Short Stories by Colin Amey. The Painting

The painting

It hung there. On the wall in the hotel-room by my bed, it’s mysteries to be gazed out, explored, and expounded. It seemed to catch the eye, lead me in, begging me to explore its lines. Some may have cast their glance and ignored its subtle messages, it’s subliminal interests, it’s brooding conjectural symbolisms. The painting contained three lines, three areas, three intense clouds and spaces. From the top, reaching down two thirds was an intense orange sky or rectangle. Then came the thick/thin black line. I call it this because I cannot quite decide if it was actually thick or thin. What I mean is that the line had weight, substance and gravity. There it was hanging beneath the orange and above the White which occupied the bottom third of the picture. I say the orange occupied two thirds and the white one third and the black between, which of course would offend the mathematical mind, but strictly speaking, conceptually, the black wasn’t part of the picture, only a divider, a marker or ruler, cancelled out by the intensity of the other two colours.

You could easily have overlooked it all, walked on, found something less abstract, more tangible, easier on the mind.

My eye was held at first by this thick/thin black horizontal line, which extended continuously, east west across its canvas. This line, about two inches thick, slightly beneath the centre seemed to me to be ground zero for the whole picture and the very life and death of it all, but maybe I was wrong about that, I will let you decide . . . . This black seemed darker than night, denser than shadow, blacker than the oils which made it up and deeper than the eye which made it. Later as I drove away, I wondered at the hand which held the brush, the mind which applied the paint and the vision which he held in his eye.

I seemed to see him then and see the life he had been living and the thing he sought to portray.

I knew his name already, it was Emil. His was another world to mine. A world which for four long years had been blood soaked, war torn and a world from which he had emerged, deafened and shaken at the brutalities he had seen, the carnage of it all.

The thick/thin black line. The earth, the trench, the unit, the infantry line, the insanity of mens vomit chucked up and earth chucking out bits of dead horse, flakes of guns and mortars, human arms and testicles, old kitbags and remains of laughter which hung In the air, mixed with death cries and cries of gulls and crows who already ripped up the flesh, thankful for this thin/thick black meal.

This line was just beneath the middle. I saw it now in my minds eye as I drove away, he painted. It was 1919, war had ended one year ago, but the memories were still so fresh and raw. Emil hadn’t wanted to put death anywhere near the middle and normally of course, it should have belonged at the top or the bottom. I mean, where would you put it? You who lived in peace and security all these long years. Emil was 20 when he painted that dense black line, that piece of shrapnel in the middle and for you at twenty, life would be long, death far far away and in a normal life, it should be so. Some may put the line at the top, a darkening sky, a hierarchical vision, colour, colour, bright and blue and green and free and yellow and passionate red. Maybe your childhood at the bottom and getting darker to the top as the colours fade. Another person, equally secure would have the black at bottom. The humus, the swamp, the night from which we emerge, fading, fading always fading into brightness, gradual, the day dawning, the night receding.

Emil had painted this thin black line first. I saw it now. He had Thrown the brush down as the tears rolled down his cheeks. The 33rd horse regiment, were all in that line all together, sleeping now, before their time. It had aged his soul. It had shocked his youth at 19, ended it and beaten it to pulp like the mush he had walked through. He rose from his easle at the window, he took up a raincoat, went out again to the driving winter rain, the wind beating like a drum on his umbrella, black as well, a covering, like that line on the canvas, surrounding and overshadowing. How can I escape this.? I am alive yes, alive to tell this tale. Alive to this hell of memory.

How can I tell this tale, how can death be in the centre? How can death hover so near the bottom of it all.

Emil walked along the cliffs, looked down at jagged rocks below, ancient breakers which churned up foam, crashed relentlessly on the rocks in the swell. Bits of driftwood washed around. Emil heard nothing with his ears, eardrums shattered by artilliary barrage upon senseless barrage and in his mind he heard echoes, frayed laughter from before, cries again and now silence. It went on. He stumbled on to the village. it was deserted, only black crows laughed and clawed and reigned it seemed. The army had had that too, turfed out his kin and requisitioned each house. All the memories, the history, hundreds of years of clinging on to that soil, hundreds of years of peaceful living, blown to bits. You can win a war but lose so much it seems. Emil stumbled on into the church.

