Reflecting on Expectations….

rileyatdoor by Phil Stone
Not much has been going as you would expect this summer. Even the simplest tasks seem to devolve into costly and time consuming efforts. Yet I keep hearing again and again that I am fortunate and blessed. Somehow our truck engine has not fallen into the street although the engine mount has rusted through. Somehow the garage spring broke into pieces, but only when the door was safely closed. So I was drawn to this photo of Riley at the door, taken by my friend Phil. This photo is humorous and frustrating at the same time. I can imagine Phil attempting to remove the precious stick from Riley’s mouth. Of course the dog would be less than thrilled with that solution. Then he might try to rotate the stick, allowing the dog to hang on but still managing to get him through the door. When that approach didn’t work, Phil just went and got his camera. In June I promised a lifelong friend to pray for her every morning. Once again I began the discipline of reading morning prayer aloud. It may sound weird to read prayers aloud when you are alone, but I find it slows me down and I hear as well as see the scripture appointed for each morning. Once rooted in the Word, I offer specific prayers for others and myself, then gather them together with a prayer for the greatest good and highest healing. There are mornings when these prayers weigh heavily on me, and I cannot see how or when God will answer my prayers. I have been in this place before and allowed that heaviness to dissuade me from my morning discipline. This time there is no turning back. So perhaps these ceaseless iterations to sort out household matters are not what they seem. Perhaps God is looking at me like Phil looked at his silly dog Riley. Perhaps I need that daily discipline to let go of my expectation on how and when God will answer my prayers. I need to let go of the wrong end of the stick, trusting that God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts and God’s ways are higher than my ways. Most of all, I need to be reminded that even when I get it wrong again and again, God abides with me and you and all of us. Make time today to quiet your mind and open your heart to God. Offer earnest and heartfelt prayer in a way that works for you. Draw or write or run or walk. Sit quietly and ponder the wonder of creation. Walk deliberately and with attention, grateful for the miracle of your body in motion. Most of all, pray with the confidence that God abides with us through it all, answering our prayers in spite of our expectations. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Photo entitled Riley at the Door’ by Phil Stone©2016, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Identity….

55 & Vine by Rick MartinThere are days when I wonder who I am. How do I define myself? How do I hold on to who I am in the face of daily personal challenges and bewildering news stories? I keep going back to this intriguing image of an old, rusted Ford Fairlane. The sedan is long past its prime and even the vine attached to it seems to lack life. I joined the military almost forty years ago after a series of poor decisions. I walked away from a full scholarship at the University of Virginia, or perhaps it is better to say I ran away with a truck driver. I chose my heart over my head, for a relationship I thought would last the rest of my life. Instead, I found myself back home with my parents, without that relationship, without my education, without a job. I took a few jobs that paid well and was promoted quickly, only to find I had topped out since I lacked a college education. So I enlisted in the Air Force and headed off to basic training. Fifty women were housed in an open bay barracks. Each of us had a bed, a chair, a narrow closet and two dresser drawers. A corner of the bottom drawer was allotted for ‘personal effects’. Everything else I had brought with me was stored away under lock and key. I kept a box of stationery with family pictures tucked inside. I kept my prayer book. And I kept a favorite cotton shirt I had sewn and embroidered. Over the next six weeks, every waking hour was spent in training. We learned how to dress, how to march, how to fold our clothes. On Sunday morning we could go to church or stay in the barracks and clean. Most gals went to the generic Protestant service. I chose to walk across the post to the Episcopal service, risky business since new recruits were subject to spot inspections and dreaded demerits. By the time I sunk into the pew, soaked with sweat, I wondered what I had been thinking. The first half of that service was a blur. Then they played the communion hymn, ‘Humbly I Adore Thee’. This hymn was the summer favorite at St. Mary’s in Burlington, NJ. My bones know the words to this hymn and I felt an immediate sense of God’s love. I walked back to the barracks humming it. Over the next few days I found myself again, the me I traded away when leaving college. As I became more myself, I found it easier to connect with the fifty women in my unit. We scrubbed the floors singing that hymn, then a country western tune, then a Motown hit. We stopped being fifty separate women and became a single unit. We shared who we were and became more than the sum of our parts. As individuals we were like this rusted out car. Even the vines they tried to lay over us failed to offer connection. It was singing as we worked that brought us together. There are two pieces to the cross. The upright connects us to God. The horizontal connects us to one another. The essence of our humanity is the divine spark in each of us. Yet without connection we simply sputter out and fade away. Make time today to connect with the Holy of Holies. Lay the weariness of the world at God’s feet, then crawl into God’s lap and rest in unending love. Share what feeds your soul with a friend over a cup of coffee or simple lunch. Let go of canned expectations and sensational news. Look beyond the surface and listen to the hearts of those you meet, even when what you hear is uncomfortable. God does not expect us to all be the same yet God loves us all the same. May God grant us the courage to open our hearts and be vulnerable to one another so that we may we love one other just as God loves us. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Photo entitled ’55 & Vine’ by Rick Martin©2016, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Rick’s work, go to http://www.abandonedanddesertedinvirginia.com/.

