Woodland Prayer- Look, See, Pray

The peace of the green trees be ours
and calm our thoughts tonight;
The song of Creation bring harmony
and help our minds to rest.

Industrious insects garden our world,
as birds bring an offering of music;
the streams bring the waters of life,
and a woodland symphony is born!

Creatures large and small have their being
in this cathedral canopied by trees.
O Lord most High, O Lord most holy,
thank you for this place.

The joy of blue skies overwhelms us!
Softness of raindrops caress our heads.
Clouds of gentleness soothe our days,
and may wholeness be our portion.

(c) Richard Starling, 2021.

It’s raining again- Look, See, Pray

“It’s raining again” sang Supertramp, “you know it’s hard to pretend…”

A broken love, disappointment, bereavement, ruined plans, a pandemic… We know the feeling. The rain just goes on and on, and we try put a brave face on things even as we are dying inside.

A wise man once commented “There are no strong people.”

You may not agree completely, but anybody and everybody can be broken. As I write, there are brave people in Afghanistan feeling utterly desperate. Another earthquake hit Haiti last week, wreaking havoc once more. War in Yemen. Discarded people in Britain living on the streets, families using foodbanks to survive (in one of the wealthiest nations in the world!). Millions of impoverished ordinary human beings in every continent trodden down into the mud as the rains keep pouring down.

Even Jesus said “The poor will always be with you.” Sounds grim.

Every person’s own suffering is uniquely valid and equally heartrending: and ours is the first generation to experience at second-hand the tragedies of the whole world in real time. Super-fast communication means the “NEWS” lashes the ears and eyes of the planet within moments of disaster. The pace of information overload has increased exponentially over the last 100 years- we are so soaked in it that we have a phrase, “compassion fatigue,” to express our diminishing responses and our helplessness. Many do try to help, and astonishing generosity makes a difference sometimes: but against that, others with wealth and influence take a selfish view and wash their hands of the problems.

The rain just goes on and on, and we try put a brave face on things even as the world dies.

“The rain falls upon the just
And also on the unjust fellas
But mostly it falls upon the just
Cause the unjust
have the just’s umbrellas.”   
      ~ Cormac McCarthy

But we are not without hope. The consistent message of the Bible is that God cares for all, has a special care for the poor and suffering, and WILL establish justice- with or without our help.

Pretending not to be affected by trouble is simply unreal and ultimately unsuccessful. Trying to solve all the world’s problems is beyond our scope- the best we can do is make a difference to this one… and the next one… and so on. My responsibility- and yours- must be to do what we can; and to be as trustingly obedient to God as we can. The Book of Revelation has a lovely phrase about special trees in a time yet to come: “and the leaves are for the healing of the nations.”

To love God, and to love God’s ways, is the only hope-filled life choice we can make: to love Him, and work with Him, and to recognise the scope of Jesus as Saviour, Redeemer, and Lord of all Creation that yearns to be reconciled- even as we run away from the Reconciler! When the rains fall, and fall, and fall… it’s time to fall on our knees and cry out to God for help. He will answer… even though we live through the cloudburst. There is hope.

This is what God is like- in a verse taken from a song of faith, thousands of years old. Hold on to this description of the Just and Holy God Eternal- which was lived out in the flesh by Jesus Christ.

Psalm 113:7 (NIV)
“He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap…”

I choose my song- Look, See, Pray

I’ve just been sitting in my back garden, enjoying the sunshine. The road was quite noisy… we’re near enough to hear it. A TV was broadcasting to the neighbourhood- they obviously wanted to share their favourite programme with us all.

To be honest, I felt rather disappointed. To much noise.

Then a robin and a blackbird started a duet (or possibly a bragging rights competition?). Suddenly I had a choice. What would I choose to listen to?

No contest. Birdsong won, claws down.

The other noises became “wallpaper” which I could ignore.

Seems to me that this is exactly what prayerful contemplation should be. Choosing to become aware, choosing which Voice to heed, with which song to harmonise.

