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

Reflecting on Wildflowers….Seeking the sacred amidst the ordinary

P1020886Every so often my husband and I make a list of places we want to visit. We learned while living overseas that if we only travel to places we both want to go then we will travel much less often. I have always wanted to go to the Himalayas, the roof of the world. I wasn’t interested in conquering a mountain or pushing myself to the limit physically. I wanted to visit a place where faith is woven into everyday life. Since I was traveling on my own, I joined a tour by Road Scholar to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. This photo best captures what Tibet felt like to me. For the past 60 years, Tibet has been part of China. I expected to see and feel deep faith in this part of the world, but I also felt a great sorrow. We left the city of Lhasa to visit a family with a small farm and a nunnery in the hills. This photo is taken on a bathroom stop on the side of the road. We had driven past groups of tall buildings that looked like they were made out of Legos. While we were staying in the old part of Lhasa on one side of the river, these high rises centered around the new train station on the other side of the river. Han Chinese are settling there, creating their own city and culture. Yet despite the relentless influx of new settlers, the wildflower of faith will not be contained. It seems as if the sturdy fence is the old city, helping to prop up the wildflowers, while the Lego buildings are the chicken wire fence, hoping to keep out the wildflowers. Yet no matter what fence you add to the landscape, their ancient faith will not be contained. Like the wildflowers, faith finds its own way, stopping you in your tracks. Not long after we left this spot we arrived at a small nunnery. We found the nuns chanting to celebrate Buddha Descending, a holy day commemorating when Buddha appeared to his mother after his death. She is revered as the mother of all Buddhas, the shining example of wisdom married to compassion. As I listened to the nuns chant, my heart burst open until it seemed as though the whole world fit inside it. All at once my heart knew that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. Me as an individual is just as much of an illusion as borders on a map or faiths by different names. We are all one in the eyes of the Divine. Make time today to break down the fences that seek to contain the wildflowers of faith. Step out of your comfort zone and reach out to someone different from you on the outside, while so much the same on the inside. Stop to look and listen with your heart rather than your mind. And don’t be surprised if the one image that sticks with you afterward also happens to be the most mundane.

Text and photo by Connie Chintall ©2019, used with permission, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Doubt….

Stairway to Heaven by Rick MartinEaster has come and gone and we are working our way through the Gospels concerning Christ’s appearances after the resurrection. I have always had trouble with the scripture in John 20. We find the disciples huddled together in an upper room with the door bolted out of fear. I wonder how far out of the way they went to find a place to hide. Was the staircase to that room like the one in this photo? Were they in an old, abandoned home? Did they seek out the last place anyone would look? Did they dare to climb up old and rickety stairs rather than risk being found out? And where was Thomas that day? Out for a pack of smokes? What if Thomas was the only one who was not afraid, not hiding away? What if Thomas was continuing the ministry? After all, Christ wasn’t there anymore and someone had to do it. He was a hands-on sort of guy. He needed to be in the middle of things, so see and hear what was going on for himself. We all know that Thomas, the one who either doesn’t show up for the committee meeting or can’t sit still while the rest of the folks try to work through the details. The Thomas who says ‘We need to get going, we can figure it out as we go along, why bother planning when everything will change anyway?’. Then one week, something truly eye opening happens at the meeting. The rest of us are excited and try to explain it, but all we hear is doubt. Are you sure it was really that spectacular? Thomas voices his doubts and asks the burning questions that no one wants to hear but must be shouted out. Without that lone voice, the rest of us remain closed off and nothing changes. Thomas spoke out, Thomas got it. That next week he remained with his friends. He saw the risen Lord. Is the end of that Gospel a rebuke or simply a reminder of how Thomas was created? Christ meets Thomas, just as he is, gently reaching out to say your service is great, may your worship be just as great. None of us can root that service in the Risen Lord in isolation. We must root ourselves in community to deepen our faith and fuel our work. Thomas was the man God called him to be. He was the hands and feet of the kingdom. He needed to see and touch to know the Risen Lord. Christ sends him out to be present to those who do not need to see and feel, because those of great faith and less action are no less Christ’s own. Make time today to live into who God made you to be. Spend time with those like you and those least like you, meeting each one where they are. Embrace each and every soul for who God made them to be. And always remember to refrain from judging those who rub you the wrong way, trusting God is teaching you both where you fit into His Kingdom. Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo entitled ’Stairway to Heaven’ by Rick Martin ©2018-2019, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Rick’s work, go to http://www.abandonedanddesertedinvirginia.com/

Reflecting on Fret….

