Reflecting on Demand….

Humble Offering by Leigh Hooper
Different times and places bleed into one another as time goes by. Perhaps childhood memories are so vivid because they are pure, unadulterated by previous experiences. Everything is new and we approach each experience without apprehension or expectation. I still seek that purity of life but find it takes effort to remain in the moment, to push back parts of the past I would rather leave behind. It is as if the past demands a reckoning, whether I like it or not. And these memories focus on what it means to demand rather than to offer. That is what I see in this amazing and inspiring art by my good friend Leigh. My first marriage was very briefly happy, even then punctuated by inexplicable pain. My first husband was a brilliant yet broken man, haunted by a horrific past. Those memories left him feeling worthless. He demanded love without giving it, never truly believing I could love him because he did not feel worthy of love. When we demand, what we request becomes a matter of who we are and what we are worth. By insisting we get what we want, we put our self worth into the equation. If our demands are not met, it is an indictment on our dignity and very humanity. In the face of such demands, nothing I could offer was ever good enough. But offer I did, again and again, until at some point I had no more to give. Yet offering was in a way my own salvation. By contrast, when we offer rather than demand, we let go of the outcome. The other person is free to accept or reject what we offer, and who we are remains intact. By opening ourselves up to possible rejection, we actually preserve ourselves. Now I will be the first to say rejection is not easy. Yet how do we truly connect if we simply demand what we want from others? How do we grow and expand our view of the world and humanity if we only accept what comes on our own terms, in our own time? What about when we are on the other side of the equation? How often have you found yourself in an amazing and wonderful situation when you accepted an offer to step out of your comfort zone? Granted there are times when we walk into a mess, yet if we let go of our false sense of perfection, we learn from those situations as well. We learn about who we are and who we can be. We stop limiting our horizons to the next small hill that seemed like a mountain when we started out. Make time today to open yourself up to new experiences. Accept an offer to explore a loved one’s interest you may not share. Try something new simply to learn more about them. Offer to share what you love with others, perhaps making new friends or deepening an existing relationship. Let go of what might happen and accept what does, enjoying the experience rather than judging its merit. Most of all, trust that the Holy of Holies has forged the path ahead, working for our greatest good and highest healing, now and forever more. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, art entitled ‘Humble Offering’ by Leigh Hooper ©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

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Reflecting on the Veil….

Flags and Flowers by Heidi Ann MorrisIt’s a cold, blustery day and I am hoping the dogwoods in my front yard will bloom before long. I love all the flowering trees in Virginia, like the one in this photo by my friend Heidi Anne. It has taken considerable contemplation to unearth the significance of such a tree to me. Memories seem to surface when we are ready to take hold of them. I contracted the old fashioned measles when I was five years old. The fever spiked at 105 degrees and my grandmother packed me in ice in her clawfoot tub. She refused to let them take me to the hospital because she was convinced I would die there. She felt the nurses were overworked and I needed more constant care. In her words, I was ‘too close to piercing the veil’. After the fever broke I spent three weeks in a darkened room with a radio turned down to a whisper. The volume knob had been removed to keep it at that level. Old fashioned measles was notorious for blinding and deafening children that survived. Any loud noise or bright light could compromise my senses for the rest of my life. I did end up with a weak left eye, the side that faced the bathroom door while I was in the tub full of ice. My hearing is actually more acute, an effect experienced by those who were meticulously cared for. I do not remember much about those three weeks, except an overwhelming sense that I was not alone. I knew my grandmother and her friends were desperately praying for me. She fed me that fact with each and every meal of jello and each time she checked to be sure I was drinking water. It was more of an abiding sense and a knowledge that a healing waiting me. I made up stories in my head and listened to all sorts of strange radio stations. Perhaps part of what gave me hope was that untamed imagination that is the prevue of every five year old. My most vivid memory is sitting on the porch for the first time after those three long weeks. Being outdoors seemed like a fairyland, and every color, every sight was over the top. It was early spring and there was a blooming tree in front of the porch, a tree a lot like the one in photo. Even my perspective mimics the photo, since I was in a reclined position. There were even flags of a sort that glorious day, at least flags in my imagination. The veil my grandmother feared I would pierce had become a direct line to the heavens. Life of any form was beyond precious, something miraculous and awe inspiring in its own right. My life since has been full of ups and downs, uncanny victories but also devastating disappointments. Yet regardless of what life brings, I begin each day with pray, with hope against hope in what may seem to others to be beyond hope. You see I have no choice but to believe in prayer, because without it you would not be reading this blog. I have been living on borrowed time for all but five years of my life, and God willing, will continue to live on borrowed time for as long as God needs me here. Make time today to thank God for your precious life, given to you breath by breath. Let the wonders of nature speak to you. Pause to contemplate the beginnings of new life on the trees, the nodules that began to grow last autumn as soon as the leaves fell. And most of all, trust in the healing that has been prepared for you, and deeply and slowly breathe it in, one breath at a time. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Direct Line to Heaven’ by Heidi Anne Morris ©2015-2017, used with her permission, 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 Discomfort….

