Lost #2

Lost #2

The fall is so long I seem to cease to fall and the vertiginous feeling
of speed vanishes to be replaced by one of drifting. It makes no
sense at all as the sensation of plummeting had made my stomach lurch and heave and my soul seemed to curl round itself like a spider whose thread has been cut and instinctively wraps its legs round its soft body to protect it before it hits the ground.

I can feel the air whipping past me but the fear I felt seems to have
passed. I am not comfortable but I am not racked by terror any more
and I allow my limbs to uncurl from the foetal position, prepped for
crash landing and find that far from being midway in an endless fall,
I am lying on the ground, cushioned by soft grass. I know it is grass
because of the sweet fresh smell and I run my hands across it, and my hands come back moist with dew. It’s dark, still, but when I roll
onto my back, I see that above me are stars as bright as if the
universe were a billion years newer, set in sky of such rich velvety
darkness that it’s hard to believe it is not a jeweller’s cloth laid
out to show gems at their best. The stars indeed look polished and
newborn, glittering with white iciness you normally only see on a few
winter nights when the air is freezing and even the sounds of voices
become brittle as icicles.

And yet it is not cold but warm, as if the day before had been sunny.

I sit up, aware that I have no injuries. I can hardly take it in. I
fell for so long that I must have fallen an unimaginable height. To
land without harm, or even actually notice the moment I landed
baffles me and I wonder for a short moment what is happening to me.

A cricket strikes up nearby, much as a musician recommencing after a short break and around me, pinpoints of greenish light begin
appearing, low to the ground, and I rise to my feet and investigate.
Tiny phosphorescent creatures wait on the leaf-tips of low growing
plants; I touch one very gently with the very end of my finger and a
spot of glowing light appears there. They’re glow-worms, and they are all around me, in a circle, and their light seems to pulsate softly
in time to the song of the cricket.

I am breathless with wonder but I am also a little scared. Where am I and what am I here for?

I sit down, cross legged on the moist soft grass and I wait, though for what I cannot tell.

Lost in translation ~ or the perils of being a teacher of English as a foreign language.

Lost in translation ~ perils of being a teacher of English as a foreign


As regular readers may have picked up, one of my jobs is as a teacher of
English as a foreign language; the summer school is rapidly draining
the life out of me as fast as a pint of Guiness on St Patrick’s day.
But the perils of the job are not always what you might think. I
mean, it’s hardly a dangerous sport, is it? The worst that can happen
is a student throws a board rubber at you#, or you catch chicken pox
or the ‘flu.

The perils are a great deal more subtle. For example, students do come to
you and ask you tough questions, or confide in you about something
that worries them.

Last summer, my colleague Dan* got faced with a real doozie of an issue.
He tends to teach the younger students, at pre-intermediate level, so
his students quite often have less vocabulary than the ones I teach.
At the end of a lesson, one kid came up and asked him if he would
explain a word he’d heard while in England and he couldn’t find in
the dictionary. Usually at this point, my heart sinks. During one
lesson on humour, a student told a joke using the phrase “blow-job”
and didn’t know what it meant; I chickened out and asked someone else
to explain. Another student gleefully explained, with actions. Total
incapacitation of entire class followed, from the hysterical laughter
than ensued.

Well, Dan manned up and asked what the word was.

Love-juice,” said the kid.

A few seconds of stunned silence while Dan desperately thought what he
should do and in the end, opted for the “I’m in loco parentis here
so I’d better explain” stance. So he started off:

When a man loves a woman……” and went on from there.

The student’s face got more and more puzzled and finally Dan asked if he

Not really,” the kid admitted.

Dan tried again, trying to make the language simpler.

Finally, he asked where the kid had heard the word, hoping that context might

I was watching Wimbledon with my host family,” the kid said. “And I
kept hearing Love Juice being said by the umpire. What is that to do
with sex, please, I don’t understand, sir?”

Dan slunk away red-faced.


#Yes it does happen, but so far not to me!

*names have been changed to protect the innocent**

** innocent? Yeah right! 

St Margaret’s Day

.A sermon for St Margaret’s Day from my husband:


9 ¶  Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls
full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I
will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10  And in the
spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the
holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. 11  It has
the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel, like jasper,
clear as crystal. 12  It has a great, high wall with twelve gates,
and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates are inscribed the
names of the twelve tribes of the Israelites; 13  on the east three
gates, on the north three gates, on the south three gates, and on the
west three gates. 14  And the wall of the city has twelve
foundations, and on them are the twelve names of the twelve apostles
of the Lamb.





