Light through the darkness- Look, See, Pray

Ask a photographer “What would make your day?”

Their probable answer?  “Good light.”  Few things are as disappointing as being in a good location but having dull lighting. That often results in “flat” photos without contrast or drama. Ironically, having too much light intensity makes photography equally difficult.

It was early-ish, about 8 o’clock, and the morning was shrouded in heavy mist. There were signs it might lift, so the eternal optimist packed some kit and headed off in search of elusive perfection.

Bognor is blessed with a beautiful park. It seemed a good possibility for pictures. Hardly had I parked and started lurching along, when this happened.

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Glorious sun burnt through the mist, and the trees became scaffolding for drama. As light filtered through the trees, its rays carved a transient sculpture of delight. Just at the right moment, a bloke walking his dog came and stood in a great position, adding a mysterious figure barely visible through the brightness.

Though I was almost blinded by the light, I was no longer alone.

An old hymn has the line ” ‘Tis only the splendour of Light hideth Thee.” When we look for brightest light, we find holiness and glory that exceeds our understanding, but satisfies the ache in our soul.

The verse from the New Testament reminds us that God is Light, that Light overcomes darkness, and that this Divine Light is able to shine even into our innermost darkness. Many Christians can testify that the dawning realisation that Jesus Christ brings the smile of heaven to our lives is a moment of dramatic beauty. In the darkness, suddenly Light is there, blinding and yet welcoming- and revealing the Face that makes us aware of  Love that seeks the lost, rescues the struggling, embraces the lonely, and accepts even me.

Sometimes the world is dark enough to foster despair. All news is bad news… in the words of Private Fraser “We’re doomed. We’re all doomed…” That is when we most need to hear and see hope- and hope shines with unearthly Light. When the darkness is near, remember the Gift that God has given:  2 Corinthians 4:6 (NLT)    For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

May you shine with true Light this day.

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!

Happy Surprise

Loved this young Meerkat… it’s the gentle smile as his/her head & paws stick out from the shelter. It reminds me of those community moments where people hang out to catch up. Resting on a half-door, a gate or a fence, it is just lovely to chat about everything and nothing. Meerkats are very curious creatures, and happily watch the watchers. They find pleasure in the happy surprise of a new face, a new food, a new game. They’re fun.

Now stick my head in a box, or a set of stocks. (Use your imagination rather than DO it…)

This is Maltese hospitality… well, historical tourist feature. Juliet and I couldn’t resist.

Anyway, take the smiles and work with me for a minute…  Today I had a surprise smile on my face. An unexpected joy!  I recently bought an e-bike:  bicycle with an electric motor and battery. Today the sunshine meant it was time to try it out. Sunshine along the beach in Bognor, so the waves gleamed, the gulls soared, and Richard smiled.

Some of you may know I had to take early retirement because of fibromyalgia (for more about that illness, see the “Invisible Illnesses” article on my blog). The problem with that illness is you need to keep active, but pain and stiff joints can make movement difficult and very uncomfortable. Walking is slow and short distance, even with a stick. Swimming can help in warm water. Sports and even gentle movement/stretching exercise can be impossible. Anything that puts “impact” into exercise is a no-no. Treadmill, stepper, cross-trainer, walking/jogging… all are a BAD idea.

Enter the e-bike. Taking advice from the dealer about upright posture, gear set-up, handlebars, etc., I tried out the recommended machine. Astonishingly, my back did NOT hurt. My hips and knees didn’t object. My shoulders felt fine. So I took a flyer, and bought one. Today I rode it for the first time properly- and it was the most fun I’ve had in months! Bognor Regis is blessedly flat, but even so a four-mile round trip would have been unthinkable before. I used to cycle a lot, and played football & cricket. The e-bike doesn’t do it all for you- there is still good aerobic exercise- but the power takes the strain off and gives an “insurance policy” that the bike can get me home if I am totally cream-crackered and run out of muscle energy.

Today is the most and best exercise I’ve been able to take for three years. And I don’t hurt. I’m so happy I didn’t even mind going to the dentist at 5pm (though I have to go back next Weds too… ). So I shall be scaring the natives of Bognor on sunny days, doing my impression of a low-flying Zeppelin, gradually getting fitter and helping shed some pounds. Did I tell you I’m excited, happy, and raring to go?

