This might not be a blog

It might be just a thought. Whatever it is I want to share it, see what you think….

We talk a lot about the spiritual gifts, wondering do we have this one or possibly that one …. and how best to discover what our gifts are and then how to use them in a way that pleases God and helps others, but it seems to me that there is one gift we all have. It’s something that doesn’t take a whole load of studying or skill and maybe that’s why we overlook it. Whether we are poets, musicians, teachers, managers, cooks, carpenters, whoever we are, there is one great and wonderful thing we can all be ….. AVAILABLE.

That’s something that’s within my reach and yours – unless, that is, you’re a hermit living in a cave on some inaccessible mountain slope under a heavy layer of snow. We can’t make ourselves perfect, or wise, and sometimes we may be a bit tetchy and difficult (moi?) but we can all be available.

Not all the time, of course not. There’s a balance to be struck. We need time alone, and families need family time, and couples need time with each other without house guests or visitors. Of course. But simply being available is valuable. It should surely be a part of life and an important one at that?

I have two great assets in my life – a front door that stays open all day, unlocked and inviting, and a table I can sit at with anyone who walks through that door. My door is pink and the table is chunky and weathered, and you could say the same for me – pink, chunky and weathered. A bit annoyingly, the paint on the door is beginning to peel, and there won’t be any great wisdom dispensed at the table, but there’s conversation and coffee or tea or Adam’s ale, and that’s better than nothing, eh?

Maybe that’s a gift, too. ‘To be better than nothing.’

When we strive for perfection we’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’, so I’m happy with the flaky door and someone sitting with their elbows on the table, and coffee brewing, and words floating up to the ceiling, and laughter and even, sometimes, a bit of 74 year old exasperation. I am always available but I’m like my door and my table, a bit flaky and a bit old so there’s no perfection here, just availability.


In the New York Times today, the magazine section, there’s an article about the way we live and work post-pandemic. It’s a clever online thingamajig, where you scroll down to get glimpses of other people’s lives, homes and routines.

One of the people featured is a long-haul truck driver, travelling through the States in his huge shiny red refrigerated truck. Inside the haulage unit, it’s spotless and gleaming, and in the compact cab he has everything he needs to live an orderly life. We see him preparing a cooked meal (slow-cooked pork chops) and doing a nifty bit of housekeeping as he cleans the kitchen area, and then we see the view from the driver’s seat as he cuts through what looks – to me – like canyons, on wide, empty, winding roads.

When he gets the chance, he stops at roadside chapels to pray and, (I hope) to find someone to talk to. At night he draws the curtains in his cab and settles down under a blanket, and reads the Bible for half an hour. Wow. I love that man. Don’t you love that man?

That’s not my blog – I just wanted to share him with you, so that you can remember him in your prayers. A brother we will never meet.

So, here’s the thing. I’m still wedded to the Beatitudes. Glued to them. They’re a magnet drawing me back just about every time I open the Bible so that it’s become a habit, and then I usually go on for a few more verses, just because… well, just because this is Jesus speaking. I mean, come on, folks, this is Jesus! Who’s going to risk turning him off before he’s finished with us? Who’s going to shut the book before we know why we’ve opened it? So I read it and read it and read it…. just drinking it in. So simple. So clear. So complex. So challenging. As deep as the ocean.

I realise now that if we bring all the qualities of the Beatitudes together we have the perfect picture of Jesus. The perfect portrait. The more we conform to the Beatitudes, the more Christ-like we become. And I realise, too, that the portrait is one of complete surrender and total sacrifice, and there’s the rub, as Will Shakespeare might say. Who’s up for a bit of total submission? Line up for sacrifice, you lot and try to look cheerful about it! Whaddya mean, you don’t want to drop everything and follow a new master? Even the word ‘master’ makes the modern world wince.

This week I’ve had coffee with three very different men, none of them believers and all three seeking ‘something’, looking for answers to a question they can’t quite put into words. Each of these men is successful in their own way, one an engineer, one a carer, and one is retired. They are bright, cheerful and enquiring and, boy oh boy, they really do want to discover the answer they’re seeking. That elusive something that will make them truly and deeply happy, or content or fulfilled. They look as if there is nothing missing in their lives, and yet they know there’s that something. We might tentatively suggest that they are trying to fill the God-shaped hole (and they might look at us as if we’re nuts). The answer they’re looking for is the God of the Beatitudes, Jesus, humble, surrendered, sacrificial. And these successful men, with just enough money in the bank to be secure and enough people to love them, and pension plans in place, and reasonable health… and quite a lot of testosterone and a fair bit of mischief in their healthy veins…. how do they come to the place of total surrender and submission? Wow. That’s hard.

