“Dear Diary…” – Look, See, Pray

Monday- the day after Resurrection Day. I wonder if John, the “beloved disciple”, started making notes? If John kept a diary…….

Dear Diary,
I’m so happy I could burst! I hardly dared believe at first. Those dear, dear women, so excited, so scared, so certain. Then so out of breath, racing Peter to go and see for myself. I just couldn’t bring myself to go in. What if he was still there, dead? What if he wasn’t?

Not sure which thought was scarier!

Somehow, deep down, I knew it… and when Peter went in, his cry of astonishment gave me the courage to see for myself. Just the linens there, Jesus was gone. Such a strange day- what are you supposed to do when the dead friend isn’t there? Go for breakfast? Find some wine? Hide?

Mary of Magdala told us “I have SEEN the Lord!” She said Jesus spoke to her, I must check with her later exactly what Jesus talked about. Someone should write it all down so we don’t forget.

Anyway, we got together last night, the gang and me. Except Judas, of course… and Thomas. Don’t remember why Thomas was missing, I must ask him. He really missed out! We were all pretty jittery- so we locked ourselves in. Don’t suppose that would have stopped the guards if they turned up, but it felt a bit reassuring.

HE came in. No warning, door still locked, and looked at us- bunch of frightened rabbits that we were!

“Peace be with you.”

Immediately, the fear melted into the most wonderful joyous amazement! Laugh, cry, shout, fall down- I can’t really remember what I did- but it was glorious. The Marys all cried- there were tears of joy in my eyes, I can tell you. His Mum, well, sort of MY mother now, that’s going to take some getting used to! But I will look after her, I will, it’s the last thing Jesus asked of me. But if he’s alive again, erm, a dead man walking, no, no, a LIVE man talking! What happens next?

“Receive the Holy Spirit…”

I have a funny feeling feeling we haven’t heard the last of this.

How to explain this? A dead man taken down from that awful, hideous cross, hurriedly buried in solid rock, guards and all… now we don’t have a tomb to grieve at, the Cross is empty, and Jesus saying and doing stuff I can’t get my head round yet. How can I tell Thomas all this- what’s he going to think? Will he even believe us? I wish Jesus could have told him personally, Thomas will probably think we’re hysterical and imagining things.

Well, diary of mine, it’s getting late. I don’t know if I’ll get off to sleep tonight, but the oil in the lamp is pretty low, I’ve got some more, but I’m too tired.

It’s the eyes, you know. Those lovely eyes that look right inside and burn with a holy love. He looked right at me… he smiled, a little smile just for me, and he knew EVERYTHING I was thinking and feeling, and the sorrow and joy in his heart made me shiver and go hot all at once. All my worst fears, and my biggest hopes, they were reflected in his eyes. You know, it’s going to be alright.

There will be some shocked faces in Jerusalem in the morning. Will anyone believe us? “I have come that you may have life, REAL life…” That quote will be useful, I know it will. Real life.

REAL life. That’ll get me going in the morning. I wonder if Jesus will be back tomorrow… or the day after?

REAL… real life. It’s REAL.

(c) Richard Starling, Easter Monday 2021

Sonrise – Look, See, Pray

Some things speak for themselves. Few people seriously doubt that Jesus of Nazareth was a real historical figure- the evidence is too compelling. The crunch question has always been this: is Jesus still dead?

The closest eyewitnesses tell their stories plainly. Millions of lives have been changed for the better through faith in the one who came back from the dead. Those who had most to gain by disproving the Resurrection never succeeded. His body was gone from the tomb- and many witnesses risked their lives by testifying to meeting Jesus. And, honestly, who will die for a lie?

If Jesus has been raised from death, then at the very least he deserves a sincere investigation of the evidence.

I wish that Christians had always lived up to their beliefs and principles. But that is rather the point: we aren’t perfect- but we can be forgiven. We can live with a worthy purpose and a renewed love. We can live in healing communities of learning and accepting each other, and we can share in the task of mercy and rescue of the whole human race. Ultimately it isn’t about us. It is about Him.

So, is Jesus still dead?

