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Tuesday, 29 November 2016

HISTORY AND HYMNS - JOACHIM NEANDER by Allison Symes

Image Credit:  All images for this post are from Pixabay.

The older I get, the more I realise uncertainty is nothing new.  Nor will it go away, no matter how much we might wish or pray it would.  This thought hit home when I was singing Joachim Neander’s marvellous hymn, God, My Hope on You is Founded at a recent church service.

In one of the verses, the words “sword and crown betray our trust” suddenly struck me as being a massive political statement. I have no idea why that thought had not occurred before during the many years I’ve sung this hymn. 

Sword and....

...and Crown betray our trust
I looked at Joachim Neander’s dates of birth and death.  He lived from 1650 to 1680 (which even by the standards of the time was not a long life span but he was unfortunate enough to catch TB.  He did write 60 hymns.  I wonder how many others would he have gone on to have written had he lived to a more usual age.).



He was a hymn writer for the German Reformed Church and his most famous hymn is Praise to the Lord, The Almighty, the King of Creation (a favourite of many of us I’m sure.  The moment I typed the words I was "singing" the opening bars in my head!).  He became Pastor of Bremen.

Now my knowledge of German history at that period is lamentable but I wonder if the comment about the sword and crown came about as a result of the Continent as a whole watching what was going on in our own country. 

Neander’s life span covered from just after the English Civil War to the whole of Cromwell’s Republic and the Restoration of the Monarchy with Charles II in 1660.  Turbulent times.

Hymnbooks at the ready...

So each generation has its uncertainties.  We shouldn’t be surprised then when we face our own - as a country and individually.  But, confession time, I always am surprised by them!  I would love to see each country, including our own, at peace with all others and all governing wisely and for violence to be a thing of the past.  All things to pray for, naturally. Maybe each generation does need its own things to pray and work for.

Hymn music.  Whatever the language the words are in, the music will always speak.
Neander was, of course, right to emphasise we must depend on God and not man.  I hope in a way it is reassuring to know, with all the concerns about Brexit, we are all in a  state of flux.  What matters is how we handle that.  Prayer and thoughtful determination to be obedient to God should be the way to handle it.

Organ and Hymnbooks
 The Christian journey is often portrayed as being on a road.  What is not mentioned so often is, so like our actual roads, there are potholes and other hazards for the unwary traveller!  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t read the signs.  As ever, we do not travel alone.

Monday, 28 November 2016

100,000 Pageviews: Modesty or Self-promotion for the Blogger/Author?


‘Ex Nihilo’: one of the author’s acrylics
that accompany the blog referred to below
Within the next month, unless something very surprising happens, my blog ‘The Cross and The Cosmos’ will pass through 100,000 pageviews (98000 as this is written and rising at 130/150 per day). Not massive in terms of today’s astounding viewings achieved by some young tech and entertainment savvy young people who appeal to their peers by age and sometimes curious interests across the world. But the internet is still, for many of us, a startling phenomenon.

But, I like to think, 100,000 is a reasonable achievement in five-and-a-half years for a blog which is about weaving together the themes of faith (1% interest), science (maybe 2% interest) in poetry (1% interest). Now it is not necessary to have a degree in maths to work out that .01 x .02 x .01 is a very tiny percentage of likely readers. But there are obviously some interested readers out there amongst the massive number of internet users today.

That is just by way of background: I wanted to think more about the issues of modesty and self-promotion and to encourage any of you who are thinking about starting a blog of your own to ‘have a go’. Any increase in the Christian Literature marketplace, provided it is of high quality, is a witness statement and a seed sown that might take root and begin to grow – just anywhere.

I look back to the early days of the blog when it was exciting to find six or seven pageviews had been recorded in the last twenty-four hours. That was right at the start but when, after six months the figures were still of the same order, I began to have doubts: was this at all worthwhile?

Being a fairly determined creature, I persisted, and gradually, gradually, the audience began to grow. Two years down the line, 30 page views a day was not uncommon. I still wondered whether it was worth it – but carried on, sometimes to the amazement of family members who found it difficult to understand ‘what I was on’.

