A nation divided- Look, See, Pray

A prayer for hope to replace confusion.

The Reflectionary

As I write, the Prime Minister has been speaking in the House of Commons about one of the most divisive political issues I can remember. At this point, no-one knows what shape the British Isles will take in the future. Divided on party, class, and economy we face a real prospect of no longer being a United Kingdom- and have no clarity about our relationship with Europe or other potential trade partners.

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Fingers are pointed, tongues wag, and hate crimes increase. What have we come to?

Many of us have strong political opinions, which is as it should be: but we seem to have forgotten how to disagree without blaming and victimising others.

I strongly suspect that the root of our troubles lies in the fact we have uprooted ourselves from our true foundation. We have, as a nation, cut ourselves “free” from God and we have chosen to go…

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Strong enough to let go – Look, See, Pray

The Reflectionary

This beech tree is older than I am. It has survived storms and drought, summer heat and freezing cold. Every Spring soft new leaves unfurl, an umbrella of gentle green. Of all our British trees, the beech is blessed with beauty through the year. Summer gives dappled green shade, and then as Autumn develops the canopy turns golden, then bronze and rich brown. Winter shows off the graceful elegance of branches, underlaid by a carpet that hushes the footfall of man and beast. And so the seasons turn.

Standing at the base of the trunk, and aiming the lens straight up, produced this image of strength and dainty colour.

Let Go 026arundel08118autTo stay strong, the tree sheds its leaves: it lets go of the growth that would endanger survival. Fully leaf-clad, the tree would be far more vulnerable to strong winds or heavy snowfall.

In any event, the tree has a rhythm…

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Another point of view…

Another point of view… seeing the prayer on the top of the breakwater.

Lord, that wooden post has been there years. Every day the sea floods it, covers it, bashes it and abandons it. What kind of life is that?

Barnacles, seaweed, a limpet or two. Nobody pays attention unless they happen to scrape their leg on it! What kind of life is that?

Seagulls stand on it, crabs walk round it. Dogs pee over it after chasing the seagulls away. Waves crash into it. What kind of life is that?

Resistance is futile, says the sea- we will assimilate you.
Not while I’m standing, says the post. I’ll break your waves!

Looking down from above, the photographer sees form, shape, and colour. The stubbornness of not giving in. A post with a purpose, a duty to fulfill. A home for tiny creatures with tiny urges of their own, just as stubborn as the post and clinging to life with all its trials.

I wonder if I looked at other people from a different point of view… what would I see? The stolid patience of daily living, the refusal to be battered into submission, still clinging to life and hope- knowing storms come and storms go.

Would I care, or notice, or walk away? What kind of life is that?

Lord, if you looked down on my life, what would you see?
“What kind of life is that?” says the angel, looking askance.

“A life with a purpose, and someone I love” says the Word who spoke Life to the world.

I guess we do matter, after all.

That Loving Feeling…

Halfway through our worship service this morning I realised that I was feeling very happy and content. We were being led by musicians and singers from our youth group and they played well and sensitively.  Jamie engaged us in discovering who we are, and what God thinks of us, and my smile widened.

Please don’t jump to the conclusion that on the other weeks at church I have been miserable! Nothing could be further from the truth. Today was simply a special moment.

I didn’t just know my faith was true- I felt strangely comforted in my heart of hearts, the centre of my being.  Can I explain it? No, not really.  Can I depend on my feelings as a measure of my faith or the truth of Christian belief? No, my feelings can go up and down because of health, tiredness, weather or something that goes wrong and annoys me.

Are “loving feelings” good? YES! If my faith is only knowledge about God, or some hope of a better life after this miserable one… then something is wrong with me!  To know God is to love Him, and to experience REAL love is a distinctive way. Paul writes in Ephesians:

Ephesians 1:3-4 (Message)
How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.

God’s love is His divine choice. He has set his heart on us. Today was one of those moments where it seemed that he whispered in my ear… “You are loved, and chosen, and I wanted to remind you!”

That loving feeling may not stay forever. But God’s love WILL last forever. Chosen before He dug the trenches for the foundation of the Universe, he has set his heart on little old Earth and those amazing yet exasperating human beings. Jesus came to this world so that we can be reconciled to the Creator, Lover, Sustainer, Provider and Redeemer- the Lord of All. No wonder there was a loving feeling involved! Whatever tomorrow brings, and however this uncertain life unfolds… God has loved US so we can love Him.

That’s the best feeling and the deepest Truth I know. May God whisper love in your ear today!

