A Dandelion Prayer- Look, See, Pray

I may never know what comes from a conversation, an act of kindness, a moment of generosity- or indeed from an angry word or unjust action. All I can do is choose how to live, how to speak- and to aim high.

Dandelions are a good example of seed sowing. The golden yellow flower cheers the heart, feeds the bees, and the plant is edible and nutritious. The wind takes the seed wherever it blows. In the right place, a valuable new plant grows. In the wrong place (my flower beds, for example!) it can be a wretched nuisance.

These seeds are fascinating- like tiny parachutes, the seed floats and is taken off to begin a new possibility. Once detached from the puffball, anything can happen.

A Dandelion Prayer:

Lord God, help my life to be a source of goodness and hope: may my deep roots grow in Your good earth. Then may justice, compassion, and kindness be the seeds I send into the world.

May my words be gracious, my attitudes positive, and my gratitude be contagious. Let my face know smiles and laughter, and share joy freely.

Help me keep my negative thoughts quarantined; my selfish impulses on a short leash; and please guard against any careless weeds or habits I may start growing that hurt or offend others.

May I remember that others aren’t worthless if they believe differently, or follow a path I might think is stupid. There but for God’s grace… and I must remember I have my own catalogue of poor choices and ridiculous actions, and therefore have little licence to judge!

O Lord, only You are Perfect: neither I nor those I meet today can ever proudly boast perfection- only Your salvation.

Lord, it is said that a weed is simply a plant in the wrong place. Please help my life sow good seeds that will grow a harvest of Love and Joy in the places and people You direct me to.

Finally, Lord, it is a fact that life is fragile and precious. Please use me to affirm the worth and beauty of the Life that You have shared with those I shall engage with this week. Wherever the Breath of Your Spirit blows the seeds You have given- may there be peace, wholeness, and Eternal Hope.

In the Name above all other names, please let my life sow the Love of Christ. Amen.


	

Greedy or Grateful? Look, See, Pray

Blue tit: parent and chick

Greedy or grateful? I’ve been editing some photos from the garden when we first put out some feeders.

This one makes me chuckle- the poor parent, looking worn out and scruffy, confronted by a very dapper fledgling in smart new plumage. The lunge and the recoil…

Is the adult saying “What’s the magic word? Cheep ‘please’ or you go hungry!”

OR perhaps it’s mealworms with menaces… “Look, you feeble old tit, hand over the dinner OR ELSE! I’ll put you in an aviary!”

Naturally, this musing is simply proof of my own decline into old age. I’m imagining things. At least my imagination still works. I can finally say I qualify for OAP discounts – and I have my Bus Pass to prove it.

If you will work with my whimsy, these birds could pose a question worth a little time. The choice of “greedy or grateful” cuts both ways. The parent could keep all the food and neglect Junior. Junior could grab everything available… or be grateful for the parent’s care. The young are often thoughtless and demanding, focussed on the need to grow and become strong- survival instinct, if you like. Parents shift to a different survival mode- ensuring the species continues, at the cost of their own comfort.

We can go further: what about God’s provision for us? Are we grateful? Do we remember that He took OUR survival seriously, and sent Jesus to embrace life and death for our benefit?

A final thought: assuming “gratitude” holds a place in our hearts, today is a very good day to remember and bless all those who have been parents/guardians, guides, tutors, providers and educators. Looking back over 66 years there are a HOST of people who have helped and encouraged me: and I’m grateful. There are also some I have been able to help, and it’s been a privilege beyond words.

God who watches over even the sparrows (& blue tits!) is watching over us today… and giving freely of love and grace. May we all be blessed in discovering and remembering such a love as this!

“My Father is the gardener” – Look, See, Pray

“My Father is the gardener” – Learning to Prune. Another life lesson from my garden…

Like many gardeners, I love roses with a passion. One word guaranteed to make a novice quail is PRUNING. Where to cut, when, how much, what type of rose, what if I get it wrong… Yet roses are generally quite tough plants, and can forgive errors. However, being informed and wise in pruning certainly gives the best results.

