Reflecting on Presence….

This morning I spent longer than usual outdoors, waiting for the school bus with my five year old friend Patrick. It’s delightful to see the world through his eyes, and allow myself to be a child again. So I was drawn to this stunning photo, part of a series called ‘Being with Trees’ by my new friend Heidi Anne. I love the colors of the sky as the sun filters through the trees. The branches remind me of feathers, delicate and lacey. This morning the sun was rising behind us as we stood near the road. Patrick wanted to throw rocks, and it would have been so easy to simply say no. Instead, I said yes and made a game out of it. We both turned around to face away from the road, and into the sun. While Patrick returned gravel lost in the lawn back onto the driveway, I took into the beautiful view. I don’t know about you, but being present is challenging. There are days when the cares and concerns of this life clamor for my attention, pulling me this way and that. I can so easily convince myself to rush from one task to another, hoping for a few quiet moments at the end of the day. Then there are days like today, when I find those quiet moments in the midst of the most mundane errands. A child doesn’t need scheduled activities or expensive toys – a few pieces of gravel can easily become a delightful matching game. The quiet we so vainly seek may be found in the joyful noise of a child, fully present to what life brings each moment, each and every day. Take time today to seek quiet contemplation amidst the busy-ness of life. Notice the sky and scenery, or perhaps the faces of those around you, allowing their voices to meld together and blend into the background. Seek to be present to all that life brings your way, without judgment as to what is or is not important. And remember, sometimes all it takes to be present is to say yes, and turn around. Photo by Heidi Anne Morris, used with her permission, to see more of her photos, visit http://www.redbubble.com/people/heidiannemorris

Reflecting on Majesty….

It’s a mild winter morning, a refreshing change from the weather in Pittsburgh last weekend. The journey winds through the Allegheny Mountains, with abrupt shifts in temperature and precipitation. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo by my friend Carole, taken on a similar road trip over the holidays. I love how the sun is setting just around the bend as the clouds are hugging the hills. The tiny headlights are barely visible in comparison with the vast light show in the sky. All of our human effort is but a speck when compared with the ultimate power and sovereignty of God. We limit ourselves when we only consider what is possible through our own efforts. We may become overwhelmed by the endless details and frustrations of our current situation. We may seek the quick, easy solution, or rush to make a decision, rather than allowing matters to unfold in God’s time. We may settle for the safe, sensible path ahead, rather than trusting that God has prepared more than we can imagine or hope for. Take time today to step back, to make room for God, to soak in the majesty and glory of our Creator. Turn away from the headlights that seek to obscure your vision of God’s path ahead. And remember, no matter how dark the valley maybe, the Son is waiting for you right around the next bend. Photo by Carole Buckwalter ©2012, used with her permission

Reflecting on the Calm After the Storm….

It’s a cold, clear morning, with temperatures expected to hover around freezing throughout the day. We’re expecting sleet and snow by nightfall, the sort of wintery mix that wreaks havoc with the traffic. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo of bamboo and bells at sunset by my new friend Sloop. I love how the sky is filled with a warm glow, silhouetting the hills and oriental feel of his garden. It’s hard to say if you are in the Caribbean or someplace even more exotic. I doubt Sloop has to worry about sleet, or traffic for that matter. Although St John’s doesn’t experience our winters, a single hurricane can devastate whole communities. This peaceful, serene setting can be easily transformed by a howling, raging storm. In years gone by, I frequently traveled to the panhandle of Florida for work. I experienced more than one hurricane, and was surprised by the force of the storms. Rain worked its way through the seams around the windows, leaving standing water on the floors. Picnic tables were blown over, bending umbrella stands like toothpicks. Newly planted landscaping simply vanished in the wind. Yet the next morning all was calm and peaceful, as if the entire world had been washed clean. Take time today to give thanks for all that life brings you, the storms and the calm. Pray for the storms to wash away the old bark and dead wood, to make room for new growth. Allow the rain to wash your heart and soul, let go of old hurts, make room for new love. When your own words fail you, say the prayer of St Julian of Norwich, ‘All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well’. And remember, even after the worst hurricane, there is always the calm after the storm. Photo by Sloop Jones, http://sloopjones.com/

Reflecting on Sway….

