Reflecting on the View….

Swaying Aspens by Adrienne O'Hara
Watercolor has always fascinated me. It requires patience and talent, or perhaps a cultivation of both. I love to linger over a beautiful view, yet my talents do not allow me to capture that scene through art. My dear friend Adrienne recently took up watercolor, and this is the result of one of her initial efforts. You can see she casually took a photo of her work, not worrying if the piece was exactly square. Perhaps that is really what art is all about – letting go of the need to be ever so tidy and neat. She abandoned her notion of what she saw and let the scene flow into her eyes and out through her hands onto the paper. I can almost see the aspens swaying in the wind. This watercolor reminds me of our time in England. My daughter started school there and I was fortunate to spend many lovely days on field trips with her class. Sometimes we would visit a small museum or a business, the sort of field trip we are used to here in the United States. Then one beautiful spring morning we took a walk in the woods with a picnic lunch. We walked for a long time until we came upon a bend in the creek. The forest floor was carpeted in wildflowers and the leaves and grass were that amazing bright green of new growth. The teacher asked the children to find a view they liked and to take out their sketchbooks. She had made similar requests at the museums we visited. Pick something you really like and sketch it. She believed we captured the essence of what we saw by lingering over it, by using our hands to secure it in our minds. There was serious learning in museum sketches but what was today about? Leave it to the English to fold serious learning into a walk in the woods. The other chaperone was an avid gardener, no, more than that, an amateur botanist. Soon I could see not only sketches, but also the Latin names for each plant at the bottom. Later the children were given the opportunity to watercolor their sketches. Quite an impressive request of second graders, with equally impressive results. My now 25 year old daughter has a degree in architecture and works with a construction company. She models the parts of the building design where there can be conflicts, such as plumbing and electrical. Her work literally helps the team see inside of the walls. I wonder if her career began with those field trips and her sketches. She may not paint, but every day she uses an eye trained to keenly observe the scene at hand. She can see details that elude the rest of us, but perhaps we all can learn to linger a little longer to breathe in the essence of now. Make time today to slow down and soak in your surroundings. Hold open space for the beauty around you, whether it is the whole scene or just a single blade of grass. Allow your prayers to be joined with the prayers of creation, as it is written:

“Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and everything that moves in it” – Psalm 69:34

Most of all, let the same Creator who formed each of us in the womb guide us through the gift of His bountiful creation.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Watercolor entitled ’Swaying Aspens’ by Adrienne O’Hara©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Blood….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

Ivy in the pines by Anthony Guida
Ivy is a remarkable plant, growing extravagantly even in harsh environments. Ivy is an evergreen, as you can see in this photo by my new friend Anthony. The leaves may lose color in the cold, but there is no doubt life remains vibrant throughout the winter. Ivy represents eternity, fidelity and strong affection, as experienced in marriage and lifelong friendships. What strikes me in this amazing photo are the veins of the ivy, its life blood. I’m from New Jersey and grew up near where this photo was taken in the Pine Barrens. Blood is a big deal there, perhaps even more than most places. Friends are nice, but family is family no matter what. That way of thinking is far from new. It’s the reason families fuss so much over marriage – the two families become one and neither family may appreciate the choices made by young love. How many novels and plays feature parents who would prefer declaring their own child dead rather than accepting their choice in marriage? Still, we did just fine until Jesus came along, upsetting the apple cart in the worst way. Christ teaches that faith may pit parents against children, may sink the family business, may even risk the next generation’s inheritance, God forbid. Yet there is more to it than that. Our faith broadens our family beyond blood. We are brothers and sisters in the faith. So how did all that come out of ivy? I am an active member of the faith community at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Catlett, VA. I have been an active member of the parish near wherever we have lived for almost fifty years. With all that activity, there are Sundays when I am very grateful for this extended family, especially when we were stationed far from home. There are just as many Sundays where I am not certain I want the family I have, let alone all these extras. Thank God Sunday is the start of a new week because an awful lot happened last week that I would rather forget than begin to deal with. Then before I know it, I am blown away by the generosity and grace of that faith family. I wonder where I would be without it. Like this ivy that is a little worse for wear, blood still courses through the veins of unions forged in faith and adversity. Make time today to consider relationships you hold dear. Reach out and let others know the difference they make in your life. Ask what you can do for those you love, rather than face regrets over missing the mark. Lean on someone for their wisdom and knowledge, even if their health may be less than good. Show them they still make a difference to you despite their struggles. And most of all, hold tight to the vine, trusting in God to get us all through this day and every day together.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Photo entitled ‘Eternal Ivy’ by Anthony Guida©2020, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of his work and The Pines, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

