The Scandal

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(Winter Rouge Wallflowers / Julie Cook / 2014)

The Scandal of Pious People
The lowly God-man is the scandal of pious people and of people in general.
This scandal is his historical ambiguity.
The most incomprehensible thing for the pious is this man’s claim that he is not
only a pious human being but also the Son of God.
Whence his authority: “But I say to you” (Matt. 5:22) and “Your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2).
If Jesus’ nature had been deified, this claim would have been accepted.
If he had given signs, as was demanded of him, they would have believed him.
But at the point where it really mattered, he held back.
And that created the scandal.
Yet everything depends on this fact.
If he had answered the Christ question addressed to him through a miracle, then the statement would no longer be true that he became a human being like us, for then there would have been an exception at the decisive point. . . .
If Christ had documented himself with miracles, we would naturally believe, but then Christ would not be our salvation, for then there would not be faith in God who became human, but only the recognition of an alleged supernatural fact.
But that is not faith. . . .
Only when I forgo visible proof, do I believe in God.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I Want to Live These Days With You
A year of Daily Devotions
Entry taken from March 19th
(emphasis mine)

an advent of color

Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet.
Paul Klee

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(the first signs of spring as seen on the forest floor / Julie Cook / 2014)

As tightly wound fists rubbed sleepy bleary eyes
The senses slumbered for. . .has it been 3 or 4 months?
A cold world lay splayed open, frozen over and bathed in monochromatic tones

White, grey, brown, with every shade in between.
Heads and faces, turned downward, stare blankly at the grey mush underfoot
As all senses lack stimulation.

On a tired grey morning an amazing event transpired
As heavy faces remained downcast, with blank eyes staring emptily at the dead brown leaves,
A tiny piece of life fell from a tree.
What is this new strange object?

What is the word for this new phenomenon, we nervously ask.
Have we forgotten the words which represent this new oddity?
Could the word perhaps be “color?”
Is it red?
Or is it green?
Maybe it is blue?
Delightful words, words such as “bright,” “vibrant,” “saturation”. . .?

The reality of this presumed mirage, observers muse. . .
. . .merely the change of seasons.

The timely new word is Spring!
Marvelously bright and delightfully colorful Spring!
The scales have fallen from our weary bleary eyes and we are, joyously. . .
Amazed!!!

“Color directly influences the soul. Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.”
― Wassily Kandinsky,

Resiliency

“The rain to the wind said,
‘You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed.
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged — though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.”
― Robert Frost

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(tiny little blooms emerging from beneath the leaves and debris of a forest floor / Julie Cook / 2014)

I think that I too know how the flowers felt—or better yet, how the flowers feel.
Who doesn’t seem to know that feeling after this never ending winter?
The winter of our true discontent?!
As I enjoy a sudden greening of the yard and trees, Spring’s warmth however is proving to be deceptively coy.

Today we received flooding rains, again, with temperatures in the mid 50’s. More indicative of a typical February day, not April 7th. The sweaters and coats have not gone very far.

The brave early blooms which were thwarted by our devastating snow and ice storms were the first casualties. Things have been brown, sickly brown, ever since. Fear and sorrow both griped my heart as I surveyed what remained of the yard. What would and would not show forth, once the weather finally cooperated, hung heavy in the back of my mind. We Southerners love our Spring. But then again, who doesn’t love Spring. . .besides those, such as my son, who suffer grievously from allergies, but I digress.

Thankfully the plants and shrubs, which I feared had given up the ghost, are now showing tiny glimpses of life. Ahh, hope does spring eternal—such a nice correlation.

Amazing.

The brown sticks, with dead crunchy blooms, which just a few short weeks ago were giving every indication of being dead and gone, are now showing signs of tiny hopeful little green shoots.

Resiliency.

Despite deep freezes, late ice, never-ending cold winds, life is, joyously, once again emerging from a frozen tomb.

I can remember, several years ago, being deeply distraught over the raging fires that decimated parts of Yellowstone National Park. Lightening being the devastating culprit. We had just visited the park weeks prior to the fires. I watched the news reports with tears in my eyes. The glorious forests and plains, which make Yellowstone the very special place that it is, were being consumed by an unquenchable fire and no man nor all of his technology and power could do anything to stop it . Even the wildlife, which calls the Park home, were often caught with no where to run. Fire’s devastating selfishness, proving so terribly unfair, once again.

