Monthly Archives: June 2012

Flying to Paradise – Part 3

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To read Part 1 and 2 use the links on the right of the page.

She took the hand of her invisible best friend and they started running. Running and running until they flew, over the grey buildings, over the green hills and out to sea – over the splashing waves and the bubbling foam, over the seas, the many seas.

Just as she was getting tired she saw with excitement the banqueting table of God, set with a white table cloth and she knew they had arrived.

She wandered around this new paradise, every day walking hand in hand with her invisible best friend. He would whisper encouragement to her and introduce her to his special friends who lived in the paradise.

He introduced her to a family of animals, who welcomed her in. The father was a bear: bold and warm. The mother was a dancing meercat: creative, alert and curious, looking out for those around her.

It was a strange house. Other houses around had high walls and gates with big locks. This house had no walls around it, no gates, no locks, not even any doors. The wide doorways were always open and there were always many different animals and people coming in and out.

The girl went to live with the bear and the dancing meercat and was very happy. Gradually she became so at home in this paradise that she wanted to stay. Then she was suddenly aware that her feet had stopped itching.

TO BE CONTINUED>….

ALL IMAGES/ILLUSTRATIONS ARE COPYRIGHT HILARY MURDOCH 2012

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Flying to Paradise – Part 2

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Click to read Part One (with watercolour illustrations added since it was first posted).

A tall, silver-haired, wise man came to the cave. He listened to the girl and enquired about her itchy feet (which had made her late for work on a number of occasions). She told him, with tears, what she thought her invisible best friend was whispering. He gently recommended that she should listen to him and do what he said. The girl had wanted to wait until she knew where she was going before she left. But her invisible best friend didn’t seem to want to tell her that. The tall, silver-haired, wise man told her that although the adventure was a risk, the place she would go would be immeasurably more than anything she could imagine.

So she left. But her feet didn’t stop itching. She didn’t know where to go or what to do.

She had heard of a beautiful land with wide blue skies, in the meeting place of two huge oceans. Myth has it that this paradise has a huge mountain rising up in the shape of a table, and at that table a banquet is prepared and God meets for a meal with anyone brave enough to climb up to find him there.

She felt her invisible friend quietly but persistently tugging at her sleeve and he always seemed to be tugging in that direction.

She was desperate to step off the endless conveyor belt in the streets of the grey city. She longed for somewhere with a wide sky where her mind had space to think, her heart had space to feel and her soul had space to breathe.

So she packed up her ball dresses and placed them in the dusty attic. She packed a small bag, took the hand of her invisible best friend and they started running.

TO BE CONTINUED>….

ALL IMAGES/ILLUSTRATIONS ARE COPYRIGHT HILARY MURDOCH 2012

Flying to Paradise – Part 1

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Flying to Paradise – Part 1

Recently I went to a creative writing workshop and we were challenged to write about part of our life in the form of an adventure myth, using metaphor and symbolism and allowing strange things to happen without holding too tightly to the facts. So here’s what I wrote and my illustrations to go with it. Here’s part 1…

A grandmother perched on the edge of the bed to tell her two grand daughters a story. They were tucked up and warm and pleaded with her to tell the story of flying to paradise, even though they’d heard it before, a thousand times.

So she began…

There once was a girl who lived in a very busy, grey city. It had tall buildings, a small sky and not much light but she’d lived there for a long time and had got used to it. She had many friends and knew many people and sometimes dressed up like a princess and went to balls, to be spun around the dance floor by the handsome princes, none of whom asked for her hand, even for a walk let alone for marriage.

The streets between the buildings were conveyor belts, moving very fast, taking her to work, to see people, to church, to parties and past the treasure stores which had magical powers to make you desire more treasures.

The girl had an invisible best friend, who was in fact more real than she was.

They went everywhere together, hand in hand. She trusted him with her life. Her invisible best friend liked to walk slowly and so sometimes, when she stepped onto the conveyor belt and got whisked away to ‘the next thing’, her hand slipped out of his. When she slowed down their hands reconnected and they both smiled.

She worked in an underground cave. Everyone in the cave worked very hard; sometimes late into the night. Their work was significant and worthwhile. They worked with giants, trying to make sure they didn’t tread on the little elves working in their gardens. Sometimes she went to speak to the giants and sometimes she went to speak to the elves. Sometimes she tried to help the giants and elves to talk to each other but that wasn’t easy because they spoke different languages.

Despite the lack of light in the cave and the hard work, the girl was happy because she believed in what she was doing and she stayed there for many years.

