Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Thirteen Ways to Look at a Fence

There are some poems where the imagery is beyond me. Last night a friend of mine was sharing with us his morning of creative writing in a workshop. They read through “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens. He dug out his copy from a bag of stuff and handed it over to someone to read aloud.

XII reads “The river is moving. The blackbird must be flying.” It feels like something that might come out of a fortune cookie. That said, the last fortune cookie I read was “You have to be in it to win it”. I would rather have had Wallace’s two lines. It has that mystic mantra feel about it.

My friend also told us they had been issued with homework of a kind – to write a poem about fences or borders. I thought I would combine the “Thirteen ways of looking at…” with the fence. The images are obvious there’s nothing to analyse really.  I just thought about fences and 13 ways I look at them.

1.
that which marks out the boundary
of what will be mine when
the mortgage is paid in full

2.
my warning to you
that you are trespassing and
I will prosecute

3.
something to sit on when
coming down on one side or the other
brings no clear benefits
and makes enemies

4.
it rips the wool off
a sheep’s back and then
waves a white flag of surrender

5.
think Canute by the sea commanding
the waves to come no nearer
then think cows in a field
and the fence

6.
steel yarn
like loosely knitted garter stitch
stretched and nailed between
two concrete posts

7.
wrapped around a building site
knocking on the doors of the young and foolish
saying, “Are you coming out to play?”

8.
wood and whitewashed
an afternoon’s work for
Tom Sawyer’s friends

9.
permission granted for
weeds in my garden
to crawl into next door’s border

10.
a declaration of love
to keep you safe from
predators

11.
splinters of rust
biting my fingers
making me cry

12.
invisible perhaps but
Montagues and Capulets can
never marry

13
always the reminder
that I’m not free

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Spandex Love

I have just finished with the Poetic Asides November Poem A Day Chapbook Challenge.  I am one poem short of the thirty required. As ever I am amazed when I read back through the collection how much they reveal about my hidden world. Sometimes I’m not sure I like what I see.

This poem – Spandex Love – was something not hidden but hard to admit to. Life has not been its easiest over the last month or so.  I’m aware that my troubles are not big ones in comparison to what other people face.

There’s that bit in the marriage vows where each person says “for better, for worse” and “in sickness and in health”. There’s no small print at the bottom with all the exceptions listed.  There is not a “get out of jail free” card that comes with the marriage vows. I wonder if we consciously take on board exactly what we’re saying and think “the worse won’t happen to me” or “sickness will not come near us”. On our marriage day we are at our most optimistic. Having said that though, the wonderful man who married Joe and myself spoke in his address to us about seeing death on the road and how, as a couple, we were as close to divorce has we had ever been. He talked about the dying as being something daily – always dying to self to allow our marriage to live and flourish. There are troubles which fly up, that can’t be avoided no matter how strong out faith is, and have to be dealt with.

How do those who face the worse or have to meet sickness head on do so with love? When loving someone becomes hard what happens next? Is it still love if there are gritted teeth involved?

It has been a month of watching my husband struggle with health issues. Yes, I know, a month is nothing. You’ve been doing it for years. Too often irritation and sharp words have peppered my landscape. There is, or perhaps more accurately was, a knot of anxiety. The “what ifs” piled up like traffic on a motorway when there are road works. And then there was the guilt that inevitably plagued me. I shouldn’t feel as if I’m not sure still love him. What? After only a month of “worse”? And when much “worse” is down the road somewhere.

I sat with God, as I have a habit of doing, or perhaps it was Him sitting with me, as He has a habit of doing when I’m too unhappy to seek Him out. Too often I expect a slap for my failures and a sharp rebuke.  Most of often I get a God-cuddle and a gentle word of encouragement. He tells me a truth that I withhold from myself – that He loves me. He lifts the heavy yoke I have put upon myself and sets His yoke on my shoulders with His assurance that I never carry it alone. We sweep away the dust that has settled, the dirt that has become engrained in my spirit and share a new picture of how things will be.

With this is mind I wrote the poem

Spandex Love

love is like Spandex, don’t you think?
every time it stretches
and spans the gap between
what feels to be impossible and
what turns out to be achievable
but can it tear? I hear you ask
if love becomes tired and dry,
rigid and inflexible, it snaps
keep love warm and soft
with laughter and shared tears

Sunday, November 26, 2017

My Own Soil

I was reading Ezekiel 37:12-14 from a small book of common prayer.

