Words – and Say What You Mean

Free pixabay image

In 1968 the Bee Gees sang “It’s only words and words are all I have” which made it all sound so simple. But words mean different things to different people. The first holiday my soon-to-be husband I went on showed that. We were in the Peak District and he suggested going for a walk. We had walked before around our home town but those had been to the tea-shop to cake and a long natter. Once in the Peak District his “walk” meant something totally different. What he meant was “all day hike” but myself and my kids were expecting a gentle stroll really.

Here in the UK Wales has just come out of lockdown and England has entered it. One of the big controversies is over “non-essentail good” and how people interpret that. Also what do you see as “essential“?

Garden Centres are still open but bookshops are closed. Supermarkets are open but they have closed off their clothes sections. My florist can’t open her shop but can work from hom. I must say I would have included “car screen wash” until Saturday when I needed some. One man’s non-essential is another man’s essential.

Now take it a stage further – I’ve just read “Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge in which she talks about “insitutionalised racism“. I am now reading “God of violence yesterday, God of love today” by Helen Paynter in which she calls institutionalised racism “institutionalised violence“, which is much harder hitting, I believe. Both women are talking about the same thing but using different words. The above examples are of using the same words to mean different things.

So often what we say we don’t mean or we think we know what we mean but don’t have to vocabulary to express it. But also we don’t slow things down enough to either explain what we mean or to ask what is meant by. I would have had a much better time that first walk we did together in the Peak District if I had said “when you say ‘walk’ what do you mean by it?” I believe there would have been less upset if the Government had said what they meant when they said “non-essential” but also I think the media when they recieved the story would have been doing a public service if they had asked “why have you picked these things are non-essential?” and “what do you mean by non-essential?” But no one does. The media made a mountain out of a mole hill and the government stayed quiet. I got upset with my soon-to-be-husband and he got upset with me being upset with him! As we all do when people are upset with us!

I wonder too if Helen Paynter can get away with calling racism violence because she is a white middle class woman talking about God but Reni Eddo-Lodge would not have been able to because she is a black woman talking about her experiences? Sometimes it is as much the speaker as it is the words used that we filter what is said though. So maybe next time we think we’ve heard something maybe we need to be bold enough to ask what the speaker meant by that and also to question the cultural lens we are looking through.

Full Moon

A full moon behind clouds in the night sky. Free photo 82951091 © creativecommonsstockphotos – Dreamstime.com

I couldn’t sleep last night. Maybe it was my ribs still hurting (which seem to be working on the “I’m almost better so I can do things today to the following day’s oh no I’m not because I did too much” theory of healing!), or it could have been the wine I drank last night and the very nice pumpkin pie, or it could be listening to the storm outside and then being woken by the full moon peaking through the clouds. In the end I decided I might as well get up and have a cup of sleepytime tea.

We’ve got a couch in the bay window of our living room so I curled up on the couch with my drink, opened the living room curtains and there was the moon looking back at me. Then it went and hide for a bit behind some white cloud. There was an awesome looking cloud up there, a storm cloud, that looked like fingers stretching across the sky which was being lit by the light from the full moon. And as I watched it seemed like the moon burned away those whiter clouds and hung there with a golden ring around it. I wish I had taken a photo but I knew that by the time I switched on my phone, got distracted by the messages on it, and sorted the camera out, that moment would have gone. So I just sat and enjoyed the moment.

The trees across the road from me were being battered by the wind, leaves being ripped from them, street lights twinkling as the branches swept back and forth. But high in the sky that black finger-like cloud was hardly moving, the moon was hanging there. Everything in the upper reaches of the sky was calm and still. It made me think of how often we are only looking at our chaos of the moment, the stuff we are battling through for now. And that is not to dismiss what is going on now. This week a friend’s nephew died in his sleep, another friend’s neighbour’s 5 year old was buried, another friend’s mum is in hospital but she can’t go and visit her because of lockdown restrictions. There is chaos, destruction and a storm raging down here on earth at the moment. But what that sky above was telling was that if we can look up – again to the “where does your hope come from?” – there is strength and calm. As Oscar Wilde is reputed to have said “we are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.” I wonder if he meant the Glory of God. [discussion on Oscar Wilde’s faith maybe another time???]

