Reflecting on Eternal Life….

A Single Drop by Amin BaherAfter 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

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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.

Reflecting on Security….

Falling by Alexz JadeI’m enjoying a slow morning after way too many hectic days. The trees are beginning to leaf out, and the bulbs are blooming, yet it seems difficult to trust that spring is really here. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Alexz. I love her position, one foot trailing behind the other, her face turned toward the ground rushing up to meet her, one hand seeking to brace the impact of the fall. A lifetime ago I tried skydiving. I had always wondered what it would be like to jump. In fact, I feared high places, not because of the height, but because of my desire to jump. The real thing was more euphoric and more terrifying than I had ever imagined. After the chute deployed, there was the strangest sense of peace. I expected to hear wind rushing by me, but there was complete silence. I was in awe, amazed at how far I could see, at how secure I felt in the gear. Then I heard shouting and saw the ground screaming toward me. I crouched just in time to land safely, barely missing a nasty looking cactus. The reality of the jump had banished any fantasy about leaping off a tall building or sharp cliff. Yes, I had jumped and survived, but it took training and good gear, even the folks on the ground to help as I landed. It seems to me that security is a lot like that moment just before you hit the ground. You have done everything possible to minimize risk, yet there is always a chance something can go wrong. When you least expect it, someone is willing to take it to another level. Perhaps they lash out in anger, shattering the dreams of those around them because all they know is nightmares. Our security is always after the fact, addressing yesterday’s breach. And that security comes at a great cost. What do we gain, and what do we lose, when our schools look more like prisons than places to learn and dream? Shall we focus on the few who chose to harm others, or the many that rush to help, even at their own peril? The mathematics of tragedy has been distorted, with far too many news stories on the one or few that choose to pick up a gun or plant a bomb, while the many who quietly do good are ignored. What would our newscast look like if there was one news story for each person that sought to help another? Make time today to focus on the invisible heroes in your lives. Turn off the news and take a good, hard look at what is going on around you. Say thank you to the teacher who should give up, but does not, the mother who wipes away a child’s tears when her own heart is aching, the driver who stops to help another when he is already running late. Practice random acts of kindness, believe in the good of the world, turn away from a sense of false security. And always remember, all it takes to make the world a better place, is for each of us to reach out to one another in love, one thought, one prayer, one action, at a time. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Falling’ by Alexz Jade ©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of her work, go to http://alexzandrajade.tumblr.com/

Reflecting on Patience….

First Sign of Spring by Andi WolfeThe skies are grey and foreboding, ushering in a wet spring. Yet the nights are still below freezing. So I often see light frost in the early morning. Our poor bulbs are forcing their way through the last of the leaves from the autumn, much like the bulbs in this photo by my friend Andi. I love the frost on the dried leaves, the tiny cave formed by the emerging bulbs, the new life seeking light out of darkness. This rich image has been part of my wallpaper for almost a year. I ponder the photos over time, until the words that do justice to the photos are revealed to me. Sometimes I write in a flurry, afraid my typing will not keep up. Other times the photo has to sink in, to teach me something, to mold me over time. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with patience. In fact, I would say patience is my main obstacle to sustained faith. I pray and wait, then pray some more and wait some more. God always answers my prayers, but seldom as soon as I would like. But is it God that makes me wait? There are times when I cling to the wintery parts of my soul, to old memories and regrets that dry up the heart and steal hope. Perhaps it’s easier to stay safe, to turtle in, to pull the covers over my head. If new life is waiting to break through, what makes us cling to the old, fearful of change, reluctant to be vulnerable? Perhaps we forget there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday, no beginnings without endings, no room without clutter. In the end, I must admit, at least for me, I am the one in the way. I am the reason the answer to prayer takes so long. God remains steadfast and merciful, ever ready to answer my heart’s desire. I simply need to open the eyes of my heart, to allow myself to be molded, to make room for the Holy Spirit to show me the way. Make time today to clear away the dried and wintery parts of your nature, to water your spirit, to nurture new life from the depths of your soul. Let go of your expectations, and make room for God to work in His time, not yours. Allow the Holy Spirit to create a new heart within you, to show you a new way, a way beyond your imagining. And always remember, when we trust in the Author of Creation, our pleas for help are transformed from mere anxiety into earnest prayer. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘First Sign of Spring’ by Andi Wolfe ©2012, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Andi ‘s work, go to http://andiwolfe.blogspot.com/

Reflecting on Resilience….