And yet, almost miraculously, shortly after the fires were finally quenched, tiny green sprouts could be seen rising up from the burnt forest floor like a thousand tiny Phoenixes rising from the ashes. There is actually a certain tree, which needs the heat of a fire, to jump start its seedlings to the growing process. Nature making certain that she can rebound what had appeared to be total devastation—making certain of the continuation of life.

Again, amazing.

Nature has her healing ways. . .as does the human spirit.

We, as a people, also have a tenacity buried deep within our core which always seems to rise to the occasion. History teaches us this.
A quick lesson regarding the history of Poland, and that of her people, is a wonderful micro lesson to understanding the human spirit’s ability to rebound, reclaim and regrow—and in the case of Poland, a country that has been wiped off the map time and time again, that would be a lesson learned over and over and over again.

When we find ourselves, as we all will at some point during the course of our lives, in the places of loss. . .those places of the loss of hope, loss of life, loss of love, loss of possessions, loss of faith. . .may we be mindful of the lessons on resiliency found in Nature’s ability to rebound and regrow from what appears to be a nothingness—

Yet more importantly may we be mindful that it is from our own devastation that hope is born.
May we be mindful of the sheer determination and tenacity which is buried deep within each one of us.

As we prepare to enter the solemnity of the dark week of the Passion of Jesus, a man who carried all of our losses in his heart, may we deeply contemplate His example of loss and death both of which gave way to hope, resurrection and Life.

“Great hearts can only be made by great troubles. The spade of trouble digs the reservoir of comfort deeper, and makes more room for consolation.”
― Charles H. Spurgeon

Hidden Past

“How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? As for the present, if it were always present and never moved on to become the past, it would not be time, but eternity.”
― Augustine of Hippo

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(remnants of a long forgotten still found deep in the woods of Troup County, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014)

Buried deep throughout hills and woods, since Revolutionary days, from Pennsylvania to Florida, a clandestine world once flourished.
Scattered debris of the silent ghosts of a former world, now fade into dark shadows.
Discarded pieces of a secret past.
Gaelic roots
Whisky
Moonshine
Stumpwater
Hooch
White lightning
Rotgut

Fires burned under the cover of moonlit nights
Jugs loaded into burlap sacks, dropped silently into black water creeks, whisked swiftly down stream to waiting hands.
Barrels of sugar
Bags of corn
Copper coils
As one man’s income becomes another man’s poison.

Chances are that today’s woodland wanderer will stumble upon pieces of this mysterious time.
The remnants of illegal lives hidden deep from prying eyes.
Broken shards of pottery, pieces of colored glass and rust coated metals fade from memory under dying leaves.
Taxes were levied
Rebellions were quelled
Taxes were repealed
Wars were fought
Taxes re-levied
As prohibition begins
Speakeasies thrived
Revenues refused
as people died

Pieces of history from a nation’s vices lay broken and forgotten
For good or bad, it is our past
Volatile, Secretive, intoxicating
Lives were taken and lost
Fugitives
Mobsters
Revenue Men
Mountain Men
Triple X

Walking in the woods seeking solace, peace, wonder
Yet finding history, stories, secrets
Voices hide behind the trees
as shadows move through the night
Echoes of a past. . .
both yours and mine.

(*** To be out walking and exploring an area that has yet to be claimed by the insatiable appetite of urban expansion, only to happen upon the past endeavors of the men and woman who once inhabited the area of which I am currently traipsing, I am always amazed and certainly surprised. Be it the pock marked caves and deep holes nestled in what was once considered uncharted woods, all of which were once dug by those who thought gold was hidden underneath the ground. . .to the broken bits and pieces of the clandestine stills which once laced these back woods throughout the South—I am awed and most astonished to have a glimpse at dreams and secrets of those who went before me. These small reminders which act as pieces of the thread which weave the once rural highlands and lowlands of my southern culture together.

Growing up in Atlanta, I can easily remember when the new trendy spin-off upstart cities, those that have broken away from the all encompassing umbrella of the mega Fulton County, home to Atlanta City, were but the pastures and fields of the farmers who called north Georgia home.

My high school was built in 1968 and was just barley 4 years old when I entered it’s hallowed halls. It was considered new, trendy, modern and on the leading edge of the massive urban sprawl sweeping Atlanta’s expansion northward. Before there was Perimeter Mall, a completed GA 400, the “Mcmansions” of which Atlanta is now so famous for, or the cities such as Sandy Springs, John’s Creek, or Milton. . .there were still farms, dense deep woods, and a now forgotten “country way of life” which truthfully, I miss.

The woods surrounding my high school, the woods that gave way first to the high school’s cross famed country course, followed by the now massive exclusive neighborhoods, the area was full of the would-be mines, the dug out holes and caves, of those who just knew there was gold in “them thar hills”.
I can still wander in the dense woods of the far western counties of Georgia, those counties which still remain more rural than urban, finding the remains of those who thought they were safe to create a secret yet lucrative business for homemade whiskey, better known as moonshine. The forgotten broken remains of stills lace the backwoods of Georgia.

These remnants of day’s gone by, which are now rarely seen or found, due to the gobbling up of a hungry need for growth, not only offer intrigue to our history of development, but the nostalgic humility which comes to those who are fortunate enough to catch a small glimpse of what once was. . .)

To Rejoice

If the sight of the blue skies fills you with joy, if a blade of grass springing up in the fields has power to move you, if the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.
Eleonora Duse

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(geranium, pansies, columbine, dogwood –all in and around Julie’s yard / 2014)

Spring is the seasonal reminder that the Earth does indeed rejoice.
For behold, the joy of renewal, of birth and of hope is set before all living creatures.
We are invited to rejoice, along with the Earth. . .

However, if we dare to never move forward, we cannot join in. . .

To never step foot out of doors. . .
To never venture forth from work or home. . .
To never wander idly through wood or by shore. . .
To never trek up mountain or ford river or stream . . .
We rob ourselves of the precious opportunity to marvel and glory in Nature’s season of Rejoicing.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Zechariah 9:9 NASB

A Trinity Tale

“The mystery of the Trinity is the mystery of Holiness: the Glory and the Power of the Trinity is the Glory and Power of God who makes us holy. There is God dwelling in light inaccessibly, a consuming fire of Holy Love, destroying all that resists, glorifying into its own purity all that yields. There is the Son, casting Himself into that consuming fire, whether in its eternal blessedness in heaven, or its angry wrath on earth, a willing sacrifice, to be its food and its satisfaction, as well as the revelation of its power to destroy and to save. And there is the Spirit of Holiness, the flames of that mighty fire spreading on every side, convicting and judging as the Spirit of Burning, and then transforming into its own brightness and holiness all that it can reach. All the relations of the Three Persons to each other and to us have their root and their meaning in the revelation of God as the Holy One. As we know and partake of Him, we shall know and partake of Holiness.”
― Andrew Murray

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(two images of two different trillium plants, Trillium cuneatum / Troup County, Georgia, the middle of nowhere in virgin woods / Julie Cook / 2014)

The tears of a forlorn Father, who wandered alone in the woods the day His Son hung on a cross, fell silently to the ground.
As the tears fell, trickling down through the scattered leaves and debris,
the Earth trembled.

The Earth, now sad for its Creator, wanted to offer comfort.
For each fallen tear, a small plant soon emerged
Three leaves with a tiny three leaved bloom
White for the purity of the sacrificed Son
Red for the innocent blood shed for all mankind

Each Spring, year after year, the trillium returns
offering to all who may wander wood and glen
a reminder . . .
The Sorrow of a grief stricken Father
The Sacrifice of selfless Son
The Grace of a transcending Spirit

“Crown Him with many crowns”

Remember the sufferings of Christ, the storms that were weathered… the crown that came from those sufferings which gave new radiance to the faith… All saints give testimony to the truth that without real effort, no one ever wins the crown.
Thomas Becket

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(a blooming dogwood / Julie Cook / 2014)

Dogwoods blooming turn skyward,
tinged by the rust of nails.
A thousand tiny crowns lifting to the Heavens
While the echoes of sorrow linger in the wind

Three hours, three days, three cackles of the cock
The lamb is lead to slaughter
A noose tightens as a sponge offers up bitter gall
Life and death begin a precarious slow dance
As every soul hangs in the balance between loss and hope

