Reflecting on Unfinished….

Images that evoke strong memories always seem to be the toughest to contemplate. This memory is a very happy one, a memory of days long past when my daughter was young. We would often stop at Lake Brittle on the way home and even enjoy a picnic dinner if my husband was traveling. I would walk along the shore while my daughter ran, stopping when something caught her eye. The evening I am remembering now was quiet and still. The lake was a perfect mirror of the sky. My daughter knelt down to touch the water and created ripples in the perfect reflection. As only a toddler can, she burst into tears. As I caught up with her, she said, “Momma, I broke the sky”. As I drew her gaze upward, the crying turned into inconsolable sobs. “Momma, I wanted to touch the sky.” All I could do was sit down next to her and hold her. There were no words that I could offer as a new mother. Yet in my morning prayer time, often in my car in the parking lot before heading into work, that evening kept taking hold of me. At first I thought it was new mom guilt, the kind that makes you sure you will burn in hell forever. Then I realized that if I cared about burning in hell that meant I was a good mom. Bad moms could care less. And still that evening kept invading my in between time, time when I was no longer at home and not yet at work. Time I really wanted to just be silent and listen to God.

Okay, I know you are already ahead of me. I was listening and God was speaking to me. I don’t know about you, but for me, getting the message seems to take a lot of repetition. Frequently it also takes a kick in the head. Yet isn’t that the most important reason to set aside quiet time? In life, we are told success consists of 90% effort and 10% just showing up. With prayer, it is more like 90% just showing up and 10% attitude. Oh, and God will fix that attitude for you if you will let Him.

Over time I came to understand that sometimes words simply make things worse. Sometimes you just need to offer a hug. Sometimes all you can do is cry with your loved one. After all, even Christ cried with the sisters of Lazarus as they grieved. Then he brought Lazarus back from the dead. He consoled them before he sought to heal. He was present to them before he performed a miracle.

Fast forward to today. My daughter will soon be 26 years old. My hair is more grey than brown and I have more than my fair share of wrinkles. That is what the world sees. What God sees is my heart and soul, more vibrant yet more restrained, more willing to listen than to speak, more willing to learn than to teach.

As I look back on that memory, I realize words would have diminished that experience for my daughter. I probably would have tried to convince her the sky was not broken. Letting the experience just be allowed her to figure it out for herself and allowed me to learn as well. That evening wasn’t about the sky or the reflection. It was about how many times we start over to reach our goals. It takes practice to master the best of this life.

The Benedictines start their morning prayers with, ‘Today we begin again’. Each day we get another chance. We can learn from our mistakes and let go of them. We can continue to fall short until we can reach the sky.

All this came together listening to the young poet Amanda Gorman at the inauguration. She distilled the entire Gospel into one simple phrase. We are ‘a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished’. Make time today to listen to the Lord. Walk in the woods; take care of your animals, listen to your heartbeat as you breathe in and out. Allow the Holy Spirit to drench you with new beginnings, to rest and recover, to lean on God’s strength, to continue to run the good race. Let tears and touch speak what is in your heart and soul, trusting that we each are simply unfinished, not broken.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2021, All Rights Reserved

Photo entitled ‘Sunset over Whitesbog’ by Monica Cahill©2020, used with her permission, All Rights Reserved. To see more of her work and the bogs of the New Jersey Pines,  go to https://www.facebook.com/groups/BogIronOutdoors/

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/

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