Then one day a sense of unease grew. She thought maybe her invisible best friend (who as more real than she was) was whispering in her ear that she shouldn’t be there anymore. At first she tried to ignore him. But after a while she had a strange sensation in her feet. Every day when she descended the stairs into the dark cave her feet became itchy, so itchy she could hardly bear it.

TO BE CONTINUED>…. 

ALL IMAGES/ILLUSTRATIONS ARE COPYRIGHT HILARY MURDOCH 2012

Continuous flow

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I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be a more integrated person. The temptation for me is to feel divided in myself between London and Cape Town, to feel I have two lives, two worlds that don’t relate and that I have to choose between. That I have cut off one in order to fully engage with the other. I found that during my visit to London, I spent much of the time feeling disconnected, an outsider, a fake.

But during the same visit a wise friend challenged me. She said I don’t have to feel divided, that I am one person in both places, with one fluid life between the places: one person, who happens to have friends, family and loved ones in different continents. I can be fully me in both places.

I feel that my heart and the journey of my spiritual and emotional life, is being held and directed by God. In the book of Proverbs in the Bible, there is beautiful imagery to describe this, my “heart is in the hand of the Lord; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.” (Proverbs 21:1). A dear friend shared this verse with me the day I arrived back in Cape Town and I felt it fitted so amazingly with what I had been thinking and feeling. I know that through all this God has my heart safe and is guiding me and helping me to grow. The journey is a continuous flow in both places.

Inevitably when you move countries there are some things and relationships that are lost or distanced and there is certainly a genuine grief and loss that I need to acknowledge in the ‘leaving and cleaving’. And yet, I am glad that there are special friendships that I carry with me: sponsored by the magic of Skype. My heart’s journey and myself as a person has to be integrated: my character consistent and my journey continuous, in both places.

“You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world, but a world lives in you.”

+ F. Buechner, Telling the Truth

The Queen – much to admire one feels

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The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is celebrated this weekend, 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II reigning. 60 years is a long time, an amazing achievement. Whatever people in England think about the pros and cons of the monarchy in theory, most people like the Queen and are very fond of her. Not so much her son, generally, and of course everyone goes wild for her grandsons, the charming Princes.

I enjoyed reading a few quotes about the Queen and what she’s really like, in the BA in-flight magazine as I flew from London to Cape Town.

“She’s always in touch and extremely sharp. In the great scheme of things, you are conscious that you are her 12th prime minister.” – David Cameron, Prime Minister

“She’ll want to hand over knowing that she’s done everything she can for the country and that she’s not let anyone down – she minds an awful lot about that.” – Prince William

“At the end of the day, she has put this country way before anything that she’s ever wanted to do. It’s her job.” – Prince Harry

“One feels the buck stops here, so to speak.” – The Queen

“Behind an important title is a very kind and compassionate woman. She’s got a neat twinkle in her eye.” – George W Bush, former President of the US

“She sleeps well and she’s got very good legs – she can stand for a long time. The Queen is as strong as a yak.” – The late Lord Charteris, former Private Secretary[1]

Certainly awareness of and respect for the Queen has changed with the generations. My grandmother would raise her voice (a rare occurrence) and tut with disgust if we didn’t immediately stand for the national anthem before the Queen’s speech on Christmas Day. And yet I recently read a newspaper article bemoaning the fact that many children in the UK don’t seem to have a clue what the Jubilee is about or even who the Queen is. One child responded that he thought the Jubilee was ‘something about boats on the river?’ and others were surprised to hear that the Queen was ‘Prince William’s granny’. There has been a move to have special lessons in schools to teach kids about the Monarchy and the Jubilee.

However, another poll of school children, reported in the Telegraph today[2], found that the children surveyed thought the Queen was the most important person in Britain (with 91% of votes) and Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge came in second and third place. It’s not surprising that Prince William got more than double the number of votes as his father, Prince Charles.

Although her power is limited, she still has an important role in British society today. She is incredibly hard working and extremely active for her age, 86 years old. She seems to have a genuine concern for the state of the nation and for individual people’s lives. Tony Blair, former Prime Minister, commented on how surprisingly streetwise she was. She is also a woman of very strong faith and convictions. Her last Christmas Day message, which is one of the few times we get to hear words she has written herself, was clearer about her Christian faith than previous years, supposedly because of relaxed editorial restrictions. She talked about importance of family and community and the power and significance of forgiveness, much needed today as the “world is going through difficult times”. “Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed,” she said. One key theme in the speech was courage and hope in adversity and the ways that had been demonstrated in the Commonwealth over the past year.

