A prayer of the penitent, yet thankful, heart

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
Mother Teresa

“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
Søren Kierkegaard

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(the opening of a tulip / Julie Cook / 2015)

O Lord, I beseech you, in your great compassion,
Hear my prayer and look upon me, having mercy. . .

I come before you Father, lowly and meek,
As I know that I am a sinner who is unworthy to stand in your presence. . .

Yet, Father, I know that you are a God of both Mercy and Grace
I know that you hear my cries,
I know that you see me and know of my needs,
even before I was given breath to utter the concerns of my heart. . .

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As the bud of a flower longs to open, stretching toward the light,
I too find myself longing to fully open my arms to you.

I first came to you Father in the exuberance of my youth
I was full of the often misguided energies of zeal and righteous indignation
I banished my sword and expected overwhelming compliance. . .
And yet, my heart ebbed and flowed.

There came a time when I cast myself adrift,
Relishing in the selfish satisfaction of ego and pride,
trusting in my own abilities to cut my own path.
I became what I thought to be my own savior.

My life tumbled and spiraled out of control
I couldn’t understand why things were all so wrong
You watched as I demanded to try it all on my own,
In my own time and in my own way.
Greedily I gobbled up the things I thought would make me complete

Yet you patiently waited and watched through your own tears,
As my chosen path of frustration grew more difficult and wearisome.
In spite of myself, hidden in my heart all these many years, remained a tiny piece of You.
Because of your Grace, somehow I found the strength to shed the falsehood of self,
removing the barriers I had built which separated me from You.

Today I stand before You, striped of pretense and bravado,
having thrown off the cloak of lies and deceit,
My heart is full within me, beating quickly and
welling up in my chest, yearning to love not me, not the world,
but You, just only You. . .
As Mercy and Grace have brought me home. . .
Alleluia,
Alleluia,
Alleluia. . .

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Ash Wednesday

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
(taken from the Book of Common Prayer)

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(ash / Julie Cook / 2015)

Ash Wednesday, in the Christian faith, marks the start of the Lent—the season the Church recalls the 40 days Jesus spent fasting, praying and being tempted by Satan in the wilds of the desert. It was the time just prior to marking the beginning of His earthly ministry.

Today the Christian faithful mark the 40 days prior to Easter with devout self reflection, prayer and fasting beginning with today’s Ash Wednesday Service. Lent is a time of spiritual house cleaning and cleansing.

The use of ashes in the Ash Wednesday service has been a part of the Christian Lenten service since the Middle Ages as ashes have long been associated as a sign of penitence. The ashes used during the service are the blessed and later burnt palm leaves from the prior year’s Palm Sunday Service and are used to mark the foreheads of the faithful as a remembrance that we are all dust and to dust we shall return–a phrase also used during the service for the Burial of the Dead.

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(image courtesy the Daily Herald)

The imposition of ashes was actually removed from the Anglican Ash Wednesday service in the mid 16th century as the Church (rather kingly leadership) felt it more important to focus on the Biblical curses God poured out upon sinners—As we remember this was the time of the English Reformation which had begun under the rule of Henry VIII—
All of which was further advanced under the short reign of his young son Edward.

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Eventually customs and “faith” swung back with a vengeance to the Catholic Mass with the installment of Henry’s eldest daughter Mary to the throne. Throughout the English Protestant Reformation the Church preferred to further examine and focus upon the grave sinfulness and unworthiness of man eschewing many of the traditional parts and observations of the Catholic Mass.

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The practice of imposing ashes was officially added back into the service in the 18th century.

One part of the Lenten service which has withstood the test of time and the changing whims of King and Church and is also prominent in the Eastern Orthodox Service has been the reciting of the Miserere, better known as Psalm 51 (or known as Psalm 50 in the numbering of the Greek Septuagint)– One of the penitential psalms of David

In finem. Psalmus David, cum venit ad eum Nathan propheta, quando intravit ad Bethsabee. Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam; et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam. Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea, et a peccato meo munda me. Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco, et peccatum meum contra me est semper.

Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci; ut justificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum judicaris. Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum, et in peccatis concepit me mater mea. Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti; incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi. Asperges me hyssopo, et mundabor; lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor. Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam, et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.

Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis, et omnes iniquitates meas dele. Cor mundum crea in me, Deus, et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis. Ne projicias me a facie tua, et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me. [14] Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui, et spiritu principali confirma me. Docebo iniquos vias tuas, et impii ad te convertentur.

Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus, Deus salutis meae, et exsultabit lingua mea justitiam tuam. Domine, labia mea aperies, et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam. Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique; holocaustis non delectaberis. Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus; cor contritum et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies. Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion, ut aedificentur muri Jerusalem.

Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae, oblationes et holocausta; tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

The recitation of the Psalm would be followed with these final prayers. . .

MOST mightie God and mercifull father, which hast compassion of all menne, and hateste nothyng that thou haste made: whiche wouldeste not the deathe of a sinner, but that he shoulde rather turne from sinne and bee saved: mercifully forgeve us oure trespasses, receyve and coumforte us, whiche bee grieved and weried with the burden of our sinne: Thy propertie is to have mercie, to thee onely it apperteineth to forgeve sinnes: spare us therfore, good Lorde, spare thy people whome thou hast redemed. Enter not into judgemente with thy servants, which be vile year the, and miserable sinners: But so turne thy ire from us, which meekly knowlage our vilenes, and truely repent us of our fautes: so make hast to helpe us in this worlde: that wee may ever live with thee in the worlde to come: through Jesus Christe our Lorde.
Amen

TURNE thou us, good Lord, and so shall we be turned: bee favourable (O Lorde) he favourable to thy people, whiche turne to thee in wepyng, fasting and praying: for thou art a mercifull God, full of compassion, long sufferyng, and of a great pietie*. Thou sparest when we deserve punishement, and in thy wrathe thynkest upon mercy. Spare thy people, good Lorde, spare them, and lette not thy heritage bee brought to confusion: Heare us (O Lorde) for thy mercy is great, and after the multitude of thy mercies looke upon us.
(pity in some printings)

Prayers from the Ash Wednesday Lenten Service, Book of Common Prayer 1689

Asleep at the helm

Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.
Henry Ward Beecher

Even today we raise our hand against our brother… We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves as if it were normal we continue to sow destruction, pain, death. Violence and war lead only to death.
Pope Francis

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(Justice Ginsburg asleep during the State of the Union Address, image taken from Web / 2015)

It is not my intent to delve into the twisted world of the political here on this blog—preferring rather to simply offer a bit of thought, concern and reflection on this thing we call life. . .
However I was recently taken aback when this image of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Joan Bader Ginsburg made its way in and out of the various news agencies and the meme of various websites as this octogenarian was caught napping, as it were, during the recent State of the Union Address.
Adding a bit of insult to injury was her ensuing explanation—“I wasn’t 100% sober”

OUCH!
Really??!

As a lifelong educator, for me, this entire incident has trouble written all over it. Here we have a member of one of the highest offices in our land doing two things that any other mere mortal human would be strung to the highest yardarm for having done. . .
A) she was sleeping on the job
and
B) she wasn’t sober.

“Ok”, you say, “she’s old, cut her some slack.”
Really?
“She technically wasn’t working, she was attending an albeit, perceived by many, boring sort of speech.”

I would think, however, that when one dons the robes of one of the highest offices in the land, that would pretty much be considered working at the top of one’s professional duty.

And now the mantra begins. . .”She’s been sick, battling cancer. . .She’s a tough old bird. Let her have her wine and sleep. It was just a speech. She’s brilliant. It’s no big deal. . .”

And so it appears that the excuse for her having been caught sleeping, which was more or less an alcoholic induced sleep, is no big deal because she wasn’t driving, wasn’t the speaker, wasn’t actually sitting on a case—making it all fine and dandy, and as some may add, a much ado about nothing sort of moment. . .???

Well, I’m certainly not trying the cast stones as I am far from any paragon of virtue, yet I do know trouble when I see it.

Let’s say that my principal, superintendent or even myself, a lowly teacher, had gone to dinner prior to say some sort of school or other important function, opting to have had a couple of drinks or glasses of wine with the meal—only to later attend said function. Taking either the place of honor on stage or on front row of said function and now feeling and reeling from the full effects of being totally satiated and woozy, coupled with it being toward the end of a long day and it’s now a little too warm, plus I’m now nice and still, subsequently falling asleep—Only to blow it off later as “I ate and drank too much prior to the meeting”—-the general public would demand a head upon a plate as that would have been no way for any professional, let alone educator, to have conducted themselves during a public forum of such.

