Monday, 30 April 2007


Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall rise up on wings as eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40
I like the idea of renewed strength conveyed by these words. But I'm not so keen on the running - or the waiting.
Those take discipline.
The discipline of taking time out to listen and take in.
When I do that, I don't then want to ruin it all by starting the running again. I want to gain momentum more gently, at a more measured pace. But it seems like I've had my time of waiting. And the strengthening gained from that has to see me over a few more hurdles. Its straight back into the race, no warm up. There has to be a different way, a more sustainable way. A way that involves prioritising the waiting and listening space without the guilt trip.
And maybe the relentless pace of being back in the parish is a necessary reminder that the work and the needs and the care and compassion required are never going to diminish. But that I need to find a different way to make space and that finding that way is a priority. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

A little aside

I have a wonderful knack of getting hopelessly lost. On my journey to the remote Aberdeenshire countryside last week, I was relying heavily on my satellite navigation, one of my latest gadgets. At one point, it took me on an unexpected detour. It was then that I realised how reliant I was on the instructions of Darth Vadar, whose voice is on my Tom Tom. He could have taken me wherever he wanted and I would have been at his mercy, so little instinct have I in a directional sense.
When I finally arrived after almost 4 hours driving, Darth Vadar said: "Your journey to the dark side is complete". He had in fact steered me very accurately to my destination. So, was this the dark side? What exactly was in store for me? Pondering these questions earlier in the month had almost caused me to cancel the retreat. Thankfully, I was encouraged by a wise woman not to do that and thus became a part of something really special. Something invigorating, something out of this world that I was meant to experience. My "journey to the dark side" was by no means complete. It had only just begun and, I'm sure, will take a long time to be fully realised. There is another voice I have to rely on, another guide I have to follow. That, too will take courage and much wise counsel but I'm up for it.

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Take this moment

After a rather dreich drive through misty glens, the sun appeared and, as I arrived at my destination, what a welcoming sight - lush greenery, dancing daffodils , sturdy trees and a home with a beckoning glow. The scene was set for a time of rekindling and nurturing.
If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same:
you would have to put off
Sense and notion.
You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself,
or inform curiosity
Or carry report.
You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.
T S Elliot
There are places that demand little of us other than that we simply be. And, in the being, we can soak up all the lessons that creation holds for us for that particular moment and in that space and time know the very Creator's embrace, an embrace to lean into.

Friday, 27 April 2007

Harbouring life

I have had the most amazing week on retreat in the Aberdeenshire countryside. I was promised a few days of loving and feeding. And that is what I was served - and more. Hosted by folk who know the real meaning of hospitality, days were filled with love, with laughter, with floods of tears and with profound wisdom and teaching.
On one of my early morning walks I came across this dried up bough of a tree. It had split off from the main trunk. Lying in the ground, detached from its source, it was exposed to the elements, vulnerable, unprotected. Yet it harboured life. It had become the home of moss and lichen and some interesting fungi. Maybe not the most welcome inhabitants but signs of life none the less. I felt I was witnessing a living metaphor. Even in our lowliest states we can harbour life. This bough will not grow again as it was. It will not be reattached to its trunk. But it has a new purpose to fulfil, a new life to undertake. I need some more time to process all that I discovered this week, but the parable of this tree will do to be going on with.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Retreat or escape?

I'm going on retreat this week. Or - as one of my colleagues put it - I'm running away. In fact, that may well be an accurate description of my need to seek refuge from the relentless business of the parish. But retreats aren't passive ventures. They should be challenges that encourage us to return to our posts with new insight and a new enthusiasm. That's what I am hoping for this week. I want, once again, to gain perspective, to be nurtured and encouraged and to practice more discernment. Then, hopefully I can gather some enthusiasm and muster some courage to get on with the journey. So its not about time out. Its time very much in. So, if I don't blog much this week, you'll know that I'm too busy running away.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Music for Mums

We spent last night at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh at a wonderful concert - Music for Mums. We were there largely because our son and his friends were performing with the Inverclyde Schools Junior choir. But what I saw and heard really inspired me. The concert was just part of a huge fundraising effort by a midwife at Simpson's Maternity Hospital in Edinburgh. Linda McDonald visited Bottom hospital in Malawi and returned home to her own high tech unit determined to do something to improve the lives of mothers and babies in Malawi. She has already raised £125,ooo pounds by selling recipe books!

Over 500 very talented young folk took to the stage at the Usher Hall, performing all sorts of music: music from the shows, ceilidh music, African music, drumming, fiddling, traditional Scottish music. There was also some poetry, an Eagles tribute band and an Irish tenor. The finale, where every youngster reappeared wearing orange Music for Mums T shirts, singing Boyzone's A Different Beat was moving both in sight and in sound. It was indeed a privelege to be a part of something so worthwhile. One woman's determination motivating hundreds of talented young folk making a difference to thousands of lives across the world.

Thursday, 19 April 2007

Which mask today?

