Friday, June 28, 2019

I and They

I wrote this poem almost thirty years ago. It expresses so much about the lonilness that some people feel - their sesne of disconnection.

I stand alone.
No one talks to me
She stands alone. 
She talks to no one

I know they are talking about me.
I know they laugh behind my back.
They are not talking about her. 
They laugh because they are young and the sun is shining.

They think they’re so smart, so clever. 
They think they are better than me.
They think she is so smart, so clever. 
They think she thinks she is better than them.

I don’t care what they think.
I don’t need them.
She cares very much what they think.
They have each other and she offers them nothing that they need.

I sit alone.
There is an empty seat beside me.
She sits alone.
There is an empty seat beside her.

I have no friends.
I have no one to share my secrets with.
She has no friends.
Perhaps she has no secrets to share.

I cry alone.
No one sees the tears and no one cares
They’ve never seen her cry
Perhaps she’s quite content

If only they would see
If only they knew
They cannot see what she doesn’t show
Only then would they know

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Another Country

Going into town this morning was a spontaneous thing. The bran flakes had barely settled in the stomach before I was grabbing bags and purse, jacket and my bus pass. Snatching twenty minutes cosying up to the husband on a 1B bus was not to be missed.

I didn’t really have a reason for being in town. There were no urgent things that has been forgotten by the grocery delivery yesterday that needed to be bought. I bought a half dozen tubes of watercolour paints in a sale and a mindfulness journal – “exercises to help you to find peace and calm wherever you are.” Prayer has the same outcome, but I like messing around with words. A random page on washing up instructed me to run water, add washing up water, look at the bubbles and smell the fragrance. Picking up a plate, I am to feel its weight, take a sponge, and hear the squeak of the sponge on the plate. It doesn’t say anything about dancing in front of the sink while singing a worship song.

I wandered down to the Museum and Art Gallery, my usual haunt for poetry-provoking exhibitions. Notebook and pen In hand I studied the painting and photographs.

“Another Country” consisted of art work on the topic of immigration. 457,000 people, or 9% of the population of Scotland are foreign born. They are the “New Scots”. If “foreign born” includes people south of the border, it includes me. I like the designation New Scot. I am a New Scot having moved here in 1989. It gets less and less likely that I will head back to England, but you never know. The paintings, the photographs were not there to land on any particular side of the immigration argument, but to encourage discussion and create dialogue. It was perhaps a sense of nationality, our need to belong and our definition of community coming under threat that led to Brexit, but the idea of New Scots, isn’t just about immigrant settling in Scotland, but also about old Scots, the ones who have always been here, being prepared to change and adapt. To become New Scots.

Two pictures taken from a larger collection “Kinder Transport” focussed on Jewish children being rescued from Nazi occupied Germany. 10,000 children reached the safety of Britain. Although they were strangers, separated from friends, family and the fatherland, they had bright smiles on their faces – almost a determination that they would prosper and find a better future. We don’t seem to know how to smile any longer in the middle of our troubles. We don’t seem to determine to prosper.

Another set of pictures, mostly charcoal sketches, featured knots and anchors. Knots and anchors should speak to us about security and safety. My husband and I spent a few weekends sailing and practised tying knots using the chairs in the kitchen. What happens when the rope frays, or the knot unravels? What happens when the anchor shifts in the storm? It feels like everything is fraying or unravelling or shifting and what we call home doesn’t feel so safe anymore.

I have never felt threatened by immigration. I’ve never seen any side of it that makes me uneasy. I’m not competing with anyone for a job or for housing. But other people do – and for good reason. I have heard others wax lyrical about “them” and “us”. I’ve seen the posts on Facebook that whip up a frenzy and tell us the woman in a veil is my enemy. Where does that thinking come from? I think its about not wanting to become the New Scot when Old Scot is all we know.

One of the first things in the exhibition, which I didn’t see until the end was a poem written by a modern poet, Lo Mei Wa. It was a little too high on the wall to read easily and the internet will not track it down for you. 

