Sunday, 30 March 2014

Mothering Sunday 4th in Lent

It is a grey damp morning
Not one for remembering sunshine and laughter...
And yet that I'll do.
As I muse on this Mothering Sunday I reflect on the phone conversation I anticipate with my mother today... I am a grown woman now, with grown up sons of my own, but still this day I remember I am a daughter too.
Her first born
And God's precious child too
As is she
I reflect on all that she gave me, as she raised me:
A strong sense of the presence of God in our lives.
A strong sense of the importance of family
Not just Mum and Dad and my siblings, but the wider family too: aunts and uncles and cousins, my grandparents. And the place they all played in our family as I grew up.

As the years go by, and the years mount
Things change, physically, emotionally, some things are easier to bear than others
But this I know, as much today, as I did back then
She gave me life
She taught me well
She shared her faith
And she helped me to be who I was meant to be
Thank you. Mum
I love you! 
Mum, in her garden on their Golden Anniversary Weekend, 2009

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Midweek Musings... Lent #13

I am not actually preaching this week; our student is taking the whole service, so I get to sit back and listen for a change.
I have however still read through the lectionary readings and worked out what I might do, if I were in charge...
The readings are familiar - 23rd Psalm and John 9 - the healing of a blind man. 
It is also Mothering Sunday here in Scotland (the UK) so there is that to consider too... 
The history of Mothering Sunday is itself interesting, for it arises not from celebrating the woman who gave you birth, but from the church that baptised you.
In the Victorian period, many young girls and boys were in service and expected to attend the church attached to the house they served; on the 4th Sunday of Lent they were given leave to go home to worship in their Mother Church; traditionally as they went, they gathered wild flowers to present to their own mothers when they arrived.
This is of course folklore, and I do not know the full accuracy of the sources, but it is what I have always understood. As time went by greetings cards became more widely available and latched onto the idea, creating Mothers Day cards, and thus a multi-million pound industry was born! 
We will be presenting a small gift to every woman in church, whether she is a mother, or she "mothers" - bearing a child is not the only indicator of motherhood.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Looking out - Lent #12

Where in the world would you choose to visit?
Where would you go?
To see family or friends perhaps?
To discover a piece of history, or see wondrous landscapes?

Or, maybe you'd like to simply visit people?
Gain a deeper understanding
Find a deeper dimension to faith and hope and knowledge?
Maybe, seeing a different place in the world will enable you to gain new insight into your own world?

When we open our eyes, expand our horizons
God can come in....
God can lead and inspire
God can show us that holy love knows no boundaries, it permeates every community in every corner of the world - God's World - our world.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sermon: Complaining and Testing: Life-giving Water

Exodus 17: 1-7 

Desert Wilderness (photo from Holy Land 2008 JMW)

The memory is a wondrous thing don’t you think?
It can take a terrible situation and let the passage of time and the passing of a generation change it to a time of peace and tranquillity...
It is so easy to look at the past with rose tinted spectacles: your schooldays – the best days of your life?
Your childhood: always sunny in the summer, always good snow in the winter; everyone always happy, no one ever ill....
And we know, that even if that’s how we remember it, it really isn’t true: we apply a filter and remember the good times and forget the bad.

Thus it is with this Israelite Community: thousands of them!
They have wandered and followed Moses; they were rescued from slavery, from oppression: they begged God to rescue them
The begged God to save them from the oppressive rule of Egypt; yet now, here they are, out in the wilderness, and all they can focus on is that when they were in Egypt they had a roof over their heads and food and water to hand:  they do not remember the misery which drove them to beg God for release.

They had been hungry: God arranged for manna and quail to feed them; and now they are thirsty, and I am sure, they could have asked nicely rather than moaning and whingeing... but, they did not.

The trouble is; and we all know this; when you are in a situation it is so difficult to get outside it and think rationally
Our humanity gets in the way
Our frailty
Our dependence on others, and eventually we remember our dependence on God

Moses was in the very lucky position of being in constant contact with God
He did not know the whole plan, but he trusted that God did, and that was good enough for him

But the people relied on others to remind them
To take them to God
Their faith was vulnerable and wandering in the desert they felt vulnerable too

In my mind’s eye I can imagine Moses each night unrolling his parchment and recording the day’s trek; the week’s progress: creating a map of their travels, and at each point the halted and set up camp for a while recording a name for that place according to the mood of the camp...