I visited with a lovely lady in hospital today and left her bedside feeling a lot lighter than I started out. She's in and out of hospital at regular intervals. Sometimes her stay will last a few weeks. I asked her didn't she get sick of hospital beds and hospital food and just the lack of freedom that her condition imposes. She replied: "Of course I do". "Then why do you always seem so bright and cheery?" I asked. What she told me brought me up short. She said that each day she reaches into her little jar of masks and always chooses the bright ones. "No one wants to hear my complaints, " she said.
That reply had me asking myself: "Would I have wanted to listen to her complain?" Probably not is the answer. I would have of course but I'm much more comfortable with her being sunny and positive.
How often do we ask people how they are not really wanting to hear the truthful response but an edited, sanitised version. How often do we give others the edited response when they ask about us? There's a lot of mask wearing going on. It takes something special to get behind all those masks. And it involves an element of risk on our part to emerge from behind the masks that we don. I wish I could love people into taking that risk.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Whose fault?

One of the more disturbing elements that has been a feature since the earliest reports of the massacre in Virginia is the quest to blame campus officials for not closing down the college early enough. Sure, if deaths could have been prevented, there is a need to ensure that critical incident policies are more robust in the future - as they will inevitably be after such an awful occurence. But, somehow, all that looking for scapegoats deflects the naked horror that a lone student perpetrated such dreadful carnage. That sort of humanity gone wrong is just so hard to comprehend. It tests my belief that we are all created in God's image. But that is largely because I do not even want to think that there could be such a seed of evil in me. Of course that ventures down the road of the "problem of evil", the "problem of pain" and the like. All those huge questions with no answers even for those with the most robust faith. What I do believe, however, is that, even thousands of miles away in Scotland, my faith and my love can make a difference to all those suffering as a consequence of the evil perpetrated in Virginia simply because we are but one humanity and the suffering is universal. So I offer no answers, not even any comfort but I offer my faith and my love in support of brothers and sisters of humankind.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

More than meets the eye.

This is Sam the sheep - the wooly one. He is one of last year's lambs. He wasn't expected to make it and was hand reared with love. Now he charges around playing football with the son of the folks who raised him! I don't think he really knows he's a sheep.
For a good few years, Easter always found us on the Isle of Tiree and we often got to feed the lambs who needed that little extra care. One year, there was a lamb, we called her Samantha, who used to come walking with us when we took the dogs out. Isn't there a story about geese who were raised with the chickens and spent their days pecking around the yard instead of soaring in the sky?
The world is truly our oyster. We just need some encouragement and some good examples to follow along with a lot of love. Then we can choose to be anything we want to be. And, even better, the folk around us will go on loving us whatever.

Monday, 16 April 2007


Our American guests all began their journey home today. Everything now seems a bit flat. We've had so much fun, so much putting the world to rights. But there has been something a bit surreal about the past week. The very beautiful Scottish weather, unusual for the time of year added to that surreality. Our routine was way off kilter. We ate too much and drank too much and giggled our way through the days - and nights. Its going to be hard to pick up the pieces and try to get back to some sort of normality. But aren't we so fortunate to have had such a great visit? And we've been creating memories. Memories that will sustain us until we can get together across the pond once more.
Even in the mundane every day, its good to have an awareness of memories being created, of sustenance being laid in store.
These beautiful primroses are blooming in the most unlikely places right now. They can't fail to bring cheer wherever they are found. They'll remind me for some time to come of a leisurely walk to the beach, of the excitement of flying kites. Of memories laid deep in my soul. Of love that transcends physical borders and distance and time. Such is the tenacity of friendship.

Sunday, 15 April 2007


In Scotland, we still have some of these wonderful old red telephone kiosks in splendidly isolated places. Means of communication change so fast. Its good to have reminders of what used to be and of how valuable these isolated communication posts were for communities. Blogging has opened, for me, a whole new exciting world of fellow sojourners, sharing stories and insights as well as giving me the opportunity to put some of my meanderings "out there". Two folk this week, Cherie and Iain have given me a thinking blogger award for which I am grateful. I now have to nominate 5 posts that get me thinking, so here are my top 5 fellow bloggers:
  1. Cherie, a sister I have never met but with whom I share lots of similar wanderings.
  2. Iain, whom I have met and who never fails to inspire me with his wisdom and talent.
  3. italker, this blog often includes astounding video clips and thoughtful poetry.
  4. Purple words on a grey background, a wonderful title. Again someone I don't know but whose musings I enjoy. I too used to be in full time chaplaincy - a "sector ministry".
  5. goodin parts, insightful reflections of an anglican priest.

Thanks to all of these for putting their reflections on the web. I hope you enjoy Thinking Blogger "status".

Here are the participation rules:

1. If you get tagged [which means your blog has been named on one of these lists of 5], write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.

3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (silver or gold version).

Lets keep on communicating!

Friday, 13 April 2007

All the difference

24 hours can make all the difference. We took a trip to our bolt hole in Tighnabruaich this week. Its only 90 minutes from our home but involves a 30 minute ferry ride. Somehow that ferry crossing divides us from home and work and encourages us to rest and relax. We flew the new kites in beautiful surroundings, unhampered by power lines. We walked along the beach. We admired new lambs and calves. We took time over meals, sat around the dining table and talked. Just a whole winding down. And then came home refreshed and enabled to pick up the responsibilty again., well, the important bits anyway. Because being away also lends perspective to life at home and at work and helps us to regularly shed some of that load that we don't need to carry. A sloughing off of the dead wood and unnecessary weight. It even feels good to be back. All this in 24 hours!

