Reflecting on Expectations….

rileyatdoor by Phil Stone
Not much has been going as you would expect this summer. Even the simplest tasks seem to devolve into costly and time consuming efforts. Yet I keep hearing again and again that I am fortunate and blessed. Somehow our truck engine has not fallen into the street although the engine mount has rusted through. Somehow the garage spring broke into pieces, but only when the door was safely closed. So I was drawn to this photo of Riley at the door, taken by my friend Phil. This photo is humorous and frustrating at the same time. I can imagine Phil attempting to remove the precious stick from Riley’s mouth. Of course the dog would be less than thrilled with that solution. Then he might try to rotate the stick, allowing the dog to hang on but still managing to get him through the door. When that approach didn’t work, Phil just went and got his camera. In June I promised a lifelong friend to pray for her every morning. Once again I began the discipline of reading morning prayer aloud. It may sound weird to read prayers aloud when you are alone, but I find it slows me down and I hear as well as see the scripture appointed for each morning. Once rooted in the Word, I offer specific prayers for others and myself, then gather them together with a prayer for the greatest good and highest healing. There are mornings when these prayers weigh heavily on me, and I cannot see how or when God will answer my prayers. I have been in this place before and allowed that heaviness to dissuade me from my morning discipline. This time there is no turning back. So perhaps these ceaseless iterations to sort out household matters are not what they seem. Perhaps God is looking at me like Phil looked at his silly dog Riley. Perhaps I need that daily discipline to let go of my expectation on how and when God will answer my prayers. I need to let go of the wrong end of the stick, trusting that God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts and God’s ways are higher than my ways. Most of all, I need to be reminded that even when I get it wrong again and again, God abides with me and you and all of us. Make time today to quiet your mind and open your heart to God. Offer earnest and heartfelt prayer in a way that works for you. Draw or write or run or walk. Sit quietly and ponder the wonder of creation. Walk deliberately and with attention, grateful for the miracle of your body in motion. Most of all, pray with the confidence that God abides with us through it all, answering our prayers in spite of our expectations. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, Photo entitled Riley at the Door’ by Phil Stone©2016, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Depth….

Tree of Life by Jeanne
The soil is tough to work in this part of Virginia. The clay and the rocks form a natural concrete, only softened by slow and steady rains. You garden on nature’s schedule rather than your own, outdoors in the damp and cool rather than on warm and sunny days. Add the century old oaks in our yard, and you find the soil a maze of roots and surprises. Yet there are days when my soul needs to be outside, too weary to bear another day behind a desk. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Jeanne, a friend who passed from this life last summer. A number of people have asked me why these posts have become more infrequent. In pondering Jeanne’s photo, I have found at least part of the answer. Jeanne’s work always challenges me to go deeper, to look beyond the obvious, to ponder the true meaning of her work. When does photography become art? For me, the answer lies in the emotions evoked by the work. Jeanne sent me this image in January 2013, and I am still uncertain I can find words that do justice to what this image means to me. I do know Jeanne has always tapped into the most vivid memories of my childhood, not memories of birthday parties or trips to the beach, but rather solitary memories of me exploring and attempting to understand the world around me. Trees have always fascinated me. Even as a child I can recall digging in the dirt, fascinated by the complexity and length of the roots. I have always had poor eyesight, so the tree most of you see eluded me. Until I got glasses, I thought we drew trees like a cloud because that is how we all saw trees until we got up close. Downed branches were the other way I ‘saw’ a tree. I loved to look at the way the branches divided, then divided again. Yet the branches had nothing on the roots. A mature tree has thousands of leaves, kilometers of roots and hundreds of thousands of root tips. So for every leaf there are a hundred root tips. What we see is only a small fraction of reality. Get up from your desk or sofa to take a walk today. Stop to count the leaves on a single branch. Consider how a hundred roots feed that single leaf. Give thanks for the roots that feed your soul, even the roots for the branches that have fallen away. And always remember, a leap of faith can be reduced to a baby step when we ponder the depth and breadth of nature. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Tree of Life’ by Jeanne Mischo©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Jeanne’s work, go to https://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Eternal Life….

