A good reflection? Look, See, Pray

Reflections in the Fjord at Olden, Norway

Forty eight years. Where have they gone? If you’re doing the maths, that’s 1973. 29th April to be precise- the day I was baptised as a follower of Jesus Christ. 48 years today.

My Dad conducted the ceremony, three baptisms that evening: baptism by full immersion as believers and disciples. All three of us were baptised at our own request because we had received the grace of God and responded in faith & trust. Our public testimony marked us out as people who had encountered the love of God and who now intended to follow Him as obediently and sincerely as we could, with the help of the Holy Spirit working in us.

How much I have learnt. How much have I succeeded? Good question!

I hope that my faith in Christ has been clearly reflected throughout my life. Have I been perfect? Far from it. But I have learnt that forgiveness is given when needed, and that purpose has also been a consequence of my faith.

The proverb written on the photo was taken on a very still early morning, approaching the mooring at Olden in the Norwegian fjords. The reflection had a gorgeous clarity, a detailed copy of the sleeping village. Our ship was moving so slowly we hardly disturbed the surface. My hope is that the reflection I have left in the passing years has had that same clarity: people watching my life, hearing my words, judging my actions and attitudes OUGHT to be able to discern a true picture of what Christian living is about.

Storms and squalls have stirred up the waters at times. Interacting with other people isn’t always calm and straightforward. But I’ve been grateful for companions on the journey, including those who have knocked off my rough edges and/or helped me learn lessons I had hoped to avoid! My apologies and regrets to those who may not be glad we met. I wish I could have been better able to navigate some of those troubled seas.

A reflection is never PERFECT. Even in a quality mirror, there will be slight distortions and some of the light is reflected away. Sadly there are times when my reflection of Jesus has been distorted or incomplete, and some of the Light of the World has bounced off my imperfections. I hope you will forgive my shortcomings.

But I REALLY, REALLY hope that my representing of Jesus has been good enough to help others see Him more clearly. As my namesake, St Richard of Chichester, prayed:

Thanks be to you, my Lord, Jesus Christ,

For all the benefits that you have given me;
For all the pains and insults you have borne for me.

O, most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know you more clearly;
Love you more dearly;
And follow you more nearly,

Day by day.

Richard of Wyche, also known as Richard of Chichester, was born at Wyche (Droitwich), Worcestershire, England. He was orphaned when he was quite young. He served as Bishop of Chichester for the last years of his life and this “Prayer of Gratitude” is his memorial.

So Easy? Look, See, Pray

Astrantia & Lavender

When looking at the end result, gardening is obviously so easy. This bed of astrantia and lavender just grew! You wish.

Behind every floral display, bag of apples, or immaculate lawn there is a story involving hours of effort and a measure of skill. Today I spent three hours weeding. It’s done, and so am I. My back aches, my knees creak, and the invading brambles have left little thorny souvenirs in my fingers.

The only evidence is the bare soil between the tidier plants. All the sweat and tear-drops have been swallowed by the thirsty soil.

I love gardening- hands in the soil, choosing plants, sowing seed, enjoying the colours and the birdsong. I feel part of Creation in a deeper way. And, often, I feel connected to God. There have been times over the years when knotty issues have been thought & prayed through over a trowel. Looking at the favourite roses, or photographing a choice specimen of rich colour and form, is in a way an act of praise and thanksgiving.

Gardening has parallels to the devotional life: it requires obedience, wisdom, stamina, faith, and discipline. In the same way, building a strong spirituality requires effort, willingness, and humility. Now, the New Testament uses the example of athletes racing as an illustration of discipleship. Runners don’t win accidentally, as a general rule! Personally, running races is a distant memory- but gardening is a current passion.

So then, a gardener’s instruction to Richard of Aldwick: “Dig the soil well, and weed it thoroughly, not letting the brambles take over. Choose plants wisely, and nourish them well- water the soil as necessary, and prune poor growth and dead wood. Wait patiently as God gives growth; enjoy sunshine and gentle rain, enjoy birdsong and give thanks at all times. Watch out for slugs and weevils, and remember to share the joy of your garden with all who pass by.”

God likes gardens- He first gave us one in Eden, and calls us now to be good stewards of this wonderful world. There’s a task for a lifetime!

“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.