As I shared coffee with these blokes (other hot drinks are available) I found myself speaking about the God who stands at the door and knocks, the God who unconditionally loves them. With one, we read the Beatitudes together. When another asked about all the people who have never heard the Gospel – are they lost?- we considered the justice of God, his unending love, and looked at Romans 1:20

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.

We roamed uphill and down dale, wandering down this byway, and meandering along that little avenue, but all I could do really was walk alongside and listen, while they searched. I couldn’t sort it for them, and I felt no pressure to do so, because I know that faith comes from God, from outside, not from yours truly. And that in itself is humbling. I was humbled. And happy to be so.

As I listened, I found myself praying for them, knowing that God hears the questions and the doubts and loves us anyway. He hears the indignation and the pride and the disbelief and the exasperation, and the denial, and he loves us anyway. And I know he will never give up on any of us. But these three conversations just confirmed for me that submission is everything. And submission is …. well, it goes against everything the world says is good. Submission is counter-cultural. It’s the great big fat looming no-no in the material world. And it’s the secret to everything good and beautiful and true.

I wrote to another friend , this week, another non-believer, this time a musician and someone who really doesn’t like the idea of church/religion and can’t quite separate those man-made things from God :

We sense the world differently. When you hear music you are lifted and nourished and intrigued all at the same time. Maybe the word is ‘taken’, as in you ’surrender’ to the music.  You allow it to be, and that is enough.

When I read the Sermon on the Mount I am lifted and nourished and intrigued. I allow it to be, and that is enough. 

Music is more than a series of sounds, or a merging of sounds. It has a life beyond the physical and that life is in you, in your surrender. Somewhere in the space and time between the musical instrument and the listener, the magic happens. 

The words of Christ are – for me – beyond the sound, even beyond the meaning, even beyond the intent. They are music. They fill my soul. I listen to the whole song, the whole symphony and my innermost experience is one of completeness, acceptance, revelation.

What does it say to me? It says simply: This is life. This is how life can be. Simple, loving, disciplined. Not disciplined as with a rod or a harsh word, but disciplined like the simple lines of a boat are disciplined, allowing it to cut through waves, disciplined as the flat plane of a simple table is disciplined, allowing it to be of use, disciplined as the steady beat of the heart is disciplined, bringing life and love. 

I read the words of Christ maybe as you hear music; not wanting to interrogate the moment, not wanting to separate this note from that echo, or this pause from that breath, not wanting to confront each note and thought, but to understand and appreciate them. And there, in that space of surrender, understanding flows. 


When I was a youngster, attending a Catholic Convent School, Good Friday afternoon was a time of great solemnity and remembrance. The chapel bell would ring out for several minutes, calling us to join the Benediction service, and the corridors would be full of hurrying but unusually silent pupils, teachers and nuns, making their way to the old building, and into the honeyed air of the chapel corridor.

I don’t know if Catholics still observe the Benediction ritual as I knew it. I think probably not – Pope Paul VI brought the language of the people into the Mass in the 1960’s, and a few years later Pope John Paul II all but banned Latin, but the Benediction that I knew was always Latinate; the priest was robed, the air was thick with incense and the tone was sombre and worshipful, heavy with emotion, especially on Good Friday. There was a quiet observance to the whole day of course, but at 3 in the afternoon, the hour of Christ’s death, a blanket of hush covered the whole school. Even the most distracted and careless bouncy young soul could not forget the day’s significance.

I loved the Benediction ritual. Even away from Easter, it was a Wednesday highlight, every week, all through my school years. I feel nostalgic for the emotions I knew then, even though I’ve turned away from the doctrine of transubstantiation. Because I don’t believe in the consecration of bread, the basis of the ritual is meaningless for me but I am far from dismissive and I will always respect the belief of Catholics – and their devotion.

What was Benediction to me? An oasis of worship, pure adoration, the falling away of the world and the entering into ‘otherness’. It was a sort of sanctuary. In this short service, the consecrated bread (the Body of Christ to Catholics) is taken from the tabernacle and placed in a Monstrance, a usually ornate artefact with a glass window, in which the bread can be revealed to the worshippers and… well, worshipped. After prayer and maybe music, the priest unlocks the tabernacle, removes the bread (or host) and places it in the monstrance. Everything in that ceremony is beautiful, from the incense to the music, to the monstrance , to the flickering sanctuary light. It’s theatre, heartfelt and meaningful. When the priest turns to face the worshippers, and the monstrance is held up, the sanctuary bell tinkles, incense rises, and for those who believe that this is in fact the miraculously realised body and blood of Jesus, the moment is sublime.

On Good Friday the moment is heart breaking, raw and deep and bleeding.

