Reflecting on Blur….

Life is rushing by these days, filled with more activities than are worth mentioning. Like the leaves falling from the trees, my to-do list is never ending. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life. So I was drawn to this amazing photo of a dragonfly by my friend David, taken in Connecticut last year. I can almost feel the motion as the dragonfly glides above a tranquil pond. Yet that glide is powered by rapidly beating wings, so rapid that the wings blur in this photo. Dragonflies have always amazed me. During the most frantic periods of my life, a dragonfly appears. I’m talking about times when I always need to be somewhere else, and invariably get caught in traffic. Times when I burn dinner while on the phone longer than expected. Times spent on the computer while vacationing, jotting notes before a dance performance, trying to solve a problem long distance to avoid a trip. Perhaps I have wandered around the corner of a building, looking for a bit of privacy, only to find a dragonfly briefly balanced on the top of a sign. If I remained calm, that dragonfly will linger long enough for me to marvel at the colors and intricacy of God’s creation. If I listen more than I talk, respond rather than react, stop instead of rushing ahead, I am able to embrace the vastness of God’s power, without beginning or end. If we allow the frantic pace of life to overtake us, everything becomes one big blur. We turn into human doings, instead of human beings. All of life loses its luster, becomes drained of color and zest. Take time today to pause and soak in the world around you, to make room for Almighty to work in your life. Give the Holy of Holies your time, your worries, your past, your future. Let go of what weighs you down, what burdens your heart and consumes your joy. Soak in this instant, and accept the gift of life one breath at a time. And always remember when life gets frantic, trust in our Creator, who glides us over our obstacles and smooths our path ahead. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by David Buckwalter ©2011, used with his permission. To see more of David’s work, go to http://www.buckwalterphotography.com/

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Reflecting on Depth….

It’s a cool, autumn morning. I’ve often thought September is the best kept secret in Virginia – the days are still warm, but not humid, with clear skies and plenty of fluffy, cumulus clouds. I recall cross country trips when we camped along the way, seeing sites that remain with me almost thirty years later. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my new friend Glenn, of a thermal pool in Yellowstone National Park. Everyone stops to see Old Faithful, dazzled by the geyser’s 100 foot plume. Folks stand around and chat, wait for the next burst of boiling water, then wander off, soon to be replaced by another crowd, and another. Few stop to view the rest of the Upper Geyser Basin, full of mesmerizing hot springs. While Old Faithful spews out its water under pressure, these pools quietly dazzle the eye and awaken the soul. A minute algae creates these vibrant colors, an organism that thrives at temperatures we could not begin to tolerate. It seems to me our faith can be a lot like these geysers and hot springs. In the beginning, we seek out mountain top experiences, returning home after a retreat full of energy and enthusiasm. We hang onto that sense of the beyond for as long as we can, but real life has a way of wearing us down. In time, we learn to cultivate and nurture our faith, attaining a more abiding sense of the Almighty in the every day. We learn to dig deeper, to delve into the recesses of our hearts and souls. We recognize our own limitations, and learn to lean on God, understanding that through our weakness we are made strong. Take time today to look beyond the drab colors of your daily routine, to open your heart and soul to the vibrant colors drawn by the Author of Creation. Allow the Alpha and Omega to guide you, to guard you, and yes, to heal you. Embrace the mystery of the beyond, and accept knowledge that is beyond facts, love that is beyond words. And remember, the Holy of Holies is crafting a beauty greater than you ever imagined possible, even when you’re up to your neck in boiling water. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Chromatic Pool’ by Glenn Nagel ©2012, used with her permission. To see more of Glenn’s work, go to http://www.nagelphotography.com/

Reflecting on Wilderness….

Summer is drawing to a close, on the Friday prior to Labor Day weekend. Leaves are already falling and the nights are cool. I love to hike or boat this time of year, when the days are still warm but not muggy. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Sarah Gulick, of her trip to the Amazon last year. This photo offers a haunting beauty, a hint of what that trip might have been like. I often ponder a photo for some time before writing about it, and began to wonder if this photo would ever offer up its secrets. Then a few days ago, Sarah posted a video about hiking in Death Valley. Both the photo and video make you yearn for the wilderness, to let go of the every day, to reconnect with the elements. There is a vastness in God’s glory we can so easily lose sight of, an infinite grace reflected in the Psalms.

