I see you, seeing me

“The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God’s eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.”
― Meister Eckhart

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A tufted titmouse taking a quick bath out my back window / Julie Cook / 2013

What beautiful words this morning from Meister Eckhart—of an endless, timeless, omnipotent, connection which transcends the very grasp of thought or reason. A boundless union that existed before my own existence and will exist when I am gone form this life.

The small “i” joining the great Thou…joined together at the very moment of being–the Alpha and the Omega of an interconnectedness which forms a mystical union and bond that is woven together to become one….

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.

(Psalm 139: 7-24 NIV)

A binding Love that seeks you and me ….”for I am of the Father, and the Father is of me and what is of me, I offer to you…..”

Connected and bound…healed and freed….for the two shall be as one……

Indian Summer

“The Indian Summer of life should be a little sunny and a little sad, like the season, and infinite in wealth and depth of tone, but never hustled.”
Henry Adams
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(image taken from the window while ironing / Jule Cook / 2013)

Transition.

A 30 degree night, gives way to the first frost of the season, which gives way to rain, which gives way to balmy spring-like warmth, giving way to this Indian Summer.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac a true Indian Summer only happens between St Martin’s day– November 11th to November 20th. If All Saint’s day (November 1st) brings cold, followed by a drastic warm up between St Martin’s day and the 20th of November then we have a true Indian Summer.

This week’s warmth is just a little early for the official Indian Summer, but warm it is…..this butterfly has no idea it’s almost November.

Farewell, thou latter spring; farewell, All-hallown summer!”
Shakespeare’s Henry IV

What does it matter

“And what, O Queen, are those things that are dear to a man? Are they not bubbles? Is not ambition but an endless ladder by which no height is ever climbed till the last unreachable rung is mounted? For height leads on to height, and there is not resting-place among them, and rung doth grow upon rung, and there is no limit to the number.”
Sir H. Rider Haggard

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Crater Lake Rim Trial, Crater Lake, Oregon / Julie Cook / 2013

I was recently reading about a conversation between Father Maximilian Kolbe and a German Gestapo Officer, albeit a conversation via correspondence only, in which Kolbe was petitioning the officer for approval to be able to print an important monthly newsletter. The Germans had garrisoned the small Polish town in which Fr.Kolbe’s monastery resided, having shut down his daily operations. Fr Kolbe’s monastery, Niepokalanow, which had grown to be one of the largest Franciscan Monasteries in the world, was responsible for the printing and distributing of the periodical The Knight, which was a newsletter devoted to his Marian Militia of the Immaculata–the army of Mary.

Fr Kolbe wrote several letters requesting permission to print the newsletter with, all but one, landing upon deaf ears. It was the final approval, with the writing, then the printing and distribution that was the final straw that broke the camel’s back between Fr Kolbe and the German “guests” of Poland. But it was of his appeal, in one of the many letters, which struck a chord with me….

In one or two hundred years, you and I will no longer be alive. Then all of our problems will be settled, even the most important, and only one will remain: Will we still exist at that moment, and where? Will we be happy? It is the same for all men. Every hour brings us closer to that moment. Our review [the review being the periodical The Knight] deals with this kind of problem.

It was noted that the German Officer was obviously not concerned about his own happiness nor of his place or position in one to two hundred years….sadly so I might add.

The point being that so much of today’s troubles and conflicts will be of little to no importance or consequence in 100 years (or truly even less), as none of us will be around to carry on the quibbling. Kolbe’s observation resonated deeply in my thoughts. The truly more important matter, which Fr Kolbe noted, was the query as to where it is we will all be in said distant future and will we be happy.

Oh I suppose that if mankind is still around, as is likely, in 100 to 200 years from now, I am certain that some morphed version of today’s issues and conflicts will still be manifesting themselves… without having missed a single beat. As the perpetual and oh so elusive desire for World Peace will continue flowing from the charts of hopes and dreams…

So I am left to wonder, what does all of this ugliness matter anyway…as all of this is to one day pass away…as will we in equal turn.

What does appear to matter, however, is the concept of the soul and of the welcoming home of that soul to the Father’s house. But I suppose you’d have to believe in the concept of having a soul, a loving Father and an eventual place that is waiting on the prodigal to return…otherwise, nothing matters…… and how terribly empty is that?
and so it goes….

What defines you?

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
e. e. cummings

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Pacific Rim Trail / Ucluelet, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada / Julie Cook / 2011

I imagine if you ask people what it is that defines who they are, most people would respond with something associated with their work or job. It is as if they are a product of the job. I had written an entire little preamble to today’s topic about work, jobs and identity..of how we tend to let work or the job suck up our identity but I really didn’t like where that seemed to be leading…feeling as if I began veering off base.

