Saturday, 30 September 2017

The Mental Problem

As some of you may know, I suffer from depression. Serious depression. Some days are good, others are bad, and if it wasn't for medication it's quite likely I wouldn't be alive.

It affects each sufferer differently, and to different degrees, but there are similarities that we all suffer from

  • An inability to do the simplest things, even though you have time. This could be tidying your bedroom, doing the washing or even making a sandwich.
  • Anxiety over small things, even though you know they are irrelevant.
  • There are some days you feel everyone's out to get you, the doctors aren't trying hard enough, or people are having a go at you for no reason.
  • Isolation. If no one understands, you have no one to turn to.

When you are a writer, a lonely profession at the best of times, these things can stack up and overwhelm you. I have a full time job and write in the evenings or at weekends, so I don't get out much. While this is not helping, I have to add that when I do go out I'm not keen on the places that are open and the people that inhabit them. Pubs for instance.

The increasing number of shops, cafes and restaurants that play loud music also jars. Since when did Tesco's think it was a good idea to play loud rap music in the local store? And chemists?

So, as a writer, how do I cope? Most of the time, not very well, which my not-very-reliable scribblings on this blog go some way to showing. The only thing I can reliably do each week is my Friday Fun blog and even that is hard sometimes.

What gives me a lift, sometimes, is knowing that there are biblical characters who had the same issues. Noah, getting drunk after the flood. His reasons are unknown, and it could have been an error, but I can't help but wonder if he was disturbed by the memories of the voices of those who drowned while he and his family lived. Did they knock on the door pleading to be let in, or at least to take the children?

Elijah cried out that he was alone when on the run from Jezebel, Joseph was cast into a pit and sold into slavery, and how miserable was Judas that he felt the need to kill himself. Not forgetting the anguished cries of Jesus when he felt that his father had abandoned him.

What writers need is a close friend. A spouse, partner, sibling or even someone you can meet with for coffee every so often who not only understands you're a writer, but also how lonely it can get. If you have that, feel blessed. Not all aspiring writers have that support on tap. Facebook, phone calls and texts are a substitute, but a relatively inhuman and distant one. The ACW page is a help in some instances.

On the positive side, the health issues have enabled me to understand humanity and observe it in greater detail and depth than people who are relentlessly happy. My best characters tend to be those who are overlooked by others or who have been treated badly, yet I find I can also write about happiness. Maybe the absence of it for so long has taught me to treasure it more.

Depression can be a killer, but, if you survive, it can inform your writing and give it an aspect that many others cannot convincingly match. Maybe it's no surprise that a number of great authors and poets have suffered mentally or physically.

For those of you blessed enough not to suffer any severe mental health problems, read about those authors, or even some of the accounts from non-authors. I promise you this: You will learn a lot about humanity and our weaknesses, far more than people watching will ever teach you.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Changing Seasons

Do you dread the changing of the seasons or welcome them?

Autumn Colours  Image via Pixabay.

My maternal grandmother hated autumn.  She saw it as the season when everything died and, ironically perhaps, passed away one September. I love autumn and know, without this season, and winter, we cannot have another spring.  There must be a cycle.  It is easier to focus on the “jollier” times of year with that lovely light, no early dark evenings, fog or heavy rain.  But we need these things if only to appreciate the nicer aspects of nature more.

Autumn Reflections.  Image via Pixabay.

The comparison with the Christian cycle for me is to recognise, for all the joy of Easter Sunday, there must be the agony of the cross on Good Friday first.  There were no shortcuts for our Lord and we shouldn’t expect any. 

I do though!  If we were given a choice as to whether we go through painful situations, wouldn’t we always choose the “no thanks” option?  It is as well this is out of our hands.

Why?  I know, looking back at unavoidable, upsetting times, I’ve learned from them, which I believe is God telling me “this is what I want you to take from this”.

Walking Your Way through the Seasons.  Image via Pixabay

In dealing with significant care issues, I could recognise when, speaking to someone else, if they had gone through it.  It was not perhaps what they said, more their manner. Others would wish me well and I appreciated their kindness but the depth behind words coming from someone who knew what I was going through at the time is almost beyond comparison.  I think of it as heart speaking to heart and God inspiring the other person “you must tell Allison this.  She needs to know she’s not alone in facing this.”  And it is good to know you are not alone.

