Reflecting on Speculation….

Walking in the woods soothes my soul. I feel like I am praying with the trees, that together we are grateful for the bounty of creation and the gift of light. Sunlight filtering through the trees never ceases to astonish me. As I follow the trail, the shade of the forest is comforting, almost like being wrapped in a cozy blanket. Then the sunlight bursts through and I begin to see how dark the path has become. I did not expect the light because I had grown used to the shade. Or had I? After all, the trees can only exist because of the light. Perhaps my comfort with the forest is a deeper understanding of a quality we all share with the trees. We are both children of the light.

Yet I see more than sunlight bursting through the trees in this photo. The path ahead is not clear. It bends away from us beyond the light, turning in a new direction. How long do we spend in awe of that burst of light? How quickly do we jump ahead to the bend in the road? How easily do we lose the present moment to speculation about the future? Or perhaps lose the present to the past, limiting our understanding of the now only to what has come before.

If you find yourself lost in the past or the future, you are in good company. C.S. Lewis wrote about this fundamental human condition in The Screwtape Letters, a training manual for a junior devil on how to tempt us poor souls.

The humans live in time but our Enemy [God] destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity…..He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present–either meditating of their eternal union with, or separation from, Himself, or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.

Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this view, we sometimes tempt a human (say a widow or a scholar) to live in the Past….[However] it is far better to make them live in the Future.…Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity.

[We must] fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality. Hence nearly all vices are rooted in the future. Gratitude looks to the past and love to the present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead….He[God] does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it. We do

(The Screwtape Letters , pp. 75-77)

To speculate means to form theories about what will happen next, theories frequently without basis in fact. We think first of investments with high risk and high payoff, of speculation in terms of money rather than time or faith. Yet speculation was once a synonym for meditation or reflection.

So where do we go wrong with speculation? We lose the present when we get ahead of ourselves. We miss crucial information that can inform our view of things to come. We begin to overthink the current situation, to second guess ourselves, to allow doubt to seep in and steal our present joy. The Buddhists call this temptation ‘speculative doubt’. Saint Augustine called it ‘anxious imaginings’. Perhaps the modern epidemic of anxiety has its roots in this corrosive form of pondering the future.

Make time today to simply dwell in the present. Let the beauty that surrounds you soothe your soul and seep into your heart. Learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, seeing discomfort as necessary for growth. Let your imagination and speculation ponder a future of possibilities, rather than a projection of past disappointments. Most of all, accept the gift of the present moment and allow it to become your window into eternity.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2021, All Rights Reserved

Photo of Lower Big Quilene Trail in Olympic National Park, entitled ‘Light and Shadow’ by Cheryl Lindsey©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Intercession….


Sometimes the simplest things take the longest to figure out. We look and look, yet fail to see what is right in front of us. For the past month, I have been pondering this enigmatic photo by my talented friend Mel Orpen. She entitled it ‘Ripples in the Water’, yet it is so much more than that. I see the shadows bleeding into the light, and light piercing the darkness. What formed the shadows in the light that we can see, unless there is light before the darkness we cannot see?
 
This time of year is always tough for me. I do not like the short days and early nights. A friend calls this time of the year ‘The Dark Ages”. The building he works in has few windows, so he goes into work in the dark and leaves in the dark. Then there is the darkness of Covid, no longer an abbreviation but a word in its own right. Our prayer lists at church grow, covering both those suffering from the virus and other health challenges that will not wait for the virus to pass. There are days I simply lay my hands on the list rather than read the names aloud one by one. I have no audible response to even the names.
 
Then there is a faint whisper, a small, still voice. Go back to what you know, go back to the old Quaker ways of ‘holding them in the light’. When the list is long, how can I hope to know how to pray for them? Then I pull myself up short, asking if I need to know? After all, we are asked to pray to the Holy of Holies, the Author of Creation, the Savior of the World. God knows each of their wants and needs, their hopes and dreams. We do not seek to bend God’s will to theirs, but more to open our hearts and minds to what is possible with God. Rather than limit ourselves to what we are capable of, we need to stretch ourselves beyond the hard facts and cold realities into the realm of the possible. Otherwise all we see is the current darkness and we lose sight of the light that came before and the light that lies ahead.
 
