Reflected splendour

Our worship this morning was great. Enthusiastic, well-led, and with a stimulating and challenging message to send us into a new week. It gave us glimpses of God, of eternal love and compassion and left us positive and hope-filled.

Result!

But there is so much more. Not even the best of our efforts, not even the strongest and most honest response can ensure that we “see” God in His fullest glory and splendour.

The other morning I stood on the beach before the crowds were about. A still sea, a clear sky, and the fantastic blaze of the sun pouring light and energy into our world. I couldn’t look directly at the Sun- the blast of Light could have damaged my eyes permanently. What I could do was use the camera to selectively record the light reflecting on the silent ocean- and take away an impression of the Sun’s presence and power. The sea turned silver, sparkled with radiance, and testified to the reality and greatness of the Star which Earth orbits.

I suppose that’s what we did in church today. We reflected some of the splendour of God’s glory. Our changed priorities and changing hearts testified to the power and Presence of the Living God. We sparkled like silver as we reflected the light of the Son. It is said that when Moses came down from the Holy Mountain, from meeting with Almighty God, Moses’s face shone with reflected glory so much that they could not bear the sight- that much holiness and love was too much for the people to see. Moses had to cover his face.

This week, I hope that my life, my character, my face will all reflect something of Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Saviour. People may not be able to look directly at God- maybe they will be able to bear the reflected splendour in those who worshipped today.

That will be a real result!

Distorted Reflections

Water makes reflections that make beautiful photographs. I was idly sipping tea and photographing the birds feeding their youngsters. Here’s a blue tit and fledgling. Cute!

Feed Me 010garden 0618As well as food, the birds appreciate clean water. So there is a bird bath with a shallow dish for bathing and drinking. The bird bath has the famous quote about being “nearer to God in a garden.” (Often true!)

A flash of bright green in the corner of my eye- I looked round to see that the breeze was fluttering leaves so they reflected from the water. Brilliant sunlight shone through the leaves, so the reflection glowed with vivid colour.

There is an interesting thing about trying to photograph reflections. Light waves distort the image. You can either focus on the stone OR try to focus on the “apparent” image of the leaf. These two are at different effective focal lengths. (Go and try it for yourself!) It is most noticeable when the reflected object is at close range.

End result- an “impression” of what the leaf looks like with a sharply focused stone bath; or a sharp focused leaf in a blurry out-of-focus birdbath. (You can get the same effect taking pictures of reflections in puddles- try it if you don’t believe me.)

On a bigger scale the effect isn’t as noticeable. Large scale reflections in landscapes benefit from the longer focal distances and the compression factors of lens apertures and depth-of-field. Sorry for the physics. Enjoy the picture below: early morning in Norway…

Norway25th_0489
Norwegian Fjord near Olden

A similar effect is causing me some bother with new glasses. Variofocals are brilliant when they work well, but my new pair have to be completely re-made. I can’t read with them! There is no focal point that meets for both eyes at the same time. So they are being done again with changes to the gradation between near vision and long vision. I hope the second attempt will be better than the first attempt.

How do we “focus” on God? Paul talked about “seeing as in a poor mirror” but one day being able to see and be seen clearly (1 Corinthians 13 v12). So many things distort our understanding and vision of God. We form impressions, we see some things, we can interpret other things to help- but perfect vision eludes. The Bible helps us to get the “big picture” – and sharing our faith, questions, and doubts with others is helpful.

Our clearest knowledge comes as we get to know Jesus better. An ancient prayer by St Richard of Chichester (who died in 1253) puts it beautifully. Pray it today if you wish:

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.

Be Gentle

If only “gentleness” could be taken for granted. Headlines rarely mention being gentle. The “go-getters” and the back-stabbers, the driven and ambitious ones are held out as role models. Unspectacular lives lived by ordinary people are not deemed newsworthy. That’s wrong. Celebrity envy is a symptom of an aggressive materialism. I think we are missing a trick…

Some good friends visited at the weekend, and gave us a beautiful potted geranium.

