Reflecting on Storms….

Yurt - Girl Faces the Storm by Jeanne Mischo

It’s a beautiful summer morning, yet I am drawn to this amazing drawing by y friend Jeanne. Her art is often featured in this blog, art that challenges me and enhances my personal devotions. It’s difficult to say if the drawing is set in the distant past or distant future, if the storm is made of snow or sand, if the scene is a remote village or a planet from another galaxy.  It may seem odd to focus on storms when the weather is just the opposite.  Yet how often do we carry around a storm inside, despite the apparent calm that surrounds us? Inner turmoil has a timeless quality, persistent beyond all reason. You aren’t sure if it’s day or night, or even what is going on around you. The gloom can blot out everything, leading to self absorption and social isolation.  We may turtle in, hoping to wait out the storm, not realizing we take the storm into the shell with us. Others may choose to place themselves in difficult situations, to mirror their souls in their surroundings. Some even convince themselves they deserve to suffer. Yet all the while, the answer lies within, a healing has been prepared, abundant life awaits.  We must simply open our hearts and souls to the Holy of Holies, to lay down our burdens at the foot of the cross, to acknowledge the sovereignty of the Most High. Make time today to look beyond the storm within.  Allow yourself to rest in God’s love, to accept the peace of God that passes all understanding. Let go of what you have come to expect and allow the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and ears.  And always remember, the path to healing is never what we expect, yet we must trust in healing for that path to be revealed. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015 Art entitled ‘Yurt – Girl Faces the Storm’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2011

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Reflecting on Trust….

On Her Back in the Tub Cropped

Trust is easy to come by when things are going well. We build on good experiences and come to expect the same. Then life throws us a curve ball and we get hit in the face. What we thought we understood, what we had become used to, vanishes in an instant. It’s as if one bad experience erases the good that came before. We forget the good when overwhelmed by the bad. Yet in such difficult times trust may be exactly what we need. If we turtle in, we close ourselves off to both the bad and the good. We must open our hearts to receive the healing balm of the Holy Spirit. Like this small child in a tub, we must trust the water is no deeper than is safe. She lies back and enjoys her bath, looking up at the adult she relies on to make sure all is well. Her Mona Lisa smile says so much more than a toothy grin. Even her eyes are smiling up at us. She knows she is loved and all is right with the world. Perhaps as adults we lose sight of the true meaning of trust. Trust is defined as a firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability of strength of something or someone. When we focus on the vagaries of this life, we obscure our view of God. We seek pat answers to complex questions. We go back to asking ‘why’, that why of a child, the why used in place of every question. If we can’t trust life, how can we rely on this mysterious, inexplicable God? Make time today to lie back and look up. Open the eyes and ears of your heart to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate who grants us faith to hold open a space for grace. Look for a reality greater than your surroundings. Seek out and cultivate beauty to strengthen your soul for the challenges ahead. And always remember, when we claim the promise of living water, we are never in over our heads.

Photo by an anonymous friend, Text by Connie Chintall ©2015

Reflecting on Relentless….

Heading Home by Jeanne MischoI often find myself caught in my own little world. I miss the obvious because all I can see is what I already know. My mind fills in the answer before the question is asked. This photo really brings home that message. For a long time, all I saw was the veins of the eye. I worked on lasers in the military, so part of my annual physical was a photo of my eyes. Each year the powers that be had to determine if my eyes were still intact. The doctor would shine an awful light into my eyes then take the photo. My medical records contained writing on the right, and a photo of my eyes on the left. It seemed part and parcel of every doctor visit. Fortunately for me, my friend Jeanne took this amazing photo of a tree with the moon in the sky above. I can imagine her lying on the ground to get the proper perspective. I wonder if she used a flash, or if a street light has lent its glow. I love the depth and intricacy of the branches, the way the tree divides and then divides itself again. It seems the tree is inviting us into another world, a world of our imagination, a world separate from our earthbound reality. On this Maundy Thursday, we celebrate the humility of our Lord. Christ washes the feet of the disciples, despite the protests of Peter, despite everything we are and were and will be. God draws us in, again and again, relentlessly seeking communion. After countless rejections of his prophets and angels, God sends his own Son to reconcile us to him. God becomes man to be one with us, to experience all that this life offers. Make time today to step out of the comfortable. Let go of the familiar and let in the annoying, the perplexing, yes, even the startling. Hold open a space that makes room for growth and greater understanding. Lie down when you would rather stand up. Step aside when you would rather rush ahead. Look up and around rather than keeping your head down. And always remember, when we open our minds before we open our eyes, we embrace the relentless intimacy and endless possibility of our all loving God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015. Photo entitled ‘Heading Home’ by Jeanne Mischo ©2013, to see more of her work, go to http://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Certainty….

