looking forward rather than at now…

“Let us love the Cross and let us remember that we are not alone in
carrying it.
God is helping us.
And in God who is comforting us, as St. Paul says,
we can do anything.”

St. Gianna Molla

“Every pious desire, every good thought, every charitable work inspired by the love of Jesus,
contributes to the perfection of the whole body of the faithful.
A person who does nothing more than lovingly pray to God for his brethren,
participates in the great work of saving souls.”

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich

I think I’ve touched on this thought before.
I think it was most likely this same time last year.

It never fails that each year, during this particular season of the Chruch calendar,
this season of Advent, this time of notable anticipation,
I just can’t help but look forward.

Maybe I shouldn’t look ahead…
but I just can’t help it…I do.

I just can’t help but not to look.
I can’t help but know already how the story ends.

Of course I’m not alone in that…
most of us who are Believers already do know how the story ends don’t we?!

And yes I know, technically the story doesn’t really end…
but perhaps that’s a bit of a spoiler for those not exactly in the know…

However that’s not today’s worry.

The lamenters will cry “why can’t you just enjoy the moment?!

And maybe I should…maybe I should just turn a blind eye to what I know
while ignoring the facts.
Maybe I should just bask in the magic of this season;
enjoying this time of joyful expectations, of mystery, of hope and of celebrations.

But I can’t ignore the fact that there is a looming foreboding shadow that I
simply can’t shake.
Consider it the ying and yang if you will.

For both Advent and Christmas, this mix of a season that speaks to all that is to be,
happiness and joy, is what some might call the front end of the story…

Or maybe it’s actually what is known as the backstory to the end story…
the story that is behind the real story.

Figuring I wasn’t alone with this notion,
I poked around a bit and found the image above at the front of the post.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one who understood that there is more to this
time of all things of happiness, newness and of birth.

For we all know, whether we like it or not, birth leads to life which in turn leads
eventually to the grave.
But who wants to think about a grave and or death when we can be toasting to what
is happy and bright right?

Not a self-absorbed culture, that’s for sure.

And so whereas we do indeed rejoice, as so we should,
we do so with a knowingness.

I’ve used this image of this particular painting before.

It is a painting by one of my favorite artists, Michelangelo Merisi
(Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio–or just Caravaggio for short.
He’s known by his town of birth and not so much by his birth name.

The painting in question is known as Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri)

Caravaggio’s paintings and subject matter can be unsettling to some viewers.
His life was no less unsettling.
And he was certainly far from saintly as his life would make any modern-day gossip tabloid
green with envy as his life truthfully read of such fodder and yet his talent,
his skill, his gift, his vision, his juxtaposition of his subjects
along with his use of light and dark, shadow and dramatic lighting…
all seem to be an exclamation point to his chosen imagery and subject matter.


(Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri) 1605-06 / Galleria Borghese)

I love this painting because it is so dramatic and powerful…

Allegorical yes, but it’s that end story in a very stalk and near visceral nutshell.

The end being the crushing of both Evil and Death.

Leaving us with birth, life, death, grave and yes, finally, victory…
All of which is rolled into this one single painting.

As both Mary and her small son, all under the watchful gaze of both Mary’s mother
and Jesus’ grandmother, St Anne…who watches on as now both mother and child put an
end mark to that which desires nothing more than to haunt their lives…

Mary’s yes to God, along with Jesus’ willingness and sacrifice, are all that was necessary
and needed in the resounding NO to Satan.

In the painting, they figuratively demonstrate victory, our victory, over both Evil and Death,
in a very decisive fashion.
Crushing the head of the snake.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

Mary who was told great things by the angel Gabriel and who was told great things by
the Magi, and who was told great things by Simeon…basked in the celebration of the
birth of her child, all the while looking forward.

She had been told and she knew and she held it all in her heart.
And I doubt that a day did not pass while she lived the life of a loving mother to this
atypical son of hers, that she didn’t feel the same foreboding that I sense now.

My sense of foreboding, however, pales in comparison to the one whose heart
had been pierced the day she said: “yes, I will do your bidding, Lord.”

Mary knew both joy and sorrow, both life and death…but the most important thing
that Mary knew was that there is victory over death…victory that just so happened to be
found in the birth of her son…

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Then the angel left her.
Blessed Among Women

Luke 1:38 MSG

And Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them,
I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge;
the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me
a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

John 12:44-50

We can’t help but look forward….

if I only had a heart…

“Advent’s intention is to awaken the most profound and basic emotional
memory within us, namely, the memory of the God who became a child.
This is a healing memory; it brings hope.”

