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)

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Ravages of Time? – Look, See, Pray

Gentle giants showing their age… Beech trees responding to another warmer season. In just a few short weeks they had received a bright green makeover, and paraded their party togs with pride.

It was still and quiet in the wood. Footsteps crunching through last year’s leaves and the infrequent song of the birds were the only real sounds.

Something about the strength and dignity of these old Lords of the Forest held my attention.

Pitted and scarred by the experience of the years; damage from insect, storm and time has marred the beech bark. One tree already uprooted, perchance victim of an unnoticed tragedy? Who knows when or why it fell? Younger saplings will make their takeover bid in due time. For now, these mighty beeches stand, adding leaf-mould every autumn and hosting the harbingers of Spring after every winter’s cold tale. In their summer prime, the canopy of green provides shelter, food and pleasure to all life that passes through the wood.

At first sight, these are just old trees, marked by the ravages of time. Spend time here in the wood, and listen, and the story of persistence and fruitfulness will be told again. Ravaged? Maybe.

Badges of honour, I would say. They have grown where they were planted, they have done their part in the long story of the years- they have outlasted many humans- and they have given away their seed with generous purpose.

Here’s a thought. As I look back over the last thirty or so years of sharing in Christian community, I have seen a marvellous selection of strong, dignified, generous people. Marked by the passage of time, wounded and pained by failures and successes, they still stand firm on their faith foundation. Old? True enough… but wise, and patient, and persistent. Love has brought them this far, and the future holds no dread. Kindly endurance gives backbone to their “forest” and the long tale of their years encourages the next generations. Blessed are those whose roots dig deep into the rich soil of Eden’s distant cousin. Blessed are those who drink deep of the Water of Life and share their fruitfulness. To them is promised a Spring with no more Winter.

Living life to the full means risking the scars and inheriting the Kingdom. Give thanks for the giants we have known, honour them in our prayers, observe their example. A well-wrinkled face is a portrait of love lived with a smile in the heart. Alleluia!

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Light brings Life

Such quick change.  A few weeks ago, the wild daffodils earthed the sunshine and made the world a cheerier place.

Just a few weeks later the trees are breaking their buds and soft new leaves clothe the landscape. These back-lit copper beech leaves blend vibrant colour with downy gentleness.

Soon those leaves will turn darker in colour: but will continue turning sunlight into nutrients, and absorbing carbon dioxide so oxygen can become the breath of life.

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Easter celebrations have reminded us of Jesus, who is the Light of the World. Shining the Light of Glory out of the mouth of an Empty Tomb, the grace of Almighty God announced that Darkness and Death were destroyed.

Eternal Light is making Life grow again.  Every time we witness the awesome ordinariness of a Spring day, and the procession of colour and song provided by nature, a spark of True Light is planted in our innermost being. We may not recognise it, we may even try to hide it- but that Light is a gift, a message of Love sent by the Faithful One who will use any opportunity to call us back into divine Presence and awareness.

I intend to enjoy as many moments of Spring Light as I can: and hope that my heart will interpret the Message wisely, so that my whole being is infused with that Heavenly Light that has always been the Light of all humankind. Let us look, so that we see: and in seeing, we may pray, praise, and serve the Kingdom of God here on Earth- until the final Promise is unveiled, and the heavens and Earth will be renewed as the Lord dwells among us.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…”  (John 1 v1-5)

 

Living in the struggles – Look, See, Pray

Camellias have a tough time in British winters. They often set bud early, and can flower from January onward. Luscious blooms glow gorgeously in the low-angled sunlight, and the bushes bring vibrant colour to dark days.

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Then the snow comes, and the frost bites.  Today’s pictures were taken in the garden just a few hours apart. A beautiful golden evening led into a freezing cold night and a smattering of fine snow. Harsh conditions for a delicate-looking flower. Despite the cold, the plants survive. Blooms may turn brown and drop (always a sad sight) but the bush fights on. Next year it will flower again.

