Reflecting on Blood….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

Ivy in the pines by Anthony Guida
Ivy is a remarkable plant, growing extravagantly even in harsh environments. Ivy is an evergreen, as you can see in this photo by my new friend Anthony. The leaves may lose color in the cold, but there is no doubt life remains vibrant throughout the winter. Ivy represents eternity, fidelity and strong affection, as experienced in marriage and lifelong friendships. What strikes me in this amazing photo are the veins of the ivy, its life blood. I’m from New Jersey and grew up near where this photo was taken in the Pine Barrens. Blood is a big deal there, perhaps even more than most places. Friends are nice, but family is family no matter what. That way of thinking is far from new. It’s the reason families fuss so much over marriage – the two families become one and neither family may appreciate the choices made by young love. How many novels and plays feature parents who would prefer declaring their own child dead rather than accepting their choice in marriage? Still, we did just fine until Jesus came along, upsetting the apple cart in the worst way. Christ teaches that faith may pit parents against children, may sink the family business, may even risk the next generation’s inheritance, God forbid. Yet there is more to it than that. Our faith broadens our family beyond blood. We are brothers and sisters in the faith. So how did all that come out of ivy? I am an active member of the faith community at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Catlett, VA. I have been an active member of the parish near wherever we have lived for almost fifty years. With all that activity, there are Sundays when I am very grateful for this extended family, especially when we were stationed far from home. There are just as many Sundays where I am not certain I want the family I have, let alone all these extras. Thank God Sunday is the start of a new week because an awful lot happened last week that I would rather forget than begin to deal with. Then before I know it, I am blown away by the generosity and grace of that faith family. I wonder where I would be without it. Like this ivy that is a little worse for wear, blood still courses through the veins of unions forged in faith and adversity. Make time today to consider relationships you hold dear. Reach out and let others know the difference they make in your life. Ask what you can do for those you love, rather than face regrets over missing the mark. Lean on someone for their wisdom and knowledge, even if their health may be less than good. Show them they still make a difference to you despite their struggles. And most of all, hold tight to the vine, trusting in God to get us all through this day and every day together.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Photo entitled ‘Eternal Ivy’ by Anthony Guida©2020, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of his work and The Pines, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

Reflecting on Mystery….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

Mystery in the Pines
I have had the great good fortune to live in many locations where words do not do justice to the surroundings. The first was southern New Jersey, in particular,The Pines. Before you get ahead of me, this is not the New Jersey you see from the turnpike, or in the congested areas along the Delaware River or the Atlantic Ocean. This is a wild and mysterious place where the scenery seems to shift from day to day. The area is a large bowl, with most of the land 10 to 12 feet below sea level. Water is everywhere – if not within sight then just a foot or two under the soil. As seasons change and weather does its worst, water forms and reforms the same scenery again and again. Small patches of vegetation crest the wetlands, and on good days the water mirrors the sky above. My new friend Julius caught an especially mysterious scene, one where the rushes have adapted to the flowing water while this tree appears to be struggling. I love this photo because I am not sure where the water ends and the sky begins. I am not even sure if the sun is rising or setting. All I know for sure is that Julius has captured that in between time, when it is not quite bright but definitely not dark. How often does this mortal life or ours feel like the moment caught in this image? We want to live in the light, yet never seem to make it beyond that in between place, not dark, not quite light. We begin the day facing the light, perhaps even taking time to pray, hoping those morning devotions last at least until our second cup of coffee. Then something annoys us, disrupts our routine, disappoints our meager expectations. We rush to react, turning a little each time from the light and peering back into the darkness. I don’t know about you, but the hardest part of my faith journey is simply allowing mystery to exist at all. I like simple answers, yes or no, black or white, good or bad. Yet once I take hold of that simple, straight forward view of life, I lose track of the divine source of that life, the mystery of creation. I fail to hold open a space for grace, to make room for the water of creation to flow through my life and into my veins. Rather than lean on the strength of the Almighty, I wear myself out insisting on the more defined, yet infinitely more difficult path. Then as if God knew I needed the reminder, this Sunday the New Testament reading included this passage:

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9

Make time today to embrace the uncertainty of this life, trusting in the power of the Holy of Holies to forge a path ahead much better than the one you can create alone. Embrace the unexpected twists and turns, trusting that each step has its own part in the final outcome. Start your day with a simple prayer, seeking to see the Creator in the everyday things of this life, to notice signs of hope and awe rather than doubt and doom. Slow down when you are tempted to speed up, respond rather than react. Most of all, let those sacred moments dwell in your heart and soul. Hold that majesty closer than the temptations of this life, and allow wonder to guide your thoughts, words and actions.

