Reflecting on Unconditional Love….

It’s another rainy day, a good time to slow down and be lazy. It’s been almost two weeks since we returned from a youth retreat, and I can’t get one of the songs out of my head. So I was drawn to this unusual photo of Parfait and baby bunnies, taken by the folks at Rocky Ridge Refuge. Parfait is often featured in their photos, an example of a gentle dog that most folks misunderstand and often fear. In my experience, dogs aren’t born mean. Dogs learn to be mean because of how their owners treat them. This pitbull mix is about as far as you can imagine from the aggressive, antagonist animal bred to win money in illegal dog fights. Parfait is so gentle she wouldn’t even hurt a baby bunny. The high school students gathered at Shrine Mont for the weekend retreat were a lot like Parfait. Almost 120 students gathered from across the diocese to praise God and learn about unconditional love. The theme of the weekend was 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul’s great epistle on love. Some students headed on retreat rather than attend their high school proms; others gave up concert tickets or sports events. Yet what amazed me most was how these youth embodied unconditional love. Rather than expecting one another to conform to an artificial standard, this group accepted one another for who they were. By the end of the weekend, the whole group was joyously singing this song:

Unconditional Love

We know a place
where God’s people can run free
a new kind of love
and we call it agape

Don’t take too long to find
true love transcends all time
that non-reacting, everlasting love

Give me your unconditional love
the kind of love I deserve
the kind I want to return

Give me your unconditional love
the kind of love I deserve
the kind I want to return

Don’t try to change or tear your
brother down
let him make his mistakes
and he will come around
hasten just to pray and God’s true
Word to obey
in non-reacting, everlasting love

Give me your unconditional love
the kind of love I deserve
the kind I want to return

Give me your unconditional love
my torn heart to discern
this agape love to learn

Take time today to accept those you encounter for who they are, rather than who you expect them to be. Meet one another in peace, aspiring to offer the everlasting love that pours down from God the Father. Pray for the Holy Spirit to drench you, to teach you how to love one another as Christ loved us, to offer one another unconditional love. And remember, we all have days when we’re the pitbull, and days when we’re the baby bunny. Lyrics by Michael Omaritan and Donna Summer; Photo by Rocky Ridge Refuge, to learn more, go to http://rockyridgerefuge.com/; Retreat by Parish Youth Ministries (PYM), to learn more, go to http://diovayouth.wordpress.com/pym-101/

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Reflecting on Companions….

It’s a cold, grey day filled with steady rain. I rarely get much accomplished on days like this, preferring to curl up with a book or let my mind wander to other times and places. So I was drawn to this photo of a father and daughter by my friend Luis. I love the beautiful clouds and setting sun, and how this pair has stopped to soak in the scenery. They are together, but separate, not needing to say anything at all. They chose to simply share the same experience, basking in the glory of God’s creation. I recall a walk on the beach with my father, long, long ago. Sometimes Daddy would take me with him to work on Saturday mornings. I would occupy myself with a coloring book while the engineers puzzled over a particular problem. If I managed to be quiet and patient, I was rewarded with an adventure. One warm spring day, I asked Daddy to take me to the beach. We headed for Sandy Hook, a barrier peninsula at the northern tip of the New Jersey shore. Not long after we arrived, the weather turned windy and cold. Now most parents would have simply turned around and gone home. Instead, Daddy wrapped me in a blanket and we headed down to the beach, spotting birds and watching the sea turn wild. Just when we thought it was too cold to bear, the clouds parted, softly reflecting the setting sun. How often are we tempted to turn back, to let a little wind or rain stop us in our tracks? Yet when we persevere, holding fast to our promises, we may find ourselves basking in God’s glory. Take time today to recall what it means to be loved, a time when you stopped to enjoy another’s company, a time without words. Make an out of the way place your own, a place of companionship and joy, a place to be with God. And remember, neither time nor distance can diminish such memories, or destroy such love. Photo entitled ‘Companions’ by Luis Gonzalez, ©2012, used with his permission

Reflecting on Hope….

A slow, soaking rain is washing away the pollen and watering the lovely spring bulbs. The lily of the valley collect the rain on their arched stems, leaning a little more than usual. So I was drawn to this amazing photo of a snake’s head fritillary, taken by my new friend Alana. I love the muted patterns of this flower, the traces of green that still remain on the unopened bulb. Like the lily of the valley, the opened bloom will draw its stem into a graceful arch, too heavy to remain upright. The patterns will become even more vibrant, even more brilliant shades of purple. What we see now is a promise of things to come, a glimpse of what is possible in the days ahead. We are poised between a beginning and ending, unsure of what impact our choices may make, seeking the best way ahead, with limited vision and insight. The patterns of our past may shade our view of the future, color our perceptions of what should be. Each change affects us, altering our lives in ways we may not understand at the time. Yet if we embrace change, if we hold fast to hope, our lives grow into more than we can imagine. Take time today to ponder the patterns of your life, to nurture your hopes and dreams. Pray to see through God’s eyes and hear through God’s ears, trusting the Holy of Holies has prepared the path ahead, the perfect path, just for you. Rest assured that the Author of Creation is walking beside you, no matter how lost you may feel, waiting to gently keep you on track. And remember, when we let go of the pale patterns of the probable, even more vivid shades of the possible burst forth, tracing our lives into a graceful arch. Photo entitled ‘Purple Patterned Flower’ by mylittleleaf, ©2012. To see more of Alana’s work, go to http://thelittleleaf.net/

Reflecting on Water….

