Reflecting on Conclusions….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

Single Bloom Before the Storm by Mary Cristler Dec 2019
I know this stretch of beach well. My last assignment in the Air Force was at Los Angeles AFB in El Segundo, CA. A few years later I returned there as a new bride. All tolled, I spent seven years living in the area. I frequently would bike to work, and on Fridays I would ride home along the beach. I loved seeing the sea and sand change with the seasons, although in LA there are only two seasons – wet and dry. It is the opposite of how I grew up. The landscape is green in the winter months when it is wet and brown in the summer months when it is dry. My friend Mary recently visited and took this amazing photo of the view in Redondo Beach, near Avenue E and the Esplanade. The ice plants you see in the foreground are very tenacious and very prolific. These hardy plants prevent erosion, and look like common cactus most of the time. Then the rains come and you are rewarded by such beautiful blooms, a pink and purple combination like that intense color encountered in orchids. I imagine Mary is walking along the beach just before the storm, taking in the view, perhaps drinking her second cup of coffee. She liked the view enough to preserve it with a photo. What do you notice first? The single bloom, the expanse of greenery, the sea, the sand? Perhaps you skip over all that and only see the impending storm? The first step of understanding our surroundings is to discern what is present. We can hone in on a single detail or take in the whole scene. Ideally, we do a little bit of both. The real trick is slowing down enough to be present to what is in front of us, to take in more than one perspective, and to weigh all that information. All too frequently these days, discernment equates with judgment. There is no pause, no time to ponder, no time to consider more than one way of looking at the situation. I am taken back to one of my favorite childhood books, my first chapter book. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing teacher for third and fourth grade. Her name is Carol Tillinghast and she returned to our little town to care for her mother and teach school. She read us this book, a chapter at a time. The only gift I wanted that Christmas was that book – “The Phantom Toll Booth” written by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer. Like Milo and his dog Tock, we all to often find ourselves ‘Jumping to Conclusions’.

Jumping to Conclusions
In the book, Conclusions is a tiny island, completely separate from the rest of the amazing land Milo and Tock have discovered. They remain stuck on the tiny island until they can make ‘sense out of nonsense’, more easily said than done. Milo learns that ‘if you want sense, you’ll have to make it yourself’. Think about a time when you were judged unfairly or treated poorly, not because of what you had done but perhaps simply because of who you are or how you look. Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt. We all want and deserve dignity and respect. Yet it seems in short supply these days. We are so busy trying to decide if that single bloom is the first bloom or the last. We rush to create order where order is not needed, to offer our opinion as Gospel truth, even to solve a problem we do not yet understand. We jump ahead to what’s next, or impose a past we cannot escape onto the present. Our world quickly shrinks from an amazing land into a tiny island and we wonder why we feel so lost and alone. Make time today to be present to your surroundings. Look from one vantage point and then another. Enter into the scene and immerse yourself in what has been offered to you in the moment. Carefully consider those you meet along the way. Listen to the whole story, then pause to ponder what you heard. Ask clarifying questions, probe the matter further. Dig into the emotions, not just the facts. What may seem innocuous to you may be a matter of great gravity to another. Most of all, remember we pass this way only once. Keep your feet on the ground as your make sense out of nonsense. This amazing land is where you are meant to live – not that tiny island of Conclusions.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020

Photo entitled ’Single Bloom Before the Storm’ by Mary Cristler©2019, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved

Drawing by Jules Feiffer, quotes by Norton Juster from their book ‘The Phantom Toll Booth’ (New York: Random House reissue, 1988; Knopf; 1961)

Reflecting on Freedom….

It’s a quiet, rainy morning here in Virginia. The first signs of fall are emerging, as the children return to school and my husband is immersed in his work. The many shades of green outside my window are part of what I love about Virginia, the green of the grass, the clover, the trees, the flowering shrubs. Yet as the autumn approaches, I long for the flaming skies of the desert, the many sunrises and sunsets I saw, reflected in the sand, especially after a storm. So I was drawn to this amazing image by my friend Robert, taken in Death Valley. Robert took five photos to capture the beauty of this scene, using a variety of filters. Now you may say the result does not represent what Robert saw that day, but I must respectfully disagree. Our eyes are such miraculous organs, capable of such a wide range of perception, that our technology can only grasp what our eyes automatically see in smaller increments. Robert seamlessly stitched these images together to capture the awe and beauty of the scene, the majesty of God’s creation. Just as one photo cannot hold the beauty of this scene, one life cannot hold the vastness of true freedom. We are blessed to live in a free, democratic country, ruled by the people and for the people. That freedom is something many take for granted, failing to understand the full meaning of living free. To embrace that promise, we must accept that we are more free together than any of us choose to be individually. One person may choose to live in the midst of skyscrapers, while another longs for open spaces. Our careers are matters of choice; we are free to push ourselves as much or as little as we like. Most importantly, we are free to choose how we express our faith. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism – all are free to worship the Author of Creation in their own way. Freedom means accepting others are different, accepting that those differences are what make this nation great. We are truly free when we honor and respect the faith of others, in the same manner we would hope they would honor and respect our faith. When I pledged to serve my country in the military, this is the freedom I sought to preserve, even if it meant laying down my own life. Take time today to give thanks for your freedom and what that means in your own life. Seek to understand another who is different from you, listening and learning what their choices mean for them. Embrace the promise of freedom for all, not just a select few, seeking to serve others less fortunate than yourself. And always remember to keep your eyes open, because it takes much more than one look to see beyond our own backyard. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Fire on the Flats’, taken in Death Valley National Park by Robert H Clark ©2012, used with his permission. To see more of his work, check out his blog at http://roberthclarkphotographyblog.com/.

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