The moon is always there. The moon is always full but often it does not show us it’s fullness. I think God is like that too, always there but not always showing the fullness of God. I am learning that my hope is not always in what God does but in who God is. My trust is not in what God does but in who God is. For too long I’ve been lookng at what God does and been disappointed but if I can look to who God is then I have hope, trust and joy even when there is a storm rampaging through my world. I can reach upwards for the stillness that is always promised which will give me the peace and strength to deal with the storms of here on earth.

Analogue from horse riding

It’s my daughter on a horse not me

I started horse riding only about 2 years ago, just before my 57th birthday. I did used to ride when I was in my teens but got more interested in boys and drinking than riding so gave it up 🙂 It was a challenge to restart. When lockdown came, of course things ceased, and then the stable I used to go changed direction and my friends, all women of a similar age, had to look for somewhere else to ride. This new stables is teaching me as much about my relationship with God as it is about riding.

“Let go of the reins and trust” my instructor tells me often. I have a fear of going too fast and not being in control. He keeps telling me that I need to trust the horse, not pull on its mouth so hard as that really does hurt the horse and believe that all will be well. Very much an analogy there of of how we need to trust God and not hold on to control so tightly.

“Sometimes I think you are more of a passenger on that horse” he said the other day when I was too scared to keep my legs on the horse. Keeping legs on keeps the power in the horse and keeps it moving. Without legs on the horse can slow and its front legs can go slower then its back legs and it can trip. Again with God how often are we passengers, just going along for the ride, not really engaged with what He’s up to?

Then here’s the bit you can feel sorry for me for a while but not for long. A week ago I fell off the horse I was riding and I think I’ve cracked a rib. If not cracked then bruised it badly and I’ve also bruised muscles down my right side and my right wrist. All very painful and painkillers are just touching the surface of the pain. Ok that’s the end of being sorry for me because the fall was my fault!!! I was just going into a canter, which I struggle to do because it frightens me. Not sure why but it is probably to do with trusting myself and the horse. So I pulled on the reins, which caused my poor horse to trip. As I started to slide outwards instead of using my body and leaning inwards and letting centrifugal force pull me back on, I reached for the fence that was rushing past me. Why I do not know! So as I fell my hand was at the top of the fence – not holding on I don’t think – but that is how I’ve bruised my wrist which has aggravated an old hitchhiking injury (that’s another story!!). But it also meant that the whole of my right side was stretched out and exposed. So when I hit the ground that was what I landed on. The fall was my fault!

I’ve been led here on the couch not able to do much but think (and feel sorry for myself!!) and have wondered how often we fall off on our Christian journey and blame everyone else but ourselves. We blame God, Church, fellow Christians, the mission organisation, the devil, the world, etc. But sometimes it is because we were scared, pulled the reins in too tight, leant the wrong way, grabbed for something we should not have done. And so we are battered, bruised, feeling weepy and tired, and not able to keep going for a while.

So on my journey with God I need to stay engaged, not hold on so tight and trust more in the process. Now I will just have to ponder what that looks like in practical ways for another blog post! 🙂

Unless You Become Like a Child …

My husband celebrating his 45th birthday at Diggerworld – taken by me June 2013

I was reading Christine Sine’s book “The Gift Of Wonder” this morning but had also woken up with the verse “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” which is the first part of Revelation 21:4

Now this verse has always confused me because I am a crier. I can cry at the drop of the hat. In fact I have just been watching a TED talk about restoring old manuscripts and that made me cry. It is a bit of a family joke about me crying. And it has worried me that I could become a different person when I got to heaven and I have grown to quite like me. But then I read as Christine’s book it starts with the story of Jesus in Mark 10 and Luke 9, in which Jesus talks about welcoming the little children and saying how we need to become like a child and about how God wants us to play.

As I was journaling around this it struck me that in the playground children run and jump and play without fear, but this often leads to falls and tears. There are also the “rules of play” and there is often some bossy kid who makes others cry by assertively enforcing those rules. But if you stand on the sidelines and observe those playing times that are fully entered into, the tears come quickly but then they go just as quickly. The good parent or playgroup monitor wipes away those tears, wipes the hurt better, kisses the hurts and tears away and the child goes back to play again. And if handled properly by the adult they go straight back into the game without fear or without holding back. I believe we cannot fully enter into play and joy and wonder without there being a few tears along the way. That’s all part of it.