God is present. I am choosing awareness, choosing to listen, instead of rushing into a barrage of words thrown in God’s Face. Instead of allowing the traffic or TV or lawnmower to distract and distort my attention, I am fixing my attention on the constant song that has been part of my life: the gentle melody that awakens the heart.

“My” robin just came down to investigate my offering of mealworms. A fearless little eye sparkled with life and light. Like a tiny angel, “my” robin sang of the praise of the Lord. My heart responded.

If a robin, a thrush, a blackbird or wren can sing my heart alive, just imagine what a choir of heavenly angels can do.

Psalm 34:1-9

“I will praise the LORD at all times. I will constantly speak his praises. I will boast only in the LORD; let all who are helpless take heart. Come, let us tell of the LORD’s greatness; let us exalt his name together. I prayed to the LORD, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears. Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces. In my desperation I prayed, and the LORD listened; he saved me from all my troubles. For the angel of the LORD is a guard; he surrounds and defends all who fear him. Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the LORD, you his godly people, for those who reverence him will have all they need.”

Sunrise and Dustcarts- Look, See, Pray

Calm Sunrise on a Sussex Beach

Perfect sunrise. Flat calm on the sea. The only jarring note: a “Biffa” dustcart immediately behind me, chugging, grinding, beeping and banging as they collected the waste of the flats. Noise disturbed the peace, and tranquil thoughts disappeared.

What an illustration of human life! Beauty and banshee in the same space.

As soon as the truck drove round the corner, quiet returned- the most raucous sound the muffled screams of seagulls arguing by the tideline.

Our planet is stunningly beautiful: and we have spread ourselves across its surface, many races and cultures. At our best, humanity achieves glorious heights. At our worst, we pillage and spoil the garden we were given.

Yet God- whose glory is seen in the skies- has also undertaken the task of rubbish clearance, the recycling and removal of the dirt and waste. In a real sense, that dustcart is a symbol of the Good News. Clean slate, fresh beginning, thorough cleansing- achieved in the noises of anguish at the crucifixion. Jesus, the Saviour, Redeemer, rightful owner; our Heavenly Father waiting eagerly to welcome the returning prodigal. Holy Spirit, full of grace and purifying Fire, bringing reconciliation and renewal to our inner lives.

Schools teach in many ways- one is “compare and contrast” where two things are examined, and our understanding of both helps us grasp the meaning of each one.

Take, then, this photograph of the fulfilment of Psalm 19 v1. Look at the colours, sense the atmosphere, feel the cool of a winter morning and the gentleness of a quiet tide. Seek God in the peace. Now supply your own “dustcart disturbance”… remember the perils of Covid, the tensions of a hurting society, and the personal regrets over wrong choices, words, and actions. Watch as the Lord loads YOUR dustcart! Each bin emptied represents a sin, a hurt, a regret being dealt with and taken away. No longer burdened, but forgiven and cleansed, we can now look again at the beautiful skies and the love that surrounds us.

This is what God has done! Be thankful. Be still in God’s loving Presence..

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” Psalm 19:1 (New Living Translation)

Enjoy the gift of this day in peace and wholeness of spirit.

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

Faithfulness and Grace- Look, See, Pray

Today was a GOOD NEWS day- for me. I want to shout out “God is good!” which is, of course, true… but I must restrict myself a bit and say only that God has been good to me at this moment in time. This is not to be boastful or claim any special “holy” status, but because God is in His essential nature faithful and loving: and He gives grace not because “we deserve it” but because He CHOOSES to love the unfaithful.

I was diagnosed with bowel cancer this autumn. It was serious enough to require urgent major surgery, and our wonderful N.H.S. acted swiftly and effectively. Getting over the surgery has been painful and seems slow. But today I visited the oncologist about follow up treatment (chemotherapy). My expectation was six months of chemo.

Chemotherapy not required… the doctors think I am 85% likely to be clear of cancer; annual scans will look out for any possible regrowth. You can imagine the relief… the sense of getting your life back, the lifting of the gloomy shadow of fear and doubt.

