Float like a butterfly? Look, See, Pray

“Useless flutterbys” in the words of a grouch. Dazzling flying jewels according to a fan.

Why do butterflies exist? Whatever the reason, I’m glad they bring their colourful aerial dances to the party. Something of a luxury item in an age of austerity.

I have an “inner butterfly” in my personality. I can be distracted, chase too many ideas at once, start more projects than I can finish…  Must be very frustrating for people who thrive on order and systems. Perhaps I should apologise!

On the other hand, wouldn’t the world be a sad place without butterflies?

Butterflies live on quite simple terms. They hatch from tiny eggs, tramp many jackbooted feet all over the plants they eat, enter a mysterious chrysalis- and emerge as delicate masters of flight, enjoying sunshine, and content to produce the next generation.

Our complicated technological/digital society worships productivity and efficiency. People or things that don’t contribute profitably are devalued and denied space. We even want to educate children without full access to art, music, nature-  maybe a few token lessons, but not the funding or staff to give the arts proper priority.

We are so busy with five-year plans, exams, and expecting schools to make up for the discipline and respect that (too often) isn’t given in home life. Three rootless generations struggle to find meaning.  We teach children to exist. Do we teach them to live?

It has become unfashionable to talk about BIG questions:  Who am I, where did I come from, why am I here, where am I going, what is a person truly worth…  We drain colour and vibrancy from life!  We substitute virtual reality through gadgets, games and apps. We entertain and amuse ourselves into stagnation and apathy. Bored and disillusioned.

O for the frivolity of a butterfly’s life!  An innocence with purpose.

Perhaps a short time of meditating on the purpose of our lives would be in order. Why do I spend my time, energy and resources as I do? What is really important? Have I yet discovered a God-given purpose that adds meaning and value to my days?

Ephesians 5:15 (NLT)
So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise.

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Awed into Silence- Look, See, Pray

Yes! I won a prize.  A photographic company invited readers of their Facebook page to submit pictures of their “adventures.” I had a go.

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Imagine my surprise when I had a message to say they liked the photo and had awarded me a £30 voucher to use against their services. OK, not earth-shattering, but an unexpected joy. My winning photo was taken in the Austrian Tyrol, one of the loveliest places I have visited.

One drawback- the prize had to be used in a couple of days.

Let the hunt begin! I decided to put a canvas print on my study wall.  When you take as many photos as I do, there’s a lot of choice. So I tried out several favourites, and had a go at editing and printing a shortlist.

The final choice came down to a memory.

We spent an amazing holiday in 2016 going from Vancouver up the Inside Passage of Alaska. Everything was stunningly beautiful, but one place was extra-special. We entered Glacier Bay and as we arrived the rain stopped- to unveil the majesty of the Marjorie Glacier. I was awed into silence. Awesome colour in the ice, eagles resting on ice floes, and almost complete silence.235Glcr Bay July16 re_edit

Few places have left me silent, awestruck and overcome. This was the most profound quiet: it seemed wrong to make noise.

Look closely at the foreground. Two bright red canoeists bravely exploring- and their size gives a clue as to the immensity of the ice sheet.

This is the photo that will be seen every time I enter or leave my study.  It reminds me of awe. It also reminds me to be concerned with the changing climate: we watched three “calving” moments where tons of ice splintered and crashed into the waiting sea. These glaciers are shrinking alarmingly quickly: the next generation may not be able to see these mighty glaciers. They are melting away and threaten sea-level rises that will impact on the globe.

God gave humanity a responsibility: to care for the Earth and everything in it. What will we say when the Lord asks us how well we did our work?

Looking at this photo can only give an impression of awesomeness. Perhaps, though, we can also look in our hearts to find memories of moment when awe closed our mouths and opened our spirits to the Eternal.

May holy awe touch your life. Thanks for reading.

 

Theory or Practice? Look, See, Pray

Theory is great. It’s an idea to be played with, debated, discarded or adopted.

Moving from theory to practice is different. As I watched the para-gliders taking off over the Alpine peaks and valleys, I firmly decided this was not for me. Vertigo and perpendicular cliffs don’t really make a good mix.

Some were experts. One was not. Most took off smoothly. One did not; it took several attempts, flailing on the edge. Phew!

Once airborne the para-glider is committed. Presumably they enjoy the adrenaline (and the views are spectacular!)

Christian faith has similarities. We can play it safe, keep it theoretical, and fail to put faith to work. Bet God loves that.

Or we can step out, taking faith for a flight, and believe that God keeps hold of us when we try to fly.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA prayer for the moment:

Lord Jesus,
I took you at your Word and I’m ready to take off.
My faith is pretty flimsy, though, and it’s a long way down…
Please hold me up and help me reach the end of this flight.

I’d like to ask You to make sure I enjoy the trip.
But I suspect You don’t guarantee that.
You do say that we are working with You
to change the world and bring Love to people everywhere.
That sounds worthwhile, if a bit alarming!
Me? Really make a difference?
Well, me PLUS You- that should be OK.

The hardest bit is taking that first step.
Lord, please, may You Spirit help me find courage
and then determination- I choose to trust You.

Lord, I don’t know what I will see on this adventure.
I don’t know exactly how or when it will finish-
but I think it could be the biggest and best step for me.

You say “Follow.”
I’ll say “Yes.”

Please forgive me when I’d rather say “no” and stay a theoretical Christian… I want to live by Your purpose, and remember that You went all the way to the Cross.

Don’t let me fall… it’s such a long way down.
Here we go, Jesus! Take a good grip, please,
and don’t let go! Amen.

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True Contentment- Look, See, Pray

Holidaying in Malta was a new experience for us. Parts of the island were dusty and dry, filled with exotic plants like this agave with its fruits.

