362 wins, 3 fails… and a remarkable year of marking moments one day at a time

There’s nothing so unique about the 365 day project.  Photographers everywhere set out to take and post one image per day for an entire year in order to accomplish specific artistic objectives.  These include ‘learning to see’ more keenly, developing a specific photographic style, challenging oneself to be more present… more in the moment creatively.  I forever contemplated pursuing such an endeavor (especially after listening to this podcast) but never quite got around to it.  Then, last October… nearly on a whim, I started (@reybabes).

Some years pass by uneventfully, others less so.  We mark each 365 day interval, across four distinct seasons, never knowing in advance what could transpire, what might come to pass.  We expect there will be joys and there will be heartaches.  One year ago, I started marking time by taking and posting one image each day.  As of yesterday, that process is complete.  On 362 occasions I succeeded, on three I failed.  To get it out of the way, here are the three failures:

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Preaching to the choir?

So often, the task of the preacher is to bring something new to the table.  I mean, the sacred texts are a few millennia old and more than a handful of people during that timeframe have spoken about those exact same words, trying to offer an insight, introduce a new thought, spark something that gets right down to the heart of it and on a deeper level.  And let’s face it, most of those attempts have been offered to those who have already walked in through the front door of belief and have agreed that they were interested in what the preacher had to say about it.  Those preachers are often… preaching to the choir.

But in Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus offers a parable about the times when those words fall upon deaf ears.  When an invitation is offered… and then rejected.

It’s easy for those who count themselves among the faithful to feel as though an invitation from the master once offered will be surely accepted.  But Jesus’ story is about those who are invited to a king’s son’s wedding and refused to attend.  Little reason is given for their decision, though in the second instance of the invitation story, we hear that some went off to their farms and their businesses.  These were the selected few, the invited.  Yet they were busy with life, with their day-to-day affairs.  They did not heed the invitation.  Perhaps they never even heard that it was offered in the first place.

It’s an opportunity to think about our own readiness to hear and heed.  We are all busy living our lives, but are we ready?  Truly ready?  Are we receptive?  Are we attentive?

Do we favor silence?

Do we live in the moment?

Do we listen… when we pray?

Do we take the time necessary… and it does take time… to build a real and true and deep relationship with Christ?

In terms of our faith, being here (in church) is one thing… but doing something deeper about it is another thing altogether.

If we don’t, even if we think of ourselves as the selected few, the invited, the faithful… then we could miss it.  We could lose our opportunity to find ourselves at the great and everlasting banquet.

The Tracks of My Tears… or whatever…

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Call it a preemptive feeling of loss, but as I wind down on my 365 day project (@reybabes), I’m already anticipating a void in my life.  For (soon to be) 365 days, I will have taken and posted one image per day.  One of the many goals as I set down this path was to record a ‘year-in-the-life…’ not having any sense of what that life might include.  I’ll write about this next week… but let’s just say that the past year has included quite a bit.

Quite a bit.

Will I appreciate not having the pressure to take and post every single day?  YES!

But I do expect that the creative outlet this exercise offered will be missed.  So, I’m ready for something to take its place.  That something could be high contrast, square, monochome images – such as above.  Here, instead of recording my life as happened over the past year, I’m looking to tell a story, to elicit emotion, to lean into art.

I’ll let you know what I come up with…

The Myth of Hidden Heroism

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She recalled the guilt, of thinking less of him only to be shaken out of it by the words of mourners, expressing sorrow, telling her of his rescues.  She was surprised by the condolences, then subsequent stories of salvation metered out by his hands.

So impressed was she in this that she endeavored to garner the same manner of reminiscence at her own end.  She longed for versions of deliverance granted by her pains.

And so firmly constructed was this fiction that she found comfort in acts that never were.   Contentment in mere figment deeds.

The moment of this confrontation… by the sea.  Alone to understand.

The last will be first, and the first will be last. A children’s homily about Mortimer the farmer.

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Is it better to be first or to be last?  What does it mean to be first?  What does it mean to be last?

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Once upon a time, there was a land, rich and fertile, full of growth.  There were farms bursting with fruit and vegetables and all was well… for both the farmers who had large and successful farms… and for the smaller and more modest farms as well.

But then one year, a drought came over the land as the rain stopped falling and the ground grew dry and no longer bountiful.  The fruit and vegetable crops began to fail, the plants began to die and all was not well in this once happy place.  The farmers and their families could not sell their fruits and vegetables and so hard times came upon them.  They could not fully feed their families and it was a time of much sadness and despair.