I came to it with almost a spirit of apathy clinging to me. There was no eagerness to be in God’s presence, but a kind of gritted-teeth crawl with some part of me knowing that things get restored in the presence of God. I was stirred to reword the prophecy and as I did so, I felt myself speaking these words over myself.

·         There will be an opening of what you sealed, what you buried.  Of all you called dead and allowed to crumble there will be a new beginning.

·         There will be a rising up, a resurrecting, if you will, a shrugging off and a leaving behind of the death shroud.

·         There will be a taking by the hand, a leading back to His land of promise to the soil that God has given you, a resettling and a planting in that place where you best thrive and flourish.

·         There will be a giving and an imparting of My Holy Spirit to you, bringing a fragrance of life that spills over, a breathing in and a breathing out of His life inside.

·         There will be a knowing that God has spoken and an understanding there is no part of life where God doesn’t act or move.

There is a sense in which this is past history – God has done these things already. There is also an awareness that every day is new and old manna will not do for a new day.

Amen. Let it be so.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

God's Boundaries

“I, the Lord, define the ocean’s sandy shoreline as an everlasting boundary that the waters cannot cross. The waves may toss and roar, but they can never pass the boundaries I set.” Jeremiah 5:22

Earlier this week, our church family was talking about boundaries, about what they were and why they were needed.  We were encouraged to share our insights. We talked about the Ten Commandments and the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. We also talked about the tendency that some churches, or Christians, have to set a boundary where God doesn’t place one.

A number of years ago I lived in Cyprus and attended a Brethren Church.  A young couple in the church were married and weeks later showed their wedding photos to everyone. No one really commented on how lovely the bride looked or how handsome the groom was. They focussed on the number of wine bottles on the table. As they counted the bottles, their lips took on a thin disapproving line and their eyes narrowed. The guest list wasn’t confined to members of the church but an extended family and friends’ network. The rule of the church, unwritten as many of these things were, was a teetotal existence. That the breaking of it at a wedding bothered so many – that bothered me. A few years later my best friend there was a science teacher. The two of us broke the law over many an evening, cooking a meal together, drinking a bottle of wine, watching a Greek soap opera on TV with English subtitles.

What really came to mind when asked about boundaries was the one where God sets a boundary for the sea. Very often when the Bible talks about the sea, it’s not usually about pretty shore lines and tranquil waters. The flood that carried Noah’s ark was not pretty. The Red Sea that brought down the Egyptian army was not tranquil. The sea often seems to be all about what is dangerous and cruel. It was seen in ancient Hebrew culture as a symbol of evil and of chaos before God brought order to the world.

Dangerous and cruel, evil and chaotic – and God has set the boundaries of it.

I have to say that these last few weeks have been difficult. If I have sung praises it has been through gritted teeth. I don’t for one minute suppose that my difficult times have been any worse than anyone else’s but mine are mine and bad enough.

Part of the problem lies in my overactive imagination. I am, at times, often perhaps, a worse-case scenario kind of a girl. The glass is not just half empty but there’s a mere mouthful of water in the bottom of it, I’m in the desert and said water is dirty. There’s a sand storm brewing in the east and a hoard of the screaming dervishes in the west. And don’t forget the onset of sunstroke because I dropped my hat somewhere. That kind of girl.

It give me great encouragement that even if the sea isn’t evil, God sets the boundaries on what can happen to me and my household. I’d like to think there is a limit to the bad stuff that conme upon me. (And then I remember Job, those limits lifted and those things he had imagined, the bad stuff, happening – but then, what mazing revelation he had about God at the end!)

Whatever. God is firmly in control.

It has been encouraging to know that over the last few weeks I have seen answers to prayer. I have gone into God’s presence time and again with a heavy heart. Perhaps I have complained a lot and been quite miserable company for God. I have listened to Him make right all the elements in my scenario with His view of things.

My glass isn’t half empty or even half full. It is always overflowing. It’s living water. It I am in a desert I am making it a place of springs and wells for others who follow in my path. I can raise my hands towards the sandstorm and, as Jesus rebuked the waves of the sea, I can do the same to my sand. I can meet all dervishes that whirl and send them spinning into the abys. And the sunstroke?  Ah, Son-stroke cures all.


Sunday, November 12, 2017

Me Before You

Here am I naked before You
Without the make-up to conceal the defects
Without the mask to cover the flaws
Nothing to hide

Here am I silent before You
No feeble excuses to explain my failures
No vain boasts to embellish my achievements
Nothing to say

Here am I laying before You
My dented armour and battle worn shield
My songs of triumph and every golden crown
Nothing to prove

Here am I reminded before You
That Your sacrifice once for all time
Was always sufficient to secure my redemption
Nothing to add

Here I stand receiving from You
Transformation from glory to glory
Expressing Your likeness, revealing Your image
Everything being made new

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Horses For Causes

I have a guest writer! He is a horse with a cause and a love of carrots.
 

