Prayer with our Senses

Praying with our senses makes sense. Why limit communication to words?

That which we may see, hear, taste, touch, or smell can be a direct route to God’s Presence. Some of us may lack one or more of these senses: I lost my sense of smell forty years ago, and I would dearly love to enjoy the perfume of a rose again. Those who are blind, or deaf, or otherwise restricted can still use the senses we enjoy. If we are made in the image of God, do you not think that our appreciation of a sunset, a symphony, a meal, a fragrance and a texture is a gift from God to His children?

God created a world that is sensual, physical, and beautiful. Allow yourself the treat of a sensual prayer. Go and find something to enjoy with your senses; remember who is responsible for the existence of what you enjoy. Then with whatever means seems most appropriate, make it prayer.

This is a short prayer I penned after enjoying cherry blossom, photographing it, thus thinking God’s thoughts after Him as a tribute of worth. Lord, these blossoms are GOOD, and gorgeous, and offer the hope of future fruit. What a great God You are. Amen.

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Photograph & words (c) 2018, Richard Starling

A Long, Wandering Walk

“Let’s go for a walk…” quickly followed by the “Do we have to?” response is a conversation many families have. As a nipper, I was strongly on the side of “do we have to?” Assurances that “you’ll enjoy it” seemed rather optimistic.

A funny thing happened on the way to the South Downs- I discovered the joys of nice long walks in the country. Sussex was replaced by Derbyshire- long walks across the Peak District. Derbyshire was traded for Devon- long walks across wild, beautiful Dartmoor and the lovely coast. Then came Luton.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Chiltern Hills and Ashridge woods gave scope for wonderful exploration.

Over the years, trips abroad featuring Alpine walks and visits to wild country acquired a special place in my heart.

I discovered I loved it. Walks became a time for solitary thinking, or an opportunity for quality time with special people. Walking even became a prayer-place of real importance.

Slogging up steep hills with a loaded rucksack as the rain trickled down my neck… the sheer “joy” of sleeping in a small tent and having to pull on rain-sodden trousers the next morning… those moments, not so much. Sore, hot feet. Aching back. Running short of water. Getting slightly lost… Sounds amazing… “Do we have to?”

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” – Hebrews 12:11-13 (NLT)

Learning the discipline of walking, acquiring the skills of navigation and map-reading, breaking in new boots, and yes, even the hardships are worth it. A satisfying weariness sat in front of a nice fire, with a cold drink and some good food- priceless. (And no credit card necessary!)

Austrian tourist maps are interesting. They are more of a loose guide that allows interesting discoveries. Often they have “helpful” notes about the ease/severity of the various climbs and “strolls.” Bear in mind these are penned by local experts who are possibly half-goat and were born with an Alpenstock in each hand. Be aware (which should shortened to “BEWARE”).

The photo today comes from the smooth, flat path between Bovey Tracey and Lustleigh (South Dartmoor). It used to be a railway until savaged by Dr Beeching. Lovely beech trees overhang the track, the river sparkles and gurgles nearby. Birdsong beats any “canned” music and peace descends. Blissful.

Journeying to the wild has become an essential ingredient for my wholeness. Body, mind and spirit find freedom. Yes, there are still “tired hands and weak knees” but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Walking becomes a pilgrimage through a natural cathedral. God seems close by: the things you see and hear communicate eternity. Walking become a metaphor for discipleship.

I’ve missed long walks over the last couple of years. My health severely limits the distance I can walk; and difficult terrain becomes impossible. However, the disciplines learnt over the years, and wise choices of destination, mean I can still visit “my” cathedral. I make my “smooth paths” by driving the car or riding the e-bike to reach safe places. Guess what- God is still close by, and eternity still knocks on the senses.

It’s not the distance that counts, nor the difficulty of the road. The willingness of the mind, heart, and spirit will still unlock the door and let me in.

Fancy a walk? Willing to find your “own” cathedrals? God awaits. Go take a long, wandering “walk” alongside.

Tired-hands-weak-knees

Spiritual issues and physical causes

I’m not always as smart as I think I am. (Before you snigger, that’s probably true for you too!)

