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.

Eugene said “Slow Down…”

Eugene Peterson had a stated purpose to “change the pastoral imagination of pastors today,” to urge them “to slow down and to be present to their lives” so that they could help their congregations do the same. Eugene died this week.

There are some people I would love to have met. He is definitely one of them. Quite probably I would have been reduced to embarrassed mumbling and shamefaced excuses, because Eugene Peterson had a way of getting to the heart of big issues. That encounter would have exposed my shortcomings and excuses. Alongside that dread, I get the strong impression he would have been gracious and understanding: and would have done his best to help and encourage me. Peterson knew God and His ways: and he would have blessed me as I know he blessed many who did encounter him directly. He lived to bring Christ to many. His books helped me.

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I first read his book “Contemplative Pastor” at a time when the crazy pressures of ministry were burning out my soul. Complex problems needed solutions I couldn’t find, and rushing from A to B to X was grinding my heart to dust.

It wasn’t about losing faith, and there were blessings around in plenty. But… there was just too much of everything, and I needed help. Christian ministry is a calling that draws on the deepest part of the heart, and if we are not wise we can find that we are drying up on the inside. Preaching in the name of Jesus is a joy and a heavy responsibility. Pastoring people is a huge privilege and challenge. You get to share the whole gamut of human experience.

The emotional and spiritual cost of pouring yourself into the blender where real life mixes with heavenly Truth, and then trying to distil precious living words so others may draw closer to the Lord, is terribly high. Faced with the expectations of the congregation, the community, yourself, and what you think God expects- the spirit reels in shock and dread. I needed to learn that God is more gentle and patient than expected. He is also utterly Holy, amazingly gracious, and awesome beyond words.

There is a very unfunny “joke” about ministers only working one day a week. If people only knew how much that “joke” makes pastors want to throttle the jester! It is an act of grace to smile gently and refrain from applying the “right knee of fellowship.” (Let the reader understand!)

Most ministers I know work too long, too often, and too hard. It’s because we know that our words can be life or death. We don’t want to let anyone down. God called us, and we said “Yes.” It demands commitment of a high order.

“Slow down.” Recover the heart of your calling. Seek God for Himself; seek God because of love given and received. Seek God, because apart from Him we can do nothing.

Jesus took time out to be with his Heavenly Father. Jesus went into the wild places, the mountains, the lakeside. When He came back to the disciples and the crowds He knew His Father’s will- and obeyed it totally.

Reading “Contemplative Pastor” was refreshing if challenging. It was a lifeline to a weary soul because it put my hand back into the hand of Jesus. My mind was opened again to the dynamic rhythm of the Psalms and the Gospels. I re-learned the importance of retreat, of quiet, of silence and solitude. I discovered that there is a loving Father awaiting the “prodigal pastors” who run off to do God’s work for Him… and then find out they can’t and weren’t intended to. (I realise I have to be careful here- please don’t think I intended to draw a parallel between pastoring a church and tending the pigs!!!) 

Eugene’s life work taught many of us to slow down, not to be caught up in the folly of rushing, competing, or manipulating. He pointed me to Jesus again. Through Jesus, the Open Gate, I was able to come into the Presence of Holy Almighty God, Father, Son and Spirit.

One day I hope to thank Eugene Peterson. It will be a long queue!  Thank God for this fellow-servant, this deep well of Spirit-filled wisdom, and for the writings that still point to Jesus.

Oh yes- this advice to “slow down” doesn’t just apply to pastors. How is your rush-ometer doing? Seek God. Here is Eugene’s paraphrase of  Matthew 11:28-30 (Message)
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.  Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” 

Slowing down… sounds good to me!

 

 

Birds of a feather

A recent visit to photograph the migratory birds did me good. Fresh air, seeing lapwings, chatting to others watching the displays- all good. Watching the aerial dance has made me think of various friends, colleagues and ministry partners I’ve had the privilege of working with. And, of course, a wonderful wife and a great wider family.

038pagham birds lapwing

The members of the churches I have been privileged to serve- I’d have been pretty lonely without their love, time, and support.

Some who were in church leadership teams- I want to say publicly that I was enormously blessed by their quality and attitudes.

Other colleagues of different denomination but similar heart. Others in regional groups, and national teams. Staff in schools, hospitals and funeral directors… the list goes on.

I won’t mention names but I do want to say “thank you all.” Also to those who have taught me, encouraged me, and put me straight when I needed that correction.

I am humbled by the way I have been part of the process of helping others to discover and follow their life-calling, and to see how God uses them to to things I couldn’t do.

To you all I offer the blessing prayer of Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NLT)
Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.

Thanks for being part of my migration through this world!

045pagham birds lapwing