Today there was no monstrance for me, no incense or hushed slippered feet padding down hallowed halls, no murmured ‘Laudate Dominum’, no silent adoration held in the air like a bated breath…. no theatre and no imagery, no icons or candles… priest, no gold, no ancient ritual….. there was just me. But I felt the presence of a million others, all of us remembering a cruel death upon a cross, in a foreign land, two thousand years ago. And the teenage girl who was lost in adoration all those years ago, was there still, faded a bit, not quite so intense or fervid, but still there. Still lost in wonder.

How fabulous that at every moment of the day, starting in Australia, and moving with the globe and with the Sun, it is 3pm somewhere, always. And so for all of our day and all through our night, somewhere in the World someone like you or me will be remembering that Christ died for us. I am sure that however we remember his agony and sacrifice, he accepts our prayers and our thoughts as tokens of our love.

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”When he had said this, he breathed his last.
Luke 23:44-46


A friend came over today and we read The Sermon On The Mount together. I’ve deliberately capitalised those words because it always blows me away, stuns me. Perfect, complete, clear and loving. Stunning. I mean, really, I don’t have the words to tell you how loved and cared for and guided I feel when I read those words. Words from Jesus, two thousand years ago, to me and you and everyone right now.

Every single time I read Matthew chapters 5 and 6 and 7 (and I read them often) I’m reminded of a morning about 5 years ago; it was a bright day, the beach was quiet, just the usual doggy tribe dotted around in the far distance. I was walking towards the rocks, wondering if the tide would let me walk beyond them to the smaller ‘secret’ beach beyond. I wasn’t aware of feeling lonely or sad, but on that wide quiet stretch of sand I was very conscious of my aloneness. It’s not the same as being lonely, but it’s a strong image of oneself, a solitary figure in a big wide world, for ever and ever, and it can be a little unsettling. Daunting. We whistle in the dark and say all the right things and smile and quote cheering verses, but sometimes we are just a bit daunted.

As I paddled in the sea’s edge I was holding a sort of free-form prayer conversation with God and I said something like ‘I wonder how long it is since I last held someone’s hand as we walked along together?” and then, as I said that, the real loneliness washed in. It was about 27 years since my husband died and even I could do the maths! But just as all those bright and cheerful and hopeful verses fell from my mind and the aloneness washed in, someone slipped a hand into mine. It was so sudden and unexpected that I was startled and turned to see who it was. No one. No one visible. But the hand was in mine, and I could feel the warmth of the skin, the unmistakeable structure of the hand, the grip gentle but real. Unmistakeable. Breath-taking. The hand stayed in mine for maybe ten steps, or as long as ten steps would have taken, because I think I stopped walking, I think I just stood there, savouring the touch, that gentle grasp, the sense of another. And then it was gone. He was gone. My God.

The simplicity and clarity of that small miracle will never leave me. It carries the same eternal message as the Sermon On The Mount, and when I read one I remember the other. They bring with them the music of eternity, the knowledge of God, the certainty of his love.

Jesus told us everything we could ever wish to know about the nature of our God in that one sermon. The rest of the Bible is confirmation of those truths. And we can be there, with him, Jesus, on that hillside, listening and wondering and just loving, loving, loving him. We can! All we have to do is turn to the pages. How could anyone read those words, or hear them, and not feel his love? And listen, listen, how could anyone – having read them once – not return to them again and again? They are so entire, so complete, so… I don’t have the word …. so ‘other’ that they call to me, flow over me, through me, lifting and feeding and warming me. Just like that unseen hand.

That’s why I read them over and over again.

The Sermon On The Mount is my companion, another hand in mine.

It’s all them others, innit?

Have you noticed that when you’re driving, there are lots and lots of bad drivers? They’re everywhere – people who don’t signal, or exceed the limit, or pass cyclists too closely, or brake suddenly, or nip through when the traffic lights are turning to red. Hundreds of them! Not you, of course. And not me, obviously. Just everyone else. But when you meet a friend and you talk about driving they (and you) are never ever one of those bad drivers! You never meet someone who says “Oh, I’m a terrible driver, selfish and distracted.” So, where do they all live? Weird, eh?

I thought about that strange paradox this morning when we were on the beach. Some of us have perfect dogs, absolutely perfect. But there are lots of people who have badly behaved, uncontrolled, naughty spoilt pooches. Not me, of course, and none of my friends. Just like bad drivers, it’s “All them others, innit?”