The door creaked and slammed, it shut. It tried shut out the world, the war, the horror, the end of his youth, it could not. He sat, he stared. He stared at the depth of colour with his tormented artists mind, he stared At the lowering sun continuing its course toward the horizon. Orange , Emil remembered. The colour before the war, everything bathed in such a serene light. He remembered the hue of the oranges in mothers fruit bowl, just a few days before his call to arms, how he had taken it and peeled off its orange skin, then savoured the fruit inside. He remembered the glow of the fire at home, dad, peaceful with pipe in hand, brother laughing and showing off how he would kill the enemy. Shreds of his own laugher now rang hollow and frayed, but here was the orange colours of that tim, intact at the altar.

Below the orange, a thin black line, below that, pure white like a dazzling snow hung the altar cloth and in the centre of it all the arms of the cross, the figure of Jesus Christ cruelly dying. The image rose into the orange glow and with its shadow fell down upon the altar cloth. It seemed to spring from the blackness, touch the sun and rise below. It rose below, yes thought Emil it rises below, it rises from a blow, it rises from below.

Emil didn’t wait, suddenly he had completed his vision for a painting, a meaning which he knew could only come from the altar, like a gift from above.

Emil ran, out of the church, down through the rainswept village with its houses void of rooves and people, ran out, back along the coast path, back to the cottage, flinging open the door. He took up a clean brush then orange paint and painted the top two thirds of the canvas. The memories of yesterdays of youth, of Home, of warmth, of sunlight. He painted steadily, evenly, enjoying the feel of the colour in his eyes. The orange had life, depth, warmth and being. He remembered how the figure on the cross had entered into it and given it new life, as it rose up out of the black.

When the orange was done it absolutely glowed. It sat upon the thin black line, powerful, intense, many experiences rolled together. Then Emil remembered the White of the altar cloth. It’s white had been quite pure, whiter than the canvas. Emil struggled to get that purity now, kept applying layers, till there it was, it seemed to hover and shimmer, below the black, above the frame, occupying the bottom third of his canvas. It was eternal that white. Everlasting life. It contained the blood of Christian martyrs a waiting Gods justice at the opening up of the fifth seal, it contained peace, below the ground for those who’s shadow Jesus had graced, it contained hope for those mowed down ,hope beneath the thin black line.

I was still driving, it was still 2019, one hundred years had passed. I shook myself back to the present. My mind remembered the painting again and the hotel room, There was no cross upon the picture, I don’t know why Emil had never portrayed it, yet I know instinctively it was the source of his hope, his resurrection from the damage of the war. A hundred years on, the cross still colours the my life with that orange glow and beneath the thick/thin black black line the White of resurrection descends to eternal day.


The many many times God has changed my life and how I became an Anglican!

I have edited this piece as I realised it was fairly full of errors and needed clarification

Gas and Oil

SO many times It seems God has changed my life, changed my direction, changed my world view.

Looking back, I can see how that when I thought I knew all the answers, I had many ideas and opinions about God and how church should be. Its those ideas and opinions which we love to cling to, that God in His grace, through trials and difficulties, has to sometimes prise away from us, like a Father, with that thing which does His child no good. We can’t let go easily but The Lord has a way of humbling us, like He did with Israel, leading us as they through deserts and wildernesses, pits and valleys to bring us to a better place and to a better understanding of His ways, our own ways and the ways of those around us.

Deuteronomy 8.2 . . ..and you shall remember that the Lord…

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Brother of mine.

Brother of mine,

Come over here,

where the light of the sun really shows,

the lines,

the dirt,

the stress,

the war,

Where the tears streaked it 

All down your face.

Why do you stand there?

Back of the alley?

Back, in the shadows,

it’s cold in there and the light doesn’t reach 

and your movement is limited, constricted, 

bound by those protective walls.