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Flying kites

Our American guests arrived safely - in spite of homeland security raising the security status to orange right before they boarded their flight in Chicago. Its good to have friends to belly laugh with. We've done a lot of that already. They also brought with them a couple of stunning kites. Now we're busy planning a trip to the beach for a couple of days to fly the kites. Its wonderful to have time and space and good friends to hang out with. We all need light and laughter - and plenty of colour in our lives. We have that in abundance this week and, hopefully we'll all be resurrected in lots of different ways and recharged by our time together.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Easter blessings

He is risen!
Easter blessings to you and yours.

Saturday, 7 April 2007

It was for you

Yesterday, we decided to take communion onto the streets of our village. We wanted to remind folk that it was Good Friday. And to confront folk quietly with the message that Christ died for them. The various reactions were fascinating. To many folk, we were completely invisible, gazes were averted as they passed by. Others were curious to know what we were up to but didn't want to engage. A few people took Jesus at his word and shared communion.
We set up table outside a fast food store - a juxtaposition I found ironic for the sharing of the food of life. There was something really liberating about taking the sacrament outside the walls of the church sanctuary. And certainly some of the participants in communion yesterday are folk who are unlikely to find themselves inside a church building being offered the sacrament instituted by Christ's death. Now I'm looking for more ways to take Christ onto the streets where he belongs, where we belong.

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Stopping the traffic

We are planning another trip to Holland this summer. There'll be walking, cycling, eating, sleeping and generally living outdoors. I love the pace of life in Frysland, a rural area a couple of hours north of Amsterdam.
But even on the drive up there from Rotterdam, on some fast and busy roads, it intrigues me how, when boats want to pass, traffic stops, engines are switched off, the road opens up and boats pass through the gap. There's even time to take photographs.
This holy week, I've found myself longing for that opportunity to stop for a moment. But, with services every night, services that I can't put together until the pressure of deadline is upon me, as well as all the normal pastoral needs to be met, letting up is not an option. This busy - ness is largely of my own making. But I'm not beating myself up about that. Because I believe that 2000 years ago, Jesus found himself caught up in frenetic activity. No time even to prepare for his own death - the folk around him just wanted more and more.
Sometimes we tell ourselves that its in the stillness that we can know God. But, thankfully, God is also clearly present in all the commotion. Not being able to change how the week is shaping up or how I am caught up in activity, still I relish God quietly present, urging us on to show his love for the world. And when there is that odd pause in the traffic, hopefully I'll be able to take in the view and bask in the moment before carrying on to change the world with love.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Stones of some standing

Standing stones fascinate me. I will happily trek miles to view these ancient relics of our past. The mystery and the legends surrounding their origins and their use simply add to their attraction. This stone circle, around 5000 years old, stands at Loch Buie on the Isle of Mull. It took me several attempts to find it and, on my first visit, I thought a nearby kerb cairn, pretty impressive in itself, was the stone circle. I only discovered my mistake when I got home and it was a whole year before I could make the trek again and marvel at the real thing.
How often do we settle for less when, with just a little more striving, the real thing is within our grasp?

Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Spatially challenged

This week, we have a labyrinth set up in the church hall. Each evening after our holy week services, people go and spend some time in the labyrinth, meditating and praying or just enjoying some peace and quiet. At different points in the labyrinth, there are symbolic actions that folk can perform - or not - as they wish, things that help folk journey with Jesus on the way to the cross.
I needed some help setting up the labyrinth. Although its something I've done quite a few times now, I am spatially challenged. And even with a diagram in my hand, I still can't work out just how to lay out the pattern. My creativity doesn't translate into spatial awareness.
Its good to know our limitations but important not always to allow those limitations to inhibit us or stifle our expressiveness.

Monday, 2 April 2007

It was for us...and our communities

Last year I attended an open air production of the life of Christ in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow. When Christ was crucified, the backdrop was a couple of Glasgow tenement properties, with onlookers passing the time of day over the wall. All that was missing was a couple of Glasgow women "hingin" from their windows.
This struck me as authentic.
This Monday of Holy Week, we remember that Jesus wept over the city. Our communities are in dire need of that kind of compassion. Folk who care, who look beyond the outer facade of community life and recognise that there is much to weep about. But weeping is not enough. Our compassion must spur us to action that brings about change. Looking beneath the surface helps us to see reality. Caring enough to make a difference is another matter.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Positive strokes

This is the Bavarian summer house in the impressive gardens at Brodick castle on the Isle of Arran.
Last year, I led a retreat there for some friends in the church. We held our Sunday morning worship in the summerhouse.

The curious stickers covering everyone were a part of our worship that involved writing something good you had discovered about other members of the group and then attaching that to their person. Everyone was pleasantly surprised to learn about the discoveries others had made and the affirmation felt good.
Sometimes its easy to make others feel good and even where its more of a struggle, its always a worthwhile exercise. We all need some loving.

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