Thursday, December 30, 2010

BEING CONNECTED


Hands of God and Adam, Michelangelo

All the communications technology at our disposal today is enabling us to be continually connected, but is the time invested at the expense of time needed to establish lasting personal contacts, i.e., Is texting and Facebook becoming a forum where we can all be impersonally alone together? Just asking. I think these new media are helpful as long as we don’t burn an unbalanced amount of time at the expense of the face time required to establish real meaningful relationships.

I learned the hard way not to hit the “send” key when responding to an irritating e-mail or perhaps text message. It’s best to hit the “send later” key when firing off a knee jerk reaction to someone who has tweaked your jaw--especially when that person is not in the same room facing you. The eyes are the window to the soul. Body language speaks louder than most words. If you took the time to use face time for the contact, you most assuredly would not react the same—now it’s more personal. But an impersonal, electronic response can be much less intimidating for the sender.

Most of us have figured out that establishing and maintaining a relationship involves a significant investment of our time—something that seems to be in constant short supply these days. Most of us have come to realize that to live a fulfilling and less stressful life we must constantly be aware of the need to balance our personal relationships with our work time and our spiritual time. Hopefully, all of the time spent on all of this emerging technology won’t be mistaken for the quality contact time needed for the kind of fulfilling relationships most of us humans need to maintain a healthy and joy filled life.

Here’s an acid test. The next time any of us are tempted to have a rather serious exchange with someone, we need to think about how our creator God would consider receiving the message as a Facebook, e-mail or text format. When we open our hearts and genuinely pray to our creator, we are making genuine contact. When we are not so sincere or mentally prepared to make that connection, the prayer is quite possibly treated as the impersonal communiqué that it represents.

Monday, December 27, 2010

SILENT NIGHT




Silent Night, Jamestown, NC

Saturday, December 25, 2010

CHRISTMAS EVE 2010


Christmas Sunset, Jamestown, NC

It occurred to me as I attended the Christmas Eve service of my sixty eighth year that it’s possible that I have seldom if ever missed participating in this service in all those years. I have always been in the presence of family on that evening. Your circle of family can be defined as your immediate blood relatives. It can be expanded to include close friends, but I think we generally consider family to include those closest to us who share a bond and have been permitted access to our defense shields. It also occurred to me that the family I attended the service with on this year of the twilight of my life was neither the family I was with during my childhood nor the family I was with in my early adulthood. My earliest remembrance is the Christmas Eve services where all of us children memorized a verse from Luke’s Christmas story from the second chapter of his book. Siblings and cousins participated and proud parents watched anxiously in the pews. Once we all joined in singing Silent Night, the early evening service was over and we would be given a brown paper sack with shelled nuts, apples and oranges to take home as a Christmas gift. We would hurry home and then and only then would we be permitted to unwrap the few Christmas presents bearing our name under the small evergreen tree. I don’t ever remember the air outside being anything but fresh and cool and invigorating once I emerged from the service. Yes, that relates to the time of year, but it also relates to the exhilarating story of Jesus’ birth and the spirit angels’ good tidings of the arrival of a savior for all the world. Mary alone initially understood that the child she would deliver would soon deliver her.

I’ve attended Christmas Eve services in various churches over the years and it never occurred to me not to attend them. There’s a special mystical meaning to Christmas Eve that commemorates an ordinary birth of an extraordinary being. Yes, we celebrate the appearance of God taking human form over two thousand years ago. And He then developed into a man of thirty years before He spent the next three years teaching all of us how to live and see the very nature of God. There are those today who say they would believe if God revealed himself to them personally. He did that in human form and still men who chose not to willingly cross the bridge of faith to a new birth did not see Him, even then. Actually, He still reveals himself in many ways every day—in the petals of a flowering bloom, in the spectacular light of a sunrise and in the first cry of a newborn. This birth involved no ordinary man. This was both a human being and a spiritual being in one form. This was a unique being that lived a perfect life on earth until he died in our place. Why did he wait until that particular time to appear to us? He could have arrived much earlier in human history. And He could have waited even longer—perhaps until this generation. But in His infinite wisdom He chose that time and place and we celebrate that time even today. Many powerful men did not acknowledge Him as anything beyond a troubling revolutionary during His lifetime, but fortunately a chosen few did understand. All but one died a horrendous martyr’s death to validate the truth they had experienced. And because of their verbal and written testimony, I have been celebrating His arrival for all of my sixty eight years to acknowledge that the God of all creation finally did come among us. He revealed Himself to us so that we could order our lives to have the assurance of a better life as a human being and an eternal life as a spiritual being in the constant presence of our creator. I believe He created us to be intelligent and independent enough to generally survive with our wits on a daily basis, but to understand that we are vulnerable enough to require the encouragement of others and the strength and guidance of a loving eternal Father now and forevermore. We were created as a family of man and simply told to love God and one another.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

PARIS SCENES










4 Arrondissement Boulevard Du Palais, Paris, France
Sainte-Chappele, Paris, France
Street Market, Paris, France
The River Seine, Paris, France
Paris Architecture, Paris, France
Notre-Dame Ordination Ceremony, Paris, France
Louvre Sailing Fountain, Paris, France
Gare du Nord Train Station, Paris, France
Le Deux Palais Sidewalk Cafe, Paris, France


I’ve always maintained that to really know a city, one must walk the streets, breathe the open air, talk to the inhabitants and step inside the places where the locals live out their daily lives. And Paris is one of the most exciting and interesting cities in the world to do this. The sidewalk cafes are legendary and fun. The museums are stimulating and exhilarating. The cathedrals are spiritual in every aspect. The architecture is distinctive and pleasing. The food is incomparable. The boulevards are grand. The rivers flow timelessly. The city at night is magical. The experience validates the legend.

