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 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 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.

Reflecting on Depth….

Tree of Life by Jeanne
The soil is tough to work in this part of Virginia. The clay and the rocks form a natural concrete, only softened by slow and steady rains. You garden on nature’s schedule rather than your own, outdoors in the damp and cool rather than on warm and sunny days. Add the century old oaks in our yard, and you find the soil a maze of roots and surprises. Yet there are days when my soul needs to be outside, too weary to bear another day behind a desk. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Jeanne, a friend who passed from this life last summer. A number of people have asked me why these posts have become more infrequent. In pondering Jeanne’s photo, I have found at least part of the answer. Jeanne’s work always challenges me to go deeper, to look beyond the obvious, to ponder the true meaning of her work. When does photography become art? For me, the answer lies in the emotions evoked by the work. Jeanne sent me this image in January 2013, and I am still uncertain I can find words that do justice to what this image means to me. I do know Jeanne has always tapped into the most vivid memories of my childhood, not memories of birthday parties or trips to the beach, but rather solitary memories of me exploring and attempting to understand the world around me. Trees have always fascinated me. Even as a child I can recall digging in the dirt, fascinated by the complexity and length of the roots. I have always had poor eyesight, so the tree most of you see eluded me. Until I got glasses, I thought we drew trees like a cloud because that is how we all saw trees until we got up close. Downed branches were the other way I ‘saw’ a tree. I loved to look at the way the branches divided, then divided again. Yet the branches had nothing on the roots. A mature tree has thousands of leaves, kilometers of roots and hundreds of thousands of root tips. So for every leaf there are a hundred root tips. What we see is only a small fraction of reality. Get up from your desk or sofa to take a walk today. Stop to count the leaves on a single branch. Consider how a hundred roots feed that single leaf. Give thanks for the roots that feed your soul, even the roots for the branches that have fallen away. And always remember, a leap of faith can be reduced to a baby step when we ponder the depth and breadth of nature. Text by Connie Chintall©2016, photo entitled ‘Tree of Life’ by Jeanne Mischo©2013, All Rights Reserved. To see more of Jeanne’s work, go to https://jeannemischo.wordpress.com/

Reflecting on Color….

Alaska Range by Bill WildBright winter sunshine can be deceiving. I long for warmer days and am easily tricked into believing spring has already arrived. Instead it is as cold as ever, with more storms on the way. So I was drawn to this photo entitled ‘Alaskan Range’, brought to my attention by my cousin Bill. Bill and I both joined the Air Force at the same time, thirty five years ago. I was posted to Nevada while he was sent to Alaska, a place that has been his home ever since. Vibrant color is not how I picture Alaska. I expect to see ice and snow everywhere, instead of just on the mountain range. Perhaps the distant snow makes the colors jump out, refusing to be ignored. This morning I am enjoying the bright, over the top, colors. I am well rested and relaxed. Yet there are days when these same bright colors seem to exhaust me, offering more than I can take in. Rather than feeling included, part of the scene, I feel intruded upon, almost assaulted. I can feel the same way about social situations. There are times when I thrive on social interaction, and others when I would prefer to be alone, curled up in front of the fire with a good book. Where is the tipping point between inclusion and intrusion? When does reaching out becomes trespassing? Perhaps the answer varies from person to person, and day to day. Difficult circumstances can lead one person to seek the company of others, while another prefers to be alone. We must listen with all of our being, with our hearts, and souls and minds, to know what to say, or whether to say anything at all. We want to do something, to fix the problem, to get past the awkwardness. Yet often all we need is someone to sit with us, to simply be with us. Make time today to practice holy listening, to let go of your need to be in the foreground. Pray for the Holy Comforter to guide your words, your actions and, most of all, your timing. Simply be there for another, and let go of everything but the here and now. And always remember, when we respond to the true needs of others, less becomes more than enough. Text by Connie Chintall ©2015, Photo entitled ‘Alaskan Range’,  All Rights Reserved

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 Vision….

Eye of the Trees by Steve Ullenius, All Rights ReservedIt’s been a tense morning, home with a sick child. I’m waiting to hear back from the doctor, concerned as always that my daughter’s asthma complicates what would be a simple stomach bug for others. So I was drawn to this amazing photo by my friend Steve. This image of winter trees was taken using a fish eye lens. I can imagine Steve lying on the cold ground until he got the optimal perspective. But what really drew my interest was his comment about this photo. Steve said the trees look like the retina, so I began to ponder what we mean by the word vision. Our ability to perceive our surroundings is a complicated and nuanced gift. Those of us blessed with good vision often take it for granted, and can fail to understand the struggles of those with poor eyesight. I recall one of the first arguments my husband and I had after we married. He had moved my eyeglasses, and I was unable to locate them. I needed to wear my glasses to find my glasses. Yet what I found the most frustrating about the situation was how little he appreciated my plight. So I asked him to wear my glasses. He was astounded by how blurry the world seemed. I replied that what he saw was my world without my glasses. He needed to see the world through my eyes to understand my perspective. Like Steve’s photo, that took a bit of discomfort, but the view was well worth it. Make time today to give thanks for your ability to soak in the beauty of your surroundings. Recall the smile of a small child, or the bulbs pushing up through the soil. Consider the world through the lens of another, someone with more expertise or experience, someone who lacks what you take for granted, someone who yearns for more but is uncertain where to start. And always remember, when the wintery trees begin to block the view, all you need to do is look up. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Fisheye Winter Trees’ by Steve Ullenius, All Rights Reserved

Reflecting on the Center….