Drops-001 by Amin Baher
I wrote this post three years ago, after fervent prayer for healing and wholeness. Today is Easter, the day we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead. So it seems fitting to harken back to answered prayers. Many of you joined me in those prayers, and the young friend we prayed for continues to do well. His physical challenges are many, yet his spirit is bouyant. Such joy in the midst of struggle is what we all seek in this life. Thank you for your prayers for him and his family.

May 9, 2013 – After rain and more rain, the sun is shining this morning. The yard and deck are coated with tree pollen and oak litter. Today the world seems yellow from top to bottom. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Amin, of a single drop suspended in the curl of a withered plant. I love how water takes so many different forms, and forgive the engineer in me, different optical properties. This single drop acts as a lens, capturing the world around it in a perfect, circular reflection. Even when withered, this tendril can support the gift of life, clean, clear water. As the rain drenched the earth this week, many have drenched a dear friend in earnest prayers for healing. When the world seemed withered and bare, and all earthly hope seemed in vain, the Holy of Holies brought back my young friend from the abyss. No, there was more to it than that. A great healing has taken place, a loosing of his soul from a disease even the best and brightest do not understand. Such illness can do far worse than ravage the body. Such illness can cripple the soul. This healing of the soul is what we pray for, first and foremost, the healing that we all need to weather the vagaries of this life, the blessed assurance our mortal span is but a single drop in the ocean of eternal life. At times our lives may be as hard as ice, or as evasive as steam, but we are all still flowing through the river of Creation. Make time today to loosen your soul from the moorings of this life, to turn your heart and your eyes and your ears to the Divine in each and every one of us. Let go of the idea that prayer needs a special place or time, or flowery words. Breathe out ‘Almighty’, breathe in your name. Let your breath, your very being become your prayer. And always remember to give thanks for the abundant life we are offered, moment by moment, one drop at a time. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘A Single Drop’ by Amin Baher ©2012, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Frozen….

Ice Bubbles By Sarah GulickLife is full of twists and turns. Sometimes I wonder how things got so mixed up and other times I am simply grateful to have survived. Yet as I ponder my younger days it seems to me I rarely knew the difference at the time. My friend Sarah caught that sentiment in her photo of ice bubbles under the ice. Sarah is out of on the water regardless of the season. She takes amazing photos of the scenery she finds, but most often these close ups are what really inspire me. She pauses to capture the beauty in the details that so many others simply pass by. Her photos often take me back to my youth. I recall deep resentment and frustration at the smallest offenses that led to moody days and restless nights. I recall plunging headlong into the deep end, then wondering how I had gotten in over my head. The only consistent theme I can name is an unwillingness to give up. I forged ahead, certain I could make it all right, certain there had to be a brighter future just around the bend. Yet that stubbornness came at a great cost, not only to me but often to others around me. I would push ahead, push others aside, push myself beyond my own limits. Then I would end up flat on my back in bed, sick in body and spirit. Perhaps God got my attention by making me stop and look up, instead of rushing ahead. It took more time than I care to admit to understand God was there all the time. I simply was too busy to stop and listen. Over the years I learned how to pace myself better, to listen more than I talked, to be more considerate of others. But most of all, I learned that I can only escape repeating my mistakes through prayer ad reflection. I can only gain hindsight if I look back with a heart seeking transformation and redemption. Make time today to consider how your past informs your future. Allow the Holy Comforter to crack through the frozen parts of your heart and soul, to heal you and equip you for the path ahead. Trust the Holy of Holies to set the pace and to guide you along the way. Pray for God’s answer rather than your own, for a way ahead that works for everyone, not just for you. Trust that God works in all things, even the worst things, for the good of those who love Him. And always remember, when we step back to see more than just the ‘I’ in the picture, we allow God to make us better instead of bitter. Text by Connie Chintall©2015, photo entitled ‘Ice Bubbles’ by Sarah Gulick©2016, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Sarah’s creative work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/

Reflecting on Situation Awareness….

