I cannot sing…

Today I discovered how deeply music and words touch personal situations.   There is no need for detail, other than someone I love has let me and others down immensely.

Every hymn this morning had me wrestling with the hurt and heartbreak I feel.   Emotions are easily held, and strength shown, when I don’t have to sing.   Start singing, and I can find no power in my voice.   Sing of forgiveness, and I know I am struggling to forgive.   Sing of moving on, and I can’t because I feel betrayed.   Sing of hope, and I feel my wound.   Sing of love, and my heart feels shattered.

All of this seems overdramatic written down, and it feels overdramatic in the way I live on a day to day basis.   But today I cannot sing…

I cannot sing because I am afraid that if I do the tears may never stop falling.

And perhaps that is because I am scared that they are selfish tears about how I feel, but I hope that they are tears of the pain of the others who are hurt and of the remorse of the one who has caused the pain.




It must be a Christian Festival…

This one is not just me because I see it and hear it elsewhere.   All Christian festivals come with their highs and their lows.

At Christmas time we get caught in the excitement, and love the crowds coming to greet a baby.   We try to fit too much into a week, and then have to add in the funerals, schools and other expectations.   By the afternoon of Christmas Day, we are collapsed in a heap, promising ourselves that next year we will pace ourselves.

The highs and lows of Lent, Holy Week and Easter come in a different form.   They begin with the small niggles about unfamiliar, dreary hymns.   They are unfamiliar because unlike Christmas carols, they are not belted out at every opportunity in a hurry to get to the main event.   No-one wants to hurry to the crucifixion.   At times Lent is dreary, because the Gospel stories within that period ask us challenging questions about how we cope with grief, ill health and loneliness.   These are not topics we talk about easily.

There are of course good moments in Lent, when the stories blow open the door and throw a breeze through encouraging all to travel a well-worn path.   We like the familiars of Mothering Sunday, even if it is confusing with lectionary stories about fathers and hymns about shepherds.   But we enjoy the notion of nurture, and sharing in the potential to encourage growth in others.

By Holy Week we are all hoping that the hymns might get better, but if you thought we hardly sang Lent hymns, then we sing Holy Week hymns even less.   It starts well on Palm Sunday though, we know those ones.

Of course, heaven help the clergy who like a bit of play acting.   With Sunday Schools on holiday, processions can seem a little flat – although there are those who will give of their best to create a festival with twelve.   Wandering into the church singing cheerfully, to a band of folk sitting in Presbyterian gloom is always amusing.

Monday to Wednesday are a struggle for for a congregation.   They came on Sunday, why do you want them out the door again?   Nothing much happens these days – according to sum.  I’m not sure how to get across the fact that Jesus and the disciples visited the temple every day, walking from Bethany to Jerusalem.   Most of a congregation don’t see or hear that.

Instead it all kicks off on Thursday, and there might be a hymn or two we recognise that night.   So Maundy Thursday still has meaning for more than a few.   They sense the purpose of the words and the action, a recollection of a night when life was changing.

Good Friday has too many emotions for some.   It opens the bottle of uncertainty, guilt and grief that we have contained all year, and we fear that once opened we may never get it closed again.   The pauses, the changing light, the fragrances, the voices…all of these seep into the unconscious self, tearing at emotions we didn’t know we felt.

Few mark Holy Saturday in a Presbyterian tradition.   Vigils don’t fit in our pattern of worship.   Three hours of waiting, and nothing much happening.   Except new beginnings happen.   The soil gets disturbed, and light seeps through.

By Easter Sunday its good to see the crowd return.   We know these hymns and we’ll sing them with full volume.   After all we’ve had seven weeks of hymns we didn’t know.

There are those among us who sometimes feel we wear the Christian festival we are sharing.   Advent and Nativity comes tooquickly, and we’re never quite ready but we just get on and celebrate.   Lent and Holy Week sometimes hurt, as the discomfort of the journey spills in silly comments and misunderstandings without experiencing.

But Easter will be worth it, as the light shines from the darkness of the journey.




In marriage do we give away our “freedom”?

There is a context to the question which gives away too many details, but even in that short question I wonder what it tells us about how we view marriage of any gender.

I’ve been married for nearly 22 years, and at no point have I felt that my freedom has been removed.   My feeling is lack of freedom happened with the arrival of children, and even there freedom was not lost but instead responsibility established.