It’s so dry that the clay in my yard is turning to dust. The endless streams of pollen from our blooming trees are mixing with that dust, turning everything the brightest shade of yellow. It’s funny how we take some things for granted until they are in short supply, like water. So I was drawn to this amazing photograph by my friend Jeanne, showing water flowing from the base of a stone structure, slowly filtering into the cloudy pool below. Water is how I think of the Holy Spirit. When life becomes overwhelming, I pray for God to pour down his Holy Spirit, to drench me, to wash away the dust of life that clings to my skin. I recall drinking well water out of a metal cup as a small child, coming in from the heat of the day after playing outside. The sweet and slightly metallic taste of pure, cold water refreshed me better than anything. Perhaps God’s love is like that long, cool drink of water. We wander off to work or play, immersed in our endless activities, until we are overcome by thirst. Sometimes we seek to quench that thirst with worldly things, becoming more and more lost, less and less satisfied. We may even begin to doubt in God’s love, perhaps even wonder if God exists at all. Yet God remains, steadfast, faithful to the end. Take time today to turn again, to seek out God’s face, to open our hearts to His love, a love that was, and is, and always will be, a love without beginning or end. Take a long, cool drink of that love, allowing the Holy Spirit to drench your heart and cleanse your soul. And remember, just like water, God’s love is everywhere, always waiting for us to return, no matter how lost or busy we become. Photo entitled ‘Water Study’ by Jeanne Mischo, ©2012

Reflecting on the Resurrection….

The Eastern Redbud outside my kitchen window has seen better days. Ice from the winter before last lobed off the main trunk, leaving behind a lopsided tree that looks more like a bonsai than a redbud. Last summer we decided to give it another chance, and this spring we are reaping the rewards of that decision. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Cecilia. Rather than focus on the blooms, Cecilia captured the beauty of the first few leaves. I love how this single heart shaped leaf is in sharp focus, while the brightly colored blooms blur into the background. It’s easy to be tempted by the radiant beauty of flowers, a beauty that quickly fades away. We fuss over the bright display, happy for a new beginning, and soon tire of looking when the blooms fall and leaves unfold. Yet look at what we are missing. Each and every one of these newly formed leaves is shaped like a tiny heart. The new life that has replaced the old comes from a deeper place, a steadfast love, emerging after experiencing the adversity of winter. Perhaps we are blessed with flowering trees to help us understand the resurrection of our Lord. The disciples did not recognize the Risen Christ, until He called them by name. New life had emerged from the tomb, yet this life did not resemble the Christ who died on the cross. Take time today to look for new life all around you, in unexpected shapes and forms. Consider the miracle of an unfolding leaf that began growing during the cold of winter. Let go of the flashy blooms and dig more deeply into the heart of life, seeking a sustained growth, a greater miracle. And remember, no matter how lopsided life may become, the Author of Creation is waiting to give us not just a second chance, but chance after chance, until we live into the Resurrection. Photo entitled ‘The Heart of the Redbud’ by Cecilia Carr

Reflecting on the Cross….

We still have a huge pile of dried branches and leaves in our yard, a pile we had hoped to burn last winter during a hard freeze. A remnant of last year’s growth remains in the midst of the blooming bulbs and flowering trees. So I was drawn to this amazing art by my friend Jeanne, creating a cross from a variety of photos. At first all I noticed the tangle of dried branches in the center. Then my eyes were drawn to the shifting tides that cap the cross. Jeanne’s art always challenges me to look beyond the obvious, and this stunning work was no exception. I was far from comfortable with a cross drained of life, a seemingly random mass of chaos. Yet the more time I spent with this image, the more I began to see the shifting tides in the dried branches. What the world may dismiss as dead and gone is seldom the end of the story. On that first Good Friday, they crucified our Lord, tying him to a cross at Golgotha, the place of the skull. The disciples were lost and dismayed, uncertain of what their future would hold. Yet there was so much more waiting for them, more than what one single body could hold. Take time today to consider new beginnings and possibilities, looking for new life in what may appear to be a tangle of old branches. Through the cross, go beyond what you know to consider what can be. Trust God has provided a path for you to walk in, even when there may not seem to be a human way out of a situation. And remember, all things are possible with Christ, who conquered sin and death on the cross, and who returns again and again, like the shifting tides. Art entitled ‘Cross and Tides’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2012

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