Your answer to that question makes all the difference in the world.

Bleak hill- Look, See, Pray

Only a hill. What more can be said?

But this bleak hill could tell a story…
Uncounted years of sunshine and rain,
stone cracking, wind blowing,
history made and forgotten, footprints lost,
memories murmured by melancholic men
thinking of one hill,
three crosses,
and one Saviour.

God painted a canvas of mercy weaved into pain.
Red blood, black flies, darkest sky
and a crown with sharpest spikes
on the head of the gentlest of Men,
on the Hill they called the Place of the Skull.
How apt indeed, place for solving
inconvenient truth and inconvenient men!

Three victims there, and two deserved to die-
the Other, here for a reason greater
than the spite of conspiracies, jealousies,
and fear.

We call it Good Friday, this saddest of days,
when Death bit the bullet
and swallowed itself.
Hate did its worst- He breathed his last,
the cry resounding from heaven to hell
as Jesus tore open a doorway to Life.

The longest Friday.
A few heroes, a broken hearted mother,
rough soldiers, cruelly efficient,
with onlookers weeping or carping-
then gentle, sorrowful hands
a cool palace of bedrock
for the King of all Kings.

All hope seems suspended.
The planet on pause-
so much in the balance,
who weighted the scales?
Poets and prophets speak pictures
and the critics complain,
veiled hints and becomings
unclear to their minds.

One hill,
three crosses,
and one Saviour.

And Sunday is coming.

(c) Richard Starling, Good Friday 2021.

Turn Every Page- Look, See, Pray

Poets and saints find meaning and hope in the beauties of nature. The Celtic Christians of Britain, hundreds of years ago, described the world as God’s “Book of Creation” and found there rich stores of food for the soul.

In more recent times, this insight has been restored and many Christians find God still “speaks” with or without words- becoming aware of His Presence, we discover the wonder of mystery. Most of us know relatively little of the botany/biology that informs the experts; yet we still discover in “nature” a wonderful harmony of function and beauty.

It has been said that the one who breaks a thing to discover how it works has left the path of wisdom (JRR Tolkien). This poppy was “broken” when I took the photo, honest! In fact, the poppy is simply at the mid-point of its life: the passing of the petals heralds the growth of seeds that will be poppies in the future.

A short prayer:

Lord, may we see Life and Love
in the changing of seasons.
As flowers open, as bees labour in sweetness,
as seeds are set for future blessing,
may we recognise the Hand of God working,
and hear again the words of Creation:
“It is very good.”

Open our eyes to admire Your art,
Your craftsmanship, Your generous spirit!
Thank you for the riches given,
for marvels to intrigue us,
for knowledge to seek,
and Love to find.

Worthy, O worthy are You Lord!
The whole Earth is full of Your Glory.
Keep us, O Lord, in Your heart
and in Your Presence, evermore. Amen

Peachy! – Look, See, Pray

Peaches on sale at a Fruit Market, near the Spain/Andorra border

A rare treat as a child- tinned peaches with evaporated milk. Delicious!

Discovering FRESH peaches was a whole new experience. I still like the tinned ones, but fresh… yes please.

The market we visited on holiday was an adventure. Being on the border of Spain and Andorra, the stalls sold everything- and especially the stuff that was hard to get in one or the other place. A glorified swapping system! You bring your cloth to market, we’ll bring our fruit.

I was enchanted by fruit displays: the colour and size of these peaches was irresistible to my camera. The lens was drooling. The light contrast was tricky, very bright in the sun and very dark indoors; but the colours glowed and with a little bit of tidying up in the photo editor, a picture fit for a banquet. Can you (almost) taste the tangy sweetness of the juices as your teeth sink into that yellow-pink fruit?

That’s the test. It’s not just how good something looks. Does the taste match the promise? Bright colours and perfect shapes don’t guarantee anything. You have to put it to the test.

Jesus used this principle to help us distinguish between good and bad in people. Outward appearances, though important, are secondary. Carly Simon summed it up perfectly in the hit song “You’re so Vain” (if you’re too young to know Carly Simon, look her up on YouTube and have a listen.)