Pope Benedict XVI


(mother’s kitchen funnel has seen better days / Julie Cook / 2018)

This pitiful image of what was once my mother’s kitchen funnel, that I have
obviously “loved” to death by overuse and wash, always reminds me of the hat of
the head of the tinman from the Wizard of Oz…
albeit a kitchen funnel and not an oil funnel.

Who can forget Jack Haley singing…if I only had a heart…

When a man’s an empty kettle he should be on his mettle,
And yet I’m torn apart.
Just because I’m presumin’ that I could be kind-a-human,
If I only had heart.
I’d be tender – I’d be gentle and awful sentimental
Regarding Love and Art.
I’d be friends with the sparrows …
and the boys who shoots the arrows
If I only had a heart.
Picture me – a balcony. Above a voice sings low.
Wherefore art thou, Romeo? I hear a beat…
How sweet.
Just to register emotion, jealousy – devotion,
And really feel the part.
I could stay young and chipper
and I’d lock it with a zipper,
If I only had a heart.

Wizard Of Oz – If I Only Had A Brain/Heart/Nerve Lyrics

If I only had a heart…

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you;
I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:26

To remove the heart of stone and receive the heart of flesh…

And so it seems on that fateful day when an apple was received and in turn eaten,
two hearts grew hard…
spawning a spiraling outward of generational stone hardened hearts.

Shuttered hearts.
Closed hearts…
turned cold

Yet all the while the mind deludes, claiming otherwise.

The mind convinces the heart to remain closed and hardened,
otherwise, there will be pain, weakness, and vulnerability…

C.S Lewis says it this way…

“There is no safe investment.

To love at all is to be vulnerable.

Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.

If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one,
not even to an animal.

Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements;
lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.

But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change.

It will not be broken;
it will become
unbreakable,
impenetrable,
irredeemable.

The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.

The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers
and perturbations of love is…
Hell.”

Yet it was the famed English preacher, Charles Spurgeon, who had previously addressed this
notion of the heart of stone.

“Spurgeon surmised that the stony heart is, specifically:
cold,
hard,
dead,
not easily softened and utterly senseless.

He said the person with the hard heart is “Satan’s throne.”
And he said the hard heart is “impervious to all instrumentality,”

(Cliff Vaughn)

In a sermon delivered in 1887 Spurgeon addresses the hardened heart:

Hardness of heart is a great and grievous evil.
It exists not only in the outside world,
but in many who frequent the courts of the Lord’s house.
Beneath the robes of religion many carry a heart of stone.

Nothing good can come out of a stony heart;
it is barren as a rock.
To be unfeeling is to be unfruitful.
Prayer without desire,
praise without emotion,
preaching without earnestness — what are all these?
Like the marble images of life, they are cold and dead.

Yet he reminds us that all is not lost.

The Holy Spirit makes us like wax, and we become impressible to his sacred seal.
Remember, you that are hard of heart, that your hope lies this way;
God himself, who melts the icebergs of the northern sea,
must make your soul to yield up its hardness in the presence of his love.
Nothing short of the work of God within you can effect this.
“Ye must be born again,” and that new birth must be from above.
The Spirit of God must work regeneration in you.
He is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham;
but until he works you are dead and insensible.
Even now I perceive the goings forth of his power:
he is moving you to desire his divine working,
and in that gracious desire, the work has already begun.

Note next, that as this tenderness comes of the Spirit of God,
so it also comes by his working in full co-operation with the Father and with the Son.

We hear the Father say, “I will pour upon the house of David the spirit of grace,”
(angelfire.com)

And so it is from that same genealogical house–the house of David which is born the Grace
which is our hope from the impenetrable death found in the stone cold heart.

It is a hope found in the genealogical line from Abraham, to David, to the Christ.

Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David,
fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon,
and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.
(Matthew 1:17)

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea,
to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and
was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
(Luke 2:4-7)

And so the genealogical line of hardened hearts, hearts which once seemed destined to reside
closed for all time and destined to spend an eternity in Hell,
will be broken…broken by the gift found in a genealogical line of hope,
the gift found in the birth of a single child…

And a little child shall lead them (Isaiah 11:6)

Leading once stone hardened hearts, now broken by Grace, to healing found only in Salvation.

Adventus, Chronos, Kairos

“God travels wonderful ways with human beings,
but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people.
God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him;
rather, his way is beyond all comprehension,
free and self-determined beyond all proof…”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer


(The Southern Cross / Southern Africa’s Catholic Weekly)

About a week or so ago, I happened upon a lovely blog.
And of course, I wanted to share the posting.
It was Advent and it was an Advent post written by a Franciscan friar.

Then a president died and The Mayor came to visit…sooooo…..
my sharing of such a lovely message got put on a back burner.