18 ¶  You have not come to something that can be touched, a
blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, 19  and the
sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that
not another word be spoken to them. 20  (For they could not endure
the order that was given, “If even an animal touches the
mountain, it shall be stoned to death.” 21  Indeed, so
terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with
fear.”) 22  But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of
the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in
festal gathering, 23  and to the assembly of the firstborn who are
enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits
of the righteous made perfect, 24  and to Jesus, the mediator of a
new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word
than the blood of Abel.





12 ¶  Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were
selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the
money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13  He said to
them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of
prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.” 14  The
blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 15
But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things
that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple,
“Hosanna to the Son of David,” they became angry 16  and
said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” Jesus
said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of
infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise for yourself’?”
17  He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the
night there.


Today is the dedication
festival for this church.  We thank God for this building and St.
Margaret for her prayers.




our dedication festival we have three readings from the Bible,
readings that sound strange.  Readings about heaven and angels,
temples and cities.  Stories of strange places.  Unreal places that
glow, like sunlight through precious jewels.  Stories of blazing
fire, places of deep darkness power and fear.  Of places so powerful,
that to touch them is death.  




and puzzling readings.  But reading with at least one common theme.
And the common theme that comes to me is
Holy means set apart.  Set apart as God’s, as perfect even.  Set
apart from the greed, the cheating, the violence and the hatred that
infects so much of this world. 




is what this building is.  It is a place set apart.  A place to meet
God.  A place to let God heal us from the infection, to heal us with
love, to fill us with love, and to send us out to share love and its
healing with the world.




holiness that our readings make clear is more powerful than any evil
in this world.




place is holy.  This is a place where the walls are thin.  Not the
thick physical walls but the walls between earth and heaven.  This is
where we come to get a taste of heaven, a little holiness to take
heaven back out into the earth.




see, outside of here; even though God is intimately involved with all
his creation and all his creatures; outside of here, the walls seem
very thick. 




love of God, the holiness and the power of the heavenly kingdom seem
so far away.  The world, and the people in it need places like this,
holy places, places where they can come close to God.  They also need
us to take that holiness into ourselves, then into our world.  To
break down some of those walls and bring God into people’s lives.




is so desperately needed in this world.






A world where there is
famine in Africa;  wars and bloodshed.  This is a world where a lone
bomber can blow up innocent people in Norway.  Then drive over to an
island full of teenagers;  take out guns and walk around shooting
everyone he can find.   I read estimates of about 10 people dead from
the bombs, and around 80 young people shot dead.   There will be
many, many more injured physically or mentally.




its not just places far away.  Yesterday, I read this, “A teenage
schoolgirl died after throwing herself under a train received a
“gratuitously abusive” message on a social networking site
just before her death.  The body of 15-year-old Natasha MacBryde was
discovered on Valentine’s Day, on a railway line just 150 yards away
from her home”.  There is local evil.  There is also petty evil,
that nevertheless can ruin peoples lives; petty evil, like bullying,
and malicious gossip.




all of this evil, should not be.




world is a beautiful place.  Crammed full of God’s presence
everywhere.  But there is an infection, a sickness that affects the
people.  Us too.  A sickness that left untreated will turn our
generosity into greed, our love into hatred, our freedom to live as
God’s children, into a slavery to things we don’t need, but somehow
cannot live our lives without.




is why this building and each of you are so important.  This is God’s
holy place here in Hopton and you are God’s holy people in this




if you are anything like me, you will hear words like that, shake
your head and think, “No”.  No, …….., No, I know myself, and
I am not holy.  I am not special.  I am as sick as all the rest. 