My name is Julie – and I have a vague notion that I was named after a friend of my mother’s – I am sure I was told the story once; but now it is lost somewhere in the mists of time. When we name our children we take the names of family members and good friends and pass them on to our children: my oldest son is named after my grandfather; my second son after his grandfathers on both sides... and my third boy is named for two very dear friends who were very influential on my faith journey...

Some of you will have the same name as your father or mother; there may be several generations of George, or William or Margaret in your family. And thus it is, as it has aye been.

But consider choosing names for the time or the place or the circumstances:
Harper Seven...
Ok – maybe the Beckhams knew what they were doing?!!

Moses map was full of places and names: Massah: to complain
Meribah: to test – imagine the conversation when one of the elders came to look at it... 

(taken from the Spill the Beans resource)

Did you have to call it that?
Moses: What?
Voice A: “Argue and Test.” It’s not a very nice name.
Moses: It wasn’t very nice behaviour.
Voice B: But we don’t need reminded of that every time we go back there.
Voice A: You’ve got us all squirming. It’s… uncomfortable… embarrassing!
Moses: Maybe you do need reminded. Maybe I should have made you squirm a long time ago. Maybe that’s what I did wrong.
Voice A: What?
Moses: Yep, I wonder why it took me so long to name what you’ve been doing. You’re suddenly having a proper look at yourselves.
Voice B: Well OK, we kind of complained a bit, and weren’t very trusting, but you didn’t have to paint it up in bold letters!
Moses: Can I show you something?
A & B: What?
Moses: (pulling out a chart) Here is the map I’ve been keeping of our journey. I made some notes of other names along the way, not that I painted them up in bold anywhere. Let’s go right back to day one. Here - just past the Red Sea…
Voice B: (Looking at chart) “Bickering”.
Voice A: Let me see! (Looking at chart) Oh no, a bit further along the road you’ve got “Fracas”…
Voice B: …and not long after that comes “Petty Pouting”.
Voice A: What’s this in the foothills?
Voice B: “Headache.”
Voice A: And halfway along to the next wadi…
Voice B: Looks like “Discord.”
Voice A: Aw Moses! (pointing at chart) What have you got here?
Voice B: (Looking) But he’s right! I remember that campsite on the plain – “Tantrums Common” – we deserve it!
Voice A: What’s this bit you’ve scored out?
Moses: Couldn’t decide between “Little Grumbles” or “Lesser Whinings.”
Voice A: Have we been that bad?
Voice B: We’ve probably been worse!
What’s this other list in the corner here?Moses: Oh, those are the names I’m still looking forward to using.
Voice A: Let me guess… “Greater Gripes”? …or “Fullscale Fallout”?
Voice B: No… look! There’s “Harmony Junction”.
Voice A: Ah… well, we’ve not earned that one yet.
Voice B: “Reconciled.”
Voice A: Hmm. Sometimes we get about halfway there.
Voice B: “Trusting.”
Voice A: Long way to go!
Moses: But we’ll get there. We’ll get there.
Voice B: You really think so? Then maybe we should name this place…
“High Hopes”.

Think about our names: and the names we might give our homes; our lives
Are we complainers?
Or moaners, or gossips?
Or are we optimists, faithful, hopeful?
Think about it
And in the silence be honest with yourself: because God knows the names we hold in our hearts
God knows our names and like water, suddenly appearing in the desert God also can refresh and invigorate us:
Ask God what is my given name and my heart name?
That heart name can give us new life, new hope new joy:  and we can choose

Praise God! 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Driftwood Lent #11

Driftwood on Lossie Beach March 2014

There is something magnificent about driftwood 
wood, washed smooth by the action of waves
rolled and rocked and tumbled
until there is no more bark
no more twigs
and then left
high and dry on the shore
for wind and rain and sunshine to continue the work
until what you have left is the shadow
the remnant of the tree
become driftwood
still wood, but no longer standing
no longer truly alive
but, still filled with life
it beckons and calls to me as I walk
what is your story?
Where did you grow?
How did you fall?
When did you start this last journey, to this beach
and this day...
Good questions to ask ourselves too...
What is my story?
Where did I grow?
How did I fall?
and, where am I now, on this journey?
This day?
This time?

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Comfort of Friends Lent #10

Time to think about taking the road back home again
Time to think about the to do list and the work in progress
Time to leave the friendly atmosphere of time with a good friend

There is such comfort in staying with a Friend
No need to be on best behaviour
Just relax, be yourself, chat and chat and chat
About everything and anything

Three days of that is worth weeks of holiday.
Just what was needed on this road through Lent and beyond
Companionable silences
Bracing walks
Watching the joy that small grandchildren bring
Life is good
Life is in balance

Time to take leave and travel home
Blessed and restored

Thanks be to God

Monday, 17 March 2014

Taking sabbath rest Lent Week 2 #9

Traditionally many clergy take Monday as their day off, the clergy Sabbath follows the working weekend.
Personally I like to take Fridays off, I spend Monday on paperwork and filing (great theory) and forward planning  the week and following Sunday
Then the rest of the week will be filled with visiting, attending meetings, chatting to people in person and on the phone... 
Maybe visiting school or nursing homes 
Conducting funerals
Talking to families about baptism and couples about weddings
Life is never boring!
This week is different
This week I am taking some leave
In a little while, I shall finish packing my bag and set out on a road trip
Up north
To catch up with friends
To take some rest 
And to relax a while
Time for proper Sabbath Rest
Time to think and pray and reflect
And to walk along the beach

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Sermon: For this purpose

Genesis 12:1-4a
John 3: 1-17
a short sermon... which may become longer in the preaching! It's a busy service and lots going on today, so maybe short is ok! 
Blessings to those who read and those who listen, and on those who do both! 

Primulas in my garden: born again after a long grey winter

One of the most famous verses in the bible; possibly the very first memory verse you ever learned at Summer Bible club? The verse that is often quoted as the reason for everything else. It is featured in songs and hymns and posters and on wee bracelets...
What am I talking about?
John 3:16
For God so loved the world that he sent his only son, so that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life.

Imagine for a moment if that were your purpose; your reason for living.
To bring hope, and love and life to the world.
Now, imagine also, that you are the one who first heard it.
The man who came in under cover of darkness: secretly, quietly, privately... seeking to speak with this teacher; seeking to know more.
Under cover of darkness...
Or maybe, rather, in the darkness finding light?

In the deep of the night, for those of us who wake, and pace, or think or wonder: many things can suddenly become clear
Suddenly make sense
Ideas come
And vague notions take on a new clarity
Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night, and there has been a long held assumption this was to protect his identity, so that no one else would know about his curiosity, his yearning to hear more; but what if it was simply because he sought illumination; he’d paced all night and could simply wait no longer for the answers to the questions which buzzed through his mind?
Nicodemus needed to move – to travel to go and see Jesus
Abram, a wise and faithful man; who also needed to move... moved because God commanded it; prompted it; promised that through that move would come great blessings

Abram was not a young man; and he had his troubles: he had no son, no heir, yet, he utterly believed the impossible: looking out at the night sky, he saw millions of stars... and believed God’s promise that this would be his legacy. How? Why?
Because as a man of faith he trusted God’s promise.

Because, even though it must have seemed like madness, he knew it was the right thing to do...
As a Jewish leader, as a man of faith, the example of Abram would have been permanently etched on Nicodemus’ heart and understanding.
He knew that:
God does strange and wondrous things.
Even if, in his day, no one had seen anything wondrous and strange for a very long time – until...this man came along.

And Nicodemus knew.
This man is different
This man has something to offer
This man I need to talk to; I need to ask and seek and learn.
So he came under cover of darkness
Seeking light
He came in the night, seeking a new dawn
I am sure he never expected to be invited to a new birth though!

Jesus knew he was dealing with an educated, curious and enquiring man. A man who wanted and needed answers.
Jesus answered with hard concepts, and deep theology
And then, then even this early in his ministry he speaks of all that is to come.
This continues even now to astonish me!
We are so often used to the phrase “the time is not right”, “do not tell anyone until...” and yet here, Jesus talks openly, frankly about what is to come.
The Son of Man must be lifted up
So that everyone who believes will have eternal life
This is not a conditional promise: there are no complex or hard conditions attached:
Everyone who believes in Jesus may have eternal life

Because this is how much God loves the world
This is how much God loves his people
This is how much God loves YOU!
It really is that simple
Love God
Believe in Jesus Christ
Receive the promise of eternal life
God sent his Son
To save the world
What a purpose!

What a promise!

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Psalm 51 Lent #6

Last night during our evening worship we read from this Psalm, and a distant memory was stirred. I worked this interpretation of the psalm sometime in the late 1990s... And it has been tucked away in the back of my bible ever since. 
In this season of repentance, owning our failings, as the psalmist does, is a good thing, it helps us to be honest with ourselves, and with God. 

Psalm 51

Have mercy on me O God
I know your love will never leave me,
I ask that your compassion will wipe away my sins
Wash away all my wrongdoing 
Cleanse my guilty heart

I know my transgressions
My sin is always there to remind me
Against you O God have I sinned
And what I have done is is evil in your sight
When you speak, you are right
When you judge, there is justice.

I am sure I was born sinful
Even from when I was conceived.
I know you desire truth deep within
And your wisdom teaches my soul

Cleanse me O God and I will be truly clean
With your washing I will be whiter than the snow
Because of you I will hear joy and gladness
What is crushed by sorrow will rejoice
Please turn your face away from my sinfulness 
Wipe away my guilty feelings

Put a pure heart within me O God
Make my spirit steadfast again
Do not turn me away from you,
Or take your Holy Spirit away.
Give me back the joy that comes in your salvation
And feel me with a willing spirit 

I will show your ways to others
And they will cone back to you
Save me from my guilt O God,
You are the God who saves me,
And I will sing aloud of all your goodness.
O God, if you open my lips, they will,always praise you.

My sacrifices are not what you seek
No outward show will please you,
But my broken pride, my humble heart,
These are what you desire O God,
And in your pleasure we will make
Righteous offerings to you, and there will be
Great delight.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Laying burdens down Lent#5

What are your burdens?
Why do you carry on taking them with you?
Let go, let God
Bring your burdens, heavy or light and lay them down at the foot of the cross
Jesus said, "come to me all you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"
Tonight, our service focuses on laying down
Giving up
Being released
Stay a while.
And leave lighter, freer, released from that which weighs you down

Monday, 10 March 2014

Written in the dust Lent #4

Sunny spring mornings
 Bring a flurry of activity
Cleaning, tidying, turning
Things over
New discoveries
And, written in the dust, that is suddenly visible
In the spring sunshine
A wee reminder of the one I love

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Passing the buck - sermon 9th March

Genesis 2: 15-17; &  3:1-7 
Matt 4: 1-11

 Passing the buck... the blame game

This week is all about temptations; and all about resistance
And it raised a whole lot of questions for me:
Why do we keep making bad decisions?
Why do we continue to give in to temptation?
How can we learn from Adam and Eve in the garden?
And how can we learn from Jesus – the second Adam who came to rescue us?

The serpent persuaded Eve to try the fruit... the forbidden fruit... knowing her vulnerability he was able to move her to action.
The next thing that happens as we all know is that Eve, feeling guilty, needs to share the responsibility... needs to share the blame – so she persuades Adam to join her in the fruit... using persuasion:
“Look, I’m fine so it must be ok
See how lovely it is”
Maybe she even used the same tactics that the serpent used – how great it would be to be wise, to have understanding!
Adam joins her.
And suddenly everything changes
Innocence is lost
Simplicity is lost
Purity is gone
And knowledge floods in
Knowledge of everything
Suddenly they know they are naked
They know that life will never be the same
And they are flooded with a new sensation, one they have never felt before: guilt and shame permeate their bodies; flood their consciousness – “We have done this! Oh! What did we do?!”
And then of course in come anger and blame and retribution: “What did you do, Eve?!”
“What have you done to me?!”
“It wasn’t me! It wasn’t me, the serpent made me do it...”

Sin has entered the world
And the blame game is born.
All through the bible there are stories of temptation and action and reaction; and every time the character has his moment of realisation, of regret, of starting over: repentance.