Text by Connie Chintall©2020

Photo entitled ’Majesty and Mystery in The Pines’ by Julius Akras©2020, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

To see more of his work and The pines, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

Reflecting on Conclusions….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

Single Bloom Before the Storm by Mary Cristler Dec 2019
I know this stretch of beach well. My last assignment in the Air Force was at Los Angeles AFB in El Segundo, CA. A few years later I returned there as a new bride. All tolled, I spent seven years living in the area. I frequently would bike to work, and on Fridays I would ride home along the beach. I loved seeing the sea and sand change with the seasons, although in LA there are only two seasons – wet and dry. It is the opposite of how I grew up. The landscape is green in the winter months when it is wet and brown in the summer months when it is dry. My friend Mary recently visited and took this amazing photo of the view in Redondo Beach, near Avenue E and the Esplanade. The ice plants you see in the foreground are very tenacious and very prolific. These hardy plants prevent erosion, and look like common cactus most of the time. Then the rains come and you are rewarded by such beautiful blooms, a pink and purple combination like that intense color encountered in orchids. I imagine Mary is walking along the beach just before the storm, taking in the view, perhaps drinking her second cup of coffee. She liked the view enough to preserve it with a photo. What do you notice first? The single bloom, the expanse of greenery, the sea, the sand? Perhaps you skip over all that and only see the impending storm? The first step of understanding our surroundings is to discern what is present. We can hone in on a single detail or take in the whole scene. Ideally, we do a little bit of both. The real trick is slowing down enough to be present to what is in front of us, to take in more than one perspective, and to weigh all that information. All too frequently these days, discernment equates with judgment. There is no pause, no time to ponder, no time to consider more than one way of looking at the situation. I am taken back to one of my favorite childhood books, my first chapter book. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing teacher for third and fourth grade. Her name is Carol Tillinghast and she returned to our little town to care for her mother and teach school. She read us this book, a chapter at a time. The only gift I wanted that Christmas was that book – “The Phantom Toll Booth” written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Like Milo and his dog Tock, we all to often find ourselves ‘Jumping to Conclusions’.

Jumping to Conclusions
In the book, Conclusions is a tiny island, completely separate from the rest of the amazing land Milo and Tock have discovered. They remain stuck on the tiny island until they can make ‘sense out of nonsense’, more easily said than done. Milo learns that ‘if you want sense, you’ll have to make it yourself’. Think about a time when you were judged unfairly or treated poorly, not because of what you had done but perhaps simply because of who you are or how you look. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. We all want and deserve dignity and respect. Yet it seems in short supply these days. We are so busy trying to decide if that single bloom is the first bloom or the last. We rush to create order where order is not needed, to offer our opinion as Gospel truth, even to solve a problem we do not yet understand. We jump ahead to what’s next, or impose a past we cannot escape onto the present. Our world quickly shrinks from an amazing land into a tiny island and we wonder why we feel so lost and alone. Make time today to be present to your surroundings. Look from one vantage point and then another. Enter into the scene and immerse yourself in what has been offered to you in the moment. Carefully consider those you meet along the way. Listen to the whole story, then pause to ponder what you heard. Ask clarifying questions, probe the matter further. Dig into the emotions, not just the facts. What may seem innocuous to you may be a matter of great gravity to another. Most of all, remember we pass this way only once. Keep your feet on the ground as your make sense out of nonsense. This amazing land is where you are meant to live – not that tiny island of Conclusions.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020

Photo entitled ’Single Bloom Before the Storm’ by Mary Cristler©2019, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved

Drawing by Jules Feiffer, quotes by Norton Juster from their book ‘The Phantom Toll Booth’ (New York: Random House reissue, 1988; Knopf; 1961)

Reflecting on Infinity….

