Thursday, 20 July 2017

Through a doorway (2)

The sweet scent of the flower meadow was already drifting through the open window when she was woken by the shaft of sunlight gliding through the gap in the dainty curtains. Barely a moment later, she was flinging wide the double doors and breathing in the fresh spring air. After the harsh grime of London, it was like a doorway to another world. Her ears, accustomed only to the constant buzz and roar of the city, tuned into the twittering dawn chorus. Stepping out, she skipped in unshod feet into the long grass and knew she would be happy here.

*        *        *

As he pulled the door closed behind him, for what he fully expected to be the final time, he wondered if he would miss this place. He found it hard to imagine he would ever be nostalgic for its dusty rooms or yearn for its echoey halls. He had spent most of his formative years here, but they had scarcely been joyful ones. And so he picked up the suitcase at his feet and walked away, without so much as a backward glance at the door which had held so much promise when he had first set eyes on it.

*        *        *

The door slammed shut with a force that made every corner of the tiny cell reverberate but she remained motionless. She stayed curled in on herself, pressed up against the furthest corner of the room. Further away she heard other doors open and slam and, from the midst of her terror, she wondered about who those other women might be. Did they too suffer aching nightmares of guilt and regret. This was not the golden dream that had been painted before she left her home and all her known world behind. This was not how it was meant to be.

*        *        *

There was always something exciting about the sound of the guard making his way along the train: past the hustle and bustle on the platform and the faces pressed up against the sooty glass (an action regretted later when they had to be scrubbed clean). This day had been long-awaited: dates studiously ticked-off on the kitchen calendar, bags packed and repacked to make space for crucial forgotten items, picnic lunches meticulously prepared. But for me, it was always this, the sound of the slamming of so many carriage doors, more than anything else, which signified the holidays had really begun.

*        *        *

The instructor’s voice echoed inside his head as he positioned himself in the open doorway, arching his body to meet the wind. Despite the thorough training, nothing had really prepared him for the sheer terror of looking down into the void beneath. Fingers clutching the metal, for an instant he wondered whether he could really go through with this. And then, almost without realising how it had happened, he was free-falling through the bright blue sky. Nothing had really prepared him for the sense of total exhilaration either. This, he decided, was what it felt like to be truly free.

*        *        *

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Through a doorway (1)

She leant her full weight, such as it was, against the solid oak door, wondering if sheer willpower would be enough to shift it but despite a promising creaking sound, it remained resolutely closed. She scanned the rough wood for clues, running her fingers around the edges but picked up nothing but painful splinters. Turning her back to the unyielding door, she sank to the ground, laying her aching head on her knees. Completely drained, she lacked the energy even to cry. It seemed she had reached the end of the road and there was nowhere else left to go.

*        *        *

Whatever worries the real world held, he knew that as the sun dipped beneath the horizon, he need only bend his head down low and slip through the tiny door hidden beneath the yew tree hedge to disappear into a magical world of fairies and friendship. Here the twilight hours belonged to him, and here in this ephemeral dream world nothing could harm him. Here the world glitters and sparkles under a shimmering layer of elfish dust wrapping up the promise of happiness. Until, that is, a deep, velvety darkness falls and the dream fades into the oblivion of sleep.

*        *        *

The door, ajar when she arrived, slid silently open as she nudged it with the tip of her toes. She stepped inside, drawing it to a close behind her. Finding herself in a wide entrance hall, leading to a richly carpeted staircase, she seemed to have stepped into one of the story books she and her sister had poured over when they were children. She took a couple of tentative steps forward, her footsteps echoing on the marble floor. As she wondered how to draw attention to her presence, she heard a door bang and hurrying footsteps heading towards her.

*        *        *

This was a long awaited moment. She had known, of course, that there would be both deep grief and overwhelming joy in this reunion with the only place she had ever really called home. Nonetheless the sheer physicality of the barrage of emotions that bombarded her as she slowly turned the key and pushed open the front door shocked her. She rested on the threshold for a moment, hands clasping both sides of the once brightly painted now rough and peeling doorframe; before daring to step into a place that for all her years of absence remained intimately, unerringly familiar.

