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…

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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.

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

 

1)

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.

 

2)

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.

 

 

 

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*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…

Book Review: Those Who Wait by Tanya Marlow

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I picked up this book based on the review of another blogger. When I ordered the book I was impatiently and anxiously awaiting my dissertation results – waiting isn’t something I’m very good at. Although by the time I started the book I had received my results, I still found myself in a sort of limbo. I had spent the last three years of my life working towards this big goal of getting my Masters, and when it was all over I felt a little bit lost. I’m still figuring out what I want to do next – I kind of have an idea but I’m not really sure how to get there – so I am still waiting on God, His timing and his answers to my questions. All of which to say, this book came at exactly the right time for me.

I started reading in the middle of November, and was soon overtaken by the season of Advent, which was perfect as Advent is all about waiting. Although you can read this book at any time of year, it is set out for daily reading through the Advent season, and has an appendix at the end for group study.

The book retells the stories of four Bible characters from their own perspective. These are based around the four Advent candles (one version of this) – the first section is Sarah (wife of Abraham) representing the Patriarchs; the second is Isaiah, for the prophets; the third is John the Baptist and the fourth Mary. Each section is broken down into five chapters, and at the end of each the biblical reference is given to provide the context for the story. There are also questions for reflection. The final (sixth) chapter of each section gives more questions and also a couple of creative reflection activities. There are also prayers and Benedictions, and suggestions for music to listen to, to help you reflect further on the story. Some of these activities are included in the Group Study guide in the final appendix. The first appendix also gives theological and historical context in which Marlow explains some of the narrative choices she has made.

I really needed and loved this book. Marlow’s prose is beautiful, and really brought the characters to life in a new way for me. I loved Sarah’s story, mainly because I spent a good part of the summer reflecting on her story from Hagar’s perspective and it was helpful for me to be reminded of how much of a victim Sarah is as well (Abraham was not a great husband, really. It’s also good to be reminded of just how flawed our biblical heroes really were, and how greatly God used them in spite of their serious flaws. Gives me hope!) But I think my favourite section was Isaiah’s story, as I have rarely thought of Isaiah the person. There are so many memorable and powerful prophecies in the book of Isaiah that I have never really thought about how it would have felt for Isaiah as an ordinary man, to speak these amazing words from God but yet not see their fulfilment. I found the prayers and creative reflections to be useful tools for working through some of my own issues. I only flicked through the group study section, but will be recommending the book to my homegroup for next Advent.

I said at the start that I am not very good at waiting. This book highlights that waiting is not easy and it is often painful, but that it is worth it and that God is in it – He is working even when we can’t see it. I highly recommend it to anyone who is waiting on God to fulfil His promises, whether large or small. I certainly will reread it many times as I think it is a lesson I will need to keep learning.

One song was going through my head much of the time I was reading this book, as it ties in so closely with the theme. It has become one of my favourites of the last year. I hope it speaks to you too.

New Year’s Resolutions Part Two – Wellbeing Goals

I think I’ve said this a few times, but 2017 was a pretty intense year for me. (I won’t go into all the details again, I promise…) So when I started thinking about what word I wanted to pick as my defining word for 2018, one kept coming to mind:

Breathe.

The other day when I was sorting through some boxes in my flat, I came across a picture I painted a few years ago. I am by no means a great artist, but from time to time I dabble in art worship, and this particular picture I had painted in response to a time of reflection on Psalm 23. One particular verse had stood out for me, verse three, which in the Message translation reads:

True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction

Elsewhere in the Bible, several of the authors talk about the Christian life being a race,* and I love this image, this idea of God allowing us to pause and take a moment to rest, to breathe, before picking up and carrying on.

You let me catch my breath - Psalm 23

So this year for me is about hitting pause, and going back to basics. I have spent the last three years working steadily towards the goal of finishing my Masters, without much thought for what came next. I have been working in public sector administration to fund my studies, which is enjoyable enough but not something I believe I am called to long term. I have some ideas of what I would like to do, and what I believe God is calling me to, but I need for now to not rush into the next thing. I need to take some time just to be with God. To remember how to read the Bible for relationship and not just for study. To rediscover my talents for musical and poetical worship. To find joy in having the time to volunteer for things again. I need to catch my breath.

And sometimes I need to be reminded not to worry about my future. For a long time the background of my laptop has been a quote from Winnie the Pooh, the great fountain of wisdom. It says: ‘Rivers know this: there is no hurry, we shall get there someday’. I cannot tell you how comforting I still find that every time I open my laptop. It reminds me that it’s okay not to have it all figured out yet. I sometimes feel like I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and I’m missing out on God’s Big Purpose for my life. But with God, nothing is wasted. He has put me where I am for a reason (which I am still discovering) and will lead me on to the next thing in the right time. Until then I will keep my eyes and ears open for what He is calling me to, pushing at doors to see which ones will open, and trusting in His promises.

So this year is about resting and trusting, and focusing on my spiritual and mental health, but also my physical health. Basically I’m looking to take better care of myself.

The truth of the matter is, last year during the height of dissertation season I got into some pretty bad eating and exercising habits – the former I did too much of and the latter nowhere near enough. The result being that I put back on a fair amount of the weight that I’d lost in the previous few years. So I am aiming to shed that weight again (roughly 1st.) through eating more healthily and exercising more. I have started planning ahead my meals a bit better and finding healthier alternatives to favourite snacks. I’ll be going back to dance classes again and I really do intend to either use the gym at work (I get a bit bored at the gym but the work one is free to staff members) or take up swimming again as there is a pool really near me.

This morning at Church we had our covenant service, where we celebrate all the great things God has done through our community in the past year and commit to serving Him together in the next. Our youth minister reminded us that resolutions are easier to keep in community, where we can encourage one another. This resonated with me as I thought about my New Year’s resolutions and the fact that I have shared them fairly publicly on this blog. I hope that it will help me to stick to them as now other people know and can hold me accountable. And if you would like to share yours in the comments please do so that we can work towards them together.

On which note I feel I should share that I have not done very well at my writing goal this week, today being the only day that I have managed to write for an extended period… BUT on Monday I went to a second hand bookstore and didn’t buy a single thing, which is a huge win for me!

Going back to rivers, often when I think about that Winnie the Pooh quote, a certain song comes to mind which I find soothing to my soul. I’d like to share it with you. (You can read the lyrics here).

 

* e.g. Hebrews 12v2; Acts 20v24; 2 Timothy 4v7

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