And yet we think it’s okay for a Supreme Court Justice to do such since she’s older, sickly and probably tired. . . all the while as we, the courts, the justice systems and any adult worth their mettle, tell our kids, as well as the general public, do not drink when driving, working, caring for children or the elderly, operating heavy machinery or making important decisions that effect people’s lives. . .let alone opting to be seen by the general population at a massively public forum. . .and better not to drink in the first place, period. . .

I think we mere mortals do expect, as well as often demand, that our elected officials, our leaders, our doctors, our ministers, our educators, our justices, even our parents, act the part of their said position and if they don’t, we, in turn, are very quick to do one of two things. . .We either quickly excuse and dismiss the poor behavior, attempting to make it all quickly disappear, or we quickly assemble the executioning squad.

It’s just that I don’t ever remember seeing Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, being snapped by press or paparazzi, sleeping while attending any sort of state or governmental function. . .nor even Vladimir Putin, who is often seen shirtless attempting to be a hulking he-man, nor Queen Elizabeth (we won’t discuss her children or grandchildren), or other world leaders. . .Therefore do we not observe that certain positions require one to step it up as it were, appearing above board particularly when the lights are on and the cameras are rolling?

Which brings us to the idea of not being caught asleep while standing at the helm.

A colloquial expression used to express the sage warning that anyone given authority, such as steering a ship, should live up to such responsibility, not shirking one’s duty particularly when the heat is on. . .
I can only imagine the jokes that this viral image has now generated amongst not only ourselves and the late night TV talk shows but to the jokes and mockery from allies and enemies alike.

I don’t think I need to remind any of us that we are currently living in very globally grave times. A time that calls upon us to be ever vigilant, mindful, stalwart and resolute. . .

There is another image out today equally as viral yet this one being most vile. . .

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This is an image of a group of Coptic Christian men from Egypt, lined up along a beach in Libya, at the hands of their ISIS captors who are about to video the beheading of the men. Beheaded in retaliation for the death of Usama Bin Laden. . .
But wait!
Weren’t we, the US, the ones who actually killed Bin Laden?
These men were guilty of one thing, and one thing only, they were Christians.
Maybe they were actually guilty of two things—they were Middle Eastern and Christian—a deadly combination.

Somehow I do not think we will ever see images of ISIS leaders asleep at the job, claiming that they were not sober, I often wonder if these evil individuals ever sleep.

“But Julie” I hear you implore– “a sleeping Justice has nothing to do with a global terrorism organization that is comprised of thugs! How can you even put these two events within close proximity to one another?! You’re being terribly unfair. . .”

When we see our country wrestling with and waiting on our Supreme Court Justices to figure out such in-country bickering and struggles over who can and can’t smoke pot legally, whether or not homosexuals can or cannot marry legally, or to what extent does a President’s powers reach— all the while as a growing global army of terrorists quickly decide who can and can’t live, let alone who can or cannot practice a religion and life other than that of extreme Islam, I think we’ve got bigger troubles than what we could ever imagine. . .

May we all be mindful of our responsibilities.
May we be mindful of our duties.
May we be mindful that we are often the only example others may have.
May we be the example of that which is just and good.
May we be strong enough to stand above the crowd.
May we take what we do seriously, no matter how insignificant we may think it to be.
May we understand that too causal is not always a good thing.
May we be mature, stepping up to the plate, when the circumstances demand nothing less.
May we not play the blame game but rather “man up” to take the heat when necessary, remembering that often times the buck does indeed stop with us.
May we not be so quick to write everything off so simply.
May we not tolerate everything we do and say for the mere sake of tolerance but rather may we have the courage to pick and choose what we do and say then have the courage to stand behind our beliefs–
May we remember that there was a time in this country when we could disagree, respecting the right to disagree rather than as today when the mentality of “I’m right and you’re wrong and therefore you must change and change now or else” reigns supreme
And may we remember that there are those forces around this globe of ours who look to take away our very way of life and wait in the shadows for when we are asleep at the helm to take advantage of our sleep and distraction, hoping to change our lives forever. . .

It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.”