A good summary of human weaknesses.  Image via Pixabay.

I’ve come across the “all must be well all of the time” school of thought and find this hard to accept, yet alone handle.  It is okay to be angry, to hurt, and I think it vital to recall Jesus knew all about the human experience.

He cried, he became angry, he went through a mockery of a trial and unjust treatment but He did it for us and is ahead of us, no matter what we are currently going through.  

It can feel like the darkness wants to extinguish all light.  Image via Pixabay.

I also think the Book of Job is an amazing part of the Bible.  So much honesty there…  so much unexplained - and I’ve learned to accept it is okay not to know it all now.  Sometimes that can be a relief. 

Striving to be Light in the Darkness.  Image via Pixabay

It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive to understand but it is acceptance, sometimes at least, things become clearer with the passing of time.  No shortcuts again! I also think we are better ambassadors for Christ if we have been “knocked about the edges” a bit.
Pressing on towards the Light.  Image via Pixabay.

People need to know our Lord is real, our faith is real, and you can’t beat  personal experiences for bringing home that reality especially when life is grim.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

For Amazement by Beauty: A song of the senses by Trevor Thorn

This song of praise tries to convey the richness of the experiences of our senses
Composition: ‘Stitched segments of
 Neural pathways diagram'

(This is intended to be sung: Suggested Tune: Sans day carol - without chorus)

For amazement by beauty
we give you our praise;
for the patterns that form
in our neural pathways. 
Our brains stimulated 
by wonder and awe: 
for glimpses of glory,
we thank you, dear Lord.

For the marvel of colour
deriving from light,
and heightening each image  
revealed by our sight.  
For spirited hues 
that emotion arouse.
Give thanks for the splendours
our vision bestows. 

For delight in the fragrance
of blossom and herbs,
as we breathe in the glories
of nectars and oils:
some heady, some soothing,
some prized for their power
to promote our well-being
with root, leaf or flower.

For the myriad touches
that make us aware,
of the soft, smooth or yielding,
of the hard, harsh or spare.
When feeling such beauty
as a new-born child’s face,
there’s delight in the moment,
a great gift of grace

For the tongue and for taste buds 
that flavours detect.
For our instinct, which foods 
to enjoy or reject.
May we, who by plenty 
are mightily blessed
be preserved, Lord, from hunger,
thirst, waste or excess

For the patterns of language
that gladden the ear;
for the glory of music
as it trembles the air;
for tones and expressions
we love to applaud.
For all blessings of beauty,
we adore you, dear Lord.

If you enjoyed this, you may also like the poem I Met with Beauty, Science and Faith on my own blog, 'The Cross and The Cosmos'

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

A Change is as Good as a Rest by Rebecca Seaton

As a teacher, I look forward to the summer as a chance to relax, recharge and catch up on things which need doing. I usually divide the six weeks into a short break or two, household chores, school work and catching up with friends and family. This summer was slightly different. I received a last-minute invitation to visit friends in Australia – for a month. Although I always enjoy my six-week break, the reality is that things like jobs around the house and school work (and TV shows, if I’m honest) can all distract me from my writing. Suddenly, I was faced with the prospect of both time and an unexpected location.
While I was away, I also took a book a friend had given me: The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing by Tara Mokhtari. In it, she discusses the concept of ‘focused procrastination’. The idea that my daily tasks and mental wanderings could help me work out where to go with my WIP was encouraging.
I soon found I could spend a happy morning walking around the nature reserve or down to the beach, praying, thinking, trying out ideas. Then, in the afternoon, I was able to get some of my thoughts onto paper more easily because I wasn’t thinking about them for the first time.
Now I’m back home, things obviously won’t be the same. I can’t walk to the beach and there will be plenty of marking and planning which needs doing. But…I can make more effort to go for a walk, I can switch off the TV while I iron and ruminate with intent, I can get that interesting thought onto paper the same day, rather than waiting.
I’m grateful to God (and my friends) for giving me an opportunity to seek new ways to get writing. My prayer is that I don’t forget the lessons learnt this summer but instead look to God to keep things new and fresh amongst the everyday.

