Reflecting on Depth….

Tree of Life by Jeanne
The soil is tough to work in this part of Virginia. The clay and the rocks form a natural concrete, only softened by slow and steady rains. You garden on nature’s schedule rather than your own, outdoors in the damp and cool rather than on warm and sunny days. Add the century old oaks in our yard, and you find the soil a maze of roots and surprises. Yet there are days when my soul needs to be outside, too weary to bear another day behind a desk. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Jeanne, a friend who passed from this life last summer. A number of people have asked me why these posts have become more infrequent. In pondering Jeanne’s photo, I have found at least part of the answer. Jeanne’s work always challenges me to go deeper, to look beyond the obvious, to ponder the true meaning of her work. When does photography become art? For me, the answer lies in the emotions evoked by the work. Jeanne sent me this image in January 2013, and I am still uncertain I can find words that do justice to what this image means to me. I do know Jeanne has always tapped into the most vivid memories of my childhood, not memories of birthday parties or trips to the beach, but rather solitary memories of me exploring and attempting to understand the world around me. Trees have always fascinated me. Even as a child I can recall digging in the dirt, fascinated by the complexity and length of the roots. I have always had poor eyesight, so the tree most of you see eluded me. Until I got glasses, I thought we drew trees like a cloud because that is how we all saw trees until we got up close. Downed branches were the other way I ‘saw’ a tree. I loved to look at the way the branches divided, then divided again. Yet the branches had nothing on the roots. A mature tree has thousands of leaves, kilometers of roots and hundreds of thousands of root tips. So for every leaf there are a hundred root tips. What we see is only a small fraction of reality. Get up from your desk or sofa to take a walk today. Stop to count the leaves on a single branch. Consider how a hundred roots feed that single leaf. Give thanks for the roots that feed your soul, even the roots for the branches that have fallen away. And always remember, a leap of faith can be reduced to a baby step when we ponder the depth and breadth of nature. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Tree of Life’ by Jeanne Mischo©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Jeanne’s work, go to https://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Notice….

Prim Hook National Wildlife Refuge by Timmy Miller
Nature is a tonic to my soul. Almost twenty five years ago, we moved to Warrenton, VA, hoping to escape the urban sprawl of Fairfax County. I frequently commuted to work through Manassas Battlefield, a beautiful park that preserves nature in commemoration of a Civil War battle. I figured I would have something to look at if I got stuck in traffic. So I was drawn to this photo of Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, taken by my friend Timothy on his way to work. Timothy turned aside to take notice, to take in the scene, rather than rushing into his day. As for me, I can’t say I always took the time. In the early days the traffic on my commute would often come to a standstill. I must admit I was rarely as present to my surroundings as I would have hoped. On the way into work, I would run my to-do list over in my head. On the way home, I would worry about picking up my daughter from daycare on time. Yet every so often, there was a glimpse of beauty that penetrated the fog of my daily grind. Usually I had turned off the engine after sitting too long, then lowered the window to get in a bit of fresh air. I would hear a bird, or spot a deer, or notice the redbud has just begun to bloom. In short, I would turn and take notice of what had been waiting for me all along, day in, day out. My heart would ache with awe as the wonder and beauty of nature stripped away the busy-ness of my life. Yes, I know ‘take notice’ is an old fashioned way of speaking, an old fashioned way of being. We can’t be bothered with focusing on one thing at a time. We definitely can’t be bothered with letting down our defenses long enough to allow creation to melt our hearts and seep into our souls. Notice is something we ‘give’ rather than ‘take’. Notice is how we quit a job, once we have stopped being treated as an individual, as someone of worth, as truly unique. We give notice when it is time to move on, rather than simply fade into the sea of sameness and allow our souls to shrink a bit more each day. What if we each took just few minutes each day to ’take notice’? What if we stilled our minds long enough to listen to the beat of our hearts? What if we traced each breath, each gift of life, as it passed through our bodies? It’s time to take notice, here and now. It’s time to turn aside and soak in the everyday miracles rather than rushing on into another busy day. It’s time to take notice before you find this precious life giving you notice and ebbing away one day at a time. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Morning Light’ by Timothy Miller©2016, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Nature….

Pierce by Heart by Rob Sarch Oct 2014This time of year always gets so busy. From now until after Christmas our time and attention become more and more divided. We lose the ability to enjoy the here and now. Before we know it we have become numb to the core. So I was drawn to this photo of my sister Lana on a recent trip to Sedona. Her husband Rob caught the awe and wonder of the place. That’s Cathedral Rock in the background, but perhaps the true sacred space is where they are standing. Such beauty stops us cold and demands our attention. Our hearts burst open with joy, warmed and nourished by the wonder of creation. God could have made a world out of black and white squares, yet instead, choose to create beauty, stunning, awe inspiring beauty. When our daughter Tori was a toddler, she started the Lord’s Prayer like this, “Our Father, who does art in heaven, Howard is thy name”. We started to correct her, only to realize her mistake reflected a greater truth. Perhaps this wild, wonderful beauty is a reflection of the divine nature of God and the eternal light of our souls. Grace abounds when we hold open a space, make room for mystery, cling fast to hope. That grace is often unpredictable, arresting, surprising, and yes, transforming. We need time apart in wild places to be reminded of who we really are, children of the Most High. John Muir says it best.

‘Keep close to nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.’

Make time today to look beyond those lists and appointments, and allow yourself to become lost in wonder at God’s creation. Take a walk in a local park or a paddle on a local creek. Keep a photo of a recent trip on your desk or as the wallpaper on your computer. Open your heart to that experience today when the rush and routine becomes more than you can bear. And always remember to look at nature through the eyes of a child and give thanks to Howard for the art. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo entitled ‘Pierce the Heart’ by Rob Sarchiapone ©2014

Reflecting on Rhythm….

The March wind is roaring outside my office window. It’s what Winnie the Pooh would call a blustery day. Even the majestic oaks are dancing in the wind, yet it’s the tiny branches of our poplar that caught my eye. So I was drawn to this magical photograph by my friend Luis, part of his series called ‘The Secret Life of Plants’. I am always amazing at how plants can be incredibly strong, yet still remain supple. Even the tiniest branches sway in their own peculiar rhythm, twisting and turning in response to the wind. We must let go of the specifics to detect this rhythm, looking at the same branch over time, until each particular image blurs together. At first, it may seem we have lost more than we gain, until patterns begin to emerge. We notice the graceful arch of a single branch is echoed in the scene all around us, the curve of the treetops reminds us of the shapes of passing clouds, the same colors appear all around us, popping up in the most unexpected places. The same Creator who blessed us with life calls out to us through the bounty and blessings of nature. Whatever name you give the Author of the Universe, whatever faith tradition you call your own, we all recognize the unity of our world. The same shapes and rhythms sing across the galaxy, from the tiny subatomic particles being discovered each day, to the far reaches of outer space. Take time today to see and hear the rhythm of creation. Pause to soak in the beauty of a single bloom, or to gaze at the stars. Listen to the sound of water splashing on rocks, or birds singing in the trees. And remember when we let go of our human perception, when it all begins to blur together, the rhythm of the Almighty will shine through, showing us more beauty than we ever can imagine. Photo by Luis Gonzalez, part of a series called ‘The Secret Life of Plants’

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

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