But it isn’t just about testing others. How do I measure up? When Jesus looks me in the eye, will that a positive or very embarrassing moment??? Hey, Lord- help me become sweet fruit, not sourplease!

Matthew 7:16-23 (NLT)
You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws’.”

Final thought: the riper and sweeter the fruit, the more easily it is bruised. Perhaps when we are full of the love and grace of Jesus, we need to expect a bit of mistreatment. Love makes itself vulnerable for the sake of the ones who are loved. That’s exactly what Jesus did for us- and that’s good to remember during Lent. It will soon be Good Friday.

Daddy’s taking us to the zoo tomorrow- Look, See, Pray

Young black-headed gulls at Whipsnade Zoo

A song on the radio… remember transistor radios?

"Daddy's takin' us
to the zoo tomorrow.
And we can stay all day!"

Peter, Paul & Mary singing about going to the zoo must have imprinted on my psyche at a very young age. Part of my love for animals goes back as early as I can remember- and I still love going to the zoo today.

These young seagulls reminded me of the song as they clustered together on the fencing of the penguin pool at Whipsnade. Lined up in an orderly fashion, watching the penguins play. Just as noisy as a school trip on an outing!

What they were really waiting for was feeding time. As the keepers dished out the fish, the penguins grabbed most of it very quickly- but scraps and overlooked fish were grabbed gleefully by gulls.

You might be thinking “SEA gulls? So far inland?”

Indeed, not a family outing so much as an adaptation to human impact. Intensive agriculture, excess rubbish and waste littered across Britain- an invitation to the wild creatures to invade our space even as we squeeze then out of theirs.

Climate change and habitat loss are huge issues. Conservation of species at risk of extinction is the biggest reason zoos still exist.

According to Genesis, the human race has a responsibility to be good stewards of the world we live in. We aren’t very good at it, and since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution we have made a mess of unimaginable proportions and caused injustice galore through overexploiting the Earth’s resources and people.

What has this to do with prayer? Everything!

Of all people, it should be Christians who are concerned about conservation and care for our planet. Our Father has given care of Creation to His kids. Issues of justice, fair trade, and climate change should be on our minds, on our lips, and in our prayers.

Wouldn’t it be dreadful if the ONLY place to see animals and birds was a zoo?

The thing about stewards is they have to give an account of that stewardship. Our prayers and actions matter- as does indifference. “Hey, Dad, you know that lovely planet you gave us? We broke it! What do we do now for food, water, and air….?”

One day Jesus will return to Earth. The rate we are burning our bridges, it might have to be soon- and before we are ready.

Rewarding Patience- Look, See, Pray

Going to see the lambs was a rare treat. I was only about six the first time I remember it. Grandad’s market garden bordered a farm that came to life every Spring. Lambs bounced and bleated, and kept going back to Mum for safety and snacks. Oh the noise! Who’d be a mother… all that patient care, feeding ravenous little throats, being jumped on, barged, butted and bounced. And lambs are even worse!

We often use the Bible picture of God as our Father, the best of all possible fathers.

Perhaps we should remember sometimes that God “mothers” us as well: caring, wiping our noses and our tears, providing all we need for life and growth.

There is a reward for such patience. Watching little ‘uns grow up to be strong and capable, loving and mature. If our Mums find such reward alongside the heartache, think how God feels when we start to grow up. God enjoys our youthful antics, sharing smiles and belly-laughs; and rejoices when we are able to stand firm in love, mature enough to be that Love to others.

Think on that. At various points in your life (and mine) God has watched over us- and smiled in satisfied contentment. Our love rewards Divine patience. As children of God, we receive Love- and give it back. God is smiling with us even when we take Love for granted and demand our share: and possibly more! We are young. But we will grow up- and that is reward in itself.

Hear the Trumpet! – Look, See, Pray

There’s no mistaking the trumpet! Bold, brassy, beautiful. In the hands of an expert it can cover a range from subtle through sublime to stupendous. Soldiers respond to its summons, Satchmo played a wonderful world.

Spring is coming… although this may the coldest night of the year! The sentinels are standing tall, the trumpet of Spring is yelling yellow and sunshine has climbed from the earth.

