Category: Photography


Rain Break

My early morning ‘reflections’ were disturbed today by the sound of heavy rain on the lounge window, prompting me to re-locate into our large conservatory, where I sat and simply listened for over an hour, as the torrential downpour beat upon the polycarbonate roof – what a noise and stark reminder of the power of natural forces.

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This unexpected distraction (?) provoked a series of thoughts about rain and spiritual outpourings – the subject of much debate and discussion in churches and at conferences during my time in church leadership. 

INTERRUPTION

My starting point has to be what actually happened this morning.  The interruption to my devotions brought awareness of how much I’d gotten into a routine (not necessarily a bad thing) of sitting in quiet reflection on God and on Scripture . It then occurred how often natural rainfall does disrupt our human plans and programmes. As a cricket lover I’m conscious how “rain stopped play” heralds the weather’s unwelcome interference in a game’s flow. Again, our British summer frequently brings a catalogue of planned events (e.g. galas, fêtes, barbecues, picnics etc.) which have to be cancelled due to inclement weather conditions. One thing all this highlights, for me, is our love of being in control, and the frustration we experience at being incapable of controlling the elements.

Is there not a similarity here that applies to ‘spiritual’ outpouring ? Does not the history of Christian ‘revival’ suggest this is the case, with ‘divine interventions’ tending to interfere with normal human plans and activities, and proving quite unwelcome in some quarters, even to the extent of producing strong resistance and opposition (remember the physical attacks made on persons and properties in the early days of Methodism). It is no less true in ecclesiastical life today, as so much time, energy and finance is directed towards controlling plans, programmes, and, sadly, even people. Frankly such a state of affairs does need disturbing by divine interventions, methinks.

INVIGORATION

A second strand of thought then took shape – how the rain invigorates both the earth (bringing refreshment, enlivening and enriching the soil and the existing plants with its nutriments, and so facilitating growth) AND the environment as a whole (e.g. high humidity or pollen counts may sharply reduce as an after-effect of a quick shower) in a kind of ‘cleansing’ process.

I’ve found that a ‘stifling’ atmosphere can develop within some ‘church’ groups, which is most discomforting and incompatible with a genuine worship experience and with kingdom living. Some congregations suffer from high doses of legalism, professionalism and dogmatism, in which the human spirit finds it hard to breathe, let alone flourish. Here there is desperate need of fresh outpourings of the Spirit of God, to purify the environment, to restore creativity, to bring the nutriments and gifts which together promote healthy life.

INSPIRATION

A third line of thought emerged concerning how our Scriptures are replete with this beautiful metaphor. Parallels between natural and spiritual ‘outpourings’ are very evident. Rain is usually indicative of divine blessing. A great Harvest Psalm proclaims: “You visit the earth and water it, You greatly enrich it … You water its ridges abundantly … You make it soft with showers, You bless its growth“. There’s also a rich promise made to the Jewish nation, for instance, that “if you walk in My commandments … then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce …

The link is frequently made in the prophetic writings between natural and spiritual rain, none more so than in Joel’s inspired vision of “the age of the Spirit”. Foretelling a change in fortune for his beleaguered people, Joel announces that God “will cause the rain to come down to you – the former rain and the latter rain (i.e. seasonal rains) …” In the next breath the prophet goes on to speak of a universal down-pour of the Holy Spirit, announcing: “… I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh …” Centuries later these words are taken up by Peter, the apostle, in defining events in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost. Peter affirms: “THIS is what was spoken by the prophet Joel…” and goes on to explain: “…being exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, HE (Jesus Christ) poured out THIS which you now see and hear“.

So, Pentecost was an opening of Heaven’s Windows, and we’re left in no doubt that the ‘gift’ (or outpouring) of the Holy Spirit is available to all, as Peter continues: “…the Promise is to you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Now, although we cannot control spiritual seasons any more than we can natural seasons, we can at least ‘position ourselves’ in heart and attitude by seeking God and by asking Him for rain – “Ask the LORD for rain in the time of latter rain. The LORD will make flashing clouds; He will give showers of rain …

Friends, it’s raining hard across the world … and now is not the time for umbrellas !

 

 

 

 

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Of Apple Trees

Discovered these 2 poems, and think they’re worth sharing … they may well be based on words from an obscure Book in the Old Testament: The Song of Solomon – a verse of which reads:

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men.

I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste.

~~~~

ENJOY

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The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

ANON

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SOME folk as can afford, 
So I’ve heard say, 
Set up a sort of cross 
Right in the garden way 
To mind ‘em of the Lord.         
 
But I, when I do see 
This apple tree 
An’ stoopin’ limb 
All spread wi’ moss, 
I think of Him      
And how He talks wi’ me. 
 
I think of God 
And how He trod 
That garden long ago; 
He walked, I reckon, to and fro    
And then sat down 
Upon the groun’ 
Or some low limb 
What suited Him 
Such as you see       
On many a tree, 
And on this very one 
Where I at set o’ sun 
Do sit and talk wi’ He. 
 
And, mornings too, I rise and come       
An’ sit down where the branch be low; 
A bird do sing, a bee do hum, 
The flowers in the border blow, 
And all my heart’s so glad and clear 
As pools when mists do disappear:       
As pools a-laughing in the light 
When mornin’ air is swep’ an’ bright, 
As pools what got all Heaven in sight 
So’s my heart’s cheer 
When He be near.        

 He never pushed the garden door, 
He left no footmark on the floor; 
I never heard ‘Un stir nor tread 
And yet His Hand do bless my head, 
And when ’tis time for work to start       
I takes Him with me in my heart. 
 
And when I die, pray God I see 
At very last this apple tree 
An’ stoopin’ limb, 
And think of Him
And all He been to me.

By Anna Bunston (Mrs. De Bary)

The Weaned

Meditation on one verse of a Hebrew Song prompted this two-bit poem:

But I have calmed and quietened my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;

like a weaned child is my soul within me.” – Psalm 131:2

~~~

Denied …

Luscious founts of

daily sustenance

Unfailing cornucopia

of suckling consolation

… withdrawn

 ~~~

Aggrieved …

tempests of self-assertiveness erupt

howling gales of tyrannical tantrums

an Atlantic of self-pitying tears

… ignored ?

 ~~~

Pacified …

pitiful sobbings cease

stillness slowly falls

as silence spreads her wings o’er

… the weaned

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Withheld …

Tangible tokens of

divine favour

Even Daystar’s

radiant beams

suddenly

… Beclouded

~~~

Scandalized …

infantile pique lashes out

with rational accusings:

‘unfair’ ‘uncaring’ ‘abandoned’

soul screams

… unattended ?

~~~

Becalmed …

consciousness awakens to

the silence of a ghostly whisper

in trusting, inner depths of

… the weaned

~~~

Retreat Reflection

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Meet some very special people – Lance & Sue Blake – with whom I spent a wonderful 48-hours, at their Fenland Hermitage, in south Lincolnshire. Their calm devotion, warm hospitality, infectious humour, attentive hearts and gentle guidance imbues the whole place with a holy stillness.

Quickly I felt at home (evidenced, according to Lance, by wearing my slippers in the Chapel !)  finding abundant space for prayerful reflection, in an atmosphere which called to mind a hymn-writer’s description: “the silence of eternity, interpreted by love”.

Conversation with these delightful folk flowed freely, giving the distinct impression I could share anything, and be heard lovingly, respectfully and non-judgmentally. And joining in the set periods of prayer in the Chapel was thoroughly uplifting (consisting of a simple liturgy followed by a period of silence for contemplative prayer).

Much time was spent in the high standard, modern, 2-bedroom ‘barn’ conversion – (self-contained, with self-catering facilities) – where I savoured the quiet to think, to pray, to read (Richard Rohr: “Falling Upward: A spirituality for the two halves of life”)  & to journal – at will.

Uppermost in my meditations for some weeks has been the life-stage of ‘weaning’ referred to in Psalm 131 “I have calmed and quietened my soul like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me” and this developed even further during these days. What a trauma – for child and for mother. What an appropriate analogy of baby believers experiencing first time withdrawal of God’s ‘felt’ blessings. What storms of self-assertiveness ! What howling gales of tyrannical thought blow through the soul in such a process ! What un-spiritual tantrums & rages  !

~~~~~

But, moving on … the Fenland Hermitage is situated within easy reach of the Willow Tree Fen, a nature reserve run by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. So, armed with camera, I walked to the reserve, along the Macmillan Way, beside the River Glen – spending an hour or so engaging with the natural beauty of that area … and here’s a little sample for your delectation (click on a thumbnail to enlarge).

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Back to base … beside which is the Willow Field containing a grass Labyrinth (not to be confused with a maze). This I was invited to walk under Lance’s gentle direction – being especially encouraged to enter it with a specific question – and as it happened, one sprang quickly to mind. I must confess, however, that I had no expectations whatsoever on setting out on this journey. Indeed, during the early stages I experienced deeply cynical thoughts – viz. “How silly for a 62-year old to be walking round a grass path on a cold January afternoon in the middle of nowhere” and again, “This seems oh, so meaningless”. Chillingly that developed further into: “I wonder if that’s what my life amounts to … meaningless-ness !”

Thankfully the ‘mood’ changed dramatically on reaching the centre, where I was immediately transfixed, as it were. With mind stilled but alert, with heart becalmed but open, thoughts downloaded thick and fast – thoughts of God as the centre of life – of God being my centre – there at the core of my being. (Remarkably, this flow included a distinct ‘answer’ to the question I’d taken into the Labyrinth, too). In those moments I found myself offloading much mental baggage, and freshly embracing God, His Will, and the Cross – the biblical idea of ‘dying to self’. There came with this a deepening sense of renewing grace. You may understand that I didn’t want to leave that place in a hurry – but eventually tore myself away and returned,  with lighter heart, fleet of foot, to the end of the path. Lance had indicated that the Labyrinth represents a journey from God, to God – with Him at the centre. Finding this to be so after such initial disbelief only serves to magnify the divine mercy and mystery.

Photo: Sue Blake walks the Labyrinth (taken from the Fenland Hermitage website)

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A long period of solitary reflection followed this experience, continued into a relatively sleepless night, where I laid for hours dwelling on what had occurred, allowing it to wash over me and considering the implications. God – my centre – awesome, liberating – flooding me with a new sense of the Father’s love, acceptance and peace, (like being born-again again) which no human words can adequately express – but as we say up North: “it’s better felt than telt”

One of the Hermitage’s prayer leaflets states: “Prayer is like watching for the Kingfisher: All you can do is be where he is likely to appear, and wait. Often nothing much happens. There is space, silence and expectancy, no visible sign – only the knowledge that he’s been there and may come again. Seeing or not seeing does not matter – you have been prepared. But sometimes when you’ve almost stopped expecting it, a flash of brightness gives encouragement”

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Methinks, I caught a ‘fleeting’ glimpse of the Kingfisher

So, thank you Lance & Sue – for sharing your home, your love, your selves so readily, and so freely, with one who was previously a stranger, but who now has two hermits among his friends.

Here’s a link to their website, along with my heartfelt recommendation:

www.fenlandhermitage.co.uk

Naked

They stand naked

godiva-esque

adornments

stripped away

revealing bare

skeletal frames

denuded by bitter

northerly blasts

fully exposed to

winter’s variable clime

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Likewise am I

before all-knowing One

Whose piercing eyes

penetrate beyond

pretentious masks

far beneath

surface sheen

revealing deep

fault-lines of

hidden agendas

secret ambitions

dubious motives

~~~

Finding there is

nowhere to hide

no fig-leaf

righteousness

may I claim

to cover ‘real me’

I cast myself upon

tender mercy

and rise again

divine image

renewed

 ~~~