Reflecting on Birth….

Blooming Beauty by Nicole Mischo
Our visit with my niece and her brand new baby is coming to a close. For the past week my daughter and I have been helping out with the new baby and her toddler big sister. The miracle of new life is awe inspiring. So I was drawn to this amazing art by my friend Nicole. Our fragile bodies are made of the same stuff as the stars. We begin as a hope and a prayer, because two people love one another. Through that love, God allows us to participate in his creation and a new soul is born. Nicole captured this miracle in her art. The Divine Feminine breathes in stardust and breathes out the beauty of creation. The mystery of birth plays out in the dance of mixed genes, creating one beautiful combination after another. This baby is very different from her older sister. She favors her father’s looks while her sister favors my niece. The shape of their faces and their coloring is different. Yet just when you think you have figured it out, another feature catches your eye. I see my daughter’s feet, and perhaps our family’s ears. Yet in the end, this child, along with all our children, belong to the Creator. Just as we are all called to be stewards of creation, parents are called to be stewards of God’s children. As parents, our job is to guide our children into the path God has prepared for them. Children are not meant to follow our dreams or complete our unfinished business. As I hold this beautiful baby, I pray for blessing and protection over her while I pray for wisdom and discernment as the days and years ahead unfold. May God give me the grace to be present to her growth, opening my heart and mind to see her through God’s eyes, rather than my own. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Art entitled ‘Blooming Beauty’ by Nicole Mischo©2016, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Depth….

Tree of Life by Jeanne
The soil is tough to work in this part of Virginia. The clay and the rocks form a natural concrete, only softened by slow and steady rains. You garden on nature’s schedule rather than your own, outdoors in the damp and cool rather than on warm and sunny days. Add the century old oaks in our yard, and you find the soil a maze of roots and surprises. Yet there are days when my soul needs to be outside, too weary to bear another day behind a desk. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Jeanne, a friend who passed from this life last summer. A number of people have asked me why these posts have become more infrequent. In pondering Jeanne’s photo, I have found at least part of the answer. Jeanne’s work always challenges me to go deeper, to look beyond the obvious, to ponder the true meaning of her work. When does photography become art? For me, the answer lies in the emotions evoked by the work. Jeanne sent me this image in January 2013, and I am still uncertain I can find words that do justice to what this image means to me. I do know Jeanne has always tapped into the most vivid memories of my childhood, not memories of birthday parties or trips to the beach, but rather solitary memories of me exploring and attempting to understand the world around me. Trees have always fascinated me. Even as a child I can recall digging in the dirt, fascinated by the complexity and length of the roots. I have always had poor eyesight, so the tree most of you see eluded me. Until I got glasses, I thought we drew trees like a cloud because that is how we all saw trees until we got up close. Downed branches were the other way I ‘saw’ a tree. I loved to look at the way the branches divided, then divided again. Yet the branches had nothing on the roots. A mature tree has thousands of leaves, kilometers of roots and hundreds of thousands of root tips. So for every leaf there are a hundred root tips. What we see is only a small fraction of reality. Get up from your desk or sofa to take a walk today. Stop to count the leaves on a single branch. Consider how a hundred roots feed that single leaf. Give thanks for the roots that feed your soul, even the roots for the branches that have fallen away. And always remember, a leap of faith can be reduced to a baby step when we ponder the depth and breadth of nature. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Tree of Life’ by Jeanne Mischo©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Jeanne’s work, go to https://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Notice….