Forrest Within by Lindsay McDowallEach of us believes our childhood is normal until we leave home. We really do not understand the gifts and curses of our upbringing until we learn how our family situation is different from what others have experienced. I grew up with plenty of family around. My grandparents lived with us. The evening news was filled with images of Vietnam rather than child abductions. We spent our days outside, wandering the neighborhood and the ‘Dead End’, on our own. Or were we? Perhaps we were safe because all of the parents had an eye on us. All of our parents watched over us and corrected us. We learned to pay attention to what was going on around us by example. We saw the adults looking out for us and we learned to do the same. When I joined the military, that ability was called ‘situation awareness’. We did all sorts of exercises to learn how to see what was going on around us. We learned to rely not just on what we could see and hear, but what others could see and hear. The only way to stay safe was to rely on one another, to take in everyone’s perspective. Now if that perspective was the same for each of us, there would be no benefit to collecting multiple viewpoints. We each see through our own eyes, filtered through our own collection of memories and concerns. What I say is green you may say is blue. What I say is safe you may consider too risky. What I say isn’t there you say is just a little further, a little longer. Together we can forge a way ahead that works for all of us. We may not agree on everything, but we can agree on the path ahead. That path may require more than what our senses can take in. In the words of Hebrews 11:1, ‘Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.’ Perhaps I cannot see it, but must rely on others who can. Make time today to look and listen, to soak in your current situation. Consider the curve of a loved one’s face, a leaf blowing in the wind, a conversation that could be more than communication. Suspend judgment and seek out perspectives other than your own. Ask questions that open up a dialogue, rather than point to a preconceived conclusion. And always remember, there will be times when we can only move ahead in hope with the faith of others to sustain us.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2015

Art entitled ‘Forrest Within’ by Lindsay McDowall ©2014

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 Migration….

Bad Year to Skip Migration by Sarah GulickThere have been many times in my life when I chose the less traveled path because I equated different with better. And sometimes it was, but not always. Snow is piled upon snow after the latest winter storm. I spent more time than I care to admit clearing the driveway, even with help from a neighbor. About a block away, a flock of plastic flamingos is stuck in a snowdrift. The birthday party is over, but the weather has delayed their retrieval. So how could I help but be drawn to this photo by my friend Sarah? I wonder who placed this flamingo near her snowed in car. Perhaps her friends had left for warmer weather, leaving her behind. Right now I feel more like a penguin than this lone flamingo. My husband is enjoying warm weather in California; friends are off for the season, or at least a vacation, to Florida. They send pictures by the pool, or of the beach. Somehow it seems I missed the cue to migrate. We really don’t understand what causes birds and animals to migrate. At the appointed time, they head to warmer weather. Without maps or an endless string of arrangements, whole flocks of birds find their way. Yet we find it difficult to meet up for a quick cup of coffee without endless text messages or reply-all e-mails. There are times when we need to make the effort to connect, and times when we need to separate ourselves from others. It can be difficult to listen to our inner voice when it seems drowned out by the voices of others. We need to withdraw, just as Christ withdrew into the desert before his triumphant arrival in Jerusalem. He fasted and prayed, faced his demons, and gained strength for the challenges ahead. Make time today to migrate toward the true warmth of God. Lift up solitary prayer from the depths of your soul. Trust in the new growth of spring beyond the relentless winter. Lay your deepest fears and heaviest concerns at the foot of the cross, relying on God’s strength rather than your own. Open your heart to new possibilities, take more time with uncertainty than is comfortable, allow God to surprise you. And always remember, when we listen with the ears of our hearts even the deepest snow melts away. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, written during the snow storm last week. Photo entitled ‘Bad Year to Skip Migration’ by Sarah Gulick ©2013, to see more of her work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/

Reflecting on Endings….