Hey, it’s been tough this year. We know that, and we know why. Can things change?

We can! Listen to the trumpet of Spring. Accept these gifts of colour, of brightness and beauty. Days are getting longer, the dark hours are shrinking, and warmth and colour bring hope. It’s up to us to receive the gift, and start to rejoice again in life. We may have to decide to embrace hope, to enjoy the spring as much as possible, and sing along with the trumpets.

There are encouragements and promises in the Bible that should help motivate us in celebration. Life has always had seasons of darkness; and God comes to bring Light to those who trust Him. Have a look at the daffodil, read the words of Jeremiah who speaks for God… listen to the trumpet!
“The young women will dance for joy, and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration. I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.” Jeremiah 31:13 (New Living Translation)

Thaw Point- Look, See, Pray

January. 31 weeks days in January and it already seems longer. I’m getting square eyes- not from watching the TV, but gazing out of the window hoping for sunshine or snow. Don’t mind which! There have been too many grey rainy days- if 2021 had a warranty, I’d send it back to be adjusted.

There are good moments, of course. This photo reminded me of those crisp frosty days when icy layers encase the grass and twigs, painting the landscape in white lace. This particular photograph catches the precise time when sunlight touches the ice and brings it to thaw point: opaque crystals melt into pure globes that fill with light. Grasses flex themselves and as the droplets fall the magic of the moment is gone. But the hope lingers on…

Every winter comes to a thaw. Even in Narnia, the Wicked Witch could not overcome the Spring!

Be encouraged! This winter will pass. Right now, we can look for the thaw and for the floodwaters to drain. Tiny snowdrops make a delicate prayer of thanks. As days pass by, more daffodils are daring to show off “sunshine on a stick” as the sluggard tulips pull the duvet up for “just a few minutes” or perhaps weeks!

Passing through difficult times is always a trial. Keeping our eyes open to notice the thaw points is medicine for the soul. Take time to appreciate them- if we gloss over them, and dash onwards in drab, soul poverty will strike.

Difficult times can become an invitation to seek God. Many who have chosen this path can echo the words of the Psalmist- and have found a “thaw point” in their deepest heart-yearnings.

“Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found. Surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.”
(Psalm 32 v6-7)

Statues in Bronze- Look, See, Pray

Fountain at Ascott House, now National Trust.
So this is Pegasus, chained to Earth?  
Sculptor's whimsy, cast in bronze, 
connected to water and spitting in the wind. 
And standing silent, Neptune's nephew,
staring skyfull, whip in hand-
doomed to fixed gaze and colder heart.

Nightmare vision- Is this dragon, horse, or fish?
Or who is he, metallic ribcage, futile youth?
Perhaps the artist had bad dreams.
Who paid the bill for this eternal fountain?
Whose coin transmuted to statue?
Why is it here? Whose story is told?

Beside such immobile angst, grass glows
in sun beam, illuminating spray:
Vast pot holds tulips, markers of wealth.
'Tis a place where influence waned,
indulgent extravagance faced down tax- and lost. 
Now simply memory, bronzed.

God has placed eternity in our hearts-
we long to last, to survive, make a mark.
Generations fade as does our fame.
We build, we sculpt, we carve time
with stone or metal, even flowers-
so we are remembered, missed- perchance, loved?

Arc of water, droplets sinking swift
in pool lined with stone and lead;
vain refreshing of history's pages.
There is still living, and garden, and hope;
and we gaze blankly at a coded message
that says... I mattered once, and maybe still.

What memorial, engraved, will tell my tale?
I doubt a statue be raised for me!
Hush, my soul, pay that no mind.
Though I live as servant, and speak of grace
unless my heart beats compassionate love-
then my words fail, and pass to dust.

Here, then, Saviour of creatures and all,
be the Craftsman who shapes my life,
my deeds, and my sculptured heart.
Let Living Water shoot forth in peace
to cool the eyes and feet of pilgrims.
May I testify to Eternal Love! Let that be memorial enough.

(c) 2021, Richard Starling.