A life lesson from camellias. Keep on with the struggles- as a wise person once said “This too shall pass.”  We can’t “give” a bush human qualities, but if vegetation can keep going, surely so too can we- or at least, we can try.

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We can choose to exercise trust.

God shows himself to be good, holy, and loving. The supreme revelation of His character is seen in the character and actions of Jesus.

Now then: Jesus may have lived perfectly but He still struggled with the “winter” of hostility. Warm words and appreciation turned to damning lies and yells of hatred.  The truly Beautiful was scarred, betrayed, judged unfairly, and executed brutally.

On the third day… Resurrection!

Even more wonderful, Jesus overcame the power of Death for all. Because He died and rose, we have a hope that is everlasting.

When all seems lost, when the fight is on, the frost is biting… remember the faithfulness of God.

Hold onto what you know. This too shall pass. We may have questions, doubts, tears. But we still have hope- the confident expectation that Jesus will do as He has promised.

Apparently next Monday, the 21st January, is called “Blue Monday” because the scientists have calculated that is when we are most miserable after Christmas:  we are short of cash, overloaded with calories, and regretting the resolution to join the gym.

Try this instead- go and look for a camellia, or snowdrops, or an early daffodil. Gaze at it, appreciate it, value it- and take it as a marker of hope. Remind yourself to actively choose to trust God’s love and faithfulness, His compassion and mercy.

May the God of hope grant peace, joy, and eternal blessing to you today.

 

You renew the face of the Earth

“When you give your breath, life is created, and you renew the face of the earth.” – Psalm 104:30 (NLT)

new shoots 044Slindon 280418Over thirty years ago, the “Great Storm” carved its way across southern England leaving a broad scar on the wooded landscape as ancient trees uprooted and crashed.

Today I went on a bluebell hunt in Slindon woods and, as well as some lovely bluebells, I photographed these fresh shoots. They were springing up from the moss-draped carcass of one of the forest giants wrecked in the storm. The new leaves are fresh, soft, and perfectly shaped. Life has been renewed.

Mysteries exist- and our understanding of how our planet works is patchy. If there is a Creator, whatever processes were used, life itself stands as a true wonder. The Christian Bible, with its roots far back in beginning of civilisation, does not explain everything. The ancient writings describe, question, and marvel: and consistently affirm that God is the Giver of Life.

The quoted verse from the book of Psalms offers tremendous hope and confidence. God created, breathing Life so life exists; and God is constantly renewing Life, healing the scars of history’s storms and making new life.

These fresh leaves and the bluebells shown below could be described as the fingerprints of God on His artwork. Reflect on this: the stump has lessons to teach, the renewed shoots testify to the power of Life, and the bluebells suggest that such beauty could only come from a Creator with a beautiful heart. Think on those things, and as you do that- you will be praying and maybe praising. And I surely hope you will be grateful for the gift. Peace and grace be with you!

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Prayer with our Senses

Praying with our senses makes sense. Why limit communication to words?

That which we may see, hear, taste, touch, or smell can be a direct route to God’s Presence. Some of us may lack one or more of these senses: I lost my sense of smell forty years ago, and I would dearly love to enjoy the perfume of a rose again. Those who are blind, or deaf, or otherwise restricted can still use the senses we enjoy. If we are made in the image of God, do you not think that our appreciation of a sunset, a symphony, a meal, a fragrance and a texture is a gift from God to His children?

God created a world that is sensual, physical, and beautiful. Allow yourself the treat of a sensual prayer. Go and find something to enjoy with your senses; remember who is responsible for the existence of what you enjoy. Then with whatever means seems most appropriate, make it prayer.

This is a short prayer I penned after enjoying cherry blossom, photographing it, thus thinking God’s thoughts after Him as a tribute of worth. Lord, these blossoms are GOOD, and gorgeous, and offer the hope of future fruit. What a great God You are. Amen.

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Photograph & words (c) 2018, Richard Starling

Reaching for the sky!