I look at you and say, “No”.  




you are wrong.  You are holy:  At least a little bit! 




little bit holy.  But that is all that is needed.  It little bit of
holiness can go a long way.  A little bit of holiness can lead to
small acts of love.  That little bit of holiness can grow and grow in
us, slowly but steadily.  But to help that holiness to grow we need
holy places.




are often weak.  So we need places where God is close.  Places where
we get a sense of the immense power of God; places filled with the


to sit quietly with God.  Places to be sad with God, places to be
happy.  Places at times to shout at God.  Places to sing to God.
Places where God’s love and power can seep up from the floor, out of
the walls:  Places where we can breathe in God’s love and power with
every breath.  In short:  Places like this. 




around you at this newly repaired building.  Look around you and see
a holy place, dedicated to God.  All here is holy, you are sitting on
holy ground, breathing the air of a holy place. 




a good look around.  People of Hopton look at your church, let its
holiness seep into you.  People of Hopton, look at this holy place
and realise this is your home.




of Corton, realise that this is your home too.  All holy places are
your home, they are the places where you are closest to your Heavenly
father, closest to all your Christian family.  And, when you go back
to St. Bartholomew’s, take a moment to realise the holiness of that
place too.




for now we celebrate the holiness of this place, dedicated to the
holy martyr, St. Margaret.  This is a place to bring the problems of
the world to God and God to the problems of the world.








place is a spiritual well. 




fill up you buckets.  Fill yourself with holiness;  And water the
world outside, bring God’s love to a world that needs it so badly.








In the name of the
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.




The Tear-Glass


(a tear-glass was a tiny vial of glass that was used at a Roman funeral in ancient times to collect the tears of the mourners and which was then sealed and placed in the tomb. I saw one for the first time today in a little local museum.)

Dim blue-grey glass

Translucent still with iridescent sheen

A slender tube that once held

The tender tears of mourners.

Now long dry, the eyes that wept

And broken hearts are dust;

Even well-loved names are lost

As if written in the summer sands.

Yet, despite the years I seem to see

The ghostly gleam of newer tears

Still moist upon the fragile glass

And I must ask, as countless do:

Who will weep those tears for me?


Lost #1

Lost #1

The air is heavy with the cold dank smell of ancient brick wet with
condensation and mildew, and touching the walls I feel the surface
slick with moisture and the passage of countless hands feeling their
way along this light-less tunnel. The only sound is that of my ragged
breathing and the occasional faint plink of water dripping from the
low roof. It’s so low I can reach up and feel the curve of the
arching brickwork, not as smooth as the walls, but my fingertips can
find crevices where the mortar has crumbled slightly. Once, I touch
what feels like a slug and I stop touching the walls or the ceiling.

All I can do is step blindly forward. I have already tried going back but the door where I entered- how long ago was it now? Days or weeks or centuries, I can no longer tell – has vanished. It vanished almost the moment I came through, excited to explore  and too incautious to hesitate and equip myself.

Now I can do nothing but stumble eye-lessly onwards, each step splashing through shallow puddles. I must be scared because my heart is pounding like distant jungle drums, the echo of it in the own ears.

I walk, carefully at first but as the sensation of walking sightlessly
becomes familiar, I stop feeling my way with my feet and just walk.
The ground is wet but even and seems to slope very slowly downwards.

I must walk for years, the rhythm of my own feet lulling me into a
trance, because there is nothing but this long straight tunnel that
never curves or turns but just goes on and on without changing ever.


I can see the faintest blossoming of light ahead, like the ghost of the
glow left behind by a struck match and the brightness seems to burn
my eyes after the long dark.

It’s like ancient moonlight filtered through storm clouds, but it is light
nonetheless and  the trance is broken and I hurtle towards it, a
bumbling moth, and as the light grows ever more insistent and
seductive, I slip and slither and realise that the slope has become a
hill, and I am running helter-skelter down it, all caution gone in my
hunger for the light.

As the blue-dim light flares with the brilliance of a neutron star, I
tumble forwards with my own momentum and brace myself to crash face first on wet-slick stone, but as my body lurches, and I flail my arms to try and protect myself, the second of falling draws out and out and my stomach heaves sickeningly as I know that I am falling falling falling falling falling.”    

Is Life a Labyrinth or a Maze? ~ a philosophical question

The two words are used synonymously but they actually mean something different. A labyrinth is a maze where all you have to do is walk and keep walking and you will reach the centre:

As long as you simply follow the path, you will reach the centre.

A maze on the other hand has false trails, dead ends and sometimes pitfalls. You have to explore all the turnings, even when many are ones that turn you back on yourself:

You can get totally lost in a maze: people have to be rescued from the famous one at Hampton Court. A labyrinth is different: you just keep going and follow the path ahead.

But if you get to the centre eventually, does it make a difference how long it took, or how short a time?

Is it the journey that is important or the destination?

Which is your life: maze or labyrinth?

The Waiting Room ~ “It’s Strange how some Rooms are like Cages.”