Here, finally, is my sharing…

A blog by a Franciscan friar:
friarmusings…the musing of a Franciscan friar

Since my blog is one that is based upon the musings of a retired educator…
I thought it a most fitting meeting…
How fitting that there should be a chance meeting.
More aptly a bit of a Spiritual arranging.
Remember…there is no such thing as coincidence.

And so I offer you a delightful teaching on Advent by a friar…

Did you know that a “new year” begins with Advent? We begin a new liturgical year,
a year when most of the gospels will be from the Gospel of Luke (referred to as “Year C”).
While the years and readings change, there are constants with the arrival of Advent.

Advent is a time when we commemorate the adventus of Jesus —
his coming, arrival, or birth into the days and nights of our world.
Christians live in normal time just like everyone else —
our normal chronos as time ticks off the days, weeks, months, and years.
The early Christian thinkers held that God lives in kairos, a “time” when past, present,
and future are but a single moment.
The awesome moments of salvation history are when chronos and kairos meet.

The birth of Jesus was just such a moment.
The Son of God, the Word made flesh, who existed before all.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race” (John 1:1-4).

It is a moment when the Divine broke into chronos from Kairos,
when God came to be with us and experience everything about our lives except sin.
Mary gave birth not just to any baby boy, but to the Lord of all time and history.
A baby boy that matured,
“And Jesus advanced (in) wisdom and age and favor before God and man” (Luke 2:52).

After living in total obscurity for about 30 years,
Jesus burst onto the public scene and proclaimed that in his own person:
“This is the kairos [time] of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
St. Paul writes that in “the fullness of kairos [time], God sent forth his son”
to redeem humanity (Galatians 4:4).
Jesus, creation, and the beginning of time met redemption and the fulfillment
of time at Bethlehem’s midpoint of human history…

At Advent, Christians also look forward in expectation of Christ’s future coming,
to that time when God will culminate what he has now only inaugurated,
when he will finish what he has started, and will fulfill what he has promised.
For believers, history is going somewhere and not nowhere.
Chronos is proceeding in a distinctly “ahead” fashion, rather than in a
cyclical or meaningless manner.
It is engaged and fueled by the gravity of karios pulling us into a promised future.

At Advent we connect these two horizons —
celebrating Jesus’s past birth and expectation of his future coming.
We live our present days in light of that future day.
In between, we are called to live at the intersection of kairos and chronos.
What the Celts called the “thin places,” places where the boundary between the earthly
and the eternal becomes permeable.
A place and time when we catch glimpses of God’s love,
majesty, and power as it pours into the world.

(full post here … https://friarmusings.com/2018/12/02/thinnest-of-places/ )

I love that…”A place and time when we catch glimpses of God’s love, majesty and power
as it pours into the world…

the rocks will cry out

“In order for the inner man to be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit,
the children of God must discharge their responsibility.
They need to yield specifically to the Lord, forsake every doubtful aspect in their life,
be willing to obey fully God’s will, and believe through prayer that
He will flood their spirit with His power.”

Watchman Nee


(Anchorage Daily News image of the latest damge from this past week’s earhtquake)

Remember yesterday how I shared that Twitter was attempting to ban both
The Anglican Bishop, Gavin Ashenden
(well, they already did try with Gavin but I believe he’s been “reinstated”)
as well as the Scottish pastor David Robertson…??

And remember how I offered not only the link to David’s open letter to Twitter but I
shared this quote…part of David’s ending response in his letter…??

“Meanwhile I will continue to use your platform to undermine your hateful
and irrational ideology.
And I will do it by using logic and love – the love of the Logos.
We don’t need Twitter (or Facebook, or government or the media) to be able to speak of Christ.
And you will never silence us.
Though you kill us the very rocks would cry out!

And it was that very last line that has stayed with me as I’ve ruminated over those words
since I read it…
“Though you kill us the very rocks would cry out.”

“the very rocks would cry out”…is a nod to the verse in Luke 19:40 when Jesus,
at what we now refer to as Holy Week, was entering into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey
while those around him laid palms at his feet, hailing him as a king…
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Well, the Pharisees rebuked these adulations…
they found such to be ill-fitting even sacrilegious telling Jesus to silence “his” people…
However, it was the response by Jesus that was so telling…
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

I’ve thought a great deal about that line since having read it yesterday…
and of course, I’ve thought about it every time I’ve either read it or heard it.

Imagine that visual image.

Stones, rocks, boulders all crying out…crying out the greatness of the Lord.

Does not our earth already cry out with groanings that are so deep and beyond our understanding?
Cries which surpass our comprehension?

Such as the image above of the Highway in Alaska?

A road buckles, as the earth opens up with audible groans and physical cries.

Does the earth not open up…leaving us like frightened children,
looking for help which is beyond us?

Of course we call such opening up and such “crying out” merely plate tectonics.

Yet do we not, when those plates slide and collide, causing devastation to the surface,
do we not cry out in fear?
Do we not cry out to be delivered from that which we cannot control?

So who are we to say that the rocks are not currently crying out.
That the earth is not yielding to her Creator?

And so as we enter into this new year of the Chruch calendar, with the beginning of Advent,
we are reminded, once again, that all of creation slumbers in darkness awaiting
the light of Salvation…

Perhaps it would behoove us to listen to the earth and her cries…as the earth might be
more aware of the coming of the Redeemer than we are ourselves.

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens,
and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it,
the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything,
and the multitudes of heaven worship you.

Nehemiah 9:6

the gift of the miraculous

“There are many going afar to marvel at the heights of mountains,
the mighty waves of the sea, the long courses of great rivers,
the vastness of the ocean, the movements of the stars, yet they leave themselves unnoticed!”

Saint Augustine


(The Mayor has discovered she can drive her limousine up under the kitchen table in order
to investigate what makes the table tick / Julie Cook / 2018)

I’ve been marveling recently.

Marveling at the development of a wee small person.
No surprise there I would imagine.

Yet this marveling of mine, however, goes beyond the mere grandmotherly marveling over the
leaps and strides made by a baby who appears to miraculously change and grow,
if not day by day, but more like minute by millisecond…

As each new moment brings a brand new advancement.

To roll,
to sit,
to pull,
to stand,
to eat,
to chew,
to taste,
to utter sounds,
to express likes and dislikes…
to demonstrate joy and anguish,
to recognize pain and self-satisfaction.

The discoveries made of both self and surroundings are each incredible to behold.

Quite amazing really.

I think back to the time when I was once a new parent myself.

I was so caught up in what that responsibility entailed…
coupled with my working outside of the home while just trying to get us all from one day
to the next, in one safe piece…
so much so that all of that overrode my ability to actually marvel.

Of course, there were glimpses and revelations that would leave me without words but life
would demand its way…leaving me running at such a frenetic pace that basking in the
minute by minute miracles was only afforded in increments of breaths.
Life called for a family to step up to the plate and I had to answer…
no luxury found for stopping to marvel…albeit fleetingly.

It is only now in my older age…an age that gives way to both collected knowledge and wisdom,
that I can thankfully step back from the moment while blessedly stopping to take it all in.

And I am left speechless.

What we take for granted, or rather what we merely assume as we are just too busy to
acknowledge anything else, is truly nothing less than spectacular.

And so no, I am not the first nor will I be the last grandparent to marvel over a grandchild…

And yes, there have been countless numbers of psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists,
doctors, and psychiatrists over the past millennium who have all closely
studied child development…

So this marveling of mine, as it were, is really nothing new nor even very special…

But…

This marveling, this wonderment, of which I speak is not found in the science of
human development…
It is not found in the measurements of statistics or in averages…
It is not found in numbers or sequential advancements…
But rather it is found in that which makes no sense…
found in that which is beyond comprehension.

Because what I am currently witnessing taking place, day by day, breath by breath,
within one small person, over the course of these past nine months, is nothing less than
miraculous.

So I suppose we could say that her first nine months were hidden from view…
yet were no less amazing.

The fact is that I have been given the opportunity of actually viewing the past nine months
a bit more up close and personal as those first nine months were watched not only by doctors
but moment by moment by the One who breathes life into all that is…

I suppose we could say she has actually lived both seen and unseen now for 18 months…
all of which have been cemented in my heart.

And so as the calendar prepares to give way to a new season, we find ourselves standing
before the door of the impending season of Advent.

A season that brings humankind together–
offering the heightened sense of anticipation as we prepare to both watch and wait…

Is it, therefore, a coincidence that as I watch and marvel over one growing baby,
God so chose the same miraculous gift of a baby?
A gift that has been freely given to anyone who is willing to receive it?

A baby who grew both seen and unseen…
A baby who was formed in the miraculous…
A baby whose family marveled, just as I marvel, over his milestones.

Explanations will always fall away when given the gift of the miraculous…

And Mary said,
“Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”
And the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

free and self-determined…such is God

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
but in ourselves.”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar


(hawthorn berries / Julie Cook / 2017)

“God travels wonderful ways with human beings,
but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people.
God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him;
rather, his way is beyond all comprehension,
free and self-determined beyond all proof.
Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels,
where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be.
There he confounds the reason of the reasonable;
there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be,
and no one can keep him from it.
Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous
that he does wonders where people despair,
that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous.
And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…
God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings.
God marches right in.
He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would
least expect them.
God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly,
the excluded, the weak and broken.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

what’s really real anymore?

“It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it;
but the young know they are wretched for they are full of the truthless ideal
which have been instilled into them,
and each time they come in contact with the real,
they are bruised and wounded…”

W. Somerset Maugham

Between the books I’m reading, the barrage of breaking “news” stories,
our caustic and even catastrophic political world..add to that those issues that
scream for our attention yet go woefully ignored….
throw in a good dose of life, seasoned with “this time of year”…
and something or maybe everything is leaving me a bit unsettled..

By all outward appearances I am going through all the proper motions…
I am saying all the right things while doing all the necessary things.
Nothing would lead anyone to suspect that anything was awry.
And yet something unseen continues to pull at my sleeve as I unconsciously try
pulling back….such that the unconscious is almost becoming conscious.

Am I just becoming Ebenezer?
Perhaps more Grinch than Scrooge?
Or am I simply now jaded beyond repair?

After thinking about the two posts I wrote earlier this week—
the first being about meat and potatoes vs purposeful yet empty noise and distraction….
with the second tale being about of the continuing saga of the annihilation of
the oldest, as in the very first group of collective Christians, I have found myself wrestling with what it is that we think we’re passing off as Christmas.

Whoa.
Sacred cow now being looked at sideways…

I’ve allowed this thought to ruminate as I’ve chewed the cud over it.

Christmas is for children….that is a certain absolute..as in for sure.
And I have loved Christmas–both past and present as I anxiously await
sharing it with a new granddaughter next year…..
but…..

Christmas, for me and mine, has basically been a joyous time of melding
tradition and custom with Biblical teaching.

But something is starting to really trouble me….
There are…
Advent wreathes with the lighting of candles while there are “Advent” calendars
counting down the days until Christmas—with more and more equating simply to
good food, family and presents…..

There is…
Santa Claus Christmas
and there is….
Jesus Christmas.

Hummmm….

I have Jewish friends who have decorated Christmas trees, stockings on their mantles,
a menorah in the kitchen as they take the kids to Santa for pictures
and wrap up gifts and goodies in red and green paper to nestle under the tree.

I know nonbelievers who have decorated Christmas trees, stockings on their mantles
and presents wrapped in red and green under the tree…as their children, along with
those Jewish children, leave out cookies and milk for Santa.

Christmas.

Expectation verses Expectancy
Lights verses Light.
Gifts verses Giving…

Has it all gone too far?
Have we allowed it to go too far?
Have we been sucked into a lie?

I think that which is tugging at my sleeve is the Holy Spirit Himself.
I am being reminded that what I’m seeing as Christmas has nothing to do with
Christ’s Mass….nothing to do with the expectant waiting of the birth of Salvation.

And so I wrestle—where do we as Believers now draw the line?

Do we do so silently…or…a bit more loudly?
Loudly as in no longer just riding merrily along in the sleigh with everyone else
jing jing jingling into the oblivion of Currier and Ives… or rather do we say
a collective “hold up”…

First and foremost Christmas is about one thing…and one thing only….
and that is the birth of Christ…
So don’t try to pass this societal thing you’ve created off as anything
other than secularism masquerading as the Christmas of Christ.
You want your Yuletide but you don’t want the Christians to have their
Christ’s Mass…
You want your goodies and your holidays but you don’t want to acknowledge the
Savior of all mankind…..

And so while wrestling with this gnawing notion rolling around in my thoughts
and heart, I caught the latest offering by the Wee Flea Pastor
David Robertson….talk about reading my mind…

It is the tale of fake news verses real news…..

Is Christmas Christian?
….But what about as a Christian festival?
It can be argued that Christmas becoming a secular/pagan festival is just
returning to its pagan roots.
It was the Church that took over the midwinter festival and turned it into a
celebration of the birth of Jesus
(who was not born on December the 25th – more likely to have been a day in April).
Was this a bad thing?
Some of our ancestors thought so –
and famously refused to celebrate Christmas.
Even in living memory there are those who can recall Christmas just being a
normal working day – with New Year being the main festival.
Most Free Churches still do not have a Christmas Day service
(unless it is on a Sunday) but we do have a New Years Day.

It’s not wrong to celebrate Christmas,
and its not wrong not to celebrate.
Let each be persuaded in their own minds.
What however is wrong is to turn the birth of Jesus Christ,
into an orgy of commercialism, greed and drunkenness.
The idea that people will get themselves into enormous debt to buy things
they don’t need in order to celebrate the birth of the one who though he was rich,
yet became poor, for our sakes, is grotesque.

We are able to use our building to proclaim the good news of Jesus,
as opposed to the ‘fake news’ of the secular Christmas.
In that respect I love what the angels told the shepherds as they looked
after their flocks
“Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news that will bring great joy for all the people.
Today in the town of David,
a Saviour has been born to you.;
he is the Messiah, the Lord”
.
(Luke 2:10-11).

Great Joy for all the People – The Christmas Record

Silence, authentic and evil

“The Islamic State’s genocide of Christians in the Middle East is well
documented. Yet this modern atrocity is often judged less newsworthy than the
jihadists’ destruction of the region’s cultural heritage. What are the roots
and human realities of this unfolding tragedy in the birthplace of three
great religions?”

back cover offering of the book The Last Christians by Fr Andreas Knapp


(one of our trees in last week’s snow / Julie Cook / 2017)

Speaking of books arriving via the post….
another bookmailer showed up in my mailbox yesterday…

Dare I say that this most recent book will take us in a vastly different
direction than the children’s book seen in yesterday’s post
If My Moon Was Your Sun by Andreas Steinhofel….
Not to say that there won’t be both poignancy, sorrow and loss…
but such will be on a scale that will touch all of us rather than some of us….

This recent book does not look to be an easy read.
Not that there should be great burdensome amount of academic depth but rather simply
the hard tale of human loss and suffering on an epic and historic proportion….
and yet mostly on an overlooked and even ignored level.

Of which is actually most perplexing given the significance of the situation.

The book is entitled The Last Christians by Andreas Knapp

“For a long time Christians in the Middle East have been condemned to silence.
For centuries they have been discriminated against by a predominantly Muslim
society and, as a minority, they have been forced to quietly accept
injustice and lead an inconspicuous life in the shadows.
Even I, a preist and theologian, was for a long time unaware of the moving story
of Christians in Syria and Iraq.

Two years ago, I met some Christians from the Middle East who now live in my
neighborhood of Grunau, in Leipzig, Germany. Having listened to their stories,
I was so moved I had to write them down.
They may not be entirely politically correct, but they are correct in
the sense that they are authentic.”

Fr Andrea Knapp

It is noted from the publisher that “remarkably, though these last Christians hold
no hope of ever returning to their homes, they also harbor no thirst for revenge.
Could it be that they–along with the Christians of the West, whose interest will
determine their fate–hold the key to breaking the cycle of violence in the region?

Their’s is a story that I have actually written about before…
around the same time Fr Knapp, the German priest,
came to see with his own eyes, then came to write down his interactions
and observations…
but yet this is a story that is still exceedingly timely and necessary to hear.

My origianal post is from March of 2015 and is more informative
than what is offered here today…as it includes a 60 Minutes segment in which
Lara Logan had also gone to visit the region in order to see and hear
first hand the plight of this particular group of ancient Christians.

The post offers images and insight into the barbarism used by ISIS to systematically annihilate this last vestige of the original Christians who have existed in this
region since both the death and resurrection of Christ.

Regarding the book…I have not yet had a chance to delve into it…
but from what I have gleaned from the tantalizing tidbits…
this will be not only a very important tale to Christians but also a hugely important
story for historians, Jews as well as Muslims…as it actually determines the course
of humanity.

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/blood-of-the-lamb/

And perhaps ironically today, as I was thinking about these first Christians who are
lined up to be the last of their kind, I caught a very brief, like all of 2 minute,
video clip of an interview of sorts given by the Reformed Presbyterian Minister David Robertson—
a clip where he is responding to the question of
‘How does the existence of Evil undermine the atheistic worldview?

Pastor Robertson notes that in the mind of an atheist, the existence of Evil
is a clear sign that there is no God.
As they will rationalize that if there was a God,
He would in turn be all powerful and therefore He could and would prevent all Evil….
So since there is Evil, there is obviously no God.

Yet on the flip side of all of that is how then does the atheist define Evil
with no moral absolutes?
If there are no rules, no judgements, no afterlife, no God, no way of resolving
or dealing with Evil, how does the atheist actually deal with the concept of
evil in any sort of defining way.
The answer… He cannot.

So the non believer has a conundrum…with the mindset of ‘well, since there is no
God and Evil isn’t Evil, we might as well just live it up….

This as humankind wrestles with what to do about the historic and epic genocides…atrocities which have taken place throughout all of time.

And so you are now asking as to why I would write about such during this time of
Advent—a time of all things full of Expectancy, Anticipation and Christmas…
a time that is to be of softness, love and dare we say, hope…
Why should we worry ourselves over the ugliness of reality as those are problems
not on our particular or given radar—things that are happening over there some
place and out of sight.

Why write about the annihilation of Aramaic Christians, atheists and their fight for disbelief and the very concept of Evil….

‘Please not here, not now, not at Christmas…’ we are each heard to lament.

Well it actually is because it is Advent and the Christmas season that we should be
and need to be most mindful of such….

As those of us who confess to be Believers must not find ourselves falling
into the hole of secularism and the Societal notion of Christmas…
of which we have done.

This secular celebration of all things Christmas that is currently in all
its full glory and regalia is lulling us into a time of contented ignorant bliss.

And just as I reminded us in Tuesday’s Meat and Potatoes post….
this time of year is particularly very loud and very noisy…for a reason…

Do you not think that there is one who delights in the pure distraction
from what is to be our Truth?

Advent….
yes…
be ready,
be watching,
be waiting…
for there are epic things taking place all the while as we busy ourself with
the minutia of the moment while missing the importance of the day…

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit.

Isaiah 14:12-15

Meat and potatoes

One gets to the heart of the matter by a series of experiences in
the same pattern, but in different colors.

Robert Graves


(the red snapper at Bud and Alley’s Seaside Beach, Fl / Julie Cook)

Ok, I admit….this is a picture of a fish with potatoes and not a steak.
as in “meat and potatoes”

I did have a lovely picture of a prime rib roast which I had cooked a while back,
but the fish seemed a bit less red and well, meaty…as I know there are those
out there who just really are opposed to “red” meat….despite my knowing there are
those who will grouse over the whole well, whole fish…meaning head and eyes….
but we digress….

I’ve stated before, I’ve always been a meat and potatoes sort of girl.
Be that meat…fowl, pig, lamb, fish or cow…..

Yet today’s post is not about food…meat or starch…
but is a post that we might just call more of a hearty dose of the
Word of God….being sustenance for the soul verses the food for the stomach.
As in getting down to the heart of the matter….

And now that the dust has somewhat settled…as the snows are now melting…
life is settling back into its normal madness of Christmas….
sans any of the distracting, as well as debilitating, white stuff.

Power is now restored.
Limbs are now cut up and stacked.
Cars have been moved to where they belong….
As schools resume to normal schedules today.

So in the madness since late last week, when the snows did begin to fall,
I was literally pulled away from much of my reading and study as my duties
were needed immediately elsewhere—
And I was particularly pulled away from my reading and focusing on the teachings
of those 3 favorite clerics of mine…

And what a delightful hodge podge of spirituality they are—

A renegade Anglican priest, a reformed Presbyterian minister and a Catholic monk…

And may it be known that whereas each one of these men may seem,
from all outward appearances to be vastly different,
when all the pretense of what the world perceives of them is
peeled away, they along with their messages, are but one in the same.

And I for one delight in that.

In my distraction with the snow and writing about such…there has been so much
that has actually taken place that needs not only my attention but yours as well….

Jerusalem is being recognized by the US, at long last, as the capital of Israel…
much to the chagrin of most of the world as well as by many actually in the US
itself.

The Pope, much like our US President, has boldly and perhaps blindly, ventured
to where he may not should have trod, by declaring that the Lords’ Prayer
needs an overhaul….see the perspiration beads forming at my brow….

Sexual harassment continues to prevail in our headlines as it appears to have crept
into the fold….

And my friend who I made mention of the other day…
the one whose family business my family had frequented for the past 25 years or so,
lost her earthly battle early Friday morning.
During the last time we had a chance to chat, which was just a couple of weeks ago,
I noticed that my friend was rather sad and weepy.
I asked what was troubling her….and this 78 year old friend looks me in the eye
and tells me “I miss my momma”—- as I look back at her,
telling her how I understand because I miss mine as well—of which she knew….
So I am uplifted in knowing that both her son and daughter were by her side
when she gave up the earthly ghost and headed on home to be with her mom…

All of this, along with all the other tit for tat that has been happening in what seems
to be my snow encrusted writing absence, will each be addressed in due time…..

But first I wanted to return our focus to Advent.

Because isn’t that what our focus should currently be about?
Advent.
As in The Coming….

I spent some time this morning listening to the 2nd Sunday in Advent’s homily
offered by Bishop Gavin Ashenden…I was a day late and a dollar short,
but none the less, blessed.
12 delightful minutes of good meat and potatoes for the soul.

The good bishop reminds us that Advent is a time for making space in our hearts,
more space for Jesus.

He tells us that this is the time that we are to be about repentance…
in order to make sacred space available.