Well, guess what? I’m fessing up. My dogs are not perfect. And I am not a perfect dog walker. And Percy is a small and very handsome dog but with delusions of majesty and invincibility. Here he is, keeping watch over his kingdom:

He’s usually as good as gold, but he does own the beach and occasionally he will take offence at the presence of a big dog on a lead. Children, people, dogs running free, horses, the RNLI tractor, gangs playing football, crows pecking along the water line, frisbees and the Sunday morning surf club….. they’re all fine. No problem. But if a Labrador or a German Shepherd is attached to his owner by a lead, Percy is going to be outraged, off-the-scale incensed. He stands stock still, his head swivels, eyes focus, his tail stiffens. I know the signs and I yelp “No, Percy!” but it’s too late – he’s off! Deaf to everything but his own indignation, he thunders across the sand and barks and barks and barks so that I have to flounder over, exasperated and apologising and trying (usually vainly) to get him away. Of course his mum, Pip, tries to join in, yip-yapping from a safe distance. Mayhem! For the big dog it must be like being buzzed by wasps. The chaos never lasts long because, being all mouth and trousers, he soon tires and wanders off, puffing his chest out and swaggering with masculine satisfaction.

So, confession time – sometimes one of them bad drivers is me, because no one’s perfect. And sometimes one of them bad dogs, is Percy. And sometimes one of them silly dog owners is me. I think it’s a huge relief when we can let go of the need to be perfect and admit that , like the rest of the world, we are not entirely blameless and wise and circumspect. Sometimes we fail at life’s mini challenges.

I thought about this when I came home and tuned in to the local church for the Sunday morning service. The person giving the announcements quoted from Colossians 3:13 and that made me open my Bible and read the whole chapter. What a gift! What a lovely, warm, and gentle guiding hand. Listen, listen, listen….. this is what I read as the sun broke through, in a wonderful Sunday morning golden moment

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

Wow. That’s more soothing than a day in a hut tub.

And as I pondered (isn’t that an old fashioned word? Makes me sound like a nun in a prayer closet) that little chunk of kindly wisdom, I realised again how liberating it is to follow Christ and to know, know, KNOW for certain sure that even when we stumble or fall, we are loved and accepted. We don’t have to be perfect, we don’t have to present a flawless face to the world, we can be totally honest and know that however often we do the wrong thing, or however daft we are, we are loved. And this is the thing, listen, listen, it’s that love, which is God’s love, extended to us that enables us to extend his love to others.

But I often fail at the love thing. It’s not always ‘them others.’ Mostly, in my life, it’s me.

As I drove homewards yesterday, I pulled in to a passing place to let a whole stream of traffic come past the other way and as I waited there was a blackbird just a few feet away from me. He was beautiful! His feathers so black, his beak so yellow, his eyes so bright, his little chest puffed out, such a glorious little creature. That’s when prayer bursts out of us. Prayer and praise. And moments like this morning when we find the word of God alive and present in the everyday.

SOS Save Our Souls.

Two days ago, four experienced kayakers (is that a word? It is now) set off from Cardigan to go Northwards towards Aberporth. It was the Spring tide, probably the highest and most powerful of the year, and the waves were crazy. Where the sea meets the estuary there are several undertows or strong currents, and the weather, although bright, was unsettled with gusting winds. Regardless of all that, being well equipped and experienced, this little group set out. Within minutes, at the mouth of the estuary, all four were in trouble. The two women capsized, but managed to get back in their crafts and pumped them out. In the strong currents the men were taken out beyond the bar and unable to return to help them as one woman’s kayak was swept into the river and the other towards the rocks. One of the group, realising that no one could return to safety against the tide, sent out a Mayday and then our little lifeboat station came alive – this is a rural area so many of the crew have to travel several miles, driving down lanes and through the village, but even so it was only a matter of minutes before the two boats were launched. The smaller inshore boat rescued the women and the bigger boat (Atlantic 85) went out towards Cardigan Island to find the men. They had been swept way out, and were helpless. A helicopter was on the scene by now but wasn’t needed. The women were taken to hospital with secondary drowning and the men were brought safely ashore.

18 people were involved in the RNLI launch, there were ambulances, police cars, and of course the helicopter. The cost of that rescue ran into thousands, probably more than ten thousand pounds, but the RNLI will never rebuke anyone they rescue. They will never give them a well deserved lecture, or show any impatience with them. They believe that to do so would make people in dangerous situations hesitate before calling for help, and then they would be in even more danger. They don’t blame, or judge, they rescue.

Why does that remind me of Jesus? Why does it make me wonder about the attitude of us, the church? Are we too quick with disapproval? Do we risk making those who need rescue reluctant to call out for help when they need it? I wonder.

Anyway, thank you to the RNLI. To the ordinary men and women who turn out whatever the weather, whatever the situation, to save the lives of imperfect people.