Thinking about that was helpful when I needed a group activity for some men at church on Tuesday. I came up with a reflective “game” called Desert Island Disciples. See below!

My idea was based on the observed discontent of so many. If one was stranded on a desert island, what would I miss? What would be “enough” for me to be contented? If everything that is “standard” in my life were taken away, what would I have left that was precious?

Paul’s words in Philippians 4 are heroically challenging. “I have learned to be content…”

The idea of the worksheet below is to explore what really matters to us. If all we are left with is God, is that enough? It should be, at least in the short term. The Book of Job asks and answers a very similar question.

So much of our lives is about being entertained and distracted. The industry is huge- think of the millions spent on making movies, selling sports cars, and merchandising cosmetics! Christians in the contemplative traditions have discovered something wonderful. If we are prepared to avoid or dismiss distractions, we can encounter the reality of the Living God in the space and silence we have chosen.

Have a go at answering the questions. You might find a treasure. If all else fails, you can smile at the piggy with dentures at the bottom! But I hope, that we may, like Paul and like Jesus, discover the freedom of simplicity and learned contentment. God bless you as you give it a go!

desert islands disciples

(Copyright 2019 Richard Starling)

Surprised by Joy – Look, See, Pray

Supermarket shopping. As I drove home the sea was almost still; just enough of a wind ruffle to make the surface sparkle like stars.

Turned the corner to be confronted with a mass of creamy white blossom on a hedge.

I began to feel a strange surge of delight at what I was seeing. Joy sneaked up on my lips and cracked them into a smile. I felt GOOD about life and beauty and the cosmos.

Spring’s blessing continued to present itself in every garden, hedge, tree and sunbeam. How had I not noticed all this before? By the time I was home and unloading the car the inner joy was bubbling nicely. It was a lovely surprise. Ironically, I have been training myself to take notice, to look out for beauty and colour and gifts of grace. It still came as a surprise today!

C S Lewis, the author of the Narnia stories, the Ransom trilogy (and a whole shedload of books on theology, ethics, and Christianity) described his discovery of faith in a book called simply “Surprised by Joy.”  Moving from a position of non-belief, Lewis found himself overtaken by a joyful process that brought him to a passionate belief in Jesus Christ. Out of that change, he wrote extensively and became one of the best apologists and philosophers of the 20th century.

I photographed this rosebud when I arrived home. It is the first rose of the year in my garden. Bright red, beautiful, and another joyful surprise.

May your day be filled with joy, surprise, beauty- and God’s love.

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Ravages of Time? – Look, See, Pray

Gentle giants showing their age… Beech trees responding to another warmer season. In just a few short weeks they had received a bright green makeover, and paraded their party togs with pride.

It was still and quiet in the wood. Footsteps crunching through last year’s leaves and the infrequent song of the birds were the only real sounds.

Something about the strength and dignity of these old Lords of the Forest held my attention.

Pitted and scarred by the experience of the years; damage from insect, storm and time has marred the beech bark. One tree already uprooted, perchance victim of an unnoticed tragedy? Who knows when or why it fell? Younger saplings will make their takeover bid in due time. For now, these mighty beeches stand, adding leaf-mould every autumn and hosting the harbingers of Spring after every winter’s cold tale. In their summer prime, the canopy of green provides shelter, food and pleasure to all life that passes through the wood.

At first sight, these are just old trees, marked by the ravages of time. Spend time here in the wood, and listen, and the story of persistence and fruitfulness will be told again. Ravaged? Maybe.

Badges of honour, I would say. They have grown where they were planted, they have done their part in the long story of the years- they have outlasted many humans- and they have given away their seed with generous purpose.

Here’s a thought. As I look back over the last thirty or so years of sharing in Christian community, I have seen a marvellous selection of strong, dignified, generous people. Marked by the passage of time, wounded and pained by failures and successes, they still stand firm on their faith foundation. Old? True enough… but wise, and patient, and persistent. Love has brought them this far, and the future holds no dread. Kindly endurance gives backbone to their “forest” and the long tale of their years encourages the next generations. Blessed are those whose roots dig deep into the rich soil of Eden’s distant cousin. Blessed are those who drink deep of the Water of Life and share their fruitfulness. To them is promised a Spring with no more Winter.

Living life to the full means risking the scars and inheriting the Kingdom. Give thanks for the giants we have known, honour them in our prayers, observe their example. A well-wrinkled face is a portrait of love lived with a smile in the heart. Alleluia!

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Light brings Life

Such quick change.  A few weeks ago, the wild daffodils earthed the sunshine and made the world a cheerier place.

Just a few weeks later the trees are breaking their buds and soft new leaves clothe the landscape. These back-lit copper beech leaves blend vibrant colour with downy gentleness.

Soon those leaves will turn darker in colour: but will continue turning sunlight into nutrients, and absorbing carbon dioxide so oxygen can become the breath of life.

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Easter celebrations have reminded us of Jesus, who is the Light of the World. Shining the Light of Glory out of the mouth of an Empty Tomb, the grace of Almighty God announced that Darkness and Death were destroyed.

Eternal Light is making Life grow again.  Every time we witness the awesome ordinariness of a Spring day, and the procession of colour and song provided by nature, a spark of True Light is planted in our innermost being. We may not recognise it, we may even try to hide it- but that Light is a gift, a message of Love sent by the Faithful One who will use any opportunity to call us back into divine Presence and awareness.

I intend to enjoy as many moments of Spring Light as I can: and hope that my heart will interpret the Message wisely, so that my whole being is infused with that Heavenly Light that has always been the Light of all humankind. Let us look, so that we see: and in seeing, we may pray, praise, and serve the Kingdom of God here on Earth- until the final Promise is unveiled, and the heavens and Earth will be renewed as the Lord dwells among us.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…”  (John 1 v1-5)