ACW

ACW

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Gladstone's Library, by Eve Lockett

And there was silence in heaven for half an hour…
I think they must have been on the library tour at that point. And I know what the library looks like, because I am in the earthly version of it – Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden. I am seated in a balcony alcove at an old wooden desk with angle-poise lamp, facing a central space surrounded by carved railings and open to the floor below. I have just finished reading the Spring 2017 version of Christian Writer – (brilliant poem, A Messy Business by Alexine Crawford. More please!) – and I’m now thinking about next week’s blog.
In fact, I’m thinking about a lot of things. We have been visiting friends locally and extended our stay to one night in the library. Not, as my husband keeps telling people, sleeping on a bookshelf – giving rise to jokes like ‘did you have to book?’ – but in a pleasant room of almost monastic simplicity, with a view of the adjacent churchyard. Books and graves, so peaceful.
Strict silence is maintained in the main part of the library – it is so quiet that the click of someone’s computer keys in the opposite alcove seems unnecessarily brash.  Footsteps up the creaking spiral staircase ought to irritate, but instead I find them slightly intriguing, the discreet comings and goings of other bibliobabes. 
What is it about the serried spines of leather-bound books that gives such a sense of timelessness, of continuity, of comfort and security? Firstly, I suppose, because the care and expense that has gone into their printing could only happen in peaceful times, and because they have survived through troubled times. Secondly, they present an image of order and etiquette. The books here are well mannered, their covers giving no more than an initial discreet cough to invite conversation.
One book is displayed to view, the copy of an original created for St John’s Benedictine Abbey, Minnesota: a handwritten and illustrated version of the Bible, lovingly worked in the historical tradition of craft, creativity, patient labour and beauty. It is the work of calligrapher Donald Jackson, who says: ‘The continuous process of remaining open and accepting of what may reveal itself through hand and heart on a crafted page is the closest I have ever come to God.’
So, is this a library just for intellectuals, for people who live entirely in the cognitive part of their brains and who deal only in dead knowledge? I don’t think so; the ambience is utterly romantic, and the imagination could wallow here in all the possibilities of Victorian melodrama, crime fiction, poetry or modern love story – and all before turning a single page.
Not surprisingly, the place attracts writers as well as researchers, and there is an official writer-in-residence who is invited to stay a month and give talks, seminars, and contribute to a blog as well as produce their own work. If anyone out there is interested, then why not look up their website and contact them? www.gladstoneslibrary.org

Oh, and there is a café, Food for Thought, which feeds more than the soul!

Saturday, 25 March 2017

A Balanced Diet? by Fiona Lloyd


            For the past 15 months, I’ve been on a healthy eating plan. I’d got to the stage where everything in my wardrobe was too tight, so – being too parsimonious to splash out on a load of new clothes – I decided I needed to lose the odd stone or three.

I can't find this in my diet book...
            My understanding of a balanced diet is a glass of wine in one hand, and a bar of chocolate in the other…but for some reason, this was frowned on at the slimming group I joined. With a heavy heart, I hid the wine bottles at the back of a cupboard, gave away the remainder of our Christmas choccies, and purchased a bumper-pack of Granny Smiths. This was not going to be fun.

            But d’you know what? Turns out this healthy eating lark actually works. Having more fruit and vegetables – and less of the fatty, sugary stuff – on a regular basis means I can now find several things in my wardrobe that fit me properly, rather than threatening to cause an embarrassing incident every time I bend down to tie my shoelaces. I can walk to the end of our street without getting out of breath, and a brisk stroll round the park no longer sounds like a form of mediaeval torture.

            Last year, I also kept a record of my reading diet. I’d set myself the challenge of reading 52 books over the course of 12 months. By December 31st, I’d read a total of 56, as well as umpteen magazines and online articles. Some of the books I’d read before; some were new discoveries. I re-read all the Dorothy L Sayers novels (for the first time in about 30 years), and found that some stood the test of time better than others. Some things were recommended by friends, and some I read because they were free – or at least, massively reduced – on Kindle. (Told you I was tight…)

So many books, so little time...
            Analysing my reading habits in this way proved enlightening. I’ve always preferred to read fiction, but I hadn’t realised how much this informed my choices. Most of the non-fiction stuff I read was in the form of articles, and these were often things I came across at random, usually via Twitter or Facebook.

            Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a preference for fiction (or non-fiction), but it does make me wonder if I’m missing out. I read to be entertained, but I also like to think and to learn, particularly in the context of my faith. There are challenges here for me around what, when and how I read. I can easily devour a novel in one sitting, but some of the other books waiting on my shelf require me to slow down and contemplate the truth behind the words. And yet I can see that when I pay attention to what I’m reading, my soul is more peaceful, and my faith more secure. My goal this year is to balance my literary diet, too.



Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013 and blogs at www.fjlloyd.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Writing Grace

I’m starting this blog on Ash Wednesday. Today we went to the Dominican Priory in central Oxford for the service of ashing. I’m still trying to figure out why it was such a meaningful service. I came away feeling I had been fed. I don’t think it was just the brief sermon, though that was helpful. Ashes in Scripture, said the celebrant, stand to some extent for penitence, but much more for mourning. What do mourning and penitence have in common? They both direct us to what really matters in life. ‘You are dust, and to dust you will return.’ It was grounding, but not depressing, to think during that service about being mortal.



Last night I met with two very different people for a time of lectio divina and contemplative prayer. We read Romans chapter 11, verses 1 to 6, together, each taking a verse and sharing what it said to us. What struck me was how easy it is for even a gifted prophet, as Elijah was, to become bitter, self-righteous, and perhaps even a bit paranoid, in times of national and international conflict. How like us! The Lord gently tells him that there are lots of people with their hearts in the right place. You are not alone (so don’t be so harsh and judgemental); you are not alone (so don’t be so fearful and anxious). The prophet’s mood contrasts sharply with the unchangeable gentleness of God: there’s a remnant chosen by grace. I did like that: it could have said ‘chosen by God’, which would have been correct, but somehow less easy to warm to. Grace, which of course is only God under another guise, does the choosing and calling, but it’s largely hidden and secret, known just to God.


I wrote in my last blog about the dangers of secretiveness in the church. But there is of course a good kind of secrecy. We had it today in the Ash Wednesday Gospel. ‘Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret’ (or, as some wit once said ‘so that your arms may be in secret’). ‘When you fast, wash your face.’ ‘So that your father who sees in secret may reward you.’ This is the same gentle Father who spoke to Elijah about Grace. The church hasn’t always learnt this lesson. Even while it covers up its shortcomings, it often goes in for the sensational, or at least yearns for publicity and enlists PR people to promote its image. Don’t we all long for spectacular salvation stories that will convert many? But ‘if they don’t listen to Moses, neither will they be convinced if someone rises from the dead.’ A very good Lenten discipline would be to give up our desire for grand Christian publicity and resist the temptation to seek impressive religious PR. And, on the positive side, to bank much more on the workings of Grace.


What has this to do with writing? Two things, I think. One is that we should try never to write the way Elijah might have at his moment of crisis, in a critical, captious, harsh, or even self-righteous spirit. Our audience, and our created characters, should be handled with gentleness and grace, even when they are actors in contexts of evil. The other point is that there is a good way as well as a bad way to ‘hide’ the gospel in our writing. Most people agree that to sneak it in and preach covertly is not good. But it can justly be hidden there in the same way that our good deeds are done in secret, the way that the kingdom is hidden in the world—the way that the leaven is hidden in the dough, invisible in itself, yet suffusing the whole. Which is to say much the same as the first point: grace must lie at the heart of it all.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Psalm (of Helen) : A mission statement

Gentle readers, may I beg your indulgence with this post; I set out to write a psalm, without first making much of a study on how the psalms were written, and I know that there are scholars among you who know and understand things like structure, metre, the little couplety thing that many of the psalms have and so on.  This will clearly fall far short.

My offering below is probably neither a psalm nor a poem, but a kind of outpouring from the heart in the rough style of the psalmists at their most raw and un-poetic. I don't think God is offended by the awkward and unskilled, and this felt important to me. It just wanted to be said.

As a writer who has - and is - struggling to understand what I am called to do, to find a niche, so stop speak, this seems the very bottom line in why I keep opening my laptop and stringing words together even when frequently I feel like giving up for good. I have tried so many different things, nothing seems to fit, and I come back time and again to this one truth: I want to write about Jesus.