Doodle NosesWalks with our dog Hobbes are shorter and shorter these days. We used to take walks of at least an hour but now he has become old and weary. I must say I walk less without him, if at all. Pets are good at reminding you what is really important, making sure you don’t take yourself too seriously. My friend Jen caught a moment in her regular walks with her dog Oliver in Georgetown. Oliver has a doggie friend I’ll call Simon who makes sure to greet him on their daily walks. Oliver responds by straining against the lease, eager to connect with his less fortunate friend. Oliver in relentless is his greetings, seeking out his friend even though all he knows of Simon is a nose and a paw. Tonight we recall the arrival of our Lord as a tiny baby in a manger. Christ was born in a stable, greeted first by animals. The shepherds, his first human visitors, were people who cared for animals. We also welcome family and friends into our homes, joining together to celebrate and renew our bonds. Yet these gatherings are not always comfortable or relaxed. Old resentments and unresolved arguments can sabotage the most joyous occasions. Our lovely dinner can become dinner theater. When we chose resentment over discomfort, we build a wall that isolates us from those we love. Rather than work through the pain, we convince ourselves it’s just not worth it, why bother, what difference will it make anyway? We think we have hidden the problem, and the person who caused it, behind a nice, tall wall. We think we can just walk by without bothering to acknowledge their existence. Yet that person may not even understand the offense. Perhaps there was no intent to harm, only miscommunication. Make time today to choose discomfort over resentment. Consider how your dog would act in your place. Let go of your grip on the lease and follow. Explain what rubbed you the wrong way and open the gate, rather than simply poking your nose through the gap. And always remember, while discomfort quickly passes, resentment can last a lifetime. Text by Connie Chintall©2015, photo entitled ‘Doodle Noses’ by Jen Ayers©2015, All Rights Reserved. To learn more about Jen’s creative work, go to http://kingdomofazuria.com/

Reflecting on Evolution….

