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.

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

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