Friday, November 30, 2007

Horton moves again

Horton is moving again today, down to level four. I like my new desk on level four. Because we work in an old converted wool shed it still has big old wooden beams and one of them goes right through my desk - literally. The have cut a square in my desk around it. So I have a "feature" post. It's quite nice and rustic. I am sure I am going to get annoyed with it at some point in the future, but for now I think my desk has "character". And maybe Horton likes it. Anyway, in the process of moving I ran over my foot with my new drawers and collected my big toenail, then dropped to the ground in a breath-sucking pain as it lifted and the blood came out from around it. Ouch.

Poetry Friday XVI - the thread of life

This blog is turning into a poetry Friday blog! I have recently made the decision to move from where I am living in order to create a little more space, physical and otherwise, for doing certain things (I currently live in a three bedroom apartment, with a total of four people, and give myself a back ache using my laptop on the floor in my rather crowded bedroom, piled with books, crochet projects etc). "Flatting" is a strange concept I find - it's very different to family, in that it generally involves several people living their separate lives from the same base, and not endeavouring or expecting to build a life together in the way that you would in a family. I think I am up to my 29th flatmate since I left home. And while I acknowledge the benefits of living with such a variety of people, in knocking your corners off, there comes a time in life when you just feel like having a little more control over, and freedom in, your environment - and living outside your bedroom. So, while I am not moving so I will have more "space" to blog, it will be interesting to see what becomes of me :). Being a classic introvert, who is quite happy to live vicariously in books, I know I am going to have to work hard on some things - but I am looking forward to reading those books on a couch in a loungeroom (if my budget will allow a loungeroom).

Anyway, here is my poem for today, and I am back to Christina Rossetti:

The Thread of Life
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

The irresponsive silence of the land,
The irresponsive sounding of the sea,
Speak both one message of one sense to me:--
Aloof, aloof, we stand aloof, so stand
Thou too aloof bound with the flawless band
Of inner solitude; we bind not thee;
But who from thy self-chain shall set thee free?
What heart shall touch thy heart? what hand thy hand?--
And I am sometimes proud and sometimes meek,
And sometimes I remember days of old
When fellowship seemed not so far to seek
And all the world and I seemed much less cold,
And at the rainbow's foot lay surely gold,
And hope felt strong and life itself not weak.

Thus am I mine own prison. Everything
Around me free and sunny and at ease:
Or if in shadow, in a shade of trees
Which the sun kisses, where the gay birds sing
And where all winds make various murmuring;
Where bees are found, with honey for the bees;
Where sounds are music, and where silences
Are music of an unlike fashioning.
Then gaze I at the merrymaking crew,
And smile a moment and a moment sigh
Thinking: Why can I not rejoice with you?
But soon I put the foolish fancy by:
I am not what I have nor what I do;
But what I was I am, I am even I.

Therefore myself is that one only thing
I hold to use or waste, to keep or give;
My sole possession every day I live,
And still mine own despite Time's winnowing.
Ever mine own, while moons and seasons bring
From crudeness ripeness mellow and sanitive;
Ever mine own, till Death shall ply his sieve;
And still mine own, when saints break grave and sing.
And this myself as king unto my King
I give, to Him Who gave Himself for me;
Who gives Himself to me, and bids me sing
A sweet new song of His redeemed set free;
He bids me sing: O death, where is thy sting?
And sing: O grave, where is thy victory?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Poetry Friday XV - to love a wall

This week I actually wrote a poem myself, for the first time in years, two even (the second being completely silly), but it would be very much an act of "over-sharing" to inflict it on the world (maybe when I'm dead someone can find it in my drawer and analyse me - actually, I have my doubts anyone will bother, but the things said about the dead, particularly about dead poets, and the freedoms taken in speculating on motivations and character, would hardly be possible, and would be most embarrassing to hear said, while one was still alive) and I can't see that it would do anyone else particular good to read it. That got me thinking about the whole idea of wanting to be known, the selective things we want others to know and what sort of things we should even want others to know. At times I have paused, even in updating my facebook status, and thought "why do I want the world to know that particular thing?". And even in wanting to be known, there are some things too deep, too very personal, or too precious even, to indiscriminately share with the world - and I hope it actually stays that way. On the other hand though, I have been reading bits and pieces lately about the nature of true hospitality, and sharing our lives with others, that espouse the value in letting others see some of our messes (the physical messes in our homes and the personal struggles), be encouraged by seeing that we don't live in a state of constant perfection, and be a part of who we really are. Anyway, Karen brought my attention to the poem below after the last post, so I will run with Robert Frost again. The poet clearly wants to question the idea that good neighbours keep good fences, while the neighbour doesn't. Perhaps the reality is that there are just varying degrees of appreciation for varying levels of "sharing".

Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Robert Frost

Friday, November 16, 2007

Poetry Friday XIV - the stoic shrug

Today I thought I'd write about the poet Robert Frost. I have a book of his poetry, and in the introduction by Ian Hamilton it says that an "important ingredient of Frost's charm - [is] his use of the aphorism, and in particular the aphorism that speaks of a resigned cheerfulness, or a cheerful resignation. Frost is a master of the stoic shrug, the rugged settling for what there is, however less than perfect. Behind this resignation there are in fact deep areas of fear and despair, but only intermittently are these allowed to show through. Frost uses his social manner, his maintaining of a brave face, as a defence against the real meanings of many of his more popular, calender-bound aphorisms." I like the phrase "a stoic shrug". I think it's a grand thing. Those people capable of the stoic shrug are often perceived to be people of lesser feelings, which is a very great misconception, when the reality is that they are those of the true nobility and understanding to behave so. As a result I think they are perhaps the more readily abused and overlooked, while the more fragile, volatile (egg-shell) people take a greater portion of care and consideration. But, that in itself is just one of those many facts of life that requires a stoic shrug, along with the fact that the world belongs to the confident and assertive, with or without any real merit, and a good many others. And so here is one of those stoic shrugs:

If one by one we counted people out
For the least sin, it wouldn't take us long
To get so we had no one left to live with.
For to be social is to be forgiving.

From The Star-Splitter, Robert Frost

I really like the poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, which makes me think of many evenings spent clearing wildlife traps (I'd trudge through the woodlands loaded with gear, occasionally pausing to admire the night, yet knowing I had to press on as there was far to go and many creatures waiting for me). But here is another, lesser known poem I like:

The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past,
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that othere fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

Robert Frost

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The "devout dozen"

I hope I'm not the only person who finds this just a little bit crazy (and ever so slightly amusing): Men On A Mission

You can buy yourself the "family values t-shirt" below, together with your lewd calender.

(P.S. And I feel like I should add that's it the hilarity of a work colleague that's drawn my attention to such things ...)

Keep your heart happy in God

I just read this post over at 168 hours in my lunch break. I really like it. It reminds me of another phrase of John Piper's that I often recall: "God is most glorified in me, when I am most satisfied in him."

And I like this post , from Solo Femininity, about loneliness too.

And, while I'm at it, I also like this post and this post, from The Purple Cellar.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

If you want to stay up all night -

I'm just writing a post, because I am not sure if I will ever sleep again! There are two new girls at my church and in my bible study group, which met tonight, and they're just gorgeous. One is of Arabic descent and comes from Germany, where her family fled from Albania, and the other is from Nairobi. They have both recently finished the Simply Christianity course run at my church and it's just wonderful to have them along and read the bible with them and so forth. Anyway, they have this lovely little ritual where one of them gets the bus to others' place and then they walk to our church, stopping off at the Starbucks down the road on the way. They make an interesting looking pair - one being a very dimuitive little person with Arabic colouring and the other one of those tall, vital-looking Africans, but they are fast friends. And there, at Starbucks, they have become "addicted" to the 'Espresso Brownie'. They were raving about this chocolate feat to me on Sunday night at church and finished up telling me they had to bring me some to try. So tonight I was given a little paper bag containing this allegedly amazing slice of chocolate heaven. And I've just tried it, only half of it mind you, but I still think I'm going to bouncing off the walls for hours!!! But it really is good - if you like chocolate, and you like coffee, then this is for you.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days and 113 excruciating minutes

I said I was going to lighten up, and then, THEN, tonight, for reasons I can hardly explain, I decided to go and see 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days. WHAT was I thinking? – is all I can ask myself. It won the Cannes Palme d’Or, but don’t be deceived into thinking that means there will be anything redeeming in the story. As one review says, this is a movie about serious problems, with a serious approach – and there is not ONE bright moment in the entire film, neither in the story nor the bleakness of 1980's Romania. I have never seen a movie of such unrelenting grimness. Having been in the situation in the past of telling a friend that I would help them do almost anything but I wasn’t going to help them have an abortion (because I believe it’s wrong, and I don’t believe in defying God in the name of friendship, and neither do I believe that actually being a good friend means helping your friends do whatever they choose to do) I think one of the greatest tragedies in the story is Otilia, the friend. The closing line of the film is Otilia saying "what we are going to do, is we are never going to talk about this". And that is all I am going to say. It IS powerful, and it certainly does show the awful reality of that situation, and I can appreciate all the things that make it a very good piece of film making, but I don’t recommend that anyone, EVER, go and see it. I covered my face and sunk in my seat and I am just not sure that I’m ever going to get over it.