Reflecting on Mystery….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

Mystery in the Pines
I have had the great good fortune to live in many locations where words do not do justice to the surroundings. The first was southern New Jersey, in particular,The Pines. Before you get ahead of me, this is not the New Jersey you see from the turnpike, or in the congested areas along the Delaware River or the Atlantic Ocean. This is a wild and mysterious place where the scenery seems to shift from day to day. The area is a large bowl, with most of the land 10 to 12 feet below sea level. Water is everywhere – if not within sight then just a foot or two under the soil. As seasons change and weather does its worst, water forms and reforms the same scenery again and again. Small patches of vegetation crest the wetlands, and on good days the water mirrors the sky above. My new friend Julius caught an especially mysterious scene, one where the rushes have adapted to the flowing water while this tree appears to be struggling. I love this photo because I am not sure where the water ends and the sky begins. I am not even sure if the sun is rising or setting. All I know for sure is that Julius has captured that in between time, when it is not quite bright but definitely not dark. How often does this mortal life or ours feel like the moment caught in this image? We want to live in the light, yet never seem to make it beyond that in between place, not dark, not quite light. We begin the day facing the light, perhaps even taking time to pray, hoping those morning devotions last at least until our second cup of coffee. Then something annoys us, disrupts our routine, disappoints our meager expectations. We rush to react, turning a little each time from the light and peering back into the darkness. I don’t know about you, but the hardest part of my faith journey is simply allowing mystery to exist at all. I like simple answers, yes or no, black or white, good or bad. Yet once I take hold of that simple, straight forward view of life, I lose track of the divine source of that life, the mystery of creation. I fail to hold open a space for grace, to make room for the water of creation to flow through my life and into my veins. Rather than lean on the strength of the Almighty, I wear myself out insisting on the more defined, yet infinitely more difficult path. Then as if God knew I needed the reminder, this Sunday the New Testament reading included this passage:

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9

Make time today to embrace the uncertainty of this life, trusting in the power of the Holy of Holies to forge a path ahead much better than the one you can create alone. Embrace the unexpected twists and turns, trusting that each step has its own part in the final outcome. Start your day with a simple prayer, seeking to see the Creator in the everyday things of this life, to notice signs of hope and awe rather than doubt and doom. Slow down when you are tempted to speed up, respond rather than react. Most of all, let those sacred moments dwell in your heart and soul. Hold that majesty closer than the temptations of this life, and allow wonder to guide your thoughts, words and actions.

Text by Connie Chintall©2020

Photo entitled ’Majesty and Mystery in The Pines’ by Julius Akras©2020, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

To see more of his work and The pines, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

Reflecting on Infinity….

