Grass withers. Life goes on.

Cutting the grass is a thankless task. It grows back.

Watching an Austrian family haymaking under the Gampenbahn (cable car) cured me of moaning (except on really bad days). Operating on a 45-degree slope, 3,000 feet up an Alp, in blistering sunshine; they speedily and apparently cheerfully mowed the high meadow and then, working by hand, dragged the cut grass into piles so the sun could dry it as fragrant hay for the winter stock. It makes my few square feet of lawn seem very insignificant. And my complaining very wimpish. No more moaning for me.

We take grass for granted. Even in this hot summer, the grass has survived the near-drought. With a few splashes of rain, it greened up quickly and reached for the skies!

Grass is temporary. A perfect lawn is a joy to see, but a nightmare to maintain. Long grass in fields is cut off in its prime for silage or hay, or grazed remorselessly by farm stock.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA(Ornamental grasses, Eden Project)

It can be very attractive. These ornamental grasses are displayed at the Eden Project, in the wonderful conservation gardens set in a reclaimed Cornish quarry.

The “horsetail” grasses are really rather gorgeous when you look closely. Beauty has purpose- these waving tails are the seed-heads that offer some “immortality” to the grass.

When turned into hay, it is the mixture of seeds, flowers, stalks and herbs that make delicious cattle feed, sweet and fragrant.

Grass always dries up.

What can’t be used, eaten, or stored is thrown away, burned up, or composted. And have you ever smelled the ghastly pong of silage? No grass grows up wanting to be silage.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the writers of several books in the Bible use grass as an example or warning. Politicians and rulers become proud, even arrogant; some “make history” or at least a reputation before they go. Go they must. The world is cursed with very arrogant and loud people who have an inflated sense of their own importance, and not much perspective on how long “history” may be after their contribution has been reaped or discarded. Grass is probably one of the most widespread plant types across Planet Earth. Just like people are the most noticeable (and damaging) species of animal life. Grass withers. What stands eternal?

1 Peter 1:24-25 
As the Scriptures say, “People are like grass; their beauty is like a flower in the field. The grass withers and the flower fades. But the word of the Lord remains forever.” And that word is the Good News that was preached to you.

It is 2 o’clock in the middle of the night as I type. Sleep has evaded me so far, and rather than disturb sleeping beauty in the bedroom, I am thinking rueful thoughts about the grass I will have to mow later this morning. I suspect the neighbours might be ungrateful if I go and do it now… “Hark, sweet nightingale!  What noisy Flymo is this, larking about in the dark? Sweet motor, desist your whirling rotor that we may sleep in peace tonight.”

Hay-ho. Enough of such whimsy. But in these quiet dark minutes my thoughts turn to what is truly valuable, worthwhile, eternal. Not the grassy stuff, not even the beauty of the flowers, but the One who made it all, and who sustains life as we live it, and who has prepared a future glory and destiny that will outshine our best and hide our worst. The Word of the Lord… the Good News proclaimed in body, speech and action. Jesus who picked corn in the fields, enjoyed the beauty of field and majesty of mountain, and who is reconciling Creation and threshing out the weeds. The glory that is to come, so much more than we have yet seen. That will remain forever- and I’m looking forward to seeing what true beauty and REAL real life will be like. That which WON’T wither.

Sweet dreams! Sleep tight. When you awake, look for what is good, and true, and holy, and wonderful. Because that is what life is really all about. The “forever” stuff.

Words & photos (c) Richard Starling, 2018.

Ruins, remembering, and restored hope

We saw a lot of history on holiday. Quite a bit of it was broken! Rome has been an important city for over 2,000 years: as a centre of civilisation, military power, and religious influence.

The “Pax Romana” – peace enforced by taxation and the Legions – shaped large swathes of modern Europe and Asia Minor. At its height, Rome wrote its story in large letters.