Anyway, I’m finishing my day on a high. I’m grateful to the genius who stuck a motor on bicycles. I’m grateful for sunshine and flat ground for a first flight. And I glad that meerkats look cute and put smiles on faces. In fact, it isn’t hard to finish today with joy in my heart and thanksgiving to God for a really good one. They won’t all be good days. But you can tell me to remember to say “On yer bike!” regularly to myself, and to share the smiles around when the best days come. I think I may sleep better tonight too.

Lord, watch over me, my loved ones, and the people I meet. And please share a bit of grace and peace to everyone who goes through the mill because of some rotten illness. May there be happy surprises to balance out the tougher times. Amen.

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Meerkat

 

Finding Wisdom on the Beach

It will be officially Spring on 1st March. Someone should let the weather know. We have snow forecast this week; a cold north-east wind is bringing Siberia to Sussex.

Despite the plunging temperatures, I am finding a benefit of living near the sea. It is a great place for wandering, pondering, and clearing the mind. I’m not the only one. This guy was walking towards the sunset as the tide pulled back. I’ll never know who he was. He was searching the sand and the breakwaters. I don’t know if he found anything, or even what he was looking for.

When I wander with my teeth chattering and my fingers freezing I find a sense of peace. Even when the ice or gales make for uncomfortable walking, the beach offers a myriad of interesting things. The tracks of seabirds, the colonies of shellfish, the patterns in the sand: the light picks out different features. Breaking waves and the sound of water retreating across the sands, with a chorus of gulls plaintively calling. Why do gulls sound so alone?  Sunset skies dye the wet sand in glorious technicolour. The Sun, the Moon, and sometimes the stars, shimmer their fractured reflections across the restless waters. It’s so beautiful. It has become a holy place for me.

Day or night, it helps me to sense the closeness of Almighty God: all this is His, and still He cares for His children. God makes Himself known in and through this world. People of faith have known this for centuries. The prophet Amos spoke of this: “It is the LORD who created the stars, the Pleiades and Orion. He turns darkness into morning and day into night. He draws up water from the oceans and pours it down as rain on the land. The LORD is his name!  Amos 5:8 (NLT)

I find myself taking opportunities to detour down to the beach. The long way home from the shops, the bank, our church. Ten minutes in the morning after dropping Juliet at school. An hour with the camera, looking for new ways to record the wisdom of God’s self-revelation in Creation. Time to reflect and pray for people and situations; time to filter out all the inner noise and confusions, the anger and irritations of an imperfect life.

Maybe tomorrow I will get to chase snowflakes into the sea. Perhaps the frost will laminate the pebbles. And just maybe, the quieting of my soul will allow the wisdom of God to touch my mind and change my heart. It is wise to search: to search is to find.

The Lord is His Name!

An Obvious Symbol

Some things are obvious. So are some people, and their legacy stands out clearly. High above the valley of the Stubaital in the Austrian Tyrol stands a stainless steel Cross. It is anchored in concrete, and supported by steel hawsers to resist the savage winds and storms that strike the Alps. This cross can be seen for miles and miles; there is a pathway from the Schlick cable-car, and walkers can sit and gaze out over a glorious panorama.

It is an obvious symbol of the Christianity that has influenced Europe for untold generations. The cross cannot be missed. People may ask for an explanation or reflect on its message- but if they come here, they cannot miss it.

Today another obvious symbol, a 99 year-old preacher, has died. Billy Graham spent his entire adult life pointing to Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. His words were clear, his character transparent, and his reputation unsullied. Billy Graham preached to more people than anyone else in history; untold numbers of people were challenged about their life-purpose and their need for the forgiving and accepting love of God. Many who are now Christians were converted under Billy’s ministry.

His faith and assurance have been a wonderful witness to God’s grace. Billy once said:  “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” – Billy Graham

Billy Graham has been a man I admire greatly, whose courage and obedience to the Lord make him a hero in my eyes. His whole life was spent shining the Light of Jesus Christ to anybody he could reach, anywhere he could go.

I thank God for Billy Graham. I will try to let my light shine just as boldly and as obviously as I can. I hope others will take courage from Billy’s example of active faith.

Rest in peace- and Rise in Glory!  For Billy Graham and for us: a blessing of peace, guidance, and hope.

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Celtic Christian stone Cross on Dartmoor, near Moretonhampstead.

Filling a Vacuum

“Nature abhors a vacuum.” This saying is traced back to the ancient Greek philosophers, probably Aristotle. It has become a statement of fact and observation. Whenever a vacuum exists, it seems that “nature” insists on filling it with something, even it is only air (a colourless, odourless, invisible mixture of gases).

My schoolboy physics is pretty limited but I have seen this in action. On a field trip, my Thermos flask knocked against a tree branch. As the glass inner vacuum tube shattered, air rushed in, chasing the coffee out and making a right mess. Now I have a stainless steel vacuum flask, and that works perfectly.

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Adult life sees more proof in the existence of Hoovers (other brands of vacuum cleaners are available). They suck up the dirt so well. Didn’t Mr Hoover do well to nick the name- even when using a Dyson we say we’re doing the hoovering.

I’ve been thinking about “vacuum” because life-changes make vacuums. I used to have certain obligations and responsibilities at work. Paper round- must deliver. Digging graves for the council as a summer job- they have to be a set size and shape, and in those days it was done with a pickaxe and a spade. Office work… college course… Christian ministry… There were always expectations, timetables, diaries, accountability.

Now I am “retired” and my time is my own (mostly… Juliet has some ideas!).

I’ve started to notice there is a pressure. How will that time be filled? Horror of horrors- if not used profitably, there is daytime television to leach away the will to live… Honestly, I don’t need a funeral plan, I won’t borrow at 1,295%, and I’ve seen those shows before… Save me!

There is time to explore new possibilities. There are many things I could do; and many others that I have had to give up. I’m writing this as part of my response, to find useful ways of using gifts and energy.  I love words, I love pictures. Rather than watch “Homes under the Hammer” I am using this blog as a kind of journal, exploring me-in-my-new-world and hoping somebody else may find common interest.

To leave my life as a vacuum is dangerous. Unless I choose what to fill myself with, something else will take up the space.  “We put forth our best effort to defeat our worst habits. But every attempt to get rid of unclean thoughts, attitudes, and desires is destined to fail because getting rid of one creates a vacuum in our souls. As soon as we empty ourselves of one vice, others move in to take its place, and we end up just as bad or worse than when we started.” – Julie Ackerman, Daily Bread

I need help to fill my vacuum. Writing this is a way of building a structure that can contain the wealth of grace that is available if I make time for God and choose to focus on Christ-like attitudes and actions. Writing helps me think and therefore to pray. Balancing writing with silence and contemplation, and allowing time to seek Presence in Creation and beauty… that will fill the vacuum with what is good, holy, and true.

My photo today was taken down at the beach as a storm was clearing away. A sky full of rain emptied… and sunlight turned it into a double rainbow. A sign of Hope, of Promise, and of Presence. May the Light shine in me; may I be filled with Christ-Light.

Ephesians 3:14-19 (NLT)  When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 

Seeing with the eyes of the heart

Changes beget changes.

I didn’t expect to be doing this. My calling was to be a local church pastor.  You may find that odd- do normal people still do stuff like that? (Depends on how you define normal.)  Life changed in unforeseen ways. That’s why I now have the time to write- I was moving too fast before.

Thirty years in different communities, discovering how interesting people can be and what surprising things they have done; discovering more of my own centre, and the diverting experiences that made life so varied. Being a pastor isn’t all about Sundays. Much of my time has been spent on encouraging and managing change in others. Change for others also means change for me.

I have been learning how to see better. When I rushed busily around, I only skimmed the surface- the obvious things. Having been forced to slow down, I am discovering the more I look the more I see.  The more I see, the more I pray. The more I pray, the more I know about myself, about God, and what makes sense.

Look at the photo. An early morning in a misty Norwegian fjord. At first glance, it was a dull and disappointing day. Then I began to look harder- I had the time, nowhere else to be.  The perfect reflection on the mirror-like water, subtle changes of the colours in the soft light,  and the sense of amazing peace. No-one else was up. Work hadn’t started for most of us, and there was no traffic noise. It was almost silent.

Quietness is an invitation to see more deeply.  Time spent “looking” opens the eyes of the heart- and that opens the spirit to the revelation of love and grace that is God.

My hope is that pictures can be worth a thousand words: and with a few chosen words we can explore together so we see, think, and feel more deeply. No longer blinded by busyness… may God open the eyes of my heart.

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