The Waiting Room

It’s strange how some rooms are like cages…” Paul Simon in The Obvious Child.

Not always just cages but almost like holding pens. You enter them and things stand still while you wait for the designated outcome. Waiting rooms: we’ve all spent far too much time in them. Whether they’re called Waiting rooms or whether they have a fancier title….the
wings, the sidelines, the vestry, dressing room, bus stop… they’re
all still just waiting areas. When you enter them you become
committed to staying till the waiting is over. No one forces you to
stay, there are no locks and no bars, but how often do you ever see
someone walk out before their appointed time? Not very often. There’s an unspoken contract that once you enter, you stay.

Hospital waiting areas are the one people seem to spend most time in; due to the usual policy of doubling up the number of people assigned to each appointment, while you might be expecting to see the doctor at 10.0am, so is another person. They count on people not turning up to keep the place busy and it usually works, because even if you  have to wait two hours, almost everyone will wait. It’s the same with trains as well. You have a fixed object in mind and unless you change your plans radically, that object usually remains the same. So no matter how late your train is, you sit and wait.

What a waste of valuable time I can almost hear you saying! This is
certainly true if you regard waiting as a passive activity, one empty
of meaning and purpose. While there isn’t much to prepare for when
waiting for a train, many other events we wait for actually need the
waiting time for the event to work well.

I spent a fair amount of time in the past backstage, waiting for a show to start. Of course, some of that time was spent in practical
matters, checking props, sound checks and learning lines, but there’s
always a moment that dawns when all the things you have to do are
done and there is nothing to do but wait. And that is crucial to the
performance. That funny little jumping of your heart as you hear the
distant murmur of the audience arriving and settling down is the
burst of adrenaline you need to be able to step out on stage. The
hugs and kisses from fellow performers and backstage crew placate the nerves and bind you together in a fellowship as old as theatre; it
tells you that you are OK, that things are going to go fine and that
people are behind you. I’m not involved in that world any more and
I have few friends that are, but I gather that there are very few
performers who can walk cold from the car and onto a stage and give
their best. I’d never be one of them, to be sure.

The relatives’ room at hospital is another kind of waiting room; the
place you are relegated to when dressings are being changed and when the consultant deigns to visit your relative. It’s also where you
wait after the worst has happened. Have you ever noticed the boxes of tissues? They’re there for good reason. A few years back, we had to rush north when a close relative was taken seriously ill. We arrived in time to visit him in the ICU and he was lucid enough to communicate with us. But overnight things deteriorated and we were called at 5am to say come now. He’d been moved to another waiting
area, a single room off the main ICU ward. He was not conscious
really and after spending some hours with him, I went with my
sister-in-law to get some coffee and we were directed to the
relatives’ room. I’d been up since 5am and Zoe had driven down
from Scotland at 6am when she got the call, so we were tired and
upset. I knew this stage could easily last days and I was shocked
when less than an hour later when my husband came in to say his
stepfather had gone. He’d never been one for waiting around in life
and in dying, he had waited till we’d all got there, and had gone,
just like that. Even the staff were shocked. So we all sat together
in that waiting room, crying and drinking coffee and talking and even
laughing, waiting for the next stage to come. In those waiting hours,
we’d been preparing ourselves, in such ways that I can hardly begin
to describe, for what we knew to be inevitable. I didn’t pray for
miracles; we’d had our miracle when he’d been conscious and lucid
when we arrived and the things that needed saying had been said. I’d  been getting my head around what was happening, so I could deal with it.

That’s what a lot of our waiting is about, or should be: becoming ready for what is next. It’s an active process in many ways, but performed often in a passive fashion. When I wait for a hospital appointment, I am not killing time; I am preparing my mind and my spirit to deal with what is coming. When I am waiting for a class to arrive, I am marshalling my thoughts and my materials and working out what best to start with. When I am sitting waiting at an airport, I may be watching and listening and observing and above all, thinking. Even when I am waiting for a bus or a train I am preparing, thinking about the journey and the day ahead and using the time to ponder ideas and enjoy the pause in my busy day.

