Like the slowly louder clunks
a train’s wheels send ahead,
as it wends its way along ancient tracks,
the old man’s memories float
slowly to the fore, the streaks
of dappled light dancing
on the walls behind his face
a spotlight, falling on him
the same way it falls on
a minstrel at a cabaret, drawing a hush
out of the muted mumblings of the gathered.
Though his wrinkled skin, once soft
now lies wrinkled, warped and folded
and his fingers once supple now lack dexterity,
like a seagull resplendent in its freedom
the memories of past songs return,
the track and the piano fusing in
a crescendo refusing to be silenced.
All it takes is an extended patch of wet and cold weather for things to descend into chaos on these islands, this latest batch of snow, heavy winds and cold weather culminating in flight cancellations and severe weather warnings amongst others. For the most part, I manage to survive – extra warm clothing, walking gingerly to and from work in the wet slush and almost continuous heating being the sum of the adjustments I have to make. It is at the weekend when the rooster comes home to roost in a manner of speaking. Having turned up at the airport for my 8.20pm flight down to Heathrow, delays till almost 11 pm are announced until at a few minutes before midnight we are advised the flight has been cancelled. Remarkably, everyone who should be on our flight is remarkably sanguine about it all, helped I suspect by the sense that the weather ‘gods’ have been at it again. Between the final announcement of delays and the flight being cancelled, we find (from Flight radar) that the ‘plane designated to carry us away to London has made several attempts to land at the ‘Deen but has failed due to fog rolling in. They eventually get diverted to Glasgow whilst we make an orderly line at the front desk to get our flights rebooked. I move my flight by a week and then head home, not before I find out that the woman in front of me in the queue has family in the same area of Surrey that I’m headed to, and very much like me, she makes this trip every two weeks so. Joking about being four-day spouses, does have a ring of truth to it though. For me, it offers evidence that this thing – having a foot in two different countries – isn’t exactly impossible to maintain, mild weather-induced irritation notwithstanding.
Ok British people, my brunch companion and I have a question: what is tea? Is it a snack? A meal? Does one eat supper after it? Do you have 4 meals in a day? What does it involve other than the obvious, e.g. tea? Is tea real or is it a hilarious hoax you pull on Americans?
I have to thank this tweet, and the replies it spawned, for helping most of that time pass. Growing up in my other country, meals were all about being three ‘square’ meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tea – and apples amongst other things – were alien constructs I first came across in the various Enid Blyton books I scrounged off my more exposed friends. As I became older, tea became synonymous with instant cream milk (usually the Peak brand) and Bournvita (a chocolate drink) and on the odd occasion a cup of Lipton tea. Reading the replies and comments thus brought back memories of my first few years up here, particularly offshore and the contact with people from across the spectrum of UK regions it brought my way and brought more than a few chuckles to me too. A silver lining to all that waiting I would like to think.
Elsewhere, I have been slowly catching up with the first season of Aria Code,Rhiannon Giddens’ deep dive into a number of the most famous arias along with interviews with singers and capped off with the full aria from the Met Opera. The penultimate episode from this first season features the “Letter Aria” from Jules Massenet’s Werther, which opens with Charlotte at home on Christmas Eve, rereading letters that she has received from Werther an ex-lover she has sent away to be focused on her marriage to her husband. One of the themes explored in this episode of Aria code is the subject of long-distance love, a theme lived and explored by one of the show’s guests Peter Bognanni (after briefly meeting his wife, they fell and grew in love over email before eventually marrying) in his book Things I’m Seeing Without You. Well worth a listen if Opera is your bag, or if like me you have good memories from having made friends and loving over significant distances.
Between work and visits to family, I travel quite a fair bit by air each year. Already though, 2017 is on course to be my most airborne yet – love-hate relationship with flying notwithstanding. The thing with S has been a big part of that, more so over the last few weeks, five of the last six of which have been spent down south. In times like this, even I have to admit- however grudgingly – the usefulness of being able to just fly. I shudder to think of how many hours I would have spent on trains or coaches over the last few days if flying was not an option.
Coming up to Aberdeen on this last but one flight of the lot, the relatively seamless BA experience I have enjoyed over the last few months falls apart, my 9.00pm flight ending up being delayed by an hour. That turns out to be the least of my worries as upon arriving at Aberdeen we have to wait to disembark, and then spend over an hour at the taxi rank for a taxi home. The official reason for the delay with de-planing is that the hold is full and we have to stay on until it is emptied to prevent the plane from tipping over. Ironic cheers greet the announcement, not helped I suspect by the tone with which the pilot relays the reason. By his own admission, it is the first time he has heard that used as a reason. All told, by the time I get home at 12.45am I am barely lucid. How I manage to make it into bed remains a mystery but somehow I do.
My trusty headphones – and music – have been indispensable companions on these jaunts. Most recently I have had Lecrae and Tori Kelly crooning into my ear, the song being the catchy I’ll find you tune. It is a song I stumble on on Spotify on one of those days on which I am mindlessly letting it decide what music I hear. My interest is piqued enough to put the song on repeat whilst I hunt down information on the song, from which I find out the video is in support of a children’s research hospital and comes from a place of pain for folk they know who were battling cancer at the time. Its themes – fighting through a difficult season but knowing there’s someone who’ll make the effort to support one are ones that are uplifting and comforting in their own way.