That legacy is attested by the remnants and ruins of a glorious and cruel past. Statues and temples to forgotten gods and heroes; the shell of the Colosseum which attracts hordes of tourists.

It is a monument to the failure of an Empire.

“Give them bread and circuses” was the bribe to a jaded populace of proud greed and restlessness. To keep the masses quiet, Caesars offered food and entertainment. On the surface, Rome was great and grand. But its policy of conquest eventually failed. Hordes of enemies invaded and drove the boundaries back and back until Rome fell.

The ruined Colosseum hosted the Games. The games degenerated into cruelty: gladiators fought to the death. Those not killed outright were at the whim of the people and the dreaded “thumbs down” signal which meant their death as losers.

Later it became the backdrop for the martyrdom of many Christians: Lions 5, Christians 0. Public executions became a way of feeding the blood-lust of the mob.

Rome fell. In its falling, much of civilisation was lost as the “Dark Ages” shrouded the Empire’s corpse.

The Colosseum stands as a tombstone for Rome’s glory.

As Rome declined, the Christian Church was spreading. Although itself fractured by disputes over doctrine, authority and culture, Christianity “absorbed” some of the best of Roman ingenuity. The Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and (for better or worse) dragged the church into the politics of Empire. The fall of Rome led to the division of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox, Coptic and Celtic… later through revivals, reversals, and reform the Protestants emerged. A history of conflict mixed with a search for “the” truth of churchmanship.

Jumping to our own time, we can see monuments to both success and failure in politics and religion. We live in turbulent times where much is being shaken and disturbed, knocked down and rebuilt. “Christendom,” the establishment of Christianity within politics, is ending. The structures and denominations may be collapsing, but the Kingdom of God still stands. Millions of people throughout the world become followers of Christ every year: and the purpose of God is not defeated by our temporary struggles.

In the prayer of Jesus, there is a phrase worth contemplating whenever the future seems in doubt. Followers of Jesus still pray this regularly… “May Your will be done on Earth, AS IN HEAVEN.”

Almighty God is still the undefeated Sovereign; and the Kingdom of God stills grows. One day Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord and the merciful Redeemer. The glory and power belong to Him and is expressed through Christians who are helping build a legacy that will not fall. What is it?

LOVE. Love that is compassionate, freely given, and flowing out of hearts and minds transformed by the Spirit of Jesus.

Lord, may Your will be done in me, in us, today and always- until the King of Kings is crowned and Creation is restored. And then for eternity. Amen.

Rule of thirds

Rules. Useful? Or annoying? Discuss…

According to the “rules” often given to artists and photographers, pictures that have the subject matter divided into thirds will work. And if particular subjects of interest are placed on or near the intersection points along the horizontal and/or vertical “thirds”  the human brain finds this pleasing.

020beach 0618ed1This photo is taken with foreground, middle ground (sea) and sky divided into thirds. There is a single buoy near the left-side intersection point- and the eye seems drawn to this quite small object. So the photo obeys the rules. But do you LIKE it? Would you want to put it on your wall?  It reminds me of the rather bland “inoffensive” art frequently hung in not very expensive hotels.

It does a job and doesn’t upset the punters. Is that enough?

Just following the rules may not be enough for greatness. We can tend towards liking a rule-based religion (especially if the rules we know about aren’t too challenging!). Jesus lifted the bar. “If you love someone who helps you and is a friend, what good is that? Love your enemy… do good to those who hate you…”  Now that presents a challenge.

The story of the traveller robbed by highway bandits makes a vivid point. The religious-rules people walked by just so they didn’t have to touch a possibly dead body (strict rules in Judaism about that). An outsider from a despised group rescued the victim, cared for him, and provided for convalescent treatment… Not according to the rules, but out of compassionate love.

We could do with a bit more of that going beyond the “rules” to care. Refugees and asylum seekers, immigrants, deprived people, those with disabilities, and people down on their luck- what they NEED is to be given human dignity, compassionate support, and practical help.

