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!

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(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)

 

“My Diary” by Thomas the Twin

Really, what could go wrong? Off to Jerusalem in the morning, going up to the city for the festival. Jesus is going to ride a donkey. I expect some will mock the “Teacher from Galilee” but that’s nothing new.

Jesus insisted, he said it was important to go this way.

If you ask me, we should have gone home instead. There’s trouble brewing, you mark my words. Perhaps if we can keep Jesus out of the crowds all the fuss will die down.

Somehow I don’t think that’s the plan. Jesus had a glint in his eye, and he’ll probably preach, so that will upset Caiaphas and the Temple crew. I don’t think Jesus minds stirring people up a bit. He tells some pretty pointed stories – and some folks even started saying “Messiah?” when they heard him.

It will be alright as long as the “Blessed is the King” song doesn’t catch on. That would really be the end.

I wish I hadn’t said that thing about going and dying with him…

Extract from the diary of Thomas, a friend of Jesus and a man of great faith… some of the time…

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(Words & photo Copyright 2019 by Richard Starling)

Light through the darkness- Look, See, Pray

Ask a photographer “What would make your day?”

Their probable answer?  “Good light.”  Few things are as disappointing as being in a good location but having dull lighting. That often results in “flat” photos without contrast or drama. Ironically, having too much light intensity makes photography equally difficult.

It was early-ish, about 8 o’clock, and the morning was shrouded in heavy mist. There were signs it might lift, so the eternal optimist packed some kit and headed off in search of elusive perfection.

Bognor is blessed with a beautiful park. It seemed a good possibility for pictures. Hardly had I parked and started lurching along, when this happened.

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Glorious sun burnt through the mist, and the trees became scaffolding for drama. As light filtered through the trees, its rays carved a transient sculpture of delight. Just at the right moment, a bloke walking his dog came and stood in a great position, adding a mysterious figure barely visible through the brightness.

Though I was almost blinded by the light, I was no longer alone.

An old hymn has the line ” ‘Tis only the splendour of Light hideth Thee.” When we look for brightest light, we find holiness and glory that exceeds our understanding, but satisfies the ache in our soul.

The verse from the New Testament reminds us that God is Light, that Light overcomes darkness, and that this Divine Light is able to shine even into our innermost darkness. Many Christians can testify that the dawning realisation that Jesus Christ brings the smile of heaven to our lives is a moment of dramatic beauty. In the darkness, suddenly Light is there, blinding and yet welcoming- and revealing the Face that makes us aware of  Love that seeks the lost, rescues the struggling, embraces the lonely, and accepts even me.

Sometimes the world is dark enough to foster despair. All news is bad news… in the words of Private Fraser “We’re doomed. We’re all doomed…” That is when we most need to hear and see hope- and hope shines with unearthly Light. When the darkness is near, remember the Gift that God has given:  2 Corinthians 4:6 (NLT)    For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

May you shine with true Light this day.

Seeking Peace- Look, See, Pray

Psalm 34:14 (NLT) Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how fed up are you with watching the news? Every headline is dramatic, every event is a potential crisis, and what wouldn’t we give for a bit of peace and quiet?

Mild February days are rare enough to be treasured. This afternoon I cycled down to Pagham Harbour, my local nature reserve. I was surprised to find the tide was right in: the mudbanks usually hosting a convention of wading birds were covered in blue and gold water.  I settled down to absorb the peacefulness of the scene, and watched the available wildlife action: a short-eared owl quartering the reed beds, and then the explosively noisy eruption of hundreds of Brent geese who left their farm field and came down to the water. After a short while, quiet took over again.

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One of the best-known and powerful images in the Bible is found in Psalms.

Psalm 23 speaks of “still waters” and water symbolises life, cleansing, and renewal.

This is a beautiful theme. Without water, we could not live.

Psalm 34 v14 instructs us to search for peace, and when we find it, work to preserve that peace.

Searching for peace in a wearying world may seem a fruitless task.

Perhaps this week, you could find- search for- a peaceful place, near water if possible, and take time to enjoy it. Reflections and ripples can inspire thoughts and prayers.

Silence and beauty restore our soul. In this world of strife and noise, we are called to be peacemakers, peace-bringers, servants of the Prince of Peace. In the quiet and calm of our restored souls, we may find strength and grace to share peace and preserve it.