Reflecting on Stone….

The days are getting shorter and the shadows are getting longer. The leaves are beginning to turn, and to fall. Soon our yard will be carpeted with leaves. So I was drawn to this amazing photo of a stone church by my friend Carole. I’m not sure if the leaves are turning, or if the sun is creating the orange tint at the top of the tree line. The vines are far past their prime, yet still cling to the stones. At first glance, this church seems to have lost its vitality. The roof is full of rust, the paint is chipped and fading. Yet in the windows, we still can see a reflection of abundant life. While people may have walked away, God abides in this holy place. My grandmother would say this place is ‘prayed up’, that the prayers of so many have soaked into the ground and even permeated the stones. Where others would see a disused building, she would see the prayers of many who have gone before us, and remain faithful, if not in this life then in the next. We pray to the Infinite and All Powerful, to a God that is, and was, and always will be. Even when we feel lost, when we feel as if our lives are simply drifting along, we remain firmly in the palm of God’s hand, enfolded in steadfast love, without beginning or end. Take time today to shake off the rust in your life, to let go of the withered vines, to cling fast to the stones that abide. Let prayer soak through you, allowing the Author of Creation to show you the path ahead. Trust that new life lies beneath the dreariness of this world, and claim the promise of resurrection life. Start here and now, with one step at a time, trusting that each day is an invitation to begin again. And always remember, we are far from alone, for we have God to lean on, full of strength and love. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by Carole Buckwalter ©2011, used with her permission. To see more of Carole’s work, go to http://www.buckwalterphotography.com/

Reflecting on Majesty….

It’s a mild winter morning, a refreshing change from the weather in Pittsburgh last weekend. The journey winds through the Allegheny Mountains, with abrupt shifts in temperature and precipitation. So I was drawn to this beautiful photo by my friend Carole, taken on a similar road trip over the holidays. I love how the sun is setting just around the bend as the clouds are hugging the hills. The tiny headlights are barely visible in comparison with the vast light show in the sky. All of our human effort is but a speck when compared with the ultimate power and sovereignty of God. We limit ourselves when we only consider what is possible through our own efforts. We may become overwhelmed by the endless details and frustrations of our current situation. We may seek the quick, easy solution, or rush to make a decision, rather than allowing matters to unfold in God’s time. We may settle for the safe, sensible path ahead, rather than trusting that God has prepared more than we can imagine or hope for. Take time today to step back, to make room for God, to soak in the majesty and glory of our Creator. Turn away from the headlights that seek to obscure your vision of God’s path ahead. And remember, no matter how dark the valley maybe, the Son is waiting for you right around the next bend. Photo by Carole Buckwalter ©2012, used with her permission

Reflecting on Balance….

It’s a wet, dreary day, far too warm for December. Chores are waiting to be done, not to mention Christmas preparations. Yet I’m lingering over another cup of coffee, delaying the start of the day. So I was drawn to this photo of a flamingo taken by my friend Carole. I love how this odd looking bird can fold into itself, often perching on one foot. Instead of ‘taking to the bed’, this elegant creature can curl up and take a rest in place, before moving on to the next challenge. Perhaps the flamingo has something to teach us about the natural rhythm of life. We make lists and more lists, seeking a sense of accomplishment in what we did or did not do by the end of the day. We rush around to get things done, often undoing relationships in the process. We run roughshod over others, neglecting common courtesy and forgetting the value of patience. Everything has to happen right now, just the way we want it. Yet we most value what takes the most work, or time, or sacrifice. When we force an immediate answer, we sell ourselves and others short, rather than allow the best solution to unfold. We must pause to consider the best path for all, rather than the best answer for us alone. By alternating between active work and quiet reflection, we find a better path than we could imagine, or even hope for. Take time today to find and maintain balance, to consider your needs as well as the needs of others. Look for new and creative ways to work and play, to enjoy the gift of life, here and now. Make time and space for the Holy Spirit to guard and guide, recharging your soul for the challenges ahead. And remember, even when you seem to be curled up doing nothing, God is balancing you on one leg. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011, used with her permission

Reflecting on Appearances….