10 For the LORD God is both sun and shield;
He will give grace and glory
11 No good thing will the LORD withhold
From those who walk with integrity
12 O LORD of hosts,
Happy are they who put their trust in you!
Psalm 84:10-12

We live on top of one another, crowding out the beauty that God’s creation freely offers. Even in the midst of decay or apparent desolation, we are struck by the bounty of nature, a bounty waiting for us to discover. We find hidden recesses, life amidst decay, creeks that may have changed their course. When we share these experiences, we create lasting bonds, an abiding legacy. We learn about one another in ways we never thought possible, and discover places lost deep within ourselves. Take time today to discover a patch of wilderness in an unexpected place. Look for birds and animals on the edge of a pond, or in a stand of trees along your commute. Walk to work rather than driving, or invite someone to walk with you during your lunch break. Get away this weekend, to hike or boat with family and friends. And always remember, even if you can’t get away, you can take time to see the world through Sarah’s eyes. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by Sarah Gulick ©2011, to see her cinematography in the video entitled ‘Wilderness Hike, Death Valley’, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dClNiEy7Hj0

Reflecting on Freedom….

It’s a quiet, rainy morning here in Virginia. The first signs of fall are emerging, as the children return to school and my husband is immersed in his work. The many shades of green outside my window are part of what I love about Virginia, the green of the grass, the clover, the trees, the flowering shrubs. Yet as the autumn approaches, I long for the flaming skies of the desert, the many sunrises and sunsets I saw, reflected in the sand, especially after a storm. So I was drawn to this amazing image by my friend Robert, taken in Death Valley. Robert took five photos to capture the beauty of this scene, using a variety of filters. Now you may say the result does not represent what Robert saw that day, but I must respectfully disagree. Our eyes are such miraculous organs, capable of such a wide range of perception, that our technology can only grasp what our eyes automatically see in smaller increments. Robert seamlessly stitched these images together to capture the awe and beauty of the scene, the majesty of God’s creation. Just as one photo cannot hold the beauty of this scene, one life cannot hold the vastness of true freedom. We are blessed to live in a free, democratic country, ruled by the people and for the people. That freedom is something many take for granted, failing to understand the full meaning of living free. To embrace that promise, we must accept that we are more free together than any of us choose to be individually. One person may choose to live in the midst of skyscrapers, while another longs for open spaces. Our careers are matters of choice; we are free to push ourselves as much or as little as we like. Most importantly, we are free to choose how we express our faith. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism – all are free to worship the Author of Creation in their own way. Freedom means accepting others are different, accepting that those differences are what make this nation great. We are truly free when we honor and respect the faith of others, in the same manner we would hope they would honor and respect our faith. When I pledged to serve my country in the military, this is the freedom I sought to preserve, even if it meant laying down my own life. Take time today to give thanks for your freedom and what that means in your own life. Seek to understand another who is different from you, listening and learning what their choices mean for them. Embrace the promise of freedom for all, not just a select few, seeking to serve others less fortunate than yourself. And always remember to keep your eyes open, because it takes much more than one look to see beyond our own backyard. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Fire on the Flats’, taken in Death Valley National Park by Robert H Clark ©2012, used with his permission. To see more of his work, check out his blog at http://roberthclarkphotographyblog.com/.

Reflecting on Lace….

The sun has returned after a few days of overcast skies. Clouds did not bring rain, so the fields remain parched and dry. Yet while the crops wither, one hardy plant seems to thrive along the roadsides, Queen Anne’s Lace. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo by my friend Jeffrey Foltice, showing both open and closed blooms. When closed the bloom looks like a tiny bird’s nest, with thin green leaves that remind me of feathers. Once open, you find a delicate and intricate pattern of tiny flowers, overlapping and crowding one another, yet strong enough to withstand wind and rain. My grandmother loved this flower, frequently commenting that beauty can be found in the most unexpected places. Yet what one person calls a flower another might consider an invasive weed. This ‘flower’ is actually a European transplant, commonly called wild carrot. You can even eat the taproot, since the root is in fact a carrot. Folks even argue about the origin of the name, some saying the delicate bloom is named after an English monarch, others attributing the name to St Anne, the mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus. St Anne is the patron saint of lace makers and mothers, referred to as the ‘queen of heaven’. All this controversy and diversity of opinions was far from lost on my grandmother, my Nana. She passed on almost forty years ago, yet her legacy lives on. She taught me to think, to question, to dig deeply, especially what others take for shallow and straight forward. Perhaps this blog started then, driving along country roads with my Nana. I learned to take time looking at a matter from all sides, listening and learning, day by day, expecting my understanding to evolve over time, with new experiences and new friends. Take time today to seek the truth, from inside of your heart and from those around you. Soak in the simple beauty of nature, as you drive to work, looking out your office window, or in the corner of your garden. And always remember to listen carefully and thoughtfully to the oldest and youngest among us. You’d be surprised what you might learn. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’ by Jeffrey Foltice ©2012, used with his permission, to see more of his work, go to http://photonatureblog.com/

Reflecting on Humility….

