I never know what I will find on the beach. Low tide is my favourite: as the sea retreats, the sand is sculpted into sinuous shapes by shifting waves. Shellfish leave their mark. Plants of strange forms and unexpected colours are there to admire- like this white “tree” standing out boldly against the sand and sky-painted rivulets.
Some tides bring in rubbish, old tins and perennial plastics. I suppose we might say the flotsam and jetsam of 2021 has largely been junk!
When the opposite happens, though, we have memories of beauty, love, courage, and service.
Concentrating only on the rubbish is unhealthy. Most people have found 2021 hard and hostile, and we’re glad to see the back of it. Whatever your experiences this year, will you try to find one (at least) moment of joy and life to remember- and give thanks God for that?
Looking ahead… no-one is master of tide or weather. But a simple prayer for us all:
“May you find life in unexpected places.”
Keeping our hearts, eyes, and ears open for those special life-affirming moments, we may meet a person, embrace an opportunity, fulfil a hope… and may the God of Hope grant you inner peace and an everlasting love.
There’s a verse in Ecclesiastes Ch. 3 that states “God has put eternity in our hearts.” May the year 2022 bring us hope, peace and joy- and may we find life where we don’t expect it.
When you’ve seen one low tide… you look for a fresh angle to make a different photo!
This photo is the seafront houses reflected in a tide pool. It’s a glimpse, an interpretation of the reality in front of the lens. There is a contrast of the natural water course of sand/pebbles: and the partial, tantalising view of the buildings beyond. The picture “works” because it intrigues me.
John Bunyan’s classic “Pilgrim’s Progress” details the journey towards the Celestial City: with Pilgrim hindered or helped by people met and moral challenges encountered. Thousands of readers have been inspired on their own pilgrimage: they enter into the story.
Jesus also painted word pictures to inspire his audiences. “The Kingdom of God is like….” He used metaphors such as a mustard seed, a treasure, a magnificent pearl. These image-stories helped the listeners to discover truth for themselves, instead of “just” being told what to believe. Truth we determine ourselves sticks in our minds better.
So- “The Kingdom of God is like a city glimpsed in a tidal pool…”
We are rooted on the beach, we see the water, stones, the sand and seaweed. We can see something reflected… windows… walls… a flag pole? Or is it a streetlight? We need to look harder… We can only be sure if we get closer to the REAL image, not settle for an obscured partial view- which is upside down anyway! Well then, let’s walk up the beach to find the city. Then we’ll KNOW.
The 12 disciples had a privilege; they could ask Jesus to tell them more, to explain. We can read the New Testament for ourselves and study the insights of generations of followers. Do we really want to know, to understand?
Jesus often teaches us via stories, glimpses, visions, circumstances and life in general. Much of our heart-learning is gained on the journey. This is what changes us- it becomes Light on the inside and life that wells up within us.
The Kingdom is come among you. That is the reality: Jesus came to bring us the Kingdom where He will reign. One day we will see it clearly. If we want to.
When the tide came in on this beach, the glimpse vanished. Don’t leave the looking too late. Instead, let it become your vision.
Forty eight years. Where have they gone? If you’re doing the maths, that’s 1973. 29th April to be precise- the day I was baptised as a follower of Jesus Christ. 48 years today.
My Dad conducted the ceremony, three baptisms that evening: baptism by full immersion as believers and disciples. All three of us were baptised at our own request because we had received the grace of God and responded in faith & trust. Our public testimony marked us out as people who had encountered the love of God and who now intended to follow Him as obediently and sincerely as we could, with the help of the Holy Spirit working in us.
How much I have learnt. How much have I succeeded? Good question!
I hope that my faith in Christ has been clearly reflected throughout my life. Have I been perfect? Far from it. But I have learnt that forgiveness is given when needed, and that purpose has also been a consequence of my faith.
The proverb written on the photo was taken on a very still early morning, approaching the mooring at Olden in the Norwegian fjords. The reflection had a gorgeous clarity, a detailed copy of the sleeping village. Our ship was moving so slowly we hardly disturbed the surface. My hope is that the reflection I have left in the passing years has had that same clarity: people watching my life, hearing my words, judging my actions and attitudes OUGHT to be able to discern a true picture of what Christian living is about.
