Sunday, 23 September 2012


I haven’t been here for a few days, because I’ve been writing writing writing.

I had to finish off this book, which will be published next March.

It’s a book that a person could work with on their own at home, just for their own forays into the Bible, their thinking and questioning; but mostly it’s written for small groups.

I’ve led a variety of small groups from time to time, and always wished a book like this had been available, so I thought it was time to write one.  In leading a group (I don’t even much care for the term ‘leading’ really) I’ve never felt inclined to be too directive.  I always felt the group should be a place for the insights and wisdom of its members, and for the comfort and encouragement of sharing and affirming.  And for praying and singing and ministry and drinking coffee and laughter and friendship.

The Bible study materials I managed to find always had too much in.  What I wanted was a theme, a Bible passage, a short commentary on the theme to get us thinking, and some searching, open questions to help start the discussion.  And nothing else.  No complicated timed exercises or directives starting with “Now get the group to . . .” and interrupted by “call a halt to this after five minutes.”    There were always instructions like “Each person in the pair should report back to the full group on their partner’s story”; and this never worked because either the pair had spent ages listening to one story and run out of time for the second or else they didn’t want to tell the other person’s story – they wanted to tell their own.

Oh, I have been a hopeless study group leader.  But we drank a lot of coffee and had a lot of fun, and now I’ve written my own book.  You can’t ‘Look Inside’ on Amazon yet because I’ve only just sent in the manuscript.  But if you lead a study group and think the book looks interesting, and you’d like to test-drive a sample, let me know and I’ll send you a few to have a go with – and then you can let me know how it went.  There are sections on Bible characters, the life and ministry of Jesus, the dominant themes of each of the four Gospels, the Christian character, the liturgical year, and insights from the Law and the Prophets.  The main approach is not on filling our heads with data or telling us what to think, but encouraging us to find links between our own lives and the stories of the Bible – discovering that this Book has our story in it.

So, look out for it next spring – I’ll remind you nearer the time – and I hope you enjoy it.  And I’ve just rushed panting from finishing that to starting on a Lent book of Bible studies / devotions, which I have to have well underway this autumn.

But that was just explaining where I’ve been – what I really wanted to say was something else, about lines.

You would think, from perusing media articles on ageing, that the really Big Deal about growing old is getting wrinkles. 

When I was a young teenager, helping my mother take Meals-on-Wheels to frail elderly people in our village, we used to take a meal to Mrs Alsford.  She was old and fat with rheumatism and wild white hair stained tobacco yellow all round the front from smoking.  She was deaf from bomb blasts during the war; a Cockney who had somehow ended up in a small estate of bungalows for old people in our little corner of rural Hertfordshire.  And Mrs Alsford used to say to my mother, and her voice was sad, “Don’t grow old, duck – don’t grow old.”

I don’t think it was the lines on her face she had in mind.

I’ve nursed a woman with cancer erupting from so many places on her abdomen it was hard to find a patch of skin to stick the dressings, a woman with necrotic pressure sores infected by perpetually oozing diahorrea who screamed every time we entered the room (yes, don’t ask, I’ve worked in some grim places), a man gone deaf and blind with gangrene starting in his toes who sat motionless all day in his chair, a woman who sat crying pitifully for her mummy, and another one who occupied the small hours of the night smearing shit around the walls and the carpet and putting her coat on over her nightie and under her dress before escaping from her room to ride up and down in the elevator.   Wrinkles are not the worst thing that can happen to a person. 

I see many lines in my face reflected in the bathroom mirror first thing in the morning.  But they are lines of poetry – Leonard Cohen meets Emily Dickinson meets Sylvia Plath or something.  Life has been writing poetry on my face, and when I read it I am surprised by its kaleidoscopic observations.

The lines life has written on my face sound something like this

and it scares and haunts and delights me.

How strange life is.  I never would have believed.  But I tell you what – with all that I have seen and gone through, and even with all that may lie ahead – I am glad I got to come here and be part of this.  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

365 366 Day 267 – Sunday September 23rd

Er . . . right . . . I think this is a pillowcase.

365 366 Day 266 – Saturday September 22nd

Oh, this was a jolly nice long tunic-y t-shirt-y kind of think in a really pretty colour.  I got it dirt cheap on eBay and it fitted just right.  Only problem was, it didn’t suit me.

365 366 Day 265 – Friday September 21st

Aaagh!  A nylon slip!  Must have been a desperation purchase – you know how it is when your skirts crawl determinedly up your legs when you walk fast?

365 366 Day 264 – Thursday September 20th

Some books, obviously.

365 366 Day 263 – Wednesday September 19th

Oh dear – this was a back-scrubbing brush for the shower the Badger and I bought during our very happy holiday in Penzance visiting his unusual and interesting family.  It looked just like the Really Good one we have at home, but first use disclosed it to be in fact a Really Useless one, more of a back-stroking brush.  We put it on the fire.

365 366 Day 262 – Tuesday September 18th

This is a man’s perfume that I bought anyway because it smells lovely.  My perspicacious mama said if it’s a man’s perfume why don’t you give it to the Badger, you can still smell it then.  So I did.

365 366 Day 261 – Monday September 17th

Stuff for polishing brass.  But I don’t.  If I need to polish up my brass candlestick I sit out on the back step and scrub it with sand from the Wretched Wretch’s sandpit.  So this went to our Hebe who uses Brasso in the process of painting coffin plates.

365 366 Day 260 – Sunday September 16th

“What Does the Bible Really Teach?”  Came from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Certain difference of opinion here.  But I like how they call Jesus “the Faithful Witness”.  I think that’s beautiful.  They get that from the Bible too.  We do have some things in common.

365 366 Day 259 – Saturday September 15th

Sample pots of paint.

365 366 Day 258 – Friday September 14th

Yet another table lamp.


Amy Danielle said...

i'd love, love LOVE to see this book! at is so happens, we are planning to start up some home groups in our church, and i'd love some good ideas...

Slippyroad said...

This is probably the best cover of Leonard Cohen's :

There are "Christian" versions of this song,(this is a local version but I don't listen to them. The pain in this these lyrics and the desperation in the cry of "Hallelujah" speak to my heart more than a recounting of the Easter Story. It's hard for me to say why, but it is as if "the broken Hallelujah" is a more authentic cry for God.

This is another that speaks to me in the same way:
I hope no one rewrites these lyrics.

penny said...

Am I strange that I enjoy browsing your photos of things on their way out? I think it gives me permission to feel good about passing on things from my place too - no matter how small or insignificant they may be.

The Bible Study guide looks really interesting. I'll be keen to have a look at it when I can. I've been writing Bible studies lately too - mine will be for 10 - 12 year olds though and will be a bit more prescriptive than yours. I totally understand your desire to leave prescription out in favour of participation though! Did you enjoy working on the Bible Studies as a change of pace from novels etc?

Ember said...

Hi Amy - I'll send you the list of studies in the book so you can see which samples you'd like to try. My publisher suggested ten :0)

Slippyroad - "the holy and the broken Hallelujah", yes indeed. x

Penny - ooh no, I love looking at people's chucking out photos too - all the weird things the have in their homes! I would rather write fiction any day, but writing the Bible studies has been interesting - it made me notice (this always happens with the Bible) one or two things I'd never spotted before. And something I was really pleased with was managing to compress into a small commentary (these are quite minimal notes) exactly why the Ascension is so important - not a well-understood event!
My publisher will no doubt put up Look-Inside material for Amazon at some point, or meanwhile you can write to me for some samples if you wanted to have a go xx

Sharmayne said...

I will definately be on the look out for your new book. In Celebration of Simplicity sits on one of my bookshelves and is a favourite of mine :)

Ember said...

Hi Sharmayne - nice to meet you - glad you enjoyed the simplicity book.

I like your blog (I just looked at the Country Fragrance one so far)and was very impressed that the chicken fencing doesn't need to be any higher.


Daisyanon said...

Oooh Pen, that sounds just what we are looking for for our Methodist Chapel. I am sure we will be getting a couple of copies when it is out. I'd be really grateful for a sample so I can show the others involved.

I wish I looked that good first thing in the morning.

"Leonard Cohen meets Emily Dickinson meets Sylvia Plath" LOL!! Just how I feel.

Love the song, I hadn't heard it before. I am a big Leonard Cohen fan but I had to stop listening to him because it made me too depressed and I learnt that this is not good for me.

Ember said...

Heheh - me too Daisy, I have to watch it with Leonard Cohen - draws my soul out of my body and takes it somewhere it's hard to get back from.
I'll send you the list of titles to pick ten to sample. x

Alice Y. said...

New book sounds great. Would love to try out a sample or two on my house group, please would you send me a few? Willing to write reviews for publication.

Your face is beautiful. xx

Ember said...

Thanks, Alice - I've sent you the list of themes to look through - let me know which ten you'd like xxx

Nearly Martha said...

Agree with you about running a group. We used to do one with that "Beat the clock" kind of thing going on and I used to wonder what on earth anyone was getting out of it. Then I became ill and we decided to throw the old approach out of the window and ask people to prepare thoughts and prayers and give time for laughing and sharing.There then followed the most amaenlespozing times and the bonds that were formed then are still going strong for lots of us today.
Looking forward to the book. Am just on last chapter of "The Hardest Thing to do." I love these monks!! Not sure if that is a proper thing to say but there you are :)

Ember said...

Hi friend - I just loved your post about your brother.
So glad you are enjoying the stories x

Rebecca said...

Oh, my! There ARE poetry lines on your face - Hallelujah lines!

And please, if I may be so bold....I'd really love to have some advanced copies of your Bible study book. I DO lead one currently - a Bible study, I mean. I've been using questions that I hijack and edit from a website right now...chapter by chapter from the book of John. It actually is working quite well and we DO drink a lot of coffee and share lunch together afterward.

I'm glad you turned those book spines to the back. I'd probably be begging for those, too. I have a "thing" for books. I just can't resist 'em.