“Reaching for the sky…” using a wide-angle lens at ground level, pointing straight up. A different view of the trees: they become abstract forms of line and colour, and the tree-tops seem so much higher.

0004May 2012 general-edTrees grow upwards to seek the sunlight. They compete for light because light gives life. It sets off the chemical “factories” in the leaves; we call this process photosynthesis. Leaves receive energy from the light, triggering the absorption of water & carbon dioxide; producing glucose and releasing oxygen. The tree “feeds” on light as well as the earth-minerals gathered by the roots.

I want to be a tree! (Sorry, I just remembered early drama at primary school.)

More seriously, our human life in a sense should be like the trees. We are earth-bound, yet we have high aspirations. We need the physical “food” but also the “energy” of true Light. God is Light – and we reach for the light. We are both physical and spiritual beings. Our bodily needs must be met, or we die. Our spiritual needs likewise. We must be rooted AND reach out to the non-physical. A verse in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes always grabs my attention… “God has planted eternity in our hearts…” It’s why humans cannot ultimately be satisfied with physical treasures and experiences. We aspire to something higher. Humans ask the question “Why do I exist?”

This is why. We have a hunger, a need, a desire, to be significant. God designed us this way so we don’t settle for what is good, but press on to that which is BEST. We have an inner homing beacon tuned in to God. Go on, reach for the sky… the stars… and beyond.

“God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” – Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NLT)

Unfolding Promises

Slightly warmer weather, some sunshine, and the twittering of tiny beaks. One week after Easter and the British are donning their gauntlets and sharpening the mowers.  Gardening has started.

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Seeing the daffodils out in full splendour is the cue for the Next Big Step of the year. Garden Centres and plant nurseries.

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Ornamental cherries are glowing with Nesquik pink. Some early apples and nectarine trees are showing blossom. This flatters to deceive… those trees have been in warm glasshouses for the winter, and anyone planting them out now will be disappointed when the flowers drop and no fruit sets. It’s still too early in the year. Patience is required, and if planted at the right time, success will follow.

It struck me that this parallels the experience of the early followers of Jesus. Witnesses to the Resurrection, there are signs of hope and confidence- yet still Jesus waits with them. Appearing to different individuals and groups, sharing food with some, and the word begins to circulate. Jesus is back. What happens next? WAITING.

There is so much waiting in the Bible! I like to jump in and get the ball rolling. Jesus takes his time, and waits for the RIGHT time. I wonder who knows best?

Acts 1:3-4 (NLT) During the forty days after his crucifixion, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God. Once when he was eating with them, he commanded them, “Do not leave Jerusalem until the Father sends you the gift he promised, as I told you before.”

The Promised Gift is the available Presence of Holy Spirit within the Church and the world. Pentecost will mark the giving. Power will fill the believers to be effective and fruitful witnesses.

I love the springtime, the flowers, the colours, the warmth. They promise much. Later comes the season of summer growth, then the cascade of flowers that set seed for the future and bring fruit to the world. The apple blossom in the garden centre promises luscious fruit: the tangy juiciness, the crisp crunchiness of a perfect English apple. Fruit can’t be rushed. There is waiting to be done before the feasting can begin.

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How will we use these waiting days? 

Feed your soul with the certainty of the Resurrection. Jesus spent 40 days teaching about the Kingdom- he appeared several times, and they became more sure that this was True truth.

Seek the Lord– pray for the promises to be unfolded again, so that Pentecost this year will remind us of the Power and Presence of Jesus Christ, so that we will be effective witnesses and bold believers. Our lives can be fruitful as our characters become transformed- more like Jesus- and we display the fruits of the Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT): “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

Learning to wait is an important skill for a Christian to learn. God unfolds His promises at just the right time. Be patient- but not passive. Be passionate about the Kingdom and its King.

A Dream of New Beginnings

I had a dream last night- one of those slightly strange mixtures of people from the past combined with a feeling of something that needed to be done. I’m sure psychologists could draw meaning out of that… but no need for their expertise. This dream resolved, just as I began to wake up.

