Statues in Bronze- Look, See, Pray

Fountain at Ascott House, now National Trust.
So this is Pegasus, chained to Earth?  
Sculptor's whimsy, cast in bronze, 
connected to water and spitting in the wind. 
And standing silent, Neptune's nephew,
staring skyfull, whip in hand-
doomed to fixed gaze and colder heart.

Nightmare vision- Is this dragon, horse, or fish?
Or who is he, metallic ribcage, futile youth?
Perhaps the artist had bad dreams.
Who paid the bill for this eternal fountain?
Whose coin transmuted to statue?
Why is it here? Whose story is told?

Beside such immobile angst, grass glows
in sun beam, illuminating spray:
Vast pot holds tulips, markers of wealth.
'Tis a place where influence waned,
indulgent extravagance faced down tax- and lost. 
Now simply memory, bronzed.

God has placed eternity in our hearts-
we long to last, to survive, make a mark.
Generations fade as does our fame.
We build, we sculpt, we carve time
with stone or metal, even flowers-
so we are remembered, missed- perchance, loved?

Arc of water, droplets sinking swift
in pool lined with stone and lead;
vain refreshing of history's pages.
There is still living, and garden, and hope;
and we gaze blankly at a coded message
that says... I mattered once, and maybe still.

What memorial, engraved, will tell my tale?
I doubt a statue be raised for me!
Hush, my soul, pay that no mind.
Though I live as servant, and speak of grace
unless my heart beats compassionate love-
then my words fail, and pass to dust.

Here, then, Saviour of creatures and all,
be the Craftsman who shapes my life,
my deeds, and my sculptured heart.
Let Living Water shoot forth in peace
to cool the eyes and feet of pilgrims.
May I testify to Eternal Love! Let that be memorial enough.

(c) 2021, Richard Starling.

Sweet Flower- Look, See, Pray

Long ago
Far away
in the dark
a new beginning began.

Child of eternity
taking humanity
as Mary and Joseph
took responsibility.

Baby to cherish,
witnessed by angels
by shepherds
a Star.

The most fruitful harvest
comes from tender petals... Sweet flower.
The One true Saviour
embraced our frail shell.

It's done. 
Jesus is born in humble place
with gifts
gold, frankincense and myrrh
foretelling
a Cross in His future
and then
Resurrection.

This is Christmas. The beginning begins.


(c) Richard Starling, 2020

Hardy or Tender? Look, See, Pray

Hardy or tender? This has suddenly become the priority question for English gardeners. Frost is starting to turn our gardens into a killing zone. Colourful stars of the summer like dahlias and pelargoniums are quaking to their roots! Shrubs like this fuchsia have had a rude awakening… some must be rescued, others may survive- time will tell.

Hardy plants are so useful: year after year, through summer and winter, they survive almost anything the seasons send against them. Tough as boots, some of them.

Tender specimens can fall over at the first crystalline kiss of Jack Frost.

Both types have their beauty and distinctive contribution to make. Our British gardens are enriched by species collected from all over the world: but we have to learn about their needs, vulnerabilities, and how to place them to best advantage. And, of course, our native plants also have riches to add to our treasury of colour, form, and fruit.

The problem is this. A novice gardener has to learn (often the hard way!) and frequently is taught by the change of external circumstances. Winter is coming…

I suppose you could draw a parallel with people and organisations. This year has slapped our faces with a dangerous illness. We react to the new circumstances according to our essential nature- there is loss, hardship, courage, despair, and hope… When the new season begins, what will still be standing? What will re-grow? What is gone for ever?

From a church viewpoint, I have noticed a miracle! Nobody has said “We’ve never done it this way before…”

We have made use of Zoom, given thanks for broadband, tried to find new ways to care for each other, offer pastoral support, pray and worship, teach and encourage. Are those efforts perfect? No. But they are good. Do we miss meeting together? Of course.

