermit didn’t seem to have a place proclaiming the kingdom of God on the streets. It wasn’t just Inverness that was unfamiliar but the “mission”. It was too big a change for me to deal with.

It was dark. It was in the middle of nowhere. There were not street light to pollute the sky. So many stars pressed down on me.

“Look up, Mel,” said God. Mel? I’d always been Melanie. New start, new name perhaps? There was of the Girl Guide in me to recognise a few constellations.

“See those stars? Those constellations are still the same. They are the same stars you saw back in Rugby.” I chose not to point out that the I rarely saw the stars in Rugby because of light pollution.

“Just as those stars in the sky haven’t changed – neither will I change.”

I might doubt myself and my readiness for what lay ahead, but I didn’t doubt God. The shyness was eventually shed like old skin. The hermit took a back seat but never really left the stage. I was in my element proclaiming the kingdom on the streets.

This morning, thinking about last night, God reminded me of the other half of the encouraging word that day back then when I was prayed over. It wasn’t tied into any particular scripture. Someone spoke over me a word about bringing down the strongholds that the enemy had built. I was marching forward to inflict damage on his kingdom.

I had fulfilled the Abraham word more or less. I had made Inverness my home. Sadly I had swapped the tent-frame-of-mind for a terraced house. I had settled and let go of my pioneering roots. This was something God said we would do something about. The bringing down enemy strongholds? The inflicting damage on his kingdom? That word seemed to have been forgotten.

I was reading “The Pilgrimage” by George Herbert this morning. It’s an allegorical that might have inspired John Bunyan to write “Pilgrim’s Progress”. There’s a verse that talks about passion and a wasted place and of being robbed of his gold. All the poet had in the end is “one good Angel which a friend had ti’d” close to his side. The Angel was a specific coin in those days. I was challenged to consider what I had tied to my side, or my friends, what they had tied to my side. Bringing down the enemy strongholds was perhaps one of these things.

I suppose I lamented that I hadn’t seemed to inflict that much damage over the years. I hadn’t cast out any demons. Yes, I prayed – but for the most part my prayers seemed pale and powerless to my ears.

“It’s the small victories, Mel,” said God, “and maybe the pale and powerless prayers are not pale or powerless when I hold them in my hand.”

I wouldn’t say my life passed before my eyes – but I was aware of so many times I could have reacted in a way that took away God’s glory, or demonstrated that I really didn’t trust in him – but I held firm. I have planted so many words through conversations over the years. The poems I have written have touched people’s hearts. It is the little persistent victories – I’m inflicting death by a thousand tiny cuts. It is in the choosing to do things God’s way that I inflict damage on the enemy’s kingdom.

That said, it is perhaps a good time to take the words that have been tied to my side and really look at them. They’re not dead words. They’re just covered in a lot of dust.

Time to dig out the spiritual equivalent of Mr Sheen.

Friday, February 16, 2018

All The Kingdoms

there’s Son
there’s a Father
there’s an enemy and
there’s a desert

there’s the Father’s promise
“ask of me and
I will make the nations Your inheritance and
the ends of the earth Your possession.”

there’s the enemy’s promise
“all this, all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour
I will give you
if you will bow down and worship me.”

the question isn’t whether
the Son gets the nations, the ends of the earth
and all the kingdoms of the world
make no mistake, they will be His

the question is not “if”
but “how”
how will He build the Kingdom?
how will He redeem the world?

“ask Me, “ says the Father
and He will give all the kingdoms to the Son
but the cross stands in His path

“worship me,” says the enemy
and he will give all the kingdoms to the Son
and he takes the cross off the table

the Son
asks the Father and
embraces the cross

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

More Than Pancakes

The supermarkets have gathered all the ingredients necessary for making pancakes and put together on the shelves even down to a new frying pan should you need one. I had a practice run earlier on in the week and I’m ready to tweak the recipe. That’s Pancake Day for you. Another day not safe from the curse of commercialisation.

