What I see is what I pray: what I think about is what I become.
Retired, married to Juliet, and a Christian who loves books, writing, music, nature, gardening, and photography. I'm exploring prayer and spirituality, using my photos to reflect on God and how faith fits into real life: and I hope to stimulate and encourage others to meet with Jesus.
Health really matters- and you value it most when there is a risk of losing it! I was unexpectedly diagnosed with colonic cancer, and had successful surgery late in 2019. Love the NHS, God bless them). I am still living with a life-changing condition of fibromyalgia and trying to support others with this illness and other "invisible illnesses." Life has been changed but hope burns eternal. Faith has a deep relevance in good times and tough ones, in sickness and in health. God has been good in my life and has been with me in all these varied experiences.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
(c) Richard Starling, 2021
“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…
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’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.
“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’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 was on holiday on a passenger ship full of comforts and luxuries. We passed this hulking load of timber, which seemed to be gliding effortlessly, towed by an ocean-going tug. Stacked tree-trunks… perhaps heading for a lumber yard, for housebuilding; or maybe to be pulped for paper. Who knows?
Trees that had stood for decades, now a dead weight.
I cannot imagine the weight of that timber- or the confusion in the lives of the distant animals and birds who once called them home. The more I look at this photo, the more ways of interpreting it come to mind.
Is this economic success, or ecological tragedy? Is it just dead wood, or the beginning of something beautiful and useful? Have replacement trees been planted yet?
How can a (relatively) tiny tugboat lead the barge safely across the channel? What if a storm blows up?
It’s a picture of effective leadership- go for it, tug! You’ve got this…
Or a picture of disconnection, of utilitarianism, of exploitation. A leader dragging a reluctant lump- if you don’t keep the tension in the cable, the barge will drift wherever the wind or tide decides.
This could illustrate politics, business, or even church leadership.
What do you see?
Does this scene show the value of a clear purpose, and the application of sufficient force/energy to achieve “success”? You could interpret it that way.
Think of the skill of the captain and crew on board the tug. Superb professionalism. It shows how important it is to use the right tools- imagine towing that load by paddling a kayak… Or what if you had left port without checking the weather forecast: a maelstrom instead of a blue silken mirror.
If the cable breaks… perhaps that represents the disaster that happens when communication breaks down.
Or irresistible momentum. They got the barge heading the right way- how will they stop it? Or navigate it to a safe unloading harbour? It’s tricking parking a caravan, never mind a floating behemoth like that!
The photo may remind some of you of the parables in the Bible about the tongue, small- but deadly if misbehaved.
Perhaps Paul talking about the way a horse can be controlled with a small bridle and bit. Or maybe the disciples in a boat on Galilee, scared witless by a sudden storm- as Jesus snoozed peacefully- then calming the storm with a word.
“A picture is worth a thousand words” says the old proverb. Perhaps this one needs a thousand words of its own! Every picture needs to be interpreted carefully. What assumptions and preconceptions do we bring to that interpretation?
What do you see?
Make a space in your day to look at the photo: and ask a question of God. “Lord, what meaning can You show me from this scene?”
Pictures are like stories- they open the INNER eye, unlock the imagination, chuck out yesterday’s stale bread and bake anew. Looking at an unfamiliar picture makes the brain stretch to encounter new possibilities. They can “accidentally” throw light on a hard problem you have agonised over for weeks!
On Saturday, I posted a photo of this iris tightly furled and reflected on the value of patience.
Today it is fully open- and I love it.
Christian faith is built on the faithful and loving nature of God. In this age of “urgency” and hurry, it is important to remember that even though we have to wait for the final revelation of the perfect Kingdom of God, and may have to struggle with issues that take time to resolve, we CAN trust Him.
Here’s a truth to meditate on today: Hebrews 10:23 (Message)
“Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word.”