Tag Archives: Psalms

Singing a New Song

I awoke last Monday and immediately felt disturbed. My mood was low and the thought of facing a day left me feeling troubled. Whatever was the matter with me? I knew it was to do with the business of the virus and the lockdown, but couldn’t exactly pinpoint the actual matter. A read of social media didn’t help. The previous evening, Sunday, the country had heard from the Prime Minister – it wasn’t a great speech – leaving us with more questions than answers. Later that evening, and throughout the night it appeared, people had taken to venting their anger and frustration on Twitter, Facebook and other media – putting it ‘out there’ that they were very unhappy.

I can’t criticise anyone for feeling like that or for wanting to rant – goodness me, the handling of this whole crisis has been quite bizarre at times. I’m often left baffled or irritated, thinking often that “they” have got it totally wrong – again! “Why didn’t we lockdown earlier? Why weren’t we more prepared? And I have often taken to FaceBook to vent myself – knowing that actually it’s my own little echo chamber, where most people on there, because they’re my “friends”, understand where I’m coming from and will, mostly, agree – or at the very least offer some comfort in reponse. So my intention is certainly not to knock anyone for posting their feelings about the government’s handling of the crisis, or for being highly critical of it. On the contrary, I can fully understand an irate reaction.

No, there was something more going on inside me. I felt weary and troubled. My anxiety level was up. Now, I don’t tend to get anxious about much, but I do recognise the physical symptoms. My reflection told me I looked bothered; my heart-rate was faster than normal; I had butterflies in the tummy. I felt like this throughout the day. An exercise class with a relaxation session that evening, helped, but soon after, I was down again.

The following morning, ahead of our Team meeting, our lovely vicar sent out a Bible reading to reflect on before we all met. It was Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire;

You know how there are those moments when you read something and it just right away hits you in the solar plexus? Well, this was one of them! I was indeed in a ‘slimy pit’! That’s how it had felt. A really ikky place. Stuck, and feeling unable to help myself.

He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord

I immediately came to see, as if God himself were speaking directly to me, that I had let myself slide into something that was sucking me down and threatening to overwhelm me. Then here he was, lifting me out of it! And how? By commanding me to look up, put myself in his hands, start singing that ‘new song’ and get praising! How long had it been since I had given thanks? “Blessed is the man [or woman!!] who makes the Lord [their] trust” I read. Indeed! Now that’s what my head needed to absorb – He is the one who I can trust. That’s where reassurance lies – not on FaceBook or Twitter!

I sat and reflected on the words for some time. I thought about things I’d read on social media. So much anger. So much frustration. There’s bound to be – and it’s undestandable. I had to ask the question though – what was it doing to my soul? Because what it all amounted to was a cloud of negativity descending around me; enveloping and choking me. It had got to the stage of me not wanting to read what many of my good friends were posting. Now, I am not saying that what anyone was sharing was wrong. Often, it would be a news article about failures of the government or criticism of them. I actually agreed with most of it. However, what it did to me was swamp me with feelings of helplessness. It didn’t help me to feel as if I could cope better with what was going on – on the contrary, I was left feeling impotent and depressed, and beginning to feel anxious.

I tried to imagine what it might be like to share like this in real life. Would we be sitting in the pub, or a cafe, showing each other these articles and news-pieces? Would we be sitting around, lamenting the idiocy of the Prime Minister and enumerating his inadequacies? I don’t think so! On social media, we tend to share mostly when we feel angry about things, or when we feel especially happy. Because, during these challenging times, we are very often roused to anger, there seems to be a greater sharing of such pieces. Thus, this sense of me feeling ‘swamped’. We wouldn’t do that in real life. Our meet-ups would not be characterised by “Have you seen what this nincompoop has done now? Have you heard they’re intending to re-open schools? How ridiculous is that?” Well, we might a bit – but mostly I think, and I hope, we’d be so glad to be in each other’s company we’d be sharing our good news stories. Laughing together; smiling at our shared joys. Wouldn’t we? What I mean is – there would be more BALANCE. But it might just be me who thinks that.

