Living Joy- Look, See, Pray

Grey, dull miserable… that’s just the BBC. Outside: add drizzling, damp, cool, windy weather. What a start to Wednesday.

Then the display of orchids on my windowsill changed the way I perceived the day. A white one with yellow and pink; yellow and purple with two sprays of blooms; and the purple and white-spotted one. Immediately, my mind shifted gear: and I wrote a few lines trying to capture in words what I was feeling. The shape and colour fascinated and inspired heart and soul: such exotic beauty lifted my spirits and restored joy to life. So, go find a flower!

The WAY we see is as important as WHAT we see. Our perception of life is determined by our focus and choices.

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” Henri Nouwen

So my view of today has been shaped by the vivid creative imagination of God, who thought about orchids- and I’m deeply grateful for living joy!

Fair beyond telling, 
shaped within dreams, 
imagination takes form: 
richly laid colour, 
subtle echoes of an angel’s wing-beats, 
the exotic orchid  
painted in living joy.             © Richard Starling 2022

Even better than any poem, and even more wonderful than an orchid, as we get closer to Good Friday & Easter Sunday we can focus on Jesus. The story of his final journey is full of rich teaching and memorable moments and records his determination to fulfil his mission, whatever the personal cost. Reading this story will change the way we see life- because Jesus changed the ending. How then shall we live?

“Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”   

Hebrews 12v2

Joy in January? Look, See, Pray

January… the crown of winter’s dreary days! It’s not all bad: but it is notoriously fickle and grey. Short daylight hours, cold, damp, and it’s time to get rid of the excess pounds after the Christmas extravagances. A true recipe for joyful living.

Can we renew our joy? Perhaps this picture can help.I’ve never seen a dull red tulip. None in the garden, so I’ve hunted this out from my photo albums. Gloriously scarlet, then an even brighter yellow inside. Just for added impact, starkly geometrical black stamens contrast violently in alien shapes. Looking more closely, speckles of black pollen give a mute testimony to the visit of an early bee. Do these specks spoil the bloom, or remind us of life and growth to come? Can you spot the aphid? I only noticed this today. A pest, or another little miracle of life?

A principle of photography is that the actual subject should be the most important thing in the photo. A common mistake is to make the subject too small. It is lost in the background, and the picture loses impact.

Getting in close makes a difference. This picture shouts “I’m a tulip!” in dramatic tones. It would be easy to walk past the flower beds, camera at head-height, and take a picture of some “nice tulips.” Beauty turned into a vague generalisation!

When we need to renew the sense of joy, the experience of lightness of spirit and being at peace in our world, a great way to start is to pay attention to the small things, the details, the abundance of life all round us. Attention given leads to awareness, appreciation, and a deep gratitude for the richness that is here.

This works in relationships: when did you last tell your partner or friend or colleague that you appreciate what they have done and what they add to your life?

It’s a vital part of faith, too. When you see that first snowdrop, or the daffs beginning to emerge, will you SAY “thank you” to God? Not just thinking it, but putting gratitude into spoken words- it releases a powerful surge of joy.

God is present in our world: and has compassionate love for His creation. Acknowledging His love and majesty “tunes us in” to the love-song God sings over us. In knowing this, we find renewed joy. It could start with a tulip… or with the hope of a psalm:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

The Holy Bible: Today’s New International Version. (Ps 139:7–12). (2005). Zondervan.

Surprised by Joy – Look, See, Pray

Supermarket shopping. As I drove home the sea was almost still; just enough of a wind ruffle to make the surface sparkle like stars.

Turned the corner to be confronted with a mass of creamy white blossom on a hedge.

I began to feel a strange surge of delight at what I was seeing. Joy sneaked up on my lips and cracked them into a smile. I felt GOOD about life and beauty and the cosmos.

Spring’s blessing continued to present itself in every garden, hedge, tree and sunbeam. How had I not noticed all this before? By the time I was home and unloading the car the inner joy was bubbling nicely. It was a lovely surprise. Ironically, I have been training myself to take notice, to look out for beauty and colour and gifts of grace. It still came as a surprise today!

C S Lewis, the author of the Narnia stories, the Ransom trilogy (and a whole shedload of books on theology, ethics, and Christianity) described his discovery of faith in a book called simply “Surprised by Joy.”  Moving from a position of non-belief, Lewis found himself overtaken by a joyful process that brought him to a passionate belief in Jesus Christ. Out of that change, he wrote extensively and became one of the best apologists and philosophers of the 20th century.

I photographed this rosebud when I arrived home. It is the first rose of the year in my garden. Bright red, beautiful, and another joyful surprise.

May your day be filled with joy, surprise, beauty- and God’s love.

Joy surprise Rose edit 006gdn 110519

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.

Prayer Cherry Bright 011Home 250418

Photograph & words (c) 2018, Richard Starling

Spiritual issues and physical causes

I’m not always as smart as I think I am. (Before you snigger, that’s probably true for you too!)

It took me YEARS to put together the experience of spiritual struggles with the gloominess of winter. I began to notice that I had a “pick up” every year round about April. I laughed more, was less moody, and generally enjoyed living more. I prayed better, and read the Bible more and was “up for God.”

If I wanted to pretend to be really super-spiritual, I’d probably say it was all to do with the Easter experience. Resurrection re-ignited my rejoicing… and so on.

That’s partly true. The resurrection of Christ IS seriously GOOD NEWS. Bound to have an impact on me. Or I’m in a real mess!

psalm 146 v2_3 063Country190418 edited.jpgYesterday I saw these technicolour tulips, backlit by the spring sunshine. Seeing them struck me with joy. I could have done a little dance, a jig, and shouted honking great hallelujahs. The beauty of these flowers filled me up and made me grateful to God for being alive.

Back to the beginning. “It took me YEARS to put together the experience of spiritual struggles with the gloominess of winter…”  Spring sun and colour simply thrills me, delights me, and makes me feel better. I’m excited. I feel alive. I begin to turn my attention to God again. This is a simple but profound principle: our physical bodies and our experience of the climate & season will be linked to our spiritual well-being. My sense of closeness to the Lord is stronger. My ability to live my faith increases.

We are physical beings as well as spiritual. Bad health, tough circumstances, stress, horrible experiences (etc) are likely to have a knock-on effect. Realising this means we can be better prepared and geared up for the battle. I do love the experience of the prophet Elijah, who after amazing triumphs then abruptly crashes down with exhaustion and depression. We find Elijah in a cave, asking God to finish his life. What does the heavenly doctor prescribe? Sleep, eat, rest, and carry on like that until Elijah’s sense of purpose is renewed. “Spiritual” issues often have a physical root cause.

Diagnosis and prescription:  Enjoy the colour of these tulips. Get ready to laugh just for joy. Jump up and down if you like. Stop beating yourself up for being physical, and remember Elijah. Rest, recover, renew- and get ready to rejoice. Be grateful to God for the wonderful triggers He has put in us, the physical things and beauties that remind us we aren’t “only” physical. We are reborn in Christ, renewed in the Spirit, and reconciled to our Father. We have an eternal destiny and a purposeful life. God has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy! God bless you and give you a mouth full of laughter. 

(Read Psalm 146 v2-3)

Photo (c) Richard Starling, 2018