Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Public Reading of Scripture

Sunday saw me up in the hills at the Moniack Mhor Writing Centre.  I had been lured there on the promise of writing poetry and exploring different poetry forms. The theme was “family” – not necessarily said with an Eastenders’ accent. I am a part of a family that expands often and shrinks occasionally. My own little branch is not really expanding apart from waist-wise.

The first prompt was to choose an object and use it as a prompt to describe a family member. Jewellery scored highly when describing mothers and grandmothers.  There were also pianos, fishing rods, teddy bears and false teeth.  For me there was a veritable mine of possibilities – but what to choose? I wish I had written about my brother’s urn resting on a shelf in a pub in Fuengirola in Spain. It might have made for a better poem than the one I did of my husband’s green dressing grown. I’m sure I have commented that I don’t do poems to order.  I’m never that creative on the day.

The second prompt caught my imagination.  This time it was about an activity we did as a child that we shared with an adult. Memories of playing endless games of rounders in the field at the back of the house came to mind. My mother was a child magnet. She was everyone favourite mother. The parents should have paid her for keeping their children occupied and entertained during long summer evenings. Two ever growing teams met to field or to bat. Children abandoned bikes, slides and climbing frames to join in.

I was never a sporty person. If awards could be given for trying hard I would have won a cupboard full of them. I just didn’t have the coordination.  The bat never met the ball.  There was no satisfying "thwack" as the ball sailed high and long.  No one had to chase after anything. I was rarely quick enough to drop the bat and make it to first base. As the looser I was told to join the fielders. I couldn’t catch balls either.  I wasn’t an asset to any side.

I wrote the poem, but was in the reading of it that it came to life. So much emotion was poured into such a few words! Did I really resent the other kids that joined the game?  Did I really feel that insecure that my mum might have preferred another, more athletic child, to me? I wasn’t the most secure child, nor indeed am I the most secure adult!

We commented about the reading of poetry. It was nice to hear different people reading poems. Among us there were different voices, different accents, different speeds of reading and a different imagining of what was happening in the poems and how they affected us. We bring our own baggage with us and can make connections, or not.

Reading out loud is a powerful thing when it’s done right.

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.” 1 Timothy 4:13

I am reminded of Ezra’s public reading of God’s book of Law and the impact it had on people. It mattered who did the reading, I think.  It wasn’t like an actor delivering the well-rehearsed lines of a play. Ezra read words of life, words that he lived by, words that he knew were transformational, God’s own words spoken reverently. It mattered that every word was clearly spoken, nothing mumbled or fumbled.

Sometimes scripture doesn’t need to be picked apart. Sometimes in the picking apart we slip in our own truth, or we soften it, or dilute it, or tell it a hundred different ways in the hope that someone understands it. We talk to the brain and the reasoning in a person, when sometimes all we need to do is talk to the heart and the spirit.

“...the public reading of Scripture” – God’s word without the spin. And the Holy Spirit indwelling to explain it to our heart. I think we ought to have “a public reading of scripture” revival and see what happens to us all.

I’m up for it.  Are you with me?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Never Making it to First Base

This is our game of rounders
Our bat, our ball
That’s our house just the other side of
                the wire fence
and that’s our mum
My mum
waving you over to join in

You could say, “No thank you,”
but you don’t
Do you think that because she
                knows your name
it entitles you to a relationship?

She’s my mum – not yours

I cross my fingers  and hope you will
drop the ball
but you don’t
You cup it in your hands as it falls
I wish that, bat in hand, you will miss
The ball sails high, thudding into
                the grass beside the slide
Maybe you will trip as you run
Perhaps you won’t reach first base
but you skip the circle -
first, second, third and home

That’s my mum
hugging you
and now I feel a prickle of anxiety
I can’t catch the ball
or hit it when it’s my turn
Only sometimes do I get to first base

I pray to God to
                let the sun set quickly
                so the game can end
and you can go home
and I can go home
with my mum

Monday, August 15, 2016

What is God?

This poem is based on "A Meditation on Question 4 of the Shorter Catechism" that my friend Jeanni led us through one Sunday morning at church - What is God? 

I have started reading through 1 Timothy and Paul cannot emphasise enough how important it is to have sound doctrine. Teaching false doctrine doesn't advance God's work.  It does nothing to transform the lives of believers.

What is God?