As we get older we pick up ideas about tears being wrong, that really we shouldn’t cry, shouldn’t show our emotions. So we learn to stop entering in. Oh my, have we stopped giving God an amazing opportunity to wipe those tears away!!!

God says “in heaven I’ll wipe those tears away”. Well if we are to believe that heaven is a now thing as much as an “after we’re dead thing” then those tears, when we let them come, can be wiped away now.

But also if God is going to wipe our tears away in heaven that means that we are going to have tears in heaven too. If heaven is going to be a place of full joy then I am going to cry. I know I am. Joy makes me cry as much as sadness, anger, grief, etc do.

I used to worry about going to heaven because I thought it might be a bit dull, but now that I believe that I can enter into heaven in full childlikeness, running, jumping, falling, getting hurt, getting up again. So in heaven I might fall. No in fact if I am fully childlike then I will rush headlong into things and will fall. But the exciting thing is that if I am living fully in God’s kingdom, fully in heaven on this earth, then I will fall, will trip up, will not get all the rules of the game fully sorted and will get upset when someone reprimands me on them, but the exciting thing is that God will wrap me in his arms, give me a huge hug, wipe away my tears and then I can go back into the game again.

Those short, sharp, deep, painful tears will be wiped away every time by our loving, caring, protective, always there, parent. Wow, now that was too exciting to keep to myself

Pensarn Beach – a prose poem

Pensarn beach Feb 2020 taken by me

The following prose poem can also be found on https://walklistencreate.org/wr_instance/shorelines/ where they are still accepting work.  Shorelines is a collaborative project on writing and reciting, focused on the dividing line between land and water. Check out the line and go from there.

Today the sea speaks to me in tones of deep and grey asking me to follow it on its relentless quest around the globe.
Yesterday its voice was more of a lethargic slap of apologetic wave on languid shingle.
Yet competing with the sea are the constant bass undertones of the A55, always calling the dreamy walker back to the world of activity; of work, industry and commerce.
The traffic’s rumble is frequently enhanced by the scream of siren or buzz of speeding motorbike.
It never listens to the sea or hears its rhythmic call because that thoroughfare believes in the busyness of doing to be the purpose of the human race. .
Though my feet lead me to the shoreline to dance in its shallows or keep a respectful distance from its crashing waves, too often my mind is on the A55 needing to be part of man’s chorus of employment and cloistered individualism.

Are you praying for the now or the future?

St Winifred’s churchyard, Gwytherin, Conwy. The old stones in this photo are from early, possibly pre-Christian times linking the old and the new [photo taken by myself]

When you pray what are you praying for? This struck me the other day when I was reading an article about the Spanish flu epidemic that happened 100 years ago. In the article it said that after two years of people dying the virus became less virulent and people just got used to the fact that everyone winter there would be deaths from flu. But what stuck me was the article said “then there were the 1920s”.

Now the 1920s were a time of hedonism and loss of faith in God, that then ran into the Great Depression of the 1930s which gave rise, in Europe to Hitler, who in the early 1930s was seen as a hero who was rescuing German.

I was also reminded of the first time I heard John Mulinde speak. He said how in Uganda the prayer warriors prayed out the awful dictator, Idi Amin, only for the vacuum that his demise caused leading to an even greater dictator to take his place. His message was that we should be careful when we pray and not pray out something or someone but pray in something or someone so there is no vacuum.

But to pray something “in” we need to see God’s vision. As my husband reminded me “without a vision the people perish”. What is the vision of God for the future? Not just for our churches individual or corporate, not just for the UK but for the whole world. What is God saying that it should look like?

As I said in “Revivals!” blog, in the past when revivals have come pubs, cinemas etc have closed down, but our economy now depends very much on the hospitality industry. Those who work in hospitality are the ones who spend the money there, and who rent rooms and flats, buy clothes, etc, etc. I do not believe we can just say “God’s got a plan.” I believe there is power in prayer and that we need to be praying in that God given vision. But first of all we need to be asking God what that vision is.

I’m afraid at the moment I don’t know what it is, but (and here’s a book plug) I am hoping that when I receive Tom Sine’s book ‘2020s Foresight:Three Vital Practices for Thriving in a Decade of Accelerating Change‘ there will be things in there that will help we to see what God is planning, and how to pray into that.