I promise I won't often try to do it in verse.

This is what happened when I splurged it all out. I wanted to share it with you.


I was afraid and alone and longing to be found
But I didn't even know I was lost.
I wept and you held out your arms
You came to find me and caught me as I fell
I cried out to you and you took my hand.
You drew me back to yourself.
I reached for you and you held me tightly
You took me in your arms and comforted me
You wiped away my tears.

I lifted up my heart to you for you to make it clean
I emptied out my life and laid it in front of you
Dirty and miserable
Pain and sin and selfishness
Naked I stood before you, full of shame
But you did not turn away.
I had nothing left to hide behind and still you loved me
I was ashamed at the state of my heart
But you washed it clean with your blood
And declared me your beloved child.
You forgave me.

(pause - to blow nose)

You took away my guilt and you gave me unending love
You took away the hurt and replaced it with belonging
My only offerings were fear and bitterness
And yet you blessed me more than I can say.
You said that I could start again.
You healed my wounds and lifted my head
You set me on my feet and steadied me
You played your music and taught me how to dance.


My Lord and my God.
When I wander away, you follow me
Wait at a distance until I am ready to return
You never let me out of your sight.
You carry on loving me.
When all is dark and I can't feel your presence
Still I will trust you, for I know that you are faithful.

I will praise you until I have no breath left in me
Because you are the Lord; there is only you.
You are the Holy One and yet you love me
You are the only God and yet you are my Friend
I am your child and you are my Father.
I am safe and I am loved
I can never repay you for what you have done for me
You have set me free.
I was poor and came to you with nothing
You gave me a beautiful gown and a crown for my head
And called me a royal princess.

You turned the page in the story of my life
And gave me words for a new chapter
You whispered your wonders into my ear 
And I have glimpsed your beauty.
I will speak of your mercy to all who can hear.
I will listen for your voice, for I know it well
I will write down all that you say to me
I will tell of your glory and the wonder of your love.

I will say, 'Here He is, my Saviour and my Friend,'
And people will come and be healed.




Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Forgiving like Smarties by Emily Owen



A couple of weeks ago, I was back at school.
I’d been asked to go and talk to some students about writing.
So I did, and it was fun.
I talked a bit about my writing and gave the students feedback on their work.
At the end, just before the lesson finished, I gave them my top tip.
Well, it’s not really my top tip, but sometimes it’s not far off…
Chocolate!

Sometimes, I confess, chocolate is my motivation.
I tell myself, for example, “finish this chapter,” or “write for another half hour,”
and then you can have some chocolate.
If I am being hard on myself, ‘chocolate’ maybe means two smarties.
If I am being kind, I’ll have lots of smarties.

Just before I typed this blog, I had some smarties.
(Yes, wrong way round; well spotted! Don’t tell.)
They were squashed in a small box and I couldn’t get them out easily.
So I tipped them onto my desk.


The smarties were much easier to get at then and, before long, they were gone.

This made me think about forgiveness.
Forgiving myself.
Forgiving others.
A much more appropriate topic for a Lent blog than chocolate.

Some years ago, I was in a situation where I needed to forgive.
I knew I did.
I knew I should.
Or at least, I knew I should want to.
The problem was, I didn’t want to.
My resentment became so ‘squashed in a small box’ that,
by the time I was eventually ready to try and let it out, it wouldn’t come.
Bitterness was stuck in the box that was me.
Anger took up residence.
It hurt.
But I couldn’t tip it out.
I just couldn’t.

Then God stepped in.
And gently showed me that, actually, I could.
I could tip it out.
By remembering that I didn’t have to do it on my own.



It echoes from the cross down through the ages;
‘Father, forgive them.’
A triumphant cry, because
it’s genuine.
‘Father.
 Forgive them.’
It echoes from the cross down through the ages.

Oh, Father of all forgiveness,
help us catch hold of that echo.
It’s love,
it’s reality,
it’s freedom.
And, in our reaching,
catching,
holding,
realise that
we don’t have to do it alone.
The strength of every echo is
it’s source.
The ability to truly forgive comes
from you.
Help us listen to your echo.
All it means.
All it stands for.
Let it resound into every situation.
Resonate in life.
May we never let your echo fade.