Beach and Beyond by Gillian Barr Nov 2019
As time goes by, I find the simplest things bring up more than one memory or association. The longer I live, the more I bring along with me, the more that can weigh me down or lift me up. This photo of the sunset on the beach near San Diego is a good example. I recall visiting my friend Gillian when she was ordained and probably walking on that same beach. I think back to work trips to San Diego, always a respite from the office in LA. Yet today one memory stands out more than the others. As a young officer and later as the wife of an officer, I spent almost eight years living near the beach in Los Angeles. I frequently ran or biked along the beach after work, passing the same scenery on the way out and the way back. This time of year, the sun was low in the sky, prompting me to be distracted by the scenery yet also cautious of delaying too long. The evening brought the homeless to their perches along the path. Some were friendly, others were at best benign. Either way, it was not the place to be as a young woman after dark. Yet while the sand harbored the lost, the sea and the sky stopped me in my tracks, like the lone bird in this photo. I would stand in awe of the majesty opening before me, too large to conceive of with my mind. The symphony of waves crashing along the beach drowned out the cares of the day and my heart and soul were renewed. Perhaps to open my heart I needed a scene larger than my imagination, a scene that continued beyond the horizon to distant shores on the other side of the world. I need a glimpse of the infinite to even begin to understand the Holy of Holies, to let go of my rational mind and to see and hear the Alpha and Omega with my heart. Make time today to ponder beauty and majesty in your surroundings. Perhaps there is a place to pause along your commute, or a short walk from home. Pluck a bloom or pick up a leaf, resting in the colors and intricacy of the tiniest thing. Consider taking a photo and folding a piece of creation into your daily work. Most of all, let yourself be surprised by what seeks you out – our Lord is waiting to enfold you at every turn.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo collage entitled ’Beyond the Sea and Shore’ by Gillian Barr©2019, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Wildflowers….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

P1020886Every so often my husband and I make a list of places we want to visit. We learned while living overseas that if we only travel to places we both want to go then we will travel much less often. I have always wanted to go to the Himalayas, the roof of the world. I wasn’t interested in conquering a mountain or pushing myself to the limit physically. I wanted to visit a place where faith is woven into everyday life. Since I was traveling on my own, I joined a tour by Road Scholar to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. This photo best captures what Tibet felt like to me. For the past 60 years, Tibet has been part of China. I expected to see and feel deep faith in this part of the world, but I also felt a great sorrow. We left the city of Lhasa to visit a family with a small farm and a nunnery in the hills. This photo is taken on a bathroom stop on the side of the road. We had driven past groups of tall buildings that looked like they were made out of Legos. While we were staying in the old part of Lhasa on one side of the river, these high rises centered around the new train station on the other side of the river. Han Chinese are settling there, creating their own city and culture. Yet despite the relentless influx of new settlers, the wildflower of faith will not be contained. It seems as if the sturdy fence is the old city, helping to prop up the wildflowers, while the Lego buildings are the chicken wire fence, hoping to keep out the wildflowers. Yet no matter what fence you add to the landscape, their ancient faith will not be contained. Like the wildflowers, faith finds its own way, stopping you in your tracks. Not long after we left this spot we arrived at a small nunnery. We found the nuns chanting to celebrate Buddha Descending, a holy day commemorating when Buddha appeared to his mother after his death. She is revered as the mother of all Buddhas, the shining example of wisdom married to compassion. As I listened to the nuns chant, my heart burst open until it seemed as though the whole world fit inside it. All at once my heart knew that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. Me as an individual is just as much of an illusion as borders on a map or faiths by different names. We are all one in the eyes of the Divine. Make time today to break down the fences that seek to contain the wildflowers of faith. Step out of your comfort zone and reach out to someone different from you on the outside, while so much the same on the inside. Stop to look and listen with your heart rather than your mind. And don’t be surprised if the one image that sticks with you afterward also happens to be the most mundane.

