I thought it was time for yet another interview about worship, again from a slightly different perspective. So I donned my ‘Parky’ hat and caught up with poet El Gruer just after the Church of Scotland Heart & Soul event to hear her thoughts about poetry and worship.
Firstly, I was really inspired and taken aback by your poetry and drama at the Church of Scotland Heart & Soul event. There was so much passion behind it. Where did that come from and why did you choose to do it in such a manner?
Every piece I write is immersed in prayer before-hand. I trust that the words are from God for his people and so I can’t help but be passionate about them. I chose to use the visual element in the Heart and Soul piece to keep the audience anchored in the simplicity of the message but to also do something a bit different that would hopefully help people connect to it and remember it.
How long have you been working with the band Awaken?
I do collaborations with different musicians/ bands/artists and solo pieces too. I have worked with different members of awaken over the past year but this was our first live collaboration with the full band and that particular piece.
Do you think that there’s a strong link between worship music and poetry and drama?
Worship overflows in so many different ways, I don’t think there is a definitive line between different art forms, where does poetry finish and songwriting begin? I think there is incredible power in bringing all types of creativity together in worship, it opens more of our senses to who God is. I love the body of Christ and am desperate to see people released in their gifting to bring him glory. I hope that what I do can in some small way encourage others to step out.
When did you develop an interest in poetry?
I always kept a diary as a child/teenager and sometimes wrote poetry in there. It wasn’t until my last year in high school that I actually started thinking seriously about developing it. I used to complain alot about the poetry we had to study in school, around that time I heard an interesting quote, ‘Your complaint is your calling.’- the idea behind this being that if you were willing to complain about it, it showed that you actually had a passion for it and wanted to see it being done differently. I was also frustrated that there was little room for creativity and especially poetry in the average church service even though scripture is thriving with it. I long to see God elevated in poetry again.
How did growing up in the Highlands affect the way you write?
I don’t know if it has affected the way I write but it has certainly given me some resilience. We are made of tough stuff in the Highlands! When I believe God gave me the vision to step out as a full time poet, it was a very lonely time- it is a hard vision for others to grasp until you see it. After returning from a year in Canada, I had no money, nowhere to live and only a dream to go on. But I also knew that this was the only way it could happen- through God’s provision alone. Now a year and a half later I rent a wee flat, run a car and have been blessed to travel all over the UK sharing with some incredible people. But I think without the Highland resilience, I may not have made it through the pioneering months!
What inspires you to write? What are your ambitions and dreams for poetry and worship?
I believe in the power of brokenness. When we cry out, God meets us. I see so much brokenness in our nation and I want to vocalise it, to give people an avenue into seeing their need, but to point to them the one that is whole. It is so important to run this alongside worship as re-focusing our eyes onto the finished work of Christ is when our brokenness becomes a battlecry.
You teach seminars and workshops. What does that involve?
These are a lot of fun. The format will vary depending on the environment. But on the whole the workshops I do are very informal for all levels of writers/learners. We just play around with alot of creative exercises that spark creativity and create some very interesting pieces. I recently worked with Barnardos and ran a 10 week course for teenagers who were in a homeless and vulnerable situation or recently out of prison. This looked at re-writing their future, which re-focused their goals and helped them gain confidence in literacy too.
Finally, you’re currently working on your first volume of poetry. Any snippets you can give or any ideas of when it will be released?
Well, the working title at the moment is ‘The Jam Label Lung’ and it is a collection of poems that examines moments that give us breath and take our breath away. If all timings go to plan then it should be published next year.