Storms and squalls have stirred up the waters at times. Interacting with other people isn’t always calm and straightforward. But I’ve been grateful for companions on the journey, including those who have knocked off my rough edges and/or helped me learn lessons I had hoped to avoid! My apologies and regrets to those who may not be glad we met. I wish I could have been better able to navigate some of those troubled seas.
A reflection is never PERFECT. Even in a quality mirror, there will be slight distortions and some of the light is reflected away. Sadly there are times when my reflection of Jesus has been distorted or incomplete, and some of the Light of the World has bounced off my imperfections. I hope you will forgive my shortcomings.
But I REALLY, REALLY hope that my representing of Jesus has been good enough to help others see Him more clearly. As my namesake, St Richard of Chichester, prayed:
“There’s nothing to see. Move on” said the small group of walkers who paused to see what I was looking at. Yet I spent a happy half-hour looking at this “nothing.” I had a reason.
Can you work out the missing element?
It is mid-October, about 4pm. Until 4.30pm. As I stood, leaning on the fence, everything was still. Scarcely a ripple on the water, very light breeze, and almost complete silence. So peaceful! I was content and stayed focussed on just being there.
Time is what the photo misses. It is frozen history, a moment that is past forever. But because I gave this scene time, I witnessed life. You, the reader, can’t see or hear this Life- you weren’t there, or you moved on too swiftly. Over beyond those reedy mudflats, two swans set off to a lakelet behind the North Wall of the RSPB Reserve. The place was so still, I heard the sound of the wind through the pinions of their wings, swooshing forcefully with every downbeat. An Oystercatcher swept by heading for the beach. Dunlins sprang up and dashed like a high-speed train inches above the water. Ducks passed by, a kestrel hovered spying on the mammal morsels she sought to invite for supper. The piping calls of wading birds echoed across the placid water.
Nothing to see? Rubbish! This scene just needed some time and attention.
So it can be with “hearing God” or even just trying to pray. We give a few moments, but we’re not tuned in. We see nothing of interest, hear nothing to take our attention. What if we invested more time? A day, a week, maybe an hour or two. Perhaps we would hear a gentle Voice of relieved Love- “At last! You can hear me!” – as our senses are sharpened and our attention made real.
I do not think there is any shortcut to hearing God. But giving time and attention is a great start.
God sometimes takes the initiative- He may call out to us, or communicate via a prophet, preacher or stranger. The Holy Bible is the record of what He has already said. Holy Spirit insight may be given in several ways. The Old Testament writers like Amos, Jeremiah, and the Chronicler point out that “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:13 (NLT).
2 Chronicles 15:1 (NLT) Then the Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded, and he went out to meet King Asa as he was returning from the battle. “Listen to me, Asa!” he shouted. “Listen, all you people of Judah and Benjamin! The LORD will stay with you as long as you stay with him! Whenever you seek him, you will find him. But if you abandon him, he will abandon you.…”
Verse 8 tells us that King Asa “heard the words of the prophet and took courage.” Asa became a good king, faithful to God and to the people: he introduced vital reforms, and mostly did well. He sought God with all his heart. He gave time, attention, and obedience.
Perhaps you are “stuck” in a place or time where there is “nothing to see” and you are frustrated. The halls of heaven echo silence.
In that silence the Lord may speak. Wait. (We don’t like waiting, we live in an “instant” society.) Use the time, embrace the silence, cling on to the truth that God is the Revealer and Reconciler. Look for God wholeheartedly: don’t rush away despairingly. In the silence and in peace or turmoil- God will speak.
“Silent” and “Listen” have the same letters, just in a different order; and being silent is often the first step of listening. Start right here, right now.
Living without hope is soul-destroying. Hopelessness eats at our spirit, our courage, our relationships and even our ability to love. Then we give up. Or we start to try experimenting with ridiculous risks or harmful actions.
“Acceptable social anaesthetics” like drugs, alcohol or sexual indulgence offer temporary relief: but if there is a vacuum at the centre, everything is sucked in and destroyed. As a follower of Jesus Christ, I may seek bigger experiences, zingier worship, allow my faith to collapse- or I can build on my foundation.
WHAT we focus on will affect our day-to-day mood and actions.
WHO we focus on will determine our story’s end.
I count myself blessed to be living near the sea. Autumn means the beaches are mostly empty, and the sunrise and sunsets are a personal art gallery to be enjoyed and cherished. The other day I watched small waves coming in at an angle of about 25 degrees to the shoreline. As they broke there was a long succession of noise as the water curved onto the stones, like a succession dive by a line of synchronised swimmers. It was almost hypnotic- certainly very calming.
