Gateway to God’s Grace

I’ve always enjoyed looking at the sky and I especially find clouds fascinating whatever form they take. Now I’ve been noticing, perhaps from the start of the year, cloud shapes are becoming more and more dramatic or strange or weird.

And now for the past several evenings, I’ve been seeing this kind of night sky…a bright, shining opening amid an enveloping darkness. Stunning, isn’t it? How amazing God’s piece of creation!

With the pandemic still raging, on top of the mounting problems we are facing the world over, I believe this must be God’s message of hope and assurance all will be well, with God’s grace!

It’s become sort of ritual for me to view the scene fronting me almost each evening —

“Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the Lord; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God.” — Isaiah 66.9 (NRSV, Catholic edition)

Now, it strikes me that this Sunday Gospel and readings give the same message of hope and assurance from our Lord God.

From Zechariah 9:9-10, we read:

9 Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem! Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

10 He will banish chariots from Ephraim and horses from Jerusalem; the bow of warwill be banished. He will proclaim peace to the nations, his empire will stretch from sea to sea, from the River to the limits of the earth.

The second reading from Romans 8:9, 11-13  sets the condition with which we ought to develop in ourselves, in our daily living, — the gateway to God’s Grace.

The Gospel taken from Matthew 11:25-30 speaks of Christ’s assurance, of His offer of rest from our daily struggles.

Indeed, God speaks to us through His words in the Scriptures, through the people He sends in our lives, and through His wonderful works in nature.

 

Random Lockdown Shots 2020

Pruning: New Life, New Growth

Each time I prune my few potted plants, I always think they may wilt and die because of limited space and soil. Yet, each time they seem to grow even faster than I could imagine.

New life. New growth. After pruning, my plants start sprouting. They indeed continue to grow.

It’s the same with us. We need pruning in our journey to self-growth.

We need to shed leaves of our old selves, cut off the branches of our failures and shortcomings, and unchain the weakest links in our lives.

What are those weakest links, you might ask. Well, these are our inordinate attachments, our obsessions to things or people that limit or destroy our capacity to grow and become our authentic selves.

Pruning ourselves propels us to grow into the better persons we can ever yet become. It drives us towards our goals, as we go on improving ourselves and helping others grow as well.

Our limited circumstances or resources are not hindrances to our goal of growing ourselves. All it takes is a growth mindset ready to overcome any obstacles or limitations. It needs sheer willpower, decisive action, and a bit of creativity too.

Pruning in the time of the Pandemic

In this time of the pandemic and lockdowns, perhaps you have done some pruning in your lives, just like the rest of us. In fact, one good effect of having to stay at home and keeping safe from COVID-19 is many people have been forced to give up their favorite leisure activities, such as window shopping, going to movie theaters, and eating out. And as money have become tight due to the effect of the crisis on the economy, people have become more budget-conscious and wiser in spending money.

To relieve boredom or the so-called cabin fever, many have tried coping with the restrictions creatively. Cooking, baking, urban gardening, yoga exercises with the family, attending online daily Masses and other religious events – are some of the activities many of us have taken up these past few months.

Following live-streamed Masses and religious events has become daily New Normal…
The Holy Hour (Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament) on TV

Others have also become more entrepreneurial by putting up small home businesses delivering essential goods to our homes.

Re-learning basic home skills and learning new ones – because we need to be more practical — that ‘s what most of us are busy with nowadays.

Families have bonded more strongly. Doing things together as a family has become the norm — especially eating meals together. Even those who live apart from one another have come to get in touch more often through family video chats using Zoom, Skype Chat and Facebook Messenger, to name a few.

At the same time, caring for those in need, including front-liners, extending help in any way is a common sight to behold.  We have learned what is most essential in life, and who matters most in our lives.

Even the environment has benefited from the months-long lockdown and curfews, giving us cleaner air and clearer views of the horizon.

These are only some of the good many of us have experienced during the recent months. So while the pandemic has caught us all by surprise and changed life as we knew it then, it has given us time to look deeper into ourselves, prune away bad habits, cultivate good ones, and plant seeds of hope and love for a better humanity. Shedding our old selves to grow into our better, more authentic selves — may this be ‘new normal’ even long past this pandemic.

For us Christians, let us ponder more deeply this idea of pruning with these words from John 15: 1-6.

1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.

2 Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more.

3 You are clean already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you.

4 Remain in me, as I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, unless it remains part of the vine, neither can you unless you remain in me.

5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me you can do nothing.

6 Anyone who does not remain in me is thrown away like a branch — and withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire and are burnt.

