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 Guilt….

The summer is almost over and it seems like I have accomplished little or nothing. When school ends, we plan to do so many things, both chores and fun excursions. Yet somehow by the end of the summer, the heat grinds us to a halt, and we simply slow down or just stop. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole of Harkness State Park in Connecticut. Ivy covers the cut stone arch, even the urns are overflowing with ivy. The beautiful patterns on the iron gate echo the curves of the vines. The gate is left open, leading to a lovely garden and we are invited to simply walk through. Yet how often do we just turn away, not even noticing what we are missing? Perhaps guilt is a lot like this gate. We are offered forgiveness, yet do not accept it. We insist on remembering our shortcomings, on clinging to our mistakes. Or we seek to deny anything is wrong, and are doomed to repeat those mistakes again and again. Both paths represent guilt that can paralyze, preventing us from claiming the promise of abundant life. We become prisoners of the past, haunted by regrets of mistakes we cannot take back. Confession is an important part of the Christian tradition, a recognition that we are all human and therefore, all fall short. Yet confession seems out of favor in recent times, requiring us to acknowledge our sins, rather than keeping up a façade of perfection. Turning away from confession is like turning away from this gate, and foregoing the path that lies beyond. We remain in the shadow of guilt on this side of the gate, rather than walking through to the light of forgiveness on the other side. Yet guilt does serve an important purpose. Healthy guilt leads to repentance and growth, to a better and more fulfilling life. Peter, who denied Christ three times, became the rock of the church. Paul, the most zealous persecutor of Christians, became a powerful voice of the faith, spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles. Take time today to consider the ways you have fallen short, either by what you have done, or left undone. Leave your sins at the foot of the cross, accepting the forgiveness of Christ. Let go of what you have done, and let God show you what lies ahead. Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you to a better life on the other side of the gate. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

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