Beach and Beyond by Gillian Barr Nov 2019
As time goes by, I find the simplest things bring up more than one memory or association. The longer I live, the more I bring along with me, the more that can weigh me down or lift me up. This photo of the sunset on the beach near San Diego is a good example. I recall visiting my friend Gillian when she was ordained and probably walking on that same beach. I think back to work trips to San Diego, always a respite from the office in LA. Yet today one memory stands out more than the others. As a young officer and later as the wife of an officer, I spent almost eight years living near the beach in Los Angeles. I frequently ran or biked along the beach after work, passing the same scenery on the way out and the way back. This time of year, the sun was low in the sky, prompting me to be distracted by the scenery yet also cautious of delaying too long. The evening brought the homeless to their perches along the path. Some were friendly, others were at best benign. Either way, it was not the place to be as a young woman after dark. Yet while the sand harbored the lost, the sea and the sky stopped me in my tracks, like the lone bird in this photo. I would stand in awe of the majesty opening before me, too large to conceive of with my mind. The symphony of waves crashing along the beach drowned out the cares of the day and my heart and soul were renewed. Perhaps to open my heart I needed a scene larger than my imagination, a scene that continued beyond the horizon to distant shores on the other side of the world. I need a glimpse of the infinite to even begin to understand the Holy of Holies, to let go of my rational mind and to see and hear the Alpha and Omega with my heart. Make time today to ponder beauty and majesty in your surroundings. Perhaps there is a place to pause along your commute, or a short walk from home. Pluck a bloom or pick up a leaf, resting in the colors and intricacy of the tiniest thing. Consider taking a photo and folding a piece of creation into your daily work. Most of all, let yourself be surprised by what seeks you out – our Lord is waiting to enfold you at every turn.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo collage entitled ’Beyond the Sea and Shore’ by Gillian Barr©2019, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Wildflowers….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

P1020886Every so often my husband and I make a list of places we want to visit. We learned while living overseas that if we only travel to places we both want to go then we will travel much less often. I have always wanted to go to the Himalayas, the roof of the world. I wasn’t interested in conquering a mountain or pushing myself to the limit physically. I wanted to visit a place where faith is woven into everyday life. Since I was traveling on my own, I joined a tour by Road Scholar to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. This photo best captures what Tibet felt like to me. For the past 60 years, Tibet has been part of China. I expected to see and feel deep faith in this part of the world, but I also felt a great sorrow. We left the city of Lhasa to visit a family with a small farm and a nunnery in the hills. This photo is taken on a bathroom stop on the side of the road. We had driven past groups of tall buildings that looked like they were made out of Legos. While we were staying in the old part of Lhasa on one side of the river, these high rises centered around the new train station on the other side of the river. Han Chinese are settling there, creating their own city and culture. Yet despite the relentless influx of new settlers, the wildflower of faith will not be contained. It seems as if the sturdy fence is the old city, helping to prop up the wildflowers, while the Lego buildings are the chicken wire fence, hoping to keep out the wildflowers. Yet no matter what fence you add to the landscape, their ancient faith will not be contained. Like the wildflowers, faith finds its own way, stopping you in your tracks. Not long after we left this spot we arrived at a small nunnery. We found the nuns chanting to celebrate Buddha Descending, a holy day commemorating when Buddha appeared to his mother after his death. She is revered as the mother of all Buddhas, the shining example of wisdom married to compassion. As I listened to the nuns chant, my heart burst open until it seemed as though the whole world fit inside it. All at once my heart knew that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. Me as an individual is just as much of an illusion as borders on a map or faiths by different names. We are all one in the eyes of the Divine. Make time today to break down the fences that seek to contain the wildflowers of faith. Step out of your comfort zone and reach out to someone different from you on the outside, while so much the same on the inside. Stop to look and listen with your heart rather than your mind. And don’t be surprised if the one image that sticks with you afterward also happens to be the most mundane.

Text and photo by Connie Chintall ©2019, used with permission, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Urgent


I love to walk and one of my favorite places to walk is along the water. There is always a distant view and just the sound of water is relaxing. Walking along in the breeze to the rhythm of crashing waves seems to drown out any worries or concerns. The natural ebb and flow of life unfolds before me and all the urgent matters that were screaming for my attention fade into the background. Yet even on such a pleasant walk sooner or later I happen upon something that demands my attention.

This amazing photo by my cousin Patty is one of those arresting images that has consumed my morning devotions for almost three months. The waves have taken over this stump, all that is left of a once mighty tree. The sturdy rings developed over decades have split and opened out. Shells and feathers are caught in the opening folds, wedging themselves further and further into the grain of the wood.

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I feel like the urgent has chopped down my tree trunk and left me as a stump. I feel battered by ceaseless waves of who knows how many interruptions and over reactions, until like this stump, it seems I have lost the integrity of my purpose and strength. Worse yet, I find my requests met with the question – is this urgent? Honestly I answer it can wait, but that means the matter is neither urgent or important to them. I find myself having to ask again to even get the matter taken care of. It seems unless the matter is urgent, it cannot be important.

I harken back to the Eisenhower decision matrix, made more famous by Stephen Covey in ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, shown below:


Eisenhower said we are to spend the most time in Quadrant 2 – Focus. Proper planning eliminates most emergencies or prepares us so well that even the worst scenarios are easily and calmly handed.