FOGGY NIGHT IN PARIS



Eiffel Tower at Dusk, Paris, France
Foggy Night Tower, Paris, France


We arrived in Paris in late spring. The days were pleasant and rainy. The nights were shrouded in fog. We knew that our hotel was in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower, and we were pleasantly surprised to walk outside on the balcony to discover that the imposing structure was within easy view. So, my wife and I decided to walk over to the tower after dinner. Fog had crept into the city while were in the restaurant and a damp chill was in the air. As we strolled in the direction of the tower, the large city structures with their unmistakable mansard roof lines along with the thickening fog obscured our view of the horizon.

Our seemingly innocent stroll was beginning to turn into a quest for the holy grail of tourism as we moved through the city streets. And then just when we were beginning to suspect that we might be walking in the wrong direction, the ethereal image of the lighted tower emerged down a side street to our right. It literally glowed in the foggy mist and stood in the darkness like a towering knight guarding the king’s palace. The looming ethereal image was reminiscent of an impressionist painting at the Louvre along the Seine just east of us.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

FROZEN IN TIME




Frozen in Time I, II, III, Jamestown, NC

Winter's chill has only just arrived in the Carolinas. And small ponds are only just beginning to cover their contents with a mantle of jagged ice crystals. Interestingly, this small pond has a fountain in the center that not only keeps the water open around it, but also generates small pockets of air that become trapped in the forming ice crystals. Adding fill light to the images exposes both unique compositions and the prism effects of the noon time rays of sunlight dispersing off the randomly latticed ice crystals.

Friday, December 10, 2010

ICE CRYSTAL SUNDOWN


Ice Crystal Sundown, Jamestown, NC

A mid December sunset presents the rare opportunity to catch frozen ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, refracting the long light rays of the setting sun on the horizon. The resultant "fire rainbows" only appear in wispy cirrus clouds suspended at least 20,000 feet high and the sun's rays must hit the ice crystals at precisely 58 degrees for maximum effect. The image literally looks like flames waving in the wind above a prairie grass fire.

I first noticed a spectacular fire rainbow on the horizon as I was cruising along the interstate with no reasonable place to pull off the road. But I did have a camera in the glove box for just such a "lucky moment" and I was able to capture the dissolving image before it morphed into the dark night.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

THE WARMTH OF GIVING


Pure White Love, Jamestown, NC

This image was captured as I drove home past a neighborhood lake after ringing a Salvation Army bell outside a local shopping center in the snow. The fantasy snow scene added to the holiday mood and warmth of the car heater. But the highlight of the afternoon was watching young children placing donations in the bright red bucket as proud parents stood aside. These youngsters were beginning to understand the priceless gift of warmth that only comes with giving to those in need. I even suspect that some of those children will be the recipients of those donations this very Christmas. But that is the true power of giving, when the gift is returned tenfold.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CARPE DIEM


Living & Dying, Jamestown, NC

Today’s cover stories about the passing of Elizabeth Edwards due to breast cancer stirred up thoughts and emotions relating to the common fate of my own wife two years ago. I’m sure that was repeated a thousand times over as this disease has personally affected so many lives and moved to the forefront of our culture. I’ve come to believe that many folks can be more influenced by the language of our lives than the language of our words. We all face a common destiny, and it’s not always obvious that sometimes we can influence others more by how we die than how we live. Elizabeth Edwards had the national spotlight for all the public trials she endured, but many related most to how she handled her dying, with her hope and resilience to live out each day to the fullest. Perhaps that’s because we have observed and shared the experience of so many others like my wife who do the same out of the public light and simply in God’s eternal light.

Day Lilies personify living in the present moment, as they only have today to literally unfold and live out their short lives. But they live it to the fullest and glorify their creator no matter what the day brings! Their time is NOW! Their lives play out this day. If there ever was a living presence on this planet that lived a mantra to the extreme, it is the mantra of the Day Lily, "Carpe Diem, Seize the Day!"

This theme is best exemplified by a familiar stanza from Robert Herrick's To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time: “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old time is still a-flying; And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying.” And Solomon, humanity's wisest and richest man, encouraged us in Ecclesiastes 9:7 to, "Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do”

This is not to say that we should exploit today, not learn from the past and not plan for the future. Rather, we should just stop and truly observe the beauty of the Day Lily and appreciate every second we have in its presence. We need to watch as it bravely opens to reflect unconditional love and let it teach us eternal truths. Let it enlighten us to comprehend the gift of our unique creation and the preciousness of the finite time we have to experience it. We need to sense the frailty of life as it dissolves into the oneness of the universe and validates the certainty of our common destiny. Solomon councils us not to get too caught up in the culture of today’s fast forward Merry Go Round with its uncertain future and to slowly rewind our life so that we can appreciate the blessing of God’s gifts in the light of the present moment.

I've come to believe that we can have a positive effect on others by how well we live life, and an even more profound effect by how we leave life.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

PSALM




Dimensionless, Jamestown, NC
Wave & Particle, Jamestown, NC


Lord of dimensions and the dimensionless,
Wave and particle, all and none,

Who lets us measure the wounded atom,
Who lets us doubt all measurement,

When in this world we betray you
Let us be faithful in another.


By Mark Jarman

Monday, December 6, 2010

FIRST SNOW





First Snow with Bench I, Jamestown, NC
First Snow with Bench II, Jamestown, NC
First Snow with Street Light I, Jamestown, NC
First Snow with Street Light II, Jamestown, NC


Ah, the magic and excitement of the season's first snow!