It’s an unusually cool morning for June in Virginia. The door to the deck is open, allowing the cool air to filter into the house. I was thankful for my sweater as I enjoyed my second cup of coffee under cloudy skies. So I was drawn to this stunning photo by my friend Cecilia. She crossed a busy highway and knelt down to take this shot, offering us a vastly different perspective. From this angle, these flowers seem to defy gravity, unfolding above a narrow, delicate stem. Poppies are often planted along our major roads, a beautiful alternative to scraggly weeds. Yet we speed by without noticing, or just glimpse the vivid colors when delayed in traffic. How many of us are willing to take our some of our time, to pause to really see what is before us, to humble ourselves to kneel in the presence of God’s creation? Humility seems to have a bad rap these days. I often hear humility equated with low self esteem, as if to be humble means to lose rather than to win. Yet the Christian view of humility is more about self awareness and self acceptance. Charles Spurgeon defined humility as a right estimate of one’s self, so that a person sees himself in all his imperfection and insignificance, but also with a true regard for his abilities, resources and position. That right opinion of ourselves is God’s opinion of us, rather than our own. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with this concept. There are days when I don’t want to let go of disappointment, or pain, or loss. I become ‘Pollyanna’ in my prayers, offering only the good and leaving out the bad. The only way I know to work through it is to pray, day in, and day out, opening my heart to God to allow healing light to enter in. Take time today to place your burdens at the foot of the cross. Let go of the idea that you know best, that you know all, that you need to be more perfect than you are to deserve God’s love. Confidently humble yourself, knowing that God loves each and every one of us for who we are, not who we pretend to be. Allow the Author of Creation to enfold you in love, a love without beginning or end, accepting you just as you are, warts and all. And remember, when we humble ourselves, we can defy gravity, floating above a narrow and delicate stem. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘The Low Down on Poppies’ by Cecilia Carr ©2012, used with her permission

Reflecting on Abundant Life….

It’s been a warm, wet spring, alternating between storms and beautiful clear days. Like the weather, we have been riding a roller coaster of emotions, with many happy events interspersed with some sad moments. So I was drawn to this striking photo by my friend Luis. I love the huge moon, hanging low in the sky. The tree looks like lace, with new leaves still unfolding. Then there are the birds, perched in the highest branches, hoping for the best view. I wonder what it was like for the first bird. Perhaps that bird was simply looking to be alone, to find a perch away from all the others. Sad or unwelcome news can be overwhelming, and our first response may be to turtle in. All we want to do is dwell on our misfortunes, or the harshness of this life. Then a few others arrive, and we attempt to be polite. We may not even talk about what’s bothering us, yet in the end, their company is a great comfort. Slowly we let go of our defenses, we relax into the moment. We look up, we look beyond. And in the midst of our sorrow, there is a moon that is so huge it should fall out of the sky. We are awestruck by the beauty and majesty of God’s creation, and we begin to pray, to open ourselves to God’s possibilities, to let go of our human perspective, to trust in the power and grace of the Almighty. After all, Christ did not promise us a perfect life, a life without sadness or pain. Christ offered us abundant life. When we embrace that promise, we find all things are possible. We are empowered to deal with what life brings, able to enjoy the happy moments, even while persevering through sadness and pain. Take time today to embrace the fullness of life, the celebrations, the joys, the losses, the disappointments. Let go of what you expected and let God show you the path that has been prepared for you. Pray for faith in what lies beyond your capabilities and understanding, trusting that God will provide others to walk with you in times of need or confusion. And remember, even when all seems lost, we only need to look up to see beyond. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled Influjo by Luis Gonzalez ©2012, used with his permission

Reflecting on Rhythm….