© 2017 Emily Owen

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A chip off the rock...........Part 2 by Ruth Johnson


“Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!”  Psalm 95:1 




I have continued my February theme as 500 words were not enough to make a joyful noise about being a ‘chip off the old block’ in representing my heavenly Father, and the rock of my salvation.  Each of us is a living, precious stone, a gateway to His coming Kingdom on earth, and one day to be built into that city of God where many precious stones are mentioned, but not diamonds.  Are we His diamonds being honed to take our place?    

We know His promises, and His desire to fulfill them, when we abide in Him and He in us.  As writers’ our desire is to bless people, yet over the years many of us know little of who has seen, let alone read our words.  Habakkuk complained to the Lord about the times he lived in and He answered that the revelation, or vision, awaits an appointed time and although it lingers it will certainly come and will not delay. 

I asked, “Lord, when will I see the fulfillment of my dreams?” My mother’s antique engagement ring came to mind, pictured above.   An expert informed me new techniques today would have more finely honed the diamonds, as even the smallest chip can now catch the maximum light.  The valuation described it as a 13 stones ring, but only five are seen by the naked eye, here enlarged!  In the four corners of the round diamonds tiny diamond chips lend support and light to the larger stone.  

As a precious stone I could be a diamond chip, hidden but supportive and help others sparkle in their walk with the Lord.  If the bigger diamond, and seeing God doing a new thing, am I willing to be finely honed and repositioned in a new setting enabling me to reflect more of Him in my life?  Or, like the antique ring, stay as I am where I am valued, safe and without risk. My choice is for His Will to be done for then, whatever happens, His joy will rise up within me to touch others with His love and truth.

I doubt Paul writing to the Romans, Ephesus etc. ever envisaged the world would still be reading his letters 2,000 years later!  The same goes for Tolken and Lewis whose writing reflected God’s truths bringing sales far exceeding those when they were alive.  Those stories made into films have gone beyond anything they could have hoped or imagined.

With new technology Christian books are being self-published in every genre, mostly sold in their hundreds rather than thousands.  But let’s not deride that, for there are only a few Christian authors who make big sales, and see God has opened the way for the diamond chips to write their autobiography, biography, fiction, poems, songs etc.   Be encouraged for the variety and potential of all those small sales added together can equal and change more lives than any one book.


Monday, 20 March 2017

The long and the short of it by Sue Russell

(This image is totally irrelevant, but cheering, I thought.)


I've been thinking about the relative merits of different lengths of fictional pieces. My own are all novel-length, though not door-stoppers, and I've found this form most congenial. This may be partly because I enjoy reading longer works, relishing the opportunity to immerse myself in fictional settings and get to know characters at a deep level. However, I have a body of short stories, written over a number of years in response to assignments set by one of the writing critique groups to which I belong, and I have reason to be thankful for them.  They kept me going at a time when the creative wells were dry and I was writing little besides - if nothing else they provided a necessary discipline. They also show most vividly how I've developed as a writer; many showcase flaws I shudder at and would cringingly avoid today. Sometimes I churn out a short piece of fiction out of sheer shame that I contribute so little to the group except for trying to shake down the idiosyncratic punctuation of some of the members.
Writing short fiction that works requires skill of a high order - possibly the shorter, the higher, and I am full of admiration for those who can pull it off. Poetry is another form which demands honing and distillation and very precise word- and rhythm-choice, whereas my efforts are mostly maudlin meanderings.
I have found, however, despite my fondness for the longer story, that my novels are getting progressively shorter, and I ask myself why that is. I have also found another reason to be thankful for my little hoard of short stories. I have been wondering about my next project (novel no. 6 is done and, I hope, will be published later this year) - assuming that I should be going on rather than giving it all up and becoming a snake-charmer. It was one of my very short pieces, a mere 500 words, from several years ago that sparked what might become novel no. 7. Reading this story I realised another benefit of brevity: one can merely allude, and that cuts down the need for lengthy research!
I would be interested to hear about the preferred forms of readers of this blog: long or short, flash fiction, novella, series, the limerick... the possibilities are many.

Sue Russell writes as S.L.Russell and has five contemporary novels out there written from a Christian viewpoint. They can all be seen, sampled, purchased in paperback or kindle, and reviewed on Amazon and other outlets. I live in hope. A sixth novel should make its appearance in the autumn.