Nothing to See? Look, See, Pray

There’s nothing to see. Move on” said the small group of walkers who paused to see what I was looking at. Yet I spent a happy half-hour looking at this “nothing.” I had a reason.

Can you work out the missing element?

It is mid-October, about 4pm. Until 4.30pm. As I stood, leaning on the fence, everything was still. Scarcely a ripple on the water, very light breeze, and almost complete silence. So peaceful! I was content and stayed focussed on just being there.

Time is what the photo misses. It is frozen history, a moment that is past forever. But because I gave this scene time, I witnessed life. You, the reader, can’t see or hear this Life- you weren’t there, or you moved on too swiftly. Over beyond those reedy mudflats, two swans set off to a lakelet behind the North Wall of the RSPB Reserve. The place was so still, I heard the sound of the wind through the pinions of their wings, swooshing forcefully with every downbeat. An Oystercatcher swept by heading for the beach. Dunlins sprang up and dashed like a high-speed train inches above the water. Ducks passed by, a kestrel hovered spying on the mammal morsels she sought to invite for supper. The piping calls of wading birds echoed across the placid water.

Nothing to see? Rubbish! This scene just needed some time and attention.

So it can be with “hearing God” or even just trying to pray. We give a few moments, but we’re not tuned in. We see nothing of interest, hear nothing to take our attention. What if we invested more time? A day, a week, maybe an hour or two. Perhaps we would hear a gentle Voice of relieved Love- “At last! You can hear me!” – as our senses are sharpened and our attention made real.

I do not think there is any shortcut to hearing God. But giving time and attention is a great start.

God sometimes takes the initiative- He may call out to us, or communicate via a prophet, preacher or stranger. The Holy Bible is the record of what He has already said. Holy Spirit insight may be given in several ways. The Old Testament writers like Amos, Jeremiah, and the Chronicler point out that “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:13 (NLT).

2 Chronicles 15:1 (NLT)
Then the Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded, and he went out to meet King Asa as he was returning from the battle. “Listen to me, Asa!” he shouted. “Listen, all you people of Judah and Benjamin! The LORD will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you.…”

Verse 8 tells us that King Asa “heard the words of the prophet and took courage.” Asa became a good king, faithful to God and to the people: he introduced vital reforms, and mostly did well. He sought God with all his heart. He gave time, attention, and obedience.

Perhaps you are “stuck” in a place or time where there is “nothing to see” and you are frustrated. The halls of heaven echo silence.

In that silence the Lord may speak. Wait. (We don’t like waiting, we live in an “instant” society.) Use the time, embrace the silence, cling on to the truth that God is the Revealer and Reconciler. Look for God wholeheartedly: don’t rush away despairingly. In the silence and in peace or turmoil- God will speak.

“Silent” and “Listen” have the same letters, just in a different order; and being silent is often the first step of listening. Start right here, right now.

Journey’s Blessing- Look, See, Pray

Some photographs are planned- some just happen. I waited at Bonehill Rocks above Widecombe-in-the-Moor for the setting sun to break through the cloud: then with little warning, a climber stepped into the light. The traveller was enshrined- his journey over the rocks and wild hills of Dartmoor has been immortalised.

We didn’t speak. He may not even know he was photographed. His evening was all exertion and the warm glow of achievement.

I regard this as a favourite photo. It tells a story- or lets YOU tell a story- about the silhouetted figure against the warm light. Dark clouds and solid granite frame the moment. What does it say to you?

A prayer for all who travel, who make pilgrimage:

“God bless the path you take, and the earth beneath your feet. May God bless your destination.”

May God guide you, protect you, and make your travelling a blessing to others when you arrive.

Ups and Downs- Look, See, Pray

Back where we started… nearly. East Sussex to West Sussex, via the hills of England. As a child, it seemed hilarious that the local hill areas were called “Downs” instead of “Ups.” It’s still quite funny.

Many youthful hours were spent exploring the South Downs. Foredown, Southwick Hill, Truleigh Hill, the Devil’s Dyke, Lancing Clump, and Mount Caburn… There were favourite walks, and other walks when we kids were “persuaded” to enjoy a long hot slog across rural Sussex. We survived; maybe even thrived!

Later more competitive jaunts featured: including one ambitious navigation exercise eastwards from Brighton which proved interesting when a local farmer demolished a barn which was (unknown to him) supposed to be a crucial waymark that weekend. Teams disappeared in various directions as those groups lacking guidance and map-reading skills improvised. That was a long day.

Welsh mountains, the glorious Lake District, the Peaks of Derbyshire, the delights of Dartmoor, sunny Dunstable Downs- and now living in sight of the South Downs again. I have been privileged to live in beautiful places. Do I have favourites? Yes- all of them!

What started out as family walks to keep us occupied and use up our excessive energy gradually changed into a lifetime’s passion. After a while, I began to “read” landscapes. Their shapes and contours, the pathways, and the flora and fauna became a storybook. In time the countryside became a prayer-book: a favoured place to seek God, and to think through the ups and downs of decision-making and (even more important) the ups and downs of my own heart.

Look at the photo. Rounded contours form a shape painted by evening sunlight. Crops are growing, with the trails of tractors weaving patterns that give a sense of both movement and symmetry. Somehow the farmer overcomes the slopes to maintain straight lines. There is purpose in the landscape that rests on the very bones of the Earth. People pass through, changing the surface, but leaving the immense chalk mounds untouched.

How does that reflect our own lives? Our small ambition, even our great purpose, is acted out on a mighty stage. The hills represent the great unchangeable structure of the world- our greatest efforts and achievements, our human history there to be re-written by the next generation.

Climbing these hills is always laborious. The summits are never easily gained! Even the journey down-slope is hard on the knees- but the view from the summit, the sense of attainment, the awe that comes from being a very small creature in a huge, huge planet… THAT is a place for vision, for choices, celebration and encouragement. If you allow, it is a place for worship of the Most High God.

Perhaps, using the photo or your own memories, you can spend some moments of prayerful reflection on your own life, your ups and downs, and your faith. The prophet Isaiah spoke of God’s favourite “hill” and the promise that humanity WILL come to worship… why not now?

Isaiah 2:2 (New Living Translation) In the last days, the mountain of the LORD’s house will be the highest of all— the most important place on earth. It will be raised above the other hills, and people from all over the world will stream there to worship.

Reflection of Light – Look, See, Pray

Not every experience, photograph or person has to be outstandingly dynamic. Ordinary is good.

We have become addicted to the buzz of adrenaline. Bigger, better, faster, louder, brighter- and usually more expensive to us as “buyer” and to the ordinary person doing the producing. This is not, in my opinion, a “good thing.” We become greedy, and then dissatisfied when our latest “fix” doesn’t meet our expectations.

So today’s photo is distinctly ORDINARY. Reeds, grasses, water, colour, and a reflection. Not even a duck or dragonfly. It just IS. And that, my friends, is just fine.

Bellamy or Attenborough might get excited about the botany or biology. It’s a habitat but we don’t know for whom. Perhaps Ratty and Mole will pass by, messing about on the river…

Why have I bothered to post it? It won’t excite many people, naturalists apart.

Two theological reasons. First, the Creation narratives in the Bible record one amazing truth. God saw “That it was GOOD.” Everything that existed through the act of creation has divine approval. (We’ve made a mess of much of it, but that’s a story for a different day with different questions!)

Second, the actual reflection. What is it? Light. What we see as a reflection is the light coming back from our subject. Our Sun has flooded the atmosphere with light; it bounces off the grass, reeds and water. Our eyes receive that light and our brain interprets what we “see” in terms of what is there, that which is revealed by the light.

That’s the point, really. The photo is pleasant, colourful, and shapely in an ordinary sort of way. Ordinary things (and people) are GOOD… and defined by the Light they reflect.

My life actually gains its meaning not from my ego or experiences, but the quality and quantity of Light that I reflect. My ordinary daily “being” is defined by how clearly and accurately I reflect the Light of the World: which is of course one of the descriptions of Jesus Christ. I think I should pray next.

Hey, God, just a few words, if I may.

I know I’m pretty ordinary. I shall never be a Dad or grandad, but I love all my family. I’ll never play football for England, I’m not going to be the best preacher in the world, nor the best photographer. I can make the effort to be the best “me” possible- if You give me some help! – and I can stay as clean as possible, inside and out. Then I will reflect Your Light. It won’t make me famous, or rich, or really successful, ‘cos I’m ordinary, and I’m not sure I’d do well with too much fame or celebrity status. So please give me a Hand to be kind, decent, holy and a help to others: and let Your Light shine on me so I can reflect Your love accurately and well. Thank You for giving me a lovely wife to share my days, for allowing me to serve a bit in churches and the community, and giving me the wit and willingness to know that ordinary is good. Not just “good enough” but actually GOOD, the way You intended me to be.
I’m sorry I haven’t always managed to be “me” very well- and the regrets and repentances of my life are best left to Your grace-filled mercy. When those mistakes and sins have hurt other people, Lord, please comfort and heal them: and I trust Your promise about forgiving and being forgiven, so I also want to say that I forgive the people who have been less than kind or helpful to me.
All in all, Lord Jesus, please let me reflect Light all my days- and to enjoy You and Your gifts, always. Then I reckon You will look at the reflection I am, and say that’s good too. You will even see Your own Face reflected in me- and that’s the highest honour I could ever, ever have. Amen.

If any of that reflects who you are, or how you feel, reflect on that for a bit… and may God shine the Light of His smiling face on you too. God specialises in making the ordinary “good” and, in His eyes, special.

Grebe Expectations- Look, See, Pray

“Grebe Expectations,” a lesser known book of birds by Charles Dickens. (No, Richard, be serious!) “Grebe Expectations” is what I got when I photographed this Grebe at Pagham reserve. I packed my lens and headed for home, eager to see the bird immortalised.

“Big Disappointments” was the sequel. The grebe was too small, and my focus was not sharp. Yet I had a strange reluctance to bin it- the memory of sharing a few priceless minutes observing its world, trying to guess where it would surface after each dive… I was invested in Gregory Grebe’s existence.

So I played with the technology.. and the picture took a texture, a form that suggested Grebes without claiming to own one. A brushstroke filter added a touch of artistry. Then the poet’s muse dived in the lake…

More odious than ode, words took their place as I tried to capture a visual moment in solid prose, or poetry of a kind.

What is its worth as a photo, a poem, a thing? To me it is real, the securing of a past moment that touched my soul. No-one else may share my pride of creation: a daubing with doggerel, a whimsy whispering in the evening light.

There is, however, a parable in this Grebe.  A man went out to seek beauty, and finding a grebe fishing, prepared his camera for a trophy. Attainment did not equal inspiration, and a failure was clear to see. “Not good enough!” cried the critics. Shamed and blamed, the photographer told himself what he should have done.

But the colours enticed, and the grebe WAS there. So the creative urge did a surge, the program offered a new possibility, and a poem was born on a failed canvas.

Then the Great Artist looked and smiled, for His child had pinned a clumsy picture on the fridge door of Heaven, and smiled with tremulous eyes at his Father’s face. “It’s for You, Dad. I’m sorry it isn’t as good as I hoped…”

Smiles beamed from the Throne Room. “That’s fine, my boy- I made that Grebe for you, to fill your mind and soul with the wonder of Creation. And I love your picture, because you created it for Me.”

God of the second chance… Lord of the gracious heart. Father of the child who fails, and tries, and loves as best he can.

Truly, “Grebe Expectations” has given me a prayer of thankfulness tonight. May you see the beauty, the wonder in this world, and offer what you see to the Father who loves us.

Disappointments can be gateways to renewed joy!  Nice one, Gregory Grebe.Grebe artist 007Pagham 030518

The Delicate Dance” – Look, See, Pray

“The delicate dance.” Whirling, waving, singing in the breeze. Humble grasses of endless variety grow almost anywhere round the world.

A carpet to walk on, a banquet to creatures great and small. Background colours of restful greens and brown, and all too easy to overlook. We cut it down to make hay, we give our civilised selves a never-ceasing summer of work with scythe or lawnmower. We take grass for granted.

Grass helps protect from soil erosion. It makes a perfect surface for sports and picnics. It helps regulate the atmosphere we breathe.

Our Bibles are full of references to grass; in the beautiful 23rd Psalm of the Good Shepherd, we read “He causes me to lie down in pastures of green grass; he guides me beside quiet waters.”

My photograph today comes from a lakeside in the Zillertal of Austria. A good long walk up the valley led to a gorgeous turquoise-coloured lake. Kindly souls had put a seat with a view across the water to a snow-clad peak. Here, in the peace and quiet, we took our rest, our lunch, and our pictures.

Dancing delicately in the mountain air, these grass seed-heads rustled and swayed to an unheard tune.

Sunshine was followed by gentle showers, and a little later by a brief but dramatic thunderstorm. Our day was enriched by these curious climatic changes. Tomorrow would see the delicate dance of the grass as an encore. The rain makes it all live. Soil is shallow on the hard rocks, and sun and wind dry the grass quickly. It is the living water that gives the life.

A verse to ponder from Deuteronomy, extolling the virtue and value of the Words and Love of God. Be refreshed.

“My teaching, let it fall like a gentle rain, my words arrive like morning dew, like a sprinkling rain on new grass, like spring showers on the garden.” – Deuteronomy 32:2 (Message)

Delicate Dance Zillertal_1899

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.
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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.

Dusk on Fire – Look, See, Pray

“It’s just another sunset.”  Mighty God, you set the skies on fire tonight.

Molten gold and crimson blended in glorious blaze that turned the sea to liquid light. Lasting a few short minutes until dusk dimmed the display; and the balm of darkness hushed the world.

Who owns the “rights”? Who will package dusk as merchandise to make more gold?

Thrown with carefree abandon, the Artist of the Earth squanders another masterpiece for those eyes that see, the hearts that quiver, the souls that magnify God.

Wasted? Never a waste! Priceless extravagance of the Father’s heart, spent in celebration of Creation and salvation.