019Garden 100518

I went into the garden this afternoon to photograph a hairy caterpillar I’d seen. By the time I grabbed my camera and arrived at its last location, the caterpillar had disappeared. So, rather than waste opportunities, I went looking and found the geranium: spectacular colour and delicate form, with a collection of new blooms breaking out of protective covers and beginning to flourish. So delicate, so easily bruised.

Using a macro lens, I very gently set up the picture. Fresh new life. Worthy of notice, even of contemplation. Here ’tis.Be gentle 007Garden 100518

Working very close to the buds risks damage to them if the photographer hurries or pushes in too carelessly.

Precision focussing is essential to capture the ruffled head of the subject.  Doing the job properly, the flower is preserved for posterity AND has a destiny of sheer beauty as it opens to let the deep inner colour dazzle the world. I rather think that God expects us to be gentle with creation. I also suspect He is gentle with us, encouraging growth so we display beauty to the world.

These flowers are not celebrities, fashionable or trendy. But they’re GORGEOUS.

Few of us are celebrities. We do have beauty to share- if others treat us gently, with dignity, respect and compassion. Imagine the impact on the world if we were all treated with gentleness- and extended gentleness to others in our turn.

Contemplate this geranium’s splendour and potential. Be aware of the Giver of beauty. Consider the attitude we show to others. Someone once said the measure of a person is how they treat those who are not wealthy, influential or powerful. St Paul told his protege Titus to teach believers to live peaceably and respectfully:  Titus 3:1-2 
Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.

Be gentle. Offer those small acts of generosity and kindness that allow others to blossom. Be willing to be different, to stand out from the crowd, to go against the harsh shallowness of a selfish culture. Be gentle. Be… like Jesus.

Photographs & text (c) Richard Starling, 2018

A Long, Wandering Walk

“Let’s go for a walk…” quickly followed by the “Do we have to?” response is a conversation many families have. As a nipper, I was strongly on the side of “do we have to?” Assurances that “you’ll enjoy it” seemed rather optimistic.

A funny thing happened on the way to the South Downs- I discovered the joys of nice long walks in the country. Sussex was replaced by Derbyshire- long walks across the Peak District. Derbyshire was traded for Devon- long walks across wild, beautiful Dartmoor and the lovely coast. Then came Luton.

Somewhat to my surprise, the Chiltern Hills and Ashridge woods gave scope for wonderful exploration.

Over the years, trips abroad featuring Alpine walks and visits to wild country acquired a special place in my heart.

I discovered I loved it. Walks became a time for solitary thinking, or an opportunity for quality time with special people. Walking even became a prayer-place of real importance.

Slogging up steep hills with a loaded rucksack as the rain trickled down my neck… the sheer “joy” of sleeping in a small tent and having to pull on rain-sodden trousers the next morning… those moments, not so much. Sore, hot feet. Aching back. Running short of water. Getting slightly lost… Sounds amazing… “Do we have to?”

“No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” – Hebrews 12:11-13 (NLT)

Learning the discipline of walking, acquiring the skills of navigation and map-reading, breaking in new boots, and yes, even the hardships are worth it. A satisfying weariness sat in front of a nice fire, with a cold drink and some good food- priceless. (And no credit card necessary!)

Austrian tourist maps are interesting. They are more of a loose guide that allows interesting discoveries. Often they have “helpful” notes about the ease/severity of the various climbs and “strolls.” Bear in mind these are penned by local experts who are possibly half-goat and were born with an Alpenstock in each hand. Be aware (which should shortened to “BEWARE”).

The photo today comes from the smooth, flat path between Bovey Tracey and Lustleigh (South Dartmoor). It used to be a railway until savaged by Dr Beeching. Lovely beech trees overhang the track, the river sparkles and gurgles nearby. Birdsong beats any “canned” music and peace descends. Blissful.

Journeying to the wild has become an essential ingredient for my wholeness. Body, mind and spirit find freedom. Yes, there are still “tired hands and weak knees” but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. Walking becomes a pilgrimage through a natural cathedral. God seems close by: the things you see and hear communicate eternity. Walking become a metaphor for discipleship.

I’ve missed long walks over the last couple of years. My health severely limits the distance I can walk; and difficult terrain becomes impossible. However, the disciplines learnt over the years, and wise choices of destination, mean I can still visit “my” cathedral. I make my “smooth paths” by driving the car or riding the e-bike to reach safe places. Guess what- God is still close by, and eternity still knocks on the senses.