Holy smoke

Here’s a short short story that takes about a thousand times longer to tell you, than it did back when it happened. Imagine it happening in, ooh, the time it takes you to blink;

One day, about twenty years ago, I was hurrying through Soho from one edit suite to another, head full of must-do and shoulda-done thoughts, when suddenly it was if I was transported back to Cyprus, to childhood and a long-forgotten little street in Famagusta. The moment stopped me in my tracks, it was so much more than just a memory, it was an instantaneous awareness of a place well known, but also – paradoxically – forgotten. As if I was there. Suddenly, the air was other, and I could feel the warmth of the sun, there in that shabby London Lane. I stopped walking. Just stood. Cyprus! Where had this come from after 50 years? I looked all around me; the usual London scene, too many cars, too many people, messengers on bikes weaving between traffic and pedestrians, wet pavements, the neon signs of Soho, cafes and restaurants, but certainly no hint of the Mediterranean, no olive trees, or gently lapping sea…. and then, I looked up…. above me there was another sign, a Greek bakery. That was it! Freshly baked Greek bread, maybe lagana or raisin bread. I felt a sort of exultation, a reconnection with the child I once was. The aroma of freshly baked bread and tahini taking me back to a time when I had a mother and a father and two brothers and innocence. It was a wonderful, poignant moment, bitter sweet. Shocking in its power.

In that moment there was eternity, longing for the mother I had long since forgotten, a sense of energy and possibility and soaring joy but also grief for a childhood lost. All at once! It was as if that 5 year old child existed once again, with the world in front of her, full of possibilities and enchantment. And then – as quickly as it had come – the moment was gone. Seeing that Greek sign both explained and ended the moment. I was back in the now.

A couple of years ago, when Covid meant that we couldn’t meet in church, I watched our Sunday sermon online and sometimes sermons just stick, don’t they? They spark a light, lodge in your head and never leave you, influencing the way you live and think, and so they become a part of your mental landscape.

But thanks be to God! For through what Christ has done, he has triumphed over us so that now wherever we go he uses us to tell others about the Lord and to spread the Gospel like a sweet perfume.
2 Corinthians 2:14

‘Like a sweet perfume’. Wouldn’t be great to spread the Gospel like a sweet perfume in the world? That image is so strong that now the idea of perfume and incense (and even smoke rising) has become – for me- integral with the idea of the Gospel and of prayer.

May my prayer be counted as incense before You;
The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.

Psalm 141:

Does our prayer become a sweet perfume to God? Like baking bread, or Chanel 5, or incense? And talking of incense reminds me of a story my dad used to tell: when he was just seven years old, living in Lancashire (England), his father died and, being the youngest in a large Catholic family for some strange reason it was decided that he should be sent to a seminary to train as a priest. Seven! A little lad grieving the loss of his father wrenched away from his brothers and sisters and mother. That’s the childhood cruelty that enables me to forgive him for his terrible failures as a dad. What chance did he have? Anyway, there he was, seven years old, catapulted from the love and warmth of his family into a seminary in Aberystwyth in mid Wales. The rule in that strict school was that only the Welsh language was allowed, and of course he didn’t have a single word of it, had never heard it, didn’t even know that a place called ‘Wales’ existed. That first night he heard the boys and staff saying ‘Nos da’ and he was perplexed. There were stars, of course there were, he could look up into the sky and see them. What was the matter with these people?

But to return to the idea of prayers and smoke and incense; At Easter, the seminary would process through the streets of Aberystwyth, carrying a cross, with the boys and priests robed as if for Mass. One year, when he was about ten, my dad was ‘promoted’ to swing the censer at the head of the procession, with his best pal walking just behind him carrying the cross, and the rest of his class behind them, all in their altar boy outfits. Behind them came the priest, and the teachers and then the rest of the school. They left the church for the half hour walk, a circular route to bring them back in time for Mass.

In Aberystwyth the streets are narrow, and a bit winding, and although there were people standing on the pavement to watch them pass by, there were stretches of the town that were quieter, just the usual Sunday peaceful scene. They had been walking for some time with Dad so single mindedly swinging the censer that he wasn’t even aware of his surroundings, but his friend who was carrying the cross had noticed that there was absolutely no one lining the streets now, just children who stopped playing to stare at them in astonishment. And this street was unfamiliar. Gradually the boys behind dad began to break step, to mutter and turn around, and wonder what had gone wrong… and that’s when they realised that there was no one behind them. Someone grabbed dad, and he too turned and saw …. an empty street. The little gang stood there, bewildered. At that moment a priest came belting around a corner way behind them, running along the road, waving his arms and shouting. They had taken the wrong turn and the officiating priest, realising but intent on getting back to the church for Mass as planned, had decided to continue on the intended route! Dad and his pals had to hoik up their cassocks and run hell for leather back down the street, around the corner and along the sea front, to overtake the procession, and take the lead again to the cheers and applause and laughter of the watching crowds.