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The cutest and most lovable Meerkat…

 

Weeds of humble splendour- Look, See, Pray

A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. What if we valued them for what they give instead of judging them by our desire?  Plants make this planet breathe- and some flourish in harsh places that would be desolate without them. At the edges of the salt marsh, tough plants make a margin of life. Their gaily waving flowers add charm to the landscape, provide food for insects and birds, and carry a promise of life now and for tomorrow.  A poem that just might be a prayer…  a weed that might be a hero.

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Photo and text copyright Richard Starling, 2018.

Tick Tock – Look, See, Pray

The Reflectionary

Time is our tyrant. We have a limited life span, and from the beginning of life on the Earth, the Sun and Moon have marked our passage. Success and failure, laughter and tears: experiences to savour, and others to lament.

Not content with Day and Night, humanity has tried to control Time by measuring it. Monolithic stones and sundials, seasonal feasts, plans for agriculture and building. Thus entered the diary, the “to do” list, the deadline, and the delight of “rush hour.”

We even invented clocks. Tick, tock, ceaselessly marching towards the unknown and condemning every Present moment to become the Past.

In the U.K., the clocks will change this weekend: we will have an extra hour to sleep, and then all the evenings will grow shorter and darker until the turning of the year. But if we are willing, we can still find golden moments of timeless awe, of…

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Eugene said “Slow Down…”

Eugene Peterson had a stated purpose to “change the pastoral imagination of pastors today,” to urge them “to slow down and to be present to their lives” so that they could help their congregations do the same. Eugene died this week.

There are some people I would love to have met. He is definitely one of them. Quite probably I would have been reduced to embarrassed mumbling and shamefaced excuses, because Eugene Peterson had a way of getting to the heart of big issues. That encounter would have exposed my shortcomings and excuses. Alongside that dread, I get the strong impression he would have been gracious and understanding: and would have done his best to help and encourage me. Peterson knew God and His ways: and he would have blessed me as I know he blessed many who did encounter him directly. He lived to bring Christ to many. His books helped me.

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I first read his book “Contemplative Pastor” at a time when the crazy pressures of ministry were burning out my soul. Complex problems needed solutions I couldn’t find, and rushing from A to B to X was grinding my heart to dust.

It wasn’t about losing faith, and there were blessings around in plenty. But… there was just too much of everything, and I needed help. Christian ministry is a calling that draws on the deepest part of the heart, and if we are not wise we can find that we are drying up on the inside. Preaching in the name of Jesus is a joy and a heavy responsibility. Pastoring people is a huge privilege and challenge. You get to share the whole gamut of human experience.

The emotional and spiritual cost of pouring yourself into the blender where real life mixes with heavenly Truth, and then trying to distil precious living words so others may draw closer to the Lord, is terribly high. Faced with the expectations of the congregation, the community, yourself, and what you think God expects- the spirit reels in shock and dread. I needed to learn that God is more gentle and patient than expected. He is also utterly Holy, amazingly gracious, and awesome beyond words.

There is a very unfunny “joke” about ministers only working one day a week. If people only knew how much that “joke” makes pastors want to throttle the jester! It is an act of grace to smile gently and refrain from applying the “right knee of fellowship.” (Let the reader understand!)

Most ministers I know work too long, too often, and too hard. It’s because we know that our words can be life or death. We don’t want to let anyone down. God called us, and we said “Yes.” It demands commitment of a high order.

“Slow down.” Recover the heart of your calling. Seek God for Himself; seek God because of love given and received. Seek God, because apart from Him we can do nothing.

Jesus took time out to be with his Heavenly Father. Jesus went into the wild places, the mountains, the lakeside. When He came back to the disciples and the crowds He knew His Father’s will- and obeyed it totally.

Reading “Contemplative Pastor” was refreshing if challenging. It was a lifeline to a weary soul because it put my hand back into the hand of Jesus. My mind was opened again to the dynamic rhythm of the Psalms and the Gospels. I re-learned the importance of retreat, of quiet, of silence and solitude. I discovered that there is a loving Father awaiting the “prodigal pastors” who run off to do God’s work for Him… and then find out they can’t and weren’t intended to. (I realise I have to be careful here- please don’t think I intended to draw a parallel between pastoring a church and tending the pigs!!!) 

Eugene’s life work taught many of us to slow down, not to be caught up in the folly of rushing, competing, or manipulating. He pointed me to Jesus again. Through Jesus, the Open Gate, I was able to come into the Presence of Holy Almighty God, Father, Son and Spirit.

One day I hope to thank Eugene Peterson. It will be a long queue!  Thank God for this fellow-servant, this deep well of Spirit-filled wisdom, and for the writings that still point to Jesus.

Oh yes- this advice to “slow down” doesn’t just apply to pastors. How is your rush-ometer doing? Seek God. Here is Eugene’s paraphrase of  Matthew 11:28-30 (Message)
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  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. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

Slowing down… sounds good to me!