Sunday, 9 December 2018

Ignatian Meditation

 Man of Sorrows by Albrecht Dürer

A long time ago when I was young and quite newly married, a series of events brought me completely to the end of my own resources and gave me a real thirst for knowing God.  I started to read the Bible at every spare moment, and, because writing seems to be my first language, I often communicated with God in writing while I was reading Bible passages.

After a while, I found myself writing the Bible passages imaginatively, from the viewpoint of some of the characters in the stories, and as I did so, really entering into the stories as never before.  By doing so, I learned more about the character of God, especially as seen in Jesus, and also more about myself and my relationship with Him, than I had ever done before.  I have whole files of the handwritten pieces, beginning from more than thirty years ago.

It wasn't until many, many years later that I learned this was a well-established method of Bible reading, described by St Ignatius in his spiritual exercises, and that people had been entering into the experience of the word of God by this method for centuries.  If you've never tried it, I really recommend it.  It seems to be one of the ways in which the Holy Spirit slips under the radar of our human intellect and engages directly with our spirit.

I recently went on a retreat in which my pastor encouraged us to use our imaginations to engage with passages of Scripture which he had chosen for us.  The passage he had selected for me was Matthew 26. 1-14, a passage I have meditated on in this way several times before.  I have approached it from the viewpoints of the disciples, of Simon the Leper, of the bystanders and of the woman who anointed Jesus with her jar of pure nard.  But this time I saw it in a new light, from the viewpoint of Jesus Himself.  Here's what I wrote (it will probably help if you read the Bible passage before reading this):

I knew.
Of course I knew.
I had known, not quite all along;
it had been a dawning realisation.
But by the time I took up the mantle of ministry
that my Father had prepared for me,
I knew how it was going to end.
I had learned to trust it to my Father
and not let it play on my mind.
But now here we were, the end almost upon us.
I tried to share with them the burden of my heart.
Two days – only two days more.
By the time we reach Passover
I will have been handed over for crucifixion.
No reaction.
Two days, guys!  Only two more days!
Their eyes glazed over,
blind to my anguish, so that in time to come
they could truthfully say
they didn’t know what was coming.
And so I hugged my secret to myself,
the loneliest man since the dawn of creation,
and I walked those streets all by myself,
surrounded by the twelve of them
and yet utterly alone.
And when we entered Simon’s house
to sit down at his banqueting table,
I scarcely noticed the insult,
the failure to wash my feet as for an honoured guest.
I felt rather than observed it,
another pound or two added to the weight
of desolation that pressed down on my shoulders.
But then, like a ray of light from God’s throne,
She crept shyly in, hugging the shadows,
shuffling round the walls to where I sat.
She broke open her soul in the form of an alabaster jar
and poured liquid worship over me.
And in that moment I remembered,
I was not alone; I had a Father who would never leave me.
I was not alone.
The sovereign Ruler of the Universe had seen
the shattered fragments of my spirit
and, through this lowliest of women,
had bathed me in His love.
The others were mumbling, something about the poor.
I wasn’t listening.
I was like a man rescued from the wreck
Of a fishing vessel in the nick of time,
Just before the waters closed over his head.
I reached out, took her hand in mine,
smiled a smile of relief and gratitude,
and told them, “Wherever the Gospel is preached,
this woman will be remembered
for the beautiful gift she has given me.”
And looking round, I could see they still didn’t get it.
But it didn’t matter any more.

As a postscript to this, my pastor reminded me of something when he read what I had written.  What I had seen in this passage was the fact that when Jesus' closest friends were missing the moment and failing to read Jesus' feelings, God wasn't.  And he pointed out to me that what the Holy Spirit does when we read Scripture in this way is speaks into our own lives - that when I see what God is doing with Jesus in this passage, He wants me to see God doing the same for me.  He is anointing me, lifting me, dealing with my sense of being unnoticed or not understood, or my feelings of emptiness, for the same reason He does with Jesus - His love and care for me.

 If you haven't tried reading the Bible in this way, I really recommend it, you will be amazed how God will speak to you and minister to your spirit through it.  And if it is something you're in the habit of doing - keep it up!

Ros Bayes has 10 published and 4 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof ( as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at and her author page at Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.  

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Tis the Season!

Like me, do you often berate yourself for not writing enough? And when you do write, do you end up feeling guilty for falling short of your day to day responsibilities like collecting children from school, cooking their meals and walking the poor, forgotten hound?