Spiral Migration by Jeanne MischoWe had a warm spell recently that even fooled my garden. Bulbs began to burst forth, flowering shrubs began to bud, and then the weather turned bitterly cold. Today the skies are a brilliant blue, with just a few wispy clouds. Looking out the window from my desk, it’s hard to conceive how cold it is. I’m captivated by the strong sunlight, rather than dwelling on the obvious signs of winter. So I was drawn to this beautiful art by my friend Jeanne, of birds migrating in a spiral. I love how Jeanne combines math and science with images of nature. A tree grows out of the center of the spiral, a tree that reminds me of the Shaker tree of life. The birds swirl around the tree, moving ever upward, ever closer to the Architect of All Creation. Life is messy by definition, and seldom what we expect or plan for. The happily ever after of fairy tales doesn’t describe most of the paths we follow. Perhaps we are too married to the idea of a straight line path, the idea that we can always see the way ahead. We call the unexpected in life sharp corners, or say we have been blindsided, or simply feel lost and alone. Some of us even allow the vagaries of this life to bury us under a succession of small sadnesses, accumulating into an existence of gloom and despair. Others are like the birds in this image, or the scene out my window. All is well, even when it’s freezing cold. What fuels this ability to persevere? What allows some to bounce back, to recover readily, to seem to defy gravity? I don’t know about you, but I cannot manage such strength alone. It takes more than just personal prayers, more than time in scripture. I must be part of a community that draws me to the center, that reminds me of the Source of All Life. I need someone to pray for me when I cannot find the words or motivation to pray for myself. I need someone to remind me that all will be well, to ease the burden, to keep me on the path ahead. Make time today to pray for those you love and cherish in this life. Ask what to pray for, and let them know you pray for them. Reach out to others and seek their prayers, trusting that God has prepared a way out of the corner you feel painted into. Let the Almighty mold your sharp corners in to gentle curves, to turn darkness into light, to show you the good in even the most dire of situations. Trust the promise of Matthew 7:7-8

            Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

And always remember, when we trust in the Lord our God, we become like the tree whose branches bend and sway in a storm, remaining flexible and strong amid the challenges of this life. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Art entitled ‘Spiral Migration’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2012, to see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Frost….

Sometimes life floats along, and all seems well with the world. We chase our dreams, get married, have babies, buy our first home. We feel as if life will last forever, that nothing can touch us, let alone hurt us. We win because it never occurs to us we could lose. Then one day, the phone rings, or a doctor calls us into the office, and cold grips our hearts. We find there is a mountain we can’t climb, an obstacle we can’t avoid. Frost clings to us and we learn we are no more resilient than a delicate flower. Leaves lose their shape and drape over our petals, rather than reaching for the sun. In this amazing photo, my friend Gailen caught the first frost, when the leaves fold but the blossoms remain steadfast. Yet there is a double meaning here. Asters are also known as frost flowers, and have long been considered enchanted. English myths tell us fairies slept under their petals after they closed at sunset. Asters are traditionally placed upon the graves of French soldiers as a symbol to represent a reversal of the outcome of their battles. In Victorian times, the aster became a symbol of patience or anticipation. This delicate, wild looking flower is a symbol of persistence. True strength is born out of tribulation, when we pick ourselves up and continue to believe when all else tells us to despair. We learn to truly enjoy each messy, frustrating moment, understanding all we can count on is our next breath. We accept the gift of abundant life, not perfect or neat, but messy, heartbreaking, amazing, hilarious, all at the same time. We allow ourselves to grief, to rejoice, to let go, to begin again. We trust that the sun will chase away the cold, and that this too shall pass. Make time today to enjoy what life brings your way. Stop to consider the miracles of creation that surround us all, the flowers, the birds, even the clouds in the sky. Thank God for these amazing bodies we walk around in, for the health that we so often take for granted. And remember to remain patient like the asters, even when the leaves around you droop. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Good Morning Asters’ by Gailen Mapes ©2012, used with his permission

Reflecting on Shadows….

The weather has turned suddenly cold, and in many ways, so has my heart. Friends contacted us with such sad news I hardly know what to pray. At times like these, words seem inadequate. I can only offer the beat of a mother’s heart, the blessed assurance of each breath, committing my every movement to prayer. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend David. I love seeing the sturdy trees from this perspective. I can imagine David lying in the cool grass, soaking in the serenity of his surroundings. He captured that moment perfectly with his camera for all of us to see. On days like today, I am tempted to feel as if the trees with bury me, rather than shelter me. I look for light and see only darkness. I question what normally seems so clear. Then almost as an afterthought, I see the sapling in the shade of the grand old oak. What I thought was darkness is simply the shadow of a God more vast than I can begin to imagine, a God with ways above my ways, with thoughts beyond my thoughts. I cling to the wideness in God’s mercy, to steadfast love without beginning or end, to eternal hope that goes beyond reason, to God’s peace that passes all understanding. I pray for healing claiming the promise of abundant life, imploring the same God that conquered sin and death on the cross to intervene where mortals stumble and fall. Pause to join your voice with mine, to pray for a new beginning, to nurture the slender sapling that reaches for the sun above. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by David Buckwalter, entitled ‘In the Father’s Shadow’ ©2011, used with his permission. To see more of David’s work, go to http://www.buckwalterphotography.com/

Reflecting on Wilderness….

