Hope is Springing

“Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest.
The soul, uneasy, and confin’d from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come.”

Alexander Pope

(cue the Lenten Rose / Julie Cook / 2018)

We still have so much to talk about…
So many pressing issues of the soul and the salvation of man.

That being our salvation.

There is so much history that we need to recall, lest we be doomed to repeat it all.

Discussing those things of true importance while discarding those unimportant things
vying for control.

There has been such a wearisome heaviness pressing down on us…
The cold.
The snow.
The political circus of both country and globe.
The helter-skelter stock market.
The flu.
The sheer burdens of our individual lives…
The uncertainty of the uncertainness.

The list seems endless.

I have felt as if I have not been outside, really outside, taking stock
of a winter barren waste-laid landscape in a string of seemingly nonending months of time.

Its just been too cold, too wet, too grey…
just too, too…

Until Tuesday.

I actually went outside and filled up the birdfeeders.
The sun was shining and it wasn’t freezing.
In fact, I could feel the sun’s warmth.
An unfamiliar yet most welcomed sensation.

I cleaned out the bird boxes, ridding them of the old nests…
making ready for new residents who will soon be out house hunting.

I trimmed away a few dead and broken branches from plants, bushes, and trees—
all who had suffered under the weight of the snow and ice—
trimming wich I had simply not felt called yet to tackle.

To be honest, I think I’ve just not felt like doing much of any of it, period.
I’ve not felt motivated or excited to do so…
both of which are not me.

I chalk such lack of motivation, lack of get-up-and-go, to life’s wicked blows,
to the winter blues and to just the never-ending chill which
has delighted in reaching down to my very bones.

The good news is that I do not have the full blown hemochromatosis I spoke of
about a week or so ago.
I am however a carrier…only half mutant.
Yet it’s off for the nuclear stress test come Monday…
all to figure out the reason for a sedentary blood pressure for a non-sedentary individual…
of which probably points to another mutant gene…

My son made me watch the X-Men cartoons with him when he was a little boy—
I always did have a soft spot in my heart for Beast—
I mean, who doesn’t love a soft-spoken, Shakespearian reading
manly man who happens to be blue?

Yet I suspect some might simply call my winter languidness, age.

However my little outdoor excursion Tuesday offered up a marvelous surprise.

Tucked away in what is usually a dark tiny tree ladened little nook,
an unsuspecting patch of pine straw nestled between two small boxwoods…
rests 4 nearly hidden reminders that there is indeed life lurking, waiting and
really ready to get busy.

And as if right on cue, just in time for the beginning of this week’s coming Lenten season…
a time which happens to be bringing both Valentine’s day and a certain grandbaby’s
due date…
a reflective time of death, Ressurection, and life…
the Lenten Roses are in full blooming regalia.

Hope does Spring eternal does it not?

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Then you will call on me and come and pray to me,
and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you,” declares the Lord,

Jeremiah 29:11-14

increasing and decreasing

I have an increasing sense that the most important crisis of our time is
spiritual and that we need places where people can grow stronger in
the spirit and be able to integrate the emotional struggles
in their spiritual journeys.

Fr Henri Nouwen

“Christian spirituality, the contemplative life, is not about us.
It is about God.
The great weakness of American spirituality is that it is all about us:
fulfilling our potential, getting the blessings of God, expanding our influence,
finding our gifts, getting a handle on principles by which we can
get an edge over the competition.
The more there is of us, the less there is of God.

Eugene Peterson

(snow encrusted camel / Julie Cook / 2017)

Have you ever found yourself holding a cup or glass of liquid that comes all the
way to to very top…
Someone has either over poured or just wasn’t thinking…
and so now obviously, you can’t add nary an ice cube to the glass without
sending the contents cascading outward and downward…

To add the ice, you’d need to first sip out a good bit or pour out a little
of the liquid, making room for the ice.

And on top of that, you have to be oh so very careful while just trying to get
the glass up to your mouth without sloshing everything everywhere.

If then our lives are just as full, filled to the very brim…
full of external entities, as well as full from within from our very
egotistical selves, how can there any space or room…for anything?

And yet we somehow think we can continue squeezing in just one more thing
or taking on one more little extra…shoving and pushing much like an
overstuffed suitcase.
Obviously we can’t sit on our lives trying to get things sufficiently and
tightly closed…
so clearly something is going to have to go.

Much like the time I was once returning from a trip abroad and my suitcase
weighed over the allotted allowance by 7 pounds….
I had a choice…either I was going to have to pay a hefty fee for being overtly full,
or as we did, I had to scramble right then and there at the check-in counter,
yanking things out while my aunt was stuffing my residual into her lighter bag.