Right now I am in a waiting room of another sort; it has no special
physical location and is more a metaphysical place. I’m waiting for
plans and hopes and dreams to start to move forward. It’s a bit
like when you sow seeds in the spring. You look at the pictures on
the seed packet and you dream of those flowers or vegetables or herbs as you sow them, and after it’s done, you have a little moment
where you stare at the bare ground and for a few seconds, you imagine the riot of colour that will ensue in months to come. No gardener hangs around much after that; you might come back a week later to check; to ensure the seeds are undisturbed by hungry birds, or to remove the rampant growth of new weeds, or maybe to peek and see if the tiny earthquakes have started that signal the sprouting of a seed here and there. Another week and you see the tender tip of the first shoots and you sigh with pleasure and anticipation and then go on with your other chores.

That’s the thing about waiting; there are so many things you can do while you’re doing it. And when you do it like that, it’s never a waste
of time, but rather a gift of time that you didn’t know you had.

Roseberry Topping ~ a poem about conquering fear

Roseberry Topping

(July 2006)

The last time I stood here,

I did not stand at all:

I crouched, turning my back

On the view I’d come to see,

Fingernails seeking purchase

On scarred beige rocks.

This time, I stand proud,

Nervous still but upright,

Stray strands of hair

Whipping wildly in the wind

Like prayer flags in temples

Straddling the spine of the world.

My knees tremble, it’s true,

But it’s from the climb itself

And not the visceral terror

Of being so very high.

Ten years, near enough, gone by

Like days of sunshine,

And  I’m older, stronger, wiser,

And much less afraid.

What I am and what I am not

What I am and what I am not

I’m not a teacher, as such, and I have nothing to teach you. But we might learn together.

I don’t have any answers, not the definitive big answers to the big
questions. I just have more questions. But my new questions might
inspire you to ask some of your own.

I’m not enlightened; I can make no claim to such a thing being sometimes so lost in my own internal darkness that I extinguish my own small light while thrashing around. But sometimes that tiny pearl of light might be enough to guide a soul home.

I’m not awakened; I live in that shadowy penumbra of the world between worlds, caught in the trailing edge of dreams. But sometimes we may be dreaming the same dream and can compare notes.

I’m not a guru and I don’t want disciples or followers. But I would like
friends and fellow travellers. I will carry your load for you while
you build your muscles to full strength and I hope you will sometimes
carry mine for me while I am weak.

For I am not strong. I stagger and fall and break into a million shining
fragments. I can be brittle, like untempered steel. You may see the
shine of polished metal but it’s only through repeated forging that
true strength comes. Being beaten on an anvil is painful and I try to
avoid it, and yet, again and again, I land in the furnace and the
forge. One day I may be a worthwhile tool but not yet.

I’m not a saint but I may yet be a martyr, for the drive to perfect
integrity takes us to strange and dangerous places where the choices
we make under pressure are not always ones that are good for us as
individuals. But those choices may be of greater worth for mankind
than for the poor soul who makes them.

I am just an imperfect human being trying to understand who I am in
this world. I make mistakes, I get things horribly wrong, and for
this I ask patience and forgiveness from those I may have hurt on my
journey. I have gifts but I am flawed and broken and sometimes I do
not use those gifts as well as I might in a perfect world.

I’m no angel, but I may be a messenger. I stand with one foot in either world, amphibious, between the world of the soul and the world of the body, never quite sure from one moment to the next where the messages are coming from.

I’m an empty vessel, being filled by the living words of my soul, and
letting them pour out and flow onto parched lands. If they water your
soul garden, I am glad; if they swamp your first shoots then I am
sorry and will try and channel the flow elsewhere till they have
grown taller and stronger.

I am a child, looking at the world with tired eyes and sometimes a
heart that is coated in jade, that is so easily broken. For all my
childishness, I am older than you know and in my ancientness I see
further and deeper than I should and for that I will avert my eyes if
you wish me to.

I’m not a leader. No one should follow me where I am going, but I would welcome the company if anyone is going the same way. Sometimes we all need a hand to hold in the darkness.   




Azrael’s name is one that we fear;

Mentioned in whispers on the edge of a tear,

Standing in doorways, or sat by our bed,

Azrael’s face is the one that we dread.

Azrael’s eyes are pits of dark flames.

Filled with compassion, he plays no sick games.

Watching the dying, he waits as a friend;

Azrael’s comfort is there to the end.

Azrael’s sword is the coldest of steel;

Cutting so fast there’s no pain to feel.

Flaming with pity, icy with care,

Azrael’s sword cuts straight and fair.

Azrael’s wings are the feathers of night;

Unfurled in the darkness, they shine without light.

A fragrance of lilies, a touch of cold earth,

Azrael’s wings bring forth a new birth.