Pancake Day goes by another older, less jumping-on-the-money-bandwagon name. I know where the pancakes come in, but wasn’t quite so sure about the “shrove” part of Shrove Tuesday. Shrove?  I know that we are on the brink of Lent, the season leading up to Easter and that it’s time of sacrifice. For us it is Jelly baby time – our replacement for all things chocolate. That still doesn’t explain the “shrove”.

Before Lent begins it was necessary to confess sins and receive absolution for them. It's a day of penitence, a time to know and own your sins and pull them out into the daylight. It’s time to be forgiven and to know a clean soul. It’s a day of celebration. The weight of all the wrongness has been lifted and tossed away. That’s the “shrove” bit.

Too many people are consuming their pancakes without being “shriven”. The holiday has lost its heart and soul and no one has noticed. Sims are not confessed and absolved these days but talked through and labelled, understood and perhaps excused.

This morning I was watching on old DVD with some young friends. “After Apartheid” followed the journey of a white police officer as he returned to a village where he had massacred eleven people. He had thought a meeting of black rebels was in progress in a house. Shots were fired through the window and the door kicked, all guns blazing. It was the wrong house. The police officer was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.

Then apartheid ended. A new government was sworn in. Decisions were made abut what do with the prison population whose crimes had been politically motivated.

This is the “shrove” bit. Prisoners were given the opportunity to confess their sins. If they were prepared to tell the truth of their involvement in the violence and death inflicted in the name of apartheid, they had the chance of amnesty and being released.

We weighed up every word spoken by the police officer, and every word not spoken. Had I been heading back to that village I would have done my homework. I would have known the names of every person killed that day and the names of every person that had been present, giving evidence at my trial. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name,” would not have been an option. The villagers shed tears while he remained “sorry” but dry eyed. We were cynical enough to wonder how sincere the apology was or his intention to redress the balance. He had been facing a life sentence and now, just by telling it as it was, he was about to be released after serving four years. Four years seemed too little a price to pay for ending eleven lives. Was he genuinely penitent? We also observed that he probably got off quite lightly too because of the camera crew filming it all. How would he had fared if no one was filming?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that set Brian Mitchell, the white police officer, on his journey of repentance. Tutu had to listen through so many stories of the horrendous things one man did to another that day in day out his heart was being broken over and over again.

The confession and absolution, the really letting go and the really being forgiven, the release, the freedom, the knowing of our burdens slipping from our shoulders – that is the start of Lent, not the finishing point. Lent with all its sacrifices is not about earning the forgiveness and the release from guilt and pain. We cannot earn forgiveness. We can only accept it and live in the good of it.

The Lent journey tells me who forgave me, why and the price paid.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Being a Friend of God

An earworm according to the urban online dictionary is “a song that sticks in your mind, and will not leave no matter how much you try. The best way to get rid of an earworm is to replace it with another. Be prepared to become a jukebox.”

At our church fellowship meeting last night we sang a catchy little tune. “I am a friend of God…I am a friend of God…I am a friend of God…He calls me friend.” It was enough that I was singing the chorus over and over again throughout today, but I couldn’t stop my head bobbing from side to side as I did so.

“You do know what being My friend means, yes?” asked God. I got the impression from the words spoken to my heart, regardless of the head bobbing about, that the answer was something serious. Friendship with God really isn’t something to take lightly. It comes at great cost. It comes with great responsibility.

A story came to mind from Jesus’ teaching about prayer.

“Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within and say, ‘Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you’?  I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs.” Luke 11:5-8

Jesus was talking about persistent prayer. The door opened not on the basis of friendship but on the basis of the man knocking and knocking and knocking.

Being a friend of God means that I don’t have Him yell at me through the bedroom window to come back tomorrow. He doesn’t say, “I’ve gone to bed. All the angels have gone to bed.  Heaven is closed for the night. You are taking this friendship thing too far!” I am assured that whatever the gap between what I have and what I need right now, God is ready to meet the need. He is not Old Mother Hubbard with an empty storehouse. I know that. What I know and what I do with what I know doesn’t always match up. I think it is an insult to call God my friend and then live my life struggling to survive on so little when He has so He is aching to give me.

That wasn’t the serious bit although that was challenging enough.

God fully expects me to knock on the door at midnight to ask for the three loaves to feed the unexpected guests.