I put so much pressure on myself. Did you know, we moved to Lincolnshire from Surrey a little over a year ago? Yep, moved the family lock, stock, and barrel from one end of England to another. New schools (including special school); new church; new house; new paediatrician, new dog food supplier; new hairdresser; new tag rugby club; new SEN after-school club; the list goes on. My husband is finally working in a job he loves, I have found work as a part-time teacher, the kids are happily installed with new friends following lots of tea-dates etc. And I wonder why I haven’t finished the novel?

Guilt is such a waste of time and I seem to do a lot of it so here it is: my new year’s resolution, no, scrap that, it can’t wait - my December the 8th resolution. From now on, I resolve to forget the guilt and recognise the season I am in!

Are you aware King Solomon (yes, the one who penned the Ecclesiastes among other works of wisdom) wrote about there being a season for everything? There’s a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and laugh, a time to build, a time to speak, a time to be silent, a time, in fact, for everything. Time is a gift from God as is our writing ability. If God gives us these things, then I need to trust Him that he will give me the time to use my gift.

I’m not saying that there is ever a season in a writer’s life where there is absolutely no writing. I mean, is it even possible for a writer not to write at least something? It’s in our blood! But every day as I wonder at the possibility of picking up the novel again, sometimes I have to be happy with a blog post, a poem or even a short diary entry. And that, fellow writers, is often an enormous achievement in itself!

Friday, 7 December 2018

I Thought of a Title This Time. By Dan Cooke

I thought of a title this time.

A few months ago I posted about how creativity can be elusive, though we have creative fingers we want to flex sometimes our minds are just not in the game, and the energy is just not there.
Now let's  talk about inspiration.

I mentioned in the aforementioned post that I like to collaborate from time to time as it helps the juices flow and leads to bigger and more intricate and interesting creations.

Now I think it is a natural thing for us who want to create, to surround ourselves with other people of a similar mindset, those who also want to create. Whether you do what I do and build off each other is another matter entirely but I think that one thing we all want to do, and do our best to do, is inspire each other and ourselves by surrounding ourselves with these other creative's.

Those who have read some of my prior posts will have seen that I have a friend who is an incredibly gifted artist, and seeing her drawings inspired me to pick up the pencil in that way again, something I hadn't done in years before that time.

Do something great and inspire those around you.
This same friend is the reason this post right here exists, as they openly came up with the suggestion for this post. They told me that reading the blog posts up here had inspired them to improve their vocabulary, and in turn, their own writing. On my end, seeing the drawing inspired me to write more, seeing the image gave me strength to again think about a character and project that had been dead in the water for some time, and out of that many more projects have sparked.

So sometimes maybe when we hit a slump, or even when we are feeling like we are on top of our game, we could change our attitude towards our reason for writing, if only for a while.

So instead of thinking "I don't know what to write about today." or "Why is the mood not striking me." we could instead think and operate our work with an attitude of, "How can I inspire someone else's work today."

Inspiring others can bring such joy to both them and ourselves, and, after all, Inspiration is one of the key things we are all about.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Looking for Maryam by Philippa Linton

Will the real Mary please stand up?  (Pixabay)
Mary. Maryam. Miriam.

Will the real Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, please stand up?

When I was looking for images of Mary on Pixabay, I wasn’t surprised by what I found.  So many standard, traditional portrayals – statues of a serene young woman with a placid expression, often dark-haired but sometimes blonde, and usually wearing a white or blue headscarf, like many a modern religious woman today.

No surprises there.

There’s a Renaissance painting of Mary I especially like (not shown here) which shows her as extremely curvy, positively buxom in fact, as she tenderly nurses the baby Jesus at her breast – she has a kind, smiling face and her glorious golden ringlets cascade over her crimson gown.  Yes, crimson, not the usual blue.  Here Mary looks far more like an earth mother than a pale virgin.

But will the real Mary, mother of Jesus, please stand up?

Luke, the gospel writer who pays especial attention to women, pays the most attention to Mary.  Only Luke writes about the manner of Jesus’ conception.  Only Luke writes about Mary visiting her cousin Elizabeth, whose pregnancy is almost as miraculous as Mary’s.  Only Luke records Mary’s song, the Magnificat.  We’re so used to hearing lovely chants of the Magnificat in lovely cathedrals that it’s easy for us to overlook how radical the words are.  Here is this unmarried, teenage, Jewish mother-to-be, praising God and also singing about him overthrowing the rich and the powerful.

He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.   (Luke 1: 51-53, NIV-UK 2011)

If I preached a sermon along those lines, I’m not sure how some people in my respectable, middle-class congregation might take it ...

