Reflecting on Devotions….

Dirty Pool by Deb LoveIt’s a mild, breezy morning, and I just returned from walking the dog. Sometimes these walks offer an opportunity for prayer than eludes me otherwise. I struggle with sitting still, and staying silent. It seems easier to quiet my soul when my body in is motion, easier to grasp the vastness of the Creator when nature surrounds me. It’s the time of year when the trees have shed the last of their leaves. So I was drawn to this photo of a pool with newly fallen leaves by my friend Deb. Each leaf is still distinct, intact. Some of the leaves still float on the surface, yet to fall to the bottom. No one likes the chore of clearing the leaves. I don’t know about you, but I have plenty of good and not so good reasons to procrastinate. It’s too cold, I’m too tired, I would rather play than work. And unfortunately, the leaves do not wait. More and more leaves fall, and before long begin to rot. It seems to me that my morning devotions are a lot like clearing leaves from the pool. Note I said morning devotions, not daily devotions. I manage to carve out prayer time most days, but I cannot claim to reserve time each day to pray. Yet my aspiration to pray each day drives my discipline of devotions. Perhaps devotion is a word that has gone out of fashion, more often applied to love affairs than to prayer. We speak of parents or spouses being devoted to their loved ones. I find it difficult to remain present to those I love, to those who share my home and heart, without devotion, first and foremost, to the Holy of Holies. This practice has evolved over many years, and across many seasons of life. At first I waded in, lucky to carve out a few minutes of intentional prayer. When my daughter was little, I would pray in the parking lot, when I arrived at work. Isn’t my spontaneous prayer enough? It is, and isn’t. My spontaneous prayers were demands more than devotions. Instead of being with my Lord, I was simply asking for what I wanted. My morning devotions orient my actions, ease my burdens, and lighten my spirit. When I am diligent with prayer, the leaves of my life are swept away before they fall into the depths. My soul is stirred up, and cleared out. I see life less as a series of fragmented events and more as a seamless journey. I am more likely to respond, less likely to react, most likely to accept rather than judge. Make time today to stir the depths, to cleanse your heart and renew your soul. Pause to pray for clarity, with or without words. Allow the Holy Spirit to clear away discouragement, doubt, and despair. And always remember, when we sweep away our own fallen and rotting leaves, we stop judging and begin to see ourselves and one another more clearly through the eyes of the heart. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘Dirty Pool’ by Deb Love ©2013

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Reflecting on Empathy ….

Alone on a Rainy Evening taken on May 8th, 2012 by Kira SkalaIt’s a beautiful, bright autumn morning here in Virginia. Even in November, we are blessed with mild days, when the sun warms the air and tempts you to do without an overcoat. On days like today, I wish my garden included more fall flowers. All that remains is a single rose. So I was drawn to this lovely photo taken by my friend Kira one spring evening from her front porch. We can see a single wild columbine in the foreground, in sharp focus, with others very close by but also very blurry. I love how the blossoms bow down under the weight of the rain, bending but not breaking. Perched on springy branches, these gentle flowers seem poised to take flight. Yet this bloom has separated from the rest, perhaps carrying a heavier burden, or too proud to ask for help. How do we reach out to others in pain, often suffering more than we can begin to imagine? Do we wait until they ask for help? Do we call and leave it at that? Perhaps we look to insert ourselves into the situation, to feel their pain, to walk a mile in their shoes. There was a time when I thought such empathy was the highest calling, when my pride and ego insisted I knew what another was feeling, and worst yet, what they needed. Now I wonder if any of us truly knows another’s pain. When we place ourselves in another’s shoes, it becomes about us instead of about them. What if empathy feeds the ego, rather than helping the other? What if empathy is an obstacle to true compassion, a way to stay in control when life seems to spiral out of control? A lifeguard begins to help by throwing in a red and white ring, then offering a pole from poolside. Only when all else fails does the lifeguard jump into the water. It takes a respectful distance to help others, working from a place of strength and stability. Once we jump in, we may be asking too much of ourselves to be able to help another. Our desire for empathy may crowd out our compassion and sympathy. Make time today to reach out to others in pain or distress. Resist the temptation to take charge, to assume you know what is going on, or how the other person feels. Simply offer to walk with them on their journey, doing as much or as little as required. Humbly complete the tasks you are given, trusting in God’s economy to provide the rest. And always remember, when we lean on God’s strength and compassion, rather than relying on our own, each of us is capable of offering a ray of sunshine in the midst of a storm. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, photo entitled ‘All Alone on a Rainy Evening’ by Kira Skala ©2013

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