Seeking Peace- Look, See, Pray

Psalm 34:14 (NLT) Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how fed up are you with watching the news? Every headline is dramatic, every event is a potential crisis, and what wouldn’t we give for a bit of peace and quiet?

Mild February days are rare enough to be treasured. This afternoon I cycled down to Pagham Harbour, my local nature reserve. I was surprised to find the tide was right in: the mudbanks usually hosting a convention of wading birds were covered in blue and gold water.  I settled down to absorb the peacefulness of the scene, and watched the available wildlife action: a short-eared owl quartering the reed beds, and then the explosively noisy eruption of hundreds of Brent geese who left their farm field and came down to the water. After a short while, quiet took over again.

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One of the best-known and powerful images in the Bible is found in Psalms.

Psalm 23 speaks of “still waters” and water symbolises life, cleansing, and renewal.

This is a beautiful theme. Without water, we could not live.

Psalm 34 v14 instructs us to search for peace, and when we find it, work to preserve that peace.

Searching for peace in a wearying world may seem a fruitless task.

Perhaps this week, you could find- search for- a peaceful place, near water if possible, and take time to enjoy it. Reflections and ripples can inspire thoughts and prayers.

Silence and beauty restore our soul. In this world of strife and noise, we are called to be peacemakers, peace-bringers, servants of the Prince of Peace. In the quiet and calm of our restored souls, we may find strength and grace to share peace and preserve it.

Thick-skinned?

A frosty morning at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo found me watching the rhinos. The animal version of a battle tank, they have short sight and often short tempers. Rhinos also have very thick skin. One of them had a magpie attacking it, pecking away at wounds in the surface of its hide.

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A closer look at the photo shows this more closely.

What a mismatch! Magpie against Tank. The rhino even seemed to tolerate the bird’s attention.

I suppose the rhino is pretty helpless. All its power and weight is useless against a small, quick, mobile opponent- even though the pecking must have been painful.

Zoo staff explained that the birds are actually helping the rhinos. Ticks and bugs can burrow into the thick hide; cuts and scratches can become infected. The magpie was doing a clean up in exchange for a chewy dinner.

So what? What does this have to do with us?

Consider this. Even the thick-skinned, tough types of people and institutions have faults and vulnerabilities. We may think we’re too small, too insignificant to make a difference. Yet our prayers and actions can have a vital impact on the health and well-being of our “targets”.

When we see things that trouble us, political or economic woes, injustices and a lack of compassion- we can act to highlight the issues. Our “rhinos” may bellow a bit, the pecking may sting! Even the thick-skinned need a bit of careful attention and constructive action.

Who or what has attracted your attention or given you a dose of righteous indignation? Will you pray? Write, email, or visit the person involved? Will you act to make a difference? Our rhinos might just be grateful… and some bugs controlled. Have a peck… do it carefully and in a controlled way. Prayer pecking, if you like!

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a magpie who cleaned the hide of a rhinoceros… and stopped the rhino from being driven to violence by the biting irritation of its bugs…”

 

Come to the Quiet- Look, See, Pray

Quietness found beside the restless sea… The weather forecast had suggested a heavy swell propelled by a cold front moving down from the north, but here on the south coast  all was calm and the slow, low ripples scarcely made a sound.

Cold? Oh yes, it was cold. The breeze blowing off the land betrayed its parentage, slicing through my thin jacket. A distant, bundled dog-walker moved faster than the dog wanted to go! Central heating and a cup of hot tea was the desire of a thick-coated human, whereas a thin-coated dog explored sand, seaweed, and sea-strand with pleasure.

My imagination kicked in. Did Jesus stand on the sea shore on a cold morning, watching the sky-veil torn asunder? Do the angels pause on their journeying, taking in the fresh beauty at the start of a new day?

When the world began, and the Spirit of the Lord hovered broodily over the waters, was it this quiet and peace that drew the morning words “It is good…”

Here is a short prayer, an invitation to rest in the shalom-presence of the Eternal Lord.

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May the Peace of Christ be with us, always. Amen.

Time to rest

Christmas was packed away into boxes today. Our lights are down, tree gone, and the bathroom scales are being scrupulously avoided.