The morning has been calm and quiet, with grey skies and dampness in the air. I suspect there is a storm on the way, but it hasn’t arrived yet.  So I was drawn to this amazing photo of an old blue tractor taken by my friend Carole.  I love the contrast between the bright blue paint, the brown rust and red primer. We live in a rural county where old farm equipment like this tractor is a common sight.  You would think this tractor is on its last legs, yet more often than you might think, the engine is still good.  Perhaps the farmers are hoping the tractor will give up the ghost and pass away, to make room for a shiny new model. The tractor seems to defy them, year after year, persisting beyond all reason. We take so much stock in outward appearances, passing judgment on others based on how they look.  If we don’t like what we see, we don’t bother to look any further. Who knows what we might find if we stopped and looked beyond the obvious? One of the extended care facilities in our area displays photographs of the residents from their youth. While the nurses check to see if it is a good time to visit, you are left to ponder these pictures. If the person’s eyes are clearly visible, you can quickly tell who you are looking at. The nurses find visitors and residents both enjoy their time together because of these photos. Visitors see the residents in a new light, and often ask questions about the photos, only to hear stories of days gone by. Take time today to look beyond the obvious, to suspend judgment until you get to know the person inside. Pray to see through God’s eyes and hear through God’s ears, to be fully present to those you encounter.  And remember the surface may be rusted, but inside, the engine is still going strong. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011, used with her permission


Reflecting on Color….

It’s brilliant, sunny autumn morning. The leaves remaining on the trees are alive with color, simply vibrant in the early morning light. So I was drawn to this photo by my friend Carole, entitled ‘Autumn on Fire’. I love the contrast between the dangling branch, full of yellow and orange leaves, and the green fields in the background. The colors seem to jump out at you, refusing to be ignored. This morning I am enjoying the bright, over the top, colors. I am well rested, taking advantage of the extra hour of sleep after daylight savings time. Yet there are days when these same bright colors seem to exhaust me, offering more than I can take in. Rather than feeling included, part of the scene, I feel intruded upon, almost assaulted. I can feel the same way about social situations. There are times when I thrive on social interaction, and others when I would prefer to be alone, curled up in front of the fire with a good book. Where is the tipping point between inclusion and intrusion? When does reaching out becomes trespassing? Perhaps the answer varies from person to person, and day to day. Difficult circumstances can lead one person to seek the company of others, while another prefers to be alone. We must listen with all of our being, with our hearts, and souls and minds, to know what to say, or whether to say anything at all. We want to do something, to fix the problem, to get past the awkwardness. Yet often all we need is someone to sit with us, to simply be with us. Take time today to practice holy listening, to let go of your need to be in the foreground. Pray to hear with God’s ears, to see with God’s eyes, to feel with God’s heart. Simply be there for another, and let go of everything but the here and now. And remember to look beyond the colorful leaves to the beautiful green fields, waiting silently in the background. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011, used with permission

Reflecting on Silhouettes….

It’s a crisp, clear autumn day. The slanting sun casts long shadows on the tree trunks, accenting the brilliant leaves. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole, in Shenandoah National Park. Carole captured what I saw this morning, the stark contrast between light and shadow. In fact, the photo is entitled ‘Colored Silhouettes’. I recall making silhouettes as an art project in grade school. We worked with a partner, standing in profile in front of a projector, while our features were traced on a piece of paper tacked to the wall. We carefully cut along the outline of our faces and mounted the profile on old fashioned paper doilies. I was surprised at my grandmother’s reaction to this project, which frankly I found rather silly at the time. She was so happy to have a ‘silhouette cameo’ of me. What I saw as simply a featureless outline, she saw as a way to capture what was unique about me, without the distractions of a particular expression. Perhaps what makes the silhouette appealing is how an image is transformed by backlighting. We all know how annoying bright light is to our eyes, when viewed head on. Yet how often do we consider how light from other directions informs us and affects how we view our surroundings? Take time today to seek out light all around you. Step outside at lunch time, rather than waiting until after work, when the sun has already set. Focus on what you can see, rather than what you cannot see. Allow the silhouettes created by autumn’s long shadows to open your eyes to the essence of what is before you. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011, used with her permission

Reflecting on Storms….

This weekend the weather was sunny and cool, perfect football weather. The sun was particularly welcome after a long series of storms, culminating in 6 inches of rain in one hour. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole. She is an amazing photographer, often capturing something the rest of us fail to notice. It’s still raining, pouring in fact, yet the sun is shining. Most of us would be looking up into the sky for a rainbow, while Carole is looking straight ahead, at glistening raindrops cascading downward like tiny crystals. I love the contrast between the bright sky and the tree trunk, soaked to a dark black by the rain. Sometimes we simply get used to storms. We come to expect storms, even create a storm where none exists. We stop looking for the sun, because we seem to forget the sun is always there, hidden behind the clouds. Perhaps we even lose hope, or just run out of gas. Yet we may simply be looking for answers in the wrong places, or seeking to change what we humanly cannot change. We want the answer to be our solution, tied up neatly in a bow. More often, the way out slowly unfolds and evolves, changing us and changing our life in the process. Take time today to look at what is right in front of you, and ponder what answers lie within your current situation. Let go of your storm, trusting the Son is always there for you. And remember the rainbow, God’s covenant of steadfast love, may take the form of hundreds of tiny raindrops, glistening in the sun. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

Reflecting on Eternity….

