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  • Typing Time - Taking Five

    I have been good the last couple of days - I have forced myself to sit at my computer and type up the very dull paper I have to submit in September - well at least five of the seven sections anyway (the other two are in outline form and I will turn them into sentences tomorrow).  I am moderately please with having typed 5000 words in two days given the frequent interruptions but know that once I've finished I have to get my editting head on and start hacking the word count back down to the prescribed limit because it'll be well over.

    Meanwhile, the builders have been having deliveries of goodness knows what which necessitates large lorries parking literally on my doorstep.  The new houses are growing steadily and it seems likely that some may be close to having rooves before I leave.  It will be interesting to return in a year or so to see what the finished product looks like.

    Now it's time for a break - five minutes to talk twaddle to the www and then a proper break away from the typing.

    Silence in this bit of blogland might mean I'm actually getting this paper sorted!

  • Well-loved tales revisited 3: Prodigal Sons

    As posted yesterday, I have had some fun playing with this story and trying to find a new (to me) angle on it.  Those suggested by Jim and Julie are wonderful and would be well worth looking at, but as I started writing I  found myself recalling the Rembrandt 'Return of the Prodigal Son' which so inspired Henri Nouwen.  Not being a parent may mean I've misread how she might feel, but I've tried to tell the story through the mother...



    A woman had a husband and two sons whom she loved dearly...

    My husband is a good man, hard working and moderately prosperous; there is always plenty to eat, the servants and hired hands are paid properly and there is usually some money over to save.  My elder son is, as is often the way with first-borns, obedient and compliant, working hard alongside his father, diligently learning the family business and sticking to all the rules.  One day he will inherit it all, and he needs to understand every detail of what’s involved.  His younger brother is very different, happy-go-lucky and mischievous, often in trouble for some minor misdemeanour but with a winning smile and sunny personality.  No responsibility to weigh upon his young shoulders, but the knowledge that he will be well provided for after his father’s death.  Ours was a contented family and life ambled along uneventfully until one fateful day…

    When my husband walked in that evening I knew something was up, but I wasn’t ready for what he had to tell me.  My younger son, my baby, was going away!  He had come to his father and asked for his share of the inheritance now, in cash, and, after thinking it over, he had agreed.  I was angry and devastated, just about to shout at him when I caught the look on his face – he looked as if the bottom had fallen out of his world.  “He might as well have wished me dead,” he said sadly, “but he has to be free to make his own choices and find his own way in life, so what could I do?”  I was tempted to tell him what I thought, but I held my tongue, and held him as he wept like a child himself.

    We tried to carry on life as usual, but every evening I watched my husband walk to the end of the road, peering into the distance, hoping against hope that today news would come, but it never did.  Thank goodness for my elder son, I thought, he keeps things on an even keel, getting on with his work, never complaining, just doing what must be done.  He seemed quieter and more serious than ever, his humour dried up and he filled almost every hour with work.  He rarely saw his friends, and when they did meet up it was just for a quick chat before he was back to work.  It seemed as if I had lost both of my sons – one literally, gone away, and one figuratively, to a silent world of obedience.

    Laughter was no longer heard in our house, we just got on with what had to be done.  Sadness and bitterness crept in to every corner and the ache of it was almost unbearable.

    One evening my husband went out as usual to walk to the end of the road.  I thought how tired he looked, how all this had aged him: he was a shadow of his former self, empty and broken.  It wasn’t that he loved my elder son or me any less than before, but something was missing and he longed to find it.

    As I watched, I saw him break into a run – robes flying everywhere as he tried to cover the ground at speed.  Someone was coming the other way… was this finally news?  Would it be good… or would his worst fears be realised as our son was lost forever, dead and buried in some faraway place?

    I turned towards the field where my elder son was still hard at work and a shiver ran down my spine.  How would he react if it was bad news?  What if it was good?  What was all this doing to my wonderful proud, loyal son?

    The sound of laughter and raised voices drew my attention back to the road.  My husband, walking arm in arm with some ragamuffin who looked in need of a square meal!  As they drew nearer I realised that this ragamuffin might be… could be… was… my own little boy, back home after all this time.  Grabbing a robe I ran to greet them and the three of us danced for joy in the middle of the dusty road!  A party – we must have party.  The order rang out, the calf was slaughtered and the meal prepared.