Perhaps it is in these observations of the wonder of creation that we can find reminders of God. Combine that with a reflection on God’s revealed Word, and we can find encouragement to strengthen our minds and our spirits.
The grateful heart finds hope in counting these blessings and the solidity of the world- the Faithful God is revealed in the faithful repetition of sea, land and sky. There can be- will be- storms and disasters- but they pass and new days come. So far, I have a 100% record of surviving life… and a growing bundle of joy-filled photos to remind me that God IS… He is LOVE… AND HE IS FAITHFUL.
My choice is important. What and WHO will I focus on? That’s where I will find hope.
Psalm 33:22 (NLT) Let your unfailing love surround us, LORD, for our hope is in you alone.
The forecast promised sunshine and showers. Weather fronts pay no attention to the Met Office, and delivered showers, heavy rain, thunder and lightning, more enthusiastic showers, a little drizzle, and about an hour of sunshine.
My garden was cheering! It has been the “Year of the Lock-down Garden” and the hard-baked soil has wrestled with me over every inch reclaimed from the wild. I’m worn out, the garden has been putting on a brave face, and the arrival of copious rainfall has been a relief. It’s been really hot, very dry, and some of the flowers have been scorched. I wonder what tomorrow will bring?
Sussex is a sunny county, generally. But the “WWWW” I was taught about at school are rarely far away. If you are wondering, that’s “Warm Wet Westerly Winds.” So drought is not frequent here.
I saw some time-lapse film recently of a desert which only gets rain a few times in a century. Showers turned into a brief downpour- and the ground seemed dry again within hours. Then the cameras caught the hasty growth of gorgeous blooms, that flowered swiftly, set seed in a few days, then withered back into the sands. Until next time.
The writer of Psalm 68 knew all about life in a desolate land; and how dependent the people were on the rain showers arriving in season. No rain = no crops.
For me, today’s rain was a pleasant interlude, a cooler day, and the opportunity to dig out a photo of a water-lily. Beauty on demand, as it were. Sitting gracefully atop the surface, finding a gap in the lily-pads, this lily is a symbol of abundance. Am I truly grateful for the water that gives lilies a home? Do I remember to give thanks for summer, sun and rain, beauty and harvest?
Perhaps it is also a symbol of the need of my country. Truly a worn-out land; contention, deception, injustice and disharmony. We are not alone in this. International tensions and rivalry make a potent cocktail of bitterness. The coronavirus pandemic has magnified the stress-markers, and proven many political leaders to be inept or out of their depth.
Lord, send plentiful showers of Holy Spirit grace to us now. We are dry, and breaking. Our society is in danger of becoming a desert of self-centred cynicism and the poorest and weakest are left to one side: where they can be ignored until they die, or at least until they are silent.
Lord, please send abundant rain to restore these worn-out lands. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Yet, still… there is hope. The water lily still floats, and beauty touches hardened hearts.
This has been the most unusual three months of my life. It began with a small news item from China- a new illness has been discovered and it is dangerous.
Quickly the story grew. Details of the virus, Covid-19, were passed round at Government level, without much action. Then it all changed. People were getting sick across Europe, in the USA, and almost everywhere connected to the airline networks. Cruise ships were hit hard. Patients in ICU were dying, or surviving on ventilators. In this country, we became concerned that the under-staffed and under-resourced NHS might collapse under the strain.
Folks started to panic buy, and toilet rolls became the new currency. Lock down. Airlines stopped flying.
International Quarantine was imposed; some horror stories emerged from Italy and so it began. Three months of frozen time… and suddenly doctors/nurses, carers, funeral directors, binmen, cleaners and retail staff became heroes.
No end in sight yet. Risks remain, and some selfish people are putting others at risk by foolish behaviour.
Will it end? Probably, if they can develop an effective vaccine.
In the meantime, our priorities have changed. We have a healthier view about who is important- long may that last! We know the VALUE of some things, not just their price. Change is inevitable: the majority don’t want to “go back to the status quo.” Community has become important again. Perhaps, in the longer term, we might see a better kind of people-centred politician emerge. Churches have tried hard to adapt; and it is likely that some of those adaptations will be permanent.
Underlying all this uncertainty is a message of confidence. God has a purpose in this world, and that affects us all.
