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 Generosity of Spirit….

There is nothing more spectacular than watching the stars near the water. Time seems to stand still as your eyes adjust to the darkness. Sounds drift across the waves and offer soothing background music to the sights of night sky. This photo was taken by a new friend Audrey Geddes. She look a long exposure photo to sharpen and brighten the stars, with the goal of capturing the Big Dipper over Batso Lake. Later when she took a second look at the photo, she found the comet Neowise along the horizon. I have spent most mornings the past two months contemplating this photo, mostly lost in wonder, awed by the majesty of creation. While my prayer time greatly benefited, I found it difficult to put into words what I saw. Then a few weeks ago, my husband and I were able to attend an outdoor church service. It is the first time we have been able to worship in person in almost six months.

The Gospel for that Sunday (Matthew 16:21-28) is frankly a reading I have struggled with for years. It’s yet another story about how the disciples just don’t get it. This time around the stakes are higher than ever. Jesus is explaining he must go to Jerusalem and suffer. When Peter objects, Christ rebukes him, saying ‘Get behind me, Satan!’. This is the same Peter who denies Christ after the crucifixion, yet that is not the end of the story. He later becomes the rock on which the church is built. What really struck home for me this time was a simple line from the sermon: ‘God is the only one who sees the entire truth’. The whole story is turned on its head when you start with that in mind!

How often do we congratulate ourselves on widening our perspectives, being open minded, giving others the benefit of the doubt? The bottom line is no matter how hard we try, we cannot expand our perspective to even a tiny fraction of what God can perceive in a split second. Like Audrey, we think we are going out to look at the Big Dipper. We may even wait and wait while the camera collects all the light it can. Then when we take a second look there is this amazing comet on the horizon.

God offers us much more than we are capable of taking in. We can look, then look again, perhaps ask others to look with us. Yet we are no better than the blind men each describing an elephant by the just the part they can touch. There is a generosity in God’s provision that overflows any cup, spilling out into unexpected places, adding surprises and delights beyond our imagining.

We offer up what we can to the Lord in response. Generosity is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. I have entitled this post generosity of the spirit, because just the word generosity is so often associated with money. We give something because we expect something in return, perhaps just a thank you or tax deduction, but usually at least something.

Generosity of spirit is much more than that. When we are filled with the spirit, we openly and willingly offer our gifts without expecting  anything in return. We recognize that we do not own what we have; we are simply stewards of what God has given us. We give solely for the joy of giving.

Make time today to look beyond the central focus. Consider what God has given you and offer thanks for the blessings of this life. Let go of the need to know the whole truth, trusting God is showing you what you need to know right now and is taking care of the rest. Be alert for the fleeting beauty in the midst of the eternal, the little gifts of being present to the Now. Most of all, open up your prayers, knowing God has prepared more for us than we can begin to imagine or know to ask for.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Quote from sermon by Dr. Peter Gustin, 14th Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Photo entitled ‘Big Dipper, Little Comet’ by Audrey Geddes©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more photos of the Pines,  go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

Reflecting on Legacy….

Stone House in the Pines by Dave Archer
Life is seldom what we expect it to be, and 2020 has sure been teaching us that lesson day after day. So many things we simply took for granted are no longer an option. I find myself praying in more open-ended ways, surrendering at a new and deeper level. I pray for the concerns of other, often concerns that cannot put into words. More than ever I just pray for their concern, trusting God knows what they need in the depth of His mercy ad love. Some mornings I just pray for the greatest good and highest healing, without clear knowledge of what that might be or how it will come about.

Lately I have been reflecting on this amazing photo taken by my cousin Dave Archer in at the village of Batso in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The structure is a disused horse stable, yet if you look closely, you can still see hinges on the wood covering the window openings. Even when this building was boarded up, someone wanted this stable to stand ready to use again. Who knows how many other buildings were constructed in years gone by, then reduced to shambles over time? This stable was built to last far beyond the life of its creator, a building sturdy enough to be used by children and grandchildren not yet born.

The Pines are part of where I grew up so by contemplating this photo, I often think of those who came before me and formed who I am. There have been good and bad mentors in my life, those I seek to emulate and those whose fate I avoid like the plague. It seems to me during these quiet mornings we all need a bit of both to grow and change, both a carrot and a stick. Simply running away from a bad example is not enough. We need a brighter future to aim for or we may just jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

Those good and bad examples left behind a legacy that is difficult to describe in worldly terms. Legacy is a word we most often apply to money or property, yet I wonder if this stable offered more than just that. Those who helped build this stable learned what it means look beyond today, to take in the long view. This stable took more work and time than a simpler building, so they also learned patience and perseverance. Most of all, they created something that stands the test of time.