Then, rather like growing a small business, during the third year, momentum began to build faster and now I am getting a fairly consistent viewing record of 140 – 170 page views a day. But this was not achieved by just sitting back and hoping for the best.

Blogging needs drawing to people’s attention and the classic routes for doing that are through Facebook, Google+ and Twitter - and it is here an author may feel wobbly about what s/he needs to do. With the public filter open, I advertise one of my poems or a group of poems every day except Sundays – on which I exercise a Sabbath rest. Any in my ‘friends’ or ‘contacts’ groups also get a rest from my daily ‘bombardment’ although I doubt many of them notice.

I use the word ‘bombardment’ with care. That is the effect of regular daily messages calling attention to my work on each of those three social media platforms. So I have to accept that my ‘friends’ will unsubscribe if they really find it offensive or merely treat the entries as ones to be passed over in the same way as they will dismiss much of the advertising that assails them.

Now I am, like many authors, I guess, a natural introvert. So I tend towards thinking ‘All this tweeting and facebooking and googleplussing: it’s a bit close to self aggrandisement, isn’t it?’

Well, one of the very simple tests that can be applied is to simply  STOP the ‘advertising’, perhaps when you go away. The effect can be seen almost immediately, The pageviews will drop on the instant leaving a straightforward decision to be made. In my case, I return to the ‘badgering’ as soon as possible, marvelling once again at the facility given by my keyboard. I can draw attention to any earlier post. So, for example, round about now, I shall promote every one of the twelve carols I have published over the five years in question and remind people that something new among the traditional mix might be something concert goers or Carol service attenders would enjoy. It is a fascinating possibility. Book producers can emulate that by promoting a chapter or a seasonal passage of a book or paragraphs of topical interest on a blog together with the other three social media I have mentioned. So a blog with Social media support particularly suits those who write regularly with seasonal appropriateness. And deriving seasonal interest is an interesting challenge too. A Scottish theme on St Andrew’s day; a women and justice theme on International Women’s Day (Early March) are good examples and for these, learning about the use of hashtags (#) for this purpose is important - but this article has been long enough! If it has made any of you think you’d like to explore this further, and you need a basic ‘primer’, ‘Blogging for Dummies’ is the book that got me started. It has been a rich experience leading to some fascinating opportunities – but perhaps more of that on another occasion.

My encouragement is, I hope, clear. Do consider blogging if you don’t already – but you will need to leave your natural modesty aside. You must be your own publicist.

Finally, I hope this may feel like an invitation to others who are already blogging to add further hints in the comments below this post. This article could not possibly be comprehensive and further ideas for those thinking about taking a step into blogging may just be the ‘tipping point’ they need.

To see the possibilities of seasonal repeat promotions have a look at the collections assembled at the top right column which you’ll find at http://crossandcosmos.blogspot.co.uk/

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The NaNo Rebel, by Lucy Mills


November.


A month can hold strong associations for us - it might be the month of our birthday, or the birthday of a loved one. It might make us think of the season - the 'spring-ness' of May, the 'summer-ness' of August. It might make us think of a period on the church calendar - December, for example, for Advent - although Advent begins today - this is the first Sunday of Advent and we're not even out of November yet!

November, for many writers, has become equated with NaNoWriMo. I've engaged in this a few times, all successfully - somehow that little chart with my increasing word count gives me a boost where nothing else has (hence my saying 'I only write novels in November').

This year, however, I have a non-fiction book to write and that takes priority over any 'novelling'. But I decided to use the NaNo model to help me - to write and add my wordcount in the same way as always, just for this, my commissioned non-fiction book.


NANO REBEL
I discovered there's a word for this - a badge you can award yourself on the NaNoWriMo dashboard - NaNo Rebel. You can award yourself the NaNo Rebel badge if you are doing anything but writing a novel from scratch in November.

In previous years I've been an 'Old School WriMo', always writing a novel and sometimes not even knowing where it will end. So this time is a little different.

It's been useful. I'm in the throes of creating the first full draft so it's an ideal time for me to write now - and know I will edit later. I've had more significant sessions - last weekend, for example - where I've really holed up with it. At the moment I'm approaching 48,000. If I were novel-writing I would consider this a 'shoe-in', but writing non-fiction I write in splurges and then have pauses for reflection before I can splurge again, so I don't know if I'll hit 50,000 words on Wednesday or not.

