Greedy or Grateful? Look, See, Pray

Blue tit: parent and chick

Greedy or grateful? I’ve been editing some photos from the garden when we first put out some feeders.

This one makes me chuckle- the poor parent, looking worn out and scruffy, confronted by a very dapper fledgling in smart new plumage. The lunge and the recoil…

Is the adult saying “What’s the magic word? Cheep ‘please’ or you go hungry!”

OR perhaps it’s mealworms with menaces… “Look, you feeble old tit, hand over the dinner OR ELSE! I’ll put you in an aviary!”

Naturally, this musing is simply proof of my own decline into old age. I’m imagining things. At least my imagination still works. I can finally say I qualify for OAP discounts – and I have my Bus Pass to prove it.

If you will work with my whimsy, these birds could pose a question worth a little time. The choice of “greedy or grateful” cuts both ways. The parent could keep all the food and neglect Junior. Junior could grab everything available… or be grateful for the parent’s care. The young are often thoughtless and demanding, focussed on the need to grow and become strong- survival instinct, if you like. Parents shift to a different survival mode- ensuring the species continues, at the cost of their own comfort.

We can go further: what about God’s provision for us? Are we grateful? Do we remember that He took OUR survival seriously, and sent Jesus to embrace life and death for our benefit?

A final thought: assuming “gratitude” holds a place in our hearts, today is a very good day to remember and bless all those who have been parents/guardians, guides, tutors, providers and educators. Looking back over 66 years there are a HOST of people who have helped and encouraged me: and I’m grateful. There are also some I have been able to help, and it’s been a privilege beyond words.

God who watches over even the sparrows (& blue tits!) is watching over us today… and giving freely of love and grace. May we all be blessed in discovering and remembering such a love as this!

“My Father is the gardener” – Look, See, Pray

“My Father is the gardener” – Learning to Prune. Another life lesson from my garden…

Like many gardeners, I love roses with a passion. One word guaranteed to make a novice quail is PRUNING. Where to cut, when, how much, what type of rose, what if I get it wrong… Yet roses are generally quite tough plants, and can forgive errors. However, being informed and wise in pruning certainly gives the best results.

I think the variety may be ”Queen Elizabeth” but that’s a bit of a guess! They had been rather neglected- left to please themselves- and had become leggy and woody. In fact, they looked as if they might pop their clogs. Black spot and stem damage from wind rock meant they looked tired, and frankly, scruffy.

Last autumn I decided to be bold. Pruning secateurs plus some crossed fingers- and some rose fertiliser.

After three flowers last summer- strong new shoots, and clusters of beautiful pink roses (if slightly battered by the rain last week). Success! And the next pruning will clear the other old woody stems to make room for new growth. I’m a happy lil’ gardener.

Pruning seems counter-intuitive. Why cut back the little growth that was surviving?  Roses, like disciples, need to be trimmed, smartened up, given opportunities for new shoots and the joy of beauty.  If you asked the rose bush, it might well say “Stop! Don’t cut me- leave me alone, I’m OK really.”  It would be fibbing. For the gardener truly knows best.  Jesus used the concept of pruning to explain how our Father helps and trains us: John 15:1-2 (NLT)  “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

Gardens left untrained quickly become wild and only the strongest plants will thrive- by dominating the rest.

A heartfelt prayer: Lord, You know me best of all, and You want the best for me and the maximum fruitfulness from my life. Help me to trust that the pruning that disciples me will be a blessing to all the others who will appreciate MY roses! Please prune my life into peace and health, for You ARE my Gardener. Amen.

Bold Singer- Look, See, Pray

Sing boldly, sweet singer!
Let music ripple on the breeze
as smooth as cream,
as clear as crystal,
sweeter than nectar.

Elegant chorister, soloist divine!
Charm the sunlight with purity,
singing praise for the new day,
pitch perfect, delicious balm,
Nature's remedy for night's sorrow.

Though mouths be silent,
the blackbird sings!
Though heart be darkened,
creation's harmony persists
raising hope in the Light.

This new day is freshly made-
gifted with song and silence,
stirring my spirit,
my Father's blessing
to all who will listen- and love.

(c) Richard Starling 2021

A psalm worth reflecting upon today: Psalm 59:16-17

But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength;
Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For You have been my stronghold
And a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to You;
For God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.

Let no evil- Look, See, Pray

A peacefully sleeping Red Panda at the Cotswold Wildlife CentreO to sleep so soundly!

I had a really peculiar dream two nights ago. It involved places I lived in, but weirdly distorted… with odd shops and even more odd shopkeepers. Nothing was right! Even worse, it kept resetting… every time I got near the end of a street in Fishersgate, I dropped back to “Go” and started the journey again!