Kayak on Slush by Sarah GulickCold winter days offer time to contemplate what perplexes me the most. Over the years I have struggled against a desire for certainty, a desire to fix whatever is wrong. Sometimes that includes fixing other people, which rarely works well for them or for me. Before long, I find even my best laid plans falling apart. So I was drawn to this photo of a kayak on the edge of Lake Anne in Reston, VA by my friend Sarah. The crack is off to one side, a crack that could be easily missed depending on which way you are looking. You could slip into the boat thinking the ice would hold, only to find fractures all around you. Of course, it’s a boat, and boats float on water much better than ice. Yet like our desire for certainty, that fact gets lost in the shuffle. We may fear tipping over and falling into the cold lake, or worse yet, getting caught under the ice. How many awful outcomes do we imagine that keep us on the shore? How often do we delay a decision because we don’t know enough? Perhaps we fear getting it wrong, so we avoid the decision all together. Our need for certainty imprisons us, restricts our choices, prohibits us from taking risks. We lock down the answer to feel safe, only to find life passing us by. We did in fact make a decision when we failed to decide – we simply remained frozen in time and space. In her book ‘Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith’, Anne Lamott says “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty”. Faith is a place of mystery, a place where we let go of our fear of uncertainty. Faith takes courage, because courage is not the absence of fear; courage is deciding something is more important than what you fear. Faith calls us to grow, to venture into the unknown, to hope for what we cannot yet see. Faith holds open a space for more than human effort, trusting God to fill in the cracks of our lives and the lives of those we love in ways we cannot begin to imagine. Make time today to venture into the unknown, trying something new and different to feed your heart and soothe your soul. Let go of the need for certainty; embrace your faith in the midst of doubt. Ask others to pray for you and with you, as you pray for them. And always remember to look beyond the surface, thankful for the cracks in this life that lead us to beyond the ice to deep living waters. Text by Connie Chintall Connie Chintall ©2015, Photo entitled ‘Kayak on Slush’ by Sarah Gulick ©2014, to see more of her work, go to http://www.studioup.com/portfolio/

 

 

Reflecting on Tatters….

Growth by Stella
Resolutions and radical changes rarely arrive with the New Year. I am more likely to troll through old memories, looking for an arc or easy narrative that makes sense out of the jumble of my experiences. Perhaps our lives only make sense backwards. So I was drawn to this wonderful art by Stella. Her use of color, or lack of color, says it all. Our colorful dreams are born in a black and white world. Notice the pieces of her dream drifting away. Those tatters have lost their color. Like most folks, my life includes high points and low points. There are joyous times when life seems full of vibrant color, new beginnings overflowing with hope and joy. There are days, even weeks and months, when life seems drained of all color. It is everything I can do to hang on despite the despair. These bleak times can be brought on by radical change, or by allowing the drudgery of life to slowly drain my soul. Yet if we believe there is no waste in God’s economy, then every experience has a purpose. Every twist and turn bears fruit later on. Granted, at the time, it sure does not feel that way. Was my life in tatters, whirling apart, out of control? Or were the remnants of the past building a dream for the future? Of course I now realize both were often happening at the same time. My hope or despair was born out of what I turned toward. Yet I seem unable to turn toward hope on my own. Without prayer it is all too easy to embrace despair. Make time today to lay your life before the Alpha and Omega, to find a greater perspective, a longer view. See life less in the current condition and more in the journey. Resist the temptation to shunt aside prayer for a pressing emergency or dated routine. Judge less and accept more, opening up to new possibilities rather than focusing solely on what is passing away. Dare to dream a new dream in living color, reaching ahead rather than turning back. And always remember, the tatters of our black and white lives are pieced together into stained glass dreams, in God’s time rather than our own.

Text by Connie Chintall ©2014
Art entitled ‘Growth’ by Stella Pereira ©2013, to see more of her work, go to her blog http://pangaweka.com/

 

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 Music….

