Salve festa dies toto venerabilis aevo

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(as we’ve been socked in with rain for 3 days, I had to pull from my photo archives, reaching back almost a year to the image of this crisp blue sky and popcorn dotted sky / Julie Cook / 2013)

Hail thee, festival day!
Blessed day to be hallowed forever;
Day when our Lord was raised,
Breaking the kingdom of death.

Lo, the fair beauty of the earth,
From the death of the winter arising!
Every good gift of the year
Now with its master returns.

Refrain

Rise from the grave now, O Lord,
The author of life and creation.
Treading the pathway of death,
New life You give to us all.

Words by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609)
Later translated from the original Latin to English by Maurice F. Bell in 1906
Music by Ralph Vaughan Williams as taken from the English Hymnal 1906

all that remains is Silence

Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.”
― James Joyce

In the silence of the heart God speaks. If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you. Then you will know that you are nothing. It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness, that God can fill you with Himself. Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”
― Mother Teresa

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(old fence post, Julie Cook / 2014)

It has only been a few hours.
There is. . .
no rush of wind,
no gossip or chatter,
no signing birds
no barking dogs
no children at play
no rumble of thunder
no toil of labor.
Nothing.

The only thing which remains is the Silence,

And yet there is a sound to Silence.
It is the sound of a heartbeat pulsing through tired worn out ears.
The heaviness of a labored sigh expelling through a dry open mouth.
The sound of hunger wrestling through an empty gut.
The popping of tired old joints.

He had asked them to bring the body here.
To the cold Silence of a bought grave.
Emptiness fills the Silence.
A lingering sweet scent of myrrh and aloe now fills the cold empty space.
With the women all gone, as well as for all the others, he silently holds a solitary vigil.
Two laborers wait nervously by the trees ready to seal the tomb.

He stands alone staring, for what seems to be an eternity, at the now lifeless shrouded mass.
A surreal moment for a tired old man who has seen far too much of a life that he cares not to recall.
What was it his old friend had told him of the conversation he had had with the Teacher that night which now seemed so long ago. . . .”No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. . .

What does any of that now mean at this particular moment in time?
Does the Son of Man now die as any other man?
Everything he thought he knew is now turned upside down.
He silently wrangles with these thoughts of life and death, when suddenly he is reminded of how very tired he feels.
He had raised his hand, without thought, resting it against the cold massive stone in order to steady himself. It has been a terribly long and pain filled day.
He is no longer a young man.
He is old and tired, but the events of today have aged him further.

There are no more tears, for they have long since fallen.
He shutters slightly, pulling the tallit, the prayer shawl, closer over his aged body, as an empty coldness now envelopes the dark tomb.
Silently the sun begins a slow descent below the horizon, as he notices an odd coloring to the sky.
It is now time he takes his leave for the Sabbath is soon to begin.

Sabbath.
How odd that suddenly seems.
He slowly turns towards the two men waiting in the shadows.
No words are spoken.
He offers a silent nod as he walks away.
The workmen wait until he is gone before bracing the long pole under the massive stone.
It is done.

And now Silence fills the World.
Not even a whisper remains.

Yet oddly, vibrations faintly rumble underfoot.
An expectancy fills the air.
A small flock of birds chaotically flutter in the night sky.
Something in the dark has sent them into motion.
The animals sense it first.
They always sense change before any human.
Mankind doesn’t yet take notice.

Within the Silence, the Earth begins to tremble.
Birth pangs fight viciously against Death’s motionless hold.
Transcendence is at hand,
as blinding light seeps up through cracks in the ground.
Tremors roll over a planet as waves crash against distant shores.
The Earth now shifts ever so slightly on its axis, as cosmic explosions mysteriously shimmer in the night sky.
All in Hell begin to quake.

The Silence is no longer so silent.