Many people have prayed for me (I am truly grateful) and practical support and love has been showered on my life. I have felt a sense of God’s presence; and known other dark moments where faith felt like a mouse squeaking in the cellar waiting for the cat to pounce.

This evening I have sent the good news round to friends and family. I looked in the book of Psalms hoping to find a good “praise verse”… and I found this.

Psalm 91:14-16 (NLT)
The LORD says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honour them. I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”

God is faithful. I do love Him, I trust Him, and I need Him. It’s just that I’m not as faithful in my faith as He is. Do I have any right to say God has blessed me? No, if I am trading with God… “Hey, God, if you scratch my back… and I’ll try to be nice and be good…”

It doesn’t work like that.

I know my own weaknesses, and the things that trip me up. I wish I was 100% perfect but I’m not (yet).

Father God has reminded me this evening that He IS faithful, the One of eternal loving-kindness. He has also reminded me that GRACE is what is given when my faithfulness falls flat on its face. A namesake of mine, St Richard, was Bishop of Chichester from 1244 to 1253 and gave us a prayer that I treasure. It’s my faith-response to the gap between God’s faithfulness and my own.

Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.

God has been good to me- and I really want to love Him better, and be more like Jesus. I’m depending on His faithfulness- AND still on His grace. Left to myself, I can, do, and will fail. The reason God has “been good to me” today is that HE won’t take my weakness and failures as the last word. I’m proud of having a Father like that. My hope is that more and more of us will come to know and understand and experience that Fatherly Love.

 

In the slow lane – Look, See, Pray

Given a choice between travelling on the M25 or a quiet English canal- which you would take?

Motorway driving sums up modern imperatives. Get there faster. Do more. Hurry up. Manners disappear in the exhaust fumes, every delay becomes a crisis. Contrast this with life in the slow lane-  traditional narrow-boats chugging steadily at walking pace; gliding through open countryside, taking turns to navigate the locks.

206stoke bru 10 19

These canals transformed industry in Britain. Heavy cargoes could be shifted easily and links between factories and raw materials were clear and direct.  Ingenious engineering solutions built canal lifts, flights of locks, tunnels and bridges. It may have been slow, but it WORKED.

As I observed the “traffic” going through the Stoke Bruerne waterways centre, I was impressed by the friendliness of these commuters. They stopped to talk, waited patiently for their turn in the lock, did what was necessary but didn’t rush. It was a throwback to a simpler age. Expectations were lower, and luxury likewise! It wasn’t a perfect life back in those pioneering canal days: but the pace was definitely slower.

Changing colours in the shrubs and hedgerows spoke of Autumn’s onset. Bright red leaves shone in the dull light of a damp October day- and for a few hours, my rhythm settled into a slow and refreshing glide. I became an observer and ruminant. What my eyes saw, my mind enjoyed- and my spirit calmed and became open to noticing the small signs of life’s design. Swans and fish acted out a bit part in a slow-burn drama. Dogs took owners for walks in peaceful places. People lived in the slow lane- and loved it.

There is a short and simple psalm worth meditating on if the desire for life in the slow lane strikes an echo in your soul. Be still, be quiet, and meet with the God who has no need to rush.

Psalm 131:1-3 (NLT)
LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or too awesome for me to grasp. Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk. Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORDnow and always.

 

Psalm of the Rose- Look, See, Pray

Sing to the Lord a NEW song!  Let my whole being worship You!

Photographing a rosebud which survived the heavy rain this week inspired me to write my own Psalm. The sheer delicate beauty of roses always attracts me, and they make such striking images.

So here is my “Psalm of the Rose”….  I hope it inspires you to focus your attention on Almighty God for a few moments this morning.

Psalm of the Rose 005gdn 140819edit

May the peace and grace of God keep you in eternal peace.