Rebecca Seaton writes YA fantasy novels, as well as fiction and non-fiction for her church. As a teacher, she also enjoys encouraging the next generation of writers.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Calling and purpose, by Eve Lockett

The Calling of Peter and Matthew, Ravenna -
There are so many ways we can fulfil our calling in Christ as writers. Our natural talent for writing, our love of words, our imaginations, can be used to serve Christ in so many ways. And it could well change as time goes on – our original calling can develop and be transformed.

Peter was a fisherman by skill, by training, by natural aptitude and by trade. Jesus transformed Peter’s fishing. Peter had spent a wasted night, catching nothing. Jesus called Peter to ‘go out deeper’ and try again. This time the abundance of fish was overwhelming. Clearly, Jesus had the power to enhance Peter’s career as a fisherman. But he transformed it into another calling altogether. Peter left his nets and moved on to a new calling. For three years, he followed Jesus as his disciple, a fisher of men.
But then came another calling. This time, the risen Lord Jesus called him to be a shepherd! ‘Feed my sheep’, Jesus said. Peter became a pastor, a bishop, a shepherd of the church. And his final call was to die a martyr’s death in the service of Christ for the glory of God.

Last week I had a dream, one of those rare dreams which, because it contains a surprise out of nowhere, stay in the memory.

I dreamed I was getting ready to go with friends and colleagues on an assignment, which meant presenting some of my work, the use of visual aids and a prepared speech. I began to get ready, fussing over the equipment I would need, the material I would use, and also what I would wear. I remember trying to decide between pink or purple tights, wanting to make the right impression.
A further anxiety was that the road outside was under repair, with potholes and some surface water. I moved my own car into a better position so that the car picking me up could have more room. I waited, mentally going over my list of all that I would take with me and all that I would have to do before being collected.
And then suddenly, without warning, a vehicle arrived outside. Instead of a sleek black car with seats for several passengers, it was a brown charabanc, an old-fashioned bus, and every window was crammed with familiar smiling faces calling me to ‘come on!’ I left the house immediately, without changing my clothes, without any of my presentation material, without any equipment.
And then, dear reader, I woke up.

My first thought was that this dream was about death. When we are called to God’s presence, we leave everything behind, we go dressed as we are and we join those who have gone before us. My further thought was that this could be about vocation. Christ called the fishermen to leave their nets and to follow him. We come to Christ just as we are. He equips us for the journey, and he gives us the company of other saints as our travelling companions. We step out unprepared, beyond our own excessive fretting and planning, and we join his joyful and purposeful band of followers. Our assignment is of his shaping and choosing. And he takes us where he wants us to go.

Lord, help me to let go of the fussiness and unnecessary details, the silly ways I try to impress, my shallow plans, and help me to join in your plans and purposes, and follow where you lead.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Everyday learning? by Fiona Lloyd

There’s a scene near the beginning of Ursula Le Guin’s book, A Wizard of Earthsea, where the newly-apprenticed wizard Sparrowhawk is discouraged by the amount of time he spends performing apparently mundane tasks.

“When will my training actually begin?” he asks Ogion, his master.

 Ogion’s answer is short, and surprising. “It has begun,” he says.

This is wholly unsatisfactory to the hot-headed and impetuous Sparrowhawk, who subsequently takes ship to the wizard school on Roke at the earliest opportunity. It is only many years later, when he looks back on his time with Ogion, that he recognises the less tangible lessons – and deeper understanding – that his former tutor wanted to mentor. 

I recently read a quote (which I think was from Dallas Willard) which talked about discipleship not just being a Sunday thing. He argued that if we are taking our spiritual growth seriously, then what happens during the rest of the week is equally important. If we can’t learn how to be more Christ-like at work (or at home, or in the supermarket), then chances are what we do on a Sunday isn’t making that much difference, anyway.

Gulp. I’ve never been of the view that following Jesus is for weekends only, but seeking to learn how to grow spiritually through my everyday experiences seems challenging. What about that driver who cut in on me the other day when I was driving to work? Or that person I came across online who expresses political views diametrically opposed to my own?