God’s coming to earth turns everything upside down.  God entering his own creation as an embryo in the womb is a game-changer.  And Mary, sometimes seen as a meek, submissive, docile woman, is not just a passive recipient in this audacious divine strategy.  She actively takes part in God’s salvation plan.  She could have said no to the Angel Gabriel’s message.  If she had refused, did the Almighty have a backup plan, a plan B, an alternative Maryam in mind?   Who knows? 

Mary was in the right time and place to be the mother of the Messiah: her fiancé Joseph was a descendant of King David himself and of the tribe of Judah, the tribe of the lion.   Her bold ‘yes’ to God’s will was everything.

She is of course named in Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, along with four other women who break convention in unique ways: Tamar, the widow who slept with her father-in-law (Genesis 38: it’s quite a story); Rahab, who was both a prostitute and a woman of great faith (yes, really); Ruth, who was a Moabitess and therefore non-Jewish (again, not quite what one expects to find in the Messiah’s family tree); and Bathsheba, with whom King David had an affair (another shocker).   And, finally, Mary.   Or Maryam, to give what might be the original Aramaic form of her name, derived from the Hebrew Miriam.

Valiant, unafraid, teenage mum-to-be.  Saying ‘yes’ to becoming the Messiah’s mother, despite the risk to her reputation and even her safety.

Quietly observing her extraordinary son Yeshua as he grows up and eventually detaches himself from her and his earthly family as he launches his brief, blazing ministry: pondering so many mysteries about her precious boy in her heart, sometimes puzzled by him but staying with him right to the bitter end … the last time we see her is after the Ascension, when she is in a room in Jerusalem, praying with other faithful women and the apostles, not long before the Feast of Shavuot, when God’s Spirit came to change the world yet again, just as God had already changed hers.

Her ‘yes’ to God is everything. 

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The Tipping Point by Jane Clamp

   I wish the title of this blog referred to the daytime TV gameshow. I wish my lifestyle allowed me the indulgence to watch such casual entertainment. But no, I refer instead to the defining moment where the balance in a situation is altered to such an extent that change is inevitable, unavoidable and to be embraced.

   We all have tipping points. In negative circumstances, we might call it ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back.’ We’re keeping those plates spinning, our heads turning almost as fast as they are in our attempts to stay alert, stay focussed, not relaxing our guard. All it takes is for one more plate to appear in our peripheral vision and that’s it. Game over. A lot of sweeping up to do.

   More positively, there might be a life-change you’ve been hoping to make. Perhaps a Bible verse you’ve had niggling in your head for a while, and you wonder when it will be fulfilled. There might be a promotion you’ve wanted, an opportunity you’ve craved. You carry on through the day-to-day as normal, but your heart isn’t settled and your thoughts are distracted. It’s possible, actually, to be in this ‘limbo’ state for a very long time; but then you sense something shift. You’re moving towards the tipping point.

   For years now, I’ve juggled many different activities and occupations. I put it down to the twin motivations of having a low boredom threshold and wanting to squeeze this one life of mine down to the pips. It works very well, most of the time. I’m productive, creative, never stuck for something to do. But, increasingly, I’m over-tired, stretched, fearful of the effects of stress on my health. I know I’m reaching the tipping point, and one area dominates: writing.

Since I attended my first writing course in 2013, I’ve been badly bitten by this bug! It produces an itch I have to keep scratching and the passing years have only intensified it. From the early period of not knowing what to write (but writing something, anything, anyway) to finally working out what I want to say. From not even daring to walk down the drive, never mind knocking at a door, to finding openings and opportunities. From wondering what a deadline might feel like, to having more than I can process at once. All of this has been exciting and thrilling. It’s also bringing me to a tipping point. I have an increasing sense that it’s time to let go of the workload I’ve been carrying and be more fully what He is calling me to be: a writer.

My next steps forward will be ones of faith. I feel God’s nudge, reminding me he’s in control. Friends have rallied with encouragement and prayer and ACW are as supportive as ever. I’d love to hear your comments – perhaps you’re feeling the same way? I sense we’re all in it together!

Jane Clamp is author of Too Soon, a mother's journey through miscarriage (SPCK). She is ACW Groups' Coordinator.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Christmas Mysteries and the Reality of the Supernatural - by SC Skillman

I'm currently reading a  brilliant book by J. John: "Joy to the World", 25 Christmas Carol Meditations.
It's not often I'm so organised at this time of year, but I find myself following through J John's meditations, day by day, and plan to go through Advent with him.

Those of us who were at the Christian Resources Together retreat earlier this year (2018), will remember how compelling J. John's talk was (and indeed that was where I received my copy of "Joy to the World" and queued up to have J John sign it for me). He has a gift of being hilariously funny and also very profound and discerning.

So it is in this book, where he chooses particular Christmas carols and opens up their true meaning to us.