He is “I am”
Unchanging in essence
Never ceasing to be
He is wisdom
Marking every good path
Building houses on solid rock
He is power
Laughing at impossibilities
Dismantling the storm
He is King
Sceptre secure in hand
Increasing His government
He is love
Laid down life
For His friends
He is truth
Word in flesh dwelling
Sharp sword cleaving to core
He is “was, is and is to come”
Without parallel in the universe
Everything bearing His fingerprint
Alpha and Omega and
Every letter in between
Yesterday, today, forever

He is mine

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Jonny Rook and His Offspring

Yesterday we went to the Moy Field Sports Fair.  The weather forecast promised a dry morning with rain later in the afternoon.

Dry? We should have checked the weather for the previous day.  Not so dry, methinks. It was saturated underfoot. The paths between rows of tents selling wares were churned up mud.  The small margins of grass just alongside the tents that weren’t mud were soggy. It was a welly wearing event and I don’t have any wellies. I’m not one that forges ahead confidently in mud or wet grass.  Every footstep is cautiously tested. I have fallen too often on dry ground for wet stuff not to be a hazard. Yes, I minced delicately along, my socks soon wet in my trainers. The clouds that had threatened for most of the morning broke in the early afternoon for some warm sunshine.  I fooled myself into thinking it was drying out just a little.

The show arena was the just behind the food tent.  Food had been macaroni cheese and chips – not really enough of either to justify the price they charged. The tea was hot, though, and with the tea bag left in, strong too.

Something to do with birds of prey was being exhibited in the arena. 

The first bird to take to the stage was a very young owl. Not yet at the flying stage, he was a brancher, out of the nest hopping along the branch but not yet up to flying. It was his debut appearance. I learned a lot about owls. Their eyes don’t move in their sockets. Their ears do all the hard work.  When they fly silently it has nothing to do with sneaking up on their prey unheard. It’s all about them not being able to hear the sound of their own wings beating and being a distraction to hearing their prey on the ground.  Put food by their feet and they are unable to see it and feel it out with their feet. Interesting!  He looked quite big and fluffy and ran around a lot with his wings outstretched.

The next bird was an adult owl. He was quite happy to fly from perch to hand and back to perch as long as he had the wind behind him. He didn’t like flying into the wind, but was prepared to make the sacrifice for a treat.

The third and final bird was quite a rarity – one of only a few hundred in the country. I can’t remember the name of the bird or the country of origin. Quick google – the caracara from the Falkland Islands that goes by the alias Jonny Rook. Where according to the commentary owls are not as wise as they are given credit for, this bird was the Einstein of the bird world. He was also the boss of the bird criminal underworld – a nasty piece of work.

Where owls and other bird species reared their young responsibly, making sure they had taught them the skills to be successful hunters, these caracaras were not so conscientious. It was all down to the food supply. In a place where the food supply is limited, these birds had a “me-first” mentality. They were not food sharers. When they had chicks they reared them. They didn’t always take dead stuff to the nest but watched to see how cleanly, or not, the live stuff could be dispatched and eaten by the chick. Once the chick did that it was kicked out of the nest, violently, to fend for itself. Juvenile birds would form a gang, maybe eight or nine birds, and egg each other on to meanness.

They were not trusting birds. They had found out the hard way that mum and dad couldn’t be trusted.  The gang they flew with couldn’t be trusted either. It was every caracara for themselves.

I got to thinking about good parenting and bad parenting. The owls were good parents, taking time to make sure their offspring had the right tools to succeed. The owls had time to grow and learn how to fly. Mum and dad didn’t trip up junior as he hopped along the branch. He flew when he was ready to fly and not before.

The caracaras were not good parents. It was a practical move to protect a limited food supply but junior didn’t get taught stuff, he had to learn it for himself in a very hostile world.

I have been thinking about human parents. There are plenty of parents that follow the owl way of doing things. The offspring they send off into the world are well equipped for whatever challenges they face, and they have all the tools necessary to be successful.

However, there are a lot of parents that are more like Jonny Rook. For the birds they are simply being practical in kicking their youngsters out of the nest to fend for themselves. Is there a kind way to do it if you are worried about your own food supply? They end up creating the next generation of caracaras that don’t know how to trust anyone or anything. These are birds that opt for the pre-emptive strike – hit before the other bird hits you. Strike first, ask questions later. Juvenile caracara birds learn how to fend for themselves at an impossibly early age, hang around in gangs that terrorise a neighbourhood and don’t trust authority figures because of their parents. Perhaps part of the problem lies in the food poverty that the caracaras live in. If there was an abundance of food, would they be better parents?