But not for Mortimer the farmer.  He was lucky because his, and only his, farm was located next to a large lake and he determined a manner of irrigating water from the lake and out onto  his fields.  While all of the farms around his were brown and barren, Mortimer’s farm was rich in color and abundant.

Times were good for Mortimer the farmer.

One by one, the other farmers came to Mortimer’s farm and asked:

“Mortimer, will you share your water with us?”

“Mortimer, if we come with our wagons and barrels and carry the water ourselves, can we have some of your water?”

And: “Mortimer, one day the rains will return.  Can you please help us keep our fruits and vegetables growing until that time?  We will do anything to repay you for your kindness.”

But Mortimer’s heart was hardened and he took no sympathy on the other farmers.   He wanted all of the water for himself.  Every time he was asked one of these questions, he answered: “No!

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Crossing the street and forgiving

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“Little Miss Sunshine”, “The Wizard of Oz”, “The Way”, “The Lord of the Rings”, “Into the Wild”, “Rain Man”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Tracks”, heck, even… “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”…

I love a great road trip story.  A character or characters hit the open road, experience new places, encounter challenges, make important discoveries about the life… about themselves… and change in the process – often for the better, sometimes for the worse.  The road is a metaphor for life.

Today’s gospel is not about the Good Samaritan but I mention it because it is, in a way, a road trip story.  But unlike the ones I mentioned… in which you see the plot develop across a landscape, between a beginning and end point, the story of the Good Samaritan takes place on one small strip of road, on a known treacherous tract between Jerusalem and Jericho.  Because it’s a dangerous road, the people who pass on it tend to keep to themselves… to avoid danger.

The characters in Jesus’ parable pass by this one spot.  A man is beaten nearly to death and two walk by him who surely would have known the law – a priest and a Levite.  But they don’t cross to the other side to help him.  They keep their distance.  They are separated.  Finally, a lowly Samaritan, someone who would not likely know or probably care much about the Jewish law, stopped to help.  He reached across.  He closed the divide.

Today’s gospel is about forgiveness.  It is about mercy.  Peter is told to forgive not seven times, but seventy seven times.

Our heavenly father forgives our wrongs, he heals our wounds, he shows us boundless mercy.  And though it can be difficult, maybe even incredibly difficult, he calls us to do the same to others.

I’d like to suggest that the spot on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho is also a metaphor for life.  Despite the dangers, we all pass though it.  Some of us without incident, some of us with great hardship.  Many of us keep to ourselves.  There are separations between us on this road.  Gulfs that divide us.

We are reminded too often of all these gulfs that divide us.  Especially lately it seems.  And we are reminded that these divisions can often bubble up into hatred.  This includes when protestors at rallies seek violence against each other, when bombs are thrown into concert halls, when trucks are driven into crowds along the side of a street, when those in authority abuse their power, when people are mistreated because of the color of their skin.  This past week, we marked the 16th anniversary of one of the most dramatic and awful demonstrations of division and hatred in our country’s history.

But history shows us that meeting violence with more violence does not soften hearts.  That confronting hatred with more hatred never creates peace.

Only forgiveness does that.  Only healing.  Only mercy.

Jesus calls us to cross the street, to close the divide, to reach across and to connect, to forgive others, to seek forgiveness from others.  And yes, sometimes this can be incredibly difficult.

But sometimes the best way to start a road trip is with baby steps.  What do you say we take a baby step?

Is there someone you need to forgive?  Is there someone from whom you need to seek forgiveness?

Let’s open that door and head out…

Who’s up for a little road trip?

And in a Moment, the Smile Returned

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She remembers being just two miles from the beach, a well worn 40 minute walk away with friends.  These were the days of her youth.

Decades and decisions removed her from the salt and sand, from oceanside memories with now departed brothers and sisters and friends.  She had many… but they are gone.  All now are gone.

I was with her on this day, before others joined us.  When they arrived, she was herself, smiling, joking.  But for a few minutes before, when it was just the two of us, I could see her look at the sand, survey the surf, and recall.  She stared out and said simply but in a broken tone, a tear-filled one: “I’m at the beach”.  I asked her to repeat and she said: “oh… nothing… it’s beautiful here.”  And in a moment, the smile returned.

This image is of that very moment.