“Colourful Generosity” – I have a hard time understanding poetry that I haven’t written myself. The poem seemed to be about trying to fit in – cutting your long hair because everyone around you had short hair, colouring the blonde hair because everyone is a brunette, getting rid of the Birmingham accent because everyone is a Geordie, dieting to lose the curves because everyone has a flat boyish figure. I’m not quoting actual lines here, just the sentiments. And where you end up after all of that is being invisible. The glorious you, the unique you, the you that was vibrant and colourful – it’s all gone.

It’s a frightening poem. It envisions a frightening world where difference is not given a chance to flourish because people don’t want to be different and they don’t want others to be different either.

God loves variety. There are more than just blackbirds flying in the sky. There are more than beetles crawling on the ground and angel fish swimming in the water. When variety dies out we are in trouble.

We need to learn to live in a world that allows difference.

We need to live in a world where some of those differences make us different from who or what we were yesterday.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Building a Vision

Yesterday, in a devotional, I read about a woman who placed her hands on the heads of her sons as they slept. She prayed that they would “stock their hearts with raw material that God can use to build their vision when they were older.”  As I read those words I had a picture, a glimpse of a memory.

As I was growing up, the village I lived in was not consumed with building houses on every spare patch of land. At the end of our cul-du-sac were a couple of small fields before you came to the main road in or out of the village. It was boggy land, not given over to planting or pasturing cattle. We played in them, weaving the tall grass into little hobbit shelters. Then the telephone company decided to build a telephone exchange, something unmanned, although they built a car park. Within days there was a fence surrounding the site. Piles of bricks, wooden planks, cement bags and all sorts of kid-luring stuff filled the space. Of course, we played on the building site. “Keep Out” signs did not keep us out. The company had all the raw materials they required to build the exchange. I dare say it’s a listed building now.

I thought of King David and his desire to build a temple to replace the tabernacle. God wasn’t that fussed about a temple. It wasn’t part of His plan for David to build it.

“Are you the one to build a house for me to live in? I have never lived in a house, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until this very day. I have always moved from one place to another with a tent and a Tabernacle as my dwelling. Yet no matter where I have gone with the Israelites, I have never once complained to Israel’s tribal leaders, the shepherds of my people Israel. I have never asked them, “Why haven’t you built me a beautiful cedar house?” 2 Sam 7:5-7

It was David’s son Solomon that was tasked with building the temple, but that did not mean that David had no part in it.

“Solomon my son is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the Lord must be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious throughout all countries. I will now make preparation for it.” So David made abundant preparations before his death.” I Chron 22:5

He stocked up the raw materials that Solomon would need to build the Temple. Everything was there in abundance, even down to the nails.

It was a s if I had a glimpse at the building site that was me. I read somewhere, possibly s Facebook post that we are not works in progress. We tell ourselves we are when we make mistakes or deal with situations in a less than wise way. Are there bits of us that are finished?

God said, “Do you see all of those raw materials? All those snatches of sermons remembered, divinity degree notes, your collection of journals, your poems, your devotionals, prophecies prayed over you, words of knowledge, testimonies or answered prayer? All of those are for Me to build in you a fresh vision. It’s time to start to sift through, to sort out, to select and to start to build.” (Even God likes alliteration!)

When I retired last year, I gave myself a year to just reat and relax and recover from decades of teaching. (Yes, I like alliteration too) The year is almost up. It’s time to do the next thing. Part of the next thing is to enrol in a degree in Creative Writing at the local university – part time. It scratches an itch and whatever skills I learn I will use to build God’s Kingdom. Maybe there’s another book in the pipe line. Maybe…A lot of the next thing is still a mystery.

The notes based on the life of St Francis has been challenging. Yesterday, Francis had a hankering to know about his future and the future of his companions. He found an isolated, quiet place and sat down with God. It doesn’t say how long he sat with God. I always presume, with monks, that it’s never a quick half hour over a cup of tea. It wasn’t a comfortable place to start with. A holy God and a trying-to-be-holy man doesn’t always make for comfort.