Jesus said that when we love them, we love him.  Going on from that, and paraphrasing what Jesus said, when we oppress the needy and poor, we might as well knock another nail through his hands.

Maybe then our lives will paint beautiful pictures, not limited to the basic “rules”.

026aqualegiaMay16adj

So here’s something that is simply beautiful, a flower just to inspire us. It doesn’t go against the rules or natural laws, it transcends them- and hopefully gladdens the heart. Its beauty comes from within itself.

I’d like to think I could be beautiful from the inside too. I think Jesus would like that- a lot.

 

Trusted by a Robin

Gaining the trust of a wild creature takes time and patience. I am partially responsible for the feeding of a family of robins, a brood of blue tits, a gather of great tits, a pair of blackbirds (+ chicks in nest) and a few others- sparrows and warblers- who attend the food dispensary at irregular times. Having started, I cannot stop feeding them- at least until all broods have disbanded.
 
Robin crop1 002Garden 040518This robin is the tamest of them all. It’s cupboard love, I know, but he is willing to get close so he gets first dibs on the suet sticks and mealworms. His partner sometimes arrives too, but I think she is still on the nest for most of the time. I hope the fledglings will pop in for breakfast in due course.
 
Having started, I cannot stop… to be honest, I don’t want to stop! I love seeing the birds, and hearing their songs, and want to encourage the natural wildlife of my patch of creation. The trees nearby offer shelter to squirrels, woodpeckers, and all sorts. Today I saw Common Blue butterflies- so small and pretty- and as the sun sank lower martins and swifts were performing aerial ballet as they trimmed the local insect population ( with squeals of delight).
 
I sometimes wonder why I have such an interest in wild life. My parents certainly helped, and Grandad Clark, a nurseryman who grew soft fruits and could identify every bird by song. Then I was given a book when I was still quite young: “Marvels and Mysteries of our Animal World” published by Reader’s Digest in 1964. I still have and read it. A gift that keeps on giving! It was one of the reasons I took up photography as a hobby: I wanted to be able to take great pictures of all creatures great and small.
 
Robin crop 3 024Garden 040518
Nature gives pleasure and provides wonder. So much variety, so much beauty, so many complex questions we cannot answer. So much to enjoy, so much to learn.
 
“Were you there when I made the world? If you know so much, tell me about it …” Job 38 v4 (Good News Bible)
 
The book of Genesis tells us that humankind has a responsibility to care for Creation: we are to be stewards of God’s Earth. We don’t do that too well. Every little contribution helps. Every kindness matters. And I believe that God notices and cares about what we do.
 
Be grateful. Be careful. Be thankful- and our actions will be a prayer and an act of praise.

Veiled in White

White water cascades over this rugged cliff in a Norwegian fjord. Constant streams of cold abrasive water, wrestling with the solid rock, and gradually carving a pathway that might one day become a new valley.

Life cannot exist without water. Yet in the wild outdoors, water is an agent of change and trial. The endless roar of this waterfall gradually numbed the senses, until wind caught spray and woke those same senses up again with shocking cold. But it was fascinating to be there, to watch and experience, and to enjoy raw power in the eternal conflict.

It’s a picture of life and faith. We need solid rock to stand on, and living water to enliven us in the daily struggles and conflicts.

This psalm speaks of the contrast: trouble weaves patterns through circumstance, and hope sounds a clear rallying cry- God IS with us!

Psalm 42:7-11 (TNIV)
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me— a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”  My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.

Norway25th_1102Take courage in the everlasting sign of the rainbow. This photo was taken a few hours later as a squall passed. The rainbow rested briefly across the broken mountainside as late sunlight basted the slopes with warm light.

Sometimes we simply need to do what the psalmist suggested. Even when things are hard and conflict steals our assurance… “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”

There is hope and peace eternally.

May the Almighty Lord God bless your soul with peace this day. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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.

019Garden 100518

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.”

forever grateful 002Pagham 030518ed

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.