I wish I’d been there.

This week I’ve been reading Philippians and it just occurred to me this morning – the Epistles were letters, yes, but they were also early blogs. Paul the blogger!

Any Time, Any Place, Always.

That’s prayer.

It reminds me of the old Martini advert ‘Any time, any place, anywhere.’ It was a particularly annoying ad because what’s the difference between any place and anywhere?

Anyway, prayer: A friend has sent me a book her Catholic partner wrote about prayer. It’s a little gem, one of those rare books that speak to you as if they’re actually speaking to you, conversational, relaxed, enquiring, involving. Non-pompous and unlecturey. I started it yesterday evening and finished it this morning. Easily digestible but compulsive.

Now, listen, I recommend it to you with a gentle warning…. aware that the writer and me share an inheritance and culture that you may not. If I had to choose a denomination I would definitely say ‘Baptist’ but – like the writer of this book – I was brought up as a Catholic. I turned away from Catholicism but I can’t help thinking of Catholics and their traditions with affection. Maybe that’s why it spoke to me so clearly and had me chuckling and praying at the same time. Or, at least, chuckling and aware of God at the same time. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool protest-ant, a tad austere maybe, possibly someone who thinks that men in church should be suited and booted and women should make cakes… and if you prefer the King James Bible to the NIV, this is probably going to wobble your jowls. You may find yourself breathing a little heavily at points and wondering just how familiar we should be with the God of all creation. But bear with it. Take a breath and read on, in love. Relax. This guy is lost in wonder, love and praise, he just doesn’t hide his humanity. And God isn’t defeated by our familiarity with him. He can cope.

This is a bloke who prays. And he prays to my God. So we are in the same conversation, finding our way together, however far apart we might be at times.

There’s a Bible proverb I sometimes think of when I’m writing a blog: ‘A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.‘ I don’t want these blogs to be full of my opinion because we all know that I am wrong far far more often than I’m right. I really want these blogs to be another step towards some grasp at understanding the mystery of God, for me as much as for anyone else, and if my nonsense prompts a few questions and a bit of meditation for the reader, then that’s great. That’s what this little book about prayer has done for me. It’s not pious and doctrinally prim, it’s not even particularly scholarly, it’s a mate sitting chatting over a cup of coffee. It’s warm and amusing and insightful and it dares, at times, to be just a tad irreverent, knowing that God can take it. His love reaches all our parts, even our funny bones, even our flat-footed attempts to be gooder than good. It’s honest. Refreshing.

And I’m so chuffed to have read it. To be reminded that there’s a whole army of prayers out there. Here’s where I was praying this morning, a little corner that looks like something out of Narnia;

Narnia prayers


As I sat down to write this blog, I scrolled back to see how long it is since the last one – two weeks! A lot has happened in that short time and I’m not surprised that I didn’t have the creative energy and maybe not even the time, to set digit to key board; My eldest granddaughter came for a few days, and then I had a road accident (no one hurt but I was weirdly shaken up), and I was commissioned for a pilot script, another granddaughter won a scholarship to an amazing international college, and then, yesterday I said a sad farewell to a good friend.

Oh, shucks, that’s the dramatist in me laying it on thick – my friend is not going far, just moving about 50 miles away, and it wasn’t ever so sad because we’ll still meet up, of course we will, but it’s the latest in a relentless series of farewells, some to other parts of this world and some to the best part of the next world, and I am fed up with saying goodbye. Sod it.

But here’s the thing – for every ‘good-bye’ there has been a ‘hello’. So all things work to the good, eh? Maybe you can finish that verse yourselves?

Watching the sea the other day, I realised that the pattern of the waves is a reminder of eternity, of timelessness, and maybe even – sometimes – a way to enter prayer. That’s horrible syntax and doesn’t get anywhere near to what I want to say. I’ll try again, but forgive me if it’s clumsy. Here goes; it was a bitterly cold morning, with a flurry of snow too light to settle, and a biting wind.

We trudged to the rocks and I stood there for a while, watching the waves as the dogs snuffled around the high tide mark, eating sea weed (and things I’m happier not knowing about). My time on the beach is my quiet time. I meet up with a friend, true enough, and then there’s chat and laughter and friendship, but when I’m alone it’s my time with God. That morning it seemed as if the nature of the tides and the constant rhythm of wave upon sand, were an invitation to consider eternity, to look beyond the moment, and to step into the ‘other’, where we can find God. Or maybe where, sometimes, we can see ourselves more clearly, and our place in his creation.