My photo was taken early one morning as our ship entered a narrow fjord through banks of fog. Good old radar! The Captain knew where we were, and we glided slowly and majestically through the dark waters: hardly a ripple marked our passage. Then the clouds began to lift and the fog dissipated. We had safe passage. We moored in time for breakfast and watched the scenery take on life.
There is a prayer written on the picture. It is a mixture of hope, uncertainty, and eventual confidence. Even when the way is hidden, and peril surrounds us, we can trust that God will be alongside. However difficult the journey, our destination is securely defended. Parts of the trek will be smooth and straightforward. Part will be like the last three months.
One day we will see our destination. The clouds will lift and we will be at peace: more, we will be filled with joy! Until then: here is advice and exhortation from the Apostle Paul.
Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Not every experience, photograph or person has to be outstandingly dynamic. Ordinary is good.
We have become addicted to the buzz of adrenaline. Bigger, better, faster, louder, brighter- and usually more expensive to us as “buyer” and to the ordinary person doing the producing. This is not, in my opinion, a “good thing.” We become greedy, and then dissatisfied when our latest “fix” doesn’t meet our expectations.
So today’s photo is distinctly ORDINARY. Reeds, grasses, water, colour, and a reflection. Not even a duck or dragonfly. It just IS. And that, my friends, is just fine.
Bellamy or Attenborough might get excited about the botany or biology. It’s a habitat but we don’t know for whom. Perhaps Ratty and Mole will pass by, messing about on the river…
Why have I bothered to post it? It won’t excite many people, naturalists apart.
Two theological reasons. First, the Creation narratives in the Bible record one amazing truth. God saw “That it was GOOD.” Everything that existed through the act of creation has divine approval. (We’ve made a mess of much of it, but that’s a story for a different day with different questions!)
Second, the actual reflection. What is it? Light. What we see as a reflection is the light coming back from our subject. Our Sun has flooded the atmosphere with light; it bounces off the grass, reeds and water. Our eyes receive that light and our brain interprets what we “see” in terms of what is there, that which is revealed by the light.
That’s the point, really. The photo is pleasant, colourful, and shapely in an ordinary sort of way. Ordinary things (and people) are GOOD… and defined by the Light they reflect.
My life actually gains its meaning not from my ego or experiences, but the quality and quantity of Light that I reflect. My ordinary daily “being” is defined by how clearly and accurately I reflect the Light of the World: which is of course one of the descriptions of Jesus Christ. I think I should pray next.
Hey, God, just a few words, if I may.
I know I’m pretty ordinary. I shall never be a Dad or grandad, but I love all my family. I’ll never play football for England, I’m not going to be the best preacher in the world, nor the best photographer. I can make the effort to be the best “me” possible- if You give me some help! – and I can stay as clean as possible, inside and out. Then I will reflect Your Light. It won’t make me famous, or rich, or really successful, ‘cos I’m ordinary, and I’m not sure I’d do well with too much fame or celebrity status. So please give me a Hand to be kind, decent, holy and a help to others: and let Your Light shine on me so I can reflect Your love accurately and well. Thank You for giving me a lovely wife to share my days, for allowing me to serve a bit in churches and the community, and giving me the wit and willingness to know that ordinary is good. Not just “good enough” but actually GOOD, the way You intended me to be.
I’m sorry I haven’t always managed to be “me” very well- and the regrets and repentances of my life are best left to Your grace-filled mercy. When those mistakes and sins have hurt other people, Lord, please comfort and heal them: and I trust Your promise about forgiving and being forgiven, so I also want to say that I forgive the people who have been less than kind or helpful to me.
All in all, Lord Jesus, please let me reflect Light all my days- and to enjoy You and Your gifts, always. Then I reckon You will look at the reflection I am, and say that’s good too. You will even see Your own Face reflected in me- and that’s the highest honour I could ever, ever have. Amen.
If any of that reflects who you are, or how you feel, reflect on that for a bit… and may God shine the Light of His smiling face on you too. God specialises in making the ordinary “good” and, in His eyes, special.
“Grebe Expectations,” a lesser known book of birds by Charles Dickens. (No, Richard, be serious!) “Grebe Expectations” is what I got when I photographed this Grebe at Pagham reserve. I packed my lens and headed for home, eager to see the bird immortalised.
“Big Disappointments” was the sequel. The grebe was too small, and my focus was not sharp. Yet I had a strange reluctance to bin it- the memory of sharing a few priceless minutes observing its world, trying to guess where it would surface after each dive… I was invested in Gregory Grebe’s existence.