So what is the problem? Do I lack a good understanding of what is important to me? Do I allow distractions to overwhelm me and subsume my days? And how does all this have anything to do with the sacred? At least for me making time for prayer and devotion, the most important way to spend my time, only happens if I start my day that way. That quiet time grounds me in what is the most important matter for me – am I aligned with God’s will for me and those I love? Am I walking as a child of the light, or am I blotting out God’s will in favor of my own?

Let’s face it – that tree was in trouble long before the trunk was cut down. That once mighty tree has shrunken into a rotting stump, without roots to provide nutrition or branches to reach out to the sun. How easily do we focus on our own branches, reaching out to others, at the expenses of the strength in our roots? Even good works can starve our prayer time, just becoming another urgent item to react to.

Make time today to shore up your strength. Sit quietly or take a walk, letting nature seep into your soul. Listen more than you speak; respond before you react; love more than you judge. And always remember, we can only love others as much as we love ourselves. Let us root ourselves in that divine love that has no beginning or end. May we lean on God’s strength to fortify our trunks and offer sturdy branches to others.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, Eisenhower decision matrix in common use, photo entitled ’Washing Out with the Tide’ by Patty Steiner ©2019, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Doubt….

Stairway to Heaven by Rick MartinEaster has come and gone and we are working our way through the Gospels concerning Christ’s appearances after the resurrection. I have always had trouble with the scripture in John 20. We find the disciples huddled together in an upper room with the door bolted out of fear. I wonder how far out of the way they went to find a place to hide. Was the staircase to that room like the one in this photo? Were they in an old, abandoned home? Did they seek out the last place anyone would look? Did they dare to climb up old and rickety stairs rather than risk being found out? And where was Thomas that day? Out for a pack of smokes? What if Thomas was the only one who was not afraid, not hiding away? What if Thomas was continuing the ministry? After all, Christ wasn’t there anymore and someone had to do it. He was a hands-on sort of guy. He needed to be in the middle of things, so see and hear what was going on for himself. We all know that Thomas, the one who either doesn’t show up for the committee meeting or can’t sit still while the rest of the folks try to work through the details. The Thomas who says ‘We need to get going, we can figure it out as we go along, why bother planning when everything will change anyway?’. Then one week, something truly eye opening happens at the meeting. The rest of us are excited and try to explain it, but all we hear is doubt. Are you sure it was really that spectacular? Thomas voices his doubts and asks the burning questions that no one wants to hear but must be shouted out. Without that lone voice, the rest of us remain closed off and nothing changes. Thomas spoke out, Thomas got it. That next week he remained with his friends. He saw the risen Lord. Is the end of that Gospel a rebuke or simply a reminder of how Thomas was created? Christ meets Thomas, just as he is, gently reaching out to say your service is great, may your worship be just as great. None of us can root that service in the Risen Lord in isolation. We must root ourselves in community to deepen our faith and fuel our work. Thomas was the man God called him to be. He was the hands and feet of the kingdom. He needed to see and touch to know the Risen Lord. Christ sends him out to be present to those who do not need to see and feel, because those of great faith and less action are no less Christ’s own. Make time today to live into who God made you to be. Spend time with those like you and those least like you, meeting each one where they are. Embrace each and every soul for who God made them to be. And always remember to refrain from judging those who rub you the wrong way, trusting God is teaching you both where you fit into His Kingdom. Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo entitled ’Stairway to Heaven’ by Rick Martin ©2018-2019, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Rick’s work, go to http://www.abandonedanddesertedinvirginia.com/

Reflecting on Fret….

without a care by june loving oct 2018It’s a windy Sunday afternoon and I am looking forward to doing little or nothing. I know I am safe from the wind, curled up on the sofa next to a nice, warm fire. Yet as a child I feared that wild sound of the wind. I would wake in the night from strange dreams, nightmares about yelling for help that no one could hear. Fret describes my old reaction to the wind. I worried myself into a state over that wind, not grasping the notion that the wind was outside and I was safe inside. The word fret means more than just worry. To fret means to remain in a constant state of worry, gnawing away at something. A harness can fret the skin of a horse, wearing away the hair and even tearing open a wound. Fret can constrict us, making small problems seem insurmountable. Even victories can slip from our grasp as we fret over the minor details that were less than ideal. In time we may not even venture out of our comfort zone, and even that may shrink in time. I love this amazing photo by my good friend June Loving of the view from her home on the Chesapeake Bay. Before we lived in England, a view like this would lead me to cancel plans. I would fret over the possibility of rain or the choppy surf. In England, that would mean we never left the house. We learned that there really wasn’t bad weather; there was only inappropriate clothing. You simply dressed for the weather and hoped for the best. The weather certainly did not keep you from showing up. Since then, we do not cancel plans based on the weather. Often a day that starts out with ominous clouds ends with blue skies. Either way we had a good day. What if fret is like these clouds or that choppy surf? What if fret is a call to forge ahead, a call to prayer, an invitation into the presence of the holy? If it is, then that fret will remain until we answer the Holy of Holies. God will persist as long as we resist, drawing us again and again into communion. To let go and let God is an invitation into a greater good we cannot even begin to enter under our own power. Make time today to step out of your comfort zone. Consider that uncomfortable emotion a call to prayer rather than a call to retreat. Allow God to show you a new and better way ahead. Most of all, look for beauty and grace in this less than perfect world as you hold open space for God’s grace. Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo entitled ‘Without a Care’ by June Loving ©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Grace….