It took me YEARS to put together the experience of spiritual struggles with the gloominess of winter. I began to notice that I had a “pick up” every year round about April. I laughed more, was less moody, and generally enjoyed living more. I prayed better, and read the Bible more and was “up for God.”

If I wanted to pretend to be really super-spiritual, I’d probably say it was all to do with the Easter experience. Resurrection re-ignited my rejoicing… and so on.

That’s partly true. The resurrection of Christ IS seriously GOOD NEWS. Bound to have an impact on me. Or I’m in a real mess!

psalm 146 v2_3 063Country190418 edited.jpgYesterday I saw these technicolour tulips, backlit by the spring sunshine. Seeing them struck me with joy. I could have done a little dance, a jig, and shouted honking great hallelujahs. The beauty of these flowers filled me up and made me grateful to God for being alive.

Back to the beginning. “It took me YEARS to put together the experience of spiritual struggles with the gloominess of winter…”  Spring sun and colour simply thrills me, delights me, and makes me feel better. I’m excited. I feel alive. I begin to turn my attention to God again. This is a simple but profound principle: our physical bodies and our experience of the climate & season will be linked to our spiritual well-being. My sense of closeness to the Lord is stronger. My ability to live my faith increases.

We are physical beings as well as spiritual. Bad health, tough circumstances, stress, horrible experiences (etc) are likely to have a knock-on effect. Realising this means we can be better prepared and geared up for the battle. I do love the experience of the prophet Elijah, who after amazing triumphs then abruptly crashes down with exhaustion and depression. We find Elijah in a cave, asking God to finish his life. What does the heavenly doctor prescribe? Sleep, eat, rest, and carry on like that until Elijah’s sense of purpose is renewed. “Spiritual” issues often have a physical root cause.

Diagnosis and prescription:  Enjoy the colour of these tulips. Get ready to laugh just for joy. Jump up and down if you like. Stop beating yourself up for being physical, and remember Elijah. Rest, recover, renew- and get ready to rejoice. Be grateful to God for the wonderful triggers He has put in us, the physical things and beauties that remind us we aren’t “only” physical. We are reborn in Christ, renewed in the Spirit, and reconciled to our Father. We have an eternal destiny and a purposeful life. God has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy! God bless you and give you a mouth full of laughter. 

(Read Psalm 146 v2-3)

Photo (c) Richard Starling, 2018

Flourishing

Dear God,
It was sunny today- quite warm, actually.
That was nice- thank you for a lovely day.
The garden is looking better.
Even the shrubs & trees have new shoots,
even the scruffy ones. Here’s a picture of one.

017Garden180418We complain about the rain, or the cold,
even though we know we need rain to survive.
We’ll probably moan “It’s too hot” before long!
King David wrote about people whose lives
have what they need to flourish.

Psalm 1:3 says “They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”

That sounds rather good. Lovely, in fact.
Please, Father God, help us to put our roots
where they draw the Living Water of Life.
Help us to flourish, to show the life within us,
and growing the fruit of the Spirit
so everyone we meet is blessed
with the grace and love of Jesus.

That’s a good life, with new life showing.

In the Name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- Amen.

Blue Ice, Red Canoe

Courage- knowing the risks, and taking action anyway.

Visiting Glacier Bay is breath-taking.  Huge rivers of frozen time slide majestically to the sea and the ice displays the strata where debris has been compacted year after year. Noise from the constant stressing and shattering of the ice reverberates in the still air. Regular “calving” of icebergs from tiny to house-sized attract the wonder of onlookers.

Some get closer than others.

Red Canoe Blue Ice 219Glcr Bay July16editThis bold adventurer in a bold scarlet kayak glided through freezing ice-mush and milky water, getting an incredible view- and taking a considered risk. Too close, too bold, and tons of ice could crush the fragile craft.

As the ice rears above, the fissures reveal the deep clear blues of highly pressured, frozen snow that fell perhaps 200 years ago.

The canoeist experienced Glacier Bay in a far deeper way, and was certainly less warm and far less comfortable! I envy that experience.

I like to think that, if given the opportunity, I’d ship out on a kayak and experience this myself.