So I played with the technology.. and the picture took a texture, a form that suggested Grebes without claiming to own one. A brushstroke filter added a touch of artistry. Then the poet’s muse dived in the lake…
More odious than ode, words took their place as I tried to capture a visual moment in solid prose, or poetry of a kind.
What is its worth as a photo, a poem, a thing? To me it is real, the securing of a past moment that touched my soul. No-one else may share my pride of creation: a daubing with doggerel, a whimsy whispering in the evening light.
There is, however, a parable in this Grebe. A man went out to seek beauty, and finding a grebe fishing, prepared his camera for a trophy. Attainment did not equal inspiration, and a failure was clear to see. “Not good enough!” cried the critics. Shamed and blamed, the photographer told himself what he should have done.
But the colours enticed, and the grebe WAS there. So the creative urge did a surge, the program offered a new possibility, and a poem was born on a failed canvas.
Then the Great Artist looked and smiled, for His child had pinned a clumsy picture on the fridge door of Heaven, and smiled with tremulous eyes at his Father’s face. “It’s for You, Dad. I’m sorry it isn’t as good as I hoped…”
Smiles beamed from the Throne Room. “That’s fine, my boy- I made that Grebe for you, to fill your mind and soul with the wonder of Creation. And I love your picture, because you created it for Me.”
God of the second chance… Lord of the gracious heart. Father of the child who fails, and tries, and loves as best he can.
Truly, “Grebe Expectations” has given me a prayer of thankfulness tonight. May you see the beauty, the wonder in this world, and offer what you see to the Father who loves us.
Disappointments can be gateways to renewed joy! Nice one, Gregory Grebe.
1973. That’s the year I was as damp and as happy as this lil’ juggling otter.
Why? Because the 29th April 1973 was the day I publicly acknowledged Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour through believer’s baptism. For those who may not know, Baptist Christians are baptised by full immersion on their profession of faith, repentance, and committed obedience to God. Imagine a pool about 3 metres x 2 metres and about 1.5 metres deep. My Dad was the pastor who joyfully baptised me and two friends on 29th April 1973. So it’s an anniversary.
Here I am stuck indoors while it rains. I want to celebrate! Celebrating may have to be limited to baking some naughty but nice condensed milk biscuits. I’ll share some with you, if you like, as long as you can tell me how to WhatsApp them across. My inner otter also approves of my diet, since I’m having salmon for dinner to balance the biscuits!
Forty-seven years ago. 47. Yes, nearly fifty years, and I have the silvery-white beard to prove it. Doesn’t seem possible! I don’t look old enough (and some might say “or behave well enough” but I am a work in progress).
Any regrets? No. Some bruises and sadnesses, some questions still without answers, some hard lessons, but no regrets. Happy about it? Oh yes! So many joys, memories, friends, experiences. My life has been shaped forever by that Sunday evening dunking. I cannot imagine having lived any different life than being loved by God and finding out how to love Him back.
Why the rather tenuous connection with a juggling otter photo? Well, I wanted to mark the anniversary with something joyful, fun, and irrepressible. That pretty much spells “otter.” They play enthusiastically, work with dedication, love generously, and move with graceful elegance (which is where the similarity stops. I am about as graceful as a T-Rex on skis).
Some people give the impression that being a Christian is dull, serious, goody-goody, and possibly hypocritical. It has been my intent to disprove that theory! I can be serious when necessary. But I love to laugh, tell jokes, play and sing… in fact doing the things that Jesus did. Really important things are learned through laughter… and some only learned through tears. Jesus talked about giving us LIFE IN ABUNDANCE.
That otter… totally focussed on the moment, juggling a stone, full of the joy of being alive!
Me too. I love otters, dolphins, hummingbirds, swallows and pretty much anything that looks happy as it goes about living each brand new day. The promises I made 47 years ago are still binding: and that gradually-growing relationship with Jesus is the reason I am smiling.
I’m far from perfect. Jesus is working on that. So, perhaps, are you. Thank you to my family, my friends, my fellow-believers, and those I have served with and worked alongside. Too many to name, but not forgotten.
Finishing with an anniversary “joke” of sorts: If ever my love for God and for my neighbours should grow cool, I know I can simply ask the Lord to ……. make me a little ‘otter.
Be blessed on my anniversary day! Be blessed on your special days too.