Mark 13:34-36

This from that

“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”
― Herman Melville

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(the various parts and moments in the life of a tulip bulb / Julie Cook / 2015)

Enter the unassuming white, meaty, brown paper wrapped bulb
Add a little water
Add warmth
Add light
Add Hope
Then add to all of that a little bit of expectancy. . .

Slowly at first, then rapidly picking up speed. . .squiggly spaghetti noodle like roots emerge, sprouting out from underneath. . .
All of this while stiff green shoots reach upward
Yet tucked away, hiding within. . .
the emerging,
the sprouting,
the growing. . .

Hidden away there hides. . .
the mystery,
the color,
the beauty,
the amazing,. . .
the miracle. . .

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In between

“Pleased rather with some soft ideal scene,
The work of Fancy, or some happy tone
Of meditation, slipping in between
The beauty coming and the beauty gone.”

William Wordsworth

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(the dried remains of a crepe myrtle / Julie Cook / 2015)

Somewhere in between birth and death resides the beautiful. . .
Small and fragile, ever so demure, it begins. . .
Slowly at first, yet laced with excited energy. . .fullness eventually falls into place . . .
Bold
Strong
Even daring. . .
Yet never to be confused with
Pushy
Obnoxious
Or self-centered
Determination sets the cycle into motion
There is no turning back, no stopping what has started

And just as quickly as it began. . .
It all begins to fade, to go away, to change, to depart. . .
Slowly and ever so slightly
A tinge of brown,
A wilted droop,
A loss of vibrancy
Life juices dry as everything begins
Shrinking
Withering
Dying. . .

All that remains is the dried shell
A stiff skeleton of what was
No fragrance
No softness
No tender touch
Just sticky
Brittle
Brown

And so here we now sit. . .
Somewhere in between. . .
Waiting for the beautiful. . .

Beloved, my love

“Beloved, all that is harsh and difficult I want for myself, and all that is gentle and sweet for thee”
St. John of the Cross

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(premature blooms of the quicne / Julie Cook / 2015

The haunting words of St John of the Cross. . . isn’t that what really real true love is all about—the “lover” desiring to take all of the bad, the harsh, the difficult, the negative, the painful, if only that would and could guarantee that the beloved would receive only that which is good, the best?

Sacrifice of self for the beloved. . .

The majority of us fist experience such love from our parents and grandparents.
Sacrifices are made, struggles endured, burdens taken on. . . all in the name of love, care,
betterment and wellbeing of the child.

You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.

(Song of Solomon 4:7)

A few years later we find a similar love in friends. . .yet friends don’t always seem to live up to the original parent’s efforts.

Even my close friend,
someone I trusted,
one who shared my bread,
has turned against me.

(Psalm 41:9)

Then a bit later, we find a similar love when we discover our “first love”—of which falls waaaay short of the parent’s original efforts.

She weeps bitterly in the night And her tears are on her cheeks; She has none to comfort her Among all her lovers All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; They have become her enemies
(Lamentations 1:2)

All anyone has to do is to ask any teenager who, as they roll their eyes, often riles against that very first love of the parents as said teen perceives such “love” to be nothing more than smothering, confining and suffocating. It takes many years and heartaches to figure out that the parents original love was actually pretty amazing. . .

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
(Deuteronomy 21:18-21)

Whoa maybe that example is more intense then what we’re going for. . .

However– much later we find something we think is the closet to the original love, as demonstrated by parents, when we find “the one” who hopefully exceeds the parent’s efforts as well as any and all efforts ever known before. . .

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorn

(Song of Solomon 8:6-9)

Yet sadly for reasons often beyond our control, that enduring love found in “the one” is not always the lasting and enduring love we imagined it to be. . .

There is a time to weep, to mourn, to die, to scatter stones, a time to throw away, a time to refrain from embracing (various portions of Ecclesiastes 3). . .

You get the point.

However in the end, when all earthly loves and lovers disappoint, hurt, vanish, depart, betray, fall short, die, fade away. . .there is but one who will always be consistent and constant. One who will never leave, no matter even if we decide to send Him away. . .