We’ve never done it before… So let’s do it NOW! Let’s work together, challenge discrimination and injustice, let’s share love, compassion and sincere faith. Let’s change the things that were broken for something new and better!

Some church denominations (whose way of being church is based on a priestly, sacramental, and heirarchical theology) are pleading with the government for permission to meet in their church buildings. There is a clash between their way of “doing church” and the “love your neighbour by not giving them Covid-19.”

Other church fellowships are saying the Government “has no authority to tell us not to worship God.”

I understand their opinions and pain. Our year is blighted by frost! Yet I believe our response to the horrible change of circumstances could be more adventurous. It is an opportunity to live out our faith in different ways and discover that new methods can still be life-giving and worshipful. All of us should be observing sensible rules on distancing, using masks, maximising hygiene, protecting the most vulnerable- wherever we worship.

I miss not meeting with others: family, friends, church. I’ll queue up for the vaccines which can help restore “normal” life. But I really hope that we won’t just go back to the ways things were. Those ways are broken. Society is broken. Families are broken. The racism, poverty and injustice that afflicted too many should NOT be re-instated by default.

Jesus spoke of “new wine needing new wineskins.” New life can’t be contained in worn-out, brittle institutions.

He also said “My Father is the Gardener.”

May the Gardener tend us all, so that next year will be full of colourful flowers, strong plants, and a great harvest.

Memories- Look, See, Pray

Lewtrenchard Manor Gardens, Devon.

Birthday presents get trickier as you get older. So when I asked my wonderful wife what she would like for a “significant” birthday, I received a profound answer.

“Memories.”

Nothing like raising the stakes! Wisdom was applied… and we booked a short break at Lewtrenchard Manor in Devon. It was more expensive than our usual level of venue, but it was an experience to remember. It became a memory to cherish. This photo of the garden is my favourite; although it could have been a picture to remind us of the excellent restaurant, or the authentic antique furniture. Or the grandeur of the building… and so on.

Wrapping the gift was easy. Suitcase, overcoats, suit & posh frock, and off we went across Dartmoor and past Okehampton to our hotel. Did you know that the writer of the hymn “Onward Christian Soldiers” used to live in the Manor, and was Rector of the adjacent parish church? See, now you have a memory to hold on to as well!

It is still a lovely, precious memory. If one of us says “Lewtrenchard” we both sigh happily and recall the special moments of the Manor that weekend.

Most truly valuable things in our lives are memories, thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Stuff we acquire along the way fades or fails, or is replaced or upgraded. We can’t take any of it with us!

The things we do, and the people we become, are what matter most.

Jesus told us to “store up treasure in heaven” rather than amass wealth that could rust, ruin, or be stolen. It’s about priorities and values: when we choose to live according to the way of Christ, our lives have a deeper purpose and the things we “hold” in this life are to be used for the Kingdom of God rather than our selfish requirements. God, it seems, has a bias to the poor. I do wonder what it will be like for immensely rich people when God enquires about the way they used their wealth.

But then, although not well off, I and most of us in the wealthy West are ASTONISHINGLY rich compared to the majority of the world’s population. What will Jesus say to me when He looks me in the eye?

Love God, love your neighbour, and live a holy life (with His help) is a short summary of following Jesus. Being forgiven is not to be taken for granted; but definitely something for which to be thankful.

Sitting loose to our possessions is good advice. Making and storing great memories, and doing the things Jesus would do, these are the kind of “treasures” we should store.

My most precious memories are about love. The love of God, the love of my wife, my family and friends- and sometimes the love of a stranger. Memories are made of this.

Welcome Showers- Look, See, Pray

The forecast promised sunshine and showers. Weather fronts pay no attention to the Met Office, and delivered showers, heavy rain, thunder and lightning, more enthusiastic showers, a little drizzle, and about an hour of sunshine.