It’s not the great wild open,

it’s not outside the box,

Not the God promised green pastures,

The ones you long for.

Still, I suppose there’s a security,

at least the wind doesn’t bite,

The ice cold rain spits less vehement

and the cloak of alley hides little guilty sins,

and yes, I have stood too in the shadow alley,

breaking down the shades of night,

with shades of night,

pissing on the bricks of yesteryear,

looking how the moss grows green,

on damp mortar,

but hey, brother, just step out,

over here,

look at this hill fort,

this green place,

that mountain stream,

life outside the alley goes on without you,

but calls for you to join again.


The many many times God has changed my life and how I became an Anglican!

SO many times It seems God has changed my life, changed my direction, changed my world view.

Looking back, I can see how that when  I thought I knew all the answers, I had many ideas and opinions about God and how church should be. Its those ideas and opinions which we love to cling to, that God in His grace, through trials and difficulties, has to sometimes prise away from us, like a Father, with that thing which does His child no good. We can’t let go easily but The Lord has a way of humbling us, like He did with Israel, leading us as they through deserts and wildernesses, pits and valleys to bring us to a better place and to a better understanding of His ways, our own ways and the ways of those around us.

Deuteronomy 8.2 . . ..and you shall remember that the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.

So goes the story of how I became an Anglican.

Rev. Simon Ponsonby once said, slightly tongue in cheek that with his upbringing in a brethren church he was kind of led to believe that the Roman Catholic Church was the whore of Babylon and the Anglican Church was her illegitimate heir! Awful as it now seems I related to that thought, as my upbringing had been similar, though of course understated, not directly preached, but nevertheless still there. Free church evangelicals have their spiritual pride and sometimes look down on everyone else as apostates or on the way to it. I was once pretty much in that camp.

Growing up in an evangelical free church of course The Reformation was everything. You were either an Arminian or a Calvinist and as teenagers we tried to suss out the big deal. As a Christian all my world view seemed to be coloured by this. A diet of Martin Luther, The Wesleys, and John Bunyan (mostly) were to be our role models for modern life growing up in the 1970’s. Childhood teachings bear their fruit sometimes years later and such fruit grew on a holiday to Rome with my wife in our 20’s. In Rome there is a church which contains the ‘Scala Sancta’ or Holy Stairs. These are believed by many to have been the stairs which Christ himself ascended on the way to His trial, then moved to Rome by The Emperor Constantines mother St Helena. Ever since, Roman Catholics have traversed these steps on their knees in penance and reverence. I had heard, of course that that great hero of Protestantism, Martin Luther had gotten halfway up and, divinely inspired, had got off his knees understanding that ‘the just shall live by faith’ and hence walked the rest of the way. In the steps of Luther then, I marched to the top making my wife come with me, amongst all those penitential works blinded Roman Catholics kissing their rosaries and entreating me to get down on my knees.  I imagine that the same scenario has been played out many times since the reformation. When we arrived at the top, a guide quickly showed us down the back steps and out of the building. Had I acted out my faith like Luther? Maybe, more of an act of violent sectarianism and disrespect.  Alas I was yet proud and worse still proud of my faith and like that story Jesus told of the Pharisee and tax collector in the temple, maybe I had more in common with the Pharisee. “Thank you Lord, that I am not like those works blind Catholics”.

I was not aware then, that my thinking was amiss and considered myself to be a good evangelical. I would often seek to share something of Christ at work or out on the streets with friends or as part of outreach teams. God has His own ways of humbling our proud hearts for His own purposes.

It must have been around 1998 when my wife and I became disillusioned with prosperity teaching in the Pentecostal churches which we had been attending and became part of another non conformist experiment. This church was made up of many who were disaffected with extremes of teaching at the time of the Toronto Blessing and also a large contingent of people who had leanings or pretensions as messianic believers, teaching that to really understand the bible you had to approach it from a Jewish mindset, rather than a western mindset. Some of these folk, though very sincere reminded me of the false teachers whom St Paul warned against in his epistle of Galatians, people who wanted to hold up justification by law and by faith at the same time. One person even went so far as to get circumcised! A third element in the church were brethren, in which that particular church had its roots. These people tried to understand the other elements and be a steadying reasoned word based influence, which they largely were, though there seemed to be little clear and distinct leadership, amongst us. ( Maybe a brethren reluctance to be called Pastor, in itself a noble enough sentiment, though churches do need strong leadership.)

