Treasure in Dark Places, by Liz Carter: a review

Treasure in Dark Places book on a cosy wooden table with a hot drink.

Maybe, like me, you enjoy a fresh angle on a familiar story. A fresh perspective to help you find a good way forward in life. Maybe you yearn for a way to express your frustration at your pain and want assurance of hope.

Liz Carter has a gift in doing just that in short story and poetry form. Her latest book is called Treasure in Dark Places and I jumped at the chance to read an early copy ahead of its release this weekend. I had found Liz’s Catching Contentment powerfully written and worth spending time in when I read it last year, and she kindly agreed to be interviewed for my blog to talk about this new book and why she wrote it.

If you are not familiar with Liz’s work, take a look at this short clip, featuring one of the poems in the new book:

Lucy: Tell me a little about your health, what lockdown was like for you as a family and the impact shielding had on you.

Liz: I’ve suffered from a rare chronic lung disease all my life, with times of intense pain and infections that render me frequently housebound and in hospital. When I first received the shielding letter I felt the shock like a punch in the gut; the words ‘may become severely ill’ due to Covid-19 hit me hard. I went into shielding thinking I would be okay, used to isolation, but found being separated from my family incredibly challenging, my mental health took a hit I wasn’t expecting. Shielding has ‘paused’ for now, but this year has taken its toll, as it has on most of us.

Lucy: Your poems speak of a God who is powerful and good, relatable yet mysterious. What characteristic of God do you find most comforting at times of deepest darkness?

Liz: There are so many, but I think that one that ministers to me so much within pain is the Holy Spirit as the paraclete – literally the helper, counsellor, comforter. To know that God is within the depths of it all, by my side, the tangible yet intangible Spirit. God with us in the mystery of trinity; Jesus as Immanuel, incarnate and suffering for and with us, God as Father, loving and compassionate, all beautifully expressed in the helper God gave to each one of us. Sometimes I just like to think upon the Spirit as Ruach, the breath of God, the creative force and the rhythm of life, yet here with us, breathing upon us.

Lucy: There is something strangely sacred about the meeting of brokenness and divinity; would you say that the experience of pain and hardship is a necessary part of a close walk with God?

Liz: I love the way you phrase this truth. I have definitely discovered that it’s sometimes in the darkest places I have found the treasure, the depths of God, that suffering can somehow allow the heights of joy. I think that so often Christians have been led to believe that a walk with God should somehow be pain-free, as if God is merely there to bow to our needs and wants, and yet this prosperity story has not stood up against the ravages of suffering – or, indeed, against the truths expressed in scripture. I love how the apostle Paul shared the enticing reality that God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paul, of course, was hardly an example of someone living a life free of struggle – far from it. I think that when we learn to untether the idea of wholeness with getting all that we want, or even with healing, we stumble into God’s great spacious places even where our spaces seem caged. Maybe it’s not so much that we have to go through great hardship as a necessary part of our faith, as much that the raw experience of hurting can move us closer to the heart of a God who knows what it is to go through the starkest agony.

Lucy: Many of your poems weave in biblical phrases and you note these references at the end of the book. The Bible contains many forms of writing, including lament and praise. Many biblical characters experience crushing lows and disappointments – do you have any characters you identify with closely, or favourite parts of the Bible you turn to when you need God’s comfort?

Liz: So many. I find much resonance in Scripture when it comes to living with any kind of struggle, which gives us a real sense of permission to express our own. I love the lament and yet hope of Psalm 42, and the yearning for home of Psalm 84 always calls to the deep places of my spirit (two of the poems are based around these Psalms.) For me, the words of Paul are always places I go to when I am looking for hope, knowing that he spoke out of some of the greatest darkness. I love how he calls us to ‘overflow with hope’ in Romans 15, even though he has been persecuted and imprisoned and sick and shipwrecked.

Lucy: Two recurring images for me when reading this book are ‘water’ and ‘depth’. In the poem ‘The Skies Proclaim’, which I associate with Psalm 19, you’ve written the following beautiful lines:

Join me,
barefoot in the sand
tiptoe into edges of blue
and the untamed edges of a secret

Deep magic in deeper waters
deep mystery in great oceans
deep soul-rest in turquoise ripples of expansive grandeur.

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Although depth might feel like a place of isolation, imprisonment and darkness, you remind us that the deep is a place of wildness, mystery, beauty and healing as well. Is there a particular resonance for you in the redemptive aspects of water and depth? And do you find yourself more in the role of Peter wanting to walk on the surface, the disabled crowds in John 5, or Jonah, terrified in the depths yet crying out to God?