By Kira Skala

Living Waters by Kira Skala

It’s a cool, quiet fall morning, cool enough for a sweater. The windows are open to let in the autumn air. The cool air is soothing, like the cool water of a rippling stream. So I was drawn to a video taken by my friend Kira. I love the sound of the water, unimpeded by the fallen branches and litter. Yet it seems easier to focus on the living water with my eyes closed, simply listening to the sounds. With my eyes open, it is all too easy to focus on the quagmire and lose sight of the stream. The more I watched and listened to this video, the more frustrated I became about my morning routine. My favorite time of day is the early morning. More often than not, I sit in the living room and have a second cup of coffee. There is a large evergreen outside the window, where birds often perch and sing. I love to see and hear the birds. It seems as if God has written a special song just for me. Yet recently I find myself avoiding that quiet time in the mornings. Instead of joy I was nagged by faint annoyance. So this morning I made myself sit down and really listen. Instead of birds, I heard traffic and heavy equipment. My symphony has turned into cacophony. There is a farm on the corner that sat vacant for many years. The well kept pastures became covered in small shrubs and vines. Recently the farm was sold to a developer who is now clearing the land. So the trees and undergrowth that absorbed the traffic noise are no more. I hear both the construction vehicles and the commuter traffic on the highway, a road at least half a mile from my home. Yet the birds remain with me. The music remains with me. The rough noises can only drown out the joy of the bird’s song if I give it my attention. My young friend Colin says it best.

I walked out to the pylons at midnight, just to be alone with my music for a bit. The wind was blowing and the clouds moved so rapidly, it seemed that they must be dragging me with them to the chapel. The clouds reminded me of this week, it seemed to move by so quickly, though now I’m very tired, so it feels, physically, very long. I’ve met many new friends and I’ve gotten to know old acquaintances much better. I am, as usual, very happy: if you want to share in my happiness then all you need to do is ask. – Colin Shea-Blymyer

Make time today to listen closely, to look beyond the litter of everyday life. Seek out the living waters of creation and give thanks for the gift of life, offered and received one breath at a time. Let go of sorrows and losses and hold fast to the blessings of this life. Hold fast to the music and miracles that surround you, just waiting to feed your soul and swell your heart. And always remember, when you want to share in the happiness of creation, all you need to do is ask. Text by Connie Chintall ©2014, photo and video of Dark Hollow Falls in Shenandoah National Park by Kira Skala ©2014, to view video go to https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10204163766204493
Quote by Colin Shea-Blymyer ©2014, All Rights Reserved.

Reflecting on Anchors….

How Did the Anchor Become so Rusty by RabiriusIt’s a mild autumn morning with a hint of rain in the air. Showers may be on the way, but for now I can enjoy my second cup of coffee on a deck covered in leaves. It seems this time of year is more about endings than beginnings, about loss instead of gain. So I was drawn to this intriguing photo of a rusted anchor by my friend Rabirius. I love the stark contrast between the layers upon layers of rust and the smooth blues in the background. I can almost see the flakes about to fall, to feel the disintegration of the heavy iron. I don’t know about you, but it is easy for me to feel rusty this time of year. I recall the loss of beloved family and friends, people who prayed over me and made sure I found my way back when life tempted me from the straight and narrow. Sometimes it seems so many have gone before me that every falling leave is another soul in heaven. At times like these, my morning prayers become more important than food and water. My burdens are more than this frail human frame can bear, but light work for the same Lord who conquered sin and death on the cross. So I empty myself to make room for God, to look beyond the corroded surface of this life to see the rock solid promise of the Eternal. I drop my rusty anchor into the depths of my soul, letting go of the good, and the bad and the ugly. I pray in front of an open window on the second floor, looking out over the century old oaks in my backyard. By the end of my morning devotions, I can see more than the falling leaves. I take a closer look at the empty branches, where the buds of new life are already formed. The resurrection is present in the midst of death, new beginnings in the midst of loss, abundant love in the midst of grief. Make time today to leave your burdens at the foot of the cross. Let go of your ways and your thoughts, trusting instead in the ways and thoughts of the Alpha and Omega. Pray without words, offering an uplifted eye, a heartfelt sigh, a single tear. Open your heart and mind to the Holy Spirit, depending on the mystery of God to make up where we all fall short. And always remember, no matter how rusty you get, you can trust in the solid, steadfast love of God, who remains patiently waiting for your return. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘How Did the Anchor Become So Rusty?’ by Rabirius ©2012, to see more of his work, go to his blog http://rabirius.wordpress.com

Reflecting on Grace….