Evolve by Claire BishopWe live in a small town. The Main Street is filled with interesting shops and restaurants. The buildings are old and in some sections little more than a shell. You can stand with the sky above you and an old tile floor below you, facing what was once the wall of a shop or restaurant. My young friend Claire captured a commentary on one of these walls. What does it mean to evolve? I’m not talking about whether we descended from monkeys or how long ago dinosaurs walked the earth. I’m talking about you and me, about how we learn and grow over a lifetime. The verb evolve is defined as ‘develop gradually, especially from a simple to a more complex form’. Our opinions change. Over time we view the world in more nuanced or more absolute terms. We listen more often than we speak, seeking to understand a world that changes moment to moment. Each morning I pray for the Holy Spirit to guide and guard me, to teach me to understand God’s plan for all of us, not just for me and my little corner of the world. I pray God will abide with me, gently opening my mind and heart each day, only as much as I can handle. Growth and healing go hand in hand. Healing requires vulnerability, a desire to turn over the rocks in our path to look at the worms underneath. Some are boulders that block the way. Others are smooth stones we could just as easily step over. We can only handle a one at a time, if that. There are days, even weeks and months, when we can’t bear to even glimpse at what is under a single rock. Yet if we trust that God has prepared a healing, that God is with us in the journey, we will turn over each rock in His time, not ours. When I think back to the really difficult times in my life, I was turning over way too many stones at one time, rushing forward when I simply needed to be present. During the worst times, I insisted those close to me, those who share my path, rush ahead rather than heal and growth in their own time, in their own way. Make time today to listen to others. Ask questions to open up a dialogue, rather than shut down the conversation. Seek to learn their viewpoint to better inform your own. Look for shades of grey where you once only saw black and white. Let God lead you, step by step, stone by stone, conversation by conversation. And always remember, when we turn over one stone at a time, we can trust God to slowly but surely mold us into the image of Christ. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, photo entitled ‘Evolve’ by Claire Bishop ©2015, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Storms….

Yurt - Girl Faces the Storm by Jeanne Mischo

It’s a beautiful summer morning, yet I am drawn to this amazing drawing by y friend Jeanne. Her art is often featured in this blog, art that challenges me and enhances my personal devotions. It’s difficult to say if the drawing is set in the distant past or distant future, if the storm is made of snow or sand, if the scene is a remote village or a planet from another galaxy.  It may seem odd to focus on storms when the weather is just the opposite.  Yet how often do we carry around a storm inside, despite the apparent calm that surrounds us? Inner turmoil has a timeless quality, persistent beyond all reason. You aren’t sure if it’s day or night, or even what is going on around you. The gloom can blot out everything, leading to self absorption and social isolation.  We may turtle in, hoping to wait out the storm, not realizing we take the storm into the shell with us. Others may choose to place themselves in difficult situations, to mirror their souls in their surroundings. Some even convince themselves they deserve to suffer. Yet all the while, the answer lies within, a healing has been prepared, abundant life awaits.  We must simply open our hearts and souls to the Holy of Holies, to lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross, to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Most High. Make time today to look beyond the storm within.  Allow yourself to rest in God’s love, to accept the peace of God that passes all understanding. Let go of what you have come to expect and allow the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and ears.  And always remember, the path to healing is never what we expect, yet we must trust in healing for that path to be revealed. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015 Art entitled ‘Yurt – Girl Faces the Storm’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2011

Reflecting on Trust….

On Her Back in the Tub Cropped

Trust is easy to come by when things are going well. We build on good experiences and come to expect the same. Then life throws us a curve ball and we get hit in the face. What we thought we understood, what we had become used to, vanishes in an instant. It’s as if one bad experience erases the good that came before. We forget the good when overwhelmed by the bad. Yet in such difficult times trust may be exactly what we need. If we turtle in, we close ourselves off to both the bad and the good. We must open our hearts to receive the healing balm of the Holy Spirit. Like this small child in a tub, we must trust the water is no deeper than is safe. She lies back and enjoys her bath, looking up at the adult she relies on to make sure all is well. Her Mona Lisa smile says so much more than a toothy grin. Even her eyes are smiling up at us. She knows she is loved and all is right with the world. Perhaps as adults we lose sight of the true meaning of trust. Trust is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability of strength of something or someone. When we focus on the vagaries of this life, we obscure our view of God. We seek pat answers to complex questions. We go back to asking ‘why’, that why of a child, the why used in place of every question. If we can’t trust life, how can we rely on this mysterious, inexplicable God? Make time today to lie back and look up. Open the eyes and ears of your heart to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who grants us faith to hold open a space for grace. Look for a reality greater than your surroundings. Seek out and cultivate beauty to strengthen your soul for the challenges ahead. And always remember, when we claim the promise of living water, we are never in over our heads.

Photo by an anonymous friend, Text by Connie Chintall ©2015

Reflecting on Fragile….