So, you and I will have to wait for something else to effect a lightening up I'm afraid. But this upcoming movie, Bella, looks like more the thing.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A quote

There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either.
-Robert Graves, poet and novelist (1895-1985)

This blog is all a little melancholy and heavy of late, so I'm going to lighten up sometime soon! But here's a quote for poetry Friday.

Poetry Friday XIII

I have had a somewhat rugged week this week, primarily in my attempts to help someone else extricate themself from a bad situation, which has also made me relive certain agonies of my own at times. I have spent a lot of time talking, counteracting, thinking through the right response. I have thought about what is that one thing that would change the mind, and so change heart, and make changing the situation an easier thing. In the end, cliched as it may seem, you simply have to believe that God is good, no matter what happens and what he requires - doubt that and you'll be assailed by all sorts of horrors. For myself I have been thrashing the hymn, "Come thou Fount of every blessing". I have already mentioned Justin Moffatt's talks at the ENGAGE conference, based on this hymn, and it is just extremely convenient that Sara Groves, my latest music obssession, has recorded it. Here's a verse of it (which I think is perhaps a Sara combination):

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let your goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to thee
Jesus sought me while a stranger
Wandering from the heart of God
And He to rescue me from danger
Used his own precious blood

Believing in God's goodness, as evidenced in his grace on the cross, really is the fetter that will keep us from wandering. But, this week, that is not my poem. I thought I would post another of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It's about patience. In many situations the difficulty is that the patience is not for a sure end - that is, we have no guarantees that the patience will produce anything in particular. Yet we must let God bend our rebellious wills even so.

Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray,
But bid for, Patience is! Patience who asks
Wants war, wants wounds; weary his times, his tasks;
To do without, take tosses, and obey.
Rare patience roots in these, and, these away,
Nowhere. Natural heart's ivy, Patience masks
Our ruins of wrecked past purpose. There she basks
Purple eyes and seas of liquid leaves all day.

We hear our hearts grate on themselves: it kills
To bruise them dearer. Yet the rebellious wills
Of us we do bid God bend to him even so.
And where is he who more and more distils
Delicious kindness?—He is patient. Patience fills
His crisp combs, and that comes those ways we know.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Friday, November 02, 2007

Poetry Friday XII - Strong in the broken places

There is a famous quote by Ernest Hemmingway, which begins "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places". The rest of the quote doesn't quite make sense to me, but that line I like. This year I have had the great blessing of meeting two people, both of whom are strong in the broken places. They stand out in their genuine concern for others and in the time they devote to caring for them, they hang around for the answer when they ask "how are you?" and they really listen. In getting to know them I have become aware of the stories of their own suffering. They have indeed been broken, and in their stories there is much to endure and much to forgive. They do both. And they use their stories as a means of ministry, not as a means of claiming sympathy and leave from blessing and giving to others (though I do say that with caution, because both of them are only too aware that the world breaks people, and are believers in the necessity of the healing life's wounds, and in helping people in that - so that they can go and do likewise).

I am sure we all know people like them - people who are imitators and the fragrance of Christ to others in their personal triumph over suffering and their faithfulness in it, people who make us feel that they are that much further along the road and closer to God than we are. So, it's not really a poem, but there is a new album by Sara Groves coming out soon, and on it is a song called I Saw What I Saw - and here it is, dedicated to all those people who are strong in the broken places (and it is perhaps inseparable from the music, and has perhaps taken my fancy because of the cello, so you can listen to a snippet here).

I Saw What I Saw

by Sara Groves

i saw what i saw and i can't forget it
i heard what i heard and i can't go back
i know what i know and i can't deny it

something on the road, cut me to the soul

your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your faith a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what i'm made of
and what i know of love

we've done what we've done and we can't erase it
we are what we are and it's more than enough
we have what we have but it's no substitution

something on the road, cut me to the soul

your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your faith a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what i'm made of
and what i know of love

i say what i say with no hesitation
i have what i have but i'm giving it up
i do what i do with deep conviction

something on the road, cut me to the soul

your pain has changed me
your dream inspires
your faith a memory
your hope a fire
your courage asks me what i'm made of
and what i know of love

your courage asks me what i’m afraid of
your courage asks me what i am made of
your courage asks me what i’m afraid of
and what i know of love
and what i know of God