My garden was cheering! It has been the “Year of the Lock-down Garden” and the hard-baked soil has wrestled with me over every inch reclaimed from the wild. I’m worn out, the garden has been putting on a brave face, and the arrival of copious rainfall has been a relief. It’s been really hot, very dry, and some of the flowers have been scorched. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Sussex is a sunny county, generally. But the “WWWW” I was taught about at school are rarely far away. If you are wondering, that’s “Warm Wet Westerly Winds.” So drought is not frequent here.

I saw some time-lapse film recently of a desert which only gets rain a few times in a century. Showers turned into a brief downpour- and the ground seemed dry again within hours. Then the cameras caught the hasty growth of gorgeous blooms, that flowered swiftly, set seed in a few days, then withered back into the sands. Until next time.

The writer of Psalm 68 knew all about life in a desolate land; and how dependent the people were on the rain showers arriving in season. No rain = no crops.

For me, today’s rain was a pleasant interlude, a cooler day, and the opportunity to dig out a photo of a water-lily. Beauty on demand, as it were. Sitting gracefully atop the surface, finding a gap in the lily-pads, this lily is a symbol of abundance. Am I truly grateful for the water that gives lilies a home? Do I remember to give thanks for summer, sun and rain, beauty and harvest?

Perhaps it is also a symbol of the need of my country. Truly a worn-out land; contention, deception, injustice and disharmony. We are not alone in this. International tensions and rivalry make a potent cocktail of bitterness. The coronavirus pandemic has magnified the stress-markers, and proven many political leaders to be inept or out of their depth.

Lord, send plentiful showers of Holy Spirit grace to us now. We are dry, and breaking. Our society is in danger of becoming a desert of self-centred cynicism and the poorest and weakest are left to one side: where they can be ignored until they die, or at least until they are silent.

Lord, please send abundant rain to restore these worn-out lands. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Yet, still… there is hope. The water lily still floats, and beauty touches hardened hearts.

Laser Love – Look, See, Pray

Psalm 26:2-3 Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.

——————–

Let Your Light shine, bright as a laser. Please light up my darkest shadows, so I may see how Divine Love conquers darkness.

Lord, You know me inside and out; even the things I condemn in myself- Yet Your knowing opens a window in my soul, allowing fresh air and fragrance within. Refine what is good and to be valued. Allow the holy Fire to purify my heart and mind, for without Your Holiness I cannot be clean. Let Your Light shine, a welcoming lamp for the pilgrim. Light my path, make a clear way for me to walk: show me Your footprints on the Way, so I may follow.

Test me, try me, examine me, in Truth and with Love. Not to catch me out, nor to condemn, but to help my journey with mercy and hope.

Forgive, O Lord, my detours and departures from the Way. Shine a beacon to bring me home. Shine a light for all those in peril on the seas of confusion. Shine Your love for all travellers mired in the mists. Make Your Way plain, that we may walk in it.

Let Your laser-love highlight the beauty in Creation, and illuminate the Christ-child within my own heart. Let Your living Word speak, illumine my mind, Your essence shaping mine, as I become like You.

With thankfulness I turn to You this day; You are the Way, the Truth, the Life. Forgiven, chosen, called and welcomed, a child of Your light, a child of Your adoption, a lost and prodigal son feasted by my Father in Heaven through the mercy in Christ Jesus and the indwelling Spirit of Holiness.

Lord, with humble heart I call on Your Name. Help me to live today with integrity and sincerity, to live in the Light and reflect Jesus wherever I go, whatever I do. Amen.

Ordained! – Look, See, Pray

Today I am remembering my Ordination, July 24th 1988. A long time ago, many promises made and many people to remember. As I walked along Pagham beach, on all the stones, I enjoyed the stubborn plants that were bringing brightness and life to the day. It reminded me of a song by Paul Field, link below, called Stony Ground.

If you have time, please listen to the song. It says so much about the struggle between a “vocation” and the inner growth that must take place if anyone is to measure up to that call.

