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.

Only an also-ran?

Cheetahs used to be an also-ran (if you’ll pardon the pun!) as far as I was concerned. Tigers are still my favourite big cat, but I have become much more fond of cheetahs. A simple reason. When we lived near Whipsnade Zoo, the cheetahs were more co-operative subjects- so I spent time photographing them. The other big cats were often sleeping or hiding out of sight. But the cheetahs had an accessible enclosure and often sat out in the open.

Their grace and beauty won me over. Their coat is lovely, and the expression in their eyes entranced me. Cheetahs look at the horizon ready to streak after a passing lunch. They seem to look through visitors with an expression of dignified distain. Obviously, we humans are not worth chasing… but we are welcome to give our adulation as is proper to ALL cats. Cheetahs pose to be admired by the passing plebs.

In this photo, the sun was burning through a misty morning, and just as the cheetah stirred, a gorgeous back-light highlighted its fur in pure gold. A much better picture than the hoped-for but dozing lion hidden in the long grass well away from my lens!

Someone asked me recently about getting to know God better. I don’t know any real shortcuts- patience and desire are key. One thing I have discovered… The more time I spend seeking out holy ways and knowledge, the closer I come to God. Perhaps I have found a way to “cheetah” after all… 

Much as I fell in love with cheetahs by default and opportunism, I have come to love Jesus Christ because He has put himself into my path by many small revelations and experiences. I have come to recognise His voice and ways by encounter rather than some lofty pietism which puts the object of faith out of reach. Too big, too distant, too important to be bothered with a mere human like me.

The truth is that God’s heart is set on us, and the Father sends the Son and Holy Spirit to draw us closer. His goodness and holiness are available to us through faith and obedience. Don’t forget the parable Jesus told about a “prodigal son” whose Father REJOICED in the rebel’s return. We are welcome in God’s presence because He has made a Way.

Two short scriptures to meditate on:

James 4:8 (TNIV) Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded… 

Proverbs 18:24 (TNIV)  One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.033ZSLfauna0316adj

A prayer of the small to the Majestic One

Kind and gracious Lord,
Thank you for supplying my needs.
I will “rest in the meadow grass” and drink from still streams.
Thank you for strength of body and spirit
that helps me serve You;
I will seek to love and serve You in all things.
Even in the dark and troubled days and nights,
where grief and despair search for my heart,
You keep me safe and guide my footsteps.
Enemies seek to hurt and destroy,
but You give hope like a banquet for my soul.
You accept me in gracious compassion,
show kindness to the unworthy,
and promise a place of secure Eternal Love.

Psalm 23v2 ladybird 201_hatfieldhouse15crop18Lord, I am so small,
and You are so great;
be with me in every day,
every moment,
and every experience
throughout my life.
My soul will praise You;
may my life honour You.
Amen.
(Photograph and Prayer (c) Richard Starling, 2018, based on Psalm 23 as written in the Living Bible.)

Wildflowers, honey, and a praying camera – Look, See, Pray

Some sensible person on the local council has planted a bee & butterfly meadow in the park. All sorts grow- borage, marguerite, poppies, salsify and stunning blue cornflowers. It is wild and civilised all at the same time!

When I take my camera out to pray, I am obliged to slow down and really look. Wildflower meadows are challenging because it looks lovely in a very untidy way. Quick photos end up as a blur of mixed colours, and are rarely worth your attention.

Slowing down and concentrating makes me pay proper attention- and I start to see the insect life, the bees and bugs which are fascinating. Without the bees to pollinate flowers and crops, we would all die from hunger. And we’d be without honey!

Honey is a health food, with antibacterial properties and soothing qualities as well as its delicious sweetness. Honey can make you feel better. I found this quote from “Winnie the Pooh”… I think we’ve all felt a bit Pooh sometimes, and a good friend like Piglet can work wonders. Perhaps we can be Piglet for someone we know?

 

Tea and honey Pooh

Getting back in touch with our soul is helped by those honey moments and the friends who care.

If I hadn’t stopped to look… if I hadn’t taken the time to see what was in front of me… my day would have been different and somehow less than it turned out to be.

You might think it fanciful- but I think God played the role of Piglet for me. The wild flowers, bees, and the promise of honey made me feel better. My soul was restored.

God told the Israelites enslaved in Egypt that He would lead them to to a land of “milk and honey.”  A place of plenty instead of the wilderness, a place of hope replacing the slave whips. It shaped the whole outlook of the Israelites for centuries- “We were prisoners and slaves, but God set us free and provided for our needs.” There is a very real sense in which that represents what God wants for all of us- a life of hope, rest, and goodness. Fancy taking a camera for a walk, and seeing what God may show you? I’d like to hear about it if you do that. Have a truly blessed day.

Perhaps this post may bring you “tea and honey” and help you reconnect?

Dear God, thank you for the Piglet moments, the love and care of a good friend. Thank you for caring about us: thanks for a world of flowers, bees and honey, for cameras that help us pray, and for all those moments which restore our souls and reconnect us to Your amazing grace and love. Thank You- in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Peace and Quiet?

Quiet morning. The air is still, and cooler today. I love to walk round the garden and see the changes to the display. Today the “Lady of Shallott” is providing a perfect rose for my delight- so I thought I’d share the gift. I hope you like the colours, you’ll have to imagine the glorious scent.

Quiet mor…. no, no so quiet after all. Thor, our local black-and-white cat, decided to make a late breakfast of a black-and-white magpie. Mayhem ensued! A mad scramble and scurry with squawking “geroff-of-me-s !! ” as cat chased bird, who donated some feathers but just managed to get clear. I think the bird was thor, too. Cat last seen climbing tree after bird with an increasing volume of “Scrakkk” and “Kchckk!” noises from the magpie and its family.

As I resume my wanderings, a buzzard circles above with several seagulls loudly persuading the buzzard to buzz off.

Such a quiet morning… the news is full of political rows, rumours, resignations, and MPs are revolting (some of them, anyway). Others are decent human beings. Bless them, Lord.

The wonderful rescue of the trapped kids in Thailand is overshadowed by the sadness of the death of a very brave man indeed- he gave his life that others might live. Joy for many, grief for his loved ones.

Football beckhams… sorry, beckons, again tonight. Will England defeat Croatia and make me very happy? My wife’s boss is French, could be awkward next Monday… Poor Belgium, narrowly beaten by France, facing a day of disappointment. So much going on on this “quiet” day.

Prince of Peace 001garden 0718

 

“In this world you will have troubles.

But I have overcome the world.”

(Jesus, in John 16 v33)

Lord, You bear the Name of Prince of Peace.
Thank you for the promise of true peace,
showing that the world has a purpose- and so do we.
In our quietest moments troubles arise
and we need the reassurance of Your faithfulness.
May we live every day as fully as we can,
love and care about others at all times,
and be signposts of hope in a world of troubles.
Jesus, Prince of Peace,
grant us peace in our troubled days.
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.