Elegance and Grace by Patty SteinerI’m grateful for a cool, breezy morning after a long and stifling hot spell. For over a month, one sticky, wet day has followed another. It has been too hot to even go to the pool. As a child, we would often choose to boat on the river rather than to swim in the pool, trolling along the shoreline to linger in the shade of the overhanging trees. So I was drawn to this unusual photo by my cousin Patty, of a crane wading in the shallows. I love the abstract quality of this image, making it difficult to nail down. I see layers upon layers, many cranes and many rivers, rather than just one. I grew up on the Delaware River in New Jersey, and spent time on the water as a child. We never owned a large motor boat, only a canoe, then later a Jon boat with a five horsepower motor. Both boats were small and light enough to strap onto the top of the car. We frequently filled the motor with fuel from the change kept for toll roads. Instead of boating being a major expedition, it was a simple as going to the movies. On the river and the many creeks in New Jersey, I often saw these majestic birds, sometimes so still they looked like a statue, other times slowly and deliberating raising and lifting their large feet. Then as a young woman, I worked as a surveyor for Federal flood insurance. The best days were spent in hip waders or small boats. The sense of awe inspired by these birds never diminished. I often felt like a clumsy, ugly duckling next to such elegance. Yet what I remember most forty years later was a sense of hospitality and grace. While I may have been startled by their presence, the cranes happily shared their space. Perhaps we have lost this simple sense of hospitality, making a visit into an ordeal for all concerned. We worry about the stack of magazines in the corner, or what we can offer to eat or drink. We expect each social encounter to be a Martha Stewart moment, instead of a meeting of old friends, friends who could care less about the housekeeping or provisions. A friend stops by to see a friend, to sit and talk, to pause from the busy-ness of life and make time and space for one another. A graceful host opens their heart, not just their home, setting aside their concerns to listen to the concerns of guests. Make time today to offer grace to those you encounter, your family, your friends and those who cross paths with you. Let go of your expectations, and allow the Holy Spirit to open time and space for you to truly be present to one another. Pray for wisdom and discernment, to see others with God’s eyes, to hear others with God’s ears. Move over to make room for easy conversation, conversation that deepens to the core of our souls and the bottom of our hearts. And always remember – ubi caritas, et amor, ibi Deus est – where love and caring are, there is God. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Elegance and Grace’ by Patty Steiner ©2012, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on Fire….

Shenandoah River on Fire by Ryan WickIt’s another cloudy day in Virginia, with thunderstorms expected to roll through this afternoon. While we have a forecast full of rain, the folks in Colorado and Arizona remain parched and dry. As one fire is brought under control, another begins. These fires hop and skip in a way that is hard to describe, consuming one home and leaving another unscathed. So I was drawn to this lovely photo of the early evening sky by my friend Ryan, capturing the view from his kayak on the Shenandoah River. I love the watercolor quality of the water and the sky, framed by the bend in the river just ahead. The sky is overcast on one side, and all but clear on the other. I wonder what lies around the bend, how long he paddled before setting up camp for the night. I can imagine him lingering on the water until the last wisps of color faded away, perhaps missing his planned stop. In my youth, I worked as a surveyor for the Federal Flood Insurance. I spent many long days on the water, charting creek cross sections and discovering places that could act as a dam in a flood. There were grey days when we knew only the instruments and data, then other days when the water and sky would demand our undivided attention. The whole team would fall silent, in awe of the scene laid out before us. At times we might see birds or fish, but most often the beauty lie in the scenery itself and the changing light. It was inconceivable how such beauty could be transformed into a force for destruction. I felt that same sense of peace hiking in the Rockies, the same Rockies that are burning out of control. Beautiful forests will remain charred and burnt for years to come, growing back all the more slowly at altitude. Make time today to soak in the beauty that surrounds you with a loved one. Resist the temptation to put ‘real world’ priorities ahead of a few moments of peace and grace. Seize the chance to create a memory today that will last a lifetime, and perhaps sustain you through a difficult if not impossible challenge that lies around the bend. Allow the Holy Spirit to kindle a fire of love and compassion, of gentleness and kindness, of patient and grace. And always remember, when we make time to stoke the fire within, we will always find a strength we did not know even existed, a strength powerful enough to defeat the wildfires of this mortal life. Text by Connie Chintall ©2013, Photo entitled ‘Shenandoah River on Fire’ by Ryan Wick ©2013, All Rights Reserved

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