Rich beauty invested in moments of grace, as splendour wakes humility. Witnesses of the Glory Fire are touched by awe, moved by majesty, drawn closer by Love. A luminous moment of numinous awareness. Transcending mortality, the Light imprints joy on the soul of those who truly see.

Water, dust, air- and the rays of the distant Sun. Such a palette of pigment born from starlight and heaven’s light! Farewell to a day that was gifted by God! What will tomorrow bring? What rich new gift will speak the Love of eternity? Will we truly see?

O Lord of grace and mercy, help us to read the canvasses painted across sky and sea. Teach us to notice your Present Love proclaimed with a shout, a whisper, a sunset.

Look! See! The signature of God, the Name above all names. All Earth responds and praises the Three-in-One, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of Life. May our thoughts, our prayers, and our longings echo the angel song. Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty! Heaven and Earth are filled with His glory.

Or was it just another gaudy sky? You must decide.

Unbeaten- Look, See, Pray

Gardening is in the blood of my family.  The appreciation of beauty was instilled early, together with the realisation that the gardener never has full control. Jobs take longer, pests invade, or the good old British weather trumps your hand.

In my mind’s eye, there is a rose bed out front. Problem is… the roses are out the back, in pots!

Clearing the overgrown shrubs and brambles takes longer than I hoped. Our clay soil also has a mind of its own- too boggy in winter, rock solid in summer.  Yet there is hope.

Last week the rain came lashing down. One of my “David Austin” roses, Boscobel, had just opened up before the apocalypse began.

Boscobel 002roses 0618Last year the rose looked gorgeous.

It has struggled this time round. Pot life doesn’t suit it well. Fewer flowers have bloomed.

This time the rain tried to dissolve the rose!

The petals became translucent, and the colour changed. Very strange to see.

wet_rose_010mygarden0915small

Gardeners are patient; and they don’t give up easily. I’m taking this semi-dissolved rose as a symbol of hope. The plant has survived. It has not been beaten.

Life lesson?  You are never beaten until you don’t get up anymore.

Life rarely turns out as we expect or “plan”… and life brings disappointments as well as triumphs. Quite a lot of the time living is just about keeping on going, doing the ordinary,  believing and trusting that God won’t let us go.

Prayer point:  Has there been a deluge on your rose recently? Something that has spoilt your dreams, rattled your cage, threatened your future security?

Make that the focus of your prayer. Trust the Lord to bring fresh growth, renew the damaged roses: and maybe even see something beautiful or insightful in the situation. My translucent rose has a magnificence of its own, even with its imperfection. Study the consequence of the storm, look for beauty in the moment. Rain affected the bloom- but the plant survives. Unbeaten.

Lord, whatever is going on right now, and however it looks in the middle of the deluge, may Your Spirit renew and keep me UNBEATEN.  The best IS yet to come. Amen.

 

 

Awed into Silence- Look, See, Pray

Yes! I won a prize.  A photographic company invited readers of their Facebook page to submit pictures of their “adventures.” I had a go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Imagine my surprise when I had a message to say they liked the photo and had awarded me a £30 voucher to use against their services. OK, not earth-shattering, but an unexpected joy. My winning photo was taken in the Austrian Tyrol, one of the loveliest places I have visited.

One drawback- the prize had to be used in a couple of days.

Let the hunt begin! I decided to put a canvas print on my study wall.  When you take as many photos as I do, there’s a lot of choice. So I tried out several favourites, and had a go at editing and printing a shortlist.

The final choice came down to a memory.

We spent an amazing holiday in 2016 going from Vancouver up the Inside Passage of Alaska. Everything was stunningly beautiful, but one place was extra-special. We entered Glacier Bay and as we arrived the rain stopped- to unveil the majesty of the Marjorie Glacier. I was awed into silence. Awesome colour in the ice, eagles resting on ice floes, and almost complete silence.235Glcr Bay July16 re_edit

Few places have left me silent, awestruck and overcome. This was the most profound quiet: it seemed wrong to make noise.

Look closely at the foreground. Two bright red canoeists bravely exploring- and their size gives a clue as to the immensity of the ice sheet.

This is the photo that will be seen every time I enter or leave my study.  It reminds me of awe. It also reminds me to be concerned with the changing climate: we watched three “calving” moments where tons of ice splintered and crashed into the waiting sea. These glaciers are shrinking alarmingly quickly: the next generation may not be able to see these mighty glaciers. They are melting away and threaten sea-level rises that will impact on the globe.

God gave humanity a responsibility: to care for the Earth and everything in it. What will we say when the Lord asks us how well we did our work?

Looking at this photo can only give an impression of awesomeness. Perhaps, though, we can also look in our hearts to find memories of moment when awe closed our mouths and opened our spirits to the Eternal.

May holy awe touch your life. Thanks for reading.