What if a lasting legacy is really about the principles we live by, how we nurture and mentor those in our care, how we treat those we love? That sort of legacy multiplies after we pass on, continues and expands beyond what we can begin to understand or imagine. That is a legacy worth the effort, isn’t it? Our own achievements, awards and possessions pale by comparison.

How do we stay focused on that lasting legacy? How do we refrain from allowing the distractions of everyday life to overwhelm us? The Buddhists practice something called Maraṇasati. They meditate on the nature of death using various visualization and contemplation techniques. I am sure you are wondering what this has to do with your legacy, yet this practice is far from morbid. We learn to appreciate that our time here is limited and precious. What seemed so important in the moment tends to fall away and many experience a profound sense of what is truly important to them. For some legacy is still part of their work, for others perhaps not. Each of us has at least one talent or interest that fills us with pure joy – something that makes us who we are, singular and distinct from anyone else. What if your lasting legacy is sharing that interest, passing along the simple pleasures of this life?

Make time today to consider the legacy you wish to leave behind. Listen more than you speak, ask questions rather than offering pat answers, slow down when tempted to speed up. Refrain from judgment – judging takes time away from loving, and is far above your pay grade anyway. Be present to those you love, those who you encounter in daily life, and especially those who rub you the wrong way. Each one is sent to share your journey and stimulate growth. Offer what you have learned when asked and be humble enough to learn from those who may be wise beyond their years. Most of all, let us live this day and every day as if all we have to leave behind are our words, our actions, and most of all, our small acts of kindness.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Photo entitled ‘Lasting Legacy in Stone’ by Dave Archer©2020, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more photos of the Pines, go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

Reflecting on Trespasses….

Viral Encroachment by Kira Skala
Abstract art can be tough for me. I tend to use my head over my heart, so the images are not easy to understand or rationalize. Yet this abstract watercolor by my dear friend Kira hit home at first glance. My heart grieves for the world we have left behind as this virus has encircled the globe. My head cannot begin to wrap around what we are going through or where we will end up. Kira calls her work ‘Viral Encroachment’ – a fit title to explain how this tiny organism has taken hold of our daily lives. Something we cannot see has changed everything we can see. An unseen force has taken over, very slowly then all at once. I pondered the sort of things that work that way, piling up over time until the burden is intolerable. Each incident is not that big of a deal until you get to the last straw that tips you over the edge.

We pray about those little indiscretions every Sunday as part of the service. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. Other translations substitute debt or sin for trespass, but what are we really talking about? It was time to go back to the original text in Greek. It was time to ask our parish priest, Pete. In his words:

The Greek word is paraptoma: para = around or alongside; ptoma = slip, trip, or fall. Literally, it means to fall alongside of or more simply, to fall away from. Idiomatically, though, it gets tricky, especially for translators. It’s a verb, action, trying hard to be a noun, thing. Thus we get something like “slips” or “lapses.” For once, the King James translators weren’t that far off the mark when they came up with “debts,” in the sense of things worthy of grudges. Sadly, using the word “sin” really defeats the purpose, as it doesn’t look like what we think Jesus was trying to convey, but there it is.

The really interesting thing, at least to me, is that trespassing implies a moving forward into forbidden territory, whereas paraptoma suggests an accidental falling away from the good. It’s almost as if the translation is opposite Jesus’ intent: a paraptoma is, for all intents and purposes, an accident; a trespass is an intended wrongful act. – Reverend Doctor Peter R. Gustin

This virus cannot move on its own – people carry it from place to place, from person to person. You are contagious once you contract the virus, but symptoms may take a week or more to appear. Surfaces can hold the virus and be picked up by another person touching an affected area. All of this sounds a lot more like a series of little accidents, careless indiscretions, thoughtless actions. Each incident doesn’t seem like much but over time we end up with more than we could begin to imagine possible. It is easy to succumb to fear, to look for someone to blame. Yet are we really angry at any single individual, or are we simply furious at the whole situation?

Make time today to hold open space for grace. Consider each little act more like an accident. Forgive as you wish to be forgiven. Take precautions to safeguard yourself and others out of love instead of fear. Look for new ways to socially connect in the current climate of social distancing. Take time to check in with one another, especially folks we would normally see on a regular basis. Most of all, let each of us lean on God’s strength rather than our own. As Brother Lawrence would say ‘My only chance of success is with you, Lord, for alone I shall surely fail’.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Greek origin of ‘trepasses’, reflection by the Reverend Doctor Peter R. Gustin

Watercolor entitled ‘Viral Encroachment’ by Kira Skala©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Decisions….