Collapsed Japanese House by FlorianLife is such a fragile commodity. We hear folks say this all the time, especially in the face of inconceivable tragedy. We speak of the lives cut short as fragile, but I wonder if we really are speaking of the lives of those left behind to cope with the aftermath. Friends and family gather round, in hopes of offering a comforting word or gesture, looking to pick up the pieces. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Florian. He has captured the ruins of a once strong and sturdy shelter on a mountain road in Japan. It seems just when we think we have it all figured out, life takes a sharp turn. We find that what we thought was solid is shifting under our feet. When we cling to what we thought was certain, we find it sifting through our fingers like grains of sand. All I do know for sure right now is that while life may end, love never dies. No amount of time, or distance, or change can diminish or wipe away love. Love is the only way to respond to such earth shattering events. Alone we can never hope to put this home back together, or make way for a new home. Together we can make short work of it. Most of all, we must be both present to the pain and present to the love of the Almighty. The only way I know how to walk that razor’s edge is through prayer. Without prayer, we can ruin ourselves and be of no help to anyone. I walked for a long time this morning, walked and prayed because I simply could not sit still and pray. Although I could find no words of my own, I keep hearing the Prayer of St Francis:

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.

Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there’s despair in life, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness only light,
And where there’s sadness ever joy.

Oh Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console.
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
In giving of ourselves that we receive,
And in dying that we’re born to eternal life

Make time today to open your heart and soul to the never ending love and mercy of the Almighty. Breathe out the pain and sorrow. Breathe in comfort and peace. Let go of the overwhelming and leave it at the feet of the Alpha and Omega. If you have no words for such sorrow, trust God will offer you the right words, or perhaps no words at all. And always remember, when you open your heart and become vulnerable, you can rely on the steadfast love of God, pouring into you and through you. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015. Hymn ‘Prayer of St Francis’ by Sebastian Temple ©2009. Photo entitled ‘Collapsed Japanese House’ by Florian Seidel ©2013, to see more of his work, go to his blog http://abandonedkansai.com

Reflecting on Lost….

Ma in Community Garden by Jeanne MischoThe cold, harsh morning is giving way to a warm, mild afternoon. March is alternating between the lion and the lamb, often in the same day. So I was drawn to this exquisite work of art by my friend Jeanne, entitled ‘Ma in the Community Garden’. I love her choice of colors, the brilliant blue sky, the vivid orange of the blossoms in the foreground, the muted colors of the foliage and the tiny mother. I can see myself drawn in by the flowers, especially this time of year. It would be so easy to pluck a bloom for my table and drift along without taking in the rest of the scene. This winter has been harsh in more ways than one. The relentless cold has been only one unpleasant aspect. Families have experienced death, sometimes after a long decline, sometimes too quickly to comprehend. Like most of us, I never know what to say to the grieving. I heard again and again, ‘I am sorry for your loss’, but am not sure what that means. I feel like a small child once again, hearing the neighbor across the alley ask ‘Have you lost her again?’ After moving into town from the farm, my grandmother took up an allotment in the community garden. Often when my sisters and I returned from school or playing with friends, we would find the house empty. I would reassure my sisters that we were just fine. Nana was simply off working the allotment. Perhaps grief is a lot like our childhood conversation. After all, we know the soul lives on beyond the frailty of the flesh. We know our loved ones are with the Holy of Holies, perhaps in a lush, vibrant, garden we can only see dimly now. Yet we also yearn for the physical, the touch, the smell, the warm embrace. It can take time to absorb the shock, to comprehend the reality, to accept the finality of death. It takes time to let go of those we love, even if we are to giving them over to God. Make time today for those who grieve, to lend an ear, to offer a prayer, to just talk about everyday life. Give them permission to celebrate the joys this life brings in the midst of sadness by giving them space to mourn. Pray for the Holy Spirit to soothe their souls, guard their hearts and guide their minds. Most of all, pray for God’s words rather than your own. And always remember, sometimes the best thing to say is nothing at all. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, Art entitled ‘Ma in the Community Garden’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

 

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