The birth of a storm

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(photograph: the sky form Julie’s yard 2013)

“The greater the difficulty the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests.”
Epictetus

There is the announcement of “presence”–at first you begin to smell it, as it’s impending arrival hangs heavy in the air. Next comes the rumblings of distant drum beats, growing ever stronger in both frequency and intensity. All of this long before you ever see it, warnings to those in the path…seek shelter or change course…the delightfully thick scent of rain, heavy in the air accompanied by the distant rumblings of thunder all giving way to a growing tempest—the calling card, the announcement, of an impending storm. “Seek shelter / change course– or– hunker down / run like hell.”

I sometimes wish the storms of life, which often assault us with the same intensity, frequency and damaging effects, would or could send out similar calling cards—allowing us to prepare and fight or prepare for flight. And maybe sometimes they do, in some rare instances. But for the most part, these life storms just seem to pop up, like the summer afternoon storms brought about by the heating of the day— unexpectedly appearing out of what was a clear and perfect blue sky kind of day.

And just like those ship captains of long ago, we too gain a strength and a wizened reputation from the “weathering” of these storms…we gain strength, wisdom and a determined sense of perseverance from our journeys through the storms of our lives—it’s all just a matter of surviving and getting to the other side. And this speaks to both types of storms—the literal physical storm descended from the heavens, as well as for the proverbial storms sent down by Life.

Praying for blue skies today for us all.

A life is suddenly taken– will there be redemption?

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“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”
Dante Alighieri

I think many times in life, even when it seems we have a plan, we have a direction, we have a “life”, we can still find ourselves feeling, well, a bit “lost” as it were. Spinning our wheels somewhat aimlessly, spiraling as if out of control, going nowhere and going there fast.

Oddly enough when I think of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, the body of work which gives us today’s quote, I think of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Two very different stories written during two very different time periods, written in two very different countries, in two very different languages and yet they are two stories intertwined, unbeknownst to each author, about the adventure of life which desperately needs a reality check—a reminder of what life has been and if things don’t change, what life could be, unless there is a drastic about face, a turing around with a change of heart.

Dickens’ focus is more on a life lived simply for self and for greed with little to no regard for those less fortunate— or in Scrooge’s case, a regard for no one, not even particularly himself, other than the dispassionate making of money at all costs.

Dante’s tale is also a story about life—or rather lives lived wantonly with little to no regard to the fate of living such morally devoid lives—complete with a vivid and sober reminder of the results of living with such “sinfulness” and of how that leads to the spiraling, and apparently hopeless, journey into the results of that “sinfulness”……..

Each story has a guide leading our characters on their journey of discovery. Each guide eventually leaves our characters on their own. The hope is that each character, having seen the ugly reality of such lost living, has time to bring about change, positive change.

In Dante’s case the change is actually left up to the viewer—live a life like these folks and you’re stuck in a ring of hell–it’s all just a matter of which ring. In Scrooge’s case it’s a matter of change so you don’t wind up like Jacob Marley with the weight of your sins hung on your neck for all of eternity.

And I suppose it helps if you believe in an afterlife– otherwise I suppose the consequences of your life’s action would be simply nil. And yet— believing in an afterlife or not, believing in a heaven or hell or not, there is always the effect your actions have with those of which you share this planet.

This past week a tragedy happened in our county. It actually took place in a neighboring city of ours.

My husband is in a business where he has several competitors in our town, as well as in the neighboring towns. These businesses, whereas they do compete against one another, there remains a mutual respect and cohesiveness amongst all the businesses. This week, on Wednesday, during the middle of the day, 4 men entered a competing business, in a neighboring community, with hammers in order to “smash and grab”—a brazen type of robbery during the midst of a busy work day.

But rather than just smashing and grabbing—stealing and leaving—something went even more terribly wrong. The store owner was shot and killed.

He leaves behind a wife and two sons. He went to work that morning and in a terrible span of 15 seconds, that’s how long these men were in his business, his life was cut short and he wasn’t going home to his family that evening.

This sort of crime, even though our county is but an hour away from a major metropolitan city, is unheard of here. Our communities are such where people grow up together, go to school together, raise families together, go to friday night high school football games together in order to compete against one another, attend church together, shop together, simply live together — but violent crimes such as this….no, certainly not here. Not when you can drive 3 minutes out of our communities and find cows grazing in their fields, children riding their bikes, fruit markets set up selling the latest harvest…………

As word spread of this heinous act Wednesday afternoon, my husband’s phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Customers streamed into his store wanting to just “hug his neck”—-people were suddenly and sadly struck by the fragility of life.