Blue Day at White Sands by Robert H Clark
Fog and rain have filled our days, the sort of cold autumn rain that chills you to the bone. Vivid leaves are plastered to the ground, a welcome relief from the grey skies and incessant downpour. It seems as though the rain began three weeks ago when my friend Ray passed from this life to the next. Our friendship spanned almost fifty years. I don’t know how to begin to describe a relationship like that. I don’t know how to begin to grieve. I do know I find myself laughing as much as crying. So I’m drawn to this masterpiece of a photo by my friend Robert of White Sands, a photo of a desert instead of drenched soil. The overwhelming blue mirrors my sadness, while the blending of the sand and the sky somehow captures the essence of my loss. There is a single point in the distance where it’s difficult to tell where the sand ends and the sky begins. I remember Ray and I riding our bikes to the bookmobile. I remember how we would read the same books and talk about them. No, not like we were in English class. Instead, Ray would make up new endings for a book he didn’t like, or extend the story for characters he couldn’t let go of. I suppose I was one of those characters, and the foundation we built so long ago sustained us both through the vagaries of this life. Ray was one of the few friends who knew of the miscarriages I had before my daughter Tori was born. My husband and I simply stopped telling others I was pregnant, for fear that we would have to tell them I had lost another baby. But I had to tell Ray. I couldn’t keep from telling Ray. He never said things like ‘It will all work out this time’. He simply told me he truly believed God would bring children into my life. He believed in a different ending and when I could not believe on my own I leaned on his belief. Ray was always challenging me, and all those he loved, to create our own endings. He saw no use for a script in this wild, wonderful life. If you don’t like it, make up a new ending. Make time today to open your heart and mind to the possible. Write your own story. Create your own ending. Let go of what is expected, or easy, or just plain comfortable. Build on what brings you joy, rather than allowing the essence of this life to slip through your fingers. Reserve time for your loved ones into your daily schedule, because we do not know what tomorrow may bring. And always remember, while this life may end, love such as this will never die. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘Blue Day at White Sands’ by Robert H Clark, ©2014, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Robert’s work, go to http://www.roberthclarkphotography.com/

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 Trust….

Rainy Ride by Bonnie Hamlett

The rain is pouring down, then drenching in waves. As I said my morning prayers, the rain was louder than the music at times, calling out to be noticed. So I was drawn to this photo by my friend Bonnie, of a rainy ride to work in Oregon. In some ways I miss the long view of the Western states, how you can see past the storm to the sun beyond. In Virginia, the rain is often accompanied by fog and mist. Fog is mysterious, something my grandmother called God’s blanket of love. You turn inward, rather than look to the horizon. Sometimes we need to tune out the world, to ground ourselves in the here and now. We can become lost if we only listen to the voices of this world, and neglect to listen to the voices of all Creation. It’s a question of trust, of what we believe, of which voices we chose to listen to. The portal from this world to the next is the heart. When we listen to the voice of our heart, we are connected to the eternal, we perceive a wideness in God’s mercy, we feel a love without beginning or end. What seemed improbable if not impossible becomes more real to us that our own breath. We know beyond knowing. We believe without seeing. Our hearts that were so burdened by concerns of the flesh are renewed by eternal hope and joy. I don’t know about you, but my prayers often devolve into just talking at God. There is no conversation, no time for listening, just time enough to rattle off my shopping list of concerns. I tell God what I want instead of listening for what I need. Then life stirs up a storm beyond belief, and I am brought to my knees. Those wants seem like dust in the wind. My concerns seem like so much puff and vanity. I know no way out through human means. I must rely on the Almighty to show me the way. The world says forge ahead, push harder, try with all your might. God says pull over, just breathe, listen with your heart. Make time today to listen to the rain. Allow the Holy Spirit to drench you in love, to drive out all fear and uncertainty. Let go of what you think you need, of how you expect things to be, of the why and the when and the where. Trust the Author of Creation to create new life, one breath at a time. And always remember, when the path seems the most bleak, every leap of faith begins with simply putting one foot in front of the other. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo by Bonnie Hamlett ©2012, All Rights Reserved.

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