As the 20th century closed many in our church and elsewhere fully expected the millennium bug to stop everything and planes to fall out of the sky as all computers would cease to work. Some stockpiled water and other essentials, but like clouds without rain the year 2000 dawned and nothing came of the predictions.

Around the same time I discovered a group of Christians on-line who would go every year to do outreach at Glastonbury Festival and also to Sidmouth Folk Festival for a week of evangelism. This interested me, so I managed to book a place on their team to Sidmouth that summer. That first year I had an amazing time, just sharing my faith and joining in extended times of worship with the team, serving coffee, tea and chai in the little cafe at Sidmouth YMCA. We would sing and pray and talk in tongues and then walk off down to the town to speak to people, really walking on air, it seemed. High on love and the Holy Spirit. Peoples lives seemed to get touched and there was a great sense of  excitement about being part of Gods work. I wanted more of this, much more, it seemed that for years I had been alone, trying to plant seeds as best I could, now I had a direction, I felt this was Gods leading. If I had any doubts or reservations about what I was involved in it was that the leaders of the team embraced and taught extreme prosperity teaching, health and wealth, name it and claim it Christianity, something which I felt at odds with at that particular time.

That following year another element had came arisen to change my thinking. This was a film. The life story of St Francis of Assisi, made in the 1970s by Francisco Zafferelli is a somewhat rosy and romanticised life of St Francis, but it really caught my imagination at the time. Francis became one of my heroes, then, I think, as he loved the poor, preached against the excesses of the medieval church and renounced his earthly fathers wealth to gain his heavenly Fathers blessing and enter his kingdom. This seemed suddenly much closer to the teaching of Christ than a modern health and wealth teaching which seemed to have the blessing of self at its centre rather than the love of others. I watched the film several times, till my family were bored, made my mother come round and watch it, told friends. I guess that’s what you do when God impresses something on your heart and mind, you tell others, it spills over into your life and conversation and it colours your thinking. Yes Francis was a catholic, but God seemed to be using his life and witness to speak to me, beginning to humble my proud Protestant mindset.

I wanted something of Francis’ experience too, something radical, untainted and an experiential Christianity, where people really knew God and walked with Him, not only talked about doctrine or claimed to know Him. Blessed are the poor, one of the foundations stones of Franciscan life, straight from the teaching of Jesus, really captured my imagination too at that time.

Here reaching out at Sidmouth Folk Festival were a group of fundamentalist believers convinced that God really wanted them wealthy, whilst by contrast many of the very people whom they were preaching to at Glastonbury and Sidmouth had renounced wealth, renounced materialism, renounced capital and self aggrandisement and were trying to live simply, spiritually and differently. I felt at that time that these hippies and punks may have been closer to the kingdom than those trying to convert them! Maybe that was an extreme thought and yes, these people still desperately needed to meet with Jesus as their saviour, but hadn’t even Jesus himself taught the religious leaders on one occasion that the tax collectors and prostitutes were entering heaven ahead of them.? So was my reasoning, that summer of 2001 as I left for Sidmouth Folk week.