These are the moments when we begrudgingly realize that there is simply no more
room to take on anything or anyone else for that matter—
as there is neither room nor space to truly do justice to whatever or whomever
we are trying to squeeze in…

Squeezing for the sake of squeezing just doesn’t make much sense…
as it’s truly just a waste of energy and time.

So its time to let go and lighten the load.

And what better time is there than a new year—
the perfect time to sort and purge.

Yet it’s one thing to purge ones world of excessive stuff, emptying closets,
drawers, shelves…hauling this and that to the Goodwill or even the dump….

But the real question, the looming question, the question that is really about life and death, is how does one purge one’s self of the excessive stuff of self?
How does one make room internally, opening up space for a God who wants to be
invited in?

Since this is the time of year when we are reminded of the need to be about change…
as well as the importance, or lack thereof, of both our internal space and of our
place in this world of ours,
perhaps we are now more open to the notion of a truly crucial need.

We must decrease, as He must increase…..

This is to be an action, not a reaction, that is to become a conscious action
in that it shall be a lasting process….
A process which requires both thought and time—as it will not be accomplished
in the blink of an eye or within a day, a week, a month or even over the course
of a year…but rather over the remainder of one’s lifetime.

This isn’t about losing weight, exercising, getting organized, being thrifty…
it’s about change…a change for the sake of a relationship…
and for a life… not fleeting and overwhelmed, but focused and everlasting…

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and
has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances,
that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two,
thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body
through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.
So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace
to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit
to the Father.

Ephesians 2:14-18

a tenacious lot

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin,
but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

Harper Lee

(ice and snow encrusted Camilla / Julie Cook / 2017)

Remember the picture of the yard sign I shared on Friday??
That ‘Southern State of Mind’ Georgia Bulldog yard sign??
A yard sign that was quickly accumulating snow?
Well this is what it looked like once the snows ended Saturday…..

We Southerners do like our “weather.”
And we love to both fuss and cuss it….
Be it good or bad.

All kinds of weather.

We will complain about the heat.
We will lament about the humidity.
We will run and hide, with good reason, at the first sign of a tornado.
We will grumble about the lack or rain…
Just as we will grouse over its abundance.

But throw a little sleet, ice or snow our way and it’s all but
Katy bar the door..

We will get practically giddy at the first mention of anticipated snow…

As visions of serene images of Currier and Ives dance like magical
sugarplums round our anticipating heads.
Horse drawn carriages gliding effortlessly through the snow, as bells merrily jingle
while both adults and kids alike race joyously to build snowmen.

Children and teachers alike sit glued to weather reports, praying the Weatherman
will grant that ever so hoped for wish…the announcement of No School..
as everyone races for a homemade sled…mother’s favorite cookie pan….

However all of this wonderment quickly dissipates the minute the roads ice over,
the pine trees bend to the ground and snap under the heavy weight of all
the frozen precipitation…as the temperatures dip in to the teens, transformers blow
like popcorn, and the lights all go out…

as in out for days….

For suddenly there are no more fun and games as all things have
jumped to drastically frightfully serious in the twinkling of an eye…

Yet under all that frightfully messy winter…
Just like our much maligned yet prevalent Kudzu….
we remain…ever tenacious…

It’s what we do…
We might wilt a bit, panic a tad, slip slid into every ditch imaginable…
but we will always come back strong….
Just wait until April to see just who’s looking good!!!!

For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for
you against your enemies to give you victory.

Deuteronomy 20:4

it’s that time of year again….

Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
whispering, ‘It will be happier.’

Alfred Lord Tennyson

(Nany’s plant is blooming again….)

****It’s that time of year again…or so that’s what they keep telling us.
When you’re husband runs a local retail business, time and life ‘this
time of year’, is not your own….those of you who know me, know this….
And so my posting may be a bit more “lite” verses hefty and plentiful….
But I’ll do my best…..

This Christmas lily, which just so happens to be currently in bloom,
the one in the above photo, was my grandmother’s… Nany.
I’ve written about Nany’s lily before.

There is a tale of tenacity in this lily.

Nany died in 1986 and therefore I inherited the plant.
How and why I was the recipient, I don’t recall…
perhaps it was because mother had just died three months prior and poor ol dad
had no idea as to what he’d do with a plant…only to throw it out….
Having none of that, I “volunteered” to take the lily.

It was early on in our marriage and I was young…
more like stupid now that I look back on my younger self…
but I suppose we all were back then…..

I had left the plant out one night when there was a frost.
The plant died….
or so I thought.
Oh well.

Yet my husband brought the pot back inside the house, despite it being just now
a pot with a frozen brown mass of mess drooped within.

I pruned away all the dead parts and just kept the pot with it’s dirt.
Then a few weeks went by with little to no thought of the plant…that was until I walked past it one day and low and behold…a green shoot had begun to make it’s way upward…
the rest is history.