So, I had to do something about my state of mind and soul. And I knew the way forward – it had been given to me in this psalm – “a new song” and a “hymn of praise” had to be sung. The same morning, lovely vicar had also sent us a link to a wonderful praise song by City Alight – “Good and Gracious King”. I wept a little as I heard:

I will give to You my burden
As You give to me Your strength
Come and fill me with Your Spirit
As I sing to You this praise

This is often how God speaks. A friend will share something beautiful and you recognise the Lord’s voice in it. God knew I felt burdened and I didn’t need to be. Hadn’t Jesus said he would take that from me? So here he was reminding me to let go of it – give it to him who is vastly more able to carry it. And he would give me his strength. As I began to praise him, I felt his Spirit filling me and I experienced joy again. Anxiety lifted as I regained a right perspective. A view of things through a God-shaped lens. The relief was enormous.

I knew I had to re-balance. So, more time in his presence and especially, more time giving thanks. Even in these awful days, I have SO much to be thankful for. I am locked down with a wonderful man who loves me. I have a lovely home and I hear from my family every day. (I actually get a Facetime call from my 8-year old granddaughter every day, which is fantastic!) I have good food to eat; great walks from my doorstep; wonderful friends we can laugh with; a fabulous church community; great books to read…..I really could go on! I challenged myself to spend more time practising being thankful; more time praising and more time simply basking in his love. I walked on high ground more often – giving myself a more far-reaching view – literally lifting myself from the valley and seeing beyond my own place. I read more poetry and listened to more music. I prayed intentionally for those in government – remembering that they’re human, also loved by God; they make mistakes (some of them catastrophic) but they don’t set out to do evil, I’m sure. (Their bluster I think is all part of their failings and inadequacy and I figure therefore they need even more prayer!)

Getting on higher ground can help get things in perspective

You know what? It worked! I can honestly say that I feel more balanced, more joyful and definitely more thankful. It’s not a magic bullet. It has taken hard work. It may not last. I might have to give myself a kick up the bum in another few days. Then again – I have surrounded myself with people who offer me words of wisdom pretty often – so if I do get down, there are those who will point the way up again. It was such a good idea of Jesus’ to put us together in Church!!

Ok, enough jabbering….just off to check my FaceBook……

My Face has Lived and Loved

There are these times, and as we reach middle-age they probably occur more and more frequently, when we start to accept that we won’t always have those “moments of glad grace”.[1] Sometimes, a glance in the mirror tells us the awful truth, that we’d really like to ignore for at least a few more years, of lines ever-deepening; skin ever-drying; eyes less-sparkling. There it is before us – we are becoming old. We can apply all the moisturizer we like (and believe me there are times when I have furiously coaxed my face into accepting half a pot in the vain attempt to flatten a few wrinkles!) but we this is one march of progress we have no control over.

This is my face and I love it!

The funny thing is, and I do wish I could have known this years ago, there does come a point when the horror, having moved through despair into acceptance, suddenly turns into an embracing of all that is happening. This is weird – I bet anyone under 58 will refuse to believe it! – but I actually don’t mind this aging process. In fact, you know what? I’m rather getting to enjoy it!

For years, I raged against aging; fought it, tried to tame it – then it was as if I gave up on it, despaired of it, lay down and just let it roll over me. Then I woke up one day, and said, “okay, you win! Have your way.” At that moment of letting go I felt myself laugh and I held out my arms to hug my own body (including the arms with the bingo wings, the flabby thighs, the wrinkled neck and the creased up face) and I declared that this was mine! I am what I have become because I lived and loved. These lines are statements of all the times I have laughed and cried and they are reminders of all my companions on this crazy journey we call life. I’ve loved it and I still love it.

There is so much more to see and do and hear and rejoice in, but now, the pressure to be something I am not has left me. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are times when the old insecurities creep back to niggle away and tell me ‘That doesn’t suit you’ and ask in that familiar sarcastic tone, ‘Are you really going out like that?’ What has changed is that they no longer have a grip on me; I’m not afraid to look them in the eye and assert, with a defiant tilt of my head ‘It may well not suit me, but I’m feeling good anyway, and yes, I am jolly well going out like this and you can just do one!’

I’ve been so hard on myself for so many years, it’s really a massive relief to get to this stage. Women are so very tough on themselves and on each other, aren’t they? As if we have something of a ‘duty’ to look good. And who is that determines what looking good’ actually means, anyway? Our different cultures foist these images on us, through all the different media available, and that’s reinforced in how we look at each other, speak of one another and talk about ourselves. I hear it all the time. “She’s out on a bit of weight, hasn’t she?” or even “She used to be so slim” or, my real pet hate, “She’s let herself go” How dare we let the side down by stuffing our faces with food and becoming so fat that our arms jiggle when we applaud and our thighs wobble when we run? What a terrible crime we’ve committed!

