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Saturday, 28 February 2015

Harps in heaven? Or cellos?

Dear God,

Why, I wonder, are heavenly beings always pictured plucking harps?Are those the only instruments in heaven?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not against the gentle tinkling of harps, fingers cascading over the jillion strings like water over rocks on a slope. I’ve enjoyed a few brunches in California with the mellifluous tunes providing enough background to muffle the talk of the other diners while not overwhelming conversation.

However, I’m rather partial to the deep, sonorous voice of the cello. Carpal tunnel is restricting me now but still, when I throw caution to the wind and play it, those low registers resonate with depth and beauty right to the inner reaches of my very soul and well, if you’re still listening, God, I’d prefer a cello in heaven to a harp, if it’s all the same to you...

Thanks – with love from your ‘needs more practice’ cello-playing daughter...

Maybe this topic sounds a bit frivolous but actually, I think it goes to the heart of who we think our God is. If we know him to be a loving, loyal, fun-loving character (how could he not be fun-loving and still create giraffes, for instance?) then we would expect him to indulge our musical preferences, wouldn’t we? I mean, I’m not sure about the screeching riffs of a Jimi Hendrix-style guitar, ;-), but surely the richness of a cello beats the tinkly tumble of tones plucked on a harp. 

Someone has written that they believe that what we have practiced and tried to improve on earth, we will carry on in heaven. I guess, then, that I would quite like a computer for writing on, and a cello, please. 

Oh, and all my loved ones around me. That goes without saying.

Friday, 27 February 2015

A Warm Embrace

The sun always makes me think of God. Of the Son. I don’t know why, because God is in the storm and snow and wind and rain, too. 

I suppose it is the idea that Jesus is the Light of the world. Sun = Light = Son.

Growing up in California the sun meant warmth if not downright heat. I’ve found it a bit more deceptive here in Scotland, and on a day like today, for instance, I could dive outside expecting a warm embrace and instead be startled by icy fingers.

Where there is sun, though, there is potential for warmth, potential for growth. In the one or two sundrenched corners round our home, where walls create a sun trap, the heat is teasing those bulbs into wake-up stretches after their winter of hibernation. It’s not all down to the sun, of course, as there are other factors at play – precipitation, nutrients, adequate space for growth.

End of February. Spring is around the corner. We are all stretching, tentatively, aware that there could be more winter weather to come, but beginning to reach up in response to the increased heat and light.

I heard faith defined as a response in a great sermon last week. (You can catch the talk on banchorywestchurch.com). As the Son reaches out to us in love, mercy and grace, it is the natural response to stretch back to be drawn into His embrace. And that is faith. Relationship with the Almighty Creator of the universe through his amazing, triumphant Son Jesus.

I may find icy fingers on my skin outside today, but I know when I dive into Jesus – through prayer or reading my Bible – I will find a warm embrace. Hallelujah....

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Fat Adolescent Pheasants

Something caught my eye as I stood in the prayer alcove this morning. It was a fat little cock pheasant scurrying up the drive furtively glancing this way and that. Could his desire for the seeds and nuts spilled onto the ground from the bird feeders over-ride his fear of a predatory cat crouching in the bushes? 

Yes, it could, and close behind came the next wave of fat young pheasants ready for easy pickings at the bird feeders. They brought a big smile to my face. I daren’t go beyond that to thinking that we are just fattening these guys up for the pots of the shooters who raise them for that purpose.

Actually, this is a bit of hypocrisy, because I have a frozen pheasant sitting in my freezer waiting for the oven or pot. Not, I hasten to add, one that I fed from the bird feeder! This one was given to us, shot and cleaned and all the rest by someone else.

The bounty below the bird feeders tempts these adolescent pheasant chicks into a place of danger – from the cats who are generally inside during the day but occasionally have daytime excursions. I am thinking of those three young adolescent women who have somehow been tempted to join the Islamic forces in Syria and who have now disappeared into a black hole of circumstance beyond my desire to consider.

The predators will most certainly have pounced on them by now. 

Jesus told his followers to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. That is a tricky balance to strike. How do we maintain innocence while being shrewd to the ways of the world? 

Only through Jesus. Jesus’ challenges and advice to us are almost always beyond our own ability to achieve. The only way to ‘win’ through and live out the life he calls us to is in him. ‘Abide in me’ he advises. 