To be tempted is not sinful
We are all tempted....
It is what we do with the temptation

The word temptation as it is written in the bible means to be tested – not as we may see it now to be enticed into an evil act
And the word repentance means turning around – coming back to the straight path; starting over.
And the people of God, once that floodgate was opened could not hold back the flood.
People continue to be tempted, and give in to the temptation; and God saw them, and knew they needed something, someone to bring hope into the world
Someone who would face temptation and resist it
Someone who would live and love and show the world a better way; by himself living a kinder more compassionate life. (Though not a wimpy, subservient, weak life... not that!)
Someone who would put an end to the price of sin...
A second Adam
A new creation to break the power of sin and bring the hope of eternity

So God sent his own Son
A man, wholly human, and at the same time wholly divine.
A man subject to the same things as us: hunger and fatigue; frustration and eagerness; anger and love, and yet in all of those real human emotions, he was never drawn to sin.

There’s the thing that often trips people up! Jesus got angry, and tired, and hungry and frustrated, and was snarky (he called a bunch of Pharisees snakes!) yet in all of that, there was no sin.
So if like me, you feel your temper is sinful – remember, Jesus got mad – without sinning
It’s not losing your temper that’s bad – it’s what you then do with it
Jesus was so mad at what he saw in the temple forecourts he lost the plot – he threw tables over and chased people out.... but did not sin.

So what is it then?
Let’s go back to the wilderness with him
Jesus had just been baptised; he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he was totally aware of God’s presence; he was in a wonderful place
And then, he left the party (so to speak) and wandered the wilderness – I don’t know how many of you remember the pictures we showed you of that wilderness, but it is barren.
Mile upon mile of nothing: just hill after hill; dry dusty, bland coloured sand. The odd scrubby bush that looks like it has no life in it at all.
Small camps of nomads who are constantly on the lookout for travellers...

It is a lonely bleak place
And here Jesus wandered
And prayed
And reflected on the task ahead
The friends he would make
The people he would meet
The difficulties he would face
It would have been so easy in that time to shout at his father; to refuse to carry on; to demand to come home... but he did not

And that’s the fundamental difference!
Jesus was not inclined toward sin. At all. Ever.
He could be tempted.
But that was as far as it could go...
Just to be sure, the devil is allowed to call in and have a go
The devil knows people
The devil understands that we are all subject to different vulnerabilities
And, should anyone suggest to you that the devil is not real; that bad stuff happens, but it’s nothing to do with the devil. Do not listen. The devil’s wiles are cunning – and the way that society now denies his very existence plays directly into that game. If people do not believe in the devil, then they cannot be on their guard.

The devil visited Jesus at his most vulnerable
He was hungry and exhausted, he was weakened and defenceless... or so the devil thought!

The devil knew that Jesus was weakened and assumed that meant he could tempt him
The devil also knew how to communicate, what weapons to use
So he used scripture
The devil knew, knows scripture through and through
So using verses to show Jesus how he could bring relief seemed to him to be the best way in!

But the devil deal with the present; with the immediate, never really understanding the bigger picture
The tools that Jesus used against the devil, to resist temptation, were the same tools used against him
And, those same tools are available to us!
The Word is our arsenal
The Word, who lived and worked and taught and showed us the way; also showed us the best defence we have.
When the devil uses scripture to justify his arguments, Jesus comes right back at him!
And of course, Jesus could easily have turned the stones to bread; he could have thrown himself off the pinnacle... he could have done any of those things
But he didn’t. Because he simply did not want to, he felt no desire to do these things – it was not in his nature  - the devil did not understand this; but it was not until the third temptation that Jesus sent him on his way.
It was the final straw!
The audacity!
Bow down and worship me! Ha!
He had overstepped the mark
And Jesus banished him!
And that was that
It was over
He had been tested, and come through the other side
No blame attached
No buck passed.
Jesus faced evil, resisted and came through the other side
And that gives us hope

Every time we make our decisions we are making a choice. Good or bad, it is our choice. And if, the choosing makes you feel bad, well listen to your own heart!
And if the feeling bad leads to trying to apportion blame elsewhere...
Be honest!
We are simply refusing to own the consequences of our own actions – the buck has to stop somewhere..
“It wasnae me!”
“The De’il made me do it!”

No, not for us.
We can turn around, because Jesus showed us how

We need to be honest with ourselves; acknowledge our temptations, and praying to Jesus for strength, resist them, remembering all the way through, we are not the first, we will not be the last, and that because of Jesus, because of what he did, we have hope. 

