Just a yellow rose- Look, See, Pray

One rose… different faces. They say “the camera never lies…” but you may not recognise its truths! 059August11crop This is one rose, with one photograph edited in different ways. The camera sensor digitally records the light falling and being reflected back from the rose. The first picture is the camera’s best effort at realism.  

 

The second picture shows what the computer program can do to try and make the photo look more like what the eye actually sees.

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My THIRD photo is intriguing. The software has attempted to process the image by bringing ALL the digital information “to the surface.” I didn’t expect this result.
The program has “found” blue light reflected in the shadowy parts of the rose.
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It is ONLY the information “recorded” by the sensor… the blue IS present- but normally filtered out.
Questions and beliefs may seem simple at first sight. There is usually more complexity waiting to be discovered and explored.
Look, see, pray. This is what I am discovering to be realistic: as I look, I learn to see more. The more I see, the more I engage in “conversation” with God through thought and prayer.
What I see is what I pray: what I think about is what I become.
Thank God who created a world of such beauty and variety. May I become more like God in character and motive; and in action.

Sleepless hunter

Chronic pain is something doctors and patients hate because it is hard to treat and often has a cause that has some element of mystery. Some of you may know that I had to retire early because of the “invisible illness” fibromyalgia. I am truly grateful to the NHS for all they have done to help me cope, and for the techniques and medications that help keep the pain under control.

But the illness may flare up at any time.

The photograph is of an owl prowling, flying just above the ground with those flame-orange eyes fixed on food. There is a grace and magnificence about the hunter at work, and yet a primal fear of the merciless efficiency of the predator.  Owls change from total stillness to silent flight in a moment; they are looking for the weak and vulnerable. Their hunting instinct never sleeps.

sleepless hunter 422Birdsprey2July16

This week my “sleepless hunter” has been fibromyalgia, suddenly sinking talons again into muscle and bone. Without warning, like the silently swooping owl, it strikes efficiently. For no apparent reason symptoms flare into life as the wings fan the dormant sparks into fire. It has been a reminder that I can’t take it for granted that the more relaxed life of a retired minister will always keep my hunter away.

Today’s post is a plea to us all: please keep your eyes and ears open so we can support and encourage those who are ill, especially for those who suffer the “invisible illnesses.”  It seems easier to care for the ones in hospital, or carrying a limb in plaster. The ones who may look OK on the outside aren’t noticed. Please pray for the people you know with MS or ME, fibro and COPD, with chronic pain or with mental illness.

Tomorrow I may be feeling better again. Or not. Good days are treasured but not guaranteed. Here’s one of my favourite psalms about the God who guards our lives: the “sleepless hunter” faces an unsleeping Guardian. Truly and reverently I say: Thank God.

Psalm 121:1-8 (Message)
I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? My strength comes from GOD, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains. He won’t let you stumble, your Guardian God won’t fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep. GOD‘s your Guardian, right at your side to protect you—  Shielding you from sunstroke, sheltering you from moonstroke. GOD guards you from every evil, he guards your very life. He guards you when you leave and when you return, he guards you now, he guards you always.

 

Autumn’s days- why so sad?

Leaves are beginning to change colour. Some birds have already headed south for the winter. The annual influx of Russian starlings has started- soon we will see the mass murmurations as they flock together at dusk. Migrating wildfowl are joining in aerial ballet, and probing the sands at the local RSPB reserve. The poets are inspired by autumn’s glories: perhaps we can be too.

Why sad Oct 2014_00024Sheffield Park

“Why is it that so many of us persist in thinking that autumn is a sad season? Nature has merely fallen asleep, and her dreams must be beautiful if we are to judge by her countenance.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

There is so much to see, so many photographs waiting for my hungry lens. As the year draws towards its end, it dons glad rags and starts to party!

Autumn is a time of change and fruitfulness: as John Keats wrote, “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”

The season reminds us of the importance of rest, and the necessary process of preparing for rebirth.

Some of my favourite sayings are found in the Bible.  Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season.”  In Ecclesiastes 3:11, “God has made everything beautiful in its time.”

Embrace the autumn. Rejoice in its splendours. Accept the natural rhythm and find peace in the quieting of the summer days. Let your thoughts turn in gratitude and thanksgiving for the time we are given and the gentleness of rest. Live in this moment, this season, instead of hanging onto the past or rushing impatiently into tomorrow. In the quiet, make space to seek out & find the beauty of NOW and the presence of God in the present.  Leave regrets behind, and use this season to prepare for the unknown future. Seek the dreams of peace and joy.

May sweet dreams and beautiful colours become a vision of what God can do in our lives and, through us, in our communities and world.

Galatians 6:9 (New Living Translation) So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” 

We may be sad for a good reason. Yet there is hope in the changing seasons of life. Sweet dreams!

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”.

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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.
 
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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.