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

Reflecting on Time Apart….

by Connie Chintall

Eastern Point of South Bass Island, Put in Bay, OH

It’s a rainy morning on South Bass Island in Put in Bay, Ohio. I am visiting a friend I’ve known for years, visiting and enjoying a break from my daily routine. My car, and my cares, are safely tucked away in a parking lot on the mainland. I boarded the ferry with just enough for the week, crossing the channel to a time and place apart on this delightful little island. Most folks have left for the season, or are in the process of packing up to depart. The restaurants take turns offering dinner, rather than compete for the business of those who remain through the winter. Life slows down as the weather cools and the wind roars across the water. The island is small enough to traverse by golf cart, so Mary and her dog Gabriel have been taking me to the out of the way corners of the island. On Eastern Point, we found a spit of land often covered by water. There are no tides on Lake Erie, so the strong wind I lamented on arrival extended the shoreline and offered us this beautiful view. I chose this photo not because it was the most picturesque, but because it captures the feel of this place the best. The vastness of the water and sky seem at odds with the intricate details of rocks and broken shells. Waves and waves of seaweed have been gracefully sculpted by the harsh weather. Then right smack in the middle, there is a block of concrete, a symbol of our meager human efforts as compared to the vastness and unending power of the Divine. I was overwhelmed with a sense of being apart, of stepping aside, of emptying of self to make room for the grace and mercy of the Almighty. I don’t know about you, but too often my life can become a constant drain, an endless list of things to do, a drudgery rather than a joy. I forget to fill myself first, to listen before I speak, to rush ahead before discerning a clear direction. After the Sermon on the Mount and the feeding of the 5000, our Lord boarded a boat with his disciples. He drew away from press of the crowd, rather than rushing on to the next in a series of miraculous good works. If the God Incarnate required time apart to rest and refresh, how much more do we need to make time apart? Perhaps we need to board a ferry and separate ourselves long enough to plant a seed of peace. Perhaps we simply need to make time in our daily lives for prayer and reflection. Perhaps it’s a little of both. We may take home what we learned while away, nurturing a newfound sense of a God that abides, a steadfast love without beginning or end, a healing that leads to wholeness in this life or the next. Make time today to be filled with the power and grace and mercy of the Almighty. Allow the Alpha and Omega to soothe your soul. Rest in the Cradle of Life, letting go of what weighs you down with each breath out, drawing in the Well of Healing Light with every breath in. And always remember, as we plunge headlong in to the busy-ness of this life, our God is ever present, waiting patiently for us to rest, to reflect, and to renew our weary souls. Text and photo entitled ‘Wind Swept Glory’ by Connie Chintall ©2013

Reflecting on Fire….

Shenandoah River on Fire by Ryan WickIt’s another cloudy day in Virginia, with thunderstorms expected to roll through this afternoon. While we have a forecast full of rain, the folks in Colorado and Arizona remain parched and dry. As one fire is brought under control, another begins. These fires hop and skip in a way that is hard to describe, consuming one home and leaving another unscathed. So I was drawn to this lovely photo of the early evening sky by my friend Ryan, capturing the view from his kayak on the Shenandoah River. I love the watercolor quality of the water and the sky, framed by the bend in the river just ahead. The sky is overcast on one side, and all but clear on the other. I wonder what lies around the bend, how long he paddled before setting up camp for the night. I can imagine him lingering on the water until the last wisps of color faded away, perhaps missing his planned stop. In my youth, I worked as a surveyor for the Federal Flood Insurance. I spent many long days on the water, charting creek cross sections and discovering places that could act as a dam in a flood. There were grey days when we knew only the instruments and data, then other days when the water and sky would demand our undivided attention. The whole team would fall silent, in awe of the scene laid out before us. At times we might see birds or fish, but most often the beauty lie in the scenery itself and the changing light. It was inconceivable how such beauty could be transformed into a force for destruction. I felt that same sense of peace hiking in the Rockies, the same Rockies that are burning out of control. Beautiful forests will remain charred and burnt for years to come, growing back all the more slowly at altitude. Make time today to soak in the beauty that surrounds you with a loved one. Resist the temptation to put ‘real world’ priorities ahead of a few moments of peace and grace. Seize the chance to create a memory today that will last a lifetime, and perhaps sustain you through a difficult if not impossible challenge that lies around the bend. Allow the Holy Spirit to kindle a fire of love and compassion, of gentleness and kindness, of patient and grace. And always remember, when we make time to stoke the fire within, we will always find a strength we did not know even existed, a strength powerful enough to defeat the wildfires of this mortal life. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Shenandoah River on Fire’ by Ryan Wick ©2013, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Snails….

Snail #2 by Gemma CostaThe grey skies and bleak mornings sap my energy this time of year. I even stop bothering with a ‘to do’ list, since I can’t seem to work off more than I add each day. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo by my friend Gemma of a curious snail. I love how the eye stalks are in focus, while the rest of the snail and the background are a bit blurred. The snail finds its way mostly with the shorter tentacles, reaching out to test the way ahead before proceeding, while the eyes offer a view from higher up. I first really looked at snails when I was a young officer stationed in Los Angeles. I was living in a small duplex, with sorely neglected roses all along the house. As I began to trim them back, I found more and more snails. I disturbed their habitat so they invaded mine. I couldn’t park in the driveway without running over snails, or walk across the porch without stepping on snails. The neighbors told me to put down snail bait to get rid of them, but somehow that just seemed all wrong. In fact, a lot was wrong with my life then, as my first marriage was falling apart at the seams. Sometimes I would sit on the porch praying for a way out, a way to heal what was broken, or I would be simply lost in sorrow and dismay. Then I would look up and see the snail that seemed to be going nowhere had actually made progress. It may sound weird, but those snails gave me hope, that no matter what happened, God had a plan. That plan might take a lot longer than I hoped it would, but there was a plan for me, a plan created by an Almighty and All Merciful God. Make time today to really look at what God places in your path. Let go of your usual expectations, resist the temptation to judge, and simply soak in the reminder that God is in charge. Become lost in the beauty of nature, or find the beauty in what others find a nuisance. Trust the Author of Creation who was, and is, and always will be. And remember, you can get there if a snail can, as long as you look up to find the way ahead. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by Gemma Costa ©2012

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