Oasis in the Judean Wilderness (JMW 2008)

Friday, 7 March 2014

Friday Five (Lent #3)

Part of my Lent discipline this year is to try to write something every day... it doesn't need to be deep and meaningful every day... just writing!
so, with that in mind, this week's Friday Five tickled my fancy.
I am not a huge movie goer; in fact, the last time I was in a cinema is more than three years ago... so answering five questions about films is a challenge! 
We do however watch DVDs from time to time... here are the questions, and my answers:

1) Is there a film that so captured your imagination that you couldn’t stop thinking about it? In what way(s) did it affect you?
 I can still remember watching "A Beautiful Mind" at the cinema; I had not fully understood what it was about; and the realisation in the middle of the film, that these friends were in his mind just rocked me to the core. I have always been mindful of mental health issues, it has been a constant part of our family life to one extent or another for many years. But watching this, and the stark reality of what treatments were available, and the stigma carried was so beautifully portrayed. And the moment, at the end of the film when John Nash is sitting in the campus canteen, and everyone gives him their pen (a sign of great respect) moves me to tears still, just thinking about it.
 2) What religious/spiritual film has touched you? This could be something overtly thematic, like The Last Temptation of Christ, or something more subtle, like Enchanted April.
 Hmm... if you do not know Enchanted April - watch it!! Stunningly beautiful film. However, for me a recent film about spiritual discovery that I liked (not sure I loved it) was Eat, Pray, Love. Another, older one would be Babette's Feast - so lovely, that was a story of deep, spiritual love at its most essential. And another... (heck, these all include food!) is Chocolat! Loved that... though I think I loved the book more.
 3) When the going gets tough, is there a film you turn to for distraction and/or to help shift your mood?
Ahh... see this is my guilty secret! I love a chick flick! And I have loads of them, do I want to laugh, or do I need to cry? Am I mad? Or am I frustrated? Clueless; Wimbledon; 27 Dresses; 2 Weeks Notice; Truly Madly Deeply; the list goes on here is a photo of my shelf in the DVD cupboard! 

 4) What is your all-time favorite movie?
This is a hard one. The film I watch over and over is St Elmo's Fire - a real rite of passage film from the 80s; another one I have watched a lot is "Truly Madly Deeply" all about grief and recovery. They are not classic favourites I suppose, but they each have a particular pull for me. 
 5) If you were to choose a film for viewing and discussion with your congregation, what would you choose?
Depending what we were exploring; Shadowlands is great for all sorts of aspects of faith, and love and loss. Meet Joe Black is really interesting if you were thinking about how evil permeates life. I cannot actually imagine doing this - so choosing a film for discussion is really testing me! 

Well, this was fun! 
Maybe I know more films than I thought! Although, most of those are not recent... so maybe I don't!  

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Midweek Musing

This week's musing is written by Tom Burnham; it is a fiction, a creation of his imagination, inspired when we travelled into the Judean Wilderness in October 2012. It gives us an insight into Jesus' wilderness experiences... 

by Tom Burnham

I’m in a cave, high above Jericho. My legs ache, my feet are cut to pieces, but at last I’m free.
The twenty years of cosseting are well behind me now. At first my chosen route was like a vision of gehenna: the stones piercing my sandals, my soft feet bleeding, the sun beating down; the bandits leaving me for dead; the lack of water on the way, and the musty taste of leather in what was left in my backpack. For several thirsty days I saw celestial visions in the distance, but I could never reach them. My bread was finished, and where there’s no grass there are no locusts, so I starved. I’m a patrician, with no skills but strutting.
As my near-blind eyes began to make sense of my surroundings I established an instinct for faint tracks in the stone and sand; and on my fourteenth day of hell I stumbled into this cave, where I slept for twenty-four hours.
There’s no chance of a bite to eat; but there’s a water-drip which fills my bottle in a day, so I’ll survive. I’m alone, and at last I can consider what life should be.
Not what I left behind: a large house, rich parents growing ever richer, the cellar  where the captives were starved to teach them humility. Starvation certainly does that to a man, I can vouch for it.
I try to dream of the future, but the pages are blank. I have no trade; I have no family; I know nothing. I am one of the flies that have followed me into this cave.

But I’m a patrician: so I must be the lord of these flies.


I’m woken by a scrabbling noise outside the cave. I take my stick and stand next to the entrance. A man staggers in and sees me. I lift the stick as though to strike him. He looks at me and I turn to liquid, flowing into those large brown eyes until I have no substance. I drop my stick, and he smiles.