“You always leave too early,” God said, “You leave after the uncomfortable bit it over, the confession part. But you never wait for the best bit.”

It’s like films that end and the people leave as the credits roll through, but there’s something at the end, another snippet of something, that they miss.

After the uncomfortable bit, Francis knew forgiveness was given and grace poured out upon him. He felt enveloped in light. He was so open to God, no obstacles. Heaven opened.  God spoke. Vision came. Francis felt new.

So, that’s where I am, on the spiritual building site with all the raw materials, ready to build, but not yet n possession of the blueprint, tossing spiritual nails in one hand and a faith hammer in the other.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Being Bernard

I am continuing to read through the study notes focussed on the life of St Francis of Assisi.

Today, I was introduced to Bernard. There’s no back story provided. I suppose I could google him.

“Bernard, son of Quintavalle, son of Berardello, (died 1241) was one of the first followers of St. Francis of Assisi… He was a well-to-do young man from Assisi… Bernard received his evangelical calling in the church of San Nicolò, prompting him to give all of his money to the poor and become a follower of St. Francis…He was often sent on delicate missions…Bernard died around 1241 and is buried close to the tomb of St. Francis in the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.” (Wikipedia}

He sought out Francis with a question. He wanted to know what to do with all the gifts God had given him, that he no longer wanted. All the good things he possessed he believed were God given. He didn’t want them. Like Francis he wanted, I suppose, to embrace poverty. He didn’t know what to do with all that God had given him.

Francis’ advice was to give it all back to God. They went to the church, prayed together for guidance and open the gospels at random pages determined to do what was written.

“If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Matt 19:21

“Take nothing for your journey,” he instructed them. “Don’t take a walking stick, a traveller’s bag, food, money, or even a change of clothes.” Luke 9:3

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23

It really didn’t take much pondering to conclude that I’m not like Bernard at all.

I know in my head that everything I possess comes from God. There is that little insistent voice that tells me that what I have I have earned. I have worked hard for it. I also know in my head that even with the working and earning, the talents that I have been given, the places where I worked and the health, physical and mental – all of these things came as God’s gifts to me. I know it – yet the voice in my head tells me that I deserve what I have. I’m not like Bernard at all

I haven’t reached the part yet where I want to give everything back. I’ve not finished with them. Again, in my head, I know that everything is laid at the feet of Jesus, everything is surrendered. I also know how reluctant I am to be open handed. I think in terms of the things I have being the things I need to have all the bases covered. There is no rainy day that I have not prepared for. I’m not like Bernard at all.

I think that the way the world thinks has infected so much of how I think and behave. I reason it all out and say to myself, in Francis’ day people did that, but today that’s not how it works. I don’t think we realise, sometimes, just how acclimatised to the world around us we have become, and it is to our detriment.

I don’t think I have ever randomly opened the Bible to read a passage and followed the instructions given. I have heard too many sermons that tell me it’s a bad thing to do. After the death of Judas Iscariot and the need to replace him, the disciples picked lots and chose Matthias. Commentators go on to ask – “What did Matthias go on to do? Nothing”. Picking lots, making a random choice was an Old Testament way of making decisions. They should have prayed about it. Paul came along later – was he not God’s replacement? So random Bible verses – I’ve heard too many warnings. Maybe it’s something I need to unlearn. I’m not like Bernard at all.

“Do you want to be like Bernard?” said God, after all the musing I had done. “Do you want that revelation, that life-changing, direction-changing, heart and mind-changing revelation that I really am the giver of al that you possess? Do you want to reach that point of really laying it down? Of letting me cover all the bases and deal with the rainy days?”

I’d like to say there was an eager “Yes”.

There was silence. You see, I’m not like Bernard at all.

But if I’m not like Bernard, who was like Francis, who was like Jesus - who am I?

Being Bernard is adventure and risk – and yet not risk at all because God has all the bases covered and has prepared for every rainy day.

I discover there is a “Yes” in me.