Prim Hook National Wildlife Refuge by Timmy Miller
Nature is a tonic to my soul. Almost twenty five years ago, we moved to Warrenton, VA, hoping to escape the urban sprawl of Fairfax County. I frequently commuted to work through Manassas Battlefield, a beautiful park that preserves nature in commemoration of a Civil War battle. I figured I would have something to look at if I got stuck in traffic. So I was drawn to this photo of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, taken by my friend Timothy on his way to work. Timothy turned aside to take notice, to take in the scene, rather than rushing into his day. As for me, I can’t say I always took the time. In the early days the traffic on my commute would often come to a standstill. I must admit I was rarely as present to my surroundings as I would have hoped. On the way into work, I would run my to-do list over in my head. On the way home, I would worry about picking up my daughter from daycare on time. Yet every so often, there was a glimpse of beauty that penetrated the fog of my daily grind. Usually I had turned off the engine after sitting too long, then lowered the window to get in a bit of fresh air. I would hear a bird, or spot a deer, or notice the redbud has just begun to bloom. In short, I would turn and take notice of what had been waiting for me all along, day in, day out. My heart would ache with awe as the wonder and beauty of nature stripped away the busy-ness of my life. Yes, I know ‘take notice’ is an old fashioned way of speaking, an old fashioned way of being. We can’t be bothered with focusing on one thing at a time. We definitely can’t be bothered with letting down our defenses long enough to allow creation to melt our hearts and seep into our souls. Notice is something we ‘give’ rather than ‘take’. Notice is how we quit a job, once we have stopped being treated as an individual, as someone of worth, as truly unique. We give notice when it is time to move on, rather than simply fade into the sea of sameness and allow our souls to shrink a bit more each day. What if we each took just few minutes each day to ’take notice’? What if we stilled our minds long enough to listen to the beat of our hearts? What if we traced each breath, each gift of life, as it passed through our bodies? It’s time to take notice, here and now. It’s time to turn aside and soak in the everyday miracles rather than rushing on into another busy day. It’s time to take notice before you find this precious life giving you notice and ebbing away one day at a time. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Morning Light’ by Timothy Miller©2016, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Eternal Life….

Drops-001 by Amin Baher
I wrote this post three years ago, after fervent prayer for healing and wholeness. Today is Easter, the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead. So it seems fitting to harken back to answered prayers. Many of you joined me in those prayers, and the young friend we prayed for continues to do well. His physical challenges are many, yet his spirit is bouyant. Such joy in the midst of struggle is what we all seek in this life. Thank you for your prayers for him and his family.

May 9, 2013 – After rain and more rain, the sun is shining this morning. The yard and deck are coated with tree pollen and oak litter. Today the world seems yellow from top to bottom. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Amin, of a single drop suspended in the curl of a withered plant. I love how water takes so many different forms, and forgive the engineer in me, different optical properties. This single drop acts as a lens, capturing the world around it in a perfect, circular reflection. Even when withered, this tendril can support the gift of life, clean, clear water. As the rain drenched the earth this week, many have drenched a dear friend in earnest prayers for healing. When the world seemed withered and bare, and all earthly hope seemed in vain, the Holy of Holies brought back my young friend from the abyss. No, there was more to it than that. A great healing has taken place, a loosing of his soul from a disease even the best and brightest do not understand. Such illness can do far worse than ravage the body. Such illness can cripple the soul. This healing of the soul is what we pray for, first and foremost, the healing that we all need to weather the vagaries of this life, the blessed assurance our mortal span is but a single drop in the ocean of eternal life. At times our lives may be as hard as ice, or as evasive as steam, but we are all still flowing through the river of Creation. Make time today to loosen your soul from the moorings of this life, to turn your heart and your eyes and your ears to the Divine in each and every one of us. Let go of the idea that prayer needs a special place or time, or flowery words. Breathe out ‘Almighty’, breathe in your name. Let your breath, your very being become your prayer. And always remember to give thanks for the abundant life we are offered, moment by moment, one drop at a time. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘A Single Drop’ by Amin Baher ©2012, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Touch….