I wondered also, how will lives be changed sowing pieces of paper with words about Jesus? It suddenly occurred to me that I had been doing this for years and years with little fruit to show. I thought of the words of someone who had rejected a Jesus tract on a previous occasion. “It’s just more paper, people don’t need more paper about God they want evidence”. With this in mind I decided to try and fast whilst on the outreach, desperate for something to happen in someone’s life and to make a difference. I informed the leader that this was my intention. He said to me, well it can’t do any harm! So I began to fast from then. I didn’t embark upon a total fast as I had never done that, as I was a total novice at such disciplines and I didn’t stop drinking fluids. When communal mealtimes came round I didn’t want to to tell everybody I was fasting so I just took very minimal amounts of food, like plain rice. As the week went on I became more and more dissociated from the team and the joy and banter around the table, really sinking down into myself  (and God) and unable to join in. People were asking me  if I was ok so were obviously quite concerned about me. Another element which added to my difficulty was that the leader had me on the rota to work in the kitchen for the cafe for the week, quite difficult preparing food for others when trying to fast. There were some times of relief and quiet, such as the time when I stumbled into the parish church for some moments of prayer. Tourists and sight seers came and went with their cameras and their chatter but I was aware of God in that place. Peace and rest aside from clamour and noise. I headed back to the YMCA strengthened within, not really because of a church building, but maybe excited about God building His church.

At one point during the week I was serving in the Cafe and spoke about Jesus to a hippy girl asking her what she thought about Jesus. Her name was Angie and she had travelled from Germany, renounced material possessions and was living in a community of travellers in the woods nearby. Angie told me that she believed not in a “god”, but “gods” and embraced Panthiesm, believing that God filled and was a part of everything and she didnt really believe in a monotheistic God distinct from His creation like Christians do. We didnt reach an agreement, and she left the cafe that day.

On the last day of the outreach I stepped outside the kitchen and into the street.

There was Angie again, sitting on the pavement busking with her violin.

I went over and just sat nearby praying for a while. The Holy Spirit seemed to inspire me then and I went over to her.

In one hand I held a piece of sliced white bread. In the other hand I held a five pound note. I found myself saying these words, “Hi Angie, you believe that less is more don’t you?” “Yes” she replied. I continued, “So which is more, this piece of bread or this five pound note”? She thought and replied and said “The bread because its food”. I answered “Yes, and also because its a symbol of the body of Christ broken for you, and because that is more, take the five pound note as well.” Angie said, “well OK if you really want to and then got off the pavement and put her arms around me, holding on tight. Just then, as if on cue the leader of the outreach walked up to me and said, “Hey, Colin, you are supposed to be working in the kitchen”. This provided me with a timely exit and I went back to the kitchen. I never saw her again, but have always felt that this had been a life changing encounter for her. I have always liked to think that she is somewhere worshipping Christ in a church as a result. I may be completely wrong and we dont always get to see the rest of peoples story, but something happened and it was more than just paper. Jesus is the bread of life. The experience certainly touched and spoke to me (maybe more than it did her) though starting out so positive can sometimes also go horribly wrong too. I found on returning to Bournemouth, normal working life, church life, that I wanted to stay in that place with God and the things I had discovered.  I felt unable to let go. I didn’t want to stop fasting. Though I hadn’t realised at the time, it had become a security, a little God bubble where nothing could reach me. I only realised this later. It definitely had elements of addictive behaviour, giving me significance, rather than finding my significance in Christ alone.

Soon after I returned I found myself fasting through a wedding celebration at our church, I think I really must have been desperate not to lose whatever it was I had found.

The elders were trying to talk to me, meeting up with me as I wasn’t really getting on very well with some of my brothers at church. I was becoming harsh and judgemental and argumentative. I didn’t even realise that I was upsetting people, I was in another place. Looking back, it had begun to affect my mental health.

That which begins in the Spirit can so easily end in the flesh, when we take it out of context and make it our security.

So I became an Anglican. After the big fight. The big fight happened one Sunday morning when I over-reacted in a church service, after misunderstandings turned to frustration and in turn anger and my ugly fists were raised to elders, so there were tears and rent friendships and leaving and meltdown.

And there was this Anglican Church.



willing to know a failing brother

and call me brother.

a refuge,

a place to think and consider

and be sorry

and realise how religious, non-conformity could be.

and I sat at the back and gradually realised

Gods leading all the way along

even in the mistakes

and foolishness

and that God is there

within Anglicanism too

and so my pride was broken down some more . . . .  God be thanked!