Very disturbing and frustrating until I eventually woke up and realised it was “just” a dream. Five o’clock in the morning is NOT my best waking up moment…

The details have faded now (thankfully). I’m not looking for an explanation or interpretation. Whatever poked my subconscious can go away, please.

Sleep is our refuge from the stresses and business of life. It is also the time we are most vulnerable because we are unaware. Time for a night-prayer, I think…





Heavenly Father, Protect us in our daily lives, night and day.

Let no evil draw near as we sleep.

Allow our minds to ramble safely,

processing events and memories

that may be significant- and, in peace,

may Holy Spirit life

renew and restore soul and body.

May the love and strength of Christ build up resources of grace

to equip us for the day to come.

Until that morning Glory greets

our awaking in our Eternal Home,

fill us with joy and love so we become signposts

pointing to the Lord and Saviour of all.

In the lovely Name of Jesus

we ask this bedtime boon.

Amen.

(c) Richard Starling, 2021

	

Planting in hope- Look, See, Pray

From the Garden- Lesson 2: Patience! Planting in hope… the basic optimism of gardeners.

This is a strange time in the garden- flowering is almost at its peak, but the cold wet Spring meant the wallflowers lasted longer than usual. I steeled myself to the horrid task of uprooting flowers that have given a long and bright burst of colour (I struggle with the ruthlessness of it, but it has to be done.)

Hidden in the mass of leaves and seed-heads were the rather scrawny anemones which I planted in hope several months ago. Anemone corms aren’t very impressive. Small, wrinkly, dark, dead-looking! On the packing was a glorious picture of floral splendour, but I hadn’t seen any signs of life yet. I wasn’t even sure they were where I thought I’d planted them.

Optimism is the belief that hope is worth it.  Hope is the expectation that what you plant is what you get later on.

Patience is the boring bit where you hold on to hope. My first gardening as a small boy was radishes and lettuce. Mum gave me a small bit of ground for “MY garden” and I eagerly did exactly what I was told. Next day, apparently, I was back on the plot digging them up to see if they were growing yet! Patience has improved… in fact, gardening is a brilliant way to learn patience.

Anyway, patience is paying off. The front garden now has anemones in whites, blues, and red.

In theory, they should be a good habit now. Having been planted, survived, and blooming they are perennials which should grow every year at the end of Spring.  Just like discipleship: the good habits and practices of prayer, worship, Bible reading, shared life and mission become a GOOD habit, a fact of life.

Paul writes about patience, endurance and hope-  it might be a letter about gardening!

Romans 5:3-6 (NLT) We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.

Infinite- Look, See, Pray

Whenever I am tempted to think I have everything sorted out, God has a way of reminding me that I’m not that amazing. Sunsets, sea, sand, sky… too vast and marvellous for me to calculate or control. My response is personal, but cannot be separated from the union of worshipping Church through all ages.

So then, Lord God,
this interaction of matter, light, and wonder
humbles my heart before the infinite glory, 
telling me there is a Glory beyond Glory.
Infinite Love and Infinite Grace,
Absolute Holiness and Divine Majesty,
You alone are God.
I thank You for the gift of another day,
and praise You for revealing Love 
that covers my sins
as the sea scrubs the sand.
Far above the golden air
energised by the Sun
Lifts my soul to contemplate infinity-
yet infinity is wrapped in your Hand
and stars and galaxies beyond sight 
glow in the Presence 
that has come to Earth
and will reconcile all things to Yourself.

Lord, I am too small
too limited
and too flawed
to offer perfect praise-
all I have I give You,
a prodigal son
in a prodigal world,
hardly daring to believe
my Father runs to greet me:
my crucified Christ Rose for me,
Holy Spirit Presence fills me-
For I was lost, and am now found;
I was dead, and am alive in You.

Such Infinite Mercy,
such mystery of grace.
In Christ alone mystery is unfurled
as the Banner over me is Love.
Amen.

(c) Richard Starling, 2021

Deep Secrets from the garden- Look, See, Pray

“So long ago the Garden…” sang Larry Norman, when I was young, and referencing the oldest tale in the Bible. God created a Garden as the perfect home for humanity. I’ve just come in from my garden which is teaching me many lessons about living as a follower of Jesus Christ.

This rose has a history for me. I bought “Deep Secret” for my Mum: it’s almost-black buds open into a lovely deep velvety red rose with a glorious fragrance. She loved it!  It came from Woolworths (another name from the far past). Mum kept it and cared for it, and repaid the love by growing the rosebud I wore in my lapel on my wedding day. She also grew a cutting for me, so my garden in Derbyshire had a “Deep Secret.”