The March wind is roaring outside my office window. It’s what Winnie the Pooh would call a blustery day. Even the majestic oaks are dancing in the wind, yet it’s the tiny branches of our poplar that caught my eye. So I was drawn to this magical photograph by my friend Luis, part of his series called ‘The Secret Life of Plants’. I am always amazing at how plants can be incredibly strong, yet still remain supple. Even the tiniest branches sway in their own peculiar rhythm, twisting and turning in response to the wind. We must let go of the specifics to detect this rhythm, looking at the same branch over time, until each particular image blurs together. At first, it may seem we have lost more than we gain, until patterns begin to emerge. We notice the graceful arch of a single branch is echoed in the scene all around us, the curve of the treetops reminds us of the shapes of passing clouds, the same colors appear all around us, popping up in the most unexpected places. The same Creator who blessed us with life calls out to us through the bounty and blessings of nature. Whatever name you give the Author of the Universe, whatever faith tradition you call your own, we all recognize the unity of our world. The same shapes and rhythms sing across the galaxy, from the tiny subatomic particles being discovered each day, to the far reaches of outer space. Take time today to see and hear the rhythm of creation. Pause to soak in the beauty of a single bloom, or to gaze at the stars. Listen to the sound of water splashing on rocks, or birds singing in the trees. And remember when we let go of our human perception, when it all begins to blur together, the rhythm of the Almighty will shine through, showing us more beauty than we ever can imagine. Photo by Luis Gonzalez, part of a series called ‘The Secret Life of Plants’

Reflecting on Promise….

It’s a glorious morning, and our yard is filled with all sorts of bulbs beginning to bloom. Yet I was drawn to my orchid in the garden window, with a single blossom beginning to unfold. I love how you can glimpse the intricate detail of the petals, barely open to view. Just yesterday this bloom was tightly closed. It seems we are offered a living history of creation, simply by scanning the blooms along a single branch. I love this orchid, but waiting for the blooms to open is an exercise in patience. There are times when a branch may appear barren, doomed to never bloom again. Then one morning we will awaken to discover tiny nodes, almost invisible to the eye. These nodes slowly grow into what looks like a dark nut, solid and hard. In time, the outline of a flower appears, slowly turning green. Then one morning, we are greeted by an emerging bloom. Trust me, it’s worth the wait. The colors are vibrant and deeply dramatic. Best of all, the blooms last and last, at times seeming to defy gravity. God’s promises are a lot like an orchid’s blooms. There can be days when we are uncertain what the future may hold, when we despair that God is even there. We may allow setbacks to drain us of hope, allow facts to deflate our faith, allow earthly concerns to draw our attention away from the divine. Little by little, we can box ourselves in, slowly losing the path that has been prepared for us. Yet we must remember God’s promises unfold in God’s time, not ours. Take time today to ponder reminders of God’s promises. Pause to look at the beginnings of new life, emerging all around you. Consider part of your life you thought was barren, trusting the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into dried bones. Know that God is always faithful, even when we are far from faithful. And remember to be patient, as the reward is always worth the wait, seeming to defy gravity and lasting longer than we can ever imagine. Photo by Connie Chintall

Reflecting on Art….

The rain is relentless this morning, drenching the ground and dampening spirits. So I was drawn to this glorious artwork by my friend Jeanne. On a grey, dreary day, bright colors and fanciful images are more than welcome. What does art mean to you? My definition changes almost daily, and I would be hard pressed to use words to describe it. So I humbly defer to my eloquent young friend Colin’s description.

The patterns, the shapes, the colors, the sounds. Art is too simple and short a word for what it is. It is the space beyond knowledge, it is thought, abstract, ethereal, like a dream after waking, slipping through the sieve. It is the place after logic, where mankind proves it’s irrationality, where the complexity of the mind works out it’s contradictions, where humanity is proven. It is what you get when something as complex as a human has to process the information of the world, leaving heavy on the heart or light on the mind, it is the expression of imperfection, a chance at the creation of complex relations between the patterns, the shapes, the colors, the sounds.

Take time today to be creative, to sketch, or sing, or sew. Let go of the end result and immerse yourself in the playful world of art. Allow your soul to seek out the images and sounds that defy rational explanation. And remember, as you get lost in your art, you may sink into the well of your soul, and catch a glimpse of eternal glory. Art entitle ‘Hummingbird’ ©2012 by Jeanne Mischo, quote by Colin Shea-Blymyer

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