Abide. Listen. Read. Draw near. Don’t make quick decisions without praying, reading Scripture, talking with other Christians. Teach this to your children and your children’s children. This world is fraught with danger.

It is easy to slip into the fat teenage pheasant mode, and walk right into danger which is beyond our ability to escape.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

God's Grand Recycling Scheme

A simply glorious morning. I sat down to write this but felt compelled to abandon it for a bracing walk round the woods. A walk I did once, twice a day with Dusty but have since abandoned, to my loss.

I passed the towering dung pile the farmer has dumped as he’s cleaned his barns through the winter. Rotting into something wonderful.

I returned home, praising the Lord for his gifts and the beauty of this day, and took the kitchen garbage round to the compost bin. In it went – a small hill of coffee grounds, tangerine skins, potato peelings, onion skin. And then I passed the pile of rotted compost which Don recently moved from the compost heap to the garden. We left it longer this time, maybe a year, and the result in terms of tilth and richness and well-rottedness is evident. Whether or not that will result in a marvellous veggie crop next summer remains to be seen ...

I heard some teaching last night in which the woman declared that our history is part of our destiny. Our past is what makes us who we are today. Our shames keep us humble. Our hurts give us compassion. We may want to erase some memories but God uses them all to bring a fresh crop of righteousness from the gardens of acquaintances and friends where we live. 

There are some memories I’d like to delete. Some things I’d like to have not done. They continue to sit in a big towering pile of dung. One day it will have rotted into something wonderful which will feed the faith of someone else. 

It’s a transformation beyond my imagination, but within my mustard seed of faith. From dung to pure gold. But then, the dazzling diamond comes from the hardest-pressed coal which has had time. Time. 

Your sins are forgiven, Jesus told the woman caught in adultery and the man paralysed by disease. Your sins are forgiven, and in God’s amazing recycling scheme, they are transformed into something beautiful.

Amazement. Humility. Overwhelming gratitude. Awe and wonder. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is everlasting life in his perfect son Jesus Christ. 

A day like today, clear and still after days of stormy winds, encourages me to breathe deep the forgiveness and love of God, and be thankful. Forever thankful. Those he has forgiven much, love much.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Plank

I used to associate The Plank with Captain Hook and Peter Pan. Now that I’m doing Pilates, however, I have much more strenuous associations with it.

The thing about Pilates is the precision. The movements are often small, almost invisible, but if your ribs are raised or your shoulder is tense or whatever, you could be working the wrong muscles or putting pressure on the lower back which rather than being healing is actually hurting...

Small adjustments make a big difference, we are told. The teacher walks round the room, raising a ribcage here, lowering a shoulder there, straightening a leg or adjusting a knee. And while she wanders the room, the rest of us keep repeating the movement. Breathe wide. Flatten the belly button towards the spine and breathe out, using your core. 

I don’t know. I am certainly hoping that my core is strengthening and no further damage will ever be done to my spine or, for that matter, any of my skeleton! 

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, my mother used to say. I guess I’m a little late to heed that advice but hopefully not too late.

Precision is the key in many things besides Pilates. In navigation, for instance, if your projection is out by a tiny fraction you could end up away off course in a few hundred miles. It takes frequent checking that the course is correct to avoid such a catastrophe.

So it is in our lives, isn’t it? It is easy to accept slightly skewed advice and then end up doing something we would never have dreamt of doing. Eve accepted the serpent’s reasoning and bit into the forbidden fruit, without believing that the dramatic consequences of which she had been warned would in fact come to pass.

Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, at a time when his resistance must have been at a low ebb and he was vulnerable. (Eve had been living in a lush garden and hanging out with God. Quite a contrast, and yet she couldn't resist temptation...) Yet Jesus still recognised the temptation for what it was and because he was so well-prepared (he knew his Scriptures and he knew his God and Father), he resisted altering his focus and shifting his trajectory. 

He is both an example and, when he lives in us, the source of our strength to resist when we ourselves are tempted to slightly alter our thinking or actions. Being slightly skewiff in our understanding can send us on a wild trajectory which ends in tears. 

An ounce of prevention ... a pound of cure. I’m off to read my Bible, so God can make some slight (or major) adjustments to my thinking before I hurt myself.