Yes I do believe God can drop in the world vision as we seek it but I do also believe that we need to study, see the signs and get confirmation. Am I willing to put in the time? Are you willing to put in the time? Or is it just easier to pray out what we can see now like the virus/economic crash/dysfunctional governments/etc? If we do what will fill the vacuum?

The Great Pause – Sara Vian

The Great Pause – Sara Vian
(click on link to hear the song)

Sara Vian’s haunting vocals take us through the journey many of us have been on since the beginning of March; from the unexplained fears and anxieties to finding that new way of living our daily lives, and on into our hopes for the future.

The first line “she’s feeling down, she doesn’t know why” draws one immediately in to the narrative. From there the opening verse expands on what so many of us were feeling – despair and anxiety even when we were not in imminent danger – and of “having to” constantly tune into those daily broadcasts even as they stole our “peace and flow”.

In verse two there is a chance to smile at those the “inevitables” that went on – hair growing long, learning an instrument, baking – but also of the choice to change, to pause, to find a way through this; reconnecting with nature.

The last verse comes over like a prayer of hoping that things won’t go back to the busy world that used to be and that our Prime Minister will have learned from what he has been through and want to “build heaven on earth.”

The whole song sends shivers down my spine every time I listen to it and the chorus is firmly lodged in my head. I sang the lines …

“The Great Pause, The Great Awakening,

The planes are grounded, industry is shaken,

The Great Pause, The Great Awakening,

There is peace in what was godforsaken”

… to the seagulls on my morning dog walk as well as asking for us to all want to “build heaven on earth.”

I’ve reviewed this song because I know of Sara from The Write Day writing group we are both part of but also because I feel this song fits in with the posts I have already blogged and the ones I have to come, especially my next one about how people are reacting to coming out of lockdown and what they want life to be like in this “new normal”.

Fruits Of The Spirit

Photo by me by the river at Betwys y Coed, North Wales

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” Galatians 5:22-23

How often have you sat in a church service and been told to ask for the fruits of the Holy Spirit? I’m sure, like myself, it has been multiple times. I remember a lovely cartoon I used to watch with my kids called “Benny’s Biggest Battle” and that was all about young Benny not having any self-control and it told how he managed to acquire it. For myself I used to ask for patience regular. I was a single mum homeschooling two bright, active children. I needed that patience. And I was told, when they had been particularly trying on my patience that when you asked God for something you got tested on it.

Well following on from the Beech Clump, Mere I got a revelation about how produce growing. You don’t go up to your apple tree or courgette plant and tell it to give you apples or courgettes. You know it will give them to you in abundance if you give it the right conditions. So you need to water your plants, give them the correct fertiliser, but also clear the land of weeds and brambles to help them to grow to be what they are meant to be.

So surely if we want the fruits of the Holy Spirit we shouldn’t be asking for them but we should be clearing away the weeds, finding the correct fertiliser, and making the conditions right for them to grow. And giving them lots of water.

I know I keep banging on about QEC but it is being a great help in clearing my “land” and getting rid of the clutter that has been putting weeds around the Holy Spirit, not giving Holy Spirit enough light, having the wrong kind of fertiliser, and to nurture the real me. I’ve had to learn to love and like myself, to take responsibility for how I think and feel, clear away hindrances. Through doing all this I am finding that in a lot of areas I am kinder, more patient, more at peace, and more self-controlled. And my husband is telling me he is seeing me as kinder, more gentle, and just easier to live with.

It hasn’t been an easy route finding out what has been getting in the way and keeping out the light, and would have been much easier to blame others and give them a hard time. But then that is the same with gardening. Weeding is really hard persistent ongoing work. But the more I weed in myself the more space there is for the light to get in and things to grow to a depth that cannot be shaken.

In fact more like “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drouth and never fails to bear fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8 that Sue reminds us of in Trust

So this has left me wondering if at times we have spent more time asking for fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit and less time praying and finding out what is hindering the growth of that fruit in our lives.