    We were so caught up in the moment none of us thought to call in his elder brother, to tell him his brother was safe, to bring the two of them together privately.

    He came in from the fields much later, tired, grubby and hungry.  He walked into the room to hear happy voices singing, to see people dancing and to smell wonderful food being cooked.  What should have been a moment of great rejoicing turned sour as an angry voice cut through the air.  “What about me?  I’ve slaved away all this time, worked extra hours, and done all I could to keep things going.  What thanks do I get?  Not even a goat to share with friends.”

    I stood, speechless as angry tears rolled down the cheeks of my wonderful, strong, proud older son.  I saw him turn away from his brother’s outstretched arms and run from the room.  Silently my husband followed him, crestfallen but not angry.  In measured tones he responded, “My precious son, I love you as much as ever I loved you.  You are always with me and everything I have is yours.  But can’t you be glad with me that your brother who was lost to us is now found, that the one we feared was dead is so very much alive…”

    As I peeped round the doorway I saw them, clasped in an embrace, my gentle, wonderful husband tenderly holding his son as the sobs wracked his body and the bitterness spilled into tears…



    What happened next?  Did they come back into the feast?  Were the boys reconciled?  Did they come to understand one another and find their place within their father’s affections?  What do you think… how would you tell the tale… how would you live it?

  • It's obvious once you spot it...

    This afternoon I have been doing my background reading for the last of my three re-visits to well-loved tales from the gospels.  This Sunday we will be looking at the series of three 'lost and found' parables in Luke 15.  Reading them through I was struck very clearly that they are not 'of a piece', the first two, lost sheep and lost coins, operate very differently from the third, often termed 'the prodigal son'.  I had a few ideas of what I might play with arising from it and decided to check the commentaries I have both on Luke and on parables.  Alas or hurray, not sure which, all my ideas had already been had by other people, along with several others.  A key one is that actually this is a story of two sons... 'a man had two sons...' which is pretty obvious when you actually spot it.  I had thought of trying to retell the story from the viewpoint of the elder son because he represents the religious orthodoxy which is, whether we like it or not, what we are as part of the church.  I was going to try to allow him to speak, to justify his anger and then to invite the congrgeation to decide 'what happened next.'  But now I'm not so sure whether that would work.

    Instead I am wondering about writing the mother's version - watching her family tear itself apart, sharing her husband's pain and loss, longing for reconciliation between her loyal, obedient but rather bitter and legalistic elder son and his wayward, impetuous but ultimately repentant younger brother.  The tricky bit is of course that the allegorical aspect doesn't then work - if the father is God, the younger son the 'sinners' and the elder son the religious establishment there is no role for the mother to take.  But then part of the beauty of parables is their inherent ambiguity and the impermanence of any interpretation.

    If this doesn't work then maybe I'll resort to a normal sermon!

  • Lists

    In the last couple of days people have asked me for two lists which they seem to think I maintain - the Girls' Brigade membership list at D+2 and the church membership list at Dibley.  I have now supplied said lists to those requesting them.  Interesting, in updating and handing them over, to reflect on how many poeple I've had contact with these past few years (hundreds though not all on either list) and to wonder what impact on their relationship with God knowing me has had (ulp!).  These people are all part of my history and I part of theirs even if no one ever knows our names and we forget each other.  It reminds me of something that I am told Bonhoeffer said that is important and runs along the lines of 'it doens't matter if our names our recorded in the history books, what matters is that our names are written in the Lamb's book of life.'  I think he's right, and somehow in this statement an appropriate humility is balanced by the assurance of our infinite worth in the eyes of God.

    Maybe some Bonhoeffer scholar can give me an exact quote and source?

  • Learning the Lingo

    A good friend of mine has suggested I take a short language course before moving north, and this is her recommended text:

    patter.jpgCourtesy of Amazon I have this along with another little book called 'Haud yer Wheesht' and language lessons are now underway.

    Interesting to discover which aspects of Glasgwegian lingo my mother has retained after half a century in England, which phrases I don't think are unequivocably Scottish and which mean something quite different in the Midlands.

    Nothing like a bit of cultural dissonance on a Sunday morning!

    Och weel, I must away to my dinner! ;-)