Text and photo by Connie Chintall ©2019, used with permission, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Fret….

without a care by june loving oct 2018It’s a windy Sunday afternoon and I am looking forward to doing little or nothing. I know I am safe from the wind, curled up on the sofa next to a nice, warm fire. Yet as a child I feared that wild sound of the wind. I would wake in the night from strange dreams, nightmares about yelling for help that no one could hear. Fret describes my old reaction to the wind. I worried myself into a state over that wind, not grasping the notion that the wind was outside and I was safe inside. The word fret means more than just worry. To fret means to remain in a constant state of worry, gnawing away at something. A harness can fret the skin of a horse, wearing away the hair and even tearing open a wound. Fret can constrict us, making small problems seem insurmountable. Even victories can slip from our grasp as we fret over the minor details that were less than ideal. In time we may not even venture out of our comfort zone, and even that may shrink in time. I love this amazing photo by my good friend June Loving of the view from her home on the Chesapeake Bay. Before we lived in England, a view like this would lead me to cancel plans. I would fret over the possibility of rain or the choppy surf. In England, that would mean we never left the house. We learned that there really wasn’t bad weather; there was only inappropriate clothing. You simply dressed for the weather and hoped for the best. The weather certainly did not keep you from showing up. Since then, we do not cancel plans based on the weather. Often a day that starts out with ominous clouds ends with blue skies. Either way we had a good day. What if fret is like these clouds or that choppy surf? What if fret is a call to forge ahead, a call to prayer, an invitation into the presence of the holy? If it is, then that fret will remain until we answer the Holy of Holies. God will persist as long as we resist, drawing us again and again into communion. To let go and let God is an invitation into a greater good we cannot even begin to enter under our own power. Make time today to step out of your comfort zone. Consider that uncomfortable emotion a call to prayer rather than a call to retreat. Allow God to show you a new and better way ahead. Most of all, look for beauty and grace in this less than perfect world as you hold open space for God’s grace. Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo entitled ‘Without a Care’ by June Loving ©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Grace….

Frosty View by Kira Skala Dec 18
Grace is a struggle for me. I am not talking about being clumsy, although I am that. I am talking about making room for something I rarely comprehend let alone allow in. Some folks talk about feeling unworthy. Others are uncomfortable giving up control. I probably fall into the second group, but honestly, the real issue is I am simply too caught up in my own little world to make room for God’s grace. I am content in my own little bubble, and it is quite lovely there if I do say so myself. I think I can see clearly, but then I begin to miss things. Like this lovely photo by my friend Kira, my view has frosted over. I can’t really see beyond the glass. At times like these, the world seems cold, even dangerous, and God feels far away. Without room for God’s grace, hope is illusive and fleeting.

Things began to shift for me during a two-year spiritual direction program at Richmond Hill. I spent a weekend a month in retreat with a group of twenty fellow seekers. We learned about all sorts of things, but the most enduring lesson I learned was about holding open a space for God’s grace. So wait – I not only had to make room, I had to hold the space open? At first it seemed silly and frustrating. I was going to end up at the same place anyway so why bother? Then with practice I found things fell into place in a way I never thought possible, as if divinely ordered. Rather than insisting and arguing, I simply asked and waited, often much longer than I felt comfortable waiting. Instead of one of us losing so the other could win, options presented themselves where we both won. I still cannot say I am comfortable – I like to have an answer now if not sooner. Yet with practice I am finding my answer falls far short of the answer God has waiting for me. In engineering terms, my best is a local maximum; God’s best is a global maximum. Make time to let go of a struggle that is wearing you down. Refrain from judging the actions of others or yourself. Climb out of that safe little bubble and open your eyes and ears to the vastness of creation. Let go of what you thought the answer would be or what it would look like and let God pour down His grace to create an answer for all of us. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, photo entitled ‘Winter Glass’ by Kira Skala©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Relentless….