 

How lovely is this new day!
Everything in my soul rejoices.
Radiant Sun, warming my heart;
Gentle breeze, charming my skin.
Roses, arise! Declare the Creator’s joy.
Birds, sing anthems! Declare that God is good.
Let all that lives praise the Lord.
You, O Lord, are mighty, Your heart delights in us.
Let all that has breath sing praise to your Holy Name.                       (c) Richard Starling, 2019

Looking for Hope – Look, See, Pray

Politics is currently depressing. After yet more blatherings from people who demonstrate a self-confidence far in advance of the evidence of their efforts in public office, I confess myself unusually low about the prospects of progress. The age of soundbites cuts the throat of intelligent discourse; volume outweighs substance.

Where are the outstanding candidates for office?  People of good character, a moral compass, a servant heart? Cynicism tars all politicians with the same brush, but that is unfair. It is also difficult to avoid. Self-promotion and naked ambition are encouraged because they make good stories for the media and satisfy a public attuned to Twitter. Minimum syllables and catchy slogans are used to judge matters that require deep thought and rational debate. It does not bode well for sensible government.

I was looking at the Book of Proverbs this morning and found some apt advice for anyone who dares to read it and put it into practice.  Proverbs 27:2 (NLT) “Let someone else praise you, not your own mouth-  a stranger, not your own lips.”

“Image” is overrated. Reality has a way of disclosing itself eventually: and what is in a person’s character will be revealed in time.  Proverbs 27:19 (NLT) As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.

I found hope in two places. First, in taking a photograph of this beautiful lily- colour, perfume, the signs of its purpose-  and secondly in familiar words from Psalm 136. The continual refrain of this ancient prayer-song is a strong statement of confident hope. Whatever else may be in life, God’s faithful love endures forever.

Ps 136 lily sq crop 002home 280519

I think some time meditating on this psalm will be a tonic for the soul. Using this psalm’s confident hope as a basis for prayer reminds humanity that there IS a God, who is GOOD, and who cares deeply about justice and compassion, truth and mercy. And it reminds us to pray for those who seem to be ignoring God yet think themselves fit to lead others.

Today is a great day to remember to be thankful to God: His faithful love endures forever. 

Trusting in princes? Look, See, Pray

Who’s in charge? Take me to your leader!

It is both humbling and sad to see the state of the “Mother of Parliaments.” Who leads? A good question! Does a job title mean more than a label? Passionate disagreements have split friendships, alliances, and public opinion. Personal ambition and hidden agendas lurk in the dark corners. Who can we trust? Where should we turn?

There is nothing new under the Sun and stars. History is littered with the relics of ideas and ambitions. Some conquer by brute force- but fade away. Some float lofty ideals and aspirations- and are brought back to earth. Playing “piggy in the middle” are the ordinary people caught up in struggles beyond our ability to influence very much.

Relying on human authorities is unwise. Praying for those in positions of authority is required of Christians because there IS a Higher Authority. In Psalm 146 we can read a lovely and realistic expression of a Hope that will not fade. “Don’t put your trust in princes! Put your trust in the Lord your God… Look at what God WILL do…” He reigns as the True Sovereign over heaven and Earth.

Pray today. Pray now. Pray that God will somehow guide and direct so that righteousness, mercy, and justice are the benchmarks of our society: that extremism on all sides will be tempered by calm thinking and peacemaking. Pray that God may do what only He CAN do. Pray for the peace and security of our richly diverse society so that all are valued by the worth God places on them- God who loves the world SO MUCH that He sent Jesus, the Christ, to rescue and redeem us. Pray NOT that God be on “our side” – rather pray that WE might be on God’s side, so that we may be peace makers and peace bringers. Joyful are those who have God as their helper.

019270319 Springins Comma LSP Ps146

Praise the LORD ! Let all that I am praise the LORD. I will praise the LORD as long as I live. I will sing praises to my God with my dying breath. 

Don’t put your confidence in powerful people; there is no help for you there. When they breathe their last, they return to the earth, and all their plans die with them. But joyful are those who have the God of Israel as their helper, whose hope is in the LORD their God. He made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them. He keeps every promise forever. 

He gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry. The LORD frees the prisoners. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are weighed down. The LORD loves the godly. The LORD protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked. The LORD will reign forever. He will be your God, O Jerusalem, throughout the generations. Praise the LORD !

   Psalm 146