Giving away our freedom in marriage plays into that notion of the other person as your ball and chain.   It sees marriage as a prison, a place we cannot escape from.   It becomes a room in which the corners never change, as we pace the floor in desperation knowing that the door is in front of us and yet we cannot get out.   We end up longing for time off for good behaviour, and an early release from the chains that we perceive to bind us.

My understanding of marriage is about gaining freedom.   We’re freed to be the person we truly are because we know love.   The doors of our personality and capabilities are opened because we have the support and encouragement to explore our whole selves, without bowing to social convention because we want to be liked or loved.

Of course that understanding of marriage extends to the best of friendships and to the relationship with the divine found in faith.   Finding we are loved by God opens up the possibilities of our lives to be our true selves, for in God our whole person is already revealed and so there is no escaping that which we would hide from others.   But our best friendships should also allow us the freedom to be ourselves.   Not the perfect, polished, careful, clean self, but instead the self that snorts with laughter; that sometimes says the wrong thing; that dresses unusually; that holds a contrary opinion.

No marriage is perfect, but in binding one to the other it becomes a place for security and growth.   We find ourselves better with, than better without.

And perhaps there lies the gap for when marriage becomes the prison of harm and abuse where our freedom is no longer offered.   It is a place where we should be better with, than better without.   That is the hope of marriage and sometimes experience does not always match the hope.


Shadow casting

Having walked a small person to school this morning I was enjoying the sunlight and noticing the shadows that were being cast by buildings and people. When the sunshine appears it is best to make the most of it, and so today I enjoyed two walks and the realisation that it has been the first time in several months that I have walked further than the door to the car door. I’m hoping that the sun might have further lightened my highlights.

Enjoying the sun further added to my knowledge that I miss walking, but I also miss walking with a good companion. Until this time last year, I walked 8 miles at least once a fortnight with a friend. Knowing that I would be meeting someone meant that the walk happened. The knowledge that those walks will no longer happen cast shadows through my thoughts today, for I miss a friendship as well as the exercise.

There are all sorts of shadows on the relationship, and I suspect there are no ways in which the distance that lies between two former friends can be reduced. Both parties feel hurt, one feels betrayed, and I imagine that the other feels judged and ignored.

How did a friendship come to this? Human relationships are always complex, and I suppose we always hope that some kind of redemption might be possible. Some distances are created because of the right words said at the wrong time. Sometimes we put distance between others because ill health means we want to put our own wants and needs first.

The shadows of today are of anger at being used to hide a secret, and only recognising the duplicity as different stories fitted together. They are of trying to keep a door open with conversation, only to be pushed to the borders. They are of hearing what is being said, when no conversation has happened for a year. But perhaps the biggest shadow of all is knowing that the other bears a shoulder full of grievance, and will not talk.

Will there be resolution? I suspect not. Having extended an olive branch in recent months, a card came in return that was definitely closure on the friendship. Both hurt, both stubborn.


Who, which, what…..?

It had never occurred to me that people think that different denominations make a difference to this debate, but I learnt a whole new way of thinking about which was more appropriate recently.


I wonder which you use, or which you prefer…

It’s that moment in the service, and the encouragement words are said, and you set forth with others in what might be the only moment in which a whole congregation gets to speak…

Have you caught on yet?


Post a funeral, I was hanging about a room collecting my abandoned things when I was caught.

“I’ve been meaning to chat to you about this.   It’s just someone finds it very uncomfortable when you insist on saying “which” in the Lord’s Prayer.    They think it should be “who””.

Ignoring my usual philosophy on finding out who someone is (please know that that is always for my own benefit and not so I can go and speak to “someone” about the particular matter), I said, “Oh..?”

“Well, why do you say “which?”    I’ve told this person its because you were “Episcoplian” before you joined the Church of Scotland.”

“Hmm…well I wouldn’t have said I was Episcopalian.   I was brought up in the Church of Scotland before I went to live in England and only joined the church there because that was the local church.   We only lived there for five years, and we came home when I was still a teenager and I joined the Church of Scotland then.   So I’m not sure it is because I’m Episcopalian.”


[Interluding thought – does hanging out in the Baptist Church on a Sunday evening because there are boys, and they are not bad-looking, and you can sing in a band with them make you a Baptist?   Because if so I’d maybe better never mention that…]


Back to the conversation.