without a care by june loving oct 2018It’s a windy Sunday afternoon and I am looking forward to doing little or nothing. I know I am safe from the wind, curled up on the sofa next to a nice, warm fire. Yet as a child I feared that wild sound of the wind. I would wake in the night from strange dreams, nightmares about yelling for help that no one could hear. Fret describes my old reaction to the wind. I worried myself into a state over that wind, not grasping the notion that the wind was outside and I was safe inside. The word fret means more than just worry. To fret means to remain in a constant state of worry, gnawing away at something. A harness can fret the skin of a horse, wearing away the hair and even tearing open a wound. Fret can constrict us, making small problems seem insurmountable. Even victories can slip from our grasp as we fret over the minor details that were less than ideal. In time we may not even venture out of our comfort zone, and even that may shrink in time. I love this amazing photo by my good friend June Loving of the view from her home on the Chesapeake Bay. Before we lived in England, a view like this would lead me to cancel plans. I would fret over the possibility of rain or the choppy surf. In England, that would mean we never left the house. We learned that there really wasn’t bad weather; there was only inappropriate clothing. You simply dressed for the weather and hoped for the best. The weather certainly did not keep you from showing up. Since then, we do not cancel plans based on the weather. Often a day that starts out with ominous clouds ends with blue skies. Either way we had a good day. What if fret is like these clouds or that choppy surf? What if fret is a call to forge ahead, a call to prayer, an invitation into the presence of the holy? If it is, then that fret will remain until we answer the Holy of Holies. God will persist as long as we resist, drawing us again and again into communion. To let go and let God is an invitation into a greater good we cannot even begin to enter under our own power. Make time today to step out of your comfort zone. Consider that uncomfortable emotion a call to prayer rather than a call to retreat. Allow God to show you a new and better way ahead. Most of all, look for beauty and grace in this less than perfect world as you hold open space for God’s grace. Text by Connie Chintall ©2019, photo entitled ‘Without a Care’ by June Loving ©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Grace….

Frosty View by Kira Skala Dec 18
Grace is a struggle for me. I am not talking about being clumsy, although I am that. I am talking about making room for something I rarely comprehend let alone allow in. Some folks talk about feeling unworthy. Others are uncomfortable giving up control. I probably fall into the second group, but honestly, the real issue is I am simply too caught up in my own little world to make room for God’s grace. I am content in my own little bubble, and it is quite lovely there if I do say so myself. I think I can see clearly, but then I begin to miss things. Like this lovely photo by my friend Kira, my view has frosted over. I can’t really see beyond the glass. At times like these, the world seems cold, even dangerous, and God feels far away. Without room for God’s grace, hope is illusive and fleeting.

Things began to shift for me during a two-year spiritual direction program at Richmond Hill. I spent a weekend a month in retreat with a group of twenty fellow seekers. We learned about all sorts of things, but the most enduring lesson I learned was about holding open a space for God’s grace. So wait – I not only had to make room, I had to hold the space open? At first it seemed silly and frustrating. I was going to end up at the same place anyway so why bother? Then with practice I found things fell into place in a way I never thought possible, as if divinely ordered. Rather than insisting and arguing, I simply asked and waited, often much longer than I felt comfortable waiting. Instead of one of us losing so the other could win, options presented themselves where we both won. I still cannot say I am comfortable – I like to have an answer now if not sooner. Yet with practice I am finding my answer falls far short of the answer God has waiting for me. In engineering terms, my best is a local maximum; God’s best is a global maximum. Make time to let go of a struggle that is wearing you down. Refrain from judging the actions of others or yourself. Climb out of that safe little bubble and open your eyes and ears to the vastness of creation. Let go of what you thought the answer would be or what it would look like and let God pour down His grace to create an answer for all of us. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, photo entitled ‘Winter Glass’ by Kira Skala©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Relentless….