Becoming a Christian minister was the result of a ten-year process of discovery and preparation. I will remain ever grateful to my tutors and fellow students at Spurgeon’s College, where I learned to wrestle with the Bible’s message and begin the process of forming my inner self. Part of me says I was not worthy of the honour of serving Christ, the Church, and the communities I have lived in. The rest of me is so grateful that God does allow imperfect people to proclaim “Life in all its fullness” (as Jesus put it in John 10 v10).

Some of you may not know what a “minister” does apart from speak in church on Sundays, and with the occasional wedding or funeral to lead.

Ministry is an amazing privilege: I have shared in the most personal and important moments in many people’s lives, often helping most by being there when they needed a friend. Ministry is also a stressful and difficult road. Without God’s help, I would not have lasted more than a few months!

It also involves being a disciple of Jesus, learning from Him as I travelled through my life. Without faith and grace, I would have had nothing to share. Being able to assist others in their exploration of Christianity, and walking alongside to serve with them, has been a greater honour than I deserve.

There are people I have loved, and others I found hard to like. I have learned and received a huge amount from their stories and experiences; and I have laughed and cried with them all.

I wouldn’t change any of it- they have taught me so much.

My journey still goes on, in different ways now, and I remain astonished that God loved me enough to put up with my imperfections and hard heart. Surely, Lord, I have been stony ground- surely You must have found a better man than me. Thank You for softening my stony heart, thank You for allowing the flowers to bloom and show that true life of the Spirit can breathe on anyone, even me.

God seems to specialise in loving obstinate, ordinary, broken, beautiful souls in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps you know what I mean… or will do one day.

Thank God for life, love, and purpose. May Christ be glorified in all the refugee rebels who He calls and rescues- as He has done for me.

Resilient Love – Look, See, Pray

My resilient red rosebud- complete with scars

A red rose- the flower of romance. This little bud shows off the best quality of real love- resilience. Despite shocking weather for July (strong winds and heavy showers) it has blossomed boldly. The scarlet is intense, the fragrance delightful. Entirely suitable for a romantic gift to my sweetheart.

Yet if you look closely, you see the scars that it bears. The outer petals have been marked by the onslaught of the elements. Discolouration and ragged edges prove this rose is not just for a passing fancy. More than romance, this red rose speaks of true love.

Our constant flirting with romance and sensuality can cheapen our appreciation of real love. Lovers bear scars from the rough edges of life; lovers have learned to go through troubles and survive them. None of us can control the circumstances we will face over the years- but to be accompanied with true love means we face life with renewed gratitude for the good things, and shared sorrows for the sadness and loss that comes to us all.

For Juliet and I, a red rose brings back memories. We became acquainted through our church, and began the journey of discovery and joy that led us to our wedding. I wore a red rose in my lapel.

There is a deeper love that we have shared: it’s the Love we have discovered through Jesus Christ. It would take too long to tell our story; and some parts of it we will keep private. However, we can say that through our 33 years of marriage, there is a golden thread that binds us, and leads us to the Presence of the Christ that has been with us in joy, sorrow, confusion and uncertainty. Health issues have cropped up, and scared us silly. Believing in God, and trusting Him, is not a red carpet walk to dreamland! It’s about real life, real people, and continuing to trust whilst holding onto promises made and received.

When I was a kid, bumps and bruises could be sorted by getting Mum to “kiss it better.” Adults don’t qualify for that therapy! But sharing the best and worst of times, committed to holding each other up, and knowing that the greatest Love the world could ever know is a present Reality… well, there are scars but they are marks of triumph as well as suffering. The Christian good news is of a Saviour with scars, a Lord with the bruises of battle. Death and Resurrection… the first sounds so final, until you realise that Jesus defeated Death- and in His Resurrection, he triumphed for eternity.

To wonder if Jesus toyed with the idea of running away from the Cross… then to understand He embraced its cruel kiss. This is where the scars came from. If God were to sent you a red rose- would you reject it because its scarred marking, or rejoice in the resilience of True Love?