The police apprehend one of the “men” who was left behind by his fleeing accomplices—he was the 16 year old gunman. Yesterday another man was apprehended many many miles from our community. These men were not from here but from the major metropolitan city. Last night, on the nightly news, one of the apprehended men was being lead into a courtroom for a bond hearing where he proceeded to repeatedly shoot the news cameras “a bird”——a life is taken for nothing and he shoots a bird to the news crew……I just don’t understand.

Fear has now gripped our county, our neighbors, our business owners. I now look at my husband each morning and I wonder if he will come back home in the evening—or not.

My faith is such that I do believe in prayer, I do believe in hope and I must believe in forgiveness.

Did these men think about taking a life and of the ramifications of such? I doubt it. Do they now think of the consequences of their actions? I don’t think their thoughts are as mine would be—-I don’t even know if they care—maybe the remaining two “on the run” only care about not getting caught, maybe they all just care about being stuck in a jail–going through a trail, maybe facing the death penalty—do they think about that? Do they think about God and what may happen if there is no redemption on their part????? Do they think of this man whose life they stole?
Of his now bereft family? I doubt it.

These sorts of actions by a few make life forever different for many others.

I do believe in God and I do believe in Hope—-the flip side to not believing is pretty grim.

May we all stop and ponder the course our actions and of the effect they have on those in which we share this planet and may our thoughts now also be with one very sad family and community—as this is not an isolated event—this sort of thing is playing out all over this country of ours—violence serves no purpose, I wonder when we will ever figure that out……..will there ever be redemption in the hearts of these men???????…………

Indian Paintbrush

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(photograph: Julie Cook/ Crater Lake, Oregon, 2013)

The following story is taken form the Wildflowers of Texas/ Legends and Folklore Part I
Ladybird Wildflower Center/ Austin Texas/ 2006/ Docent supplement

An Indian legend tells the story of how paintbrushes came
to bloom. There once was a young boy. He wanted more
than anything to be a warrior. But, he was very small and
couldn’t keep up with the bigger boys as they learned the skills necessary to become great fighters.
One day, as he sat outside the family’s tent feeling sorry for himself, his grandfather sat down beside him. “You know,” he said, “Not everyone is meant to be a warrior. You have other skills that make you special. You can draw and paint anything you see. That is your great gift.”
The little boy thought about that for a while and decided that his grandfather was right. From that day forward, he began to draw and paint all that he saw around him.
As a young man, the boy became obsessed with capturing the colors and beauty of the sunset. Although he tried very hard, the colors kept eluding him. One night, as he lay sleeping, an old man and beautiful young woman came to him in a dream. The woman was carrying a pure white deerskin. “This,” she said, “will be the canvas upon which you capture the beauty of the sunset.” And she laid it next to him. The old man leaned in close and whispered, “Go to the hill tomorrow evening and you will find all you need to capture the sunset.”
The next morning the young man awoke and waited all day for evening to come. As the sun began to set, he gathered up the deerskin, his paint, and brushes and made his way up to the top of the hill. When he arrived, he saw brushes of every color of the sunset. He sat down, spread his canvas out, and, as the sun began to set, and using the brushes he found, began to paint the sunset. As he worked, he tossed each brush aside. By the time the sun had set, he had his picture. Proudly, he carried it down to the camp and presented it as a gift to the tribe.
The next morning he awoke. As he walked about the camp, he looked to the hill where he had painted his masterpiece. There, everywhere he had tossed aside a brush, were flowers in every hue of the sunset. And, every Spring, the Great Spirit sends the colors of the sunset to remind us of the little boy who captured the sunset.

There are several legends connected to the Indian Paintbrush, but coming from a retired art teacher—I simply couldn’t resist this one………….

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Psalm 95 and Oregon

For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.

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The sea is his, for he made it,

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and his hands formed the dry land.

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Psalm 95:3-5….pictures taken along an Oregon adventure…………..

I love how nature continues to so eloquently illustrate the beautiful and most lyrical words of the ancient poems—the Psalms. Traveling through Oregon’s beautiful and rugged landscape last week I was sweetly reminded of Psalm 95…a psalm that we “sung” during the Morning Office, Rite I, taken from The Book of Common Prayer, each Sunday morning in church when I was growing up.