It’s a bright, blustery morning, and this is the view out of my office window. Our home is surrounded by hundred year old oaks, swaying and dancing in the wind. On days like today, I am always surprised at how much motion is possible for such thick and mighty trees. Toward the end of my father’s life, he was frightened by the trees moving like this, and would sometimes ask us to draw the blinds. We would have to reassure him like you would a small child, letting him know he was safe and sound. We are careful to fell dangerous trees before the winter sets in, so we are as safe as possible. Yet we never really know what life may bring. Times change, our health may fail, we may even lose loved ones in the flash of an eye. Simply the stresses of day to day living may be enough to grind us down. We must take time to stretch toward the light and drive our roots deep into the ground. Then when the swift winds of change seek to topple us over, we can remain strong. Take time today to dance with the wind, to pull yourself up into the light. Root your feet firmly on the ground, drawing from the core of your being, your beliefs and values. And remember to sway with the wind, because to weather the worst storms, we must be flexible to be strong. Photo by Connie Chintall, with video of swaying trees at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o4FEcpsoH24&feature=youtu.be

Reflecting on Consequences….

It’s a flat, grey day, with raindrops making music on the window panes. So I was drawn to this amazing artwork by my friend Jeanne, a photograph enhanced by her deft touch. It seems the sky has become a pale stained glass, splittered into shades of blue and white. The wood could be branches or roots, or a bit of both. The hints of bright color draw our eyes past the wood, and we are left to wonder what lies beyond. How often do we allow ourselves to get caught up in the immediate, swayed by a false sense of urgency? We rush to react, rather than taking the time to thoughtfully consider the best response to the current situation. We speak out in anger, saying things we wish we could take back later. In our haste, relationships suffer at the expense of results. We close doors that we wish could remain open, and after too many missteps, may be barred and locked. Each action has a consequence, perhaps not visible today, or even tomorrow. Each choice sets us down a path, and closes off another alternative. It’s easy to get lost, one step at a time. Yet it is just as easy to slowly find your way back. Take time today to thoughtfully respond to what life brings your way. Slow down and allow yourself to consider the possible consequences of your actions. Ask yourself what you might do in the same situation, suspending judgment and carefully choosing your words. And remember, sometimes the most compassionate response is simply a silent embrace. Artwork entitled ‘Axis Mundi’ by Jeanne Mischo, ©2011, used with her permission

Reflecting on Focus….

It’s a cold, clear morning after a week of snow and rain. The weather has been alternating between winter and spring, sometimes in the same day. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo of Kourion Beach in Cyprus taken by my new friend Tomasz. I love the contrast between the frothy surf at low tide and the storm clouds rolling in from the horizon. The blond boulders stand out against the dark pebbles and sand, echoing the shapes of the clouds above. Yet the surf seems serene while the clouds seem menacing. It can be difficult to focus on the peace that lies beneath our feet when storm clouds gather overhead. Each day offers a strange mixture of experiences, some pleasant, some awkward, some downright awful. We can choose to focus on the unpleasant, allowing disappointment to overshadow even the most delightful parts of our day. Or we can allow the delight to outshine even our most outrageous experiences. I know, saying it and doing it are two very different things. That’s true, if we simply seek a human solution. It’s only when we suspend judgment, and trust in the sovereignty of God, that we can see past the difficulties of life and open our hearts to give thanks. Take time today to focus on the simple blessings of life. Call a friend to just talk, or offer to help another in need. Allow the Holy Spirit to fill you with each breath in, and release anxiety with each breath out. And remember, when we see the world through a grateful heart, we find peace right beneath our feet. Photo by Tomasz Huczek, to see more of his photos, go to http://tomasz.cc/

Reflecting on Memory….

The morning is damp and grey, and the clay soil is spongy from all the melted snow. As the New Year begins, I seem to float between the past and present, considering what has changed in the last year and what lies ahead. So I was drawn to this fabulous artwork, entitled ‘As if in a Distant Memory’ by my friend Jeanne. I love how the colors blend into one another, interacting and altering elements of the picture. I am always surprised at how the same experience is recalled in such different ways by different people. We may think we are all sharing the same experience, yet how it affects each of us is unique. We may be limited in our perspective by past wounds, or influenced by personal expectations or prejudices. One experience shades another, or blocks our ability to enjoy the present. What we had hoped to put behind us emerges once again. It seems that letting go is like peeling an onion, one layer at a time. Take time today to consider how the past affects your view of the present. Step back and allow your view to broaden, to let go of expectations and judgment. Rather than allowing the past to affect today, let each new experience slowly heal the wounds of your past. And remember, when we are gentle with ourselves and others, even difficult memories become like this watercolor. Art by Jeanne Mischo ©2011, used with her permission

Reflecting on Resolution….

A wet, heavy snow fell most of the afternoon yesterday. Our yard looks like a fairy land, with snow coating the shrubs and trees. Temperatures are already climbing, so I doubt it will last long. I am always amazed at how much snow our shrubs can hold. I love how the branches form a gentle arch to carry the heavy load. The new year is a time when many make resolutions, vowing to improve themselves by exercising, or eating better, or improving their minds. Yoga must be one of the popular choices, as my regular Monday morning class was packed. Students arrived early to be sure to get a good spot. It seemed odd to find folks anxious about a yoga class. I don’t know about you, but right after Christmas is the worst time to make a change. When the holiday festivities are through, I tend to be a bit blue, remembering those who are no longer with us. The weather makes me wish I were a bear, and could spend the winter hibernating. It also seems like a year is more than I can manage all at once. So I wait until Lent to make a single change, committing to just 40 days. By then, the first of the bulbs are sprouting, and spring is on the way. Some years I barely make it through the first week. Other years, a change becomes part of my daily routine and may even take on a life of its own. Last year, I started writing these reflections. What started as something personal and private, to recharge my prayer time, has evolved into this blog. Take time today to consider the best way to make a lasting positive change. Ask yourself if now is the best time, or if Lent might be a better option. Start small and slowly find your way, accepting that there will be false starts and setbacks. Commit to a week or month at first, and see how it goes. And remember, even the tiniest branch can carry more than you could ever imagine, gracefully bending under the heavy load. Photo by Connie Chintall

Reflecting on the Horizon….

It’s milder this morning, and the sky is a brilliant blue. At first glance, it seems there isn’t a cloud in the sky. Then you notice wispy ice clouds overhead, racing with the wind. So I was drawn to this photo of the Opequon River Estuary in Connecticut taken by my friend David. I love how the deep red sky is reflected in the water. It feels like you can see forever, as if the horizon were pushed back further than you could imagine possible. I don’t know about you, but such beauty stops me cold. Sometimes I am uncertain how long I remain gazing at such a sight. I get lost in the swirls of the ice clouds, as the color slowly changes with the rising sun. My first assignment in the military was in the desert in Nevada, working night shift on the flight line. That shift allowed me to see the sun rise and set almost every day for three years. The skies in the desert are amazing, full of color and strange light, sometimes reflecting off the mica in the desert sand. Even the toughest guys would be stopped in their tracks during sunrise. Take time today to gaze at the horizon, to look beyond the here and now. Let go of the limits of this life and whatever hems you in. Allow the Almighty to show you a way out of your current situation, a way beyond mere human conception. And remember, what seems impossible to us is but a little thing to the same God that offers us infinite beauty at the start of each new day. Photo by David Buckwalter ©2011, used with his permission

Reflecting on Bread….

Yes, that’s snow in Old Town Warrenton. After such a mild Christmas week, cold, arctic air arrived with a vengeance last night. We awoke to find a very grey morning, followed by a dusting of snow. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Cecilia. I love how the streetlights seem to twinkle amidst the falling snow. Christmas lights adorn the street lamps and wrought iron fencing in the church yard. Then of course, there is the clapboard sign, in front of our newest bakery, the Great Harvest Bread Company. On a morning when most of us would rather sleep in, Pablo has already been baking for a number of hours. I can imagine myself sitting at one of the tables by the window, enjoying a cup of coffee and a slice of warm bread, while looking out at the cold and snow. It’s hard to say what is more magical, the snow or the bread. For centuries, bread has been a symbol of the body in the Jewish and Christian traditions. The Jewish people made unleavened bread when fleeing captivity in Egypt, and during Passover each year to remember God’s faithfulness. Each Sunday during communion, Christians consider bread the body of Christ, recalling the Last Supper and celebrating the new life possible through salvation. In both traditions, the faithful remember into the now, embracing the mystery of God’s eternal love, a love without beginning or end. Take time today to consider God’s love in the simple, ordinary things of life. Pause to give thanks for your bread, simple yet complex, the fruit of the labor of many. Seek to see your current situation through God’s eyes, enfolded in God’s steadfast love. And remember, no matter what you face today, new life is always possible through the same God who conquered sin and death on the cross. Photo by Cecilia Carr

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