“Ye had me a wee bit worrit there, ye ken.”

A damn northerner, that’s really made my day. He’s still panting from the climb and, like me, torn to bits.
He’s looking at my garment, still very fine despite its rips and stains.
“Ye’ll be frae Jerusalem, then?” he says.
“And you’re from up north,” I reply.

“Ay, frae Nazareth, ye ken. Ma name’s Jesus.”

I can think of nothing to say, so reluctantly decide to share my water bottle. I limp to the rear of the cave and fetch it. Wordlessly those deep friendly eyes thank me. I would have emptied it in a oner: he takes two sips and gives it back. He can see that this unsettles me.
“And wha’ do ye call yersel’, auld freend?”

“Nothing,” I tell him. “I’m just the lord of the flies.”
His eyes pierce me again. “Weill, Laird Fly, it’s guid to meet ye in these barren pairts. Sit yersel’ doon an’ tell me why ye’re here.”

I sit on the cave floor with my back to the wall, and he squats comfortably in front of me. What is it about this darned northerner? Why am I about to tell him my life story?
“I just had to get away,” I blurt. “It was stifling, superficial, empty.”

He nods. He seems to know what I’m going to say next.
“We had a large house, a loving mother, brothers and sisters to play with. But of course bar mitzvah came along: my father was an important man, and from then on I was expected to emulate him. Fancy clothes, the special strut for walking to the Temple. There was a dungeon beneath the house – it was my job to abuse the prisoners. I met a girl: but her father was a Pharisee, and I was gated. So what with the strutting, the priestliness, and the gating, I climbed over the wall and claimed my freedom.”

“An’ aifter a hellish journey ye foond this cave, like.”

“That’s about it, yes.”

“And ye met me, like.”
I’m getting confused. “Yes, about ten minutes ago.”
“Ye ken, them Sadducees will pit me in that dungeon, and then kill me.”
I’m horror-struck. “They’re going to kill you? Why?”
He lifts me to my feet, leads me to the cave entrance, and points. “Wha’ can ye see?”
“Just the river. The place where a long-haired weirdo makes people jump into the water.”

“That lang-haired weirdo’s ma coozen.”

“Your cousin? Sorry, Jesus, I didn’t mean to ...”
“He made me lowp into the waiter too. An’ ye ken wha’ happent naist?”
I shake my head.

“Ma bodie stayed in the waiter, like, but the raist o’ me flew into the air like a doo, an’ a voice comes oot o’ the blue and says I’m its son, like. It was gey scary.”
This northerner has gone mad. I take him by the arm and lead him to where we sat before. But this time I lower him to the floor with his back to the wall and then sit myself ten feet away.

“So you were baptised and heard a voice from heaven. And then you decided to take a gentle stroll up this mountain.”
He smiles and nods. I need to humour him.
“And you tell me that my father’s colleagues are going to kill you.”

“Ay, in aboot thray year. It is writ.”

I’m getting more and more worried.
“Jesus, would you like some more water?” He shakes his head. “You’re not having hallucinations? This sun can do things to people.”

His face grins at me, but the eyes aren’t grinning, they’re boring into me.
“That voice I tellt ye aboot. It was my faither.”

He really has flipped. “Your father’s up in the sky?”
He nods.

“Well, Jesus, old chap, I really don’t know what to say.”

“Close yer eyes, Laird Fly. Noo then, imagine yersel’ in yer mammy’s womb.”
I close my eyes and do my best.

“Tell us wha’ you feel.”

“It’s warm and comfortable. I can hear her singing, and breathing, and I can hear her blood flowing. I feel safe.”
I’m telling him the truth. I feel a lot safer in that vision than I do in this cave with a rambling maniac. On the other hand he does seem harmless, and those eyes aren’t the eyes of a madman.

“Ay, ye’re richt. Ye gat it in yen go.”

What was that all about, I ask myself. “I believe you, Jesus. Let’s go for a walk.”
I lead him out of the cave and point to the scree tumbling down the mountainside.
“We need to eat,” I say. “If you’re truly the son of God, tell these stones to turn into bread.”
He looks at me angrily. “It says i’ the buik, ‘man shallnae leeve on breid alane, but on every wurd at comes furth o’ God’s mooth.’”

