Be Gentle

If only “gentleness” could be taken for granted. Headlines rarely mention being gentle. The “go-getters” and the back-stabbers, the driven and ambitious ones are held out as role models. Unspectacular lives lived by ordinary people are not deemed newsworthy. That’s wrong. Celebrity envy is a symptom of an aggressive materialism. I think we are missing a trick…

Some good friends visited at the weekend, and gave us a beautiful potted geranium.

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I went into the garden this afternoon to photograph a hairy caterpillar I’d seen. By the time I grabbed my camera and arrived at its last location, the caterpillar had disappeared. So, rather than waste opportunities, I went looking and found the geranium: spectacular colour and delicate form, with a collection of new blooms breaking out of protective covers and beginning to flourish. So delicate, so easily bruised.

Using a macro lens, I very gently set up the picture. Fresh new life. Worthy of notice, even of contemplation. Here ’tis.Be gentle 007Garden 100518

Working very close to the buds risks damage to them if the photographer hurries or pushes in too carelessly.

Precision focussing is essential to capture the ruffled head of the subject.  Doing the job properly, the flower is preserved for posterity AND has a destiny of sheer beauty as it opens to let the deep inner colour dazzle the world. I rather think that God expects us to be gentle with creation. I also suspect He is gentle with us, encouraging growth so we display beauty to the world.

These flowers are not celebrities, fashionable or trendy. But they’re GORGEOUS.

Few of us are celebrities. We do have beauty to share- if others treat us gently, with dignity, respect and compassion. Imagine the impact on the world if we were all treated with gentleness- and extended gentleness to others in our turn.

Contemplate this geranium’s splendour and potential. Be aware of the Giver of beauty. Consider the attitude we show to others. Someone once said the measure of a person is how they treat those who are not wealthy, influential or powerful. St Paul told his protege Titus to teach believers to live peaceably and respectfully:  Titus 3:1-2 
Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.

Be gentle. Offer those small acts of generosity and kindness that allow others to blossom. Be willing to be different, to stand out from the crowd, to go against the harsh shallowness of a selfish culture. Be gentle. Be… like Jesus.

Photographs & text (c) Richard Starling, 2018

Forever Grateful

Cycling round the area is great for exercise, and for seeing fresh views and local wildlife. It’s also a good way to smile and exchange good wishes with those I pass. Two days this week have been glorious. (The less said about Wednesday the better.)

As I cycled I started singing. Everything I saw made me grateful to God and naturally, without deliberate intention, I began to praise the Lord with these words: “For all You are, and all You’ve done, I’m forever grateful.”

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Here are more words shaped in a prayer.

For all the things I’ve seen this week, I’m forever grateful. Those grebes and the curlew, swallows and swans, a kestrel hanging in the sky- all offer praise in their own way.

I’m grateful for bluebells, and for the blackthorn’s white bliss. For warblers and skylarks singing their hymns, and the robins and blackbird fluting sheer joy. 

Reeds sigh and rustle as ducks do their thing, with eight balls of fluff who scurry and swim. There is that cormorant hanging out to dry, with terns taking turns at posting themselves.

All  these I have seen, and their witness is strong. This makes me forever grateful.

Beyond and above, cumuli process across azure fields and share their convection; and the sun pours down warmth which makes the world glow. Here is some land devoted to nature, useless for buildings or harvested crop. Some see only wilderness here, and some come for quiet: whatever the reason for visiting here, eyes tuned to glory will gaze upon God.

Lord, You are so much more than “just” what you’ve done! It’s all that You ARE that calls for my love. Creation’s splendour signposts Your glory, and grace highlights grace-notes in salvation’s Song. I give You my worship for all that You made, and all that You are.

To think that Jesus trod down the grass, making paths through the wilderness- so we could come home. Those feet, those hands, the thorn-stricken Lamb, who laid down His life- so we could come home.  Creation, redemption, sustaining a world where harmony flounders while angels sing hope. God acts out of Love to show us the Way, the way to come home- forever grateful.

As water mirrors the blue sky-vaults above, may our face reflect the Giver of Love. Amen.

In sunlit enjoyment, or rain-sodden squall, may we remember our Three-in-One hero – who gave of Himself in created wonder, then took on the price of ransom as well.

This is who You are- and I will be FOREVER grateful.

