Reflecting on the View….

Swaying Aspens by Adrienne O'Hara
Watercolor has always fascinated me. It requires patience and talent, or perhaps a cultivation of both. I love to linger over a beautiful view, yet my talents do not allow me to capture that scene through art. My dear friend Adrienne recently took up watercolor, and this is the result of one of her initial efforts. You can see she casually took a photo of her work, not worrying if the piece was exactly square. Perhaps that is really what art is all about – letting go of the need to be ever so tidy and neat. She abandoned her notion of what she saw and let the scene flow into her eyes and out through her hands onto the paper. I can almost see the aspens swaying in the wind. This watercolor reminds me of our time in England. My daughter started school there and I was fortunate to spend many lovely days on field trips with her class. Sometimes we would visit a small museum or a business, the sort of field trip we are used to here in the United States. Then one beautiful spring morning we took a walk in the woods with a picnic lunch. We walked for a long time until we came upon a bend in the creek. The forest floor was carpeted in wildflowers and the leaves and grass were that amazing bright green of new growth. The teacher asked the children to find a view they liked and to take out their sketchbooks. She had made similar requests at the museums we visited. Pick something you really like and sketch it. She believed we captured the essence of what we saw by lingering over it, by using our hands to secure it in our minds. There was serious learning in museum sketches but what was today about? Leave it to the English to fold serious learning into a walk in the woods. The other chaperone was an avid gardener, no, more than that, an amateur botanist. Soon I could see not only sketches, but also the Latin names for each plant at the bottom. Later the children were given the opportunity to watercolor their sketches. Quite an impressive request of second graders, with equally impressive results. My now 25 year old daughter has a degree in architecture and works with a construction company. She models the parts of the building design where there can be conflicts, such as plumbing and electrical. Her work literally helps the team see inside of the walls. I wonder if her career began with those field trips and her sketches. She may not paint, but every day she uses an eye trained to keenly observe the scene at hand. She can see details that elude the rest of us, but perhaps we all can learn to linger a little longer to breathe in the essence of now. Make time today to slow down and soak in your surroundings. Hold open space for the beauty around you, whether it is the whole scene or just a single blade of grass. Allow your prayers to be joined with the prayers of creation, as it is written:

“Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and everything that moves in it” – Psalm 69:34

Most of all, let the same Creator who formed each of us in the womb guide us through the gift of His bountiful creation.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Watercolor entitled ’Swaying Aspens’ by Adrienne O’Hara©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

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 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 the Edge….

Boys on the EdgeIt has been many years since I have lived on the edge. As a young airman working on the flight line in 1978, I was living on the edge in more ways than one. I was one of only two women repairing electronics on fighter aircraft. My pay was so low I couldn’t afford a car. I rode a bicycle to work for over two years. I was taking college courses and working crazy hours because we were on alert from the Iran hostage crisis. That edge wasn’t a cliff or a wall. That edge shifted and snuck up on you, like ocean waves along the shore. So this peaceful photo of my friend Timmy and his son on the beach at Lewes draws me back to times on the edge. Most important of all, it brings me back to other memories of that stage in my life. I recall riding horses in the desert with my friend Rose, the other woman who worked with me. I recall spectacular sunrises over the hills almost every morning. I recall barbequed quail for breakfast after shifts that lasted way too long. It was a time of extremes, a time of strain and struggle, but also a time of intense friendships and great beauty. My military service formed me in ways I still do not fully understand or appreciate. I know the edge when it arrives. I know how to orient myself and push forward when others crumble and fall. Most of all, I know how important it is to take time to walk on the beach and allow the beauty to seep into your soul. Pause to enjoy what life has to offer you here and now, and share that moment of awe and beauty with those you cherish and love. Make a memory that will sustain you the next time you face that edge. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Boys on the Edge’ of Timothy and Sid Miller by Ingrid Miller©2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

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 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 Relentless….

