Tag Archives: God

#11~ For Sowing

SowingTalking about money is awkward at the best of times. But I like being awkward, and this certainly isn’t the worst of times. So here goes.

Coming to University my finances weren’t great. Like many, my family faced the middle class squeeze. When you have three children all in the same year at elite institutions and Student Finance only reads what’s on the paper and doesn’t take account of whats in your actual pocket, sometimes you fare worse than those termed the ‘poorest’. But I have been very privileged to attend a college that is proficient if not exceptional in financial support. The only problem however, is timing. By my second week of University I had run out of money. My loan didn’t cover my room bill let alone food and though I knew that grants were hopefully coming, they weren’t coming any time soon. In real time my savings were wiped with 32p being all that I owned in the entire world. Seriously. I’m not kidding, it looked as mournful to me on the screen as it does to you reading.

I was open and honest about my financial situ with my mother who kept reminding me (sometimes very forcefully) that if needs be she could make it work, she would make it work. But that’s a parents job. To put their children before them. However, I think when you’re a child of the economic crunch you start to learn how to add pretty fast, and you know that even as they scrimp and save here and there, a massive deficit is looming – and as you get older your parents become less capable of hiding it from you. Unlike the Bogeyman, debt, poverty and financial limitations really do exist, and they don’t hide in the shadows. So I refused. I told her i’d hold out. I had enough in my fridge, I had all my essentials, i didn’t need money per se, what I needed was some kind of financial security, but seeing as I wasn’t going to get evicted anytime soon, we could wait.  When she came up by my third week of Uni to watch my play, my mother brought a box of instant noodles and some homemade food. I shelved and froze it all, and as the days went by salvaged a limited variety of meals from that hamper. There’s a lot you can do with instant noodles if you have to.

I wasn’t the only person struggling in my house. One of my closest friends was in a similar situation, and so together we worked to make ends meet. Last year when she was in particular difficulty I had the means to support her. It was ironic this time round, 4 weeks into term when she returned the favour. How quickly positions and situations are flipped around. But I was extremely, extremely grateful. However, 2 weeks ago, bar about 12 packets of noodles, I ran out of food. Nothing, unless you count half a dried leek, 3/4 of scotch bonnet pepper, and 1/4 of butter. Realising that All Purpose Seasoning, Salt, Pepper, Basil, Oregano and Dried Chilli Pepper don’t constitute a meal, hunger loomed expectantly before me. Said friend and I had taken to eating dried granola at night as I boiled yet another pot of hot water for instant noodles. We hadn’t had breakfast for about a month. I’d taken to going to Chapel on Sunday mornings not just because it was a great space to worship in, but, and I won’t lie, because of the more or less free english breakfast served afterwards. That meal would also make up for lunch, while extras were packed into a container for later and then we’d be back on the noodles in the evening.

I have a PhD student living in my house from India. His name is Rajesh and i’ll write about him at a later period, but for now, just know that he is an official legend. After seeing me eating yet another packet of instant noodles (thus depleting my limited stock, which at this point only consisted of 2 flavours – Chicken and Stir Fry), he took to feeding me the fresh vegetarian curries he made every day. In an 8 week term Rajesh has fed me 6 times. Every time I tell him that before the year is up i’ll cook him some real Nigerian food. He aways replies – I don’t need your food, I just want to make sure you’re eating well. He reminds me of a father figure, except he’s too young and too funny. So maybe an older brother. He cooks really well, and luckily he’s always let me have seconds.

Considering the 32p in the bank account wasn’t accumulating any interest and there’s only so many noodles any one person can eat in any given week, I had, I admit, also taken to common thievery at my church. Every Tuesday before student group they have a Student Dinner, with a required £3 donation. There were a number of weeks when I turned up and ate without paying. I also took left overs. That made up dinner and a good 4 subsequent meals for the coming week between myself and my housemate, carefully rationed but eaten with gusto (and sometimes more salt than necessary). I will pay my church back the difference.

It’s not so much that I was walking around hungry. Luckily I don’t get that hungry. And it’s not so much that I was in dire, dire, straits. I had chosen to refuse my mums offer of money, not because I wanted to be a martyr, but because I wanted to exhaust all possible avenues. I figured, once I literally had nothing – had finished all the noodles and had gotten round to eating the frozen container of egusi soup – then I’d reach out for help. Because to be honest, food is food. Sure lack of variety isn’t great, but I wasn’t starving. Some people have it much worse.