I'd like to, but it doesn't matter, as this book is not all about November and I'll be tinkering with it until May. Half those words won't be in the finished product. Others will be - new words, carefully fashioned words that come out of the editing process (the daunting, fiddly part, requiring yet more tea and coffee).

Still, being a NaNo Rebel has helped me absorb myself into it and combine work with play!

What tools could you use to help you with your writing?  Even if it's not their original or intended use, with a bit of 'rebellion' and creativity, you never know what might help!


***

Lucy Mills

Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 (DLT). Undivided Heart: finding meaning and motivation in Christ will be coming in Autumn 2017. Lucy writes articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is Editorial Co-ordinator at magnet magazine. www.lucy-mills.com

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page




More than Writer posts in 2016:


Saturday, 26 November 2016

Lord, hear my prayer - Eve Lockett


If you had a message to deliver, would you employ a good talker, or a good listener?

When God had a message for Pharaoh of Egypt, he chose Moses, ‘slow of speech and tongue’ who claimed never to have been eloquent. The good talker was Aaron, Moses’ brother. Moses agreed to the task if Aaron would do the speaking for him. But it was Moses who proved faithful to God’s word and purpose. While Moses was listening to God on the mountain, Aaron was pacifying the people by assisting them to worship golden calves.

It is clearly not enough to be good with words. We have to be good with silence. We have to be able to listen.
Elijah remained isolated and resentful through earthquake, wind and fire. But the still, small voice of God brought him trembling to the mouth of the cave. Jonathan Sacks, in his book Radical Then, Radical Now, gives us an insight into the ‘still, small voice’:

- the Hebrew literally means ‘the sound of a slender silence’, - meaning, the voice that we can hear only if we listen.

When God spoke in such a voice, Elijah listened. And then he replied, the same words he had spoken earlier, but this time he knew with certainty that God was listening to him. Hurricanes and earthquakes do not encourage communion, whereas silence does.
Henri Nouwen, in The Way of the Heart, says:

 Words can only create communion and thus new life when they embody the silence from which they emerge.

Such words are life-giving. They do not break the silence, they arise out of it.
I remember many years ago being at a church service in a very lively charismatic church, and the leader called for a time of quiet. He invited us to bring our prayer to God, because God was listening. Something was transformed for me in the silence. I was deeply aware that I had God’s attention, and that whatever I said to him he would hear. I don’t remember what I prayed, but I do remember the sense of being in the presence of God listening. Grace upon grace!
As writers we need to be good with words. But tradition maintains it was Moses, not Aaron, who wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. To be good writers, we also need to be good listeners.
I don’t often respond to the More than Writers blog contributions by leaving comments, but I am frequently touched and inspired, encouraged and impressed, by the words people write. They connect me with others, in the sense that writing is a solitary art but it ‘creates communion’. I’m so glad to be part of it.

Friday, 25 November 2016

The Things I Find in my Car, by Fiona Lloyd


Last month, Helen Murray wrote about how she enjoys collecting pine cones. This resonated with me, as a couple of days previously I had parked under a huge horse-chestnut tree and opened my car door to find the ground littered with conkers. Mahogany shells gleamed at me from spiny green cases as they nestled – half-buried – beneath yellowing autumn leaves.

There’s something irresistibly appealing about freshly fallen conkers: I love the richness of their colouring and the silkiness of their shells. They remind me of misty autumn mornings melting into mellow sunshine, and how – when my children were small – kicking up leaves in the park in the hope of finding autumnal treasure was a great way to pass a couple of hours.

I gave in to temptation, even though my children are all grown-up now. I gathered a couple of dozen conkers, and put them in the side-pocket of my car door, fully intending to display them in a glass bowl when I got home.

So, guess where they are now? Yep, that’s right: five weeks later, they’re still in the door of my car. I promise myself most days that when I get home, I’ll do something with them, but there’s always something else to think about. And having been festering in my car for more than a month, they’re starting to look a little the worse for wear. Their luscious colours have faded to a dull, sludge-like brown. The shells that felt so satisfyingly smooth initially have shrivelled and wrinkled, and a couple of them are tinged with a white bloom. My plans for an autumnal display will have to wait till next year.