Noah in Lockdown

Image by Jeff Jacobs from Pixabay

I’ve been doing a bit of taking known Bible stories and giving them a “flip” sideways. I have written a tale about Adam and Eve being bored with being shut in the Garden of Eden and wanting out which is why they succumbed to the temptation of the apple. i don’t believe it came out of the blue 🙂

Anyway yesterday I was chatting with friends about Bible stories people struggle with and how much is allegorical and how much was factual. One of those tales was Noah’s ark. So I will share my thoughts

Noah’s tale

The world was a bad place. People were going about their daily lives selfishly and not thinking of each other. The economy was in bits, people weren’t caring for each other. There were wars and rumors of wars and the fears of climate change.

Noah was praying and asking God what should be done when God said to him “Gather your family around you, your sons and their wives, and gather a selection of animals and food for you all and go to the place I have for you.”

“But how long for,” asks Noah. “And why?”

“Just take them all and gather what you need and shut the doors,” said God

So Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives, plus a selection of animals, at least one male and one female of each kind, went to the large farmstead they had built and padlock all the gates. As soon as they had done this the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced a global pandemic. Governments across the world said people must stay at home until further notice.

One month passed and Noah and his family were getting a bit fed up of just seeing each other, of playing board games, of reading books, of making bread, so Noah asked God how long this would last and God replied, “Until it is over.” Another month passed, then another. Slowly governments start to lift the lockdowns to restart the economy. The Noah family start to kill the rapidly breeding rabbits to feed themselves and some of the carnivores. They cut the hay, milked the cows and look to the internet to see what was going on. There was the threat of a second wave and so they waited.

Ok you’re getting the picture. Noah went into the ark whilst God cleared up the world around them. Noah did not know what was going on as him and his family were effectively on lockdown. Noah also did not know how long they would all be in the ark and how much they would need to continue their lockdown.

As I chatted with my friends about this I felt we’ve had this tale sanitised in too many Sunday school classes and tried to explain it away so we like the story but if we look at it as an allegory we can see the tale as relevant for our lives today. God shut a family away together for an interminable amount of time and yet was still with them. They did not know how much food to take on the ark for themselves and these animals, but there was enough.

I believe God said to me yesterday that we are like Noah and in unprecedented times for an undeterminable amount of time, but that he is with us and there is enough to keep us going.

How Quickly We Get Use To Things

Pensarn Beach – early morning during lockdown

Sixteen weeks ago today Britain went into lockdown. Most presumed it would only be for a month, two at the most. We talked about Blitz spirit, how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague lockdown, and worried about toilet rolls, yeast and flour. No one, I don’t think, expected sixteen week and then things opening as they are doing.

Now things are opening up and I must say I’m not sure I like it! Yesterday I took my regular walk which goes along a fairly main road, a footbridge over a major road, along the beach and back through the park. Sixteen weeks ago there was no traffic along the roads. You could stand for a while and see the main arterial road along the North Wales coast totally devoid of cars until you got bored and carried on walking. In fact it did get boring seeing roads with no cars on and people stopped posting photos. But also the footpaths were busy with walkers and cyclists and people all avoiding each other. A couple of months ago the traffic started to get busier.

Yesterday though it was a Sunday and it was 7am both roads were busy. The holiday cottage, which had been in the process of being renovated when lockdown came, now has a high fence around it in preparation for privacy for the holiday makers who will enjoy their stay two minutes from the beach. The caravan park is now reopened. After seeing these static caravans locked up, the gate to their site padlocked for so long, I had got used to it being a ghost place. But yesterday there were cars parked by the mobile homes, gates wide open, sleepy residents wandering the shingle whilst smells of bacon call them back to eat.

I know it is all “good for the economy” but I’m not sure I like it. I enjoy it when I walked round my little seaside town and only saw locals.

On Friday my husband, myself and the dog were volunteers as part of the “welcome back to Snowdonia” campaign; reasuring people about the measure in place to keep the virus at bay (e.g. foot pumped hand sanitizers outside each toilet block) and reminding them that in Wales we still have the two metre distancing rule. I’m sure for the locals of Snowdonia, a place that can have over 5,000 tourists fill the area each day, it must be a huge change. Yes like me I’m sure that they are pleased to see their shops and cafes, restaurant and pubs back open. I’m sure that they are pleased to have income coming into their area. But I wonder too if they miss the tranquility, the “knowing everyone” feel that went on for the last sixteen weeks.

It only takes a month to build a habit. Four months and it had become our “new normal”. Now we are being asked to change again. And being the amazing human species that we are we will manage it and in a month or two the “new normal” will feel … well normal!