There has been many a boy who “loved [my] beauty with love false or true” and I let it matter too much. To the point where it defined who I was. There was this boy once, Michael was his name, with bright blue eyes and curly black hair and I thought he was gorgeous and my fourteen-year-old self thrilled to be chosen to be the one he snogged (sorry, very old-fashioned word!!) at a party at a friends’ house. (Do you remember those parties, where the parents, usually-unsuspecting, went and your friend invited half the year group round, we all drank something called ‘Party Seven’ and Babychams, got tiddly and some of the lucky ones paired off and the lights were turned down and we found a corner somewhere to do all that snogging and groping – never quite going ‘all-the-way-because-we’re-not easy-are-we?) So there I was, lying in his arms, feeling very chuffed when, he looked down at me and announced, “You’re really quite good-looking…(he peers at me)….from the neck down”

What?!!! You see, I should have cut and run at that point. Or possibly even smacked him. I didn’t. I swallowed the lie. I ate it and became it. I heard so many other ‘lies’ that reinforced it and my whole identity somehow became wrapped up in that “unattractive” rubbish. We have to teach our grandchildren (hopefully our children are already more resilient) to bounce away from all of that. To laugh and run and never mind.

I know someone who “loved the pilgrim Soul in [me]” – always has and always will and knows well “the sorrows of [my] changing face”. He’s the One I call Lord and he made me, in fact he “knitted me together in my mother’s womb”[2]. So many years have I fretted away though, while not fully understanding this truth. That my ‘pilgrim Soul’ is actually what really matters. I am loved because he made me; not because of what I am and what I look like. I don’t have to remain in this place, I can travel to where I’m called to be and I am held by One who also put the stars in place and made the sun to shine.

My face is changing; it shows the sorrows I’ve had, but it also declares the joys I’ve experienced and there far are more of those. It is the face of me though and I’ve lived with this changing face for a little over sixty years now, we’ve grown accustomed to each other, me and my changing face. I rejoice that, hopefully, we’ll be continuing to add lines to it in abundance for many more years to come. And if that isn’t to be, if I am called home sooner, I revel in the understanding that this face won’t be travelling with me into Eternity!

[1] “When You Are Old” W B Yeats

[2] Psalm 139:13

Glimmers of Hope in Flecks of Lilac

There are glimmers of hope. At last it seems we are moving towards spring! I wonder why it is that winter always seems the longest season. I mean, it isn’t really as if it’s been frightful – it’s just the seemingly endless dark days; days that feel as though they don’t start till midmorning and are shutting down for business by 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Days that have been very cold, damp and just don’t stimulate positive thinking. Well, they don’t do much for me anyway.

Not that I hate the cold as such – a clear, blue sky on a frosty morning when you can see your breath and you have to pull your hat over your ears and can’t bear it if you think you’ve dropped your gloves! I love those sorts of days. When the ground is crunchy underfoot and you can hurry back home and drink a hot cup of tea and really revel in its heat and restorative goodness. Yes, they’re good wintery days. Even days when you’re a little bit afraid walking on a steep slope as you see the frost glistening or you have to get up early to scrape the car windscreen and your fingers go numb and you have to blow on them while the car heater is still warming up. Yes, they are great, stimulating, invigorating days.

What I hate are the days that never seem to get going. When you wake, knowing you’ve been in bed a whole night and yet it’s still pitch black outside. And it’s raining, or it’s been raining. It’s not even really cold – at least not frosty. It’s just miserable. And you’re making your tea and looking out the window and all you can see is your own miserable reflection staring back at you in the dark – like it’s your soul that nipped outside and has found it wanting and can hardly bear to give you the bad news. Then you see children going to school and it’s barely light. It’s like things you’re doing slow down but the day itself slips passed you faster, so just when you think you’ve got a grip on it, it grinds down to a halt. And you’re looking at your own reflection in the window again – wearing a ‘so where has that one gone then?’ expression. Short, miserable days. Oh I know they’re not all quite like that – there’s lots to be thankful for too – but they do drop by more frequently – those gloom-filled days.