“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”

(Jeremiah 3)

“Beloved I have loved you before you were formed. I have loved you before the day you were born. I have loved you when you have not loved yourself. I have loved you when you were too busy for me and my love. I have loved you when you were heartbroken—always there, waiting. . .waiting to take you into my arms. . .to hold you, to embrace you, to dry your tears, to whisper to you once again. . .I am here my beloved, forever and always, never leaving you alone. . .for you and you alone my beloved are my most tender desire. . .I love you now and I will love you for eternity. . .
Happy Valentine’s Day my beloved. . .

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(tiny portion of a larger piece /watercolor/ Julie Cook / 2010)

Innocence and sorrow

I leave to children exclusively, but only for the life of their childhood, all and every the dandelions of the fields and the daisies thereof, with the right to play among them freely, according to the custom of children, warning them at the same time against the thistles. And I devise to children the yellow shores of creeks and the golden sands beneath the water thereof, with the dragon flies that skim the surface of said waters, and and the odors of the willows that dip into said waters, and the white clouds that float on high above the giant trees.
Williston Fish, “A Last Will,” 1898

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

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(the forgotten antique toy soldiers of a long ago childhood / Julie Cook / 2015)

Who among us has not known his or her fair share, or perhaps overtly unfair share, of sorrow and grief? Who has not railed angrily, with fiery fist raised while wearing tear streaked cheeks, cursing the unseen God to whom is lain all blame and guilt?
Who has not known the pain of suffering—either physical, emotional, mental or spiritual?
Who has not experienced the anguish of loss, the torment and frustration, as well as the helplessness, of having life totally out of ones control—unable to prevent or stop the suffering and anguish of sorrow?
Who has not demanded answers, the revealing reasons as to why the misfortune, coupled by the agonizing torment of the hows and the whys. . .

How many of us have looked recently at the news, only to see the face of the teddy bear browned-eyed young girl of idyllic youth and hope sweetly looking back at us and finding ourselves wondering how could such a joyful youthful soul fall victim to the madness half a world away— and suddenly finding that what was “over there” seems eerily now over here, effecting us all. . .all the while pondering how the God of all things past, present and future could allow such a seemingly gentle child, a girl who could have been the daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, friend of any one of us, to be snatched away in the height of her youthful quest for goodness at the hands of those who are cold, calculating and void of any sort of empathy?

The night after the story of Kayla Mueller’s death at the hands of IS, with stories swirling that she had been married off to one of the ISIS leaders as a prize of war, there seemed to be more questions then answers that were met with the overflowing grief of a family which was shared publicly Tuesday during a press conference. Yet many of the more cynical and jaded among us have been heard to wonder out loud “what foolish individual in their right mind would go over there right now. . .?”

But what we must know about human beings is that there are those among us who run to the sound of fire rather than from it. . .those who selflessly and unequivocally rush in to offer help, support, ease and comfort to those individual who are stuck in the midst of misery. They go with little to no regard of self—and if the truth be told, we are all glad they do.

Whether we agree that that region of the world is simply too dangerous for the Kayla Muellers among us to venture. . .be it the middle east, many parts of Africa, Ukraine, parts of the far east, and even the Philippines—that such places are only for the military and well trained to traverse, the truth of the matter is that where there are people and children who are caught innocently in the middle of conflict–those who suffer grievously because of the madness of others, there will always be those among us who hear, as well as heed, the call to render service and help—be we Jew, Gentile, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc—the drive to offer empathy, compassion, aid and care for our hurting fellow human beings is a hardwired trait that hides deep within our psyche–it’s just that some of us are better at hearing and heeding it than others.

Tuesday night, after having spent much of the day glued to the news and having grieved along with Kayla’s family, having noted that she was the same age as my son, having wrestled with the position of the United States in such matters as hostages and war, I found myself settling in for the evening reading over the Bonhoeffer book I have previously mentioned Meditating On The Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer translated by David McI. Gracie.

The evenings reading was based on Psalm 34:19 A Sermon on the Suffering of the Righteous
It was a meditation that Bonhoeffer had actually written down and mailed to his dear friend Eberhard Bethge while Bonhoeffer was a prisoner in Tegel Prison near Berlin—the first of three different prisons before his subsequent execution. Bonhoeffer had already been held by the Nazi’s for over a year, his future uncertain. He had just become engaged prior to his arrest, and with it now being over a year away from those he loved, the confinement was wearing on his soul.