Turning Time Upside Down by Michael Gerke May 2018
This year seems to be a never-ending series of health issues for me. I find it hard to complain about my concerns when others are facing heart conditions or cancer. Yet it feels like three bouts of bronchitis, a root canal and now a UTI are a bit more than I can handle in six months. It seems these minor health concerns have rolled in one after another, in a relentless wave of annoyances. So, I find myself drawn into this amazing art by my nephew Mike. Relentless is a word that can cut both ways, depending on what we apply it to. After the birth of a child, it is the only word to describe the care an infant requires. No matter what you have been told or how closely you tried to listen and understand, nothing prepares you for the constant care a single tiny human requires. At the same time, nothing prepares you for the overwhelming, all encompassing love you feel for that child. It is confusing, perplexing and difficult. At the same time, it is amazing, enchanting and miraculous. The only response you can offer is to be equally relentless. You quickly learn how to ask for help and trust when it seems impossible to trust, because this is a job you must get right, and you can’t do that alone. Before long, yet after forever, you seem to find a new normal, then the child grows and changes. If you are listening to that child and those who love and help you, you change and grow too. If you understand this child does not belong to you but is simply given into your care by the Holy of Holies, you soon find yourself in situations and circumstances that confound and delight you. Your world expands and becomes more than you could ever imagine. Time relentlessly marches on and before you know it, that tiny baby is an independent adult. And that is the stage of parenting I find myself in now, available rather than productive, advising rather than correcting, listening rather than speaking. Most of the time my heart swells with pride, but now and again, what seems like a tiny thing trips me up. Yesterday I removed our daughter from our car insurance, a simple administrative task, or is it? I find myself adrift in time, recalling a busy toddler, then a dancing five-year-old, then a curious ten-year-old. Time is tumbling through happy memories of the small child I miss while cherishing the young woman she has become. Make time today to soak in the wonders life bring to you. Stop to play with blocks, catch fireflies or cook with your child. Reach out to new parents and ask how you can make a difference. Listen rather than speaking. Follow rather than lead. Allow that child to draw you into their world, letting go of the relentless nonsense of being an adult. Be relentless about finding time for that child, and in the process for yourself, because it is time that is the most relentless. Text by Connie Chintall©2018, art entitled ‘Turning Time Upside Down’ by Mike Gerke©2018, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

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 Courage….

Acrylic Courage by Leigh Hooper
Courage is a common topic with my family and friends. I don’t recall a single meeting as a Girl Scout leader that did not involve a discussion about courage. So, to those who know me well it is not surprising when I say I see courage in this amazing art by my friend Leigh. I see the daily struggle to live a good life, a struggle that seems too much to bear some days, and as smooth as glass on others. Courage is a blend of backbone and imagination, woven together to navigate all the grey areas of life. Like the acrylic paints that are poured onto the canvas and allowed to blend together, courage looks different from day to day. Yet I am not certain courage is something folks understand well. You hear about it when someone confronts a catastrophic disease more often than when someone is rescued from a burning building. Most frequently I hear that courage is the opposite of cowardice. I disagree with that assessment. Recklessness is the opposite of cowardice. When you are reckless, you act without fear, without considering the consequences of your actions. A reckless person may get what they want, yet their gain is often at the expense of others or even themselves. Meanwhile, a coward fails to act because of fear. Fear paralyzes the coward, and can lead someone to neglect moral values they hold dear. Their fear overrules their conscience. Both ends of the spectrum lead to sins of commission or omission. Courage is the balance beam in the center of these two extremes.

Recklessness —————- Courage —————– Cowardice

When we succeed in being courageous, we do not act without fear, rather we act despite our fear. Courage requires us to decide something is more important than our very real and palpable fears. So, this is the point where you expect me to start talking about soldiers or fire fighters or policemen. But that sort of courage gives us an out. The most important acts of courage happen day to day. So, make time to do the right thing, whether anyone notices or not. Think through all aspects of a problem, rather than simply looking at your own. Look for a win-win answer, rather than a win for you that means a lose for someone else. Ask for that raise, explaining your contribution to the greater good, rather than harboring resentment and further compromising the quality of your work. Most of all, forgive yourself when your courage flags. Learn from your mistakes to grow through your own challenges. Inconceivable courage does not happen overnight. Such courage is built over a lifetime, beginning with simple, day to day acts. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, art entitled ‘Acrylic Courage’ by Leigh Hooper ©2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

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