I have just read his meditation on "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen" and his thoughts on the fact that Christmas, in its most profound sense, is not for children at all, but it is about deliverance from evil.

As he points out, the Christmas story itself would be of no interest at all without the supernatural element. And the incarnation is largely about the supernatural truth that here in this world we are enslaved to evil, and we need to have redemption; and the awesome mystery of the entry into this world of a Redeemer, who stepped in to save us.

I have found that some Christians seem suspicious of the word "supernatural" which to me indicates that they misunderstand the meaning of the word, since the Christian faith is essentially a supernatural faith. The presence of the evil supernatural in this world may be attested to by simply looking at the news: as J. John says, there is subtantial evidence for Satan's activity.

But as J John points out, the Incarnation tells us that a Redeemer has come to break the power of the evil one who enslaves the world, and this is an idea that is found in many Christmas carols, and in particular, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen":

God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ, our Saviour
Was born upon this day,
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
comfort and joy,
O tidings of comfort and joy!

Monday, 3 December 2018

The 10-sentence descriptive challenge - by Fran Hill

How can we introduce variety and texture into our writing?

Try this 10-sentence writing exercise I use with students in my English teaching. This permutation of it involves describing a room (perhaps the one you're in right now) but the method can be used whatever you're writing.

I will give you examples for each of the instructions.

Describing a room

1. Your first sentence must be a statement about the room you want to describe. It should be a simple sentence. Simple sentences contain one subject and one verb. (Examples: The room speaks of comfort. Yellow walls brighten the room. I prefer this room to others.)

2. Your second sentence must be another statement. This time, use a compound sentence - two simple sentences joined with a connective such as and, but or so. (Examples: The room is cosy and a fire is blazing. I love the room but its decor is weary. The room is stuffy so I usually open a window.)

3. The third sentence must be a question. (Examples: Why do I feel so alone in here? Can a room's walls hear my thoughts? When did this room last receive any TLC?)

4. This fourth sentence must be an elliptical one, meaning that it is missing an element of grammar and would normally be counted as ungrammatical. (Examples: Chipped floorboards. Tall windows. Dust everywhere.)

5. The fifth sentence must begin with an imperative (a command word which addresses the reader directly such as 'Imagine', 'Look', 'Think' or 'Let me ...')

6. The sixth sentence must start with a subordinating connective. Choose from 'Because', 'Although' or 'If'. (Examples: Because this room is so small, I feel its walls so close. Although I dusted yesterday, I see I missed the chest of drawers. If visitors came now, I'd be ashamed of the cobwebs.) 

7. The seventh sentence must have the room saying something and therefore contain speech marks. (Example: I think I hear this room saying, 'Leave me be. You are an imposition.')

8. The eighth sentence must be another question. It can either be a question the narrator is asking, or one the room itself is asking.

9. The ninth sentence should contain a simile: a comparison using 'as though/if' or 'like'. (Examples: One wall is painted startling red, like the red of a new postbox. The fire is lively, as though ready for action. The lamp on the piano has a gentle, respectful light, like a blessing.)

10. The tenth and final sentence should refer to the future in some way. (Examples: Soon, these walls will hear a baby's cry. I wonder if I should close the door of this room tight-shut and never open it again. One day, I will answer the room's question, but for now it will have to stay unsatisfied.)

Now, I will do the exercise myself. Beneath are the results, exactly as they appeared on the screen first-time round.

This living room is poorly-lit. I would switch the main light on but I don't want the room to know I'm writing about it. Do you think I'm mad, worrying about the room's feelings? Maybe. Think about it, though - perhaps we don't pay enough attention to what our rooms have in mind. Although it might seem illogical, I only have to look around to feel, once again, that the room's walls are leaning in, straining to hear. 'She's tap-tap-tapping on that keyboard again,' they are saying, 'and she thinks we are neutral and disinterested, but little does she know.'  I wonder: should I move into the next room if this one is such a voyeur? I shiver, as though someone has walked not just over but through my grave, my bones and what is left of my skin. Soon, I will snatch up the keyboard and transfer to my kitchen table where the walls seem less vindictive, less sensitive, less like whisperers. 

Here's the room I was writing about.

Yes, it looks innocuous. But so did Lady Macbeth. 

Have a go yourself at the 10-sentence descriptive challenge. Why not post the results in the comments? I'd love to read them.

Fran Hill is a writer and teacher living in Warwickshire. You can find out about her and her work by visiting her website right here  Her new book to be published by SPCK in early 2020 is called 'Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?' and will be a memoir of a year in a teacher's life, written in diary format. If all goes to plan, it will be funny.