Here’s the thing about conkers: they’re lovely to look at – and to touch – when they first fall from the tree, but they’re not intended simply for interior decoration purposes. A conker that sits in a bowl on my kitchen table will look good for a short while, but sooner or later will fade, shrink and become useless. Conkers are meant to rest undisturbed on the ground so that they can rot and be absorbed into the earth for a while before – eventually – sprouting into a new tree and producing fruit themselves.


Shortly before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus reminded his disciples that a seed can only produce other seeds if it first falls to the ground and dies (John 12: 24). It’s one of those statements we prefer to gloss over: we like the idea of being fruitful, but the stuff that comes prior to that sounds a tad unpleasant. Maybe we need to remember that – in God’s economy – the real growth comes not when we are looking our best, but when we allow ourselves to be buried and broken.






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.






Thursday, 24 November 2016

Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry



Writing in the Diocese of Oxford weekly newsletter today, the Bishop of Reading says:

Last Friday we watched starling murmurations at dusk and we were transfixed. Look up Emergence Theory. When a whole nation flocks, rises and turns unexpectedly, as it did last week, many ask, ‘what is God up to?’ The answer must be, God is right there in the shifting patterns and the unexpected. Pray for America’s next President and keep on asking the question.

Such a response to recent events is itself unexpected, but he must be right. We shouldn’t take his point in a simplistic way, assuming that manifestly wicked things are God’s will. But God turns evil to good. The world’s reaction to political problems is to get angry, hurl abuse, draw scurrilous cartoons, write satire. And we quite naturally get drawn in. But the distinctively Christian response, of course, is to pray: for our enemies, for those whom we dislike, for those whom we fear, for people who say and do the most obnoxious things, for extremists.

And do we pray for those who read our books and other writings? For those who hear us giving talks? I was speaking on Friday the 11th at a ‘Tolkien Day’ at Liverpool Hope University. What a great name that is for a uni! And especially for a place to speak about Tolkien. It gets its name from the initiative of two great bishops, the RC and C of E bishops of Liverpool, who brought together a Catholic and an Anglican college, separated by a main road, and made a university out of them.

I suspect Hope is one of the virtues we understand least. In ordinary use, it is  mostly just a completely passive experience engendered within us by positive circumstances, such as meeting up with nice people, finding we’ve got a bit more money than we expected, noticing our cold symptoms improving, and so on. But like Faith and Love, Hope has a lot more to it. We know that theological Faith and Love are not passive experiences that just happen to us. They are active exertions of the heart towards God. They are creative. They make things happen. They change things. And so does Hope. And also there is an objective meaning to Hope. ‘The hope laid up for you.’ It can’t be seen, but it’s there, waiting for us.

The present age desperately needs to be shown Hope. This is something that Christian writers can distinctively do. It doesn’t need to be spelt out. ‘Always be ready to make a defence to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you’ seems to me to imply that people are supposed to notice the air of hopefulness in us and ask about it, not that we are to go around inflicting it on them. Our writings should surely contain that seed of hopefulness. I know that it is something that Mari Howard tries to sow in her novels.

‘To worry’, many centuries ago, meant ‘to get by the throat or strangle’: it’s what dogs do when they worry sheep; the sheep don’t just look harassed, they get their throats torn. I hope no one reading these words is being throttled by worry. The thing is, worries cannot be ordered off. We have to acknowledge that they are there, like all negative emotions. But we need to get to the point of awareness, the point at which we are aware that worries are not objective external reality; they are thoughts. And neither are they our real self; they are just thoughts floating round us, like clouds round a mountain. That is the wisdom of the ages. But as Christians we have a further recourse. ‘Cast all your anxieties on him.’ We can offer our worries to Christ. We don’t have to wait till we have nice things to offer him. Every nasty thing within us can be offered and he will accept it. Suddenly we realize that we are rich in things to give him!