It’s made me think about my writing, too. It’s easy to see that whatever we write, we should seek to do it to the glory of God (which doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be “religious”). It’s harder to understand how we can use our writing experience to help us become more like Jesus – but I’m willing to give it a go. What do you think?

Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona blogs at and at You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Her first novel, The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum, will be published by Instant Apostle in January 2018. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Hidden Stories 2—Words and Deeds

Last month, in Rich man, poor man, I mentioned that while, in the Gospel parables, teaching is hidden inside a story, in the Letter of St James, there are stories hidden inside the teaching. I thought I’d share another little story with you, this time based on chapters 2 and 3. I hope you won’t mind that it’s a bit longer.

Part 1

It’s the Sabbath after the one when Elder Yakob gave Brother Sophron a rather painful telling-off. Sophron is again on the bema of the synagogue that he helps to run, the one that broke away from the Jerusalem community to follow Yeshua Mashiach. Worship has just ended. That well-dressed stranger with all the rings who came last week didn’t come back. Sophron is disappointed about this, but two other things are very cheering. Firstly, Elder Yakob isn’t there either: perhaps his rheumatism is playing up. And even better, the chap with shabby clothes has come again, despite Sophron’s curtness last time, and has obviously profited by his visit. He joined loudly in the prayers and hymns, and, gratifyingly, paid close attention to Sophron’s word of instruction. It was his first such address, specially devised for people like that.

He still feels bad about the way he made that ill-dressed guy sit on the floor. This would be a good opportunity to make him welcome and get to know him a bit. I wonder what he will have to say about the teaching? With a bit of an inner glow at that thought, Sophron makes his way over to the man, who’s all by himself. The other congregants are chatting to each other all around him. I can be the first to make him feel at home, thinks Sophron.

‘Welcome, in the name of Mashiach Yeshua, my friend. I am Sophron bar Zakkai. May I know your name?’
‘My name is Elazar bar Adam, sir,’ says the man. He does look rather haggard, thinks Sophron. Hope he’s not unwell.
‘Brother Elazar, I noticed how keenly you participated in our worship. And you followed the teaching with great concentration. I hope you found it nourishing to your faith.’
Elazar’s eyes light up and his thin face breaks into a grin. ‘Yes, my brother, I am so hungry for the Word. I have been hungry for much of my life, but now I have found the Bread which really satisfies and does not perish.’
Sophron’s heart melts with pleasure. Here’s the real thing. One of the lost sheep of Israel, returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of souls.

There follows a wonderful conversation about the Faith. They talk about how all of us who are faithful to Mashiach are set free from everything that the Law of Mosheh could not set us free from—loosed from a burden which we were never really able to bear. (And how much more this must have been a burden for a poor man like you, than for a son of the priesthood like me, thinks Sophron.) How Mashiach fills the poor with good things, while the rich are sent away empty. This was very much the theme of Sophron’s word of instruction, but it’s more alive and heartwarming to share it.

‘And now brother,’ says Elazar,  ‘when Sabbath is out I will have much to do, as I am not a wealthy man, so I must leave you. I thank this brotherhood for its welcome and you for your words of edification. Until next Sabbath, peace be with you.’
‘And with you, Brother Elazar,’ says Sophron, ‘go in peace, keep warm, and be filled with all good things.’

It’s Brother Shimon’s turn to tidy the synagogue and lock up, so Sophron is soon striding down the alleyway, humming cheerfully to himself. Rounding a corner of the dark alley, he is suddenly knocked heavily into by another person coming the other way. He staggers, loses his balance, and lands sprawling in the dust—and the more unsavory stuff. The man who cannoned into him is sitting on the ground nearby surrounded by several large well-filled bags. A wineskin has burst, loosing a dark stain into the dirt, and near it several small flat loaves are scattered. The other man is wearing a deep hood so that his face cannot be seen, though the end of a grey beard peeps out.

Sophron’s whole body feels sore and he is slightly shocked and rather angry. ‘What on earth were you thinking of, you reckless idiot? Why can’t you look where you’re going, you stupid fool? My clothes are filthy and I’ve got bruises all over! May Heaven judge between us!’