Valleys

“When walking through the “valley of shadows,” remember, a shadow is cast by a Light.”
Austin O’Malley

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(a beautiful view of the Basilica Papale di San Francesco and the sweeping valley below Assisi as seen from a journey up to the summit of the hill town ,The Rocca Maggiore Castle / Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

Today all of mankind walks through the valley of the shadow of death,
as a veil is pulled across all clarity.
Unbeknownst to humankind, a war currently wages for its very soul.
Oblivious to the cost paid, the sacrifice made or the blood spilt,
the sons of Adam strut about in the small world they have created for themselves.

Angels and demons wrestle over the lives of clueless specters as
the former Bearer of Light holds court.
Shoulders contort as bones separate from familiar joints.
Lungs burn desperately for oxygen as stretched muscles ache pushing upward for air.

Wails and cries mix in a never-ending cacophony of agony,
as a mother’s heart breaks.
Memories of the nine months of wonder and awe suddenly give way to the Prophet’s cries.
Death’s cold hand grazes her cheek as he sweeps toward the cross.
The secrets held deep in her heart, now smashed into a thousand drops of blood,
while her tears fall to dust.

“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani”
The heaviness of a breathless statement is carried away on the wind,
as those who have come to gawk, cackle with glee.
“Where is you god now prophet?”
“Free yourself and us, oh you mighty king”
Scorn and ridicule horrifically collide into conviction and hope.

The hour finally draws nigh as Day gives way to Night.
Light lets go, allowing Darkness its false victory.
With the toll now paid, as the demons dance and shout, the lone Creator turns His back.
Man, still unaware of his role, sports the Innocent’s blood on his hands.

Silence is all that remains.
The deep dark emptiness filling the void turned tomb,
as the Earth trembles and quakes.
There is no hope.
Not today.
“It is finished” is all He said.

On your mark, get set, GO!

Never confuse movement with action.
Ernest Hemingway

“I am like a book, with pages that have stuck together for want of use: my mind needs unpacking and the truths stored within must be turned over from time to time, to be ready when occasion demands”
Seneca

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(Tiger swallowtail in Julie’s yard / Julie Cook / 2014)

It is time to get ready.
Ready for what you ask.
Simply to be ready, is the reply.
But ready for what you press.

Ready for moving forward.

Out from the shadows.
Out from the past.
Out from the bondage.
Out from the guilt.
Out from the weight of sin.
Out toward the light.
Out toward the freedom.
Out toward the forgiveness.
Out toward the person you / me are meant to be

This is a week of deep reflection for those of the Christian faith.
It is Holy week.
The most sacred time in all of Christendom.
A time of profound sadness and loss ending in a heavenly crescendo of Joy and Life.

It is also the beginning of Passover.
A sacred time in Judaism.
A time for the deep reflection of G_d’s* merciful Grace.
(* may it be noted that those of the Jewish faith, those who are most devout, believe that it is sinful to speak or even write the name of God, as it is considered the ultimate in sacred and Holy—I wonder how we Christians have missed that same sense of deep reverence associated with the name of the Most Holy, The Omnipotent, The Redeemer, the Creator, Yahweh, Jehovah. . .)

This week a converging of two sacred religions collide, melding into one, as two monumental and pivotal moments for each faith mirror and reflect one another.
The Jews and Christians are each reminded of a liberation.
The Jews are reminded of being liberated from the bondage of slavery in Egypt as the Christians are reminded of the liberation from the bondage of sin as procured by the cross.

Our two faiths, whether either group is willing to truly acknowledge the fact or not, are inextricably linked. . .since the beginning of time—woven intricately together. . .for good and for bad.

Those who blame the Jews for the death of Jesus are tragically misinformed.
To look in any mirror is the simple reminder, for those who’s image is reflected, as to who is actually culpable for that death.
For Christians to mount some campaign of a holier than thou sanctity is to have never fully grasped the encompassing scope and bottomless depth of that lone and ultimate death.

For in that lone death, we have all been liberated and are now made free.
Free to go forward in forgiveness and love.