Nany probably had the plant 10 or more years before I inherited it—
making the plant…roughly somewhere between 40 to 50 years old….

Yet the plant had never bloomed.

I just thought it was a big green leafed plant that was until one year
right around Christmas.
Our son was little and we were still living in our first home,
the house before this house.
A shoot in between the midst of the large green floppy leaves magically appeared
bearing one cluster of three blooms.
It was like some kind of miracle to me.
Who knew this was a flowering plant?!

Probably everyone other than my dumb younger self.

Talk about fragrant.

So now every year since, this plant sends up a lone shoot,
during sometime each December…making it a Christmas Lily.
A small miracle taking place each year in my kitchen, where the plant now lives.

Except this year…..

This year, for the first time since I’ve had the plant, two shoots have emerged.
I don’t know if it’s some sort of sign or some sort of fluke—
I’d like to think Nany is looking down and is happy knowing she will have a great
great granddaughter in February.

I was named after both of my grandmothers…and my son and daughter-n-law are now
using my maiden name for our soon to be granddaughter’s middle name—-

Both Nany and Dad would be pleased…..

My heart is stirred by a noble theme
as I recite my verses for the king;
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.
You are the most excellent of men
and your lips have been anointed with grace,
since God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword on your side, you mighty one;
clothe yourself with splendor and majesty.
In your majesty ride forth victoriously
in the cause of truth, humility and justice;
Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king’s enemies;
let the nations fall beneath your feet.
Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.
All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
from palaces adorned with ivory
the music of the strings makes you glad.
Daughters of kings are among your honored women;
at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir.
Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
Forget your people and your father’s house.
Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
honor him, for he is your lord.
The city of Tyre will come with a gift,
people of wealth will seek your favor.
All glorious is the princess within her chamber;
her gown is interwoven with gold.
In embroidered garments she is led to the king;
her virgin companions follow her—
those brought to be with her.
Led in with joy and gladness,
they enter the palace of the king.
Your sons will take the place of your fathers;
you will make them princes throughout the land.
I will perpetuate your memory through all generations;
therefore the nations will praise you for ever and ever.

Psalm 45:1-14

everything will fade but the Truth

Beauty is a fading flower,
Truth is but a wizard’s tower,
Where a solemn death-bell tolls,
And a forest round it rolls.

Alfred Noyes

(the spent flowers of a fading season / Julie Cook / 2017)

Truth is not a thought, not a word, not a relationship between things, not a law.
Truth is a Person.
It is a Being which exceeds all beings and gives life to all.
If you seek truth with love and for the sake of love,
she will reveal the light of His face to you inasmuch as you are able
to bear it without being burned.

St. Nicholas of Serbia

“Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.”

Psalm 25:5

astrological phenomenon?

The artist, like the God of the creation,
remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork,
invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent,
paring his fingernails.

James Joyce

(shadows of the river birch trees, dappling onto the driveway, during the eclipse /
Julie Cook / 2017)

Did you get to “see” yesterday’s eclipse?
If so, did you simply dismiss the eclipse as just an astrological phenomenon?
Something kind of cool but just one of those moon, sun, star, planet
kind of events?

It was definitely more than….
indeed much more than.

It was not my intention to write a post about the eclipse as I had other
things to “discuss”….but the experience of the moment was something
I felt called to share….

First, there was truly an odd look to the whole of outside when all of this began…
It was a subtle but noticeable softening of intenstiy.
It was as if the glaring August sun was calming herself down…
for just a moment’s reprieve…and I liked it.

The day began like any other August dog day in the deep South….
The sky was a brilliant blue, speckled with only an occasional puff ball of a cloud.
The neighbor’s bulls across the street were in the midst of a rather loud and
raucous serenade of who could bellow the loudest…
And it was hot.
Near 90 degrees while an overhead sun was blazing down in all her glory.
No rain and only sun and heat.
The type of day one prefers to stay indoors verses out,
especially during the heat of the day.

Shortly after 1 PM the yard…the trees, grass, plants…all began to take on
an odd coloring or better yet, tone.
Almost as if twilight was approaching, yet the sun was still
fully overhead, as there were no clouds crossing her path.
Surreal and dreamlike all rolled into one, it was as if you were standing somewhere familiar yet foreign at the same exact moment.

The sky was still brilliantly blue with a sun still glaring above…
and had I not had the pair of solar glasses that my cousin had overnighted to me
when she discovered the ones I originally had were in fact imposters, I would have
found the strange tint to the whole outdoors disconcertingly odd.
Knowing something was happening but wouldn’t have been able to understand what–
or realizing that something was now terribly wrong with my vision or presence of mind.

By looking through the glasses I could see the moon’s shadow making it’s unyielding
journey across the path of an undaunted sun.