I just found out that aparently she is the first British monarch to have reached a Diamond wedding anniversary. Married for 60 years (in fact it’s 65 years this year). Maybe that’s an even bigger achievement than being Queen for 60 years.

I find much to admire in the Queen: her faith, her serving attitude, her commitment, her compassion and her perseverance, character traits that many of us from the UK could do with developing a little more of. Well, certainly I could.


Photos from www.royal.gov.uk

[1] Quotes from Robert Hardman, the author of the Queen’s biography, entitled ‘Our Queen’.

[2] Who do children think are the most important people in Britain? It’s not who you’d expect, The Telegraph 1st June 2012 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/theroyalfamily/9299485/Who-do-children-think-are-the-most-important-people-in-Britain-Its-not-who-youd-expect.html

London living

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It was strange being back in London for a visit (after spending months thoroughly settling into Cape Town) – all so familiar and yet also seeing it afresh, as if from an outsider’s perspective.

I found myself amused, irritated and secretly unacceptably judgemental of strangers I came across, on public transport, walking the streets and in cafés… people walking down the street, a wide load of shopping bags, rushing, focused… people discussing their latest skiing or sailing trip… ‘Made in Chelsea’ wannabes, analysing outfits at great length, “Did you SEE what she was wearing?!”… people so conscious about what they look like, yet sometimes looking (in my humble opinion) a little ridiculous, presumably because some magazine said it’s ‘in’, often looking less attractive than those who are less attentive to (or slave to) the trends. Starbucks in Parson’s Green packed with ‘yummy mummys’ eyeing up each other’s designer baby buggies…. suited men striding confidently through the streets near Oxford Circus, looking self satisfied, discussing when’s the best time to sell their house… and yet in the same street, another suited gentleman in a café sitting on his own, staring blankly straight ahead, looking dejected, sad, hopeless, aimless.

I like to strike up conversations with people on the underground, but it’s easier with foreigners, Londoners often look at you as if you are mad. London is so full of people, so busy and yet it seems for many it is a lonely place, lacking in real connection.

People buying pointless things, things created simply for people to buy as presents for people with everything they need: silver balls with clips on top to put name places on for dinner parties, wicker baskets shaped to fit on stairs and hold magazines…. whilst other people in the same city, in the same street, are facing redundancy with little prospect of a new job. Almost everyone I spoke to who is in business or local government said that jobs are being cut. And yet consumption continues, Oxford Circus is teeming with people, restaurants are packed… and debt rises. According to Credit Action, in the UK, 1,907 people were made redundant every day between December 2011 and February 2012, outstanding total personal debt stood at £1.458 trillion in March 2012, nearly as much as the entire country produced during the year of 2011. 314 people are declared insolvent or bankrupt every day and 93 properties are repossessed every day.[1]

Racks and racks of magazines shout about the love, lust, betrayal and break-ups of D list celebs, whose lives people are so absorbed with, more familiar with than their own family who they may rarely see or their neighbours who they may have never met. Desperate for ‘reality’ stories or TV shows – someone else’s reality but not facing their own.

Young people’s worlds seem to be shrinking, knowing every detail about what their friends and acquaintances are doing – Facebook, Twitter, Mxit – but nothing about world current affairs and news. I can certainly put my hand up to that to some extent too!

Although London has many good things – parties, dancing, transport, parks, culture, family and friends that I love dearly – I don’t feel as comfortable and at home there as I used to.

Some of the very things I dislike about London are the exact things I found myself falling into whilst there. The consumerism and greed is so infectious, buying, eating, drinking, buying more. So quickly I start thinking ‘maybe I need to buy…’ shoes… clothes… cosmetics… of course I don’t need it at all, but the definition of ‘need’ seems malleable, changeable to mean what you want it to mean…  ‘I could use’ or ‘it’d be nice to have’.

How quick I am to pick up old habits, still too keen to please others and find significance and security in people and what I own, succumbing to the perceived pressure to be and look a certain way.

I get swept up into the old speed of life, rushing from one thing to the next, packing the days full to bursting and yet not prioritising time for what really matters: tending towards busyness and superficiality, rather than real depth and connection. My time and mind becomes so full that there is no space for reflection, for knowing yourself, your own heart and emotions and for sharing them with others and with God.

Seeing your own culture with fresh eyes is sometimes painful because it exposes in your own heart how much you have absorbed, even the parts you dislike.