art = rest for the soul

I recently joined a Christian art group. I am be no means an artist, I dabble with a bit of painting and quite like colouring, but I would not consider myself at all skilled in visual arts.

At the first meeting I confessed to being an interloper. I explained I am more of a wordsmith than a visual artist, but that I enjoy dabbling. I also read them one of my poems – ‘Hibernation‘ – that I written quite recently. One lady commented that she could really picture the tree as I had described it. I remembered then that a long time ago I had had an idea of publishing my poems in a book with a corresponding picture to go with each, as a kind of meditation/reflection aid.

For this month’s meeting we were given a Bible passage to reflect on and try to create a piece of art inspired by it. I actually suggested the passage, but couldn’t come up with anything so gave up on that idea and read through some of my old poems instead. I realised that quite a lot of them use visual imagery to create parallels and give meaning. I chose one of my favourites – ‘My Life in Your Service‘ – and tried to find pictures that I could use as inspiration for a piece of artwork to go with it.

Now, remember, I am not very good at art, and I am hoping to get better. However, I am quite pleased with my first effort…



What was more pleasing, though, was how peaceful I felt. Even when I messed up and had to rub bits out and try again, I didn’t get frustrated, I just enjoyed the process.

The first thing we learn about God in the Bible is that He is creative. The first thing we learn about humans is that we are made in His image. When we create, we are reflecting the image of God and to me it feels like I am bringing my soul in tune with his.


A Lost Masterpiece

I have always been a bit of a geek, so it may not surprise you that some of my very favourite things to watch on tv is are documentaries. I especially love those about history or the arts, so my ideal viewing choice is a documentary on art history.

I recently discovered a new favourite, which adds whole new levels of excitement to the genre. In Britain’s Lost Masterpieces, two historians browse the hidden collections of small city museums to see what they can find in the storage rooms. Between them they pick out a painting of unclear origins, which they suspect is worth more than it seems. While the painting is cleaned and restored by an expert team – which involves removing layers of dirt and grime, and often extra paint that some overkeen previous restorer has added in an attempt to improve the picture – the historians research both the history of the painting and the collection to try to trace the origins of the work.

What I love about this programme is the idea that sometimes things of great value can lie hidden, perhaps covered in the dirt and grime of life, perhaps suffering from failed attempts to fix their issues, their true worth undiscovered. Then someone has the idea to take them out, clean them off, patch them up and put their beauty on display for all to see.

Sound familiar?

To me, this is the essence of the gospel. So many times, the Bible talks of seeking out the lost, the broken, the unclean and making us new, restoring our value. A fair amount of Jesus’ parables are on this theme, for starters (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, the pearl of great price…) But my favourite Bible text on this theme is a little more obscure…

Zechariah 3:1-5:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, ‘The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?’ Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes.’ Then he said to Joshua, ‘See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.’ Then I said, ‘Put a clean turban on his head.’ So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.


Sometimes it can be hard to see ourselves as valuable. When society and the media present an image of what success/beauty/worth looks like we can feel like we have no value because we don’t match up. Sometimes we can be blinded to the value of others, if we feel like we tick all the right boxes. This passage reminds us that we all fall short of a standard, but that the one who set the standard elevates us, saves us from the fire, dusts us off, cleans us up and makes us as good as new. We are diamonds in the rough, buried treasure, a lost masterpiece…

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Ephesians 2:10, NLT)

Not a Fan

Last week I said that ‘Hibernation’ was the first new poem I had written in a long time – but I made a mistake. I forgot about this one, but it is a different kind of poem…

In the autumn of last year I joined a short-lived writing group, and one week we had to bring a random item and write a poem inspired by it. One of my colleagues had just returned from a holiday to Barcelona, and brought back souvenirs for everyone in the office. I was given the fan pictured below, and that was the item I took. I was thinking what if, instead of a colleague giving it to a co-worker, a boyfriend had bought a similar item for a girlfriend. Anyway, enough explaining, I hope you enjoy…


Not a Fan

To him

It was a romantic gesture

“I thought of you while I was there”

To her

It was a thoughtless jibe

A simple reminder

That he went without her

Chose his friends over her

Had experiences she could not share


A souvenir of places she could not remember

Plastic and cloth that became a wedge

A grudge

A hint

A nudge

A suggestion that he did not care


Jewellery might have won her over

(Not that she cared about the price)