Once again, as the created and not being the Creator, there are those events in life that we simply will never truly understand no matter how hard we try. We can write them off as this or that, we can grow bitter and cold or simply empty and numb but there are those moments when we will find ourselves at a loss for words, a loss of understanding. It will be there, in the midst of the suffering and sorrow, that we will meet God. . .

I want to offer the following excerpt of the meditation as I find its subject most timely and most enlightening. . .(the translator has chosen to mix up the use of the feminine and masculine pronoun)

Psalm 34:19
The righteous person must suffer many things;
but the lord delivers him out of them all.

1 Peter 3:9
Repay not evil with evil or railing with railing,
but rather bless, and know that you are called to this,
so that you should inherit the blessing.

The righteous person suffers in this world in a way that the unrighteous person does not.
The righteous person suffers because of many things that for others seem only natural and unavoidable. The righteous person suffers because of unrighteousness, because of the senselessness and absurdity of events in the world. She suffers because of the destruction of the divine order of marriage and the family. She suffers not only because it means privation for her, but because she recognizes something ungodly in it. The world says: that is how it is, always will be, and must be. The righteous person says: It ought not to be so; it is against God. This is how one recognizes the righteous person, by her suffering in just this way. She brings, as it were, the sensorium of God into the world; hence, she suffers as God suffers in this world.
“But the Lord delivers him.”
God’s deliverance is not to be found in every experience of human suffering. But in the suffering of the righteous God’s hope is always there, because he (the righteous person) is suffering with God. God is always present with him. The righteous person knows that God allows him to suffer so, in order that he may learn to love God for God’s own sake. In suffering, the righteous person finds God. That is his deliverance.
Find God in your separation and you will find deliverance!
The answer of the righteous person to the sufferings that the world causes her is to bless.
That was the answer of God to the world that nailed Christ to the cross: blessing.
God does to repay like with like, and neither should the righteous person.
No condemning, no railing, but blessing.
The world would have no hope if this were not so.
The world lives and has its future by means of the blessing of God and of the righteous person. Blessing means laying one’s hands upon something and saying: You belong to God in spite of all. It is in this way that we respond to the world that causes us such suffering. We do not forsake it, cast it out, despise or condemn it. Instead, we recall it to God, we give it hope, we lay our hands upon it and say: God’s blessing come to you; may God renew you; be blessed, you dear God-created world, for you belong to your creator and redeemer. We have received God’s blessing in our happiness and in our suffering. And whoever has been blessed herself cannot help but pass this blessing on to the next one; yes, wherever she is, she must be herself a blessing. The renewal of the world, which seems so impossible, becomes possible in the blessing of God.
As Jesus ascended to heaven, “he lifted up his hands and blessed” his followers. We hear him speak to us in this hour: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Amen

You painted me a picture

If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced.”
Vincent van Gogh

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(views of a winter’s veining sunset / Julie Cook / 2015)

You painted me a picture as lovely as can be. . .
a sweeping sea of color as far as the eye could see

First blue, then purple, then pink and red
A quilt of many colors before me you have spread

You painted me a picture to remind me who you are
You painted my name across the heavens in each and every star

In my often busy hectic world I forget that you are near
Yet during every shower each tiny raindrop holds your tear

You painted me a picture and wait for me to see
Always ready and waiting right beside me you will be

Yesterday, today and tomorrow will always remain the same
With you forever waiting for me to finally call your name

You painted me a picture because you love me oh so much
And beautiful is this painted sky with just your single touch

I stopped what I was doing long enough to catch the view
Little did I know it’s the window which leads me to you

You painted me a picture that is truly one of a kind
A picture made from your heart, love so amazing and Divine

Song for the innocents

A clear and innocent conscience fears nothing.
Elizabeth I

The Righteous person must suffer many things; but the Lord delivers him out of them all.
Psalm 34

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(field sparrow / Julie Cook / 2015)

Broken hearted,
like a bird’s broken wing,
a soul far too weary, before its time,
longs to lift its voice. . .

Tears freely flow for the innocents,
those who are not so free,
savagely taken in a dark world
now grown callous and cold. . .

Who are these people who gleefully seek
the spilt blood of the Lamb?
Who relish in death and scorn life,
Who long to take rather than give. . .

What is the point in this latest battle?
Consuming each and every life until
there are no more lives to give?
This, as the parents weep
and the Nations grieve. . .