I think the variety may be ”Queen Elizabeth” but that’s a bit of a guess! They had been rather neglected- left to please themselves- and had become leggy and woody. In fact, they looked as if they might pop their clogs. Black spot and stem damage from wind rock meant they looked tired, and frankly, scruffy.

Last autumn I decided to be bold. Pruning secateurs plus some crossed fingers- and some rose fertiliser.

After three flowers last summer- strong new shoots, and clusters of beautiful pink roses (if slightly battered by the rain last week). Success! And the next pruning will clear the other old woody stems to make room for new growth. I’m a happy lil’ gardener.

Pruning seems counter-intuitive. Why cut back the little growth that was surviving?  Roses, like disciples, need to be trimmed, smartened up, given opportunities for new shoots and the joy of beauty.  If you asked the rose bush, it might well say “Stop! Don’t cut me- leave me alone, I’m OK really.”  It would be fibbing. For the gardener truly knows best.  Jesus used the concept of pruning to explain how our Father helps and trains us: John 15:1-2 (NLT)  “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”

Gardens left untrained quickly become wild and only the strongest plants will thrive- by dominating the rest.

A heartfelt prayer: Lord, You know me best of all, and You want the best for me and the maximum fruitfulness from my life. Help me to trust that the pruning that disciples me will be a blessing to all the others who will appreciate MY roses! Please prune my life into peace and health, for You ARE my Gardener. Amen.

Bold Singer- Look, See, Pray

Sing boldly, sweet singer!
Let music ripple on the breeze
as smooth as cream,
as clear as crystal,
sweeter than nectar.

Elegant chorister, soloist divine!
Charm the sunlight with purity,
singing praise for the new day,
pitch perfect, delicious balm,
Nature's remedy for night's sorrow.

Though mouths be silent,
the blackbird sings!
Though heart be darkened,
creation's harmony persists
raising hope in the Light.

This new day is freshly made-
gifted with song and silence,
stirring my spirit,
my Father's blessing
to all who will listen- and love.

(c) Richard Starling 2021

A psalm worth reflecting upon today: Psalm 59:16-17

But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength;
Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning,
For You have been my stronghold
And a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to You;
For God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness.

Let no evil- Look, See, Pray

A peacefully sleeping Red Panda at the Cotswold Wildlife CentreO to sleep so soundly!

I had a really peculiar dream two nights ago. It involved places I lived in, but weirdly distorted… with odd shops and even more odd shopkeepers. Nothing was right! Even worse, it kept resetting… every time I got near the end of a street in Fishersgate, I dropped back to “Go” and started the journey again!

Very disturbing and frustrating until I eventually woke up and realised it was “just” a dream. Five o’clock in the morning is NOT my best waking up moment…

The details have faded now (thankfully). I’m not looking for an explanation or interpretation. Whatever poked my subconscious can go away, please.

Sleep is our refuge from the stresses and business of life. It is also the time we are most vulnerable because we are unaware. Time for a night-prayer, I think…





Heavenly Father, Protect us in our daily lives, night and day.

Let no evil draw near as we sleep.

Allow our minds to ramble safely,

processing events and memories

that may be significant- and, in peace,

may Holy Spirit life

renew and restore soul and body.

May the love and strength of Christ build up resources of grace

to equip us for the day to come.

Until that morning Glory greets

our awaking in our Eternal Home,

fill us with joy and love so we become signposts

pointing to the Lord and Saviour of all.

In the lovely Name of Jesus

we ask this bedtime boon.

Amen.

(c) Richard Starling, 2021

	

Coastal Shipping- Look, See, Pray

Timber barge off the coast of Vancouver

I was on holiday on a passenger ship full of comforts and luxuries. We passed this hulking load of timber, which seemed to be gliding effortlessly, towed by an ocean-going tug. Stacked tree-trunks… perhaps heading for a lumber yard, for housebuilding; or maybe to be pulped for paper. Who knows?

Trees that had stood for decades, now a dead weight.

I cannot imagine the weight of that timber- or the confusion in the lives of the distant animals and birds who once called them home. The more I look at this photo, the more ways of interpreting it come to mind.