My intention and my thoughts here are to go much deeper than the mere obvious.

When asked what it is that defines me, defines who I am…my response a year ago would have been that I was a teacher–I’d follow that with my being a wife and mother. I think that’s pretty much how most of us would answer when asked. We define ourselves by telling others what it is we do for a living–our job, our work. We tell others that we are a student, a soldier, nurse, a contractor, a policeman, a doctor, a wife, a husband, a mother, a father…. But do any of us, who are Christians, respond first with “I am a Christian”…then to follow that with what it is we do?

Have you ever been at a function and met someone for the first time with the first question usually being, “so, what do you do?” They want to be able to define who we are, measure our place, figure out how we fit in…what is our production level–are we being successful, are we a contributor, are we a rising star, a game changer, will we be impressive or someone who is to be quickly dismissed.

There was a time, in the early days of our Christian faith, when it was dangerous, even life threatening, to be defined by ones belief and faith… and yet the early followers of this new religion did not skirt the issue–it was the foremost defining factor in their lives…the foremost defining factor. It was that big of a deal to them.

Somewhere, sadly, along the line of Time, the definition of being a Believer no longer seemed appropriate to throw out there when “defining” ourselves to others. Our faith no longer relevant when telling others of who we are. I’m Scotch/ Irish, I’m adopted, I’m a wife, a mother, I’m a retired educator…all of that sounding normal, typical—but if I were to met you on the street greeting you with “hi, my name is Julie. I’m a Christian” You’d probably look at me uttering something awkward like “oh, ok, uh good… uh good to know” all the while thinking you needed to move along quickly as you’d just run into some sort of fanatic.

Awkward, not relevant, not socially acceptable….

But it shouldn’t be that way–it should be standard.

If we are believers, if we are members of a Christian church, if we claim to be of a denomination, then why wouldn’t we first announce the definition of who we are by stating that we are a Christian, a follower of Christ? How many people have happily, defiantly, proudly, strongly, bravely proclaimed to be such knowing that they would face imprisonment, torture and death? How many people have sacrificed everything to be able to say that they are defined by their Christian Faith?

Sadly we consider it awkward and out of place proclaiming our faith when meeting others. Would Jesus not proclaim us to others joyously and gladly without a second thought? We will not be twisting arms or pushing others into corners with our proclamation but rather we will simply state who we are foremost, as everything else simply follows suit.

On this new day to this new week, how will you be defined?

Cookie’s stewed apples

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
Martin Luther

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I don’t know about where you live but the temperatures are starting to take a bit of a nose dive. We actually had our first frost last night here in northwest Georgia as the thermometer dipped into the oh so low 30’s. The nightly weather reports have been dotted with the stories of the early snows throughout much of the country—news of such always puts me in the mood to be in the kitchen working on something warm, comforting and heavenly.

I had gone a bit overboard at the grocery store the other day buying, en masse, the beautifully displayed apples. I don’t know if I thought the apocalyptic end was in sight or that I wanted to keep every doctor within miles away but I found myself buying more apples than I really needed.

And there they were this morning, a bevy of beauties sitting all nestled in the bowl on the counter–waiting… waiting for me to do something magical with them….

I know!! Let’s make stewed Apples—Cookie’s delightfully fall stewed apples…talk about a bite of fall in one’s mouth…..

First, let us gather our supplies shall we…..

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You’ll notice the base will be: Apple Cider, and of course we need Calvados or any good Apple brandy; I had some leftover coke, why not; the juice from an orange, cinnamon, my delicious cinnamon simple syrup, cardamon–pods crushed or the powder; nutmeg–freshly grated; Vermont Maple Syrup (I order mine each year from Taft’s Milk & Maple Farm in Huntington, VT –talk with Mary–she is a wonderful person http://www.vtmaplesyrup.com ), honey (my son’s fiancé brought me a jar of Beekman’s Vanilla Creamed Honey–talk about decadent…it is laced with vanilla seeds and is truly heavenly–use sparingly as it’s just too good) Plus about 7 or 8 nice size apples. I mix varieties as some will turn to mush as they cook and others will hold their shape…providing a nice variety which is great for the “stew”….

I used a naval orange but you may use any type, even a tangerine—I’ve been known to use a lemon if I didn’t have an orange–you just want a little citrus….
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Now you know I’m not one to measure so this may really throw some of you more exact folks out there a big curve–I measure with my eyes and my tastebuds…it’s from being the art teacher for all those years—eyeballing things just took over. And here is where I throw my Jessuit friend William, over on teilharddechardin.wordpress.com, a curve ball as to whether I am a type A or type B personality—-but in the kitchen my “little bit of this and a little bit of that” just works…..