But it was still a pretty shitty experience. I’d been in a similar situation in my first year and had managed to write a funny (in my opinion) post about it (read it here). But this time round Sainsbury’s basics wasn’t even on the cards. Just a lot of water…and noodles (i’m going to start a thread called Broke Friday with ingenious recipes for times like these).

I say all this because last year, and for all my previous years at Uni, I was known as Miss Hospitality. I cooked meals for my friends, if people were in a bad way, they new my room always had a fresh supply of tea, probably even some form of home made vegetable soup (and even homemade bread if you were lucky). My mother’s love language is service, so all of us know how to be excellent hosts. So, I think I sowed a lot of seeds, fed a lot of people, definitely made a lot of herbal tea.

And this time round, during these past 6 weeks when I couldn’t even afford to buy asthma pumps and discovered that the placebo effect is a real thing because if you press your empty inhaler and inhale normal air, somehow, your lungs wish themselves to relax – and they do (mind over matter) – but this time round, I had the privilege to reap.

None of my friends, bar my housemate, knew about my situation. There was no reason for them to know, I was too busy writing essays and doing my thang to even think about it till I got home. I’m only writing about it now because the situation has been rectified, and I can now look back and see that I was blessed. Because over these past 8 weeks, for random reasons, friends have, out of the blue, offered to take me to lunch. Or bought me apples, oranges, lemons. Made rice, stew and chicken and just because, have handed it to me in the library (you know us Nigerians at Uni, we gotta stick together when it comes to home cooking). Little, Random, Acts of Important Kindness. ‘Cause those random meals weren’t just feeding me, they were feeding my friend too. And they all tasted so good. They kept us going.

There’s a saying in the Bible which is applicable to all life – you reap what you sow. Most people relate it to good and bad deeds, and I guess that’s the general gist. But I think it’s even more than that. I believe in a God who provides, I really do, and I have seen God provide for me in fantastic ways, and often in financial ways too. Some might be skeptical, but i’m not preaching a prosperity gospel here. I’m talking about a God who doesn’t turn his back on those in need. See when I had much, or at least enough because grants had come through on time, having been raised to share I shared. And there were times i’ll admit last year when I was like – all my friends do is take, take, take. They come, they eat, they don’t wash up, they leave. Sometimes I got tired of doing the right thing, of being aware that said neighbour needed food, or had had an awful essay week and maybe some hot choc would pick them up. And now here I am, a year later, being the one that can’t feed herself sufficiently. But I had the privilege to reap, to receive. See, I don’t think God (and for those of you that don’t believe in God, let’s call it Universal Kindness,or Goodness whatever suits your fancy), I don’t think God always provides by dropping a cash sum at your doorstep. But I do believe that God provides through the little acts of kindness. Through people buying you tea, or buying you apples, or bringing you left over food. I believe God, through friends, strangers and neighbours has sustained me over these past 2 months when I was in need. And it’s really humbling.

Obviously I interpret these things from a place of faith. For those that don’t have faith, I do hope however you can recognise similar instances when you’ve been helped at a time of need – maybe you put it down to Human Goodness. The thing is, however you see/interpret/understand it, it’s important to pay it forwards.

Tonight I shared this, somewhat embarrassing experience (because money is always embarrassing) with members of my student group. It was weird being that vulnerable. But after the service a guy by the name of Dave came up to me and said – this is for sowing – handing me an envelope.

This is for Sowing. 

We always have something that we can give and we can share – even a packet of noodles can go far between friends. This morning,  my friend and I ate our first breakfast at home for the first time in a month – cereal and bananas never tasted so good. I also went on a “massive” (as in, in comparison to the nothing I had before, boy!) grocery spree and my shelf is now flooded with vegetables – you don’t know how much you miss greens till they’re gone! But, saying all that, now I have food in my fridge I will make Rajesh a Nigerian dinner. I will pay back my church for the ‘stolen’ meals. I will keep sharing my food with my housemate. I will keep my eyes open and my heart ready for others who are in need. And sometimes it doesn’t have to be overt, you don’t need to put your name on the envelope so people feel ‘indebted’. You can sow quietly. You, the receiver and God know – that’s enough.