Is this economic success, or ecological tragedy? Is it just dead wood, or the beginning of something beautiful and useful? Have replacement trees been planted yet?

How can a (relatively) tiny tugboat lead the barge safely across the channel? What if a storm blows up?

It’s a picture of effective leadership- go for it, tug! You’ve got this…

Or a picture of disconnection, of utilitarianism, of exploitation. A leader dragging a reluctant lump- if you don’t keep the tension in the cable, the barge will drift wherever the wind or tide decides.

This could illustrate politics, business, or even church leadership.

What do you see?

Does this scene show the value of a clear purpose, and the application of sufficient force/energy to achieve “success”? You could interpret it that way.

Think of the skill of the captain and crew on board the tug. Superb professionalism. It shows how important it is to use the right tools- imagine towing that load by paddling a kayak… Or what if you had left port without checking the weather forecast: a maelstrom instead of a blue silken mirror.

If the cable breaks… perhaps that represents the disaster that happens when communication breaks down.

Or irresistible momentum. They got the barge heading the right way- how will they stop it? Or navigate it to a safe unloading harbour? It’s tricking parking a caravan, never mind a floating behemoth like that!

The photo may remind some of you of the parables in the Bible about the tongue, small- but deadly if misbehaved.

Perhaps Paul talking about the way a horse can be controlled with a small bridle and bit. Or maybe the disciples in a boat on Galilee, scared witless by a sudden storm- as Jesus snoozed peacefully- then calming the storm with a word.

“A picture is worth a thousand words” says the old proverb. Perhaps this one needs a thousand words of its own! Every picture needs to be interpreted carefully. What assumptions and preconceptions do we bring to that interpretation?

What do you see?

Make a space in your day to look at the photo: and ask a question of God. “Lord, what meaning can You show me from this scene?”

Pictures are like stories- they open the INNER eye, unlock the imagination, chuck out yesterday’s stale bread and bake anew. Looking at an unfamiliar picture makes the brain stretch to encounter new possibilities. They can “accidentally” throw light on a hard problem you have agonised over for weeks!

It has to be worth asking the question.

What do you see? And what does it mean?

Peachy! – Look, See, Pray

Peaches on sale at a Fruit Market, near the Spain/Andorra border

A rare treat as a child- tinned peaches with evaporated milk. Delicious!

Discovering FRESH peaches was a whole new experience. I still like the tinned ones, but fresh… yes please.

The market we visited on holiday was an adventure. Being on the border of Spain and Andorra, the stalls sold everything- and especially the stuff that was hard to get in one or the other place. A glorified swapping system! You bring your cloth to market, we’ll bring our fruit.

I was enchanted by fruit displays: the colour and size of these peaches was irresistible to my camera. The lens was drooling. The light contrast was tricky, very bright in the sun and very dark indoors; but the colours glowed and with a little bit of tidying up in the photo editor, a picture fit for a banquet. Can you (almost) taste the tangy sweetness of the juices as your teeth sink into that yellow-pink fruit?

That’s the test. It’s not just how good something looks. Does the taste match the promise? Bright colours and perfect shapes don’t guarantee anything. You have to put it to the test.

Jesus used this principle to help us distinguish between good and bad in people. Outward appearances, though important, are secondary. Carly Simon summed it up perfectly in the hit song “You’re so Vain” (if you’re too young to know Carly Simon, look her up on YouTube and have a listen.)

But it isn’t just about testing others. How do I measure up? When Jesus looks me in the eye, will that a positive or very embarrassing moment??? Hey, Lord- help me become sweet fruit, not sourplease!

Matthew 7:16-23 (NLT)
You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.  On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws’.”

Final thought: the riper and sweeter the fruit, the more easily it is bruised. Perhaps when we are full of the love and grace of Jesus, we need to expect a bit of mistreatment. Love makes itself vulnerable for the sake of the ones who are loved. That’s exactly what Jesus did for us- and that’s good to remember during Lent. It will soon be Good Friday.