Icy Evergreen by Kira SkalaIt seems an eternity since the snow and ice coated the foliage and fields. The last snow was just a week ago, foreboding in the early morning, yet gone before noon. Today I took a leisurely walk with my dog Hobbes, enjoying the new life that refuses to be ignored. Yet despite the balmy weather, I find myself drawn to a photo by my dear friend Kira. I love how each pine needle is separately encase in a thin coat of ice, so thin you can see through to the vibrant life that endures the storm. The green of the pine pops out against the dried leaves caught in the branches. How much of what we see here is reflected in our everyday lives? We get stuck into familiar and comfortable patterns, repeating what worked before without thinking. Life goes on yet we persist in a pattern that once worked, but obviously is old and worn. In time life loses its color, its zest, its wonder. Then a friend stops by to tell us about a new beginning. Our hearts swell with contagious excitement, perhaps tainted with a little envy. That excitement fades as they wander off and we wonder why life is passing us by, why not me, why not now? Just when we seem lost in the dried leaves of our own lives, that friend reaches out, touches our arm, ask how we are. We hear and feel their concern, know their apology for going on and on about themselves comes from the heart. They take time out of their new adventure to really listen and our hearts melt. What seemed so stuck, so frozen, so lost, is suddenly found. It seems we need one another to find ourselves, to thaw the ice than individually encases us and isolates us from one another. Make time today to ponder what thrills your heart. Go back to what drives your passion, rather than simply going through the motions. Consider which routines serve you best and which routines drain your energy and your time. Reform or relinquish the old routines, the dried leaves, to make room for vibrant new life. And always remember, all it takes is touch to melt the thickest ice and join us together in new life. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Icy Evergreens’ by Kira Skala©2016, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Frozen….

Ice Bubbles By Sarah GulickLife is full of twists and turns. Sometimes I wonder how things got so mixed up and other times I am simply grateful to have survived. Yet as I ponder my younger days it seems to me I rarely knew the difference at the time. My friend Sarah caught that sentiment in her photo of ice bubbles under the ice. Sarah is out of on the water regardless of the season. She takes amazing photos of the scenery she finds, but most often these close ups are what really inspire me. She pauses to capture the beauty in the details that so many others simply pass by. Her photos often take me back to my youth. I recall deep resentment and frustration at the smallest offenses that led to moody days and restless nights. I recall plunging headlong into the deep end, then wondering how I had gotten in over my head. The only consistent theme I can name is an unwillingness to give up. I forged ahead, certain I could make it all right, certain there had to be a brighter future just around the bend. Yet that stubbornness came at a great cost, not only to me but often to others around me. I would push ahead, push others aside, push myself beyond my own limits. Then I would end up flat on my back in bed, sick in body and spirit. Perhaps God got my attention by making me stop and look up, instead of rushing ahead. It took more time than I care to admit to understand God was there all the time. I simply was too busy to stop and listen. Over the years I learned how to pace myself better, to listen more than I talked, to be more considerate of others. But most of all, I learned that I can only escape repeating my mistakes through prayer ad reflection. I can only gain hindsight if I look back with a heart seeking transformation and redemption. Make time today to consider how your past informs your future. Allow the Holy Comforter to crack through the frozen parts of your heart and soul, to heal you and equip you for the path ahead. Trust the Holy of Holies to set the pace and to guide you along the way. Pray for God’s answer rather than your own, for a way ahead that works for everyone, not just for you. Trust that God works in all things, even the worst things, for the good of those who love Him. And always remember, when we step back to see more than just the ‘I’ in the picture, we allow God to make us better instead of bitter. Text by Connie Chintall©2015, photo entitled ‘Ice Bubbles’ by Sarah Gulick©2016, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Sarah’s creative work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/

Reflecting on Discomfort….

