The peace of the green trees be ours and calm our thoughts tonight; The song of Creation bring harmony and help our minds to rest. Industrious insects garden our world, as birds bring an offering of music; the streams bring the waters of life, and a woodland symphony is born! Creatures large and small have their being in this cathedral canopied by trees. O Lord most High, O Lord most holy, thank you for this place. The joy of blue skies overwhelms us! Softness of raindrops caress our heads. Clouds of gentleness soothe our days, and may wholeness be our portion. (c) Richard Starling, 2021.
“It’s raining again” sang Supertramp, “you know it’s hard to pretend…”
A broken love, disappointment, bereavement, ruined plans, a pandemic… We know the feeling. The rain just goes on and on, and we try put a brave face on things even as we are dying inside.
A wise man once commented “There are no strong people.”
You may not agree completely, but anybody and everybody can be broken. As I write, there are brave people in Afghanistan feeling utterly desperate. Another earthquake hit Haiti last week, wreaking havoc once more. War in Yemen. Discarded people in Britain living on the streets, families using foodbanks to survive (in one of the wealthiest nations in the world!). Millions of impoverished ordinary human beings in every continent trodden down into the mud as the rains keep pouring down.
Even Jesus said “The poor will always be with you.” Sounds grim.
Every person’s own suffering is uniquely valid and equally heartrending: and ours is the first generation to experience at second-hand the tragedies of the whole world in real time. Super-fast communication means the “NEWS” lashes the ears and eyes of the planet within moments of disaster. The pace of information overload has increased exponentially over the last 100 years- we are so soaked in it that we have a phrase, “compassion fatigue,” to express our diminishing responses and our helplessness. Many do try to help, and astonishing generosity makes a difference sometimes: but against that, others with wealth and influence take a selfish view and wash their hands of the problems.
The rain just goes on and on, and we try put a brave face on things even as the world dies.
“The rain falls upon the just And also on the unjust fellas But mostly it falls upon the just Cause the unjust have the just’s umbrellas.” ~ Cormac McCarthy
But we are not without hope. The consistent message of the Bible is that God cares for all, has a special care for the poor and suffering, and WILL establish justice- with or without our help.
Pretending not to be affected by trouble is simply unreal and ultimately unsuccessful. Trying to solve all the world’s problems is beyond our scope- the best we can do is make a difference to this one… and the next one… and so on. My responsibility- and yours- must be to do what we can; and to be as trustingly obedient to God as we can. The Book of Revelation has a lovely phrase about special trees in a time yet to come: “and the leaves are for the healing of the nations.”
To love God, and to love God’s ways, is the only hope-filled life choice we can make: to love Him, and work with Him, and to recognise the scope of Jesus as Saviour, Redeemer, and Lord of all Creation that yearns to be reconciled- even as we run away from the Reconciler! When the rains fall, and fall, and fall… it’s time to fall on our knees and cry out to God for help. He will answer… even though we live through the cloudburst. There is hope.
This is what God is like- in a verse taken from a song of faith, thousands of years old. Hold on to this description of the Just and Holy God Eternal- which was lived out in the flesh by Jesus Christ.
Psalm 113:7 (NIV)
“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…”
Shortcuts are very tempting.
I used to dabble with painting before I became more interested in photography. Mostly, I used oil paint, pastels, or acrylics. Every now and then, I get the urge to “be arty.”
Now, though, I have a computer and I can take shortcuts. Instead of hours of work, constant practice, and achieving mastery of the medium- I can click a mouse button and select “Artistic Filters.”
Here is a picture I “art-ed” tonight.
One version is pretending a pastels finish on “canvas.” Another is a “watercolour” version; and the third is a JPG version of the original photo taken on real film about 20 years ago.
If I’m honest, none of them do justice to the film… or to the glorious Dartmoor landscape (Bowerman’s Nose, an ancient natural rock formation allegedly looking like a head with a prominent nose).
Shortcuts- they don’t always work out so well.
Growing as a Christian disciple is often long, slow, and painstaking. There are books and talks in plenty offering “perfection in 5 easy steps” – but none of them actually work out. Shortcuts can’t replace the time taken to develop relationship, to learn to depend on God, to discover deep truths from the Scriptures and Holy Spirit. Acquiring skills such as learning to pray, or to offer worship, or the arts of community (getting on with other believers without screaming too often!).
None of my pictures are a worthy substitute for visiting Dartmoor, walking through heather, listening to the wind hissing over the gorse… Sun on the face, and rain down the neck!
They may strike you as nice, possibly inspirational, or naff.
Bowerman’s Nose in the “I-can-touch-the-granite” sense is the best way to experience its reality.
I am learning- still learning after 66 years- that the authentic is worth seeking out. Taking time, making the journey, travelling with reliable guides and map: this is the best way, if not the SatNav approach of “Finding the Fastest Route.” To reach Bowerman’s Nose, you will explore Devon lanes, walk over wild and rugged land, and experience Dartmoor weather. Blisters are likely.
Jesus invites me to walk with Him; to be an apprentice, learning to imitate His life, accepting His authority, and choosing to obey. Shortcuts, though tempting, have sold me short.
Back, then, to the invitation of Jesus: Matthew 11:29 (Message) “Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.”