You renew the face of the Earth

“When you give your breath, life is created, and you renew the face of the earth.” – Psalm 104:30 (NLT)

new shoots 044Slindon 280418Over thirty years ago, the “Great Storm” carved its way across southern England leaving a broad scar on the wooded landscape as ancient trees uprooted and crashed.

Today I went on a bluebell hunt in Slindon woods and, as well as some lovely bluebells, I photographed these fresh shoots. They were springing up from the moss-draped carcass of one of the forest giants wrecked in the storm. The new leaves are fresh, soft, and perfectly shaped. Life has been renewed.

Mysteries exist- and our understanding of how our planet works is patchy. If there is a Creator, whatever processes were used, life itself stands as a true wonder. The Christian Bible, with its roots far back in beginning of civilisation, does not explain everything. The ancient writings describe, question, and marvel: and consistently affirm that God is the Giver of Life.

The quoted verse from the book of Psalms offers tremendous hope and confidence. God created, breathing Life so life exists; and God is constantly renewing Life, healing the scars of history’s storms and making new life.

These fresh leaves and the bluebells shown below could be described as the fingerprints of God on His artwork. Reflect on this: the stump has lessons to teach, the renewed shoots testify to the power of Life, and the bluebells suggest that such beauty could only come from a Creator with a beautiful heart. Think on those things, and as you do that- you will be praying and maybe praising. And I surely hope you will be grateful for the gift. Peace and grace be with you!

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Prayer with our Senses

Praying with our senses makes sense. Why limit communication to words?

That which we may see, hear, taste, touch, or smell can be a direct route to God’s Presence. Some of us may lack one or more of these senses: I lost my sense of smell forty years ago, and I would dearly love to enjoy the perfume of a rose again. Those who are blind, or deaf, or otherwise restricted can still use the senses we enjoy. If we are made in the image of God, do you not think that our appreciation of a sunset, a symphony, a meal, a fragrance and a texture is a gift from God to His children?

God created a world that is sensual, physical, and beautiful. Allow yourself the treat of a sensual prayer. Go and find something to enjoy with your senses; remember who is responsible for the existence of what you enjoy. Then with whatever means seems most appropriate, make it prayer.

This is a short prayer I penned after enjoying cherry blossom, photographing it, thus thinking God’s thoughts after Him as a tribute of worth. Lord, these blossoms are GOOD, and gorgeous, and offer the hope of future fruit. What a great God You are. Amen.

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Photograph & words (c) 2018, Richard Starling

A Long, Wandering Walk

“Let’s go for a walk…” quickly followed by the “Do we have to?” response is a conversation many families have. As a nipper, I was strongly on the side of “do we have to?” Assurances that “you’ll enjoy it” seemed rather optimistic.

A funny thing happened on the way to the South Downs- I discovered the joys of nice long walks in the country. Sussex was replaced by Derbyshire- long walks across the Peak District. Derbyshire was traded for Devon- long walks across wild, beautiful Dartmoor and the lovely coast. Then came Luton.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Chiltern Hills and Ashridge woods gave scope for wonderful exploration.

Over the years, trips abroad featuring Alpine walks and visits to wild country acquired a special place in my heart.

I discovered I loved it. Walks became a time for solitary thinking, or an opportunity for quality time with special people. Walking even became a prayer-place of real importance.

Slogging up steep hills with a loaded rucksack as the rain trickled down my neck… the sheer “joy” of sleeping in a small tent and having to pull on rain-sodden trousers the next morning… those moments, not so much. Sore, hot feet. Aching back. Running short of water. Getting slightly lost… Sounds amazing… “Do we have to?”

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” – Hebrews 12:11-13 (NLT)

Learning the discipline of walking, acquiring the skills of navigation and map-reading, breaking in new boots, and yes, even the hardships are worth it. A satisfying weariness sat in front of a nice fire, with a cold drink and some good food- priceless. (And no credit card necessary!)

Austrian tourist maps are interesting. They are more of a loose guide that allows interesting discoveries. Often they have “helpful” notes about the ease/severity of the various climbs and “strolls.” Bear in mind these are penned by local experts who are possibly half-goat and were born with an Alpenstock in each hand. Be aware (which should shortened to “BEWARE”).

The photo today comes from the smooth, flat path between Bovey Tracey and Lustleigh (South Dartmoor). It used to be a railway until savaged by Dr Beeching. Lovely beech trees overhang the track, the river sparkles and gurgles nearby. Birdsong beats any “canned” music and peace descends. Blissful.

Journeying to the wild has become an essential ingredient for my wholeness. Body, mind and spirit find freedom. Yes, there are still “tired hands and weak knees” but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Walking becomes a pilgrimage through a natural cathedral. God seems close by: the things you see and hear communicate eternity. Walking become a metaphor for discipleship.

I’ve missed long walks over the last couple of years. My health severely limits the distance I can walk; and difficult terrain becomes impossible. However, the disciplines learnt over the years, and wise choices of destination, mean I can still visit “my” cathedral. I make my “smooth paths” by driving the car or riding the e-bike to reach safe places. Guess what- God is still close by, and eternity still knocks on the senses.

It’s not the distance that counts, nor the difficulty of the road. The willingness of the mind, heart, and spirit will still unlock the door and let me in.

Fancy a walk? Willing to find your “own” cathedrals? God awaits. Go take a long, wandering “walk” alongside.

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Blue Ice, Red Canoe

Courage- knowing the risks, and taking action anyway.

Visiting Glacier Bay is breath-taking.  Huge rivers of frozen time slide majestically to the sea and the ice displays the strata where debris has been compacted year after year. Noise from the constant stressing and shattering of the ice reverberates in the still air. Regular “calving” of icebergs from tiny to house-sized attract the wonder of onlookers.

Some get closer than others.

Red Canoe Blue Ice 219Glcr Bay July16editThis bold adventurer in a bold scarlet kayak glided through freezing ice-mush and milky water, getting an incredible view- and taking a considered risk. Too close, too bold, and tons of ice could crush the fragile craft.

As the ice rears above, the fissures reveal the deep clear blues of highly pressured, frozen snow that fell perhaps 200 years ago.

The canoeist experienced Glacier Bay in a far deeper way, and was certainly less warm and far less comfortable! I envy that experience.

I like to think that, if given the opportunity, I’d ship out on a kayak and experience this myself.

There’s a little joke about this… A canoeist wanted to go kayaking in Glacier Bay: but decided the chill factor was too extreme for comfort. So he installed a paraffin heater to keep the kayak warmer. Sadly, the paraffin leaked and the kayak caught fire… which goes to prove that you can’t have your kayak and heat it.

I really should apologise for that! Christianity is sometimes accused of being dull, humourless, and a soft option for people without the guts to face up to life. I disagree. To follow Christ takes courage. Believers can be criticised, ignored, laughed at, or even attacked. Living the way of Christ requires self-sacrifice, obedience, humility and a radically different set of values and purpose. We should stand out from the crowd.

Jesus sends us into a world that is beautiful and damaged, wonderful and terrifying. “Go into all the world… tell them…” Follow the Way of the Cross… love your neighbour, your enemy, even yourself. It is a challenge worthy of our best response and determination.

Jesus also said we would not be alone on the journey… He will be with us. Up for it? It will take courage, even with such a Friend. Courage is knowing the risks, and taking action anyway. Go on, be bold today!

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A day that ends in fire and prayer

This day has ended in fire, O Lord,
and we trust You for tomorrow.
We do not know what shall be;
understanding today has been hard enough.
We hold to the words of Jesus our Saviour,
who told us to live one day at a time.
Each and every day will have troubles enough,
as well as the blessings and joy life brings.
 
We pray tonight for those whose fear
will keep them from sleep,
whose anxiety makes faith harder.
We pray for all who live in unquiet countries
where tomorrow is not under guarantee.
We ask for justice and mercy for those in need.
O Lord, may the rising sun bring a better day,
and may hope rise anew in their hearts.
 
Thank you, our Heavenly Father,
for being faithful and for being here and now.
Our day has not gone unnoticed
in the high halls of heaven’s vaults.
With gratitude we offer praise and worship,
more than mere words or habitual noise.
Our hearts and souls and minds are touched
so our body shall kneel in humble love.
 
This day has ended in fire, O Lord.
May Righteousness rise in hope tomorrow.
 
Father, Son, and Spirit rise
to bless and save this world.
Amen.
Words & Photograph (c) Richard Starling, 2018.
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