So Dave, thank you – it will go to sowing. To everyone else who has helped me in the little ways, my family, my friends and the strangers – I look forward to the day when I’ve helped pay it so far forwards it makes you smile when it comes back round again.

For those that know me in real life – i’m OK. Don’t feel obliged to now overwhelm my doorstep or pidgeon hole with goods. Honestly. There’s someone you sit next to everyday in the library who needs it way more. There’s someone on your corridor or in your lecture hall who would love you to take them to dinner, because they’re really hungry and can’t face another bowl of cereal without milk (that’s if they even have any more cereal). So sow into them. Pay any goodness you’ve experienced this term to them. And #payitforwards with gusto, that’s the only way you grow big trees.

This is for sowing. Life is for sowing. And quiet joy is found in an unexpected reaping.

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#320 ~ Abimaro & The Free


ABZ2

Very rarely does one hear a piece of music that isn’t just a beautiful concoction of perfectly placed chords, mellifluous vocals with just enough air to make the notes sigh through your speakers, and a subtle but groovy bass line to make you smile, that, on top of all that, also has exquisitely worded and humorously constructed lyrics as Abimaro & the Free. Using conceits such as tea making, in the refreshingly honest and sincerely poignant track Ginger Tea, the three-piece band manage to take the Christian faith and present it in an accessible and stripped down recounting of the heart. The mundane is the simple basis of their lyrics. Tear drenched eyes are described as being like earl grey tea, the process of being refined and purified synonymous to frying lemon till it’s just the right gold to add a zesty flavour to the ultimate brewing of the human spirit. Abimaro & the Free have a solemnity in their compilation of four tracks, Books, which echoes within one’s heart long after the haunting trill of Matthew’s ‘Jerusalem’ hook has faded. The temptations of life are uncompromisingly placed as idols which decorate our rooms reflecting our faces, a reality which most of us can attest to, but can’t quite express. Words don’t quite capture the essence of their music which deserves to be aired on the air waves, or played in cafe’s. There is an intimacy in their music which the pop charts have reduced to sexual antics, and which religious music hasn’t quite been able to express. Instead of lifting lines from the Word, Abimaro & the Free have delicately reinterpreted and represented the Word as a living, breathing and evocative presence in the lives of very real, very normal humans and how they relate to the mystery of God in today’s world. Whether you believe in a benign creator, or just want to hear something fresh, humorous and which makes the grey tinge of the world, if only for a second, flicker into Technicolor, listen to Abimaro & the Free (check out the video below and follow the link to band camp for a free download of their album Books) and remind yourself that honesty and vulnerability can be beautifully captured in today’s music, and wait for the echo of the music speaking back to you.

Abimaro and the Free: Website

//abimaroandthefree.bandcamp.com/:

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#311 ~ Psalm Series. No.15

He came to me in a dream,

The twine was woven tightly, tautly, he laced it round my body

pressing into my skin, chaffing my soul

but I managed to keep my mouth free

And therefore my mind

and I remembered to state

If my God is for me, then who could be against me?

Who could? Who could? WHO COULD?!

And the twine melted into satin strips, falling to the floor

falling from me

as I rose to praise.

Psalm 119 vs 61 -62: Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law. At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules. 

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#309 ~ One Hundred Words and a Photo: 29

picture29On her knees she crawled slowly towards the bloodied altar. Covered in plush velvet, the drapes hanging like lazy fingers over a steaming bath, they mocked her, the twisted gold threads frayed and singed at the end, the debauchery of its wealth.

She knelt before it, head raised, mouth slightly open, palms splayed upwards asking, begging. Which God did she worship? She could hardly remember as the sound of leather cracking through the air stroked her shoulder. Was this tenderness? The crass neon lights glimmered, laughing, an ugly harsh laugh in the depths of darkness. Which God did she worship?

Copyright: Victoria. O

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#198 ~ Worship in Wormwood Scrubs

I need redemption for my soul. 

It is not that when man has lost all else, he finds God. It is when his ‘world’ is stripped away and the fragility of Life is exposed in such brutality that he realises he needs God. Needs comfort, needs Love and in his weakness needs strength. He needs Hope and a Future. And not just for himself. The men in Wormwood Scrubs prison, incarcerated, shackled, confined to their cells and the mundanity of the bleak brick walls and razor barbed wire trimmings that top their concrete jungle, created by former convicts in 1875, didn’t just pray for themselves. It was for the hope for their families. Their wives and kids.