But they are coming to an end! Ha ha! I want to laugh out loud and shout ‘so there, winter, you didn’t see me off!’

Even before it’s here, I know it’s coming. There are these signs all along the walks – tiny buds appearing on branches. Each one prompting a wee spring in my step and a slight quickening to my heartbeat. In the shade of a tree in the churchyard (oh, don’t ask me what kind of tree it was; I always get them wrong!) there they were, just peeping through the mulch there – tiny flecks of lilac. Crocii making their yearly appearance.Glimmers of hope in lilac

‘Hello, again!’ they seem to whisper, ‘Is it time?’ At first they appear quite shy, as if they’re afraid someone (like a horrid, north-westerly gust of wind or harsh frost) will shout them back down, with a ‘Get back in the ground you fools! It’s not your turn yet!’

Well, it is! There were a few hints last week – sunny intervals (as termed by the weatherfolk) and milder air coaxed them onto the seasonal stage and there they were – as if they were waiting for me to climb over the wall into the cemetery. Like a warm greeting they met my eyes and I had to pause and smile at them in return greeting. I just had to get the Iphone out and take that picture. I wanted to note it – make an imprint of it. All the rest of the day I could revisit that picture – even in my mind – and know that spring was coming – the winter wasn’t going to last forever.

Over the winter months, being someone who is seasonally affected, I really have to work hard not to let myself slip into a reactive depression. I’m not meaning a clinical sort of depression, although it can verge on that by the way it presents. I mean that the darkness seems to push me into a corner of my own life and I can find myself stuck there. It goes like this: because of the darkness I can’t go out walking so early, so I stay in bed a little longer; staying in bed longer makes me feel bad about myself, so I start the day on a low note; I roll out of bed instead of jumping; I stay in my dressing gown, as what’s the point of getting dressed? I find myself wondering it it’s worth opening the curtains or raising the blinds. What’s the point? There’s nothing to see. Just me looking back at me. I sit and think how miserable it is and this makes me feel even more miserable. I end up eating breakfast so late it makes eating lunch not worth it and then I worry that I’ll want dinner too early and the evening will seem shorter! I do shorter walks and when it’s raining they get shorter still. Not being able to be outside makes me feel even more miserable. I have to put the light on to read and before I know it, I’m closing the curtains as the darkness starts to descend – yet again! And it’s only just gone!

Do you know those days? I have to make myself get a grip. Honestly, I have to take myself in hand and give myself a stiff talking to. I find there is a Psalm that often comes to mind when I’m like this:

                        Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you disquieted within me?

(Psalm 42:11a)

I love that this psalm was probably written by King David and that he, though he was so close to God (being called a ‘man after my own heart’ by God himself! How brilliant must that be!), finds himself in these same dark places that I get myself into.

It seems important to me that I do that chastising of my soul. So when my reflection stares back at me through the dark glass, by an act of will, I make myself say this line. I talk to my own soul – essentially telling it to ‘get a grip’. Of course, as a Christian, I don’t believe that I can do this in my own strength. For that I thank God – as the second half of that verse gently steers me to where strength can be found and where my hope really is, reminding me that I’m never actually alone; God is bigger than my circumstances. They are only temporary.

                        Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,

my help and my God.


It doesn’t happen immediately; it isn’t like there is a blinding light or that in that moment I am lifted to some higher plain. Not at all, I have simply reminded my soul that things are not hopeless. I have a choice. I can stay in the corner of my own mind; I can dwell there in the dark. I can make my life smaller and shrink into myself. Or I can remember what the light looks like – focus on where my hope really is founded – and I can make that my driver. I can hitch my soul on to something worth getting up for. I can find light, joy, laughter, sunshine in the smile of a stranger; the hue of the leaves of a plant in the bathroom; a robin on the birdfeeder; a phone call from a friend; an episode of a ridiculous soap opera; a chapter of a good book; a slice of chocolate cake; a bowl of lentil soup; a visit to a museum.

On a short, dark, cold winter day, in the driving rain, I can curse the mud and wet; sit and watch it batter my windows; or I can go by the tree in the cemetery, shelter under the branches, stand on the mulch there and remember that underneath all this, something is happening; life is stirring; bulbs are being fed; roots are extending – and soon, and very soon, tiny shoots of green will appear, followed by flecks of lilac – glimmers of hope for tired souls.