Ember said...

Hi Rebecca - I don't think I have an email address for you (apologies if I have and have forgotten). Could you send me another comment with your email address in - which I will not publish. Then I'll send you the list of Bible studies to choose ten from. x

Ember said...

Dear "Decided",
Thank you very much for the comment you sent me, that you marked "not for publication".
You asked a number of questions in it, but did not include an email address.
I'd be very pleased either to publish the comment here and respond to your questions and observations, or send you a private email if you send me your contact details. Either is fine with me.
This is just so you know I got your comment safely and am not simply ignoring you!
God bless you, and thanks for writing.

Katrina Green said...

I totally agree with what you said about study groups. I always thought the best discussions arose naturally out of the group if the group knew each other well enough. Well done. The book sounds inspiring.

(I'll get on and read the rest of what you've written now)

Julie B. said...

I love seeing lines in anyone's face. To me, they speak of laughter and concentration and sorrow and wisdom and work and so many other beautiful things. It always makes me a little sad and perplexed when women, especially, try to erase the evidence from their faces of having lived and laughed.

I think you look younger than your years, and I am very excited about your book! xxoo

revsandy said...

Yes please. Could you send me a study from your new book. Like you I prefer to lead a group with something to make us all think, rather than being told what to think! Many thanks, Sandy White.

Ember said...

Katrina :0D x

Julie - yes, I think lines are beautiful too.

Sandy - you will have to send me your contact details - post another comment with your email address in, which I will not publish, so I can contact you by email sending you the list of themes in the book for you to choose some studies.

Rapunzel said...

Indeed your lines are just right. My three best aunties (who were sisters) used to encourage all our gang of little girl cousins to smile every chance we could so that When we get Our Wrinkles they will Be In The Right Places!
You must have found lots of things to smile about so far.

Asta Lander said...

Congratulations on the book. Sounds really useful.
Your face - is open, and friendly, honest and warm. The face of a friend. A lovely face. Makes me realise why I don't like the idea of face-lifts. It steals something from a person.
Asta x

Ember said...

Rapunzel - I love that picture of your family! Well done, those aunties! Yes, the wrinklies in our family have lots of laughter lines :0)

Asta - I totally agree with you - the idea of face-lifts makes me feel quite weird, like having your memory or your story surgically removed.

Gerry Snape said...

I love the fact that you don't want to be directive...having had the good but very guided upbringing that I had ...I'm just tired of being directed and longing for that broken..."Hallelujah" as well....perhaps I'm just an Irish rebel at heart!!

Gerry Snape said...

oh ...and don't you love Paul Simons words in ..."slip sliding know the nearer your destination the more you're slip sliding away"....I feel it so a good way!!

Ember said...

Paul Simon . . . well, I think I love everything Paul Simon has ever written!
"Everything put together sooner or later falls apart"
"Losing love is like a window in your heart,/everybody sees you're blown apart,/everybody sees the wind blow..."
He is a consummate artist.

Buzzfloyd said...

A conversation, on seeing your morning photo:

Wretched Wretch: [laughs heartily] What's that?

Me: Yes, what is that? Or who is that?

WW: I don't know! What's that lady called?

[Long pause.]

WW: Oh, I know! [Chuckles.] It's Mumble! I looked at her and then I seen her.

Ember said...


Mumble! Without her hat! Hahahahaha!

BLD in MT said...

You have such a kind, sweet face!

And I am amazed by all the books you write! You've been given a gift, I think!

Ember said...

:0) x

Anonymous said...

I would love to preview your bible study with my like-minded friend when we have finished "The Road of Blessing." I have loved Leonard Cohen since the seventies,(although with that song Buckley's version is still my favorite) and I love that picture of you with the smilingly mischievous eyes!

Ember said...

Hi DMW - I'll send you a list of the themes by email, so you can pick the ones you'd like :0)

Julie Graff said...

A beautiful and broken hallelujah! What a novel way to describe our faces. I remember being in nursing school at the tender age of 51 and looking at the faces of my absolutely gorgeous young classmates...and thinking to myself "Bless their hearts. They haven't got their faces yet." I takes a lot of living to earn your real face at last.

Ember said...

"Haven't got their faces yet" :0)
I do know what you mean!

AbiSomeone said...

Ember ... I just got my pre-order notice from Amazon -- so I have pre-ordered it! Hurrah! It says the available date is June 5, 2013 ... I hope it comes earlier...

I would love to have some of these to try before then.... :-)

Blessings to you and your sweet face!

Ember said...

Hiya - sure - could you send another comment with your email address? I'm sure I have it somewhere, but am struggling to locate it - and though your facebook has an email address I'm not sure it's one you regularly use.
Once I have it, I'll send you the list of themes to choose from. xx

Ember said...

As the the publishing date, it will be available in March 2013 - it has to be because we want it out in time for Spring Harvest (Big Christian Conference here in the UK) in April. Possibly Amazon UK will have an earlier date? x

kat said...

Beautiful lines, beautiful song :-)

Ember said...

:0) x