Turning Time Upside Down by Michael Gerke May 2018
This year seems to be a never-ending series of health issues for me. I find it hard to complain about my concerns when others are facing heart conditions or cancer. Yet it feels like three bouts of bronchitis, a root canal and now a UTI are a bit more than I can handle in six months. It seems these minor health concerns have rolled in one after another, in a relentless wave of annoyances. So, I find myself drawn into this amazing art by my nephew Mike. Relentless is a word that can cut both ways, depending on what we apply it to. After the birth of a child, it is the only word to describe the care an infant requires. No matter what you have been told or how closely you tried to listen and understand, nothing prepares you for the constant care a single tiny human requires. At the same time, nothing prepares you for the overwhelming, all encompassing love you feel for that child. It is confusing, perplexing and difficult. At the same time, it is amazing, enchanting and miraculous. The only response you can offer is to be equally relentless. You quickly learn how to ask for help and trust when it seems impossible to trust, because this is a job you must get right, and you can’t do that alone. Before long, yet after forever, you seem to find a new normal, then the child grows and changes. If you are listening to that child and those who love and help you, you change and grow too. If you understand this child does not belong to you but is simply given into your care by the Holy of Holies, you soon find yourself in situations and circumstances that confound and delight you. Your world expands and becomes more than you could ever imagine. Time relentlessly marches on and before you know it, that tiny baby is an independent adult. And that is the stage of parenting I find myself in now, available rather than productive, advising rather than correcting, listening rather than speaking. Most of the time my heart swells with pride, but now and again, what seems like a tiny thing trips me up. Yesterday I removed our daughter from our car insurance, a simple administrative task, or is it? I find myself adrift in time, recalling a busy toddler, then a dancing five-year-old, then a curious ten-year-old. Time is tumbling through happy memories of the small child I miss while cherishing the young woman she has become. Make time today to soak in the wonders life bring to you. Stop to play with blocks, catch fireflies or cook with your child. Reach out to new parents and ask how you can make a difference. Listen rather than speaking. Follow rather than lead. Allow that child to draw you into their world, letting go of the relentless nonsense of being an adult. Be relentless about finding time for that child, and in the process for yourself, because it is time that is the most relentless. Text by Connie Chintall©2018, art entitled ‘Turning Time Upside Down’ by Mike Gerke©2018, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Demand….

Humble Offering by Leigh Hooper
Different times and places bleed into one another as time goes by. Perhaps childhood memories are so vivid because they are pure, unadulterated by previous experiences. Everything is new and we approach each experience without apprehension or expectation. I still seek that purity of life but find it takes effort to remain in the moment, to push back parts of the past I would rather leave behind. It is as if the past demands a reckoning, whether I like it or not. And these memories focus on what it means to demand rather than to offer. That is what I see in this amazing and inspiring art by my good friend Leigh. My first marriage was very briefly happy, even then punctuated by inexplicable pain. My first husband was a brilliant yet broken man, haunted by a horrific past. Those memories left him feeling worthless. He demanded love without giving it, never truly believing I could love him because he did not feel worthy of love. When we demand, what we request becomes a matter of who we are and what we are worth. By insisting we get what we want, we put our self worth into the equation. If our demands are not met, it is an indictment on our dignity and very humanity. In the face of such demands, nothing I could offer was ever good enough. But offer I did, again and again, until at some point I had no more to give. Yet offering was in a way my own salvation. By contrast, when we offer rather than demand, we let go of the outcome. The other person is free to accept or reject what we offer, and who we are remains intact. By opening ourselves up to possible rejection, we actually preserve ourselves. Now I will be the first to say rejection is not easy. Yet how do we truly connect if we simply demand what we want from others? How do we grow and expand our view of the world and humanity if we only accept what comes on our own terms, in our own time? What about when we are on the other side of the equation? How often have you found yourself in an amazing and wonderful situation when you accepted an offer to step out of your comfort zone? Granted there are times when we walk into a mess, yet if we let go of our false sense of perfection, we learn from those situations as well. We learn about who we are and who we can be. We stop limiting our horizons to the next small hill that seemed like a mountain when we started out. Make time today to open yourself up to new experiences. Accept an offer to explore a loved one’s interest you may not share. Try something new simply to learn more about them. Offer to share what you love with others, perhaps making new friends or deepening an existing relationship. Let go of what might happen and accept what does, enjoying the experience rather than judging its merit. Most of all, trust that the Holy of Holies has forged the path ahead, working for our greatest good and highest healing, now and forever more. Text by Connie Chintall ©2018, art entitled ‘Humble Offering’ by Leigh Hooper ©2018, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Courage….

Acrylic Courage by Leigh Hooper
Courage is a common topic with my family and friends. I don’t recall a single meeting as a Girl Scout leader that did not involve a discussion about courage. So, to those who know me well it is not surprising when I say I see courage in this amazing art by my friend Leigh. I see the daily struggle to live a good life, a struggle that seems too much to bear some days, and as smooth as glass on others. Courage is a blend of backbone and imagination, woven together to navigate all the grey areas of life. Like the acrylic paints that are poured onto the canvas and allowed to blend together, courage looks different from day to day. Yet I am not certain courage is something folks understand well. You hear about it when someone confronts a catastrophic disease more often than when someone is rescued from a burning building. Most frequently I hear that courage is the opposite of cowardice. I disagree with that assessment. Recklessness is the opposite of cowardice. When you are reckless, you act without fear, without considering the consequences of your actions. A reckless person may get what they want, yet their gain is often at the expense of others or even themselves. Meanwhile, a coward fails to act because of fear. Fear paralyzes the coward, and can lead someone to neglect moral values they hold dear. Their fear overrules their conscience. Both ends of the spectrum lead to sins of commission or omission. Courage is the balance beam in the center of these two extremes.