There’s a little joke about this… A canoeist wanted to go kayaking in Glacier Bay: but decided the chill factor was too extreme for comfort. So he installed a paraffin heater to keep the kayak warmer. Sadly, the paraffin leaked and the kayak caught fire… which goes to prove that you can’t have your kayak and heat it.

I really should apologise for that! Christianity is sometimes accused of being dull, humourless, and a soft option for people without the guts to face up to life. I disagree. To follow Christ takes courage. Believers can be criticised, ignored, laughed at, or even attacked. Living the way of Christ requires self-sacrifice, obedience, humility and a radically different set of values and purpose. We should stand out from the crowd.

Jesus sends us into a world that is beautiful and damaged, wonderful and terrifying. “Go into all the world… tell them…” Follow the Way of the Cross… love your neighbour, your enemy, even yourself. It is a challenge worthy of our best response and determination.

Jesus also said we would not be alone on the journey… He will be with us. Up for it? It will take courage, even with such a Friend. Courage is knowing the risks, and taking action anyway. Go on, be bold today!

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A day that ends in fire and prayer

This day has ended in fire, O Lord,
and we trust You for tomorrow.
We do not know what shall be;
understanding today has been hard enough.
We hold to the words of Jesus our Saviour,
who told us to live one day at a time.
Each and every day will have troubles enough,
as well as the blessings and joy life brings.
 
We pray tonight for those whose fear
will keep them from sleep,
whose anxiety makes faith harder.
We pray for all who live in unquiet countries
where tomorrow is not under guarantee.
We ask for justice and mercy for those in need.
O Lord, may the rising sun bring a better day,
and may hope rise anew in their hearts.
 
Thank you, our Heavenly Father,
for being faithful and for being here and now.
Our day has not gone unnoticed
in the high halls of heaven’s vaults.
With gratitude we offer praise and worship,
more than mere words or habitual noise.
Our hearts and souls and minds are touched
so our body shall kneel in humble love.
 
This day has ended in fire, O Lord.
May Righteousness rise in hope tomorrow.
 
Father, Son, and Spirit rise
to bless and save this world.
Amen.
Words & Photograph (c) Richard Starling, 2018.
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Time like a River

Until the twentieth century, most of the tallest buildings in Europe were churches and cathedrals. According to sociologist O.F.G. Sitwell (1981), society expresses value and importance in how we build. Large and tall structures are a metaphor- the tallest are the most important. Back then, the tallest were spires on religious structures. Christian faith shaped and centred society, and pointed symbolically upwards.

Things have changed. This photograph of Tower Bridge on the River Thames was taken from the incredibly high tower which now dominates the London skyline- the Shard. Architecturally and from an engineering point of view, the Shard is amazing and dramatic. Sociologically and theologically it suggests that our priorities have changed. Human achievements and business take centre stage. It’s an important symbol of our age. Britain is still influential and VERY wealthy, even though recent austerity politics have increased the gap between the rich and poor- wealth is unfairly distributed.

Tower Bridge DSC01181Looking over the River Thames from such a height is fascinating. As the river winds through the city, time unfolds. Buildings from several centuries tell the story of a changing world. We can’t turn the clock back, but we can learn from our history.

Tower Bridge is impressive and imposing (more so from ground level!) and the trip across the top corridor between the twin towers is really worthwhile. Docks have been here since at least Roman times: many are now converted for residential or leisure use, many were destroyed in the Blitz during the Second World War. Life, commerce, leisure, travel- all have left their mark. Untold thousands of people live, laugh, work, and suffer in these buildings. Immense wealth and abject poverty sit within spitting distance.

History matters. If we ignore it, we tend to repeat the mistakes of the past. We should celebrate human achievements and abilities- but not past the point where we become proud and self-important.

You might like to use the photo as a focus for meditation on social values and how Christian faith communicates today. What does God say about life priorities?

In Genesis 11 there is the story of another Tower, symbolising the arrogance and assertiveness on humankind. We do reach for the heavens. Whether or not we understand what we reach for is another question. I dream of a society of humility, faith, and compassion. I wonder what that would look like… and what legacy we might leave when the next generations try to answer the same eternal question. Why are we here?