Patterns- Look, See, Pray

Patterns attract our eyes. Sometimes our eyes “make” patterns or interpret shapes as something familiar: for example, we can “see” faces in the patterns of the scorch-marks on a piece of toast!
 
This diagonal pattern of orange fenders protecting the woodwork of a landing stage is striking because of the colours, reflections, and regularity of all the elements in the photo.
 
The fenders are there to protect the jetty and take the weight of the boat that comes alongside. One is needed on each upright.
 
Here’s a pattern of a different sort- a song that repeats one line 25 times! How boring is that? Well, that depends…
 
“For his faithful love endures forever.”
 
This line is in Psalm 136. It’s a song written and sung to remind worshippers that God is there to protect them in all the ups and downs. Here’s an idea… read the psalm in the morning, or the evening, or whenever life is getting challenging… The pattern reinforces the TRUTH.
“His faithful love endures forever.”
 
Psalm 136:1-3 (NLT)
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods. His faithful love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords. His faithful love endures forever.
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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.

Beauty and Danger

Some of the most beautiful creatures are also among the most dangerous. Consider the sheer elegance of the big cats, sheer bulk of an elephant, or the toxicity of jewel-coloured tree-frogs. The speed with which this cheetah moved from dozing to alertness was impressive. Lunch was on the way and it would be unwise to get in the cheetah’s way!

Beauty conceals threats. Even the most lovely landscapes contain insects or reptiles that can hurt or kill. It isn’t a safe world. Domesticated animals are not entirely safe either. Come between a cow and calf and you will see how quickly a placid slow-moover can turn testy.

The most dangerous creature is humankind. We are the most inventive, most creative, exploitative, most co-operative & competitive tool-using killers ever. Humans can be casually cruel- and maliciously vicious.

psalm 121 v6-7 Cheetah 064whipsnade1212 edited crop2

Unsurprisingly the Bible contains praise for the beauty: and wisdom for the trials. One repeated theme is the promise of God’s protective justice. In particular the Psalms have songs that deal with perils, persecutions and promises. Psalm 121 is only short but it makes a great prayer when the dangers overwhelm the beauties.

If your world is not safe right now, there is only one sensible action. Reach out and trust God; commit your path to Him and look for His protection.

Psalm 121:1-8 (NLT)
I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there?  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.  The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon at night. The LORD keeps you from all harm and watches over your life. The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

Text & photograph Copyright (c) 2018  Richard Starling. Bible verses from New Living Translation (2nd Ed.)

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.
 
Robin crop 3 024Garden 040518
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.