“Hi, my name is Dillon, not so much a horse for a cause, at only 13.1 hands high I am more a pony with a purpose.

I have been at Soar Valley Western Stables since I was 2 years old, boy did I have some issues. I trusted no one. Someone tethered me as a foal so as I grew, the head collar I had on at the time didn’t so I now have scars around my head. Do you think after that I was going to let any one touch my face!
 
Sharon and Malc have been kind, considerate and patient. They helped me overcome my fear and pain. Now I repay that kindness along with the others in the herd to help people of all ages, of all abilities and disabilities to feel good about themselves.
 
Our work is not hard, we are fed, groomed and looked after in a way that's maybe alien to other horses. Whilst I live in a natural as possible environment, we are cared for and so loved by all our visitors. Some of our visitors do not speak, they make funny noises and they make strange hand gestures but because I trust Sharon and Malc, I know that they will not let any harm come to me.
 
My job is to stand and be groomed (you cannot beat a plastic curry comb over a rough winter coat!) and to walk with people to build their confidence. Horses look to humans for leadership (they think that they are taking the lead but I know different), for children I will happily let them ride me. I am multi skilled and from the amount of treats (usually carrots) I am much appreciated.
 
Whilst I am one of twelve equine delights, I must give a mention to the canine members of the team. Red the dog is always around to wag his tail and again make everyone relax. He had a very rough start in life and like me was cruelly treated as a youngster. For people who have serious anxiety problems, Red will sit down at their side and demand attention. His calm but clown like behaviour makes everyone laugh and installs confidence and trust. His friend Mae joined the family two years later, she also loves to be fussed.
 
We know our job and we do it well, please visit the web site catch up with Horses for Causes on Facebook, on you tube Horses for Causes Equine Assisted Therapy, you can see us all acting as horses do, otherwise contact Sharon on 0775 3639228 or Malc on 07710 386498, we all look forward to meeting you.”

Dillon

 

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Saint Mel

“I saw your wife last night…”

We are not talking about a clandestine meeting in some seedy motel.  I was seen at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church at their All Saints Day Mass. I had been invited by a young friend of mine who was playing the organ. All Saints Day is about remembering all the lesser known saints that don’t have their own special day. The day after, All Souls Day, is for the rest of us who never became official saints, although technically, according to the Bible, we are all saints.

My friend asked me today whether I had enjoyed the service. I had to admit that I thought they over-did the incense wafting. I looked up at one point to a hazy view of what was happening at the front of the church. My friend said he would pass on my comment.

“I didn’t see you there.”

The conversation continued at my husband’s workplace.  I was there, he wasn’t and some kind of explanation was required.

Quick as anything my husband had his answer ready. His name being Joseph, he had an assigned saint’s day, March 19th, Joseph being Jesus’ dad. Come March 19th Joe would be attending mass. All Saint’s day – that was for the unknowns. Mel, he said, didn’t have a proper saint anyway.

Every so often the world goes name crazy. Coke bottles have a name – even really obscure ones like Horatio – but they never have Mel or Melanie. Candle holders, bedroom door signs, foldaway carrier bags, mugs, cards, “Do Not Disturb” signs, pens, pencils, coasters – and all manner of personalised things don’t come with a Melanie label. It would come as no surprise that there are no Mel saints either.

Except that there is one!

The man went away back to his desk. He might have had proper work to do but he googled “St Mel. He tracked Joe down just minutes later waving a sheet of printed paper.

There was a St Mel. Not a St Melanie. Wrong sex altogether but I’m not fussy.

St Mel has connections with the saints’ big names – St Patrick – he who banished snakes from Ireland.  Mel was his nephew and one of his companions who helped to evangelise Ireland. He didn’t have his own place until Patrick built a church at Ardagh and appointed Mel as the bishop.

“Acting upon the apostolic precept, he supported himself by working with his hands, and what he gained beyond bare necessities, he gave to the poor.”

That’s not a bad example for another Mel to follow. One doesn’t have to be a big named saint to do saint-worthy stuff.

St Mel’s Day is February 6th. It has become a day to celebrate being single and all the good things about it.  Apparently one sends a St Mel’s Day card to oneself and hosts a party for all one’s single friends. Isn’t it nice to have a day like that instead making single people feel tthey are deficient in some way?

I wish, in my single days I had known about St Mel.