Yet sadly how difficult those steps seem to be.

Just as Lazarus came forth from the tomb and shroud of his death, back to the warm radiant light of life. . .we too are being called—out of our tombs and shrouds of death, into the radiant light, moving forward in freedom and forgiveness.

As the sad events of the past week continue to unfold in the Kansas City area, with the unexplainable taking of 3 innocent lives at a Jewish Community Center and at a Jewish Assisted Living, the irony for the killer’s sick and twisted mind, is that he had not murdered Jews as he had hoped, but rather he murdered three Christians. We mere mortals cannot explain away the whys of this tragedy nor may we rationalize the raw pain of loss. It is unfair, it is wrong, it is maddening, it is to what shakes the core of all of our faiths. . .

It is so difficult for the moral and just, in our society, to wrap their brains around these hate groups which litter this world. The sickly twisted rationale these groups spawn, in order to justify their manifesto of evil, is beyond comprehension. . .and yet, it and they remain, morphing into more insidious groups intent on havoc, hate and death.

We must not allow ourselves to bend to their damnable acts in the name of their hate. We must not meet them at their level of banal emptiness. We must not repay hatred for hatred. For we are commanded to love. We are commanded to forgive–over and over and over until the end of time.
As the words of this week echo in our ears . . .

“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. . .”
as the heel of the Holy One crushes the head of the serpent.

Looking for Love in all the wrong places

It is easy to go down into Hell; night and day, the gates of dark Death stand wide; but to climb back again, to retrace one’s steps to the upper air – there’s the rub, the task.
Virgil

“The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our separate ways, I to die, and you to live. Which of these two is better only God knows.”
― Socrates

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The woods, still shadowed by night’s heavily veiled curtain, felt strangely cool as the iridescently dark sky shimmered overhead. Odd shadows danced from the corners of his eyes. Shrill chirps and buzzes humming steadily on the night wind offered an odd comfort. The crunching of dead leaves and the snapping of broken twigs, heard after each careful step, alerted any interested party to his position.

This spot seemed as good as any other as the pine straw felt strangely soft as he sat down settling underneath the large old oak tree. He sat deathly still waiting for first light.

Perfectly timed, as if right on cue, the loud crashing swoosh dropped down from the branches overhead. Hearing the sound of such heaviness, crashing through the hidden limbs and leaves, dropping down from somewhere just above his head, a small wave of excitement took hold.
He knew it was time.

“Putt, putt, putt.”
The vibrations of blowing through the small paper mouth call tickled the roof of his mouth.
As time slowly passed and the sun rose slightly higher in the morning sky, the odd guttural call, the primordial call of the yearly rite of Spring, echoed through the thicket.

“Putt, putt, putt”
The game of cat and mouse played on for almost 20 minutes.
“putt, putt, putt”
“Gobble, Gobble, Gobble”
It was a back and forth volley of calls and responses.
One member of this unseen tango hopes for a trophy coupled by a festive dinner–
the other member hopes to find a little bit of loving.

Strutting, in full feathered regalia, the giant Tom turkey slowly steps out from the protection of the trees. The strong internal urge pulling the turkey out of the safety of his cover, out to the open field in search of the awaiting hens—or so he assumes. . .

Spring is certainly all about the birds and the bees with today, the time of romance for some of Nature’s larger birds, being no exception.
One would think that turkey season should be open during the Fall of the year, as everyone prepares a Thanksgiving table featuring a beautifully roasted turkey. Oddly however, turkey season is a Spring event coinciding with the mating season.

They are beautiful birds being documented as having roamed North America 5 million years ago.
These majestic birds live in every state in the Nation with the exception being Alaska. They are even residents of Canada and Mexico. The early settlers preferred the roasted birds for their nutty tasting meat as the birds do forage on wild nuts–which marks the beginnings of our menu choice for our Thanksgiving celebration.
And had Benjamin Franklin had his druthers, the North American turkey would be the symbol of this mighty nation of ours, forgoing the American Bald Eagle.

The males are known for their vibrant blue heads, beards–a profusion of tufted hair which sprouts from their chests and for the length of their spurs–the large claw on the back of the foot used for defense.
As with most female birds, the female turkey is not known for her brillant coloring. She is more of a dull brown. The bland dullness is based on the fact that the females sit on the nests and must be camouflaged, being able to blend into their surroundings.

The greatest threats to the native turkeys are not humans but are actually coyotes, which attack and eat the young poults (baby turkeys), as well as raccoons which will raid nests in search of eggs.

A beautiful and majestic bird indeed.

What do you mean “freeze warning?!”

“That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.”
― L.M. Montgomery
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(new tiny blooms in Julie’s yard / Julie Cook / 2014)

Oh the fickle ways of Mother Nature.
Just when we thought it safe to settle into our increasingly warmer days of Spring, being wooed by the sights of the myriad flowering plants greeting us at every home improvement store from Atlanta to Dallas, sadly and ominously something wicked this way comes.

Oh say it ain’t so Al Roker!
Save us Willard Scott!!
News Flash:
Freeze warning tonight.
Predicted low. . . 30 dreaded degrees.
Henny Penny the sky is indeed falling and so is my mood.

“Cover those tender plants” is the new mantra of all Southern weathermen.
Are you freaking kidding me?!
Cover an entire walkway?
Cover planters, containers, entire gardens????
Well yes.
Yes we shall.
We simply have no choice.

No we’ve not lost our minds nor given ourselves over to some new eco-fad. We simply take our tender Spring vegetation and blooms quite seriously. We’ll cover every new sprout, tender blade of grass, bud, bloom and blossom by George.

Be gone Winter, be gone we say!!
This is our rally cry, this is our song.
As God is my witness, we will have blooming tomatoes in just another month!!!

And just so you know, if you happen to be from out of town and find yourself driving around in north Georgia tomorrow morning. . .don’t panic if you see a landscape eerily veiled in sheets, plastic and tarps. I’m not taking a little ol garbage bag plastic—I’m talking rolls of the stuff. And did you know there has even been mention of the “S” word for Tennessee and North Carolina!!

Katy bar the door, ’cause now,
all fingers and toes are tightly crossed!
I’ve got to run, for there’s plastic to be ‘a spreading

The humble crabapple

“What plant we in this apple tree? Sweets for a hundred flowery springs To load the May-wind’s restless wings, When, from the orchard-row, he pours Its fragrance through our open doors; A world of blossoms for the bee, Flowers for the sick girl’s silent room, For the glad infant sprigs of bloom, We plant with the apple tree.”
– William Cullen Bryant

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(Images of the massive crabapple in the back pasture / Julie Cook / 2014)

This year is no exception.
We smelled the heavenly scent long before we noticed that the tree’s buds had actually opened.
As we busied ourselves in the yard Sunday afternoon, we all turned to one another at the same time stating the same marked observation “something sure does smell good”. . .

Immediately we realized that the massive overgrown crabapple had begun to bloom.
This massive tree sits just over the fence which divides our property from our neighbors.
This section of fenced off land had actually served, many moons ago, as a small pasture for a mere grouping of 8 black Angus cows. Deciding that her investment was not as profitable as first imagined, our neighbor sold the cows, allowing this small section of land to be reclaimed by Mother Nature herself as it is now an overgrown jungle of brambles, small pines, weeds and grasses.

This jumble of land is also home to several lovely trees. Dogwoods, Sweetgums, as well as several massive crabapples which at first glance resemble massive bushes rather than stately trees—with the one pictured today, growing well over the barbed wire fence, flowing and pouring itself onto our side of the fence.

This tree is home to the small family of deer which call our area home. The tree provides wonderful protective cover for mothers and fawns, as well as shelter from the heat of the oppressive Georgia summers. For us, the tree is a powerful reminder for all who are fortunate enough to first smell, then view, it’s heavenly presence, that the cycle of life is once again beginning. Always as if right on cue, happily again we are all reminded that Spring is indeed a time of renewed hope and joy. The comfort of the expected routine of life, which is happily observed from the cycle of the humble crabapple tree, reassures any observer that despite the woeful headlines which greet us each morning on the news, life is still happily hard at work.


He has made everything beautiful in its time

Ecclesiastes 3:11

Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord

“We are on pilgrimage with the Lord to the heights. We are striving for pure hearts and clean hands, we are seeking truth, we are seeking the face of God. Let us show the Lord that we desire to be righteous, and let us ask him: Draw us upwards! Make us pure! Grant that the words which we sang in the processional psalm may also hold true for us; grant that we may be part of the generation which seeks God, “which seeks your face, O God of Jacob” (cf. Ps 24:6). Amen.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Sermon, Palm Sunday 2011)

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Hosanna is a liturgical word used in both Judaism and Christianity. In Judaism, it is always used in its original Hebrew form, Hoshana.
“Hoshana” (הושענא) is a Hebrew word meaning “please save or save now.”
In the Old Testament the word Hosanna often is used in the form of asking for God’s help–as in–Save us–now.

I pulled this mini word origin lesson from last year’s Palm Sunday post as I often think it is important to understand the history of our language and of the words we use. So often we carelessly use and speak our words with little to no regard of meaning or regard. On the other hand, we may use our words with specific malice and the intent of causing hurtful pain.

Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me” was never a young child who was the victim of the hurtful things children often say to one another. Nor were they the child who was on the receiving end of a verbal assault by an abusive parent—being told repeatedly that they were no good, worthless, unwanted, etc. Those words have devastating and lasting results.

Today’s words we hear being used echo a proclamation of majesty and that of a triumphal entry. Little did those who sang of the triumphal proclamation almost 2000 years ago, of that regal entry, realize that the moment they were hailing their would-be king, they were actually marking the beginning of a world changing event. Theirs were the words which proclaimed the presence of a king.
A game changer.
A Messiah.
A Savior.

It was but a few short days following those regal proclamations, fit only for a king, that the words changed. Words such a “fool,” “traitor,” “guilty,” “blasphemer,” rang from their lips. Those previous majestic words were quickly replaced with vehemence, mockery and anger.
Previous words of praise quickly transformed to words of hatred and denial.
“I do not know him”
“Crucify him”
“Free Barabas”
“Traitor”
“He is not our king”

Amazing how quickly we can change our words. We may not be able to literally “take back” words which are spoken, but we can recant them, change them, no longer claim them as our own. . .as in the expression “talking out of both sides of our mouth”

The question to you today is what word do you choose?
Words of praise or words of ridicule and denial?
“Please save us now”
or
“I do not know him.”
“Crucify him!”

Word choices on a palm Sunday.
May we choice our words wisely. . .

Hosanna in the Highest

May your soul bloom

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
― Marcel Proust

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(blooms in Julie’s yard / Julie Cook / 2014)

To be grateful, this beautiful springtime Saturday in April, for the ones I hold dear.
To be grateful for those who care enough about me to shower my small family with love.
To be grateful that I am blessed with health and my five senses which enable me to drink in the headiness a day such as today.
To be grateful for a father who has been gracious and generous to my small family.
To be grateful for a son who has found a special girl to call his own—forever.
To be grateful for a husband who is a most kindhearted man.
To be grateful for friends who have chosen to honor both my son and his fiancé today with their hearts which are full of kindness, generosity, and love.

These are the moments of life that could easily be taken for granted, or even overlooked in the fray of the craziness of this thing I call my life—but I have been made consciously and palpably aware of the blessings before me.
I am the type of person who is usually hesitant and leery of being overtly grateful as I’m usually the one waiting for the proverbial “other shoe to drop”. . .don’t be too happy because if you don’t watch out, tragedy is just waiting around the corner to descend and cause pain and sorrow.