The other man gets up slowly, evidently with some pain in the joints. He puts back his hood. Sophron’s mouth suddenly goes dry. It’s Elder Yakob.

Embed from Getty Images
Part 2

Elder Yakob limps over and extends a hand to Sophron, pulling him up from the ground with surprising vigour for a man of his age.
‘Blessed be the Lord of Glory, Brother Sophron! May he judge mercifully! I apologize for knocking you over. I was in a great hurry.’
‘Blessed be he for ever, Brother Yakob, and thank you...’ In a state of confusion, Sophron casts around for a safe subject of conversation. ‘You were not at prayers today, brother? I was hoping you would appreciate my short word of instruction.’
‘No,’ says Yakob, gathering his bags one by one. ‘I am on an errand of the Lord Mashiach, to deliver these supplies to someone who needs them. Perhaps you would assist me,’ he continues, handing several large bags to Sophron. As there seems no way out of it, Sophron follows the older man up the alley.

‘It seems you are now a teacher of Israel,’ Yakob says over his shoulder. Oh dear, this is going to be one of his monologues. ‘Not many of us should become teachers, my brother, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways—as we have just been shown quite painfully. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.’
‘Brother Yakob, I’m well aware that I’m not perfect, but teaching—’
‘You know, Brother Sophron, the tongue is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.’
At the word ‘hell’, Yakob stops abruptly and turns round, so that Sophron nearly bumps into him again. Looking straight into his face, Yakob continues:
‘With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father—blessed be he—and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. I rather think I heard you do both just now, did I not?’
‘Well, I—was taken rather by surprise, and—’
‘Brother Sophron, out of the same mouth—yours on this occasion—come praise and cursing. My brother, this should not be!’

They go on down the street. Hoping to change the subject, Sophron asks, as mildly as he can, ‘Brother Yakob, where are we going with these bags?’
‘To visit a certain Elazar bar Adam, who you may remember from last Sabbath prayers. He is a poor man and has a sick wife and three small children. These supplies will keep them going.’
‘That’s excellent, Brother Yakob. Brother Elazar came back again to prayers today and we had a wonderful talk afterwards.’
‘About what, may I ask, brother?’
‘About faith. He has the most perfect grasp of salvation by faith in Mashiach. Really, there was nothing I could teach him about faith!’
‘There you speak truthfully, brother.’
‘I hope I always do,’ says Sophron, a bit resentfully and wondering what he’s implying.
‘Elazar is without clothes and daily food, and your final words to him were something like “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed”, were they not?’
Oh dear, is this the preternatural insight that Elder Yakob has a reputation for?
‘Er, yes, brother—’
‘But you did nothing about his physical needs?’
‘Well, no, the subject didn't come up.’
‘And what good is faith like that?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘What good is it, brother, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead!’
‘Heaven forbid, Brother Yakob… I am sure I have a living faith...’
‘You believe that there is one God. That’s good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.’
‘Brother, you have faith, you say; I say that I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. Now I’m afraid I’m going to call you what you called me just now, but—Heaven judge between us—with justification. You stupid fool! Do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?’
‘By all means, Brother Yakob,’ says Sophron hoarsely, knowing that it will come whether or not he wants it.
‘When was our father Abraham called righteous? When was the scripture fulfilled, the one that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”, when he was called God’s friend?’
‘I suppose, when he offered his son Isaac on the altar, brother.’
‘So you see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And what about Rahab, Brother Sophron?’
‘What, the prostitute?!’
‘Yes—was she not considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction?’
‘Well, I suppose you might call that—’
‘So, brother, you see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone, don’t you!’
Before Sophron can reply, Yakob stops in front of a door in the wall. He bangs on it with his fist.
‘Here we are, brother. Thank you for helping with the bags. Just leave them here. Go in peace, and remember,’ he continues with a smile, ‘as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.’

Somehow less keen to meet Brother Elazar just then, Sophron quickly heads home.

Next month, DV, a third story about Sophron, ‘Moth and Rust’.
If you enjoy (or can stomach) my unorthodox orthodox thoughts, you can find other faith-related ones in my blog Ecclos.