Within the bleakness of condemnation, the promise of redemption can be found not in looking outwards, but inwards. Into that secret place within their hearts, where God won’t relent until he has everything, has their lives and shows them how he can change, shape, remould them.

The quote that begins this post was the first thing an inmate asked my colleague when we went into the prison this sunday to help run a church service. Talk about a call to prayer. Reeling from the request, my friend set to work. Asking for redemption for the inmates soul, because the prisoner, speaking frankly, every possible facade that the outside world delivers as Christmas present having been ripped and gouged off his face, for forgiveness for his guilt.

I am guilty. If guilt were a perfume I’d reek of it. Not necessarily the guilt of outright murder. But the guilt of coveting other people’s looks/talents/lives/houses/husbands/boobs/smiles/grades – I’m sure you’ve desired your neighbours ass/hairline/job at some point. But I never asked, even in jest, for redemption for my soul because I’m living in guilt. I’m not aware of the pong that covers me in an odorous display of vain glory.  I don’t believe it’s there.

I live, incarcerated in my four by four brick walls, trimmed off by the Sky satellite dish and poor guttering. Cyber fetters devour my flesh, varieties of plastic compounds clothe my skin like translucent straight jackets giving me the appearance of movement.

These men were crying out for a taste of the outside. But not the outside world we inhabit. The Outside, that is outside of man-made creation, and inside the divine Creation, the pure form, where there is hope and a future of more. More than these chains and brick walls, whatever material they are made from.

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#190 ~ Killed It

Why do we cling to life so much? What makes this flesh, riddled with veins and arteries, filled out and given a shape by bones, hemmed into the seems like a tailored bodice, so precious? Why do the follicles of hair that sprout from our skin give us so much pride and anxiety? Why do the nails, trimmed with white, define our health and beauty?

We can watch people being slaughtered aimlessly or die victoriously. Some nights I used to dream about being killed, others about killing – what it would feel like to take someone’s life – how hard or easy it could be. What stops people, what enables them to continue? How far must one go before they are desensitized? Is it possible, that the regime Jason Bourne underwent could so effectively erode the indescribable ‘thing’ that gives us our humanity, that one wouldn’t think twice about shoving ballpoint pens into veins, twisting that neck a degree too far, smothering, with the scarf that was an unwanted birthday present, a mouth, that was once attached to a face that had been loved, admired, noticed – at least.

What possesses us to want to learn how to fight? When we no longer live in a hunter-gather society, when the threat of predators can be thwarted by the CCTV cameras that roam over our bodies, lecherous eyes that are accountable to no-one, except the elusive pursuit of ‘justice’, why should we fear? I used to dream about being a marine, a soldier, part of the cavalry, an expert sword fighter. Xena and her cheese wire frisbee were no match for me; neither was Hercules. John Wayne and his pistols, Indiana and his whip, my fingers had tasted the cuisine of salty blood, cracked jaw and solar plexus thrust. And yet I wondered why? Why teach your son or daughter how to shoot that Glock, that shotgun, the AK47. What for? Just-in-case, she said. You never know – he whispered. Safety-first – we cried.

Yet we live in a shoot first never ask society. We ask our soldiers to shoot first and trust. Trust in what? A God who calls for a cease to bloodshed? In fallible man who is a slave to his wallet or penis? The deranged mother screaming for revenge, so her son’s life was not taken in vain?

Yet every vein that carries blood through this carcass does so in vain. For this is neither the end nor the beginning. Whether by the lead bullet or the slow decay of time, Aragorn will die. The splendour and the glory of Kings will pass into the shadows of history, and we will say to ourselves –

Once upon a time – there was beauty, there was freedom, there was life.

But we killed it.

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#177 ~ Israel

Israel,

This soil upon which you stand

Is greater, stronger, than the dust particles

that hang over your bomb blasted skies

marring the arid land

the Arabs once had.

Israel,

This soil upon which you stand,

is older, richer, than the gouged history

of a war, fought in remembrance

over a promise from a God who has ceased to exist

as Governor of this world.

Why is Adonai relevant when it comes to boundary lines

and reparation rights

But silent in the bullet riddled nights

that cloak the massacres of innocents

housed to the left and right of that elusive green line?

Israel,

a fabricated promise

balancing precariously

on a dual nationality

O Israel

My Israel

A land that has ceased to exist.

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