Neither of us has eaten for days, and yet he refuses to use the powers he claims. He’s clearly having me on; yet he speaks with conviction.
“I’ll nae be eatin’ breid for many days yet. Ye dinnae gettit, dae ye, laddie?”

Now the crazy Jesus is in the lead, and I follow him upwards around the mountainside until we come to a large flat ledge. He lies down in the shade and I do the same.
“Ye enjoyed the picture o’ yer mammy’s womb,” he says unexpectedly. “Me too. As I climbed up frae the river, I felt the same thing, like. Only it was ma faither, nae ma mammy. I was inside him, like. And I was him, and he was me. And fair outwith the airth, beyond space n’ time, I saw the future. I saw a’ as it is written: yer faither’s freends condemning me, the Romans nailing me tae a cross; and the Temple being destroyed.”

He is speaking softly, compellingly, not for effect. He has mentioned the Temple, and that takes me to the expanse of rock we’re sitting on.
“Jesus: imagine we’re now sitting on the Temple Rock.” He glares at me, but there’s no going back. “If you’re truly the son of God, throw yourself over the edge. The book says the angels will come and save you.”
He really is angry now. “Ay, and the buik also says, ‘Ye shallnae pit the Lord thy God tae the pruif.’”

I can’t argue with that, and relapse into silence. But within seconds the man is away again, striding upwards despite his bleeding feet,  and mine for that matter. Within minutes, or so it seems, we have risen the last five hundred metres to the rocky summit.

I’ve got enough courage for one more try, and I point to everything we can see before us: Jericho and the river, the Sea of Salt, the smoke from the fires of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives.
“All this could be yours, Jesus, and the nations beyond. Use your divine power to take it, and become king of the world.”

He looks at me pityingly, no longer angry. “Awa’ wi’ ye, Laird Fly. Ma kingdom is the kingdom ‘o heiven. It says i’ the buik, ‘Ye shall wurship the Lord yer God, an him alane shall ye sairve.’”

And then ... he’s gone. Poof. As though I’ve been talking to a demented pigeon, and it’s had enough of me. It’s taken me almost three weeks to get here: but the man’s already far in the distance, half way along the parched ridge heading south.
My mind is made up. I’ve gone mad in the wilderness, and must return home for treatment.


I receive a warm welcome, accept the hand of a Sadducee’s daughter, and join the training school for the High Priesthood. I never mention my encounter with the mysterious vagrant who says he has a father in heaven; and gradually he fades from my mind.
A couple of years later there’s some excitement about a rabble-rouser from Nazareth who claims to be the son of God and gets himself crucified; but I’m embarked on my apprenticeship in the Temple, and hardly have time to think about the coincidence.
But not long afterwards the memory of that bizarre encounter is jogged again. At the time I’m a member of Saul’s security committee, rounding up the dissidents who claim to follow a Nazarene risen from the dead. And then -- just as we’re winning -- Saul has an epileptic fit, claims to have met the dead Jesus, and converts to the other side. Damn Pharisees: they’ll believe any yarn with an after-life in it.

After that I resume the normal life of a man of the Temple. Whenever I’m asked, I cast my vote against those who claim to be in contact with the dead Jesus. Of course I do: they predict the destruction of the Temple, so the welfare of Jerusalem is at stake.

Some years later I travel to Caesarea to put a stop once and for all to the pernicious teachings of those who are now called Christians. As I gather evidence I listen to a speech by Saul himself. He’s preaching in the synagogue and I’m astonished ... every word he says echoes the madman on the mountain. I gape, and Saul grins at me across the crowd. I realise at last, miserable wee Fly that I am: I once met the man Jesus, and he was kind to me.


Another twenty years have passed. The Temple has fallen, I’m unemployed, and I’m back in Caesarea standing on a heap of rubble that used to be the synagogue.

I’ve been listening to an old man called Lucus as he teaches the crowd a prayer that Jesus left behind ... ‘our father in heaven’, it begins. Uncanny. I hear again the voice of the madman in the cave.
Lucus is collecting anecdotes about Jesus of Nazareth. I still can’t believe the resurrection stuff: but there was certainly more to Jesus than met the eye, so I’ve handed this memoir to Lucus in case it’s useful for his book.  

He’s due to speak again tomorrow. I’ll be there.

Looking across the wilderness to the Dead Sea. photo taken by Julie Woods