I don’t know if there is any direct link, but I have been falling into hibernation mode this week. I keep dropping off and rumour has it I may have snored. Certainly the cold grey day didn’t inspire outdoor activity. I clearly remember thinking “I should go out on my bike for some fresh air.” Good thought, no follow through!

Why so lethargic?

Could be reaction to sad news- some people dear to us have been suffering and struggling, and our hearts have grieved. Could be reaction to being busy and a bit stressed. It could be that I have some genetic link to big brown bears, and the low levels of sunlight have triggered the desire to slumber until Spring sets nature free again.

Rest is good. According to the Bible, God rested and taught His people they should do the same.

time to rest 091frostleaves 1116 The photo is of a rose which flowered long past its usual season: then frost and sunshine combined to swiftly denude the flowers and open up the remnant for inspection. Strong sunlight threw the background into a velvety darkness, and the last beauty of the rose glowed.

Roses need to rest through the winter. They harbour their strength, and then are renewed for fresh growth and spectacular beauty next season.

I have been learning more about rest over the last year. Rest by choice, and also rest through weakness. Along with rest, I have been exploring silence and trust. All three belong together. My struggle has often been a perceived need to be active, creative, productive- but the lessons I am being taught are about the value of rest, the worth of silence, and the importance of trust. I identify with the words of Isaiah the prophet who warned about thinking we know all the answers and can work everything out with a bit of help from the strong. The new beginnings of a new year will go better IF only I will rest, be quiet, and trust.

Isaiah 30:15-16 (NLT) 
This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt. They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’ But the only swiftness you are going to see is the swiftness of your enemies chasing you!

Perhaps Isaiah speaks to you and me?

May the peace of God be ours this day.

Christ, as a light – Look, See, Pray

A prayer for the beginning of a New Year- a prayer suitable for any day. It is taken from the Daily Office of the Northumbria Community, and published in their beautiful “Celtic Daily Prayer” collection.

2018 has been a year of confusion and darkness. Beginning this new year with an invocation of the Light of Christ offers a fresh start with our vision centred on Jesus is important. It isn’t about asking God to “be on our side” … rather it is a statement of intent that we wish to be on His side, and serve the kingdom of heaven here on Earth.

May Christ be with us in 2019.

Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.

 

Celtic Daily Prayer, (c) The Northumbria Community Trust Ltd.
https://www.northumbriacommunity.org/

 

 

Another point of view…

Another point of view… seeing the prayer on the top of the breakwater.

Lord, that wooden post has been there years. Every day the sea floods it, covers it, bashes it and abandons it. What kind of life is that?

Barnacles, seaweed, a limpet or two. Nobody pays attention unless they happen to scrape their leg on it! What kind of life is that?

Seagulls stand on it, crabs walk round it. Dogs pee over it after chasing the seagulls away. Waves crash into it. What kind of life is that?

Resistance is futile, says the sea- we will assimilate you.
Not while I’m standing, says the post. I’ll break your waves!

Looking down from above, the photographer sees form, shape, and colour. The stubbornness of not giving in. A post with a purpose, a duty to fulfill. A home for tiny creatures with tiny urges of their own, just as stubborn as the post and clinging to life with all its trials.

I wonder if I looked at other people from a different point of view… what would I see? The stolid patience of daily living, the refusal to be battered into submission, still clinging to life and hope- knowing storms come and storms go.

Would I care, or notice, or walk away? What kind of life is that?

Lord, if you looked down on my life, what would you see?
“What kind of life is that?” says the angel, looking askance.

“A life with a purpose, and someone I love” says the Word who spoke Life to the world.

I guess we do matter, after all.

Weeds of humble splendour- Look, See, Pray

A weed is a plant growing in the wrong place. What if we valued them for what they give instead of judging them by our desire?  Plants make this planet breathe- and some flourish in harsh places that would be desolate without them. At the edges of the salt marsh, tough plants make a margin of life. Their gaily waving flowers add charm to the landscape, provide food for insects and birds, and carry a promise of life now and for tomorrow.  A poem that just might be a prayer…  a weed that might be a hero.

weeds of humble splendour

Photo and text copyright Richard Starling, 2018.