Arms extend upward bearing fingers stiff with pain as a head falls forward
Blood and water flow into one when the spear pierces the innocent
Assent and decent turn upside down
Limbs now frozen in place while a fierce battle rages
The tomb is sealed as day becomes night

Only mystery remains of the terrible war.
Blinding light reflects terror in bloodshot eyes
Fear lingers in the face of the defeated
As the earth shifts, a heel crushes the head of the snake
Chains fall away along with the discarded shroud
When a single pierced hand finally lifts a golden crown

Ready or not

“Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.”
-Leon Joseph Cardinal Suenens

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(a columbine ready to burst forth / Julie Cook / 2014)

Ready or not tiny new buds are preparing to burst forth—offering up delightful visions and scents.
No longer must we dream and hope for Spring, for Spring is happily here.

Quite slowly and being both a little hesitant and a tad weary of this most unpredictable weather. . . We tentatively ask “will it freeze again, do we dare get our hopes up, do we finally put away the heavy coats. . .?”

Our long wait appears to be over. . .because Hallelujah, it finally looks as if Spring might just be here to stay.
Today we want to celebrate because Spring is here with all of her glory!

The butterflies are happy.
The bees are happy.
The birds are happy.
And I, for one, am truly happy!

As Cardinal Suenens reminds us on this most happy of days, a perfect day for dreaming and for gathering high hopes. . . dreaming is most assuredly grand.
There is, however, a small caveat attached to such dreaming. . .
We must decide whether or not we want to make our dreams a reality.
Would we prefer to have the tangible or the dream.
And if we decide that yes, we want our dreams to be real, then there must, by George, be work and effort—for dreaming has its price.

Dreams are fun to entertain and in order to turn them from dreams to realities, we must be willing to take on the cost.
The cost may require anything from time and effort to expense and sacrifice. . .
But after it’s all been said and done, the sweetness of seeing and living the dream is truly priceless.

So today’s real question remains. . .Are you ready?
Are you ready to dream big and act on those big dreams?
Are you ready to take the next step?
If the answer is yes, which I hope it is. . .then you need to hold on. . . because ready or not, it’s time to roll up those sleeves and it’s time to get busy!

Here is to Dreaming big and working hard.
That’s what Spring is all about. . .dreaming big. . .

Splendor and Joy

When God wants to drill a man,
And thrill a man, And skill a man
To play the noblest part;
When He yearns with all His heart
To create so great and bold a man
That all the world will be amazed,
Watch His methods, watch His ways!
How He ruthlessly perfects
Whom He royally elects!
How He hammers him and hurts him,
And with mighty blows converts him
Into trial shapes of clay which Only God understands;
While his tortured heart is crying
And he lifts his beseeching hands!
How He bends but never breaks
When his good he undertakes;
How He uses whom He chooses,
And with every purpose fuses him;
By every act induces him
To try his splendor out
— God knows what he’s about.

Angela Morgan

“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”
― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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(images from Julie’s yard, Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and coral flowering quince / Julie Cook / 2014)

In April, even the birds are happy

While the cock with lively din, Scatters the rear of darkness thin; And to the stack, or the barn door, Stoutly struts his dames before; Oft list’ning how the hounds and horn, Cheerly rouse the slumb’ring morn”
John Milton

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(two different images of turkeys, strutting toms / Troup County, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014
and contrary to popular belief, yes, this is the time for turkey activity, not November during Thanksgiving as on would believe)
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A fragrant sweetness wafts lightly in the air from newly formed blossoms beaming bright in April’s first light.
Overhead, the endless blue ski beckons the aimless wanderer to come linger in its vastness,
All as the delirious breeze gently invites all to come lay down and drink in the heady scents and sounds of Spring.

Creation rejoices as both animal and insect ready themselves for the annual rituals of courtship. Neon colors, puffy shimmery feathers, shrill accented chirps, all various signs and displays of Nature’s love notes.
After the dormant silence of winter’s long slumber, the cycle of life begs to begin again.

Vibrancy and life mingle sweetly together offering tender notes of renewal and hope,
while a garish and overt Spring preens and prances before cold weary eyes.
Come dance and play is the rally cry of this season
Rise up you sleepy souls, whispers the wind, time is of the essence, Nature’s beguiling charms summons all to waste not.
Come quickly my friends, for it is now time to dance.