Saturday, February 29, 2020

Becoming Known

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new book to see me through Lent. “Barefoot Prayers” by Steven Cherry contains meditations for every day. He says, “True prayer is the poetry of the Spirit.” Rather than follow the usual pattern of devotionals, the meditations are prayers that look and sound very much like poetry. The Psalms are like that – prayers expressed in poetic forms.

Today’s prayer begins…

Never take from us that vaguely anxious
curiosity we feel when we
behold a new face,
hear a new name,
when we give attention to someone unknown
(Steven Cherry, “Barefoot Prayers”, 2013, SPCK)

These people come with their storms and stories.

Last Sunday, the two of us, a lady I didn’t know very well, and myself, agreed to talk to one another. It had sprung from something I had said, a picture I had shared, that had echoed in her. We are both visual and picture-orientated. It wasn’t a vague idea about meeting for coffee some time, but actually making no firm commitment. We dug out mobile phones and diaries and decided that we would talk aver the phone on Friday night.

The “vaguely anxious curiosity” morphed into nothing vague and nothing curious, just the anxious bit of it. I don’t do easy conversations well. I worry that I will have nothing interesting to say, that there will be long awkward silences. I picture the person on the other end of the conversation following the clock hands around and wondering when it will be polite to put the phone down.

I’d tidied the front room. There was no way the woman could know the room was tidy. She couldn’t look down the cable and see things in their right places, and ironing pile neatly folded on the chair. I had the vague idea of battle grounds and the tidy room being like part of the armour worn.

Friday came. The evening came. The telephone rang.

I wasn’t coming as a cold caller. I’d done some homework – not the stalker kind. I hadn’t chased a Facebook profile down or hacked into her twitter account. I hadn’t whispered questions in the right ears. I’d made a point of praying and listening to what God might share. I printed off a poem I’d written that day as part of my poem-a-day Lent challenge I thought she might like to hear. I was equipped. That went some way towards easing my anxiety. You have no idea the hurdles I clamber over when it comes to being sociable – it’s not a natural thing for me at all. I spent over thirty years of my life in shy silence, and the next thirty years in, at times, a battle. I’m not a social being and yet God will not let me live in a hermit cave.

We talked easily for an hour or so, sharing biographies. It was the lightest of touches on the surface of who we were. There were no deep confessions of anything. We talked some of the story and some of the storm of our lives.

I have a very vibrant imagination. I’m not sure sometimes how much God participates in our conversations, or whether He just listens in as I supply His side of the conversation. Pictures and prophesies are murky ground for me because I can’t tell where I end, and where He begins. In my prayer tine, I had a picture, an imagination-kind-of-thing. I’d pictured a baby sitting on the knee of its mother. The mother held the baby in her arms, bent down and kissed the top of the baby’s head, perhaps inhaling a fragrance of milk and baby lotion. As she kissed the top of the baby’s head, it was as if the baby became translucent. I could see waves of something pouring into the baby from the kissed spot. I imagined what was poured in was love, waves of love. There was also a sense of safety, that the baby was in the most secure space in the universe. I thought too of the way kisses convey healing in the very young. My friend was the baby, God was the mother, and all the love and the safety and the healing were pouring in from His kiss on the top of her head.

We spent time in prayer, taking turns to speak and to respond. It was part of the conversation. She prayed for me in my struggles with my degree course, which I thought would be a stroll in the park but turn out to be more like climbing Everest.  I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew, but learning is not so easy as teaching. I prayed for her as she slowly recovers from illness. Earlier in the week someone had been talking about testimony. We don’t get the testimony without the test, she said. Difficult days are not always to be waved away with a magic wand. They must be lived through and learned through and the lessons shared with others. We never go through these alone but with others – with God first, and with our church family second. The trouble is that we become this lone soldier on the battlefield facing the foe. We forget that we are part of an army – a victorious one at that.

Friday conversations are part of my landscape now. Through them, we will both grow and change. It’s an exciting place to stand.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Leave Nothing Behind

We’d spent much of the week in Glasgow and it was time to come home. The train ticket was valid for any train, so we opted for an early train. The information screen seemed just a little bit too eager to tell us that the train was cancelled. It wouldn’t help either if we went via Aberdeen, adding another three hours to the journey as that train was cancelled too. Going north was not happening.

The voice over the tannoy assured us that the screen wasn’t telling lies. The train to Inverness was cancelled but that didn’t mean that Scotrail couldn’t get us home. Working with other trains and busses, we could limp home slowly. The first lap was to get to Stirling by the wee train that stopped off at every little station along the way.

Another tannoy voice reminded us at every stop to mind the gap between the train and the platform. We were also supposed to be on the watch for any suitcase that looked suspicious. Our cases were black and anonymous. The contents of one of them counted as suspicious – a week’s dirty washing is never to be trusted. Finally, with regard to our own stuff, we were told firmly to take it all with us – to leave nothing behind.