Being with Trees by Heidi Anne MorrisI sit in a chair that faces the window for my morning devotions. Our home is surrounded by trees, and I can view a large stand from that window. When there are no words for my prayers, I often feel the trees pray for me. Their roots penetrate into the strength of the earth, while their limbs reach for the heavens. So I was drawn to this haunting photo by my friend Heidi Anne, part of her ‘Being with Trees’ series. I love the muted colors and the delicate branches, enfolded in dense fog. All we can see is the trees – whatever lies beyond is shrouded in mystery. Lately my view has been a lot like this photo. Our morning fog has persisted throughout the day, making me wonder if we are living in England again, instead of Virginia. Yet perhaps I need to see that fog right now, to focus solely on what is in front of me, letting go of what lies beyond, trusting the God has hold of the rest. We are sorting through the mess left by the problems of a few weeks back, another medical test, another doctor appointment, another call to the insurance company. It’s easy to get lost in the details of life, to allow a totaled car or a nagging physical condition to steal your joy. So even when I’m overwhelmed, even when I’m so angry I can spit, I sit in that chair and look out on the trees. I pray the daily office of Morning Prayer aloud, until a word or phrase touches my heart and I fall silent. Then it’s just me and the trees. There are mornings when my feet feel rooted to the center of the earth, and my heart soars to the heavens. Other mornings are filled with silent tears, an aching heart, an angry groan. Then I notice that trees stand strong, swaying in the wind, reaching out to one another and to God. I recall others lift me in prayer, as I lift them in prayer. No matter what life brings, I am praying with all those who believe, united in the center, our roots inexplicably intertwined. Make time and space today for God. Seek out your center, letting go of what weighs down your heart. Pray for your own concerns and lift up the concerns of those you love, even those who annoy and trouble you. Believe in the prayer of others when you have no prayers of your own. And remember, no matter what life brings, when we make room for God, when we unite with all those who seek the Center, we find ourselves enfolded in go’o’d. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo entitled ‘Being with Trees’, Heidi Anne Morris ©2012, used with her permission, voted one of Google’s Top Ten. To see more of her work, go to http://www.heidiannemorris.com/

Reflecting on Blur….

Life is rushing by these days, filled with more activities than are worth mentioning. Like the leaves falling from the trees, my to-do list is never ending. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life. So I was drawn to this amazing photo of a dragonfly by my friend David, taken in Connecticut last year. I can almost feel the motion as the dragonfly glides above a tranquil pond. Yet that glide is powered by rapidly beating wings, so rapid that the wings blur in this photo. Dragonflies have always amazed me. During the most frantic periods of my life, a dragonfly appears. I’m talking about times when I always need to be somewhere else, and invariably get caught in traffic. Times when I burn dinner while on the phone longer than expected. Times spent on the computer while vacationing, jotting notes before a dance performance, trying to solve a problem long distance to avoid a trip. Perhaps I have wandered around the corner of a building, looking for a bit of privacy, only to find a dragonfly briefly balanced on the top of a sign. If I remained calm, that dragonfly will linger long enough for me to marvel at the colors and intricacy of God’s creation. If I listen more than I talk, respond rather than react, stop instead of rushing ahead, I am able to embrace the vastness of God’s power, without beginning or end. If we allow the frantic pace of life to overtake us, everything becomes one big blur. We turn into human doings, instead of human beings. All of life loses its luster, becomes drained of color and zest. Take time today to pause and soak in the world around you, to make room for Almighty to work in your life. Give the Holy of Holies your time, your worries, your past, your future. Let go of what weighs you down, what burdens your heart and consumes your joy. Soak in this instant, and accept the gift of life one breath at a time. And always remember when life gets frantic, trust in our Creator, who glides us over our obstacles and smooths our path ahead. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Photo by David Buckwalter ©2011, used with his permission. To see more of David’s work, go to http://www.buckwalterphotography.com/

Reflecting on Infinity….

The first week of school is behind us, without any major problems or concerns. Tomorrow we will spend the day at the lake, probably our last swimming day out before the weather turns cold. As we spend more time indoors, I seem to turn inward, to spend more time pondering the things my mind alone cannot grasp. So I was drawn to this amazing image by my friend Heidi Anne, a swirl of more colors that you can imagine, creating an abstract beauty. I am reminded of a rafting trip in Alaska, where the water was milky from volcanic ash. I look again and see summer squash in tangled vines, moss growing amidst decaying leaves, perhaps rose petals and day lilies. In one image, she offers us the bounty of creation, unfolding and changing before our eyes. The greatest truths of our world are like this image, deeper and more complex than we can begin to see with our eyes alone. The pursuit of truth and faith has unfolded over eons, as we seek the Author of Creation. We must approach the vastness of the Holy of Holies with love, loving God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength (Matthew 12:30). Christ took the first commandment and turned it into a rule of life, a way to open ourselves to the endless mercy and grace of God. We cannot fold ourselves around the infinite; we can only allow ourselves to be enfolded. I don’t know about you, but I like to be in control. I like to be in charge. Yet in this life the human solution offers so much less than what we are capable of through the Alpha and Omega. When we let go, and let God, life flows in a way we never thought possible. Healing light flows into us, then through us, love informs all we do. Take time today to ponder the vastness of creation. Join your heart and soul with your mind, then turn toward the Almighty with all your strength. Let go of whatever burdens you carry, allowing the vastness of God to make your load light. And always remember, when you feel painted into a corner, all you need to do is look up for a way out. Text by Connie Chintall ©2012, Art entitled ‘ Infinite Color’ by Heidi Anne Morris ©2012, used with her permission. To see more of her work, go to http://www.heidiannemorris.com/

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