Liz: I think it’s the concepts of the great heights and depths of God that call out to me so; a God who cannot be contained. Scripture is bursting with the deeps of God; Ephesians 3:18 speaks of the width, length, height and depth of God’s love, and Psalm 139 of how there is no depth too deep where God will not find you and hold you. In Psalm 42 the mysterious and alluring phrase ‘deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls’ always resounds somewhere in the depths of me. I want to run into those deeps, to dive into them, to be submerged in them until they close over my head, further down until this love that cannot be described is pressing in upon me. I want to walk on the water and yet plunge the depths all at the same time, much as Hillsong’s song ‘Oceans’ describes so beautifully.

Lucy: This is a book you cannot rush; it needs to be reflected on and is ideal for quiet time study. It also has sections which map out the year, so could be used at any time. How easy is it to get hold of a copy?

Treasure in Dark Places book shown against a background of a treasure map with a compass.

Liz: From this weekend you will be able to buy it on Amazon in paperback or kindle edition, and as an ebook on Kobo. A little later it will be available in other online bookstores such as Waterstones and Barnes & Noble.

Thank you Liz! I’ll be ordering my own paper copy to use in quiet times, and look forward to seeing Caroline Gwilliam’s illustrations. I pray this new book blesses many people, especially those struggling in the dark depths of difficult situations; that God uses your words to speak treasure and hope to people who need it.

We Need to Talk About Goldilocks

IMG_4591

On Saturday I cut the long, long hair of my daughter
shorter.

Disentangling her
and her hair
from unfair
association with any bears.

(Or bear-related criminal activity).

Her hair long enough to sit on,
I wasn’t going to stand around
and take it lying down.

I heard the cops might profile my daughter –
might escort her,
deport her, even.

So I cut her long, long, golden hair
shorter.

(You would, too).

Her description matched
The Flaxen Attacker.

It wasn’t the bears’ fault
they were victims of crime.
At the time
they’d been out,
at a picnic,
with the Cubs,
in the woods.

No big surprise,
they’d left their door unlocked.

And at the scene of crime
this evidence was there:
one long, long, golden hair,
stuck square in a large bowl of porridge (hot).

Not only that, but
the littlest chair
had been somewhat deconstructed
(her athletic tilts).

Criminal damage, breaking and entering, hate-crime, intimidation.
It’s big, big news down at the station.

She says she wasn’t there.

To make it fair
I chopped her hair.

Took an axe to the flax.

Popped it
under some stacks
of wood
round the back,
right next to the wolf-skin
from that awful incident
with granny
last Spring.

(That would take some explaining too).

IMG_4627

The Myrrh and The Gold

Last year I was published twice in anthologies produced by the Association of Christian Writers, which was a great big step for a fledgling writer like me. It helped my writing esteem enormously and gave me a feel for some of the other elements involved in producing a book; behind the scenes several friends worked long hours proofing, editing and typesetting. When I got my copies I learned about marketing and selling dozens of copies of each.

Click on the links below for the Kindle versions. Print copies are available too, and I have one remaining copy for anyone local to me who asks quickly enough on the Christmas book.

New Life: Reflections for Lent by [Jones, Wendy H., Robinson, Amy]            Merry Christmas, Everyone: A festive feast of stories, poems and reflections by [Jones, Wendy H.]

As I was researching and writing about frankincense for Merry Christmas Everyone, I considered also writing about the other two gifts the Magi presented to Jesus in Matthew 2. Getting under the skin of a biblical passage is a real passion of mine, and presenting information in original ways. I had written a poem about frankincense, which is a dried resin used for lots of purposes, but principally known as a fragrant material for burning in religious ceremonies. If there was intended meaning behind the gift, as many believe there was, the symbolism may well have concerned priesthood.

The symbolism of gold is far easier to connect to, as we recognise its potent regal connotations across many cultures and times. Gold represents majesty, honour and treasure.

Myrrh is a more strange material; it is also a gum from a tree, and produced for medicinal and religious purposes, but it has a strong association with ancient embalming, and has traditionally been held to represent the importance of the death of Jesus as a sacrifice.

Strange gifts for a young child, and certainly things to give Mary reason to ponder. Each of these elements were present in prophecies about the coming Messiah in the Jewish scriptures, and each featured in the way Jesus lived his life on earth. A king. A priest. A sacrifice.

Frankincense, growing in Socotra Island, Yemen

You’ll need to get hold of a copy of Merry Christmas Everybody to read my poem in there about frankincense, but here to complete the set are the other two poems.