Doodle NosesWalks with our dog Hobbes are shorter and shorter these days. We used to take walks of at least an hour but now he has become old and weary. I must say I walk less without him, if at all. Pets are good at reminding you what is really important, making sure you don’t take yourself too seriously. My friend Jen caught a moment in her regular walks with her dog Oliver in Georgetown. Oliver has a doggie friend I’ll call Simon who makes sure to greet him on their daily walks. Oliver responds by straining against the lease, eager to connect with his less fortunate friend. Oliver in relentless is his greetings, seeking out his friend even though all he knows of Simon is a nose and a paw. Tonight we recall the arrival of our Lord as a tiny baby in a manger. Christ was born in a stable, greeted first by animals. The shepherds, his first human visitors, were people who cared for animals. We also welcome family and friends into our homes, joining together to celebrate and renew our bonds. Yet these gatherings are not always comfortable or relaxed. Old resentments and unresolved arguments can sabotage the most joyous occasions. Our lovely dinner can become dinner theater. When we chose resentment over discomfort, we build a wall that isolates us from those we love. Rather than work through the pain, we convince ourselves it’s just not worth it, why bother, what difference will it make anyway? We think we have hidden the problem, and the person who caused it, behind a nice, tall wall. We think we can just walk by without bothering to acknowledge their existence. Yet that person may not even understand the offense. Perhaps there was no intent to harm, only miscommunication. Make time today to choose discomfort over resentment. Consider how your dog would act in your place. Let go of your grip on the lease and follow. Explain what rubbed you the wrong way and open the gate, rather than simply poking your nose through the gap. And always remember, while discomfort quickly passes, resentment can last a lifetime. Text by Connie Chintall©2015, photo entitled ‘Doodle Noses’ by Jen Ayers©2015, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Jen’s creative work, go to http://kingdomofazuria.com/

Reflecting on Evolution….

Evolve by Claire BishopWe live in a small town. The Main Street is filled with interesting shops and restaurants. The buildings are old and in some sections little more than a shell. You can stand with the sky above you and an old tile floor below you, facing what was once the wall of a shop or restaurant. My young friend Claire captured a commentary on one of these walls. What does it mean to evolve? I’m not talking about whether we descended from monkeys or how long ago dinosaurs walked the earth. I’m talking about you and me, about how we learn and grow over a lifetime. The verb evolve is defined as ‘develop gradually, especially from a simple to a more complex form’. Our opinions change. Over time we view the world in more nuanced or more absolute terms. We listen more often than we speak, seeking to understand a world that changes moment to moment. Each morning I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and guard me, to teach me to understand God’s plan for all of us, not just for me and my little corner of the world. I pray God will abide with me, gently opening my mind and heart each day, only as much as I can handle. Growth and healing go hand in hand. Healing requires vulnerability, a desire to turn over the rocks in our path to look at the worms underneath. Some are boulders that block the way. Others are smooth stones we could just as easily step over. We can only handle a one at a time, if that. There are days, even weeks and months, when we can’t bear to even glimpse at what is under a single rock. Yet if we trust that God has prepared a healing, that God is with us in the journey, we will turn over each rock in His time, not ours. When I think back to the really difficult times in my life, I was turning over way too many stones at one time, rushing forward when I simply needed to be present. During the worst times, I insisted those close to me, those who share my path, rush ahead rather than heal and growth in their own time, in their own way. Make time today to listen to others. Ask questions to open up a dialogue, rather than shut down the conversation. Seek to learn their viewpoint to better inform your own. Look for shades of grey where you once only saw black and white. Let God lead you, step by step, stone by stone, conversation by conversation. And always remember, when we turn over one stone at a time, we can trust God to slowly but surely mold us into the image of Christ. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, photo entitled ‘Evolve’ by Claire Bishop ©2015, All Rights Reserved

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