The dream involved inventing a game to help employees understand their role in the business. It was quite a good game, wish I could remember the details! But behind the scenes was a bloke I used to work for- nice chap, but Frank liked things done his way, and could be very obstinate about introducing any change he hadn’t decided on himself. (He was the boss, so he could do that! Fair enough.)

It was quite a frustrating job, doing the same things in the same way, when I was reaching an age where I wanted to stretch my wings. So the dream became a little bit annoying because my ideas were being frustrated.

Then it struck me. I DON’T WORK FOR HIM ANY LONGER. He has no authority to spoil MY dream. My dream suddenly became much more fun, and Frank slipped out of the picture. Then I woke up.

0029bluebellSpring14 editI remembered the photo I took last year of new leaves and shoots sprouting from an old tree trunk. Fresh and delicate, they boldly pushed their way out into the world. The tree gave a strong foundation to the new life; and they expressed a joyful new life as they celebrated Spring by growing swiftly.

New beginnings, new ideas, new opportunities. This dream has encouraged me as I think about being “me” in a new stage of life. The past gives strength and influences me now- but I can also stretch my wings. Sounds fun!

Very appropriate for Easter, too. Isaiah’s prophecy about Jesus spoke about new life springing out of the old. Today is Easter Saturday- the “waiting room” of the whole narrative. Yesterday was the crucifixion. Tomorrow will bring joy and celebration in Resurrection. New life will emerge, unshackled by the past. Lessons are learnt from the past: and life goes in a new and even better direction. That sounds quite exciting…

Isaiah 11:1-2 (NLT)
Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot— yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

Finding the way… a thought for Holy Week.

The National Trust looks after the beautiful beeches at Dockey Wood, part of the Ashridge Estate. Every year the wood floor is swamped by a flood of bluebells: it’s almost as if the tide has come in! Beautiful blue at ground level, and if you time the visit carefully, a glorious green of fresh new leaves adorns the mighty trees.

A couple of years ago I visited early in the morning, well before breakfast and was rewarded with a lovely soft luminosity as the sunlight filtered through the mist. Sounds were hushed- even the birds sang sotto voce.

There are clearly marked main pathways through the wood. I was taken by this view where there was no path… but the avenue of trees led the eye towards the edge of the woods. Soft mist shrouded the visual details- and a distant bleating travelled down through the trees from an unseen field of ewes with their newborn lambs. Beauty led to a promise of more beauty- but the route wasn’t clear. It was a precious moment of beauty and hope. Let’s use this a guide and as a metaphor for Holy Week.

As Holy Week unfolded, Jesus and his followers were on a journey that only Jesus really comprehended. The disciples knew only that they should follow Him. The crowds of residents and pilgrims in the city saw something, someone, of Beauty and Life, but could not see clearly where this week would end. Gentle illumination guided them forwards with both uncertainty and hope: and many who expected Jesus to do what they wanted became disappointed and frustrated.

Misty 0038bluebell Spring14In the bluebell wood, as the day ended and the darkness gathered its gloomy curtains, the pathway became harder to discern. Likewise, in Jerusalem, the charm and ethereal loveliness gave way to a confusing maze of broken hope- and fear. To be lost in the woods in foggy darkness has no charm, and brings much apprehension. Where should we go? Which way?

Fear is often expressed emotionally as anger and hatred. Holy Week, which began with such high hopes, became darker and more threatening. Night began to fall and people lost their way. The ending was unjust and brutal.

But one person kept to the Way… in fact, He was the Way- and the Truth, and the Life. His journey into the dark marked out a trail where footsteps and blood led to a Cross- a Tree of Death- but then onward to a fresh Sonrise, a Resurrection of Life.

This week- take the journey with Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. See the beauty and the hope of the Way- and walk into the gloom in their company. They will lead us through the Dark and out into the New Day. We best appreciate the Light when we have been in darkness and have felt lost and alone.

May God guide us through, and bring us safely to Easter Sunday when we can celebrate Joy and see our Way ahead. Bless you.

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