So, Pray, Hope, and Don’t Worry. This was the motto of one of the great RC saints of the twentieth century, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, who is now St Pio.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A hard hat and the Holy Spirit - by Helen Murray

'...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.'
Philippians 1:6 NIV
I have been musing about this.

My youngest daughter and I tidied her bedroom some weeks ago.  Well, I tidied her room and she followed me around complaining, removing items that I put in a black bin bag and disagreeing with my definition of 'rubbish'. The room was dreadful. It was a mess, and needed work. About an hour into the job, it looked much, much worse than it did to start with. You know that bit where Macbeth says, 'I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, to return were as tedious as go o'er...? 

Too late to change my mind; no choice but to push on. Can't leave it like this.

My life is in such a state at the moment. A while ago God started tidying up, making a few changes; can't stop now.
I am a work in progress.

know that he is at work. I know it beyond any doubt; I know that things are considerably different from the way they were three years ago, two years, one year - last week.

I know that he's working in different areas of my life and I accept, mostly, sometimes reluctantly, that work is needed.

There are bits of me that are as messy as my daughter's bedroom floor. And yes, I have a tendency to follow him round reinstating the bits that he wants me to throw away. 

I am a work in progress. I come complete with notices advising steel toecapped boots and a hard hat. Danger lurks within; I am not finished yet. Authorised access only; all visitors please check in with the site manager before coming any further.

And what I thought was a small renovation project turns out to be a fairly sizeable building site.

I read this from CS Lewis:
'Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.'
CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

I don't know if I'm going to be a palace or a block of flats but the 'knocked about abominably' bit rings some bells. I think it's because I'm pretty sure God is working on lots of different bits all at the same time. He has plenty of projects.

(Just as an aside: don't ever make the mistake of asking God for patience.  I wanted to wake up one morning effortlessly unruffled and serene, not find that my life is littered with opportunities to practice being patient.)

For your own safety...
God is not just ripping out the fireplace, he's digging deep and he's rewiring, re-plastering, knocking down and rebuilding, re-roofing and landscaping simultaneously.

I'm looking forward to the furnishing. Cushions. Lamps. Decor. Maybe that'll be a bit more fun?

The only thing that I disagree with CS Lewis about is the last line of the quote above. God is not waiting until it's all finished before he moves in; he's here already. He must have a sleeping bag on a patch of dusty floor, I think.

It's certainly not a house fit for a King just yet, but that's the wonderful thing about my God. He's not waiting for a throne room and a chapel to be gilded and frescoed. He's happy to step over the threshold while the roof is still leaking; to walk around touching the walls affectionately; planning and shaping, making himself at home even when it's grubby and draughty and his hands get dirty.

Why? Because he loves this little house. Even in its neglected state, he loves it. He looked at it and took in all the many inadequacies and problems and he still thought immediately that it had immense potential; it was worth investment.

As soon as I opened the little battered door, he sent in his best team.

So, Father God. As Project Manager, how's it going? No, don't tell me. I'm not really that keen on knowing that we're only on Phase One of a lifetime's worth of renovations. Come and build. Find the locked doors in secret corridors and help me to open them up so that you can transform those rooms too. Knock down walls if you must; let light flood into the dark places.

I want to be a palace fit for the King of Kings.

I don't want to aim small. I want to be all that I can be, and for your glory. I want everyone to know that you are the architect and designer and the builder. I want people to look at me and see you.

I've got my hard hat on. This might take a while.



Pictures used:

hardhat0001.jpg by MConnors
constructionsite.jog by wallyir

both from Morguefile.com 
Used with permission



Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.


Having spent time as a researcher, church worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently supposed to be working on her first novel. Or at least working on something. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.


Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. It's been a while since there was anything to report, but she hasn't given up. Check back when the kids have left home. 

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01

Monday, 21 November 2016

The Message in the Bottle.....................by Ruth Johnson

‘… I (Jesus) pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  John17:20-21

I have tried to bring the strands together for the finale of my fourth book, but none have seemed right.  The first would have gone beyond the 165,000 words and four hundred pages.   The second felt boring. If I’m bored so would be the reader.  I re-read my last book and was astonished at how I’d woven the plot and it had come together. I really feel I write the words, but the Lord brings forth the plot. 

So when spending time with the Lord and believing He desired me to revisit and finish book four, I asked for a plot download and also spoke to Him of the poor sales in recent years and needing encouragement of fresh interest in the books already published. 

In August on hearing I wrote books a woman asked to buy them.  In September a man said he’d read ‘Jane’ and asked had I written others - he's now read ‘Jill’ and ‘David’In October, still awaiting that ‘download’ from the Lord, I was reminded seven years previously He’d shown me hundreds of my books  floating on an empty sea and said they were life rafts. At the time I bemoaned there wasn’t anyone in the sea to want a life raft. His reply was the life raft is like a message in a bottle, you don’t always know where it will go.  My retort to that reminder was, “They can land where they like, but I need those who read and enjoy them to spread the word.”  I sited, ‘The Shack’ and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and pointed out it was twenty years since I’d instigated worldwide selling of my first book in a Word document so people could read them on their computers. That didn’t take off, but today we have Paypal and Kindle. 

Three hours later an email arrived from Nicky, the title line, ‘Jane’. She introduced herself as a friend of Chelsea (our cruise consultant) who, the previous weekend, had told her about my books.  Nicky wrote she’d been kept up on three nights to 5.00 am reading ‘Jane’ which she couldn’t put down.  I’d only told Chelsea about my books two weeks earlier, she hadn’t read them, but on Nicky’s recommendation will now do so.  “Thank you Lord for answered prayer, and I loved the fact that Nicky lives in Malta, a very apt place to receive a message in a bottle (via Kindle!).

Days later came the Lord’s plot input, in two parts. I wrote the first, and He added another. It is extraordinary that the book already contains the right location, scenario in place; timing perfect; and ‘seeing’ it I can now draw the plot to its climax.  All I have to do is write it in a way to grip the reader, leave them gasping, and wanting to read the next book!  The only downside is the Lord dropped the plot in, but left me to do the research so I can bring reality into fiction.  

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Bread upon the waters by Sue Russell

Like, I suspect, many of the readers of this blog, I am prone to discouragement. I have probably complained before (these things don't go away) that the writer's life involves hard work while offering little visible fruit, but is also a compulsion that can only be resisted at the price of misery. It feels like Hobson's choice - which, I find, originated from a horse-keeper in Cambridge who would lend out the horse nearest to the stable door or no horse at all. So I have to keep on doing it, (and trying to get better at it, and making efforts to reach a wider readership), or else give it up as a waste of time and suffer.
Sometimes, though, there comes a tiny insight that leavens the general gloom: nothing very profound, indeed, probably quite hackneyed - but often enough a cliche is a cliche because it strikes a lot of people as true.
On a shopping trip recently with my good friend and writing buddy Claire (C.F.Dunn, author of the acclaimed series The Secret of the Journal) we were talking about how we had first learned to love stories, how we had first come to know and love Jesus, and about the people who had been formative in these very important things in our lives. We are also both keen on plants and gardens so thoughts of seed-sowing came up quite naturally.
In this uncertain world, knowing nothing of the future or the potential impact of our work, I suppose that is all we can do - sow seeds in faith, and leave the harvest to God. With actual plants I have no problem with this notion. In my garden in France I have planted a red oak. It's only about three feet tall, but its leaves are bigger than the palm of my hand, and when I last saw them they were a deep red.  One day, if the weather allows and nobody comes along and chops it down, it will be an enormous tree; but that will take many years, and by then I will be dust and atoms. I don't mind this one bit, so why can I not with equal serenity accept that the words I write may not bear fruit in the time-frame I would like, or even in my lifetime, or possibly not at all in a way I can recognise?
Ecclesiastes 11 verse 1 (depending on your translation) tells us, 'Cast your bread upon the waters, for you shall find it after many days.' Perhaps I should stop muttering sourly, 'Yes, too many, and I'll be dead by then,' and home in instead on the promise: '...you shall find it.' In 1 Corinthians 15 verse 58 we are told, 'Keep busy always in your work for the Lord, since you know that nothing you do in the Lord's service is ever useless.'
Have I convinced myself yet? Maybe - till the next time!