But a tacky fan she could not use

(Because the weather here is never nice)

Made her question his commitment

Made her think she could do better

Became the thing that broke the pair



I sometimes feel like

My heart has been in hibernation

Like a tree in winter

Barren and dry

Apparently lifeless

But beneath the surface

The roots go deep

And draw up life

And like the warm spring sun

A moment in your presence

Wakes my tired soul

And brings forth new colour

Blossoming, blooming, bearing fruit

After the darkest night

Comes the morning

After the coldest winter

Comes the spring


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Film Review: Lars and the Real Girl

Way back in May last year my church hosted the excellent Dr Elaine Storkey, who gave a talk about Film and Theology (one of my favourite topics). There were several films she talked about during the course of the evening that I have been meaning to check out, and I finally got around to getting a copy of one of them…!

Lars and the Real Girl is a quirky romantic comedy starring Ryan Gosling. To be fair, the concept is quite odd, but please don’t let that put you off as it is executed BEAUTIFULLY.

Lars (Gosling) is a socially awkward 20-something from a small town. His brother and sister-in-law try to encourage him to be more outgoing but he has some quite deep-seated issues to work through. One day, to their delight, he announces that his new girlfriend, Bianca, whom he met online, has come to visit. They soon discover that Bianca is actually a lifesize doll. Lars, however, is convinced she is a real person, and his doctor requests that his family play along with his delusion to help him work through his mental illness and social anxiety. Gradually, as Lars’ family, friends and colleagues come to accept Bianca, she takes on a life of her own, and Lars learns what it means to be part of a truly caring community.

I don’t know if I would have watched this film if I hadn’t already seen a few clips from it, because the central idea of a man treating a lifesize doll as his girlfriend to me sounds a bit creepy… But it works, and that is down to the quality of the writing and acting, especially Ryan Gosling as Lars. I entirely believed in Lars’ innocence and naiveté. To him, Bianca is a real person whom he truly loves. Moreover, it is the acceptance of the community in which he lives of Bianca and his love for her that makes the film so beautiful. To me, the film is a powerful lesson in how we should treat people with mental illness – with compassion and understanding. There are some very funny moments and some truly heartbreaking ones, as Lars works through his problems with the help of those around him.

One of the criticisms I’ve read of this film is that it is unrealistic – that no community would be as utterly supportive of someone with such a visible delusion as Lars has. But maybe that’s the point of the film. Maybe we should all be aspiring to be as compassionate as Lars’ community, so that people who are different (for whatever reason) feel accepted as they are, and feel safe enough to work through their issues.

All in all, I really loved this film. It is definitely one I will rewatch and I think it will be counted among my favourites. I know it’s not for everyone as it is a bit odd, but if you like quirky and beautifully made films that make you feel better about humanity, this is one for you.

True Love’s Kiss

I started writing this post a while back (I’d say about two years ago) and couldn’t work out where it was going. Then last week we started a new series at church on the fruits of the spirit and I remembered it.

It was a bit of a strange evening, as nothing for the team had gone to plan. The vicar had laryngitis and couldn’t preach, the curate had been away on retreat and hadn’t had time to prepare anything. The worship team couldn’t get in the building because the key safe was broken, and the vicar was picking up the curate from the station. So by the time myself and the other members of the congregation arrived, everyone was a little bit unsure how the evening would pan out.

The curate made the inspired decision to get us all to do an exercise called ‘lectio divina’. We were looking at the first of the fruits of the spirit, love, so she selected a passage from 1 John 4. It was read out three times, and she asked us to reflect on one word or phrase that stuck in our minds.

Unfortunately, I am not very good at listening, so the phrase I chose to focus on isn’t exactly in that passage – I heard the start of verse 13 “this is how we know” and my brain filled in the next line from an old worship song: “this is how we know what love is”.* The following line in the song says: “just one look at the cross”. So this phrase was circling round in my head, and brought to mind the post I started writing two years ago. So I decided to finish it tonight.