With the benefit of a clear head a few days later, the question of how much of a distinction there can be between spiritually uplifting stuff (read music, sermons etc) and the messengers who bring them to us comes to mind. A few years ago, the Hillsong song Healer was a firm favourite of mine, made all the more interesting by the back story – the writer of the song was apparently dying of cancer. That was later shown to be false which prompted a huge backlash and calls for the proceeds from the song to be returned and a number of the organisations which had provided him a platform moving to distance themselves from him. Lecrae himself has stirred controversy with comments he has made about not being a Christian rapper and his outspoken support of Black Lives Matter. Eugene Peterson, creator of The Message paraphrase, also drew some flak for apparently shifting towards endorsing same-sex marriage, a position he had to clarify very quickly.
All told, there does seem to be a tendency with Christendom to throw the baby out with the bath water and immediately distance itself from folk who seemingly stray from the weathered centre ground of orthodoxy. Two views I have found helpful on this subject of what to do with the ‘muddled’ lives of highly visible messengers come from John Piper and Russell More in the aftermath of the Peterson shift that was not. Truth remains truth, human vessels are inherently flawed and their output should be read through the lens of the bible itself.
In the wake
of the rising sun
comes the call of dawn;
a song drawn
from the chirp of birds,
the flutter of leaves,
the creak of stirring bones
and the lap of waves
carried on the breath
of the morning breeze.
Here on the edge
of the morning
in the quiescence of
a lingering dream,
the memory of the patter
of your feet lives on.
In the sumptuous symphony
of nature’s call and response,
the perfect fit
of the lilt of your voice
and the wind in the trees
In keeping with one of my resolves this year to make a regular practice of prayer and bible reading a habit this year, I read the second chapter of Mark yesterday. In Mark’s account, Jesus forgives (and then heals) a paralysed man, calls and hangs out with Levi, a noted sinner and allows his disciples skip fasting, as well as pluck grain for nibbling on on the Sabbath. This leaves the establishment figures in a fit, their concern being that outward expressions of the law are being flouted by Jesus and his disciples.
Jesus takes a different view, insisting that the principles of the law (as evidenced by David’s eating of the priestly bread) are more important than its letter. That left me thinking about all the ways in which my extreme focus on doing, and being seen to be doing the right things can sometimes
So for this prompt, I’m taking a lesson away — focus on the insides, build true authenticity which only comes from being true on the inside. The externals will fall into place…
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.
It feels like the sort of thing that one knows intuitively; that music and memory are inextricably linked. Finding out that there is a whole slew of science (Google search) that supports this is intensely gratifying, in the same way I imagine that someone who stumbles on a hastily put together recipe for quick delicious food must feel if that recipe ends up being celebrated by what I suppose is the more discerning palate of a Gordon Ramsey or a Jamie Oliver. Time and time again when I reflect on a song from yesteryear, I find that the where, who, what and when are indistinguishable from the song of the time, particularly where it was a song that I had on repeat for what feels in retrospect like days on end.
It feels like I listened to a lot more music this year than I have previously – a feeling backed up by my Instagram feed it seems. Walking and running a lot more this year than I have previously has helped, seeing as my trusty phone is a constant companion on these. I might subscribe to Spotify or a similar service next year, just for the greater granularity and visibility it will bring to my listening habits.
Looking over these songs, I found clear patterns: Songs #1 and #2 corresponded to the start of the year and the sense of fresh energy, #3 to #9 lined up with the back and forth with L and the ultimate demise of that situationship. Songs #10, 11 and 12 reflect on slowly coming around to and warming up to the thing with S, #16 a throwback to the Hillsong conference and the much anticipated release of the conference worship album. #19 was the sound track to the period in which I wrestled with the burden of grief.
Beyond the obvious things above, there are no other overarching things to glean – it is a mix of genres, styles and eras in the christian contemporary music genre. Make of them what you will.
1995 was an interesting time to be young and Christian. DC Talk, The Newsboys and Audio Adrenaline were at various stages in their evolution from being the niche interest of church youth groups to becoming recognisable by mainstream music lovers. Seemingly out of the blue, Christian Contemporary Music was on its way to acquiring a sort of coolness that the work of the likes of Larry Norman and Rich Mullins had deserved but somehow never achieved. In my corner of the world, Hosanna Music‘s body of work was the rave, a slew of live worship albums including a couple recorded in post apartheid South Africa (Tom Inglis’ We Are One and Lionel Petersen’s Rejoice Africa) building on a collection that included several offerings from the likes of of Ron Kenoly, Don Moen, Bob Fitts and Randy Rothwell.
At the time we lived in a little, four bed house on the corner of 3rd and 12th streets, one of a number of identikit pre-fabricated buildings in what passed for the University Senior Staff Quarters at the time. These, meant as temporary housing at the time the University was founded, had taken on an unplanned permanence, dried up funds meaning that the grand plans for a permanent site across town for both University and staff housing were scaled down significantly.
On a personal level it was a time of great change, one that would see me take the School Leaving Certificate Exam a year early and pack in my secondary school education. That meant that as the year wrapped up I found myself with loads of time on my hands, some free cash and little to prevent me from walking into town from time to time to browse the shelves at any number of music shops in the city centre. Crucially, I was at an age where my on-off friendship with Di began to take on an element of seriousness, at least in my mind.
DC Talk and the Newsboys notwithstanding, it turns out that the defining song from that era for me is a lesser known song, One Love, from the Rick and Cathy Riso album As For My House. My memories – and I recognise that memory can be a fickle thing – are of playing the song over and over on my Walkman until sleep took me away. I was sure at the time – and I told anyone who cared to listen – that like Rick and Cathy I would sing my wedding vows to whoever had the fortune (or misfortune some would say) of agreeing to marry me.
Years later, with the prospect of actually marrying someone a lot realer than it was back in those days, the song remains a favourite of mine, albeit one that serves as a reminder of The-One-Who-Got-Away. As for singing my wedding vows, common sense – and the biology of a cracked voice – suggest that that is now a non-starter.