*        *        *

Up until now, it had all seemed so simple. A path laid out before him leading steadily onwards to an unknown but much longed-for destination. Doors had appeared, and doors had opened. This time it was different: ahead, a dead-end, but doors to both his left and his right. Each different, certainly, but nothing which marked one in particular as being right or wrong. A seemingly impossible decision. It was then that he seemed to hear a warm, loving voice whisper, ‘you are free, walk on through the door of your choice and know that I will go with you’.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

A story project

And now for something completely different ...

This is the first of hopefully a number of blogposts inspired initially by a book I picked up called 365. It's a collection of stories, one written every day for a year, each exactly 365 words long. It occurred to me to try and do something similar but I know myself well enough to know there is no way on this earth I would keep that up. So then I wondered about trying to write 100 100word "stories" (not necessarily in 100 days ... there's no point setting myself up for that kind of failure before I even begin!) 

I've written quite a bit of poetry (although not very much recently) but while I've long fancied the idea of trying my hand at story writing it has never actually happened. I looked up the idea of 'national novel writing month' but I know my life is WAY too busy to contemplate writing a novel (ever, let alone in a month!) but 100 words, that should be doable, no? 

It was an idea that had been floating around my head with no concrete outcome for a little while until I led one of the drop-in classes at St Chad's Sanctuary and we talked about doors: we described doors and then told stories about what might happen when you stepped through them. That was the second dose of inspiration I needed to put pen to paper (cursor to screen) and I now have a collection of ten 100 word "stories" loosely about doorways. 

I'm hoping / assuming that at some point another few themes will suggest themselves to me, and that eventually I'll create my collection of 100... don't hold your breath. I'm open to suggestions but not making any promises!

It turns out 100 words is really not very many (anyone who knows me will know I rarely say something in 15 words if I can use 50!) I'm not sure whether what I've written constitutes 'stories', hence the inverted commas. Then again, I'm not sure a story is something particularly easy to define: but perhaps that's a discussion for another day. 

Anyway, for what they are worth, I'll publish them here to be read or ignored at will.

Stories to follow ...

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Reflecting on the Exodus

Peace Sunday is on the 24th September. Fellowship of Reconciliation always produces resources for churches to use to explore the theme of peace, including reflections on the readings. This year I was invited to write one of them (with a strict word limit!): so here it is:

Exodus 16: 2-15

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.” Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’ ” While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud. The Lord said to Moses, “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’ ” That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

The people of Israel are in the desert.

Earlier, the story makes clear why they are here: they escaped from an oppressive regime under which they were violently persecuted. It is still, sadly, an all too familiar story. And so they seek the Promised Land: a place of freedom from economic oppression and safety from the violence inherent in maintaining it. Among those I have met who are seeking asylum, these two: safety and freedom, feature most frequently among the things they value here.

The passage opens with a very human struggle: from the desert, looking ahead to an amorphous dream, the Promised Land doesn’t glitter as brightly as it did from amongst the ruins of lives lived under an oppressive regime. As they struggle to cling to a belief that something better is possible, their grumbling is directed against the lack of the very basics of what is needed to survive: this is a people who want to live.

So where is God? God is in the desert. God is alongside the Israelites when they fear they will starve. God is by the broken down truck in the Sahara which is running out of water. God is on the MSF boats dragging drowning toddlers out of choppy waters. God is in the Calais camps handing out tarpaulin to those whose shelters have been ripped apart again.

And what does God do? God provides. He provides enough. More than enough, he provides an abundance: not a surplus, but an abundance. I don’t believe that is a contradiction. I also don’t believe it has changed. Biblical economics stands in stark contrast to market economics. The bible suggests God will provide and there will be enough. The market tells us we must grab and hoard more than our share. We must choose who to trust.

There are plenty of people who could write their own exodus story today. Just as God intervenes to change the story for the Israelites, so must we when we hear the cry of those still ‘in the desert’. And thus I hope that they too, through the encounter with His people, will be able to write a story which witnesses to the reality that God was in the desert and God provided enough. 

You can download the booklet with all the reflections (or order paper copies) here: