Reflecting on Vines….

I am the Vine, You are The Branches by Connie

It’s a balmy afternoon for August, the sort of perfect football weather you would expect in September or October. I am staying with my niece and her husband in Philadelphia after the birth of their first child. Rosalyn is a healthy, beautiful baby girl who has stolen our hearts. Our days and nights are as mixed up as the baby’s and I find frequent opportunities for prayer and reflection. I keep coming back to this photo of a vineyard, a photo that has nourished my prayers for almost a year. I have visited many vineyards, especially when we lived in California. Yet I do not recall vines like these. Perhaps the wine held more attraction than the vines in younger days. This vineyard in Put-in-Bay, OH has a long history, tended across generations. The rows were widely spaced and meticulously tended. I was struck by how twisted and old the vines looked, while the bright leaves and grapes vied for my attention. A single grape held more flavor than entire jar of grape jelly. Soon the branches would fall away and leave only the vines to winter over. I could imagine just the vines covered in snow and wondered how lifeless they would look. It would be easy to simply clear them away rather than trust that new life would return in the spring. Did the disciples only see the vine in the days after the crucifixion? Did they remember Christ’s words ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ (John 15:5)? If they did remember, did they believe? I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that we hang on to the old and familiar, rather than simply letting go and making room for the new. It’s easier to hunker down and stay comfortable. Things may be old and musty but we know what to expect. Yet until we let go, there is no room for new growth. There is no resurrection without the cross. Make time today to consider how new branches can grow from old vines. Give the twisted, gnarly parts of your life over to the same Lord that conquered sin and death on the cross. Pray for the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with hope and trust in new beginnings. And always remember, letting go is a lot less scary when we trust we will be caught and cradled in the arms of a loving God. Text and photo by Connie Chintall ©2014, inspired by Father Ryan Whitley sermon on 10 August 2014 at St George’s Ardmore, PA. To learn more about St George’s go to http://www.stgeorgeschurch.org/

 

After pondering this photo I created this stole using cotton batik fabrics.

P1040977 cropped flop

Reflecting on Lost….

Ma in Community Garden by Jeanne MischoThe cold, harsh morning is giving way to a warm, mild afternoon. March is alternating between the lion and the lamb, often in the same day. So I was drawn to this exquisite work of art by my friend Jeanne, entitled ‘Ma in the Community Garden’. I love her choice of colors, the brilliant blue sky, the vivid orange of the blossoms in the foreground, the muted colors of the foliage and the tiny mother. I can see myself drawn in by the flowers, especially this time of year. It would be so easy to pluck a bloom for my table and drift along without taking in the rest of the scene. This winter has been harsh in more ways than one. The relentless cold has been only one unpleasant aspect. Families have experienced death, sometimes after a long decline, sometimes too quickly to comprehend. Like most of us, I never know what to say to the grieving. I heard again and again, ‘I am sorry for your loss’, but am not sure what that means. I feel like a small child once again, hearing the neighbor across the alley ask ‘Have you lost her again?’ After moving into town from the farm, my grandmother took up an allotment in the community garden. Often when my sisters and I returned from school or playing with friends, we would find the house empty. I would reassure my sisters that we were just fine. Nana was simply off working the allotment. Perhaps grief is a lot like our childhood conversation. After all, we know the soul lives on beyond the frailty of the flesh. We know our loved ones are with the Holy of Holies, perhaps in a lush, vibrant, garden we can only see dimly now. Yet we also yearn for the physical, the touch, the smell, the warm embrace. It can take time to absorb the shock, to comprehend the reality, to accept the finality of death. It takes time to let go of those we love, even if we are to giving them over to God. Make time today for those who grieve, to lend an ear, to offer a prayer, to just talk about everyday life. Give them permission to celebrate the joys this life brings in the midst of sadness by giving them space to mourn. Pray for the Holy Spirit to soothe their souls, guard their hearts and guide their minds. Most of all, pray for God’s words rather than your own. And always remember, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, Art entitled ‘Ma in the Community Garden’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

 

Reflecting on Stardust….

Star Gazing by Tomasz HuczekWe are expecting a very cold, very clear night after another long day of snow. It’s been a brutal winter and I long for spring to arrive. So I was drawn to this magical photo by my friend Tomasz. I love the velvet green pastures and the winding road that leads us to the edge of a sleepy village. Without street lights to wash out the sky, the stars seem so bright that you could just reach up and grab a handful. The cedar of Lebanon shelters the home in the foreground, so much more prominent than anything man has placed in this scene. Yet even this vast and majestic tree cannot compete with our attention for the stars in the sky. Perhaps we yearn for the stars because we are made of stardust. Yes, literally made of stardust. It’s not a line from a poem or a fanciful notion. Every atom except hydrogen has been created through the nuclear fusion of the stars, stars that came into being at the creation of the universe and flung matter across the galaxies light years away. The early universe expanded after the Big Bang for only 3 seconds before it cooled to a state where subatomic particles assembled into atoms. Science and faith may be odds for some folks, but for me science fuels my awe and reverence for the Holy of Holies. The Creator gave us a beautiful and elegant universe where the tiniest of the tiny parallels the largest of the large, light that is both wave and particle, bodies that contain flesh and bone and soul. Is it any surprise that our bodies as God’s temples are made from stardust? Would anything less serve as a fitting vessel for the immanent God that dwells within us, as close as our breath yet as vast as the universe? Make time today to soak in the elegance and beauty of creation. Bundle up and venture out into the cold, clear night to gaze at the stars, to wonder at the majesty of creation, to humbly give thanks for our bodies and souls. Turn your eyes and your hearts to the source of simple blessings, warm homes, dry beds, full bellies. And always remember, when the vagaries of this life consume us, the night sky remains to remind us we are precious Children of God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, Photo entitled ‘Star Gazing’ by Tomasz Huczek ©2013, to see more of his photos, go to http://tomasz.cc/, or check out  the video “We are Stardust” – A Symphony of Science at   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8g4d-rnhuSg

Reflecting on Embrace….

Open Embrace by Karen PalmerThis week we are called to pray for Christian unity, to pray for Holy Spirit to mend the divisions in God’s community of believers. Such healing is only possible through the Divine, for alone we seem to find differences much more easily than common ground. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo of my friend Karen’s grandchild Mateo. I love the bright colors of sidewalk chalk, the simple drawing on the pavement. We see Mateo reaching out to this two dimensional chalk figure that the next rain will surely wash away. I don’t know about you, but what I see is an embrace. He is reaching out in love to hug the chalk child, regardless of how that child looks to the world. When do we lose this simplicity of heart? When do we begin to retrench into what we know and who we are, surrounding ourselves with others that look and think the same? When do we begin to lead with the head instead of the heart? I recall discussions about unity in my teenage years when we were taught to ‘tolerate’ those different from ourselves. It seems to me that tolerance is the first brick in the wall of hate, teaching us to keep our distance and mind our tongues. Then in the military I hear the word ‘respect’. I was offer the same respect on the views of others that I would expect my views to receive. Respect is better but still a matter of the head, not the heart. The healing the world needs begins with each of us, opening our hearts to one another. Make time today to reach out to others who differ from you. Look past outer appearances, past opinions, past beliefs. Look and listen with the eyes and ears of your heart. Pray for words and gestures that will communicate and create common ground. And always remember, when we embrace the other, the dissimilar, we can always count on finding God. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where love and caring are, there is God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘Open Embrace’ by Karen Palmer ©2013, all rights reserved.

Reflecting on Epiphany….

What is Hidden Behind this Door by RabiriusEpiphany Sunday has come and gone. The wise men have long since paid homage, left their precious gifts with the Christ child, and headed back to the East. I am just now arriving, just now approaching the manger, just how beginning to comprehend the Lord made flesh. So I was drawn to this amazing image by my friend Rabirius. I am uncertain if his work is photography, or art, or both. There is a mysterious, multilayered quality that draws me in, fires my imagination, makes me dig deeper for meaning and insight. I don’t know about you, but my ‘aha’ moments are more lie ‘aha’ seasons. There may be a sharp flash of light, an opening, a new direction. But the meaning is not something I come to quickly, or at least not as quickly as others. Like Mary, I must ‘ponder these things in my heart’. I must pray over them. I must look from more than one angle, in more than one light, with more than one perspective. What catches your eye first in this image? For me, it was the wall. How often do we walk away or take another path because we are sure the way ahead appears to be a dead end, blocked off and impenetrable? We simply dismiss the possibility, and go off on another tangent. What if we allowed ourselves to look further, to mull over the scene, to be sure we haven’t missed anything? Perhaps we might encounter the brightly colored door of this scene, illuminated by mysterious light. Or an eye meeting our steady gaze, beckoning us to a new and better place that what we leave behind. So what if it takes more time, or if we arrive after the others have departed? Such soul work is worth the time and the effort and the healing we find along the way. Make time today to ponder the walls in your life. Consider how long it took to build those walls, and what it might take to tear them down. Allow the Holy Spirit to show you the path ahead, a path that may wind and turn, but path you can be assured will get you there. Open your heart and mind and soul to the gift of grace, whether an epiphany or a gloaming, whether in an instant or over a lifetime. And always remember, our ‘work’ is simply to be present to transforming grace and mercy of our Lord, the same Lord that was born as a baby and walked among us in the flesh. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘What is Hidden Behind This Door?’ by Rabirius ©2013, all rights reserved. To see more of his work, go to http://rabirius.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on the Nativity….

Nativity 2013The afternoon ground is still coated with frost while the air is mild and the sky is clear. The brilliant sunshine takes me back to the first Christmas my husband and I spent together as a married couple, living in Los Angeles. We received a nativity set from my sister Lana, a fitting gift for our new life together. So I was drawn to this photo of that same nativity set, almost twenty five years later. I can’t tell you how many moves we made since then. The nativity set has traveled with us, and hasn’t always fared well with the moves. If you look closely, you’ll see the shepherd has lost one foot, and must lean against the stable to stand upright. The thatched roof is worse for wear, certainly not offering much shelter from the elements. We found part of the missing lamb, just the head, now relegated to peeping out from amongst the hay in the stall. This year the elephant my daughter crafted in art class has joined the manger scene. Sometimes I’ll notice a shiny new nativity set when we are shopping, but this one suits us just fine. I don’t know about you, but I need to be reminded it’s okay for things to be less than perfect. It’s time to en joy one another instead of rushing around for one last gift, making yet another dessert, or fussing over a missed Christmas card or decoration. After all, that first Christmas was far from perfect. Our worst Christmas travel stories pale in comparison to traveling by donkey, about to birth a child. How often are we impatient when waiting to check into a hotel? How would we react to being offered a stable for the night? What mother would want to lay their baby in a lowly manger, wrapped in bands of cloth, perhaps tore from her own garments? It seems to me that Christmas is more about our brokenness than anything else. In the midst of this chaos, this messy, tangled, confusing existence, our Lord takes human form and lives amongst us. Make time today to remember that very first Christmas, when the King of Kings deigned to become one of us, born in a lowly stable. Consider his first followers were shepherds, the lowest of the low, despised by the priestly elite. Remember the wise men who must have seemed foolish to follow a star, across deserts and in defiance of authority, to seek out an infant child. And remember, that same King of Kings still seeks after us all, not matter how battered, or how lost.

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

See Him in a manger laid,
Whom the choirs of angels praise;
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid,
While our hearts in love we raise.

Verses 3 & 4 of Angels We Have Heard on High

Text and photo entitled ‘Nativity Made Whole’ by Connie Chintall ©2013

Reflecting on Messengers….

Faithful Goat by Henny McCollochThe skies are clear and the air is cold. The way my old dog is hopping and skipping around, you’d think he was a goat. Perhaps he’s invigorated by the cold, but more likely he’s limiting contact with the icy ground. Our routine seems the same every day, out in the morning and at night, but on days like today there is a twist. So I was drawn to this photo of a faithful goat by my friend Henny. She is a letter carrier with a rural route. Each day when she approaches this farm, the goat scurries over and perches on the stone steps in front of this door. So the other day she took a picture of this strange phenomenon. I am intrigued by the sturdy stone steps and cinder block frame, all to protect an old and weathered door. This door appears to enter a barn that has seen better days. I doubt the animals inside receive much protection from the elements. Wind must whip right through the spaces between the slats. So what is the goat protecting? What does the goat seek to guard? Goats get a short shrift in the Bible. We hear how the sheep and the goats are separated, as if one is good and the other bad. Yet perhaps we simply considering two alternatives, both good, both valid, like left and right. Sheep follow their shepherd, are more docile and compliant. Goats skip and run, looking for mischief and adventure. And in the midst of all this nonsense, goats remain sure footed, even on steep or treacherous terrain. Unlike sheep, goats eat practically anything. What if this goat is not a guard, but rather a guide to a more adventurous path? Perhaps he is inviting us to knock on the door, to try the knob, to see what is on the other side. I imagine this goat is not unlike John the Baptist, a messenger preparing the way for Christ. He points beyond the doorway to the manger, where our Lord enters this life as do we all, a helpless infant. Make time today for the goats and the sheep in your life, and in your soul. Consider the path not taken, the adventure you yearn to begin, the risk you fear to take. Pray for the All Merciful to go before you, to bless and protect you, to stretch and soothe your soul. And always remember, no matter how far you wander, the Alpha and Omega will lift you up lest you dash your foot against a stone. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘Steadfast’ by Henny McColloch ©2013, all rights reserved

Reflecting on Redemption….

Junco2 by Karen RussoIt’s a cold, wet day here in Virginia, with snow and ice clinging to the trees. On days like today, the slate colored juncos gather in the evergreen just outside our front window. So I was drawn to this amazing photo, patiently taken by my friend Karen at her bird feeder. Karen captures the beauty of our area, offering glimpses of the small creatures we so easily overlook. When my daughter Tori was little, she called these juncos ‘ink birds’, saying they looked like someone held them upside down and dipped them in ink. The junco has a black back and is white on the under belly, where he is most vulnerable. We must look closely to see that white belly. We must be face to face, vulnerable to one another, willing to be seen as well as to see. The guarded stance reveals little of our inner workings, only offering the dark cloak on our backs. How often do we yearn for redemption, yearn to let go of regrets or sorrows that weigh us down? We want to let go, to move on, if only we could avoid that difficult first step. God knows everything, so why bother airing out dirty laundry? Why not fast forward to the best part, safely entrenched in our respectability? It’s a great temptation to remain as we are, yet when we risk nothing we gain nothing. Make time today to allow yourself to be vulnerable, to make room for grace, to be open to the goodness of life. Like these little birds, let your spirit shine through, despite the frustrations and setbacks that seek to soil the soul. Cast off the heavy burdens that hold you back to make room for the lightness of redemption. And always remember, when we let go of our weakness to God, His strength and power fills our hearts and soothes our souls. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘Alert and Aware’ by Karen Russo ©2013, all rights reserved

Reflecting on Heritage….

A Child's View of Fauquier by Michael WebertIt’s bitterly cold and damp, one of those days where curling up by the fire seems in order. After a soaking rain, we have had a brief glimpse of the sun before the next wave of storms rolls in. So I was drawn to this photo of our beautiful county side by my friend Michael. We are blessed to live in the rolling hills of Virginia, in a county where 70% of the land remains in conservation or agricultural use. Michael took this picture from the second floor of his grandmother’s farmhouse, looking out over the farm that has been in the family for three generations. His family’s roots run deep in this land, roots that understand we are simply stewards of the bounty of God’s creation. When families farm the land across generations, there is no room for quick fixes at the expense of future gains. These fields and the work ethic they instill are the heritage of the next generation, and the generation after that. Some of us may remain to farm or raise cattle, while others often wander far from the farm. We leave to attend college, seek employment far from home, serve in the military or foreign service. Yet when we see with the eyes of our hearts, we are never far from the land of our fathers and mothers. We are drawn back again and again, sometimes physically, sometimes in our souls alone. We feel the simplicity and perseverance of our ancestors. We cling to the steadfast love and confidence of those who have gone before us. And some of us return to our roots this time of year, return to the same bed we slept in as children, return to the bounty and beauty of the view outside that bedroom window. Make time today to honor the past as you seek to build a better future. Take inventory of what matters most to you, of the values you hold dear. Consider how you spend your time and energy, seeking to align your efforts with your heart’s greatest desires. And always remember when we are battered by life’s storms, we do not reach for the stars alone. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘A Child’s View of Fauquier’ by Michael Webert ©2012

Reflecting on Devotions….

Dirty Pool by Deb LoveIt’s a mild, breezy morning, and I just returned from walking the dog. Sometimes these walks offer an opportunity for prayer than eludes me otherwise. I struggle with sitting still, and staying silent. It seems easier to quiet my soul when my body in is motion, easier to grasp the vastness of the Creator when nature surrounds me. It’s the time of year when the trees have shed the last of their leaves. So I was drawn to this photo of a pool with newly fallen leaves by my friend Deb. Each leaf is still distinct, intact. Some of the leaves still float on the surface, yet to fall to the bottom. No one likes the chore of clearing the leaves. I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of good and not so good reasons to procrastinate. It’s too cold, I’m too tired, I would rather play than work. And unfortunately, the leaves do not wait. More and more leaves fall, and before long begin to rot. It seems to me that my morning devotions are a lot like clearing leaves from the pool. Note I said morning devotions, not daily devotions. I manage to carve out prayer time most days, but I cannot claim to reserve time each day to pray. Yet my aspiration to pray each day drives my discipline of devotions. Perhaps devotion is a word that has gone out of fashion, more often applied to love affairs than to prayer. We speak of parents or spouses being devoted to their loved ones. I find it difficult to remain present to those I love, to those who share my home and heart, without devotion, first and foremost, to the Holy of Holies. This practice has evolved over many years, and across many seasons of life. At first I waded in, lucky to carve out a few minutes of intentional prayer. When my daughter was little, I would pray in the parking lot, when I arrived at work. Isn’t my spontaneous prayer enough? It is, and isn’t. My spontaneous prayers were demands more than devotions. Instead of being with my Lord, I was simply asking for what I wanted. My morning devotions orient my actions, ease my burdens, and lighten my spirit. When I am diligent with prayer, the leaves of my life are swept away before they fall into the depths. My soul is stirred up, and cleared out. I see life less as a series of fragmented events and more as a seamless journey. I am more likely to respond, less likely to react, most likely to accept rather than judge. Make time today to stir the depths, to cleanse your heart and renew your soul. Pause to pray for clarity, with or without words. Allow the Holy Spirit to clear away discouragement, doubt, and despair. And always remember, when we sweep away our own fallen and rotting leaves, we stop judging and begin to see ourselves and one another more clearly through the eyes of the heart. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘Dirty Pool’ by Deb Love ©2013

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