 

Through the Lens of an Amateur Photography Enthusiast

A professional photographer friend of mine recently gave me a few honest-to-goodness critique of some photo shots I did as I’d requested. I appreciated it because there’s nothing like having a mentor or teacher who can help in your journey of learning.

And the most encouraging part of his feedback is telling me to just enjoy my photography — for his is more on the technicalities of taking photos, such as avoiding overexposure, taming the whites in your photos, proper framing, and the like. At least I know where my weaknesses lie, and how to improve my techniques.

Then I  came across this article, What is Composition in Photography?

“Composition is the language that you, the photographer, can use to communicate with the viewer. How you place the different components of your image relative to each other is what gives your photos meaning.” — Harry Guinness

It gives me great comfort to know what I’m actually aiming for in my photos has a place in the world of photography. As this author-photographer Harry Guinness writes, “Photography isn’t just a technical pastime; it’s an art. […] There is something more to photography than just technical perfection.”

Of course, I like to be technically correct, so I’m learning to use the manual setting on my phone cam or my digicam, instead of the Auto mode.

Yet, for the most part I enjoy creating a certain mood, like making a scene dramatic or pensive. Or making the scene before me seem like someone is peering through a corner. During the post-editing stage, I refrain from relying on filters to get the effect I want. But I use the editing options for straightening, cropping, and improving the tonal quality of my shots. It’s something like cinematography. It’s creating art indeed.

I like how I was able to frame those people within the bars of the railing from where I stood…

Often, I get so caught up with this particular goal of mine that I tend to overlook the technical part. So I do understand if some of my better equipped, more polished photographer friends fail to recognize what I’m really aiming for.

More than ever now, I commit myself to continue honing my photography skills (as taught by experts and professionals) and still enjoy expressing myself the way I want to.

Here are some of my favorite practice shots.

Thought it would be fun to capture the silhouette of my sister’s cat as she lays next to her reading a book…
Caught my sister reading and thought of focusing on her book and her hands’ silhouette
A practice on perspective – at the same time I tried to come up with a different kind of composition
My practice shot on scaling…
A shot from my book pile series
taken with my old Canon PowerShot A3100 IS — tried to imitate a common book arrangement in bookstores…
It seems like the leaf is catching those soft fluffy white clouds…
To trained eyes, this shot is not a good one (long shadow on the building’s facade) but it’s still a better version of many of my earliest photos…

There you go, my photography journey in 2018. Hope 2019 finds me offering you a fresh batch of more artistically done shots. Blessings to all!

a gift from my son…

 

Cat Eye on Spotlight

In a previous post, Best Loved Photos of Our Family Pets, I featured some of my sister’s outdoor cats.

Now, there’s this one cat my sister treats almost like a princess, and she rules the house! Kring, as she is fondly called, is an indoor cat. She also knows my favorite hobby of clicking away at them pets. And though she remains aloof to me, she doesn’t hesitate to call my attention when I fail to notice her with my phone camera. I’m just enjoying myself, but hope to really practice the great animal photography tips for beginners.

One tip I’ve learned is to focus on the eyes. These photos may not yet do justice to Kring, but I’ve managed in a way to capture her personality, another tip.

                                                 

 

 

 

 

 

        

perched on the ref — one of her fave spots…
taken with my smartphone (Samsung J5) ƒ/1.9   1/17  3.7 mm  ISO640

 

“Of all God’s creatures, there is only one that cannot be made slave of the leash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve the man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”
Mark Twain

Best Loved Photos of Our Family Pets

Tomtom, eagerly ready for his photoshoot…

Outdoor cats ~~ these gentle-looking felines are not mine, but my sister’s. Yet I’ve become a familiar face. And they seem to know by now my fondness for taking photos of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So they gamely pose, no longer afraid, whenever I start taking out my phone. Yes, I only use my smartphone for many of my shots, like these cat photos here.

Using my phone cam’s manual settings — ISO 100, and tweaking the exposure compensation + or – here and there, I concentrated on how to frame and catch them in their most natural mood or pose. I think somehow, I’ve managed to get to their individual personality.

“Who me?”
Batman ~~ he used to belong to the neighbor until he found a way to my sister’s home and heart…

  “Time spent with cats is never wasted.”

– Sigmund Freud

Flowers

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.” — Buddha

The above photos are among my random practice shots using manual settings on my simple phone camera, practicing the various tips I’ve been learning from WP’ The Daily Post. In these photos, I experimented with different light and exposure compensation settings. I also tried to come up with the so-called “studio look.” Just here enjoying the process of learning as I trek a different creative path…