Sue writes as S.L.Russell and has published five novels from a Christian viewpoint, available in the usual places as paperbacks and e books. A sixth should make its appearance some time next year. She blogs at www.suerussellsblog.blogspot.com

Saturday, 19 November 2016

You don't have to be mad to be a writer...

..but it helps...

Much has been said and written about the relationship between creativity and what some of my online friends call being 'mentally interesting'. We  know that many creative geniuses (or should that be 'genii'?) struggled with mental health issues of various degrees, whether caused by overconsumption of alcohol or drugs, or just by the vicissitudes of life. It's a fine line between having brilliant ideas and having frankly crazy ideas, and those of us with the sensitivity/insight/eccentricity to feel deeply and to write about it, are also prone to feeling more deeply than we or those around us can cope with. Do you, in fact, have to be a bit mad to be a creator, whether in words or other media?

I ponder this subject today because in the last week I've been plunged once again into the murky waters of depression, nervous exhaustion or whatever you want to call it, and I'm only just beginning to come out again. It was to be expected: after the first excitement  of being a student again, and especially after having an exceptionally poetry-crammed day about ten days ago, followed by a quite unnecessary falling out with a friend I'm trying to support through a much worse trauma, I was always likely to crash. Combine that with the shortening days and the looming approach of Christmas/my first assignment, and you have a perfect storm.

In the first six weeks or so of my MA course, every week's seminar made me more inspired, and the poems, or drafts, were pouring out at a rate of knots. In the last week, though, I haven't even done much of the prescribed reading, let alone write a ghazal or a villanelle (I think I may have a villanelle gestating now, but it could turn out to be a pantoum...).

Every writer, of course, has fallow periods between the rushes of inspiration, even if you don't struggle with the depression I've lived with for over 40 years. No one can be brilliant all the time, especially at breakfast. Mental interestingness, however, just complicates the matter. I've learned ways of thinking and being that help moderate the impact, but I can't say I'm 100% cured, and maybe it is best not to be - I wouldn't want to be cured of having lots of good ideas, even if the price is the occasional tumble into no ideas at all. George Herbert is one of my consolations; his brilliant poem The Flower describes so perfectly the feeling of being in the darkness and then coming out of it again:

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
         I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing. Oh, my only light,
                      It cannot be
                      That I am he
         On whom thy tempests fell all night.

If one of our best Christian poets had times when he could neither praise nor write, who am I to complain about the occasional fallow time? I'd happily undergo the depression if, when I came out of it, I could write like him...

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs at reversedstandard.com

Friday, 18 November 2016

Why it's good to pause in the midst of busyness - by Joy Lenton

Let's pause shall we? Life's getting increasingly hectic as this season gathers momentum. 

But we don't have to stay on the hamster wheel of busyness, leading to increasing cycles of anxiety and stress. 

We can be people who pause, those who slow down and breathe for their sanity and soul's sake.

In this pre-Christmas season it's all too easy to get sucked into numerous activities, fail to prioritise self-care, neglect to pause and protect our weary souls. I sense a tension in the air, hanging like a dark, palpable thing. And I long for light, relief and rest.

I hear consumerism's clarion call, ready to ensnare us in its tenacious thrall. Who knew there were so many things we couldn't possibly manage to celebrate without? Who realised how much it all depends on us? But it doesn't, my friend, it really doesn't. We can discern as we sift the wheat from the chaff, the important from the urgent, the needful from what can waitand learn how to delegate.

My resources and energy are already low, easily depleted. Maybe yours are too? And I'm wondering if there's a way to do things differently in a season which takes everything out of us—except, of course, for the well organised few who have the whole caboodle stitched up long before the rush begins. Maybe there's a means of getting back to the heart of things?

My tendency is to become overwhelmed. I may start off fine, happily choosing presents on-line. Then they arrive, take up floor, as well as head space. I remember family birthdays are also approaching, and what gets bought must soon be wrapped—gulp! Panic begins to set in. It's only mid-November and there's still so much to think about..and...and...STOP!

I need to breathe...watch clouds skim serenely across the sky and remind myself to slow... down... I need to search out the small things which speak of God's grace, His immanence within these frantic days. Asking for help is advisable, as is advance planning and preparation.

Because making ourselves unwell by allowing pressure to pulverise us is unwise. I've spent far too many festive seasons flat-out with fatigue, unable to enjoy family gatherings to the full, simply too exhausted to participate. I don't want to repeat the experience. I'm sure you don't either. 

These are the people I love, the ones I rarely get to spend enough quality time with, the very ones I am spending time, money and energy on. Though I know they'd rather happily eschew the gifts in exchange for a more rested mum and grandma being available to them.

Will you pause with me? Even taking a few moments to stretch will help us to feel less tense. Let's pause, ponder and pray, invite God to show us what matters most to Him and what our major focus needs to be.


Pause for breath




Earth slows and I too pause for breath, marking
the moment with honoured awareness, as time
slips toward twilight hour and thoughts cease

to collide. Now they simply coalesce like
November mist vanishing into vapour
stilled, at rest. And I rewind the day's

activities, seeking solace in surrender
while my mind sinks into somnolence
and quietude breeds deeper gratitude
©JoyLenton2016


Stress, worry, rush and haste become defused as we pause and pray. Seeds of serenity are sown best in the soil of calm quietude. From there, we can move forward with God's wisdom and discernment guiding our steps, ushering us into His peace. We can be people who habitually take a holy pause and live with deeper gratitude. Will you join me?



Joy Lenton is a grateful grace dweller, contemplative Christian writer, poet and blogger, author of 'Seeking Solace: Discovering grace in life's hard places'

She enjoys encouraging others on their journey of life and faith at her blogs wordsofjoy.me and poetryjoy.com as she seeks to discover the poetic in the prosaic and the eternal in the temporal. 

You can connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

An introvert’s discovery by Claire Musters

With the lovely Maria at Premier.
 Yes I’m introvert by nature. I would quite happily crawl under a duvet with a laptop, write away and never have to face anyone. So, as I know I have expressed before when we’ve had discussions on the subject, the idea of self-promotion and pushing myself forward has always left me cold. Not least because as Christians we have to tread an uneasy line between dying to self and promoting ourselves in order to sell our writing!

Just in the last month, however, I have preached, appeared on Premier Radio for the first time and spoken at a women’s breakfast – and I LOVED it all! If anyone had told me I would be doing those kinds of things a few years ago I would have laughed at them. Because I am the person who, when I first joined a worship band in church, used to sit up all of Saturday night crying because I was petrified at the thought of playing in front of people. The poor guitarist / band leader – most Sunday mornings he would get a call from me saying I couldn’t possibly play after having had no sleep…

Speaking at the women's breakfast.
But back to the present day. After feedback from publishers saying they loved my book proposal but, while I had a great writing resume it was my speaking one that was lacking, I felt a challenge from God. Another trusted writer and speaker gave me some advice: don’t just speak for the sake of it; find out whether you are meant to first. So I took time to pray and seek God about it. And suddenly, as if by a reply, various opportunities for me to speak came my way – and, mostly, on the subject of my WIP!

Of course, part of me responded by telling myself – and God – that I couldn’t possibly do it all. That there are far too many wonderful extroverts out there that are so natural, so funny – why would people want to hear me? But it was while I was wandering around Wisley (in the rain – it was free entry day ;) ), preparing for the preach and radio appearance, that I was really struck by how God knows me better than I know myself. My WIP is all about the journey of learning to live authentically and, for myself, I have seen how I have disqualified myself from certain things (such as playing in a worship band – I now head up our whole team and sing regularly!). And yet God hasn’t.

In discovering who I am beneath the masks I used to wear, I am finding that God has some very different ideas about who I am called to be – and they are so exciting, energising (and, yes, sometimes a tad scary). God has been speaking to me about how I have unique things to bring to what He is inviting me to do and, rather than compare myself to others, I should rest in that knowledge. What an exhilarating ride life can be!

Claire is a freelance writer and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on authenticity, marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Into Managing Conflict  and Insight Into Self-acceptance, Cover to Cover: David A man after God’s own heart and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes a regular column for Christian Today as well as Bible study notes, and her next co-written book, Insight Into Burnout, is due out in 2017. She is also working on her own book Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter.