Reflecting on Fragile….

Collapsed Japanese House by FlorianLife is such a fragile commodity. We hear folks say this all the time, especially in the face of inconceivable tragedy. We speak of the lives cut short as fragile, but I wonder if we really are speaking of the lives of those left behind to cope with the aftermath. Friends and family gather round, in hopes of offering a comforting word or gesture, looking to pick up the pieces. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Florian. He has captured the ruins of a once strong and sturdy shelter on a mountain road in Japan. It seems just when we think we have it all figured out, life takes a sharp turn. We find that what we thought was solid is shifting under our feet. When we cling to what we thought was certain, we find it sifting through our fingers like grains of sand. All I do know for sure right now is that while life may end, love never dies. No amount of time, or distance, or change can diminish or wipe away love. Love is the only way to respond to such earth shattering events. Alone we can never hope to put this home back together, or make way for a new home. Together we can make short work of it. Most of all, we must be both present to the pain and present to the love of the Almighty. The only way I know how to walk that razor’s edge is through prayer. Without prayer, we can ruin ourselves and be of no help to anyone. I walked for a long time this morning, walked and prayed because I simply could not sit still and pray. Although I could find no words of my own, I keep hearing the Prayer of St Francis:

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness only light,
And where there’s sadness ever joy.

Oh Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life

Make time today to open your heart and soul to the never ending love and mercy of the Almighty. Breathe out the pain and sorrow. Breathe in comfort and peace. Let go of the overwhelming and leave it at the feet of the Alpha and Omega. If you have no words for such sorrow, trust God will offer you the right words, or perhaps no words at all. And always remember, when you open your heart and become vulnerable, you can rely on the steadfast love of God, pouring into you and through you. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015. Hymn ‘Prayer of St Francis’ by Sebastian Temple ©2009. Photo entitled ‘Collapsed Japanese House’ by Florian Seidel ©2013, to see more of his work, go to his blog http://abandonedkansai.com

Reflecting on Relentless….

Heading Home by Jeanne MischoI often find myself caught in my own little world. I miss the obvious because all I can see is what I already know. My mind fills in the answer before the question is asked. This photo really brings home that message. For a long time, all I saw was the veins of the eye. I worked on lasers in the military, so part of my annual physical was a photo of my eyes. Each year the powers that be had to determine if my eyes were still intact. The doctor would shine an awful light into my eyes then take the photo. My medical records contained writing on the right, and a photo of my eyes on the left. It seemed part and parcel of every doctor visit. Fortunately for me, my friend Jeanne took this amazing photo of a tree with the moon in the sky above. I can imagine her lying on the ground to get the proper perspective. I wonder if she used a flash, or if a street light has lent its glow. I love the depth and intricacy of the branches, the way the tree divides and then divides itself again. It seems the tree is inviting us into another world, a world of our imagination, a world separate from our earthbound reality. On this Maundy Thursday, we celebrate the humility of our Lord. Christ washes the feet of the disciples, despite the protests of Peter, despite everything we are and were and will be. God draws us in, again and again, relentlessly seeking communion. After countless rejections of his prophets and angels, God sends his own Son to reconcile us to him. God becomes man to be one with us, to experience all that this life offers. Make time today to step out of the comfortable. Let go of the familiar and let in the annoying, the perplexing, yes, even the startling. Hold open a space that makes room for growth and greater understanding. Lie down when you would rather stand up. Step aside when you would rather rush ahead. Look up and around rather than keeping your head down. And always remember, when we open our minds before we open our eyes, we embrace the relentless intimacy and endless possibility of our all loving God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015. Photo entitled ‘Heading Home’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013, to see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Migration….

Bad Year to Skip Migration by Sarah GulickThere have been many times in my life when I chose the less traveled path because I equated different with better. And sometimes it was, but not always. Snow is piled upon snow after the latest winter storm. I spent more time than I care to admit clearing the driveway, even with help from a neighbor. About a block away, a flock of plastic flamingos is stuck in a snowdrift. The birthday party is over, but the weather has delayed their retrieval. So how could I help but be drawn to this photo by my friend Sarah? I wonder who placed this flamingo near her snowed in car. Perhaps her friends had left for warmer weather, leaving her behind. Right now I feel more like a penguin than this lone flamingo. My husband is enjoying warm weather in California; friends are off for the season, or at least a vacation, to Florida. They send pictures by the pool, or of the beach. Somehow it seems I missed the cue to migrate. We really don’t understand what causes birds and animals to migrate. At the appointed time, they head to warmer weather. Without maps or an endless string of arrangements, whole flocks of birds find their way. Yet we find it difficult to meet up for a quick cup of coffee without endless text messages or reply-all e-mails. There are times when we need to make the effort to connect, and times when we need to separate ourselves from others. It can be difficult to listen to our inner voice when it seems drowned out by the voices of others. We need to withdraw, just as Christ withdrew into the desert before his triumphant arrival in Jerusalem. He fasted and prayed, faced his demons, and gained strength for the challenges ahead. Make time today to migrate toward the true warmth of God. Lift up solitary prayer from the depths of your soul. Trust in the new growth of spring beyond the relentless winter. Lay your deepest fears and heaviest concerns at the foot of the cross, relying on God’s strength rather than your own. Open your heart to new possibilities, take more time with uncertainty than is comfortable, allow God to surprise you. And always remember, when we listen with the ears of our hearts even the deepest snow melts away. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, written during the snow storm last week. Photo entitled ‘Bad Year to Skip Migration’ by Sarah Gulick ©2013, to see more of her work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/

Reflecting on Certainty….

Kayak on Slush by Sarah GulickCold winter days offer time to contemplate what perplexes me the most. Over the years I have struggled against a desire for certainty, a desire to fix whatever is wrong. Sometimes that includes fixing other people, which rarely works well for them or for me. Before long, I find even my best laid plans falling apart. So I was drawn to this photo of a kayak on the edge of Lake Anne in Reston, VA by my friend Sarah. The crack is off to one side, a crack that could be easily missed depending on which way you are looking. You could slip into the boat thinking the ice would hold, only to find fractures all around you. Of course, it’s a boat, and boats float on water much better than ice. Yet like our desire for certainty, that fact gets lost in the shuffle. We may fear tipping over and falling into the cold lake, or worse yet, getting caught under the ice. How many awful outcomes do we imagine that keep us on the shore? How often do we delay a decision because we don’t know enough? Perhaps we fear getting it wrong, so we avoid the decision all together. Our need for certainty imprisons us, restricts our choices, prohibits us from taking risks. We lock down the answer to feel safe, only to find life passing us by. We did in fact make a decision when we failed to decide – we simply remained frozen in time and space. In her book ‘Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith’, Anne Lamott says “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty”. Faith is a place of mystery, a place where we let go of our fear of uncertainty. Faith takes courage, because courage is not the absence of fear; courage is deciding something is more important than what you fear. Faith calls us to grow, to venture into the unknown, to hope for what we cannot yet see. Faith holds open a space for more than human effort, trusting God to fill in the cracks of our lives and the lives of those we love in ways we cannot begin to imagine. Make time today to venture into the unknown, trying something new and different to feed your heart and soothe your soul. Let go of the need for certainty; embrace your faith in the midst of doubt. Ask others to pray for you and with you, as you pray for them. And always remember to look beyond the surface, thankful for the cracks in this life that lead us to beyond the ice to deep living waters. Text by Connie Chintall Connie Chintall ©2015, Photo entitled ‘Kayak on Slush’ by Sarah Gulick ©2014, to see more of her work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/

 

 

Reflecting on Color….

Alaska Range by Bill WildBright winter sunshine can be deceiving. I long for warmer days and am easily tricked into believing spring has already arrived. Instead it is as cold as ever, with more storms on the way. So I was drawn to this photo entitled ‘Alaskan Range’, brought to my attention by my cousin Bill. Bill and I both joined the Air Force at the same time, thirty five years ago. I was posted to Nevada while he was sent to Alaska, a place that has been his home ever since. Vibrant color is not how I picture Alaska. I expect to see ice and snow everywhere, instead of just on the mountain range. Perhaps the distant snow makes the colors jump out, refusing to be ignored. This morning I am enjoying the bright, over the top, colors. I am well rested and relaxed. Yet there are days when these same bright colors seem to exhaust me, offering more than I can take in. Rather than feeling included, part of the scene, I feel intruded upon, almost assaulted. I can feel the same way about social situations. There are times when I thrive on social interaction, and others when I would prefer to be alone, curled up in front of the fire with a good book. Where is the tipping point between inclusion and intrusion? When does reaching out becomes trespassing? Perhaps the answer varies from person to person, and day to day. Difficult circumstances can lead one person to seek the company of others, while another prefers to be alone. We must listen with all of our being, with our hearts, and souls and minds, to know what to say, or whether to say anything at all. We want to do something, to fix the problem, to get past the awkwardness. Yet often all we need is someone to sit with us, to simply be with us. Make time today to practice holy listening, to let go of your need to be in the foreground. Pray for the Holy Comforter to guide your words, your actions and, most of all, your timing. Simply be there for another, and let go of everything but the here and now. And always remember, when we respond to the true needs of others, less becomes more than enough. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, Photo entitled ‘Alaskan Range’,  All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Tatters….

Growth by Stella
Resolutions and radical changes rarely arrive with the New Year. I am more likely to troll through old memories, looking for an arc or easy narrative that makes sense out of the jumble of my experiences. Perhaps our lives only make sense backwards. So I was drawn to this wonderful art by Stella. Her use of color, or lack of color, says it all. Our colorful dreams are born in a black and white world. Notice the pieces of her dream drifting away. Those tatters have lost their color. Like most folks, my life includes high points and low points. There are joyous times when life seems full of vibrant color, new beginnings overflowing with hope and joy. There are days, even weeks and months, when life seems drained of all color. It is everything I can do to hang on despite the despair. These bleak times can be brought on by radical change, or by allowing the drudgery of life to slowly drain my soul. Yet if we believe there is no waste in God’s economy, then every experience has a purpose. Every twist and turn bears fruit later on. Granted, at the time, it sure does not feel that way. Was my life in tatters, whirling apart, out of control? Or were the remnants of the past building a dream for the future? Of course I now realize both were often happening at the same time. My hope or despair was born out of what I turned toward. Yet I seem unable to turn toward hope on my own. Without prayer it is all too easy to embrace despair. Make time today to lay your life before the Alpha and Omega, to find a greater perspective, a longer view. See life less in the current condition and more in the journey. Resist the temptation to shunt aside prayer for a pressing emergency or dated routine. Judge less and accept more, opening up to new possibilities rather than focusing solely on what is passing away. Dare to dream a new dream in living color, reaching ahead rather than turning back. And always remember, the tatters of our black and white lives are pieced together into stained glass dreams, in God’s time rather than our own.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2014
Art entitled ‘Growth’ by Stella Pereira ©2013, to see more of her work, go to her blog http://pangaweka.com/

 

Reflecting on the Wild….

Beyond the Path by Connie ChintallFor too long I believed the sacred only existed in far away places. I sought out mountain top experiences, ways to feed my soul with the beauty of nature or through structured retreats that quieted my mind and my soul. So I am drawn to this photo from a recent trip to Chile. I found myself at the end of the world, in Puerto Arenas. I could show you photos of the penguins or the surf, but this is the photo that pulls at my heartstrings. The tiniest of flowers burst forth from this luxurious carpet of vegetation. I knelt down to take this photo, to touch the tiny plants, to embrace the peace in the midst of this wild and wonderful place. At another time, I would have walked by without noticing this tiny scene. Life was about efficiency and accomplishments. Perhaps it was easier to think the sacred eluded me in my every day life than to admit the hectic pace left no room for the divine. How many appointments could I pack into one day? How many tasks could I juggle at one time? It never occurred to me that the fabric of my own life, so tightly woven and intricately controlled, left no room for mystery or awe. I needed to get ahead, to keep my head down, to soldier on the path in front of me. There was no time to look around, let alone drop to my knees. But something had to change. At first I took time to pray in the car before I went into work. Slowly I set aside moments here and there, or took advantage of a gap in my day for prayer and reflection, instead of crossing off another item on my list. My life shifted gears and I looked beyond the path ahead. I stopped to soak in the now, to fall to my knees in gratitude for the simple things in life. As I held open a space for the divine, I seemed to find the sacred everywhere, in my backyard, in the stew I was cooking for dinner, in the faces of people I met on the street. That divine spark is within each of us, simply waiting for our attention. Yet unless we let go of our expectations and illusion of control, we cannot see or hear or understand. The divine defies our definitions and limitations, refuses to work to our schedules, shocks us out of our complacency. Make time today to rest in the grace and mercy of Creation. Embrace the wild beauty that surrounds you, holding open space without any preconceived notions. Allow the unexpected fuel your imagination, to expand your sense of the possible, to lend color and depth to your dreams. And always remember, when you look beyond what is straight ahead, you might find what you were really looking for. Text and photo entitled ‘Beyond the Path’ by Connie Chintall ©2014

Reflecting on Nature….

Pierce by Heart by Rob Sarch Oct 2014This time of year always gets so busy. From now until after Christmas our time and attention become more and more divided. We lose the ability to enjoy the here and now. Before we know it we have become numb to the core. So I was drawn to this photo of my sister Lana on a recent trip to Sedona. Her husband Rob caught the awe and wonder of the place. That’s Cathedral Rock in the background, but perhaps the true sacred space is where they are standing. Such beauty stops us cold and demands our attention. Our hearts burst open with joy, warmed and nourished by the wonder of creation. God could have made a world out of black and white squares, yet instead, choose to create beauty, stunning, awe inspiring beauty. When our daughter Tori was a toddler, she started the Lord’s Prayer like this, “Our Father, who does art in heaven, Howard is thy name”. We started to correct her, only to realize her mistake reflected a greater truth. Perhaps this wild, wonderful beauty is a reflection of the divine nature of God and the eternal light of our souls. Grace abounds when we hold open a space, make room for mystery, cling fast to hope. That grace is often unpredictable, arresting, surprising, and yes, transforming. We need time apart in wild places to be reminded of who we really are, children of the Most High. John Muir says it best.

‘Keep close to nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.’

Make time today to look beyond those lists and appointments, and allow yourself to become lost in wonder at God’s creation. Take a walk in a local park or a paddle on a local creek. Keep a photo of a recent trip on your desk or as the wallpaper on your computer. Open your heart to that experience today when the rush and routine becomes more than you can bear. And always remember to look at nature through the eyes of a child and give thanks to Howard for the art. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘Pierce the Heart’ by Rob Sarchiapone ©2014

Reflecting on Endings….

Blue Day at White Sands by Robert H Clark
Fog and rain have filled our days, the sort of cold autumn rain that chills you to the bone. Vivid leaves are plastered to the ground, a welcome relief from the grey skies and incessant downpour. It seems as though the rain began three weeks ago when my friend Ray passed from this life to the next. Our friendship spanned almost fifty years. I don’t know how to begin to describe a relationship like that. I don’t know how to begin to grieve. I do know I find myself laughing as much as crying. So I’m drawn to this masterpiece of a photo by my friend Robert of White Sands, a photo of a desert instead of drenched soil. The overwhelming blue mirrors my sadness, while the blending of the sand and the sky somehow captures the essence of my loss. There is a single point in the distance where it’s difficult to tell where the sand ends and the sky begins. I remember Ray and I riding our bikes to the bookmobile. I remember how we would read the same books and talk about them. No, not like we were in English class. Instead, Ray would make up new endings for a book he didn’t like, or extend the story for characters he couldn’t let go of. I suppose I was one of those characters, and the foundation we built so long ago sustained us both through the vagaries of this life. Ray was one of the few friends who knew of the miscarriages I had before my daughter Tori was born. My husband and I simply stopped telling others I was pregnant, for fear that we would have to tell them I had lost another baby. But I had to tell Ray. I couldn’t keep from telling Ray. He never said things like ‘It will all work out this time’. He simply told me he truly believed God would bring children into my life. He believed in a different ending and when I could not believe on my own I leaned on his belief. Ray was always challenging me, and all those he loved, to create our own endings. He saw no use for a script in this wild, wonderful life. If you don’t like it, make up a new ending. Make time today to open your heart and mind to the possible. Write your own story. Create your own ending. Let go of what is expected, or easy, or just plain comfortable. Build on what brings you joy, rather than allowing the essence of this life to slip through your fingers. Reserve time for your loved ones into your daily schedule, because we do not know what tomorrow may bring. And always remember, while this life may end, love such as this will never die. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘Blue Day at White Sands’ by Robert H Clark, ©2014, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Robert’s work, go to http://www.roberthclarkphotography.com/

Reflecting on Music….

By Kira Skala

Living Waters by Kira Skala

It’s a cool, quiet fall morning, cool enough for a sweater. The windows are open to let in the autumn air. The cool air is soothing, like the cool water of a rippling stream. So I was drawn to a video taken by my friend Kira. I love the sound of the water, unimpeded by the fallen branches and litter. Yet it seems easier to focus on the living water with my eyes closed, simply listening to the sounds. With my eyes open, it is all too easy to focus on the quagmire and lose sight of the stream. The more I watched and listened to this video, the more frustrated I became about my morning routine. My favorite time of day is the early morning. More often than not, I sit in the living room and have a second cup of coffee. There is a large evergreen outside the window, where birds often perch and sing. I love to see and hear the birds. It seems as if God has written a special song just for me. Yet recently I find myself avoiding that quiet time in the mornings. Instead of joy I was nagged by faint annoyance. So this morning I made myself sit down and really listen. Instead of birds, I heard traffic and heavy equipment. My symphony has turned into cacophony. There is a farm on the corner that sat vacant for many years. The well kept pastures became covered in small shrubs and vines. Recently the farm was sold to a developer who is now clearing the land. So the trees and undergrowth that absorbed the traffic noise are no more. I hear both the construction vehicles and the commuter traffic on the highway, a road at least half a mile from my home. Yet the birds remain with me. The music remains with me. The rough noises can only drown out the joy of the bird’s song if I give it my attention. My young friend Colin says it best.

I walked out to the pylons at midnight, just to be alone with my music for a bit. The wind was blowing and the clouds moved so rapidly, it seemed that they must be dragging me with them to the chapel. The clouds reminded me of this week, it seemed to move by so quickly, though now I’m very tired, so it feels, physically, very long. I’ve met many new friends and I’ve gotten to know old acquaintances much better. I am, as usual, very happy: if you want to share in my happiness then all you need to do is ask. – Colin Shea-Blymyer

Make time today to listen closely, to look beyond the litter of everyday life. Seek out the living waters of creation and give thanks for the gift of life, offered and received one breath at a time. Let go of sorrows and losses and hold fast to the blessings of this life. Hold fast to the music and miracles that surround you, just waiting to feed your soul and swell your heart. And always remember, when you want to share in the happiness of creation, all you need to do is ask. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo and video of Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park by Kira Skala ©2014, to view video go to https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10204163766204493
Quote by Colin Shea-Blymyer ©2014, All Rights Reserved.

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