Heading Home by Jeanne MischoI often find myself caught in my own little world. I miss the obvious because all I can see is what I already know. My mind fills in the answer before the question is asked. This photo really brings home that message. For a long time, all I saw was the veins of the eye. I worked on lasers in the military, so part of my annual physical was a photo of my eyes. Each year the powers that be had to determine if my eyes were still intact. The doctor would shine an awful light into my eyes then take the photo. My medical records contained writing on the right, and a photo of my eyes on the left. It seemed part and parcel of every doctor visit. Fortunately for me, my friend Jeanne took this amazing photo of a tree with the moon in the sky above. I can imagine her lying on the ground to get the proper perspective. I wonder if she used a flash, or if a street light has lent its glow. I love the depth and intricacy of the branches, the way the tree divides and then divides itself again. It seems the tree is inviting us into another world, a world of our imagination, a world separate from our earthbound reality. On this Maundy Thursday, we celebrate the humility of our Lord. Christ washes the feet of the disciples, despite the protests of Peter, despite everything we are and were and will be. God draws us in, again and again, relentlessly seeking communion. After countless rejections of his prophets and angels, God sends his own Son to reconcile us to him. God becomes man to be one with us, to experience all that this life offers. Make time today to step out of the comfortable. Let go of the familiar and let in the annoying, the perplexing, yes, even the startling. Hold open a space that makes room for growth and greater understanding. Lie down when you would rather stand up. Step aside when you would rather rush ahead. Look up and around rather than keeping your head down. And always remember, when we open our minds before we open our eyes, we embrace the relentless intimacy and endless possibility of our all loving God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015. Photo entitled ‘Heading Home’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013, to see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Nature….

Pierce by Heart by Rob Sarch Oct 2014This time of year always gets so busy. From now until after Christmas our time and attention become more and more divided. We lose the ability to enjoy the here and now. Before we know it we have become numb to the core. So I was drawn to this photo of my sister Lana on a recent trip to Sedona. Her husband Rob caught the awe and wonder of the place. That’s Cathedral Rock in the background, but perhaps the true sacred space is where they are standing. Such beauty stops us cold and demands our attention. Our hearts burst open with joy, warmed and nourished by the wonder of creation. God could have made a world out of black and white squares, yet instead, choose to create beauty, stunning, awe inspiring beauty. When our daughter Tori was a toddler, she started the Lord’s Prayer like this, “Our Father, who does art in heaven, Howard is thy name”. We started to correct her, only to realize her mistake reflected a greater truth. Perhaps this wild, wonderful beauty is a reflection of the divine nature of God and the eternal light of our souls. Grace abounds when we hold open a space, make room for mystery, cling fast to hope. That grace is often unpredictable, arresting, surprising, and yes, transforming. We need time apart in wild places to be reminded of who we really are, children of the Most High. John Muir says it best.

‘Keep close to nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.’

Make time today to look beyond those lists and appointments, and allow yourself to become lost in wonder at God’s creation. Take a walk in a local park or a paddle on a local creek. Keep a photo of a recent trip on your desk or as the wallpaper on your computer. Open your heart to that experience today when the rush and routine becomes more than you can bear. And always remember to look at nature through the eyes of a child and give thanks to Howard for the art. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘Pierce the Heart’ by Rob Sarchiapone ©2014

Reflecting on Stardust….

Star Gazing by Tomasz HuczekWe are expecting a very cold, very clear night after another long day of snow. It’s been a brutal winter and I long for spring to arrive. So I was drawn to this magical photo by my friend Tomasz. I love the velvet green pastures and the winding road that leads us to the edge of a sleepy village. Without street lights to wash out the sky, the stars seem so bright that you could just reach up and grab a handful. The cedar of Lebanon shelters the home in the foreground, so much more prominent than anything man has placed in this scene. Yet even this vast and majestic tree cannot compete with our attention for the stars in the sky. Perhaps we yearn for the stars because we are made of stardust. Yes, literally made of stardust. It’s not a line from a poem or a fanciful notion. Every atom except hydrogen has been created through the nuclear fusion of the stars, stars that came into being at the creation of the universe and flung matter across the galaxies light years away. The early universe expanded after the Big Bang for only 3 seconds before it cooled to a state where subatomic particles assembled into atoms. Science and faith may be odds for some folks, but for me science fuels my awe and reverence for the Holy of Holies. The Creator gave us a beautiful and elegant universe where the tiniest of the tiny parallels the largest of the large, light that is both wave and particle, bodies that contain flesh and bone and soul. Is it any surprise that our bodies as God’s temples are made from stardust? Would anything less serve as a fitting vessel for the immanent God that dwells within us, as close as our breath yet as vast as the universe? Make time today to soak in the elegance and beauty of creation. Bundle up and venture out into the cold, clear night to gaze at the stars, to wonder at the majesty of creation, to humbly give thanks for our bodies and souls. Turn your eyes and your hearts to the source of simple blessings, warm homes, dry beds, full bellies. And always remember, when the vagaries of this life consume us, the night sky remains to remind us we are precious Children of God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, Photo entitled ‘Star Gazing’ by Tomasz Huczek ©2013, to see more of his photos, go to http://tomasz.cc/, or check out  the video “We are Stardust” – A Symphony of Science at   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8g4d-rnhuSg

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