Frosty View by Kira Skala Dec 18
Grace is a struggle for me. I am not talking about being clumsy, although I am that. I am talking about making room for something I rarely comprehend let alone allow in. Some folks talk about feeling unworthy. Others are uncomfortable giving up control. I probably fall into the second group, but honestly, the real issue is I am simply too caught up in my own little world to make room for God’s grace. I am content in my own little bubble, and it is quite lovely there if I do say so myself. I think I can see clearly, but then I begin to miss things. Like this lovely photo by my friend Kira, my view has frosted over. I can’t really see beyond the glass. At times like these, the world seems cold, even dangerous, and God feels far away. Without room for God’s grace, hope is illusive and fleeting.

Things began to shift for me during a two-year spiritual direction program at Richmond Hill. I spent a weekend a month in retreat with a group of twenty fellow seekers. We learned about all sorts of things, but the most enduring lesson I learned was about holding open a space for God’s grace. So wait – I not only had to make room, I had to hold the space open? At first it seemed silly and frustrating. I was going to end up at the same place anyway so why bother? Then with practice I found things fell into place in a way I never thought possible, as if divinely ordered. Rather than insisting and arguing, I simply asked and waited, often much longer than I felt comfortable waiting. Instead of one of us losing so the other could win, options presented themselves where we both won. I still cannot say I am comfortable – I like to have an answer now if not sooner. Yet with practice I am finding my answer falls far short of the answer God has waiting for me. In engineering terms, my best is a local maximum; God’s best is a global maximum. Make time to let go of a struggle that is wearing you down. Refrain from judging the actions of others or yourself. Climb out of that safe little bubble and open your eyes and ears to the vastness of creation. Let go of what you thought the answer would be or what it would look like and let God pour down His grace to create an answer for all of us. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, photo entitled ‘Winter Glass’ by Kira Skala©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Fractured….

Underneath it All by Buck 20181004Crisp, clear mornings make for perfect football weather and a welcome relief from the endless rain and oppressive heat of this past summer. Yet I find myself stuck in a funk, grieving for my father who passed away ten years ago this month. He led a full life and died at ninety in our home, so it isn’t about him at all. I can’t say he was cheated or taken too soon. It’s me that feels the loss so keenly this month. It’s when life brings burdens that I cannot relieve that I miss my father the most. Two of those I love dearly are facing health crises, dealing with pain and uncertainty. I feel helpless to make a difference, except to sit and pray. Before you ask, both of these friends would jump to say those prayers make a difference. I firmly believe in the power of prayer yet the suffering in the interim is sometimes more than I can begin to fathom. Yet I persevere, knowing that God has provided a healing for them both. I believe because I have experienced such healing myself, again and again. I may seem put together and wise, but underneath it all, there are fractures that run deep. I say I am fractured not broken, the word more often used in hymns and sermons. The bones all remain in place. They still hold me up and carry me around, but there are days when I can feel each and every crack. Yet God shines through my words and actions most when I reach out in my own weakness. I surrender to the wideness in God’s mercy, letting go of my own limited understanding and trusting this is not the end of the story. I pray and wait, ponder and mull, choosing my words carefully. Sometimes I pray for God’s words rather than my own, because I have no words at all. Often I pray with my breath, reaching out to God as I breathe out, receiving blessing and protection for those in need of prayer as I breathe in. So where does my father enter into all this? His silly laugh would cut through all this serious nonsense and break the tension, or he would tell a story that would make a memory so vivid you would think you were there all over again. He would lift me out of the moment so I could gain more perspective and carry on. Make time today to lift another up in prayer. Ask how you can help make a difference. Trust God to make up the difference when you fall short. Tell a story that brings back a happy memory or make a new memory. Most of all, offer up your fractures, allowing God’s light to shine through the cracks in your heart and soul. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, art entitled ‘Underneath It All’ by David Buckwalter©2018, incorporating art by Leigh Hooper, used with their permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of David’s work, go to https://www.buckwalterphotographyva.com/

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