Reflecting on Generosity of Spirit….

There is nothing more spectacular than watching the stars near the water. Time seems to stand still as your eyes adjust to the darkness. Sounds drift across the waves and offer soothing background music to the sights of night sky. This photo was taken by a new friend Audrey Geddes. She look a long exposure photo to sharpen and brighten the stars, with the goal of capturing the Big Dipper over Batso Lake. Later when she took a second look at the photo, she found the comet Neowise along the horizon. I have spent most mornings the past two months contemplating this photo, mostly lost in wonder, awed by the majesty of creation. While my prayer time greatly benefited, I found it difficult to put into words what I saw. Then a few weeks ago, my husband and I were able to attend an outdoor church service. It is the first time we have been able to worship in person in almost six months.

The Gospel for that Sunday (Matthew 16:21-28) is frankly a reading I have struggled with for years. It’s yet another story about how the disciples just don’t get it. This time around the stakes are higher than ever. Jesus is explaining he must go to Jerusalem and suffer. When Peter objects, Christ rebukes him, saying ‘Get behind me, Satan!’. This is the same Peter who denies Christ after the crucifixion, yet that is not the end of the story. He later becomes the rock on which the church is built. What really struck home for me this time was a simple line from the sermon: ‘God is the only one who sees the entire truth’. The whole story is turned on its head when you start with that in mind!

How often do we congratulate ourselves on widening our perspectives, being open minded, giving others the benefit of the doubt? The bottom line is no matter how hard we try, we cannot expand our perspective to even a tiny fraction of what God can perceive in a split second. Like Audrey, we think we are going out to look at the Big Dipper. We may even wait and wait while the camera collects all the light it can. Then when we take a second look there is this amazing comet on the horizon.

God offers us much more than we are capable of taking in. We can look, then look again, perhaps ask others to look with us. Yet we are no better than the blind men each describing an elephant by the just the part they can touch. There is a generosity in God’s provision that overflows any cup, spilling out into unexpected places, adding surprises and delights beyond our imagining.

We offer up what we can to the Lord in response. Generosity is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. I have entitled this post generosity of the spirit, because just the word generosity is so often associated with money. We give something because we expect something in return, perhaps just a thank you or tax deduction, but usually at least something.

Generosity of spirit is much more than that. When we are filled with the spirit, we openly and willingly offer our gifts without expecting  anything in return. We recognize that we do not own what we have; we are simply stewards of what God has given us. We give solely for the joy of giving.

Make time today to look beyond the central focus. Consider what God has given you and offer thanks for the blessings of this life. Let go of the need to know the whole truth, trusting God is showing you what you need to know right now and is taking care of the rest. Be alert for the fleeting beauty in the midst of the eternal, the little gifts of being present to the Now. Most of all, open up your prayers, knowing God has prepared more for us than we can begin to imagine or know to ask for.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Quote from sermon by Dr. Peter Gustin, 14th Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Photo entitled ‘Big Dipper, Little Comet’ by Audrey Geddes©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more photos of the Pines,  go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

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 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 Notice…

Look Up by Jen AyersEaster has come and gone and our yard is full of blooms. I find myself noticing familiar bulbs and volunteers transplanted by the wind as I walk the dog in the early morning. Yet I discover the unexpected under my feet more often than above my head. I wonder if I would have noticed this extravagant flower arrangement over the entrance to Christ’s Church in Georgetown on Easter Sunday. Fortunately my good friend took this photo, most likely while carrying her new baby Lily. How often do we find ourselves in a rush, charging forward with our heads down, focused only on our destination? How much beauty escapes our gaze as we strain to look ahead? Even my grocery shopping can be fraught with folks in a hurry. Every time I shop at the grocery store on the DC side of town, someone runs into the back of my heels with their cart. Now I know I am a very slow shopper, stopping to read labels and check prices. Yet I still amazed at how often folks are shocked to have run into me, only noticing I am there when we collide. What does it take for us to notice where we are going? To notice if someone is ahead of us or in the way? Notice is something we can give or take. To take notice means ‘to immerse oneself into the experience’. Do we take only what serves our purposes at the time, or do we soak in the context offered by the whole scene? Then there is the notice we give when we quit a job or leave a position. I wonder if we quit when we are no longer noticed, no longer particular. Do we leave when we become lost in the sea of sameness? Do we look for something new when we lose our sense of being unique? Last but not least, there are things we do and do not notice in our personal lives. All too often arguments arise when I fail to notice something that is important to a loved one, focusing on only what is important to me. If I cannot see past my own nose, I surely cannot open my heart beyond my own interests. Make time today to look up and around. Take notice of what crosses your path and touches your heart. Enjoy the beauty along the way, rather than simply focusing on your destination. Slow down enough to soak in the entire situation, allowing God to draw your eyes and ears to the wonder and awe of His creation. Most of all, be present to those you love, taking the time to look and listen with your heart in the only and eternal now. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Lilies Above’ by Jen Ayers©2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Jen’s creative work, go to http://kingdomofazuria.com/

Reflecting on Turning….

old-auburn-road-by-cecilia

This early autumn rain washes summer’s green paint from the sugar maple leaves.
It brings brisk gusts of October’s breath to September’s dying days.
Familiar streaks of rain run down unfamiliar windows, and I feel at ease, protected from, and by, the storm.
The thunder, a cold front’s lion roar, frightens off the last lambs of August’s summer flock,
And there, the hapless journey-goers, caught in the downpour, run, or walk with umbrella in hand, striding through rain’s dry shadow.
Sounds are muted by the distant drum-roll of raindrops on roofs, and the noise of traffic – stifled more by torrential curtains, now brought low from nimbus heights.
But soon, the amber rays of sun pierce the smoke-gray clouds and
Reflect
off now more orange leaves.

Poetry by Colin Shea Blymyer©2016, Photo entitled ‘Old Auburn Road’ by Cecilia Carr©2016, to see more of her work, go to http://www.redbubble.com/people/ceciliacarr/portfolio

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 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 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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