Using a large deep saucier or soup pot, pour in probably about 2 cups of the apple cider, probably 1/2 to 3/4 cup Calvados, part of the left over Coke-if you don’t have a Coke or don’t want to open one for this, don’t–it’s not crucial. Squeeze half or both halves of the orange, pour in approx 3/4 cup maple syrup–we’ll probably need more later. Pour in 1/2 cup of Cookie’s cinnamon simple syrup if you made it, if not just add more ground cinnamon and maple syrup. Several shakes of ground cinnamon, cardamon, a couple of gratings of the fresh nutmeg– bringing it all to a boil–now reduce to a simmer while you prepare the apples.

Wash your apples—I like to spray them with “Fit”–it is a fruit and vegetable spray/wash that helps to remove that waxy business the producers like to coat the fruit and veggies with….yuck…. Spray with the Fit, rub all over, rinse well.

Next you may use an apple slicer which makes this little chore rather effortless or you can simply cut into 8ths. I do not peel my apples as the skin adds such a nice textural quality to the end product but if you want to be a purist, peel away.

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Once the apples are sliced, place them in the pot of simmering deliciousness. Your house is smelling really good right about now…..

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Bring the mixture, complete with apples, to a boil, stirring to coat the apples with the liquid as we don’t want them turning brown. Reduce the heat, cover (don’t fret if the lid doesn’t fit all the way down yet, the apples will shrink down)–allow to simmer about 20 to 30 minutes…stir ever so often. After about 30 minutes taste the liquid as the apples will now have released their heady juice—here is where you may need to add some more Maple syrup or honey. Just keep adding a little, tasting until the level of sweetness works for you.

At this point you can cut off the heat, allowing the apples time to ‘sit in their juices’ as it were–breaking down and absorbing flavor. I usually let them sit on the stove until later when everyone wants a bowl– I will then heat them back up, as serving them warm just seems best. You may certainly use them as a side if serving some sort of pork or on their own as a desert. I’ve been known to heat a bowl for breakfast or ladle over oatmeal…so versatile, healthy and oh so heavenly divine.

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Serve them warm in a bowl topped with vanilla ice cream or a little whipped cream, or serve plain….this is what the doctor ordered on a chilly day…can’t get much better than this……

Prisoner of the state or protective custody?

I live a very dull life here… indeed I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else.
Martha Washington

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If you own a pet, you will understand this post. If you do not, perhaps you will be amused…..

Do you remember a while back when I wrote the post entitled “My best Friend”—it was about our cat Percy. Short for Perseverance. He was a rescue—or actually he is the one who picked us as his rescuers. I won’t spend our time this morning reliving his perilous beginning as you may wish to read that for yourself.

In a nutshell however—he was a tiny kitten, only 4 or so weeks old, who had been, what the vet believed, thrown from a car as his jaw was smashed, his nose broken, his right eye socket broken, he was covered with maggots and he had laid down to die, when he alerted us, rather loudly, to his presence.

We brought him in, gave him water, some mushy food, as his bottom jaw was a disaster and his teeth either gone forever, or those remaining were in such bad shape, poking every which a way, that they would eventually have to be pulled. We did not expect him to live through the night.

That was two years ago.

Yes, I am in love as he is my world. I suppose that happens when something, in such a terrible way, seeks you out for help….it was as if, once he knew we took action on his behalf, he could in turn, let go and rest in order to begin his healing and recovery—hence his Perseverance. He was not ready to die.

Percy has no teeth on his bottom jaw but for one remaining broken fang. This adds to his adorable misshapen mouth. His little pink bottom lip pokes out as if he’s being a bit pouty. His right eye appears a tad crooked in relation to the left eye. When he looks up at me, I melt. His demeanor is sweet and adoring…that is until the sound of an engine or passing car sounds too close for comfort, sending him into a nervous fit–it terrifies him.

Therefore he is not an outdoor pet whatsoever. When he was little I tried using a harness and leash with him as he’d want to follow our other cat, Peaches, outside. She’s older and he acts as if she’s his mother. Peaches in turn is very tolerable and babies him upon his request.

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Our short adventures outside would be a bit haphazard and a comedy of errors. Such as the time we were out on the front porch as Percy leaned a tad too far over the railing, slipping out of the harness, falling all of 2 feet to the pine straw below. He was fine, just startled–but I was the one running down the stairs in a panic. The walks would progress well until the inevitable car would pass by. At the sound of any motorized vehicle, be it a car, motorcycle or plane, Percy would proceed to go into a sheer irrational state of panic. Makes me wonder what he must remember from his terrible accident.