You and You alone hear our anguish,
and You see the captive’s pain.
You stand beside the brokenhearted mothers and fathers,
as the news is delivered. . .
Where does the savagery stop?

Our hope, Oh Lord, is in You and You alone,
as we dwell within a dark and fallen world. . .
Battered minds seek nothing more than to be numb,
burying themselves in things other than the actual,
Thinking that what is not seen or acknowledged,
will all simply disappear. . .

Those with purpose are quickly called. . .
The innocent and clear of conscious,
who ready themselves to do battle. . .
to offer compassion where there is none
To offer hope to the hopeless. . .

When will the just say no to injustice?
When will the children be saved?
When will the captives be set free?
When will the darkness scatter?
When will this madness end?

Our trust is found in Christ, Jesus
The One who overcame death.
The body may perish,
Yet the soul will not be silenced.
As the battles wage on
and evil rejoices,
while the faithful exclaim. . .
“O death where is thy sting”

Repay not evil with evil or railing with railing, but rather bless, and know that you are called to do this, so that you should inherit the blessing.
1 Peter 3:9

****Here is a link to the BBC story featuring the single letter Kayla Mueller, the young kidnapped American, wrote her parents regarding her time in captivity as a prisoner of IS (ISIS). She sent the letter out with fellow prisoners who were released as she was the lone female prisoner kept behind. Kayla turned 26 while in captivity. Kayla had gone to Syria, working with the humanitarian organization Hayata Destek, Support To Life, in order to help the refugee orphaned children in Syria whose lives had been displaced and shattered by the ongoing fighting. Kayla conducted art therapy projects with the kids, as children can often express themselves in drawings when words cannot be found. She noted that when the children asked her” where was her world” –then telling them, they asked why had her people not come to help them. . .her response was simply to cry along with and for the children. . .Prayers for the Mueller family and all the families globally who have been affected by IS —her family noted that Kayla “lived life with purpose”—may we all live with such purpose. . .
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-31376933

For the love of a tree

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. . .
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.
A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.
A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live. . .”

Hermann Hesse, Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte

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(the anticipation of hopefulness, a pecan bud / Julie Cook / 2015)

First I wish to clarify this post with a tiny disclaimer—I am not a huge fan of nuts.
I’m not talking about the crazy people nut variety but rather the product of a tree nut variety.
I don’t really care for eating nuts. I only like nuts in limited quantities and then only salted. Maybe a nice Sole Almondine with an unctuous berure blanc sauce, perhaps a tasty handful of sugared and spiced holiday pecans, or a few hearty walnuts scattered with a bit of blue cheese alongside a poached pear or two. . .but that’s about it. None of this pecan pie business, no nuts on my ice-cream sundays, no nut dotted fruit cakes, no handful of protein packed healthy snacks. . .
So the question today begging to be asked—why this latest endeavor of mine?. . .yet but before we can address latest endeavors, let’s turn our attention to trees shall we. . .

I suppose for a true southern girl such as myself, nothing speaks more of the South than either a majestic oak draped in the gossamer lace of spanish moss or that of a stately grove of pecan tress creating a sun dappled canopy, rich and cool, during the lazy humid summer afternoons indicative to this deep south of mime.

I have always wanted to have a home surrounded by and nestled amongst a grove of pecan trees. The pecan tree, unlike the towering protectively strong massive oak, is a bit more demure as it arches more delicately outward verses stately and upward. A pecan tree wants to envelope you, wrapping you in its charming branches—tenderly and gently holding you and comforting you with its wind whispered lullabies. It is no surprise therefore, that my husband is quite accustomed to my wistful sighs whenever we find ourselves driving in the southern part of the state as there is nothing but pecan orchard after orchard for as far as the eye can see.

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(photo courtesy Sugarland Farms)

Driving throughout much of middle and southern Georgia, passerby’s are often struck by the serenity of the never-ending pecan orchards. The pecan is big business here in Georgia. It is reported that one-third of the nation’s pecans are produced in Georgia with an average of 88 million pounds produced annually. So I suppose it’s terribly unnatural that this very southern Georgia girl does not particularly care for munching on pecans nor any other nut for that matter. My disdain for eating nuts however has never diminished my love and appreciation for the tree.