The next two parts of the journey were busses, from Stirling to Perth, and Perth to Pitlochry. There were no voices to tell us to about the gap between the bus and the pavement, or about seemingly abandoned luggage, or about taking all of our stuff with us – to leave nothing behind. We moved slowly from one bus to another, herded by Scotrail staff in yellow jackets, speaking into walkie talkies.

We were back to trains by the time we hit Pitlochry. It wasn’t a busy train. No one mentioned gaps or lonely suitcases. And no one told us to take everything with us. We shouldn’t have needed to be told but that did not stop us from leaving a walking stick behind. We left something behind!

I turned back to get the stick. It was the end of the journey. The train and the stick were still there. Well, the train was there. The stick wasn’t. It was on its way to the lost property office. The stick and I were reunited just beside the ticket barrier.

Leave nothing behind.

This morning I was reading 2 Kings 4.

Feeding a large crowd with a little bit of food – Jesus wasn’t the first to do it. Elisha was given twenty loaves of bread during a famine. He told his servant to share the bread between one hundred prophets and assured him that there would be leftovers. I reckon if they were using Hovis medium sliced bread, they could all have at least one slice, but there would be no leftovers.

They ate, more than one slice, and there were leftovers. I can’t remember whether the servant had to collect the leftovers. Certainly, in the gospel story, the disciples collected the leftovers – twelve baskets worth. Nothing was left behind. Nothing is said about what Jesus did with them.

As I was reading the story and thinking about nothing being left behind, my imagination began to stir. I imagined walking into the church meeting hall. Piled up by the door were words. They were just left there. There were a few underneath seats. Had I followed the trail of words there might have been some in the carpark. There might have been a few in the cars themselves. They were just words.

“These are the words that no one thought to hold on to. Some of them slid out of their Bibles. Some fell from notebooks. Most were on people’s laps, and when they stood up, the words fell to the floor. Some words actually made it to the heart, but the listener had other things to think about, and the words were not kept. Some of the words were supposed to be passed on to someone else, but when they met the person that needed to hear the words – well, the words weren’t there. Not every word you hear is for you. It’s for passing on. These are the words that were left behind – they never got passed on,” said God. “There will be more lost words at the end of today.”

It was a powerful image. I admit that I looked around the floor as I came in. I looked carefully beside the door and underneath the seats. I looked very carefully under the seat where I usually sat. There were no physical words to see, but there was in me a determination that this time, this Sunday, this word spoken would not be lost.

God has so much to say to us. God’s words are life giving and creative.We really don’t have the option of sifting through His words and deciding what must be kept and what must be discarded. What is not meant directly for us is meant for someone that we need to tell.

We should leave nothing behind.

Wednesday, February 05, 2020


A look back over my browsing history, one might come to the conclusion that I'm well on the path to an unhealthy obsession with sex.

It's a homework task for my creative writing degree course - (that's what they all say!)

Step one involved brainstorming words about sex. Thinking about sex? It was enough to have me blushng!  I needed fourteen words - words that I could see incorporated in a sonnet.

Step two required me to write a sonnet about death. I'm not sure that just because there are fourteen lines that it makes it a sonnet. The task did not demand iambic pentameter or a rhyming scheme, although there was a change of direction, a volta, or turn, needed somewhere.

It turned out fine in the end. Marrying sex with death certainly stretched my creativity.
Touch lingers though you are gone
Whispers trace what was, but is no more
Tasting sorrow on my tongue, I
Tremble in a world grown hostile. I
Need something of you and
Stroke memories into fresh vitality
Pulse slows to sleeping as seasons
Merge – then and now and will be
Heart pauses, stops, restarts as a new
Rhythm supplants the old
Delight seems an impossible notion yet
Curves a quiet promise and
Presses a changing pattern inside
Filling a darkness with persistent light

Saturday, February 01, 2020

Things that "Spring" to Mind

Breathe Writers met today. There were just the two of us, my husband and I. The first task was writing about Spring and the things that come to mind.

His List

·         The Cheltenham Festival which is usually the second week in March and the Grand National which is usually the first week in April.
·         T. S. Elliot who described April as the cruellest month in the wasteland.
·         Holy Week and Easter, Good Friday and the Resurrection.
·         The SPL top six split and the beginning of the final run in to the league title.
·         Endings and new beginnings.
·         The Annual Report and individual’s appraisals
·         The end of one tax year and the beginning of another
·         A pay rise (but it usually has to be backdated)
·         The resolve to get an Irish passport – responding to the “green shoots rising from the poem)
·         Mel’s birthday - I get to be a toy boy for six months. Two years younger is not enough to be a toy boy.

My List

·         Snowdrops and daffodils – (to quote the first line of a Eurovision song)
·         Spring forward – the clock’s changing
·         The lemon fresh smell of a spring clean – not the actual spring-cleaning process
·         The nest-building and egg-laying of birds
·         Buds on trees
·         Lent and the lead up to Easter
·         Cypriot flaounas and dying eggs for Easter
·         Lambs in fields
·         Mornings and evenings getting lighter
·         The light and refreshing little April showers

What’s on your list?