Back then I just went through the motions of the service… reciting prayers, litanies, psalms, kneeling, standing, kneeling some more, singing—thus is the flow of an Episcopal liturgical service. To a young person, such a service may seem, well, a bit boring, simply full of repetition…..but I found it’s rhythm soothing. I grew to love the wording of prayers, the way the Psalms were woven into this “King’s English” recitational service…and it is this rhythmical service that has stayed embedded in my very psyche all these many years later.

That is why, as we were driving, last week, for miles upon miles of shrouded green roadside, which was punctuated by spectacular sweeping vistas, Psalm 95 suddenly came rushing to the forefront of my consciousness… “the sea is His and He made it, and His hand prepared the dry land…” set to a chanting type of cadence, rising and falling, just like breathing.

As we were driving on these beautiful side roads, the familiar fir tree clad landscape suddenly disappeared, giving way to something extremely foreign—the landscape alien, harsh and very dead. We had stumbled onto Oregon’s Belknap lava fields. It has to be one of the most eeriest sites I have ever encountered. Pumice rocks–some the size of boulders,some very tiny, were scattered for miles and miles, measuring 1700 feet deep in most spots, all once liquid fiery red, ebbing and flowing for as far as the eye could see.

No life now but for a few dead skeletal remains of once majestic fir trees remind the viewer that life once existed in this foreign specter of a once vibrant landscape. The grounds are massive and dwarf any visitor who ventures out of a car, stopping at the various viewing points, making one feel almost claustrophobic, as the pumice “mountains” rise up to engulf any and all who walk along the pathway.

There is but a lone road snaking throughout these lonely fields. Snow continues to accumulate in the nooks and crannies, only adding to the cold barren emptiness. The last active lava flow was 1500 years ago—this area, this part of the state, resides in the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire. A visceral reminder of the tentative life we live on this very active, ever changing planet of ours.

All that we see—the earth, the stars, the heavens…all that is below our feet and above our heads…all that is at our arms reach, all that is seen and heard, all that is unseen and yet unknown…all that is limitless–that which is not man-made, as that equates to limited—the power of the wind, the energy of the lightening, the heat of the sun, the deluge of the rains, the clouds, the mountains, the deserts, the seas….the power of this universe of ours…which drawfs the mere “power of man”, is all truly humbling………all of this and even more than we can imagine gives way to the gentle cadence of a rhythmical lyrical breath….the breath of life giving way to the joy of a poem known as Psalm 95…

You are a spiritual being

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(Julie’s east-coast southern feet in the cold Mighty Pacific Ocean at Cannon Beach, Oregon 2013)

“You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I must confess that I am not greatly versed in the works of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin–only having read snippets here and there. And knowing that controversy surrounded him during much of his life with his own beloved Catholic Church, as much of his writings/ publications often ran in opposite directions, or more aptly, in uncharted waters.

Not being a theologian nor Catholic, much of my Christian/Catholic theological knowledge has come about merely by my own curiosity and immersion into the studies of the ancient and more current “doctors of the church”…that of their teachings and writings—and that “church” would be the “global christian church” as I do venture into the realm of other theological minds—remember my admiration for Pastor Bonhoeffer—a Lutheran.

This quote by Father Teilhard de Chardin spoke to my heart as it reminds me that I am created in God’s image—and that there is a connective cord between me and my Creator Father–that of a spiritual cord—a spiritual umbilical cord if you will. It is said that we cannot even pray be it not for the small tiny spiritual piece of God already planted in our very being at the time of our very beginning. A tiny piece of the Divine that resides so deep within that I am not even aware of its very being—The Spirit is living in me and It connects me to my Father.

The ancient Desert Fathers and Mothers were aware of this piece of the Divine planted deep in our being as they sought quiet and solitude in order to focus all of their life energies seeking and engaging with this most Holy treasure. We all have an innate desire to connect with this Sacred piece…many seek it, not even aware that it is the very “longing” of which they so seek—or more aptly, long for.