Should I stay or should I go Ullenius
Decisions are part of everyday life, but not every decision is simple or straight forward. The toughest choices we all face in light of the Coronavirus involve when and if to venture from our homes. At this stage, we all understand we need to keep our distance, yet there are matters that seem to weigh more heavily as each day goes by. This photo by my friend Steve seems to capture the dilemma we all face. I grew up with streetlights like the one in this photo. There was one on the corner outside my bedroom window. I spent many a day at that window, home from school sick with everyone worried the common cold would escalate into bronchitis. I have asthma, so even a cold is far from common. This type of streetlight seems a bit bare bones to me, although the birds were always big fans. The birds ganged up on the pole, until there was no longer room for even one more to fit. Then they would all rustle their wings and at least one would take flight. As soon as that bird left, another bird would crowd into the makeshift flock. What was so great about this particular perch? Why did they all crowd in together? At first, I thought that it was a great place for the birds to spot insects, but it seemed the bird who was crowded out took off into the sky rather than toward the ground. Perhaps those lonely days I spent in my room as a young child were the beginning of these reflections. There is only so long you can read, and the only television was downstairs in the living room. So the view out that bedroom window became my television, for better or for worse. Now we all seem to be stuck inside and wanting to go out and play, or work, or to buy just a few more groceries. Perhaps there are more pressing matters, a sick and frail friend or family member you long to visit one last time. If decisions are already tough, then how difficult are they when the stakes are so high? In times like these, we must consider both our own interests and the common good, perhaps considerations in conflict with one another. The situation continues to evolve, so a decision we delay until tomorrow may no longer be an option. Like the refrain from this song by The Clash:

Darling, you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

We may leave, only to be stuck at that location for the foreseeable future. We risk a longer separation than we expect as restrictions tighten. So perhaps we need to simplify the whole decision process – are you willing to spend six to twelve weeks with the folks you are with at home? If you leave, are you willing to spend that long with your coworkers? Patients? Shoppers? Make time to consider what is truly important to your heart, not your head. Avoid overthinking the situation or getting ahead of yourself. Make decisions as needed, and once you make a decision, let it go. Enjoy the present and what it has to offer you. Cultivate beauty in your surroundings and be intentional in your actions and especially your words. Address concerns head on rather than belittling them or avoiding a tough conversation. Lean on God’s strength rather than your own, inviting the Holy Spirit into your midst to guide and guard you and those you hold dear, this day and always.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Lyrics from ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’ by The Clash

Photo entitled ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ by Steve Ullenius©2020, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on the View….

Swaying Aspens by Adrienne O'Hara
Watercolor has always fascinated me. It requires patience and talent, or perhaps a cultivation of both. I love to linger over a beautiful view, yet my talents do not allow me to capture that scene through art. My dear friend Adrienne recently took up watercolor, and this is the result of one of her initial efforts. You can see she casually took a photo of her work, not worrying if the piece was exactly square. Perhaps that is really what art is all about – letting go of the need to be ever so tidy and neat. She abandoned her notion of what she saw and let the scene flow into her eyes and out through her hands onto the paper. I can almost see the aspens swaying in the wind. This watercolor reminds me of our time in England. My daughter started school there and I was fortunate to spend many lovely days on field trips with her class. Sometimes we would visit a small museum or a business, the sort of field trip we are used to here in the United States. Then one beautiful spring morning we took a walk in the woods with a picnic lunch. We walked for a long time until we came upon a bend in the creek. The forest floor was carpeted in wildflowers and the leaves and grass were that amazing bright green of new growth. The teacher asked the children to find a view they liked and to take out their sketchbooks. She had made similar requests at the museums we visited. Pick something you really like and sketch it. She believed we captured the essence of what we saw by lingering over it, by using our hands to secure it in our minds. There was serious learning in museum sketches but what was today about? Leave it to the English to fold serious learning into a walk in the woods. The other chaperone was an avid gardener, no, more than that, an amateur botanist. Soon I could see not only sketches, but also the Latin names for each plant at the bottom. Later the children were given the opportunity to watercolor their sketches. Quite an impressive request of second graders, with equally impressive results. My now 25 year old daughter has a degree in architecture and works with a construction company. She models the parts of the building design where there can be conflicts, such as plumbing and electrical. Her work literally helps the team see inside of the walls. I wonder if her career began with those field trips and her sketches. She may not paint, but every day she uses an eye trained to keenly observe the scene at hand. She can see details that elude the rest of us, but perhaps we all can learn to linger a little longer to breathe in the essence of now. Make time today to slow down and soak in your surroundings. Hold open space for the beauty around you, whether it is the whole scene or just a single blade of grass. Allow your prayers to be joined with the prayers of creation, as it is written:

“Let heaven and earth praise Him, the seas and everything that moves in it” – Psalm 69:34

Most of all, let the same Creator who formed each of us in the womb guide us through the gift of His bountiful creation.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2020, All Rights Reserved

Watercolor entitled ’Swaying Aspens’ by Adrienne O’Hara©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Mystery….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

Mystery in the Pines
I have had the great good fortune to live in many locations where words do not do justice to the surroundings. The first was southern New Jersey, in particular,The Pines. Before you get ahead of me, this is not the New Jersey you see from the turnpike, or in the congested areas along the Delaware River or the Atlantic Ocean. This is a wild and mysterious place where the scenery seems to shift from day to day. The area is a large bowl, with most of the land 10 to 12 feet below sea level. Water is everywhere – if not within sight then just a foot or two under the soil. As seasons change and weather does its worst, water forms and reforms the same scenery again and again. Small patches of vegetation crest the wetlands, and on good days the water mirrors the sky above. My new friend Julius caught an especially mysterious scene, one where the rushes have adapted to the flowing water while this tree appears to be struggling. I love this photo because I am not sure where the water ends and the sky begins. I am not even sure if the sun is rising or setting. All I know for sure is that Julius has captured that in between time, when it is not quite bright but definitely not dark. How often does this mortal life or ours feel like the moment caught in this image? We want to live in the light, yet never seem to make it beyond that in between place, not dark, not quite light. We begin the day facing the light, perhaps even taking time to pray, hoping those morning devotions last at least until our second cup of coffee. Then something annoys us, disrupts our routine, disappoints our meager expectations. We rush to react, turning a little each time from the light and peering back into the darkness. I don’t know about you, but the hardest part of my faith journey is simply allowing mystery to exist at all. I like simple answers, yes or no, black or white, good or bad. Yet once I take hold of that simple, straight forward view of life, I lose track of the divine source of that life, the mystery of creation. I fail to hold open a space for grace, to make room for the water of creation to flow through my life and into my veins. Rather than lean on the strength of the Almighty, I wear myself out insisting on the more defined, yet infinitely more difficult path. Then as if God knew I needed the reminder, this Sunday the New Testament reading included this passage:

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9

Make time today to embrace the uncertainty of this life, trusting in the power of the Holy of Holies to forge a path ahead much better than the one you can create alone. Embrace the unexpected twists and turns, trusting that each step has its own part in the final outcome. Start your day with a simple prayer, seeking to see the Creator in the everyday things of this life, to notice signs of hope and awe rather than doubt and doom. Slow down when you are tempted to speed up, respond rather than react. Most of all, let those sacred moments dwell in your heart and soul. Hold that majesty closer than the temptations of this life, and allow wonder to guide your thoughts, words and actions.

Text by Connie Chintall©2020

Photo entitled ’Majesty and Mystery in The Pines’ by Julius Akras©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 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 Infinity….

Beach and Beyond by Gillian Barr Nov 2019
As time goes by, I find the simplest things bring up more than one memory or association. The longer I live, the more I bring along with me, the more that can weigh me down or lift me up. This photo of the sunset on the beach near San Diego is a good example. I recall visiting my friend Gillian when she was ordained and probably walking on that same beach. I think back to work trips to San Diego, always a respite from the office in LA. Yet today one memory stands out more than the others. As a young officer and later as the wife of an officer, I spent almost eight years living near the beach in Los Angeles. I frequently ran or biked along the beach after work, passing the same scenery on the way out and the way back. This time of year, the sun was low in the sky, prompting me to be distracted by the scenery yet also cautious of delaying too long. The evening brought the homeless to their perches along the path. Some were friendly, others were at best benign. Either way, it was not the place to be as a young woman after dark. Yet while the sand harbored the lost, the sea and the sky stopped me in my tracks, like the lone bird in this photo. I would stand in awe of the majesty opening before me, too large to conceive of with my mind. The symphony of waves crashing along the beach drowned out the cares of the day and my heart and soul were renewed. Perhaps to open my heart I needed a scene larger than my imagination, a scene that continued beyond the horizon to distant shores on the other side of the world. I need a glimpse of the infinite to even begin to understand the Holy of Holies, to let go of my rational mind and to see and hear the Alpha and Omega with my heart. Make time today to ponder beauty and majesty in your surroundings. Perhaps there is a place to pause along your commute, or a short walk from home. Pluck a bloom or pick up a leaf, resting in the colors and intricacy of the tiniest thing. Consider taking a photo and folding a piece of creation into your daily work. Most of all, let yourself be surprised by what seeks you out – our Lord is waiting to enfold you at every turn.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo collage entitled ’Beyond the Sea and Shore’ by Gillian Barr©2019, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved

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