It’s not the distance that counts, nor the difficulty of the road. The willingness of the mind, heart, and spirit will still unlock the door and let me in.

Fancy a walk? Willing to find your “own” cathedrals? God awaits. Go take a long, wandering “walk” alongside.

Tired-hands-weak-knees

A day that ends in fire and prayer

This day has ended in fire, O Lord,
and we trust You for tomorrow.
We do not know what shall be;
understanding today has been hard enough.
We hold to the words of Jesus our Saviour,
who told us to live one day at a time.
Each and every day will have troubles enough,
as well as the blessings and joy life brings.
 
We pray tonight for those whose fear
will keep them from sleep,
whose anxiety makes faith harder.
We pray for all who live in unquiet countries
where tomorrow is not under guarantee.
We ask for justice and mercy for those in need.
O Lord, may the rising sun bring a better day,
and may hope rise anew in their hearts.
 
Thank you, our Heavenly Father,
for being faithful and for being here and now.
Our day has not gone unnoticed
in the high halls of heaven’s vaults.
With gratitude we offer praise and worship,
more than mere words or habitual noise.
Our hearts and souls and minds are touched
so our body shall kneel in humble love.
 
This day has ended in fire, O Lord.
May Righteousness rise in hope tomorrow.
 
Father, Son, and Spirit rise
to bless and save this world.
Amen.
Words & Photograph (c) Richard Starling, 2018.
Rest tonight 005Pagham 140418edited

The odd one out…

Swans on the Thames at Windsor… with an odd one out. A single Canada Goose mingling with the majestic and elegant swans.

I was a strangerBeing the odd one out can be very uncomfortable, even threatening. God’s instruction is clear: those who claim to follow Him have a duty to care for the strangers, the refugees, the elderly, the orphans. The Old Testament reasoning was straightforward: care for the stranger, because YOU were once a slave in Egypt. As they were liberated, so they were to be liberators and welcome the “others.”

Jesus upped the stakes. Every time you give water to the thirsty… you are doing it to ME. The exiles, the suffering, the poor, hungry, prisoner… the odd one out.

Strangers need to be welcomed, accepted, and loved. It’s what Jesus would do.

Challenging, isn’t it.

Matthew 25:35 (NLT)
“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.”

Maundy Thursday- the night of preparation and sorrow.

 Maundy Thursday- the night of preparation and sorrow.

into the night

Maundy Thursday marks many sad moments.  As Jesus and the Twelve share the Passover meal, Judas turns away. He has already agreed to betray Jesus. Now he leaves the gathering- as John 13:30 records poignantly“and it was night.”

Judas went into literal darkness and into spiritual desolation. It was night.

For Jesus too- after the meal they go out to the Garden of Gethsemane. In the darkness of night, the Light of the World tends to the dread of what is to come. Jesus goes into the night… and we should not minimise the pain and sorrow in his heart. His humanity must not be undervalued.

The terror and horror of the Cross stands in front of Him. The first nail was betrayal by Judas. Now Jesus wrestles in prayer, preparing Himself. The Eleven cannot stay awake- not even Peter, James & John– Jesus is alone. The submission to His heavenly Father’s Will is costly- sweat “like drops of blood” is a testimony to the suffering.

Armed guards arrive to arrest Jesus, and He is taken for trial by both Jewish and Roman authorities. The night seemed endless- but before the dawn, there is one more sharp nail to be driven home.

I do not know HimPeter, who had boasted he would NEVER deny Jesus, is brave enough to go to the palace courtyard- but not brave enough to hold firm when challenged.  Three times Peter is asked to identify with Jesus- and he denies Him. “I do not know the man.”

The flickering light of the fire illuminates the distraught face of Peter as he hears the rooster crow. The day of desperation dawns.

Peter went out into the darkness in tears.

This night is an opportunity to reflect on our own promises to Christ; to repent from our sins; and to remember the love of Jesus who faced whip, thorns, and nails for the sake of the world.

Reflect. Repent. Remember.

Credits: Quotation from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Photographs copyright © Richard Starling, 2018