May you have a blessed and joyful Epiphany!

 

The Myrrh

The soldiers showed no mercy when they came
and murdered David’s sons inside our town;
the orders of an angry king to blame –
despising any who could take his crown.

The merchants saw them first, as daylight broke:
on horseback, wearing armour, wielding swords;
the little boys were sleeping. We awoke
to screams and murmured prayers and broken cords.

The mothers who had fed these sons from birth
(their hopes and futures, joys, inheritance),
traded their blessings and exchanged young mirth
for myrtle baths, and wept at the expense.

My God, my God, do not forsake these ones,
whose myrrh and tears embrace their precious sons.

Commiphora myrrha - Somaliland - Nov 2014 - 04 - natural exudation

 

 

The Gold

We were given gold
and told to leave the land of Egypt,
so we ran from slavery
bravely, fearfully, tearfully,
carrying our treasures close to our hearts.

And journeyed into furnaces of sand.

We learned in pain that gods of gold
had not received us, saved us.
Melting
in our shame,
we learned the Name alone
– not gold –
was pure,
bright, heavy, sure,
carrying His treasure close to His heart.

We built a tent and used our gold
to show our gratitude.
We covered all the wood –
made ornaments and bells,
to show our worship for our King.

He took us from the furnace to the land.

The tent came too. But,
so confused by gods of other clans
we looked to gold for answers,
carrying our hearts close to our treasures.

Measuring ourselves with others.

We want a king!

You have a King.

No – a king like all the others.
Give us a king.
With a crown.
A crown of gold.
We’ll build him a gilded palace.
We cannot see our King.
How can he save us?

I will give them a king. A boy from Bethlehem
who carries me close to his heart.

Our kings had golden crowns
and splendid rooms
and saved us sometimes.
And sometimes broke us.

There was a golden temple too
(our King was there).
But other temples grew
and who knew what was true?

Until armies came from the East.

They took our gold,
gold from our temple,
carried it close to their hearts,
back to their temples where they worshipped the stars.

We want a king!
A king who will save us.

I will give them a king. A boy from Bethlehem
who carries me close to his heart.

We journeyed from our land, as slaves again.

Our captured hearts sang songs of times of gold,
and how our King had saved us once before.

And when our hearts, refined, were moved to Him,
He took us home.

And we were given gold,
restored to us,
and told to build our land again.
Bravely, fearfully, tearfully, we went,
carrying our Treasure close to our hearts.

Humbled and tested, and tested again, and humbled.

More kings, and battles, and languages and rules
and every king so hungry
for power, wealth
or taxes.
Our humble heads hung low –
we didn’t see the star
that told of Treasure coming to our hearts.

They came with gifts of gold.

capitonet_babylon_bangles_641.641

 

 

International Poetry Day

I felt compelled today to edit and republish a poem I first put out three years ago on my personal blog jamandgiraffes, in honour of International Poetry Day and because Easter is coming. Spring is now here and while flowers smell of hope and joy, Easter tells a more humbling story and I had been looking back at the gospels and wondering what it all smelt like. Feel free to use this, although if you do, please do credit me.

wash

 

Smelly Week

It all started when the jar of nard parted
Jarred, barred, open-hearted, broken-hearted,
What a strange smell, filling the house from roof to foot,
Smell of treasure, smell of death (tarted up).

Then branches waving in the king, palms up, palms down
Crunching under simple hooves, hay, swaying fresh and fuzzy.

Smelly feet, incomplete, bread and the vineyard and olives and torches –
Feast or final meal, more blood, more fire and the plaintive crow crow crowing.

Unknowing. Smell of fear, of sweat, of thorns and wood,
Smell of your trade, made rough, tough nails rusty, musty dust.
Smell of pain, again, again, again, sweat, blood, vinegar and hyssop.
Hyssop? Cleanse me too – blood rolling like tears, metallic, organic to the ground.

Bound, in myrrh, in aloe, from head to toe, so so dead. No!

No.

And then you said ‘why are you crying?’

And my world of tears and mud and blood split open and I breathed a different air. It smelt of life.

And it smelt good.

Friday 500 -There was an old lady

Having been instructed in my youth in the ways of old ladies by well meaning toddler group leaders, records and my parents, and suspecting nevertheless that perhaps old ladies were less drawn to the overconsumption of animals which do not belong rightly in a food chain or stomach, and more likely to be well-armed with sass, omniscience and sheer capability in a surprising number of life skills, I considered rewriting the entire ode in a more positive light. I never got around to it until now, because nothing makes me concentrate better than an arbitrary deadline and the need to be heard on subjects of my choosing.

benchmates

There was an old lady who followed a spy

(I don’t know why she followed a spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

There was an old lady who asked an insider;

She wanted to bug him, (or was it to spider?)

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I don’t know why she followed the spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

There was an old lady who was shaken and stirred;

(She followed the herd – it wasn’t absurd),

She followed the herd to ask the insider,

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I don’t know why she followed that spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

There was an old lady with a collar and hat,

(Some very dark glasses, a bag and a cat);

A collar and hat, to follow the herd,

She followed the herd to ask the insider,

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I still don’t know why she followed that spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

There was an old lady who went the whole hog,

(With a specially trained dog – she went the whole hog);

She went the whole hog with a collar and hat,

A collar and hat, to follow the herd,

She followed the herd to ask the insider,

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I still don’t know why she followed that spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

 

There was  an old lady who could read secret code,

(It was not highway code – she was crossing that road);

She read secret code to go the whole hog,

She went the whole hog with a collar and hat,

A collar and hat, to follow the herd,

She followed the herd to ask the insider,

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I still don’t know why she followed that spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

 

There was an old lady who always knew how,

(She was double-O licensed to knit and ker-pow!)

She always knew how to read secret code,

She read secret code to go the whole hog,

She went the whole hog with a collar and hat,

A collar and hat, to follow the herd,

She followed the herd to ask the insider,

She asked the insider to follow the spy.

(I still don’t know why she followed that spy; perhaps she’ll die).

 

There was an old lady who would never use force,

She got him, of course!

 

 

C#

It wasn’t the buzz of the brush on my teeth

or the hum of the car with the wheel in my hands

or the washing machine ringing clean in my ears,

No;

the song of my soul is C#.

 

It isn’t the chatter of clattering children,

It isn’t the murmur of fans in the bathroom,

It isn’t the whirr of the office computer,

the song of my soul is C#.

 

I take down my worries and put up defences;

I listen to truth and I whisper a prayer,

I medicate, meditate, play and procrastinate,

the song of my soul is C#.

 

When all else is quiet and simple and still

and when others are busy but I’ve had my fill

I listen and there in my soul rings a note

(it is always the same)

like a wail, or a plea, or a longing to be

something fuller, or deeper

more meaningful still.

It is there in the noise

It is there when I’m quiet

and I find it a comfort, confronting confusion.

Yes –

the song of my soul is C#.

 

I am yearning for wholeness

and yearning for healing;

longing for holiness

(body and mind).

I don’t know the reason my soul

resonates

like a deep wordless groan

always singing C#.

 

Like a blanket around me,

it comforts and covers.

And this singing continues

when life’s out of focus

(I’m blinded and aching);

the calling rings out

in my bones and my heart.

My soul has an anchor

reminding and finding me –

Somebody’s listening

to the song of C#.

 

Friday 500 -A Girl with a Missing Tooth

There’s none so sure, at the age of four, as a girl with a missing tooth,

She can tell you why, she can raise a cry, but her story’s not the truth;

If you ask her where incisors go,

Was it over the clouds or under the snow?

She won’t say yes and she won’t say no.

Tell her it went and the money’s spent and then she’s a super-sleuth.

 

There’s none so fixed, at the age of six, as a boy with hazel eyes,

For his shoulders lean towards the screen like a monkey in disguise;

If you say it’s time to get some sun,

And it might be good to bike or run,

He’ll explain he’s already having fun.

Well it’s not all free, so charge a fee, then he’ll jump up in surprise.

 

There’s none so great, at the age of eight, as a girl with princess hair,

With a box of rings and some sparkly things and plenty more to share;

When you say it’s time to put away,

And someone’s coming round to play,

But she wants to leave it another day,

Get the hoover out, don’t scream or shout; she’ll be done with time to spare.

 

There’s none so fine, at twenty-nine, as the Scot with the backhand smash,

And the cream are there at the strawberry fair for his Wimbledon final clash;

So he takes a towel and rubs his hair,

And looks to the box and starts to swear,

You can see his mouth’s a regular square,

Keeps his eyes on the ball, he can take them all, then he celebrates with a splash.

 

There’s none so new, at fifty-two, as the boy with the big blond mop,

Coming down the line, grinning hard – just fine, he was heading for the top;

When he comes under surprise attack,

‘Cause his chum’s just stabbed him in the back,

So he quits and tries to duck the flack,

Give him FCO, on his knees he’ll go, and he’s not allowed to stop.