When we first built our house nearly 16 years ago, we always said we’d plant some pecan trees. The house is perched in the middle of 5 acres. . .a perfect setting for a small pecan orchard. Yet I suppose at our age, my husband and I pretty much figured that we would never live long enough to see “an orchard” to fruition. That being said however, my husband often fondly reflects. . . “I spent my life enjoying picking up and eating the pecans from trees that were planted long before I was living, it’s only fitting that someone one day should enjoy the pecans from a tree I planted”

So with that mindset at the forefront of our thoughts, we got busy this past week with this pay it forward endeavor of our very own orchard.

Not knowing the first thing about this planting business of nut tress much less any sort of big tree, we ventured forth, quite wet behind the ears, but with the resolute spirit of anticipation and hope.
Last Tuesday we drove almost 2 hours northward to Cartersville, Georgia to a tree nursery in order to procure our trees.
The nice nursery folks told us we’d need two types of pecan trees in order to provide cross pollination, otherwise trees of only one variety may never produce nuts containing any nutmeat.
We opted on the Pawnee and Sumner pecans.

We bought 15 6 foot trees, bare root, and grafted–hauling them back home in the back of the truck.
They were bundled up in plastic with an added gel goo to help keep the roots from drying out, that were then wrapped up in a burlap sheet. One look at the motley muddy bundles, my husband assumed the worst, that we’d just spent a small fortune on two big bundles of dead sticks. Yet the nursery assured us that the trees were indeed alive and well and would need to get in the ground as soon as possible.

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Once home we gingerly placed the tree bundles on the back porch until we had a full day to dedicate to their planting. The greatest issue at hand was going to be digging the holes, which was to prove to be no easy task.

We already had a manually operated arguer, yet at 8 inches wide, we quickly realized we’d never get the 2 foot wide by 2.5 foot deep hole the trees would require.
We had to find an arguer that would fit on our tractor.
Already investing a small fortune first in the trees, we added to that investment with the purchase of a much larger arguer from our local Tractor Supply Company—the only problem was we had to figure out how to assemble this monstrosity of farm equipment, mounting it to the tractor ourselves.

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Once the auger was rigged up to the tractor, we had to run enough water hoses to be able to reach the planting sight as the trees would require a massive amount of water just to get them in the ground. I screwed together three 100ft hoses and pulled them out to where we would be digging the holes. Pecan trees need their space—anywhere from 30 to 60 feet apart. We planted ours 30ft apart lengthwise and 60ft widthwise giving us 4 wide rows.

My husband began drilling out the holes.

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Now I know you tree experts out there are screaming that our holes needed to be wider, but we did the best we could and are praying for the best! There is only so much these two older tired bodies can do!
The trees need enough depth as not to bend the tap root—the main base root of the tree–of which the nursery folks appear to have trimmed.

The nursery folks gave us a helpful printout from the University of Georgia’s Agriculture Dept regarding the planting of pecan trees. The instructions explained that the hole was to be filled half full with water, once the tree was centered in place, then back fill the hole with the extracted dirt as this would help to eliminate any air pockets. So we were basically burying a hole full of water with a stick poking out. . .hummmmm

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The manual instructs that one “should not tramp down the soil as the roots need oxygen.” How in the heck does a drowned root find oxygen in non tramped down water logged soil?!

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It took us about 8 hours to get all 15 trees in the ground. This is when we figured out that we had marked off space for 18 trees and planted only 15–which means, another trip to procure 3 more trees.

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The trees need lots of water in order to get established. So I’ll be schlepping out the 300 feet of hose weekly, if not more often, once it warms up in order to keep everyone nice and moist. The next thing I have to do is to paint the base of each tree with white latex paint. This is to ward off any insect infestations and to deter deer from nibbling on the tender little trees.

Now that the planting is finished, all that remains is to water, hope and pray that 15 trees can forgive two novice planters, as I sweetly envision, many years from now, the wistful thoughts of those who will pass by my own little pecan grove.

Next on tap will be a few apple trees. And I must say, the nursery had some beautiful olive trees—I have a feeling my next nursery run will find me bringing home more than 3 more pecan trees.
And as for my earlier disclaimer, I will not be going into the nut business necessarily, but more aptly, I hope to be going into the tree business, as there is just nothing quite as lovely as a tree. . .
Here is to the hope of growth. . .