Recklessness —————- Courage —————– Cowardice

When we succeed in being courageous, we do not act without fear, rather we act despite our fear. Courage requires us to decide something is more important than our very real and palpable fears. So, this is the point where you expect me to start talking about soldiers or fire fighters or policemen. But that sort of courage gives us an out. The most important acts of courage happen day to day. So, make time to do the right thing, whether anyone notices or not. Think through all aspects of a problem, rather than simply looking at your own. Look for a win-win answer, rather than a win for you that means a lose for someone else. Ask for that raise, explaining your contribution to the greater good, rather than harboring resentment and further compromising the quality of your work. Most of all, forgive yourself when your courage flags. Learn from your mistakes to grow through your own challenges. Inconceivable courage does not happen overnight. Such courage is built over a lifetime, beginning with simple, day to day acts. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, art entitled ‘Acrylic Courage’ by Leigh Hooper ©2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Generosity of Spirit….

nothing but flowers by RabiriusThe younger generation amazes and baffles me. I love the time I spend with my daughter and younger friends and relatives. Intense memories of my younger days awaken to delight and disturb me. Like this amazing digital art by my friend Rabirius, I recall running full speed ahead, missing more flowers than I paused to stop and smell. The twenties are a difficult time, a time when we all seek identity and purpose. Most of all, we set the trajectory for the rest of our lives. Small course corrections can make huge differences later on, so it can be difficult to understand how much to help and how much to just listen. I must admit I am not good at this sort of thing on my own. It is so easy to swoop in and take charge, to flatten out all obstacles, to impose my version of right and wrong. Yet if I open myself up, if I truly listen, I soon learn how different the world is now than the world of my youth. Opportunities abound that I could not even begin to imagine, opportunities to soar and opportunities to crash and burn. Yes, the stakes are high, but the highest stakes lie in the decision making itself. My daughter and her contemporaries must live with their decisions, walk their own paths, discover their own ways of making a difference in the world. So I hold open a space to allow the excitement and pain and confusion to flow. I wait then wait again before I ask a question. I open more than my mind. I open my heart and soul. That monumental effort takes a generosity of spirit than I am unable to offer on my own. That openness is the fruit of consistent and faithful prayer, lifting up their concerns on a regular basis, praying for understanding and enlightenment for their path ahead. Sometimes than generosity means stepping aside because I am not the right person for this junction in the road. I can be generous because opening the circle does not diminish me, it enlarges me. The circle grows as their path, not mine, takes us all to amazing places and allows dreams to become reality. Most of all, that generosity overflows in unexpected ways, opening up new beginnings in people and places thought long past healing or renewal. Make time to pray for those you love, even if your relationship is strained or difficult. Pray for their concerns, their path ahead, their way to make a difference. Let go of expectations to open up your heart and mind and soul. Most of all, let God weave our paths together, enfolding us in the greatest circle of all. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Nothing but Flowers’ by Rabirius©2016-2017, used with his permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of his work, go to https://rabirius.me/

Reflecting on the Edge….

Boys on the EdgeIt has been many years since I have lived on the edge. As a young airman working on the flight line in 1978, I was living on the edge in more ways than one. I was one of only two women repairing electronics on fighter aircraft. My pay was so low I couldn’t afford a car. I rode a bicycle to work for over two years. I was taking college courses and working crazy hours because we were on alert from the Iran hostage crisis. That edge wasn’t a cliff or a wall. That edge shifted and snuck up on you, like ocean waves along the shore. So this peaceful photo of my friend Timmy and his son on the beach at Lewes draws me back to times on the edge. Most important of all, it brings me back to other memories of that stage in my life. I recall riding horses in the desert with my friend Rose, the other woman who worked with me. I recall spectacular sunrises over the hills almost every morning. I recall barbequed quail for breakfast after shifts that lasted way too long. It was a time of extremes, a time of strain and struggle, but also a time of intense friendships and great beauty. My military service formed me in ways I still do not fully understand or appreciate. I know the edge when it arrives. I know how to orient myself and push forward when others crumble and fall. Most of all, I know how important it is to take time to walk on the beach and allow the beauty to seep into your soul. Pause to enjoy what life has to offer you here and now, and share that moment of awe and beauty with those you cherish and love. Make a memory that will sustain you the next time you face that edge. Text by Connie Chintall ©2017, photo entitled ‘Boys on the Edge’ of Timothy and Sid Miller by Ingrid Miller©2017, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved.

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