So much of what happens in nature has a people-application. How the next generation of people turns out depends very much on us and how we treat them. It’s not the government’s job, or the responsibility of teachers to take over the job of raising children. It’s not only the parent’s job either to equip their children with the right tools. It’s a communal thing – all of us together involved.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Name Him Great

These hours, these days so full of tears
These weeks, these months, these barren years
Nothing green and vibrant growing
No seeds in hand for harvest sowing
In the turmoil God meets our fears

Times when locusts fall like rain
Destroying wine and oil and grain
Scaling walls and breaking through
Snatching all we’re clinging to
God, in love, restores us again

These things that injure, God permits
The hostile place that snarls and spits
Such times convinced we’re cut adrift
He grasps our hand, to rescue, lift
Sovereign on His throne He sits

The Lord, extravagant in grace
Bids us turn to find His face
“Come rend your heart, return to me
Surrender now and bow the knee”
Of enemies no hint or trace

We raise our hands to celebrate
We lift our voices, name Him great
Restoring fruit, lush meadows green
God’s fingerprint so clearly seen
On Him, our faithful God, we wait

(Joel 2:1-24)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Poetry at the Museum of Childhood

“Poetry in Motion” was out at Strathpeffer this afternoon. We spent an hour or so in the Museum of Childhood at the old railway station. The first task was to write a word or phrase about the first ten objects that interested us, something that stirred a childhood memory or a feeling attached to the object.

I had two problems here. I can say with hand on heart that I remember very little about my childhood. Currently I am reading the first book of Maya Angelou’s biography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. She writes with so much detail and depth.  It’s unlikely that I will ever write my own biography.  Certainly not the early years. Not only can I not remember much, but I think it was not particularly that remarkable. I have a feeling that the things I think I remember were stories told to me over and over again that I have made my memories, if you know what I mean. I don’t know where the dividing line between story and reality lies.

Second problem – the museum wasn’t about my childhood.  The people I was with poked and prodded the dolls and the marbles and studied the pictures of cutting peat and collecting clams on a muddy beach. They remembered leather satchels and Peter Rabbit books. It was an interesting hour – but not evocative of my childhood. I had dolls. I might have had marbles too. I never cut peat or collected clams. I remember the occasional afternoon spent gleaning rosehips from hedges.  I don’t remember ever tasting the rose-hip syrup they became.

I made my list of ten. It wasn’t a satisfying list or one full of surprises.

The next task was to choose one or two of the objects and write about them – the colour, the shape, the function and anything else that comes to mind.  I took myself off to sit in the sunshine at a picnic table.

The Pram

Hers was not small and neat.  It never folded away to take up as little space as possible on the bus.

She never used the bus anyway. There was something of the claustrophobic about her. She imagined the bus crashing.  She knew she would be unable to climb out of a tiny window should the bus come to rest upside down. She was a woman of generous proportions.

Her pram was big and black, fashioned out of iron and springs. It was a station wagon rather than a nifty compact vehicle. A nest on wings, if you will, housing the next generation of Wilkinsons, silent and wide eyed, rarely mewling.  Three girls and a boy.

She fretted about the next arrival, due in March. The pram couldn’t take five children.  She scrutinised the current occupants and wondered which one to evict.

She kept close to the edge of the road. There were no pavements. A hedgerow of nettles and brambles, punctuated with dog-rose bushes and pale pink flowers, brushed against the side of the pram.

She thought about her children and worried that just as some had inherited her blue eyes and mouse brown hair, they might also inherit her fear of busses.

The pram, big and black, iron and springs, the nest on wheels, was her excuse not to face her fear.


Before a word
Was spoken
Before the world
Before the Spirit
Hovered over the void
And order was carved
From chaos

You chose me

Before a spark
Ignited in the hidden place
Before bones and flesh
Before cells
Multiplied and divided
And ciphers concealed in DNA
Dictated character

You chose me

Before light
Greeted birth
Before breath
Before eyes opened
And fingers twitched
And a mother’s breast

You chose me

Before I learned
Right from wrong
Before aware I
Before sin engraved its name
On cruel words
And careless actions
And selfish ambitions

You chose me

Before You called my name
And claimed me
Before Your child I
There was no beauty in me
No worth
No advantage
No reason for choosing yet

You chose me

In a world of
Fatherless children
Seven thousand million lives
Disconnected and drifting
I am humbled
Pressed to my knees
Amazed beyond understanding!

You chose me

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Holiday Snapshots

Last week was a visit down south to see family. Although I took the camera down with me I took very few pictures. I used to be a keen picture taker and worked my way up through different cameras and their levels of sophistication. I stopped printing off pictures with the arrival of digital cameras. Anyway, rather than drag you through pictures of people you don’t know, I will highlights some of the events of the week.