Yet this overwhelming sense of wonder, the realization that I am blessed in this life of mine more than I take time to recognize, must be acknowledged and not shunned due to some paranoid sense of fear.

So it is with a grateful heart that I offer my thanks and praise to a God who is my God–
A God who is there through not only the good of my life but through the bad that besets itself upon my world as well. To a God who has been and who will always remain a constant in my life despite my not always acknowledging that He is indeed a constant in my world.

Tomorrow all hell may break loose but for today, I will rejoice and be glad. . .

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
Deuteronomy 3:16

Thought to be lost. . .

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud became more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
Anais Nin

The first step toward finding God, Who is Truth, is to discover the truth about myself: and if I have been in error, this first step to truth is the discovery of my error.
Thomas Merton

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(current azalea bud and tiny new leaves after the devastating winter)

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(this is the azalea in bloom last spring)

The tiny buds and gently unfurling leaves of this native azalea are a most welcomed site! Currently this bush should be in full bloom. However so many of the shrubs and bushes in this area of our state suffered grievously during the unprecedented bitterly cold winter coupled by the devastating ice storm.

I was certain the azalea was lost.

As this is the time of year for Georgia to come into full flower, it is a bit unsettling that currently all things are actually quite behind schedule—with my yard being no exception. I had resigned myself to the fact that some of my beloved flowering plants would be total losses. That is until today.

Upon further inspection, those crunchy dry gray leaves are now giving way to, can it actually be true, new life.
That which was considered to be lost, is thankfully now found to be full of life. The first little buds and tiny leaves, those lost to cold and ice and having shriveled away, have given way to an entirely new set of tiny new leaves and buds.

An amazing recovery by dear ol Mother Nature.

The concept of loss, and then that of ultimately being found, is a most timely concept.

I do not believe it is mere coincidence that this Spring of ours, a season for new growth and new life, which follows the season of emptiness and void, mirrors the most sacred season of Christendom—the church’s Season of Easter.

Perhaps it is having the ability to actually visualize the concept, that of a seemingly certain death which miraculously gives way to life, as carried out within nature, is what helps to make the spiritual concept much more concrete. It’s one thing to read about this most unbelievable phenomenon, it is entirely something different to be able to actually witness it taking place.

I have witnessed this first hand in my unsuspecting azalea–a plant that I was pretty certain was dead and gone. I held the crumbling gray buds and leaves in my hands as proof to its loss of life. I had even decided to dig up the small tree-like shrub in order to move it on to the compost pile, yet opting to wait just a little longer— as I tend to be lean toward the hopeful side of life.

What was by all signs dead, is now offering new growth and new life.

A beaten and bruised man, bleeding profusely is nailed to a tree and left to suffer unto death. After a certain length of time, and by all intent purposes, he is clearly dead. No pulse, no breath, no movement, no warmth—now cold, stiff and certainly lifeless. The body taken from the tree, prepared for burial, anointed with oil and wrapped in a shroud.
Quite dead.
Very dead.
Only emptiness and nothingness remains.
He is buried and left to decay.

And yet. . .

The new creation, the new Adam, the new life is raised from the depths of hell and death to step forth in radiant light to a newness of Life. What was full of loss is suddenly found full of life.
Tiny miracles in Nature.
A tremendous miracle for man.

Where there was loss and death, now gives way to hope and life
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia

(***may it be noted that during the season of Lent, which is a time of deep reflection, penitence and fasting, the Church is striped of the seasonal colors and non essential materials. It is as if the Church herself is spending the 40 days of Lent in deep mourning, veiled as a widow in mourning and loss. Words such as “alleluia” or “Hallelujah” are not spoken in service as Lent is not a time of joy—it is not until the triumph of Easter that she, the Church, is again clothed in Light and Triumphant Joy)