The waves were gentle, the colour of steel, and it was as if they were praying with me, as if they too were praising God, a reflection and proof of his power. Sometimes, living alone, praying alone, instead of feeling solitary there’s a sense of being a tiny part of a wonderful whole, of being ‘at home’, of holding invisible hands, held in an invisible hug. An awareness of God.

The sea seemed to be speaking to me,

at first the gentle swell,

murmuring ‘Reach’ as the swell became a wave,

and ‘Rise’ as the wave filled and formed

then ‘Blade’ as the peak became a beautiful knife edge

‘Curl’ as the water surged forwards, rolling


‘Break’ as the roll shattered into jewelled surf

‘Sigh’ as the surf laced across the sand

and then, whispering, retreated.
















Since the beginning of time.

And that’s where I find the contentment of knowing God, in the understanding that all things change and all things stay the same. Some days are full of incident, scholarships, accidents and commissions. Some friends go. Some friends come. The sun rises, the sun sets. The tide rises and the tide falls. But God is constant, unchanging, eternal. And he is in control. ‘In him all things hold together’. (How I love that simple truth)

And all will be well because ‘All things work to the good for those who love the Lord.’ ( I couldn’t resist finishing it after all)

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has put thoughts of the forever in man’s mind, yet man cannot understand the work God has done from the beginning to the end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 (New Life Version)

Post Script

My oldest dog, Pip, has always been a little bit needy and now she has started to object when my back is to her and I’m working. She paws at my leg until I pick her up and then tries to clamber on the desk, and so – of course- I’ve done exactly as she demands and put a wrap next to the keyboard for her. Now I have half a desk, a keyboard at a strange angle and no room at all for notes. It’s a little bit like my nights, when Percy is at my head, Pip is in the small of my back, and Pico is on my feet. Me? I’m the one clinging on to that piece of piping at the edge of the mattress.

With friends like that…..

A dear friend – well, hang on, let me amend that – A once dear friend, who lives many thousands of miles away, told me that she likes my blogs. Then she added ‘we like reading all the muddled thoughts from your little mind.’

Hmm. Well, stiffen the sinews Irene, here come some more;

Listen, listen, listen. This morning on the beach I wandered over to the rocks , where the sea laps up and creeps in amongst them, and we (me and the dogs) picked out way across the boulders and the pools of glistening water, and the rivulets reaching in and surging out, and I found a sheltered spot to take my brain out, and wash it in the salt water, and shake it dry in the fresh morning air…. because I had woken up glum. We all have days when we wake up glum. If you’re telling me you don’t, well, quite frankly I don’t believe you. You must have had at least one day in your life when the glums were waiting. And here’s the news – it’s no big deal.

Looks a bit grey, eh?

It’s no big deal and I don’t need sympathy or cheering up or a hug or any of that. The glums come and they go. Breathe in and breathe out. Tide in and tide out. Sun rises and sets. All a part of life.

I’ve learned to greet that feeling of emptiness and pointlessness head on. There are things we can do to clamber out of the gloom. That reminds me of a lovely morning a few weeks ago when I met a gentleman in the dunes, and I said something like ‘Isn’t it a wonderful day?” and he replied ” I hate that low sun – can’t see a damn thing.” It was on the tip of my tongue to say “Stop where you are, right now, and turn around to look the other way, at the blue sky and the scudding clouds and the sparkling sea, the birds wheeling, the dogs playing… ” but I didn’t. He was happy being so miserable, and when you’re a bit down the last thing you need is an elderly Pollyanna breaking into your thoughts and chirruping about God’s blessings. The cure has to come from within.

How do I greet that feeling of depression and hopelessness when it arrives, uninvited? The secret is not to panic, to remember that emotions are fleeting and influenced by a hundred internal things – what the night’s sleep was like, what my dreams were, what my hormones are doing, whether I have an infection brewing. And emotions are influenced by a hundred external things too – the news, the needs and illness of friends, the needs of my family, the weather, the bills coming in, old age and irrelevance, and so it goes on. And being fed up doesn’t help any of that, and anyway, it will pass.

We all get the down days and we can all do something about them because we’re not children – we’re not helpless. We can take some responsibility for the rest of the day and move on from where we landed. This morning I turned to my most read and most listened to chapter of the Bible, Isaiah 40. It’s not a jolly passage, not Hollywood laughter and rainbows and unicorns, but it’s real. It’s real and solid and life-affirming, and truthful, and hard hitting, and straight up, and no-nonsense and dense and personal and relevant and startling and full of praise, and convicting and encouraging and revealing and thrilling and it’s a battle cry and a love poem and a promise all in one. It is amazing. Taste it;

Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting,
“Clear the way through the wilderness
    for the Lord!
Make a straight highway through the wasteland
    for our God!
Fill in the valleys,
    and level the mountains and hills.
Straighten the curves,
    and smooth out the rough places.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
    and all people will see it together.
    The Lord has spoken!”