Rain has been pouring down for twelve days start. While I’m less than thrilled, the plants absolutely love it. So I was drawn to this photo of a Japanese princess flower, taken by my friend Carole. I love the vibrant color, and the drops of moisture caught in the petals. This striking flower grows on a vine-like evergreen. Even when the flowers are not in bloom, you are treated to beautiful foliage. Carole took a lot of time and care to take this photo. She had to let go of everything else but that moment, and immerse herself in her quest. The flower drew her in, and the rest of the world and time as we know it melted away. Some scholars call eternity the simultaneous now, meaning that God is not governed by the arrow of time. It’s as if the Author of Creation lives in a vast mansion, with each room representing a moment in human history. So eternity intersects with our human condition in the here and now. Perhaps the cross is a symbol of this intersection, with the horizontal portion representing the human condition of linear time, and the vertical portion representing the eternal, simultaneous now. When we let go of the past and stop fretting about the future, we empty our souls before the Holy of Holies. We leave behind the arrow of time and briefly enter into eternity. We have all experienced such breathtaking moments, when we are overwhelmed by emotion or awed by incomprehensible beauty. Take time today to let random beauty or kindness draw you in. Linger in that moment and the eternal now, emptying yourself to everything but that experience. Pause to cultivate a breathtaking moment, and transform your daily routine into an eternal, vibrant blessing. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

Reflecting on the Path Ahead….

Autumn has definitely arrived, with rainy evenings and cool, clear mornings. The ground is soaked and almost spongy. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole of a path at Montpelier. There is nothing like rain to make the orange soil of Virginia look even more orange, and the bark on the trees look almost black. The equestrian fence that lines this path has been blackened with ash, echoing the color of the bark. The leaves and grass are so bright you could almost mistake this picture for a spring scene. Yet we must remember this stark contrast was created by a storm. As Christians, we are promised abundant life, a life full of not only contentment and satisfaction but also of frustrations and disappointments. We are called to live that life to the fullest, to open our hearts to what the path ahead brings. There will be days of joy and days of sadness. We cannot close our hearts to one without losing the other. Yet how often do we succumb to this temptation, or know others that do? We can even fall into the Pit called depression, shutting down and withdrawing from emotional engagement. Depression is not sadness, depression is overarching, long standing, seemingly impossible to shake. Sometimes depression is brought on by life events, or a series of stressful circumstances. It’s almost as if the path is lost, and life is played out on the sidelines. Some believe the apostle Paul suffered from depression, that depression is the ‘thorn in his side’, not physical illness. Yet this is the same Paul who established the early church and wrote or contributed to a large portion of the New Testament. Take time today to listen to your heart, to claim the promise of abundant life. Pay attention to how you feel inside, and consider the path ahead. And remember that sometimes that path is best informed by the storms we experience in life. To quote the famous author Willa Cather, ‘There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm’. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

Reflecting on Power….

It’s raining and raining. While our home has remained dry and secure, those living near creeks and rivers have plenty to worry about. Flooding plagues the Northeast and Tennessee Valley areas, while Texas is battling fires due to drought conditions. So I was drawn to this deceptively simple photo taken by my friend Carole. Her friend holds a single, dew drenched leaf in his strong hand. To place that leaf securely in his grasp took patience and a gentle touch. You can’t shake or tip the leaf, or the dew is gone. He holds the leaf in a cupped hand, adjusting the shape of his palm to natural curve of the leaf. In the midst of all this mayhem, this photo reminded me that God is sovereign and all powerful. Our entire world, throughout the ages, is like a single dew drenched leaf in God’s hand. This divine power is gentle, loving, caressing. God’s power conquers with grace and mercy, convincing rather than coercing. In the Old Testament, we see God patiently, persistently pouring out His love, regardless of the human response. In the New Testament, we see God deign to take our human form to pay the price for our sins. Christ lived and died among us, then rose again, conquering sin and death on the cross. The Most High, the Omnipotent, offers love, no matter what the cost. Let this unending love be our response to those suffering from these natural disasters. Take time today to learn how to help someone affected by floods or fires. Perhaps a neighbor that lost power can take a hot shower at your home. Cook extra, and share a home cooked meal. Simply listen to another’s story, be present to their pain. Let us be like Christ, like a cupped hand gently caressing a dew drenched leaf. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

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