“Deep Secret” also featured in my new-build garden in Devon; and in the garden in Luton. Now back in Sussex, I went searching the garden centres until I found it again. This photo is from my front rose-bed today.

Retirement is offering me, for the first time ever, the opportunity to garden without needing to grab time from pressing agendas and obligations. My garden is a place to think, and to wholesomely sweat as I wage war against weeds and bugs; but above all a haven of peace and beauty. Having a garden gives responsibilities to mow the lawn, weed out the wrong plants, and share the blessing of beauty with the neighbours.

So I’m going to do a little series of reflections on gardens, me, and God.

The Garden of Eden is a story of love and tragedy. A perfect place, a new creation, a perfect relationship: all too quickly scarred and spoilt, and a breakdown of trust. What’s the “Deep Secret” of Eden?  Love doesn’t give up. God provides for human needs, and puts into motion the secret plan prepared before Time began.  See 2 Timothy 1:9  “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time- to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.”

Life changes when we discover this precious “Deep Secret.” There’s a heavenly fragrance to enjoy…

“You-Neek” – Look, See, Pray

I’m different.
The others look at me as if I’m odd.
I wonder if my Mummy wishes I was sandy brown
with eyes that wouldn’t blink in the sun.
I’m different.
They all let me know.
Some are kind and sympathetic.
Others call me the “Wannabee”
or Whitey Wobbly…
It’s hard to make friends
when you don’t look the same.
It’s alright being white, but I do show the dirt-
but Mummy takes special care
to groom me behind my ears,
and she whispers to me
that I’m “You-Neek”
and she says that fiercely as if someone might doubt.
I think it means I’m special.
Perhaps being “You-Neek” is like being chosen,
perhaps I’ll be a famous jumper when I am big.
If I win the races, and jump the highest,
I will be different- I’ll be the best.
Perhaps being white is alright.
I think we’re the same inside our fur,
and I reckon God knows
that being different is OK
‘cos I think He chose the colour just for me.
Yes, “You-Neek” and proud to be me.
Would you like to be friends?
We could be different together,
and that would be quite nice.

I choose my song- Look, See, Pray

I’ve just been sitting in my back garden, enjoying the sunshine. The road was quite noisy… we’re near enough to hear it. A TV was broadcasting to the neighbourhood- they obviously wanted to share their favourite programme with us all.

To be honest, I felt rather disappointed. To much noise.

Then a robin and a blackbird started a duet (or possibly a bragging rights competition?). Suddenly I had a choice. What would I choose to listen to?

No contest. Birdsong won, claws down.

The other noises became “wallpaper” which I could ignore.

Seems to me that this is exactly what prayerful contemplation should be. Choosing to become aware, choosing which Voice to heed, with which song to harmonise.

God is present. I am choosing awareness, choosing to listen, instead of rushing into a barrage of words thrown in God’s Face. Instead of allowing the traffic or TV or lawnmower to distract and distort my attention, I am fixing my attention on the constant song that has been part of my life: the gentle melody that awakens the heart.

“My” robin just came down to investigate my offering of mealworms. A fearless little eye sparkled with life and light. Like a tiny angel, “my” robin sang of the praise of the Lord. My heart responded.

If a robin, a thrush, a blackbird or wren can sing my heart alive, just imagine what a choir of heavenly angels can do.

Psalm 34:1-9

“I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the LORD’s greatness; let us exalt his name together. I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; he saved me from all my troubles. For the angel of the LORD is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him. Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the LORD, you his godly people, for those who reverence him will have all they need.”

I don’t fit in- Look, See, pray

Orang-utan in conservation park

I’d fit right in.
If you had a party, and asked me to tea,
I’d eat all the lettuce and swing in YOUR tree.
I’d fit right in.
I’m looking sad, human, please send me home
To where fruit hung ripe and I had MY tree.
I don’t fit here.
My hair is too scruffy, I grew fat and lazy,
I ate to remember, and remembered to cry.
I don’t fit here.
I pull faces and scratch, such jolly capers-
A jester today, once prince of the trees.
I’d like to go home.
Rain forest clearance, trees gone to waste
Now smoke and hot ashes are all I can taste.
They took my home.
‘dozers and logsaws, the creaks and the crash-
Giants all felled, no-one asked if we minded.
My hope is sucked dry.
If I could write, or draw perfect pictures
Perhaps people might listen.
I have no home.
Replant the forests! Tear up the roads!
Then we could pretend that it all is OK.
But it isn’t.
And neither am I.

I don’t fit in.

Photographs and words (c) Richard Starling, 2021.