I wish I could give God a rose to say “Thank you.”

I don’t think He’d mind if it showed a few blemishes, some scars from the journey. I’m learning to be resilient, to keep on getting back to my feet after I stumble. I keep visualising an Arm across my shoulders, hearing an encouraging whisper in my ear, and picking up a fragrance that makes even the reddest rose seem not quite heavenly. Yet.

Thank You, Lord, for a resilient rosebud that taught me a valuable lesson today. Amen!

Time for What? Look, See, Pray

time to look edit cosmos

I’m at a loose end. We are self-isolating, so not seeing people as normal, and not able to do all the things that usually fill the days.

It is even a step down from being “retired.”

Both good and bad. For thirty years I have been “on call” or “on duty” serving God as a local church minister. That’s an unusual way of life: I’ve been privileged to be alongside people in their best, worst, and most humdrum experiences.

Long hours. Emotionally intense. Having to NOT be just a “professional” Christian, but a real one with a life-giving faith. It’s impossible to nourish others if my own life is dry as dust.

Retirement has been great and I have been able to useful helping in church and community, within the restrictions of health. Now I’m limited to home and the internet. One possible response would be to hibernate and wait for the virus to run its course. That doesn’t sit comfortably with an up-and-at-it enthusiast (and I’m sure there will be plenty of others feeling the same way).

When I finish writing this, I will go out in the garden and take the time to REALLY look at the flowers, watch the birds, and maybe take some photos.

We have been given a GIFT of time.

Time to look, time for prayer, for reflection on life, for remembering family and friends. I have time to write. I have dug out my Q-Chord (electronic autoharp/synth) and started to practice – so I’ve been given a gift of music too. I have also received a gift of more time with Juliet (she is working from home) and that is precious.

So, am I at a “loose end” or I am unwrapping a gift that can enrich my life as a result of for the first time in memory HAVING TIME ON MY HANDS?

When all this over, and life resumes “normality”… will we have taken the time to look and decide what is really important and worth keeping? If we just go back to how it was, we will have missed an opportunity.

Of course this is a challenging time, and for many of us there may be grief and loss. Financial pressures are squeezing us all. Getting essentials to everybody is proving hard for Government and society generally. Some are being selfish so-and-so’s whilst others are being amazingly kind, generous and loving. We will need a great deal of kindness to heal the wounds of this plague. We don’t know what shape the future will take, but perhaps our choices of how we use our time can shape it for the better. This time IS a gift. It’s time IN our hands, not “on” them. We can use time or waste it.

May God’s peace keep you free from fear, and God’s Spirit give you courage and strength, and may the Son of God lead you in a new future of hope and wisdom.

Time to Reflect- Look, See, Pray

Getting away for a few days was great. Preaching a different church, meeting up with a bit of family and a couple of friends, using National Trust membership to enjoy a bit of culture, heritage, and beauty.

Now it has been time to reflect.
LSP 207hols 300819edit

I didn’t really notice the reflection of the lily in the water when I took the photo. The pond was beside a path through the woods, and time was limited. When I downloaded to the computer, and put it up on a bigger screen, I had a pleasant surprise. All the gorgeousness of the water-lily was repeated in a reflection.

Without slowing down to download, I would have missed it.

How typical of modern busy living. Tomorrow is Sunday, a day for putting God first, for offering worship, for taking a “sabbath” rest. It will be a time to reflect on faith and look more closely at how to live as fully as Jesus intended (John 10 v10).

I hope to see God a little more clearly.  To notice things I might miss in the rush, and in seeing them to be prompted in prayer and obedience.

May I invite you to make a time and space to reflect on the week just past? Time to “download” and take a proper look. It is a simple thing, and God may “speak” to you through silence, sight, or scripture. Beauty that may have passed us by could have another chance to share the heart of our Heavenly Father.

244hols 300819

Here is beauty- and beauty is God’s gift to a weary soul. Peace and grace be yours! Amen.