Isaiah 40:3-5

And there are tough bits in it too, concepts that make me hold my breath when I hear them, that bring a perspective to my world , shrinking humanity (and me) and magnifying God

Haven’t you heard? Don’t you understand?
    Are you deaf to the words of God—
the words he gave before the world began?
    Are you so ignorant?
 God sits above the circle of the earth.
    The people below seem like grasshoppers to him!
He spreads out the heavens like a curtain
    and makes his tent from them.
He judges the great people of the world
    and brings them all to nothing.
They hardly get started, barely taking root,
    when he blows on them and they wither.
    The wind carries them off like chaff.

Isaiah 21-24

It’s strange that being reminded that we are all so tiny and so powerless (which the world would say is a bit of a downer) should be so ultimately uplifting, but it is. Because when we recognise how small we are, we can really rejoice in, and celebrate, the power and magnificence of God. And whatever has been dragging us down is clearly inconsequential and petty, and God is in his heaven and all will be well. And all will be well. We are not alone and we are not defeated. The God of all creation loves us and knows us and strengthens us.

He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
 Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 29-31

Just a thought

I pulled out from a car park today and simply hadn’t seen another car pulling out a little way down the road, with right-of-way. It was no big deal, I waved ‘Sorry – thanks!’ and he waved back ‘you’re welcome’ and we drove on, smiling. I’ve no idea who he is and he has no idea who I am. Which is good, because nearly every bloke I know or have ever known, would feel obliged to make some remark about it the next time we meet. And I would then be obliged to step on his toe, poke him in the eye and push him over.

But it made me think: We are all idiots at some point in our driving lives. No matter how good you are at driving, whether you’re an Advanced Driver, or police trained or whatever, you will make mistakes. Everyone slips over the speed limit from time to time, or pulls out too slowly, or slams the brakes on too suddenly, or backs into a shopping trolley or… well, a hundred other misdemeanours are possible.

That’s why I have never been tempted to stick a fish symbol on my car. When one of those prangs, lurches or swerves occurs, why advertise to the whole world that the idiot behind the wheel is a Christian? Doesn’t the Gospel have a hard enough time getting heard without us chucking it in the mud and dancing on it?

And in much the same way, I’m a bit careful about how much and when, and at what volume, I lay emphasis on my faith. I know a lovely friendly lady who is full, full, FULL of ‘boasting in the Lord’ and it’s great to hear. It’s fab. She’s enthusiastic, and inclusive, and welcoming, and she shouts her faith from the rooftops wherever she goes. Her reputation goes before her. She grabs people in the street and invites them to church, which can be a bit bewildering but it’s well meant and warm. But listen, today she was in a bad mood, and she was complaining, short tempered, rude and dismissive. Everyone around her, everyone who has ever come into contact with her, knows her first and foremost as an evangelising, insistent, fired-up Christian, and today she managed to really upset everyone. Really upset them. Oops. We’ve all been there.

It’s all about balance (this blog is from the woman who keeps getting messages on her iPhone ‘Your walking steadiness is very low. You are in danger of falling.’) It’s always all about balance. Befriend and care first, bang on about the Gospel second. That way, when we snarl up – as we all do – our audience will see the person first, and not our faith and the God we follow.

The Apostle Paul talks a lot about boasting in God, but he uses the word in its ‘confession’ sense. (he boasts/confesses Christ) he boasts of the faithfulness of the church, or of his God, never boasting in the sense of elevating himself. His life is one of boasting – but I am not Paul, anointed as he is, living the life of an Apostle. I need to be careful that my life is in gear with my mouth. If I’m going to tell people about the love of Christ, I have to be ready to show it first. If I’m going to wear an ‘I’m a Christian’ badge on my car, I’d better not undertake on the motorway.

What good does it do to shout ‘Christ!’ in a crowded room? Or stick a poster in my window proclaiming ‘God came into the world to save sinners’? Who ever said shouting and block print achieve anything? There’s only one way to show people the love of `Christ… by showing them the love of Christ. When we are friends and spend time together, of course that’s when they will learn that all our motivation is Christian, just as we will learn what lights their fire, and gets them up in the morning.

If all they know me for is the clever way I can strong arm them, and march them into church, or harangue them about reality of sin, or promise them heaven if they take three simple steps, or hell if they don’t…. and if when they see me coming they inwardly sigh and hope to hurry past…. well, I might as well have a damn big fish on the back of my car as I mount the pavement and plough into every single one of them.

A footnote simply because I found this photo online, a poignant reminder of our history:

I wonder how many Christians have seen that, and felt encouraged, and found a warm welcome?