We are called to pray for others, focusing on the outcome rather than the current dilemma. We pray for healing, wholeness, hope, comfort, understanding. Prayers can ramble on and on, especially prayers for those who hold most dear. Sometimes we pray for ourselves as much as we pray for them. How can we help? What is needed right now? How do I keep from getting ahead of myself? How do I hold onto hope?
 
At the end of the day, I must accept I do not know how to pray for others, at least not with words or simple sentiments. These prayers offered for others are best left at the foot of the throne, as described in Isaiah. I let go because I know I am lost in the folds of the hem of the Lord God Almighty’s robe. My view is small – His is all encompassing. My love has limits – His love is without beginning or end. Most important of all, my ways are surely not His ways.
 
Make time today to let go of what you expect, to allow your prayer to become very simple. Stand in the darkness with those in need of intercession. Lift them into the light ahead. Trust in the light that has come before. Know that no matter how meager your offering may be, you can trust God will make up the gap. Then end by collecting those prayers with God’s words, rather than your own.
 
Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely
more than we can ask or imagine: Glory to him from
generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus
for ever and ever. Amen.   Ephesians 3:20,21
 
Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved
 
Photo entitled ‘Ripples in the Water’ by Mel Orpen©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To see her film work, go to https://www.imdb.com/name/nm2146410/

Reflecting on Silhouettes….

It’s a crisp, clear autumn day. The slanting sun casts long shadows on the tree trunks, accenting the brilliant leaves. So I was drawn to this photo taken by my friend Carole, in Shenandoah National Park. Carole captured what I saw this morning, the stark contrast between light and shadow. In fact, the photo is entitled ‘Colored Silhouettes’. I recall making silhouettes as an art project in grade school. We worked with a partner, standing in profile in front of a projector, while our features were traced on a piece of paper tacked to the wall. We carefully cut along the outline of our faces and mounted the profile on old fashioned paper doilies. I was surprised at my grandmother’s reaction to this project, which frankly I found rather silly at the time. She was so happy to have a ‘silhouette cameo’ of me. What I saw as simply a featureless outline, she saw as a way to capture what was unique about me, without the distractions of a particular expression. Perhaps what makes the silhouette appealing is how an image is transformed by backlighting. We all know how annoying bright light is to our eyes, when viewed head on. Yet how often do we consider how light from other directions informs us and affects how we view our surroundings? Take time today to seek out light all around you. Step outside at lunch time, rather than waiting until after work, when the sun has already set. Focus on what you can see, rather than what you cannot see. Allow the silhouettes created by autumn’s long shadows to open your eyes to the essence of what is before you. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011, used with her permission

Reflecting on Light….

The oaks in our back yard are gently swaying in the breeze. It’s pleasant for an August morning in Virginia, with less humidity than you might expect. So I was drawn to this photo of a picnic area in Connecticut, taken by my friend Carole. I’m always amazed at how trees in a forest space themselves, providing cover yet still offering dappled shade for the ferns and ground cover. In the woods, we find a balance and harmony that frequently eludes us in our gardens. The sun cascades through the branches, providing larger areas of brilliance than you might expect. The picnic table is just waiting for us to stop and ponder the wonders of creation. If we sat down at that table and failed to look beyond our immediate circumstances, it would appear we were in darkness. Yet light is all around us. How often is life like this scene? It is all too easy to dwell on our own circumstances, to feel that the world is about to end. Even when we look beyond our own lives, we may still focus on the darkness of life. Yet even narrow rays of the sun can blot out the darkness. Take time today to seek out the bright spots in life, to celebrate the new beginnings and add to the joy of others, and yourself. Allow another to bring light into your life, or brighten the day of someone who is grieving, or in despair. Even the tiniest ray of light can blot out the darkness. Photo by Carole Buckwalter © 2011

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