When I was about 11 or 12, I wrote children's books for myself and my sister. I even illustrated them myself - I will never be an artist, that's for sure. At secondary school, I moodily wrote words on pages in an effort to express my inner life to, more than anyone else, myself. By the time I reached university, I dreamed of creating a book of 'Words and Pictures', scribbled thoughts and provocative images, all very abstract and unfocused.
And then I forgot all about it. I married, moved to South Africa, grappled with the challenges of being a Brit Abroad and generally did other things. (If you'd like to hear a few more of those stories, take a look here)
One of those 'other things' was to Road Trip in and around the huge space that is this tip of Africa. As a family, we climbed into our well-loved Toyota Hilux, driving leg-numbing distances while listening to audio-books, playing endless 'eye-spy' (a game which graduated from 'eye spy a colour' in the early days to multi-word offerings today) and munching on boxes of Pringles and other carefully chosen padkos (literally, 'road food' in Afrikaans).
In 2010 we travelled to Zimbabwe to visit my sister-in-law and family who live in Harare, Whilst there we took a trip to Victoria Falls. The rush and crash of tons of falling water, standing on the path getting soaked by the swirling spray, being silenced and blinded by the mist that engulfed us, left an indelible impression which God was to highlight a few months later.
'His voice was like the roar of many waters'
Summer 2016. My husband was back at work and the children returned to school after the long Christmas break, so my mornings were once more my own. On such days, I spend part of the time sitting in my favourite spot beside the pool where I can gaze unhindered at the ocean expanse in front of me whilst thinking, praying and reading the Bible (and yes, soaking up a bit of sun while I'm at it!).
On this particular occasion I was browsing through the first chapter of the book of Revelation, revisiting John's magnificent description of the resurrected Jesus. I love it - the poetry that is the Alpha and Omega, the bracket within whom all eternity is framed; the imagery of blazing purity and sword-sharp words. And perhaps, most of all, the reaction of John himself.
Here was a man who was described not simply as one of Jesus' disciples or followers, but as his closest friend; a man who would recline with his head resting on the chest of Jesus, hearing the very thump of his heartbeat. That one so intimate with the earthly Jesus could be sufficiently overcome at the sight of this same Man, now glorified, that he fell at his feet as though dead, has always intrigued me. Suddenly, the voice speaking was not the timbre of his friend, but rather 'the roar of many waters'.
That got me thinking - what does that sound like? What did John mean? I looked up at the waves forming and reforming in front of me, now consciously aware of the crash and rumble that had previously been no more than a backdrop to my day. Here before me were 'many waters' - was their sonic energy akin to the voice of Jesus? Somehow that didn't seem enough.
And then I remembered Victoria Falls. Even as we had arrived in the town, we were aware of a different sound, underpinning the more regular noises of cars and people and shopping. We drove through the streets towards the edge of the gorge and parked in a clearing dominated by a statue of David Livingston, the missionary-explorer from Scotland who reached the Falls in November 1855, together with an entourage of 200 Makalolo tribesmen. As they paddled their canoes along the Zambezi, it was said they saw the mist rising from 'The Smoke that Thunders' from as far as six miles away.
As for ourselves, we could just about make out a few cloudy tufts drifting away to our right. The noise of rushing water was definitely louder, although by no means deafening.
This soon changed as we entered the National Park itself and followed the path along the edge of the gorge opposite where the inexorable progress of the Zambezi simply spilled over a bite in the landscape, creating froth and foam, confusion and chaos, and rainbows. We were drenched to our skin, despite the waterproof jackets we had been advised to wear. We could only just discern one another through the white mist that surrounded us. And we had to shout to be heard.
As I sat, returning in my mind to that moment, that place, I began to comprehend John's description. The voice of Jesus is a tumultuous roar of love spoken loud, in which I am wrapped and engulfed, soaked through to the inner core of my being, every doubt or fear drowned out and silenced by a grace that deafens.
How I wished others could have seen what I have seen, could know what I now know, could hear what I have been allowed to hear.
I moved on, continuing with John's story. And I was hit right between the eyes as I read 'Write what you see in a book. Write therefore the things that you have seen' Was I really being asked to write a book?
'The Outskirts of His Glory'
Excitement grew as I recalled moments on journeys when I have known the voice of God speaking through my surroundings, creation worshiping and whispering truth in a voice audible to us all if we learn to listen.
How I stumbled on these next verses, I really can't remember, but I soon found myself reading from Job chapter 26, where Job describes the power of God as evidenced by his creative energy. God covers the face of the moon, he places a boundary between dark and light; the sea is stilled by him, the wind made fair; the earth hung on nothing. The culmination is found in verse 14 'Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?'.
And I knew what I had to do.
Proverbs 19:2 tells us 'Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way'. I needed input from others before rushing into what might well prove to be a misguided project. I asked God who he had in mind, and felt I should contact my friend, Gwethlyn, a Christian, an artist, a scientist and generally a wise woman!
I met with Gwethlyn a few days later, and to my great surprise she told me she felt poetry would best express my thoughts and impressions. That idle thought from years ago, to create a book of 'Words and Pictures', began to resurface. Could this really be my rather wistful dream, lying buried and dormant for nearly twenty years, now being unearthed and given life? Had God taken a whim and fancy seriously enough to now be asking me to knuckle down and make it a reality? Wow!
So, I made a choice to do just that, to write, in whatever way I could, about those whispers which I have been privileged to hear, and to offer them to others who wish to listen. 'The Outskirts of His Glory' was born.