Needless to say the harness walks were short lived as Percy would scramble back up the steps, dragging me behind as I couldn’t keep up in his mad dash back to safety. In the long run, I decided going out was not in Percy’s best interest. He may think he really wants to spend time outside with Peaches watching the birds…. but I know that the open window in the back closet and his hanging out on the back deck are both calmer and safer.

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Fast forward to last week.
As my husband prepares to leave for work each morning, I feed both cats. Peaches immediately wants out the back door. Percy immediately wants out on the back deck. The back deck is about 12 feet off the ground. It’s been Percy’s outdoor world these past two years. He watches the birds and deer as they feed in the yard. The back yard is more or less like a pasture as that is what our property was before we built our house. I have plants scattered around for Percy to have a little greenery and he even has his own chair complete with cushions. Life on the back deck is good…or it was…..

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The problem is Peaches. Peaches we must remember comes and goes at will. She is outdoor and indoor. If she’s on the back deck with Percy and suddenly decides she needs to be elsewhere, she climbs down the railing if I’m not looking. If she’s in the yard and panics for some reason, she climbs up to safety on the deck.

Last Thursday morning, as usual, I let Peaches out the back door and Percy out on the back deck as I went off to take my shower. Each morning when I get out of the shower, I always check on Percy. This particular morning was no different as I wrapped up in a towel when I stepped out of the shower, heading to the kitchen door. Dripping along the way to the kitchen, not even dried off, I poke my head out the door looking on the deck expecting to hear the familiar mew of greeting. I don’t hear anything and worse, I don’t see him in his chair.
“Percy?”
I don’t see him sitting in the corner with his head poking through the railing looking at the birds.
PERCY
He’s no where.
I run to the railing, peering over…..
PERCY
No where!!
Panic sets in.

I run to the back door pratcially tearing it off the hinges, no Percy, but Peaches comes flying in the house and keeps looking back over her shoulder as she runs straight for the back deck, looking over the edge.
She knows.

“Clothes, I need some clothes!!!”
I was in such a state that running out the back door and down the back bank to the back yard, naked, all seemed rather logical, but luckily an inkling of sanity prevailed and I stopped long enough to grab something to put on.
I pull some shorts and a t shirt out of the dryer and run out the back door still pulling the shirt on over my head…
“PERCY!!!!!”

I run down the back bank…shades of a broken ankle quickly running through my head.
PERCY“…
rounding the corner I scrape my knee against a cement planter… now bleeding, I continue calling out his name….
PERCY“…
When suddenly to my relief a small little white head pokes out from under the four wheeler. It’s the same corner where I first found him two years before.
OH Thank God, Percy!!!
He doesn’t appear broken or hurt. I don’t know if he fell or half climbed down but I feared a broken leg.
I grab him when suddenly a motorcycle zooms past up on the road. He squirms loose scurrying under my husband’s little lake boat. UGGHH— I scramble around on my now bleeding knees trying to reach him. Finally he comes to me as I pull him out and hold him as tight as possible.

We go running up the bank. I’m still holding him as tight as possible. Percy is a nervous wreck and I’ve not trimmed his nails lately. Holes in my body. More bleeding.
We finally get to the backdoor. I’m thinking we’re home free when I try turning the door.
Locked!
In my panic and last minute decision to put on clothes before running outside in search of Percy, I did not think to unlock the door….
AGGGHHHH, are you kidding me???!!”
The key, the spare key!! I can’t climb up to the ledge to feel around for the key with Percy in my arms.
AGGHHHH
He’s 15 pounds–lean and long with nails, remember, I’ve not cut lately…
AGGGHHH….
“I know, I’ll close the garage door…no, no, I can’t do that, the noise will send him through the roof”…
AGGGHHH…..
Finally, I just put him down. By now he’s so scared he huddles at the door wondering why the door won’t magically open. I’m wondering the same.
I climb up on the ledge, hanging half on and half off, frantically feeling around for the key…finding it, I clamor down running to unlock the door.
Whew…..I say a silent prayer of thanksgiving……
I’m still soaking wet, now rather dirty, and bleeding…..

That evening my husband comes home from work as I recount the harrowing adventure. He doesn’t not seem nearly as alarmed as I think he should. In fact he looks at Percy and tells Percy he’s proud of him. “What?! Are you kidding, he could have been killed or broken…look at my knee…….

The following morning Percy heads to the deck door meowing for my husband to let him out. “NOOOO” I practically scream bounding over to block the door.
“Why don’t you let him out”….
“NO, he may jump or fall again”
“Julie, he can’t live like a prisoner”
He’s not a prisoner, I have to take care of him….
Now does this look like a prisoner to you?