Living on the Edge- Look, See, Pray

Windhover, eye-sharp flight
piercing through
waits… waits… until scurrying feet
betray voles to violence.

Seated on rising air, gnawing need
to feed
fierce nestlings, strong kestrel sons,
life the price for life.

Thrilled by hunter,
weeping for the small,
prey needing to pray,
furry squeak of death or life.

Hunter or hunted,
the eyes of God above see
no life is spent
but in the knowledge of the Highest.

Lord, we watch and marvel
at diversity
As life exists hungrily
living on the edge.

Living on the edge…
where the blink of an eye
sees the meal taken
or the great escape!

Mysteries and miracles!
Not understanding,
we shed tears for the dying,
watch the drama of life persist.

This, this is blood-real.
Only the Creator knows
rhyme or reason for now-
but the Story plays, life the price for life.

Have we enemies watching?
A life we take lightly,
open to be taken suddenly.
God watch over a life on the edge.

“Kestrel Hunt” (c) Richard Starling 2020


	

Flame fingers- Look, See, Pray

Flame-finger’d fronds
fight the creeping frost.
October gone, so winter’s eye
turns to leaves not yet vanquished in the cold.
How long to stay?
November gales shriek, laughing,
for summer is but memory-
and leaf-husks rattle at the roots.

Bold glow of orange, crimson stems,
holding remember’d warmth –
Clinging to shades of Spring gone by
when days were long and sap rose swift
in triumph and strength, now lost…
Can we hold till Christmas?
Or must yield to holly and captive firs
making merry at the wake of the season?

In restful peace we shall sleep,
careless of snow and icy dawns.
Deep in the earth our strength lies hidden
until lengthening days and warming Sun
bid us reach for the heavens
and sound the trumpet of daffodil’s Spring.
For now, whilst our flames can hold tight,
we give joy to the soul of those growing cold.

Prayers and poems grasp promises
that life and love and God
may seem to pause in winter’s chill yet
Renewed again, and rested, we shall stand.
Colours leaking to leaf-mould now
are never wasted, but shall return.
God speaks in colours!
Nature sings a symphony, music for the soul.

(Copyright Richard Starling, 2020)

Fading into Gold- Look, See, Pray

All changing… things becoming new.

After the stormy winds and rain, today started in frost and sunshine under a clear blue sky. The autumn is bringing its own changes- as hours of sunlight lessen, the leaves and grasses change colour. Warmer browns and orange shades compensate for the cooler air, and diamond dust is scattered generously with touch of icy breath.

Reeds catching the light are backlit with a golden glow. As the greens of summer fade, the Light transforms the park into a parade of golden sculptures that hiss and rustle in the breeze.

It has been a lovely day.

The affairs of humankind have been changing too. Election fever has raised the temperatures in the United States, sadly generating friction and heat but little light! At this point, the final result is undecided. People have been passionately campaigning and complaining, tempers are hot, and the world looks on in sorrow. How has democracy been reduced to petulant squabbles? Who decided it was OK to play games with truth?

Perhaps the dawn will bring clarity. Whichever party wins, the war of words is likely to continue for some time. Given a choice, my preference would be clear. But it isn’t my election, not even my country- so although the outcome matters greatly, I am an observer rather than a participant. People from across the divide will be sad, angry, confused, bitter. So what can I say or do?

I can be grateful and thankful for the blessings of a fine day; and I can choose to trust that the Sovereign Lord God Almighty is able to deal with tomorrow, the day after… and so on. One day at a time, I live in the love and grace of God- and I hope that the Light of the World will keep transforming me into golden Christlike beauty.

I cannot control the world, and shouldn’t try. It’s all in the divine Hand that holds us safely.

So, Lord, on that note:

Thank You for the blessings of this day, and I shall commit my way to You. I pray for the best possible outcome in all the changes, and ask You to bring truth, justice, and reconciliation wherever there is strife, disaster or sickness. Please, Lord, aid those seeking to combat Covid-19 with wisdom and compassion. Bless our hospitals and healthworkers, our key workers from cleaners to kings, and help us find the beauty among change and the uncertainty of our fragile lives. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.