I’m a big fan of fairytales. I love the mix of frivolity and seriousness, fantasy and wisdom. I love that the ordinary person can become the hero and that with courage, determination and something to fight for they can overcome any foe, and Good can triumph over Evil.

One of my favourite shows is Once Upon and Time (but I’m only on season 2 so no spoilers, please** – and actually I should warn you there is a season one spoiler up ahead). In this show, all of our favourite fairytale characters are trapped by the evil Queen’s curse, in a small village called Storybrooke in the middle of nowhere in modern America, with no idea who they really are, unable to be who they are meant to be. The only one who can free them from the curse is Emma, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming, but she was brought up in a foster home and doesn’t believe in fairytales. A theme running through the show is that the only thing more powerful than magic, more powerful than any curse, is true love, often demonstrated by true love’s kiss. It is only when Emma realises the depth of her love for her son Henry that the curse is broken and all the people of Storybrooke rediscover their true selves. It turns out that a fail-safe was built into the curse so that Emma, the product of Snow White and Prince Charming’s true love, could break the curse by an act of true love.

This show brings a new take on many old stories and weaves them together beautifully. But there is a deeper parallel to this story that was hinting at me from under the surface…

We are all like the inhabitants of Storybrooke. We are all under a curse that we cannot break on our own. We have all forgotten the people we were created to be. GK Chesterton puts it like this:

‘Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; but thou shalt not know thyself. We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our lives we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstacy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.’ (Orthodoxy p211)

A while back, I was reading Lisa Bevere’s Girl’s With Swords, which also picks up on this theme of the curse we are under. She talks about how at the beginning of time there was a garden, and an act of disobedience, and that brought consequences. The curse consisted of three layers of separation – man was to live in disharmony with God, with the earth, and with each other. But there was always a plan to free us from the curse, a plan that required an act of true love:

‘You see, the Cross was always part of the plan. It was not a backup plan that was set into motion when Adam and Eve failed. It was the fail-safe. Each day Jesus lived to express the Father’s heart, will and nature to the lost inhabitants of the earth’ (p69, emphasis added)

The thing about the cross is, the parallel I mentioned earlier, is that we use the symbol of the cross as kiss when we write a letter to a loved one. I don’t think that this is a coincidence when the ultimate symbol of love was Jesus’ death on a cross to save all of us from the curse we are under. One of my favourite hymns puts it beautifully:

On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
Poured incessant from above,
And heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love.

(William Rees)

The cross is True Love’s Kiss – the only thing powerful enough to break any curse and release us to be our true selves.

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* I just checked and it actually appears in chapter 3, so I’m not a complete heretic…

** I have actually been so busy that I have not got much further than the start of season three still… really must get on with that…

Flash Fiction: Bad Driver

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to get back into creative writing and post it on here from time to time. This is a partial fulfilment of that promise. I wrote these two pieces of Flash Fiction a while ago (I should really date my work) based on a prompt from a book my friend gave me*. The first is a bit predictable (and a little bit embarrassing, I admit. I blame my perpetual singledom), but the second I am really quite happy with.** Hope you enjoy.


Prompt: You’re walking on the pavement when a driver texting on her phone careers toward you. Write two very different outcomes.



Time slows down as the car comes toward me. I’m frozen, I can’t move myself out of the way. I hear a shout, and someone is grabbing me, pulling me. We fall and roll, and the car slams into the wall behind where I was standing.

I start breathing again.

“You saved my life” I turn to my rescuer.

He has the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.



I feel the impact, then nothing.

Suddenly I am above myself, watching as she reverses and starts to drive away, leaving my body crumpled on the floor. “Not likely” I whisper and will myself after her. I see her car, winding its way through the narrow streets and swoop after it.

I always wanted to fly.

I guess this probably means I’m dead, but if that’s the case, I’m not letting her get away with it. Her car is heading for the bridge out of town. Perfect.

I slid through the roof into the passenger seat. I go to tap her on the shoulder, but my hand passes straight through. She shivers, turns towards me. I smile.

She screams, and misses the on ramp to the bridge, crashing through the barrier into the river. Sinking down.





*642 Tiny Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto (Chronicle Books, 2014)

** I toyed with only posting the second one, but they come as a pair in the prompt. All writers write bad/cheesy stuff sometimes…

learning to reflect