Reflecting on Grace….

Elegance and Grace by Patty SteinerI’m grateful for a cool, breezy morning after a long and stifling hot spell. For over a month, one sticky, wet day has followed another. It has been too hot to even go to the pool. As a child, we would often choose to boat on the river rather than to swim in the pool, trolling along the shoreline to linger in the shade of the overhanging trees. So I was drawn to this unusual photo by my cousin Patty, of a crane wading in the shallows. I love the abstract quality of this image, making it difficult to nail down. I see layers upon layers, many cranes and many rivers, rather than just one. I grew up on the Delaware River in New Jersey, and spent time on the water as a child. We never owned a large motor boat, only a canoe, then later a Jon boat with a five horsepower motor. Both boats were small and light enough to strap onto the top of the car. We frequently filled the motor with fuel from the change kept for toll roads. Instead of boating being a major expedition, it was a simple as going to the movies. On the river and the many creeks in New Jersey, I often saw these majestic birds, sometimes so still they looked like a statue, other times slowly and deliberating raising and lifting their large feet. Then as a young woman, I worked as a surveyor for Federal flood insurance. The best days were spent in hip waders or small boats. The sense of awe inspired by these birds never diminished. I often felt like a clumsy, ugly duckling next to such elegance. Yet what I remember most forty years later was a sense of hospitality and grace. While I may have been startled by their presence, the cranes happily shared their space. Perhaps we have lost this simple sense of hospitality, making a visit into an ordeal for all concerned. We worry about the stack of magazines in the corner, or what we can offer to eat or drink. We expect each social encounter to be a Martha Stewart moment, instead of a meeting of old friends, friends who could care less about the housekeeping or provisions. A friend stops by to see a friend, to sit and talk, to pause from the busy-ness of life and make time and space for one another. A graceful host opens their heart, not just their home, setting aside their concerns to listen to the concerns of guests. Make time today to offer grace to those you encounter, your family, your friends and those who cross paths with you. Let go of your expectations, and allow the Holy Spirit to open time and space for you to truly be present to one another. Pray for wisdom and discernment, to see others with God’s eyes, to hear others with God’s ears. Move over to make room for easy conversation, conversation that deepens to the core of our souls and the bottom of our hearts. And always remember – ubi caritas, et amor, ibi Deus est – where love and caring are, there is God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Elegance and Grace’ by Patty Steiner ©2012, All Rights Reserved

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 Hospitality….

It’s hot and humid this morning, the sort of August day to be expected in Virginia. Today would be a perfect day to relax by the pool, able to take a dip when the heat becomes oppressive. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Melissa. An unexpected visitor was floating along in their new pool. At first I wondered if this little creature was a toad, rather than a frog. The body is brown, rather than green, and I wasn’t sure where a little frog would live in their yard, other than the pool. Yet he is a frog, with the characteristic outstretched feet that alternately secure him to a resting spot and help launch him as he leaps. Greeting visitors is often like my uncertainty about this little frog. We may not know who we are encountering, or how that person may affect us. A chance meeting can begin a new friendship, or teach us a lesson we never would have sought out alone. For over 1500 years, Benedictine monasteries have opened their doors to strangers, both physically and spiritually. St Benedictine instructed his monks to welcome all guests who presented themselves as Christ, for he himself would say, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me”, Matthew 25:36. In Paul’s letters to the Hebrews, we are reminded to “Forget not to show love to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares”, Hebrews 13:2. What we thought was a toad, might really be a frog, or an angel , or Christ himself. Our world has changed in many ways, and guests seldom arrive at our doorstep without calling first. Yet this idea of hospitality is something we can carry with us throughout the day. Take time today to welcome someone into your office, or pause to say a silent prayer for someone in the doctor’s waiting room, or in line at the grocery store. Greet whoever you encounter as if Christ himself was before you. Treat one another as God treats each of us, for we are all children of the Most High. Photo by LadyBug Crossing

Reflecting on Hospitality….

We seem to have a bit of a break from the heat, so I am motivated to get things done today. Sometimes the smallest irritations can become obstacles, an ache here, a pain there. So I was drawn to this photo of a woman in the Amazon, taken by my friend Sarah. These toes belong to the woman that prepared lunch for Sarah and her group at they traveled along the river. The woman made everything from scratch on a low platform. She worked in a crouched position that reminded me of one of the yoga poses I strive to attain. Yet it was this photo that caught my eye. Look at her feet. No two toes seem to face the same direction. Her feet may ache, but those aches and pains don’t prevent her from making meals. She continues to offer herself to others, making delicious and nutritious food for travelers that come her way. What she offers is as much about hospitality as about food. The Bible is full of restrictions for other parts of our bodies, warning us against speaking out when we should be silent, or curbing our various physical appetites. Not so for our feet. Our feet are meant to be free. Perhaps her bare feet are a reflection of her heart. She doesn’t dress up, or wait for the perfect moment or occasion. She is simply present to those she meets. Take time today to consider what hospitality means to you. Open your home and your heart to others, for a cup of tea, or time to share. Simply be present to those you meet, and free your heart, and your feet. Photo by Sarah Gulick

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