By 2:30, just shy of the 94% fullness that we were going to be privy to, the shadows
cast on the driveway were greatly softened and arced, creating what appeared to
be not the shadow of leaves cast upon the cement, but rather that of a gauzy sheer oriental pastel painting spread out ever so lovingly at my feet.
Plus I noticed I was no longer sweating profusely…
As there was a soothing stillness in the air while even the bulls became silent.

Had I not had the glasses I still would have marveled over the welcomed
embrace of stillness,
the temporary dip in temperature and the oddly shaped shadows cast filtering through
the leaves.

Being awake in the midst of a dream is the best description I can think of–
Strange and odd while being peculiarly soothing.
I’m sure that part of my experience is because I happened to be home alone
during this event and not standing in the midst of a crowd…so I can’t
write about what it was like with the masses but rather just me by myself.

There was, for the briefest of moments, a marvelous emptiness,
as well as an all encompassing fullness…
taking place at exactly the very same moment…
no planes were flying over head, no cars whizzing up or down the road,
the bulls were quiet and all bees and buzzing critters had momentarily disappeared.
It was the silence within what seemed to be a different dimension.

Allowing me to marvel in the mastery of our Awesome Creator…

Astrological phenomenon?

(images taken with my camera as I put a pair of the solar glasses over the lens)

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.

Psalm 19:1

fallen world

“If I looked into a mirror, and did not see my face,
I should have the sort of feeling which actually comes upon me,
when I look into this living busy world,
and see no reflexion of its Creator.”

John Henry Newman

(a ragged and worn Spicebush swallowtail butterfly / Julie Cook / 2017)

“The primary effects of original sin,
which are the deprivation of grace and the loss of eternal life,
are taken away by baptism or baptism of desire, but the other effects
are not.
These are the darkening of the intelligence,
the weakening of the will,
the casting of the emotions, into chaos,
and the corruption of human relationships”

Fr Benedict from the 2004 interview with John Bishop

In August, the waning days of summer are relentlessly hot and equally humid.
Here in the deep south there is no glimpse of that hopefulness known as Fall,
a change of season that just so happens to be on the very next page of
the calendar.

The butterflies, who may or may not be aware that changes are in store,
are at a near fevered pitch as they make their precarious mad dash
all around the yard in search of the those few brave flowers which
are still blooming despite most others having long dried and withered away.

The butterflies go about their task of nectar drinking right up to the moment
they simply fall to the ground and perish.
Their wings are now terribly frayed as the delicate colored powder
has all but worn away leaving their wings almost transparent…
yet the quest remains relentless.
They are driven by an innate need.

They are haggard and ragged and many are actually quite near death,
yet they continue on…
Much like the global Christian family during these waning days of
earth’s final glory.

Bruised and battered the ardent followers of Christ Jesus continue on,
ever forward, towards a final day…
sharing, preaching, seeking, offering…embracing the last word of Hope….

The times grow ever increasingly difficult to live and function in a fallen world
as the Faithful find themselves under constant attack.

Is it coincidental that in these dark days there should be a rise in the
attacks against professing Christians?

In the US the attacks are not the physical attacks seen taking place
elsewhere in the world, rather they are more legalistic and intellectual with a
heavy dose of shaming, smearing and shunning.

Yet oddly this global family, who profess to be Believers,
remains eerily silent.
Reminiscent of a day when those who shouted…
“you are one of them, you were with Him…”
With the panicked response being…
“you’re wrong, I don’t know what you’re talking
about, I don’t know them or Him…”

“Could you not remain, not stay awake, not even this one time when
I asked you, when I needed you…?”

The world is careening out of control…
While this season of change continues to descend.

A once great nation now loses her mind over a nearly once forgotten past,
refusing to turn around to recognize what the precarious future might be,
rather preferring to languish in what was.
As the world sits silently confused…waiting and watching…

Does the enemy care that a people now argue over changing the names of streets
while destroying the remnants of their their past?
The enemy is glad and relishes in the stupid distractions.

Tearing one another apart, hating one another, cursing and defiling one’s
fellow man…
all the while the Enemy is cheering it on.

For our’s is a fallen world, now spinning wildly out of control.
Her leaders and politicians vainly try to bring order to the chaos.
Her people race to undo their years of forward motion…
While no one seems to comprehend that there is but only One who
can and who will bring an end to the madness— as He is the only one who
can usher in the much needed order…

Near is the great day of the LORD, Near and coming very quickly; Listen,
the day of the LORD! In it the warrior cries out bitterly.
A day of wrath is that day, A day of trouble and distress,
A day of destruction and desolation, A day of darkness and gloom,
A day of clouds and thick darkness,

Zephaniah 1:14-15