Summer is drawing to a close, on the Friday prior to Labor Day weekend. Leaves are already falling and the nights are cool. I love to hike or boat this time of year, when the days are still warm but not muggy. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Sarah Gulick, of her trip to the Amazon last year. This photo offers a haunting beauty, a hint of what that trip might have been like. I often ponder a photo for some time before writing about it, and began to wonder if this photo would ever offer up its secrets. Then a few days ago, Sarah posted a video about hiking in Death Valley. Both the photo and video make you yearn for the wilderness, to let go of the every day, to reconnect with the elements. There is a vastness in God’s glory we can so easily lose sight of, an infinite grace reflected in the Psalms.

10 For the LORD God is both sun and shield;
He will give grace and glory
11 No good thing will the LORD withhold
From those who walk with integrity
12 O LORD of hosts,
Happy are they who put their trust in you!
Psalm 84:10-12

We live on top of one another, crowding out the beauty that God’s creation freely offers. Even in the midst of decay or apparent desolation, we are struck by the bounty of nature, a bounty waiting for us to discover. We find hidden recesses, life amidst decay, creeks that may have changed their course. When we share these experiences, we create lasting bonds, an abiding legacy. We learn about one another in ways we never thought possible, and discover places lost deep within ourselves. Take time today to discover a patch of wilderness in an unexpected place. Look for birds and animals on the edge of a pond, or in a stand of trees along your commute. Walk to work rather than driving, or invite someone to walk with you during your lunch break. Get away this weekend, to hike or boat with family and friends. And always remember, even if you can’t get away, you can take time to see the world through Sarah’s eyes. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by Sarah Gulick ©2011, to see her cinematography in the video entitled ‘Wilderness Hike, Death Valley’, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dClNiEy7Hj0

Reflecting on Infinity….

The first week of school is behind us, without any major problems or concerns. Tomorrow we will spend the day at the lake, probably our last swimming day out before the weather turns cold. As we spend more time indoors, I seem to turn inward, to spend more time pondering the things my mind alone cannot grasp. So I was drawn to this amazing image by my friend Heidi Anne, a swirl of more colors that you can imagine, creating an abstract beauty. I am reminded of a rafting trip in Alaska, where the water was milky from volcanic ash. I look again and see summer squash in tangled vines, moss growing amidst decaying leaves, perhaps rose petals and day lilies. In one image, she offers us the bounty of creation, unfolding and changing before our eyes. The greatest truths of our world are like this image, deeper and more complex than we can begin to see with our eyes alone. The pursuit of truth and faith has unfolded over eons, as we seek the Author of Creation. We must approach the vastness of the Holy of Holies with love, loving God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength (Matthew 12:30). Christ took the first commandment and turned it into a rule of life, a way to open ourselves to the endless mercy and grace of God. We cannot fold ourselves around the infinite; we can only allow ourselves to be enfolded. I don’t know about you, but I like to be in control. I like to be in charge. Yet in this life the human solution offers so much less than what we are capable of through the Alpha and Omega. When we let go, and let God, life flows in a way we never thought possible. Healing light flows into us, then through us, love informs all we do. Take time today to ponder the vastness of creation. Join your heart and soul with your mind, then turn toward the Almighty with all your strength. Let go of whatever burdens you carry, allowing the vastness of God to make your load light. And always remember, when you feel painted into a corner, all you need to do is look up for a way out. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Art entitled ‘ Infinite Color’ by Heidi Anne Morris ©2012, used with her permission. To see more of her work, go to http://www.heidiannemorris.com/

Reflecting on Prayer….

School is out and I am thankful for quiet mornings, a chance to slow down rather than rush off. The days have been cool and clear, with picture perfect skies. There seem to be birds everywhere, birds you can hear singing even when you can’t see them. So I was drawn to this extraordinary photo by my friend Gailen, of two birds perched in a tree. You couldn’t ask for more of a contrast between these two birds. One seems to be angry, shouting at the other, with more than its open beak can hold. Yet what really got my attention was the other bird’s reaction. Rather than slinking away or hiding, the second bird is leaning forward, carefully listening to every word, regardless of the volume or tone of voice. How often do we shout out what we want, insisting that every detail is just so? We demand rather than ask, shut down rather than opening up, talk rather than listening. How we interact with others often carries over into how we offer our prayers to God. We scream to be heard, imagining God is so far away, or simply not listening. We expect God to slink off and hide, offering a human reaction to our anger and disappointment. Yet God is right there with us, as close as our next breath. God is vast beyond our imagining, powerful beyond belief. No matter how we feel or what we say, God can handle it, from you, from me, from all seven billion of us at the same time. Take time today to talk to God, without concern about your tone of voice or the words you use. Let go of what weighs down your soul and burdens your heart, trusting the Holy of Holies to comfort and guide you. Hang in there and work though it, like the Psalmist, starting out in a shout, then ending in song. And remember, through it all, God is eagerly listening, leaning toward you to hear every word. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘I’m Listening’ by Gailen Mapes ©2012, used with his permission

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