And that is how it is with me—a deep longing that I often cannot define or put my finger on. It is often a sense of melancholy, possessing a palpable pain. St. Teresa of Avila wrote of this as she spoke of the holy arrow that pieced her heart, wounding her with such a beautiful pain that she described herself swooning, wounded–yet as if in a state of ecstasy (see Bernini’s statue The Ecstasy of St Teresa/ Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome/ for a beautiful physical rendering of this “wounding”)

St. Hildegarde von Bingen, the medieval German mystic nun who wrote of the trance like states she would find herself falling in—leaving her with severe headaches giving way to Divine visions, is another example of one who knew of this Divine piece resting in her very being. In our own life time there was Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, the southern Italian Capuchin monk who wore the actual wounds of Christ on his body, just as did St. Francis– as they each recieved the Stigmata—the bleeding wounds of Christ from the Crucifixion.

Others, which is the majority of us, go about most of our lives seeking this piece of the Divine, not even knowing that is what we are actually doing—-we fill ourselves and our lives, in an effort to fill this unseen void, with so much “emptiness”– thinking that these things will satiate this longing—we fill the void with material goods, be it electronic gadgets, clothing , jewelry, cars, homes–multiple homes–one to live in others to “vacation” in, (have you ever thought about that? only in our world do some people have no home, and others have multiple homes–why do we really need multiple homes…? but I digress)—then there are the “addictions” which we think will fill this longing—food, drugs, sex, gambling—-all in an effort to stanch the endless bleeding so to speak….make the gnawing of this longing stop—the ache must be stopped as it makes us hurt and uncomfortable……

But what we don’t understand is that this ache and longing, which we just simply can’t explain, define or put our finger on, is the Spiritual piece that is planted in our very being, longing to connect us, our Spiritual selves, with that of our Heavenly Father….and the majority of us spend a lifetime trying to do this, but don’t even know that that is what we are even doing—-so we spend our lives running in circles as it were…some of us chasing after mystical experiences that are not of our Father…those who engage in zen experiences, satanic or witchcraft ceremonies, various cult rituals… all in an aimless attempt to ease the longing…and yet the longing seems to still remain along with the frustration and undefined emptiness —-that is,until, luckily, we finally realize, and it is often through the trial and pain of life, that the longing of what we seek, has all along, simply been a relationship with the Creator Himself, our Father.

There are many who would disagree with me and that is fine—it’s just that it’s taken me many pains and sorrows along this life of mine to finally figure this out—but most of us seem to learn best by the harsh reality of life’s trials and pains… so I can’t force you to agree with my observation and where it is that I have finally come to in order to finally “get this”—-it must come about by your own stumbling…and yes various types of meditation practices may augment this seeking, but are not the final answer, just more pieces along the way….

It was through the death and Resurrection of the Christ, the Χριστός, the Christós, מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ), the Messiah, that allowed for the final connection to be made possible. But I can’t make you believe this—this is the conncection you must find on your own….as we all seem to learn best the “hard way” but that is the way in which we learn of the cemented truth.

My point today however is simply to remind you that you are indeed a spiritual being—and it is a relationship of which you are seeking—as the Spirit resides in each of us, simply longing, along with us, to make the Connection…………..

Look closely….

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“Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living.”
Soren Kierkegaard

My husband and I had gone on a hike early one morning while visiting Crater Lake in southern Oregon. Camera in tow, I was busy snapping images left and right. The scenery beautiful and breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve been in a more beautiful place (more about this visit later). Our adventure took us along a trail skirting the southern rim of the lake. As we climbed higher and higher, I noticed that so many of the trees, which had seen better days, giving up the ghost so to speak as a direct result, no doubt, to a life lived in an extreme weather local, were withered and gnarled–twisted and misshapen in violent contortions.

Later in the evening, once we were settled in from an exhausting day, I began looking over the pictures taken during the day’s journey. I stopped on the above image of the weathered tree, marveling in the ancient twisted shape, when I suddenly noticed a small little fellow who, unbeknownst to me, had been looking down on me obviously while I had been taking the picture. What a delightful surprise seeing this little guy.

This picture was a pretty potent lesson reminding me that even though I think I’m always aware of what’s going on around me at all times, I suppose this picture may prove otherwise………….
Maybe I get too caught up, being hyper-focused on the task at hand, that I tend to miss the extra little wonders. Maybe I think I’m too busy to slow down long enough to “soak it all in”–always being in a blasted hurry. Perhaps it takes a sly little squirrel to remind me that there is always more to life than meets the eye……

On this new day to a new week, may we all learn to keep our eyes and ears open at all times, may we take time to slow down, to really look, to really listen…who knows what we may be missing…………..

oh, and if you still don’t see what I’m talking about, check out the top left corner branch on the tree