Most miserable day

I know.  Holidays are not supposed to have miserable days. And most people wouldn’t classify this as miserable. Tuesday was a very hot day. It was the kind of temperature that was good for the Costa del Sol but not for Warwickshire. Temperatures peaked at 33oC which translates into the high 80s or 90s on the Fahrenheit scale. I have lived in Scotland too long and become acclimatised to cooler weather. By mid-afternoon, my body really didn’t know what to do with itself.  I am convinced I have more sweat glands than anyone else and every one of them was overworked. It was nice to sit in the shade, but even nicer to sit in a room with a few fans shifting air. It seemed as if every part of me was dysfunctional. I can’t believe that I lived in Cyprus for five years in similar and hotter temperatures! Is it an age thing? This intolerance of very hot temperatures?

Nicest niece or nephew

It constantly surprises me that I am related to so many beautiful young people. There was a newspaper article yesterday about the UK population being taller now than a generation ago.  I think that the niece and nephew generation on our family might not be taller but they are a good looking bunch! I was probably quite good looking too when I was their age but middle age spread happened and other aging events.

All of my next generation are nice, but I will highlight two of my nephews.

It’s not often when we go down to visit that we see my nephew Tom. It was really good to see him.  He has a wicked sense of humour. He seems to have reached a place of liking where he is at in life – not the physical place where he lives or the people that he encounters – but just being himself. I like him a lot!

The other nephew, Micah, I hadn’t seen since he was a boy. We lost touch when his parents were divorced and I miss not having a hundred photos of him and his sister, Melody, growing up. I apologise if I stared too much. I do that sometimes.  In my head I had all these deep conversations about his dad, Michael, and the last week of his life in Spain. I reality I talked about Brexit and Scottish independence. It was nice to be in his company and his wife Angela is awesome, confident and friendly.

Most interesting meal

Was the meal that great? The food? Maybe not to my taste. Richard and Linda, my brother and his wife, help out with a cookery club once a month. It’s a multi-cultural thing. Someone had funding from the council to buy half a dozen plug in induction hobs, half a dozen pans and chopping boards and kitchen utensils. The idea was to teach people to cook healthy food. A local church offered a room and the use of the kitchen. It is a great way to learn to cook meals from different cultures.

We cooked a stir fry. Everyone chopped and grated and sliced and quartered different vegetables, threw them into a hot pan with different sauces and sprinkles of spice. Joe is a purist when it comes to stir fries – the spices go in first.  They didn’t stir fry Joe-style. We got to taste one another’s meals. Linda’s chickens had an abundance of left over vegetables.

It was the desert which I really loved. Fruit salad with meringue and vanilla yoghurt. The meringue was vegan. I had no idea you could make a meringue without egg whites. I am wrong! Chickpea water! How would someone even go down that path of using chickpea water? Creativity at its best.

Best afternoon activity

I discovered a shopping gene one afternoon. Clothes shopping has often been a bit of a chore. What looks good on a coat hanger doesn’t look good on me. I also have a little voice in my head that reminds me that I possess knitting needles and a sewing machine and tells me “you could make that yourself!” Let’s not rake up the knitting and sewing days – yes, once upon a while I could have made things, and did.

Linda and I hit the sales one afternoon. She was looking for bedding for spare rooms in readiness for sons and families to stay.  She wasn’t hostile to dresses and other stuff. She collected dresses and skirts and tops much as a bee collects honey before heading off to the dressing room to try things on. She came away with a couple of dresses and ordered other things to collect later.

I caught the shopping bug. The hot weather helped in the sense that what we had packed wasn’t suitable. I bought a pretty top – sleeveless – I don’t really do sleeveless.

I suppose what made it so enjoyable was Linda. She took her time looking through the rails. There was no sense of urgency or hurry. Time was there to be spun out. I wasn’t hurried from one place to another. I wasn’t required to make snap decisions.

More vegan deserts

One of my nieces is vegan. She introduced us to vegan alternatives to some of the stuff we eat. I was just about to say I could become a vegetarian perhaps, but not a vegan, but I like meat too much. Bacon sandwiches – there are probably vegan alternatives.  A vegan lifestyle doesn’t sit well with my basically lazy nature.

As well as the vegan meringue, we also tasted vegan ice cream. It’s not made with the usual ingredients but tastes very much the same. I liked the vanilla ice cream, but didn’t like the chocolate one so much.  

The whole week was one of healthy eating and we have managed not to fall back into the fish and chip takeaway and cake and chocolate eating rut from before. So, although I am not about to embrace veganism or vegetarianism, or the two/five diet, trying to eat better is a good idea.

It was nice to see the family. I miss them. I admit to thinking often about returning to Warwickshire – but I love Scotland too much, and Nicola, and life in a slower lane.