Poets and saints find meaning and hope in the beauties of nature. The Celtic Christians of Britain, hundreds of years ago, described the world as God’s “Book of Creation” and found there rich stores of food for the soul.
In more recent times, this insight has been restored and many Christians find God still “speaks” with or without words- becoming aware of His Presence, we discover the wonder of mystery. Most of us know relatively little of the botany/biology that informs the experts; yet we still discover in “nature” a wonderful harmony of function and beauty.
It has been said that the one who breaks a thing to discover how it works has left the path of wisdom (JRR Tolkien). This poppy was “broken” when I took the photo, honest! In fact, the poppy is simply at the mid-point of its life: the passing of the petals heralds the growth of seeds that will be poppies in the future.
A short prayer:
Lord, may we see Life and Love in the changing of seasons. As flowers open, as bees labour in sweetness, as seeds are set for future blessing, may we recognise the Hand of God working, and hear again the words of Creation: “It is very good.”
Open our eyes to admire Your art, Your craftsmanship, Your generous spirit! Thank you for the riches given, for marvels to intrigue us, for knowledge to seek, and Love to find.
Worthy, O worthy are You Lord! The whole Earth is full of Your Glory. Keep us, O Lord, in Your heart and in Your Presence, evermore. Amen
"Daddy's takin' us
to the zoo tomorrow.
And we can stay all day!"
Peter, Paul & Mary singing about going to the zoo must have imprinted on my psyche at a very young age. Part of my love for animals goes back as early as I can remember- and I still love going to the zoo today.
These young seagulls reminded me of the song as they clustered together on the fencing of the penguin pool at Whipsnade. Lined up in an orderly fashion, watching the penguins play. Just as noisy as a school trip on an outing!
What they were really waiting for was feeding time. As the keepers dished out the fish, the penguins grabbed most of it very quickly- but scraps and overlooked fish were grabbed gleefully by gulls.
You might be thinking “SEA gulls? So far inland?”
Indeed, not a family outing so much as an adaptation to human impact. Intensive agriculture, excess rubbish and waste littered across Britain- an invitation to the wild creatures to invade our space even as we squeeze then out of theirs.
Climate change and habitat loss are huge issues. Conservation of species at risk of extinction is the biggest reason zoos still exist.
According to Genesis, the human race has a responsibility to be good stewards of the world we live in. We aren’t very good at it, and since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution we have made a mess of unimaginable proportions and caused injustice galore through overexploiting the Earth’s resources and people.
What has this to do with prayer? Everything!
Of all people, it should be Christians who are concerned about conservation and care for our planet. Our Father has given care of Creation to His kids. Issues of justice, fair trade, and climate change should be on our minds, on our lips, and in our prayers.
Wouldn’t it be dreadful if the ONLY place to see animals and birds was a zoo?
The thing about stewards is they have to give an account of that stewardship. Our prayers and actions matter- as does indifference. “Hey, Dad, you know that lovely planet you gave us? We broke it! What do we do now for food, water, and air….?”
One day Jesus will return to Earth. The rate we are burning our bridges, it might have to be soon- and before we are ready.
There’s no mistaking the trumpet! Bold, brassy, beautiful. In the hands of an expert it can cover a range from subtle through sublime to stupendous. Soldiers respond to its summons, Satchmo played a wonderful world.
Spring is coming… although this may the coldest night of the year! The sentinels are standing tall, the trumpet of Spring is yelling yellow and sunshine has climbed from the earth.
Hey, it’s been tough this year. We know that, and we know why. Can things change?
We can! Listen to the trumpet of Spring. Accept these gifts of colour, of brightness and beauty. Days are getting longer, the dark hours are shrinking, and warmth and colour bring hope. It’s up to us to receive the gift, and start to rejoice again in life. We may have to decide to embrace hope, to enjoy the spring as much as possible, and sing along with the trumpets.
There are encouragements and promises in the Bible that should help motivate us in celebration. Life has always had seasons of darkness; and God comes to bring Light to those who trust Him. Have a look at the daffodil, read the words of Jeremiah who speaks for God… listen to the trumpet! “The young women will dance for joy, and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration. I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing.” Jeremiah 31:13 (New Living Translation)
January. 31 weeks days in January and it already seems longer. I’m getting square eyes- not from watching the TV, but gazing out of the window hoping for sunshine or snow. Don’t mind which! There have been too many grey rainy days- if 2021 had a warranty, I’d send it back to be adjusted.
There are good moments, of course. This photo reminded me of those crisp frosty days when icy layers encase the grass and twigs, painting the landscape in white lace. This particular photograph catches the precise time when sunlight touches the ice and brings it to thaw point: opaque crystals melt into pure globes that fill with light. Grasses flex themselves and as the droplets fall the magic of the moment is gone. But the hope lingers on…
Every winter comes to a thaw. Even in Narnia, the Wicked Witch could not overcome the Spring!
Be encouraged! This winter will pass. Right now, we can look for the thaw and for the floodwaters to drain. Tiny snowdrops make a delicate prayer of thanks. As days pass by, more daffodils are daring to show off “sunshine on a stick” as the sluggard tulips pull the duvet up for “just a few minutes” or perhaps weeks!
Passing through difficult times is always a trial. Keeping our eyes open to notice the thaw points is medicine for the soul. Take time to appreciate them- if we gloss over them, and dash onwards in drab, soul poverty will strike.
Difficult times can become an invitation to seek God. Many who have chosen this path can echo the words of the Psalmist- and have found a “thaw point” in their deepest heart-yearnings.
“Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found. Surely when the mighty waters rise, they will not reach him. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32 v6-7)
God, make me like this tree- strong, scarred, but alive. The snow hides my imperfections, the wounds of living- but I cannot pretend I am still whole, hale and hearty. Have compassion on me!
Today the news is bad- the virus is out of control and we are again in lockdown, perhaps for weeks. We are despairing, grieving, and frightened for ourselves, our loved ones, for health & jobs, hospitals & schools, shops & vital services.
I am rooted in Your Love, O my God, knowing mercy and grace at Your hands, and I am daily trusting You can keep me through the storms of life.
“This too shall pass.”
Lord, the deeper my roots sink into Your Being, the stronger I remain- let me drink deep of grace. There will be Spring, new life for the world, for me. Help me to endure the cold wind, the sorrow, the storm.
Only in You do I put my trust, and You are faithful.
My God and my King, my Saviour and Friend, I shall stay strong- because You are my strength and shield.
When winds blow cold and fierce, lend me Your strength.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
A Lament for Lockdown, January 2021 (c) Richard Starling
in the dark
a new beginning began.
Child of eternity
as Mary and Joseph
Baby to cherish,
witnessed by angels
The most fruitful harvest
comes from tender petals... Sweet flower.
The One true Saviour
embraced our frail shell.
Jesus is born in humble place
gold, frankincense and myrrh
a Cross in His future
This is Christmas. The beginning begins.
(c) Richard Starling, 2020
Walking in woodland is wonderful. If you move quietly and respect the life around you, the sights, sounds and smells are invigorating. They even prompt the human brain to produce the happiness hormones, and reduce stress levels.
This photo came from an early morning walk through dense woods in Buckinghamshire- I got lost. All the trees looked the same, and I took a wrong path. I was never in any danger: but being lost is unsettling and inconvenient.
I knew that if I walked in the general direction of the rising sun I should find my vehicle and the road home.
Gradually the light grew stronger and I could see the edge of the wood.I felt instantly better, and could confidently enjoy the woods again.
Luke 2 gives the narrative of Christmas. A favourite part is when angelic messengers awaken shepherds in the dark hills above Bethlehem: the Light of the Glory of God bursts into their quiet reality. A message of HOPE sends the men off to see the new-born child. No longer lost in the dark, their way becomes clear.
It’s almost Christmas Eve. I’m going to be reflecting on that holy Light that came to the world- because we sure do need some brightness and hope! Ponder these words and apply them to your own situation: Luke 2:14 (NLT) “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
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.