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….And just so you know, I have let him back outside on the deck, but I stay in the kitchen with the door open or I’m outside sitting with him.
The question remains from my husband’s statement….When you’re loved that much, are you still a prisoner?
I don’t think the birds are missing one less outdoor cat……

Twisted

And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren’t any other people living in the world.
Anne Frank

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(one of cookie’s pumpkins / Julie Cook / 2013)

When I was still in the classroom and it was time for me to introduce our ceramic, better known as clay, unit, I’d first demonstrate how best to “wedge” the clay. Simply put, that’s the process of working out the tiny air pockets that get caught in a ball of clay. If the air bubbles are allowed to stay in the clay, as it’s being formed, there is a very good chance that the final piece being fired in the kiln would either severely crack, or worse, explode. When trapped air is heated it expands, and in the case of the clay, the expansion is obviously outward… causing catastrophic results for a pot being fired.

Wedging the clay is very similar to the kneading of bread. While I was in college, my ceramics instructor was a visiting professor from the University of Tennessee. This particular professor had been trained in the traditionally rich Asian ceramic school of study and he in turn taught us similar based techniques. One of those techniques was a particular way to wedge the clay— the Japanese Spiral Technique.

This particular technique allowed one to work the clay from the inside out… manipulating the clay and hands, twisting and rolling, working the clay into a spiraled ball. Pretty much guaranteeing that the air pockets were worked out of the clay. One piece of clay full of the air pockets, being fired in a loaded kiln, put everyone’s piece in jeopardy. If one piece “blew up” —it could possibly damage any piece sitting in close proximity—resulting in very unhappy students. Wedging was stressed to the utmost.

So when I read today’s quote by Anne Frank, about twisting her heart round, so that the bad is on the outside and the good on the inside, I couldn’t help but think of wedging and of the Japanese Spiral Technique. How nice it would be if it were so easy to twist our bad out from deep down, twisting it outward pulling the good inward toward our soul. Simply sloughing off the bad and being full of the good.

She speaks of trying to become the person who she would like to be, the person she could be–whether anyone else existed or not. Anne was between 13 to 15 years old when she wrote those words. She was suppose to have had a lifetime ahead of the her to work on becoming that very special person she sought to be.

I am almost 54 years old—I have been privileged to have that lifetime that was stolen from Anne. I am still not that person that I wish to be. There has always been a part of me that yearned to be like one of the Desert Fathers, or in my case, Mothers—being one who sought solitude away from society allowing myself to focus solely on my relationship to and with God. No worldly distraction.

How I so often push my time with God to the wayside as something else just seems so much more pressing….trivial things. I sadly allow the here and now to overshadow the Divine….
“I’ll get to it in a minute. I’ll read the day’s Divine Office in a minute, after I put the wash in the dryer, after I feed the cats, after I make the bed, after I take my shower, after I post the day’s blog, after I answer the phone, when I get back from the store, when I get back from Dad’s, after I start supper, after I do the dishes…once I put my head to my pillow…..tomorrow, I will do it tomorrow….”

Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws (Psalm 119:164 NIV) But I don’t do that. Why don’t I do that? We are told we should do that. Seven times a day…

To learn the perfection of prayer and worship. To go deep within to that inner sanctum where there is that piece of the Divine–so deep in my very core that I am not even aware that it is there. It is in this deep core sanctuary where the Holy Spirit resides waiting for me to go within to commune with the Divine.

And yet there is the desire to serve….service to others. To demonstrate the Divine by offering kindness, compassion, help, comfort, nourishment, shelter…a ministry of aid and compassion, of doing…

Have I done enough? No. I don’t think so. I know not. There is still so much to do. Just turn on the news—there is so much that needs to be done for this humanity of ours.

Prayers for the school’s this week who witnessed the senseless loss of life in the throws of, once again, needless violence.
Prayers for Sparks Middle School in Nevada and prayers for Danvers High School in Massachusetts.
Prayers for the teachers, the students and the families who now ask those painful questions of why.
Prayers for our Nation as our allies today now question our “friendship” and find that our trust has been broken.
Prayers for the skewed beliefs and of our extreme obsession with materialism, or our obsession over Hollywood and sensationalism media, for those who we look to as role models who cannot even lead themselves, for and what both Blessed Mother Teresa and John Paul II called our culture of Death……

No, I am not done—much twisting, wedging and woking remains of the moving out the bad to move in the good. Just like the potter, I need to work the clay of my heart. Wedging a little more until it is right.