“Yes, but,” said God, “It works both ways. If you are My friend, can I not also knock on your door at midnight and ask you for three loaves of bread for My visitors?”

Let’s be clear – God doesn’t actually need me, or my three loaves of bread.  God has chosen to give me the bread and I am to hold it in my hand so lightly that if He wants them back He doesn’t have to prise my fingers apart to get them. Yes, there is a storehouse in heaven but it’s as if God has plundered His own storehouse and given all the stuff away to His people on the understanding that when He wants something back, it is surrendered swiftly. Everything we have is His.  It never becomes ours.

I have been given all manner of gifts none of which I own. Yes, I can say that my gifts are well-honed because of the work I have put into practice and perfection. My hard work is what got me my degree. God gifted me the mind-set to do the work.  He wired the brain to be capable of making the mental connections to do what I do.

All of it is there to work for Him and His Kingdom. There’s a poem. He tells me, that I wrote years ago, but someone needs to hear it now because they need to be encouraged. They have fallen over, grazed their spiritual knees and to be lifted up. That poem says it all. Dig it out, He says, read it at the poetry slam. Not three leaves of bread to feed a surprise visitors, but a poem to meet the need of a hungry soul.

Yes, I go to God for the things I need but it works the other way too. He choose to come to me for the things he knows I have that are needed there and then. He knows I have them because He gave them to me. He doesn’t rip them out of my hands but asks…and asks…and asks. I get the message and I hand them over.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Chasing the Moon

There was a lot of hype yesterday about the moon. It was a super blue blood moon.  I understood only the super part of it as being bigger than usual because it was at its closest to the planet. I’m not sure where the blue bit and the blood bit come in.

Last night as I picked up my husband from work and turned to drive down the hill back into town, the moon was there, all big and orange and swathed in threads of cloud.

“The moon! The moon!” I said, excited. I tried to explain how it was different from other moons. I told him that I would drop him off at home, grab the camera and indulge in some moon chasing. By the time we got home, however, the clouds were no longer threads across the sky but hulking great masses of grey and spitting rain. The moon was hidden and the rain was getting heavier.

“Come on, Mel. Take a walk with me.  Let’s chase the moon,” said God.

I grabbed the camera, took a quick toilet stop, and headed along the path around the housing estate. I wasn’t sure I could get a big enough stretch of sky with no houses or street lights and decided to take the picture of the moon through the trees. They were still in the bare winter state, black naked skeletons again a bright moon. I had the camera lens on zoom and the pictures – just two of them - looked atmospheric and spooky.

I was reminded of a poem I had written last month prompted by another poem “The Moons” by Grevel Lindop.  I love these two lines from the poem.

How many times did you call me from the house,
or from my desk to the window, just to see?

On first reading I thought it was the moon calling the poet from the house or from the desk. Looking at the moon seems almost a waste of time. I have moments when I feel nature is calling me to go outside, to switch off the TV or leave the laptop behind. In this poem it’s another person. He responds by writing a poem, seeing as he can’t string a necklace of moon glimpses. He was called away from his desk, his place of work, to glimpse at the moon. It’s almost as if the work at the desk has become all-consuming, urgent and necessary.

Last night as I zoom-lensed in on the moon, I thought about my poem “Wasting Time” and the first verse in particular.

come and waste time with me, my love
stand beside me and see the moon
leave those pressing things behind for
tomorrow’s moon is not this one

How much we miss when we don’t allow ourselves to be called away from what seems important to do something that seems trivial.

How much we miss too when we don’t surround ourselves with people who will call us away from the desk.

I really thought about the phrase “waste time with me”. We live in a world where wasting time is frowned upon. “Efficient” is becoming a horrible word for me. I like the extravagance behind the idea of wasting something.

Yesterday’s moon isn’t today’s moon. Some of these wasting time experiences are just one off opportunities. They don’t turn up day after day. If we miss them – we miss them. There are some things that ought to be unmissable!

Jesus promised He had come to give life in all of its fullness:=

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10.

I have a friend in God who drags me away from the desk to waste time with Him chasing the moon. I might not think to chase anything if God did not stir up the adventures in me.