“It just seems odd that you should say “which” when it really is “who”.”

“Well I think some people choose to say “who” and some choose to say “which”, and I think “which” is probably the older form but I personally use it because for me it is better theology than “who”.”

“It’s not very Church of Scotland.”

“It probably depends on the Church of Scotland.   It’s the version I learnt in church.   And I know it is in the Church of Scotland Book of Common Order from the 1940s because I have my great-grandfather’s copy.   But I use it because for me “who” means a person, and I think God is much bigger than a person and I would hope that prayer could give voice to that feeling, so that’s why I use “which”.

“It’s in an older prayer book, what date?   I think someone would like that, I think they would appreciate knowing it as the older form.   Maybe they’ll not wince so much when they are sharing the prayer.”


“Who” or “which”, they are like hymns.   The one you prefer is probably the one you’ve been saying since childhood, and then someone comes along and disturbs you and makes you ask questions.   Questions are great, because in the working out of an answer with which we’re all comfortable there is an encounter with the wonder and oddity of this overwhelming presence some of us call God.

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Miracles can happen…

Today I decided fairly early on that I would be saving my voice and preserving my sanity, so I chose not to watch the rugby.   Instead my focus for the early part of the afternoon was to get the prayers written and perhaps a sermon started.    In the brief spell before I took for lunch, I peered into the living room and found that my initial thoughts were being confirmed.   Rather than suffer another Scotland rugby defeat, it seemed more sensible to focus on something that would give me a lift and perhaps would offer others something similar tomorrow.

As I started on the final prayer I heard a scream form the living room, and it would seem that some transforming miracle has happened in Italy.   With a final drop goal, a win has been stolen.

Am I sad to have missed this?

Not today.   My voice is intact.   My prayers are complete.   And now I just need to put my head into gear and attempt to pull a sermon together in record time so that I might enjoy and evening with my family.

Have I any ideas for that?

I’m not sure yet.   But I’m thinking about perfection and maturity, and holiness and community.   Something is brewing and hopefully by 7pm I will shut this computer and say enough.

Well there is another miracle that will need to happen today…


Returning Memories

This morning I found myself in Glasgow Queen Street Station.   I had a meeting with a potential partner organisation for an event, and rather than continue our discussion by email or phone we had agreed that it might be easier to meet.   It meant that we could weigh each other up, and decide whether we could work together, as well as try and grasp each other’s vision of how something might happen.

Travelling this morning worked better than I had expected and I found myself in the station half an hour before I was supposed to be there.   As I got myself a cup of coffee and something to eat (having skipped breakfast in the rush to get the younger house occupants to school and then rush to the station) I found myself realising that the last time I had been in the station had been 27 years ago and probably at much the same time of year.   It would have been my first trip to Glasgow, and probably my first trip on a train in Scotland by myself, it was also to be my first experience of a friend’s funeral.

For much of my senior years of High School, I had been part of an inter school Scripture Union group that met on Saturday nights.   As well as the Scripture Union appointed staff member, there were student volunteers who helped.   One of the volunteers was very into hill climbing, and during one winter climb sadly died as she got caught in sliding snow.

It felt important to go to the funeral, and even though I did not know my way round Glasgow I wanted to go.   One of the members of the group was studying in Glasgow, and made arrangements to meet me at the station and ferry me from church to crematorium.   In snow boots and warm jacket, with an almost school uniform underneath I found myself standing in the station, waiting.

My memory of the funeral itself is sketchy.   I remember it being so busy that we were in the back pew.   I remember the kindness of the young woman’s family as they ensured that this of us she had known through the group were included in being at the crematorium and the funeral tea.   I remember them asking about the kind of things the group did, sharing the enjoyment of young faith developing in discussion and activity.   But there is much about the day I don’t remember, as so much is lost in knowing that a late teenager was wrestling with the knowledge that youth did not mean invincibility.

This morning standing in Queen Street, I could remember the emotion of standing at the meeting place and the vulnerability of feeling small and young in the big space of the station.   But I was also reminded of the shared emotion of the day, as others mourned and celebrated the life of a young woman who had been their daughter or their sister or their friend.

I found it fascinating that a space could trigger such a strong recall response.