Bishop Ashenden focused on the reading of the day which was taken from the Gospel of
St Mark (Mark 1:1-8) in which there is a good description of John the Baptizer…
a man wearing simple garments and who is sustained by eating wild honey and locust.

The good Bishop admits to having always been a bit perplexed as the why
the locust eating would be so important as to be included in the text….
but a Greek friend noted that the true translation in Greek, as only Greeks would understand it to be, was not that of an insect but rather actually a type of flower—
of which seemed to make much more sense.

So we get the complete picture of John…that he was a simple man,
living off and being sustained by the land.
Not the crazy loner off in the desert howling by the moon at night as he
has often been portrayed—perhaps more mad than wise.

And so as we note–John was very simple—
in turn bound by no worldly trappings what so ever ….

John both proclaimed as well as accused those of his day of having
lives way too full—
and that the time had come to make the choice…

The choice being between holding on to that which gets in the way of God or
to choose to move out and get rid of that which gets in the way…
getting rid of that which is separating ourselves from God and God alone.

Very much what we see society and our culture forcing upon us today—
Especially and particularly this time of year!

Our lives, particularly during Christmas, are so chocked full that we are
practically to our breaking point.

We are so full and overwhelmed with all that must be done to
make the “holidays” just so special, magical and wonderful…
on top of already busy lives with school and work….
that we are actually crowding out Jesus.

Crowding Him out from the very time He is to actually be at the center of
our focus.

Bishop Ashenden notes that John’s message of Metanoia, or that of our total change
and or transformation, is so important because it calls us to a new way of examining
things….

Yet at the same time the good Bishop admonishes us that…dare we say,
there is a spirit of evil actually at work, at this very moment, particularly now…
during this time of year that we are being called…called by God.
It is all so totally opposite of the call of the Holy Spirit.

For there is a force working to counter that call…
countering with the distractions and demands we actually throw upon ourselves
particularly at this time of year.

Shopping, church pageants, visits to Santa, picture taking, card writing and sending,
choir practice, school plays, sporting events, making costumes, wrapping gifts,
sorting, cooking, parties, cleaning, traveling…
all of this on top of the already endless demands of both work and school—
All of this becomes the priority while the true essence of Christ is pushed further
aside.

We fight to pretend and convince ourselves otherwise—
we rationalize that we are doing what we are doing because IT IS Christmas…
yet none of it has one single thing to do truly with Christmas—
or Christ Mass…

None of this is to be about lifestyle and clutter but about having the presence
of God at our forefront…as Bishop Ashenden pointedly asks…
“how much time then do you allot for prayer, the reading of scripture,
and loving the Lord?”…especially now during this chaotic time?

I found that I had to really look at what he was saying…
I had to look closely at what gets pushed aside…looking at what is then
actually pushing its way into being the priority….a false priortiy.
The priorities that society makes of us during this season…

Our culture clamors that we are to be all inclusive…and non discriminatory—
but should we not be exclusive and discriminatory over that which is demanding
to be the forefront of our focus—-all of which is not the true essence of Christ
nor of Christ Himself….

the mystery in misty memories

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in and loved
and where all your yesteryears are buried deep,
leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can.
Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better hour
because it is dead. Passed years seem safe ones,
vanquished ones, while the future lives in a cloud,
formidable from a distance.”

Beryl Markham


(a misty rising of the superman / Julie Cook / 2017)

Whispers slip out between scented branches…
caught lingering between the twinkling lights.

Each bauble, each ball, each special tangible memory calls out from ages past…
transporting the now to the then.

Broken, chipped, bent or faded…it matters not–
the flood of what once was cascades down upon the unexpected.

Voices long since silenced are suddenly as clear as a bell…
as a clock chimes upon a stocking draped mantle.

Each reopened box, each unearthed trinket,
dusty and now worse for the wear from the years of in and out,
dangles precariously on a needle encrusted branch…
bridging both space and time…yet caught between a sea of red and green.

A story line begins to unravel….as a tale of love, loss and even hope sits
arranged ever just so, inviting all to come behold.

For good or bad, we begin again…
Carrying on with and without…
and if we’re lucky, year in and year out…
As a Mystery breaks through the barriers of both life and death.

“The lack of mystery in our modern life is our downfall and our poverty.
A human life is worth as much as the respect it holds for the mystery.
We retain the child in us to the extent that we honor the mystery.
Therefore, children have open, wide-awake eyes,
because they know that they are surrounded by the mystery.
They are not yet finished with this world;
they still don’t know how to struggle along and avoid the mystery, as we do.
We destroy the mystery because we sense that here we reach the boundary
of our being,
because we want to be lord over everything and have it at our disposal,
and that’s just what we cannot do with the mystery…
Living without mystery means knowing nothing of the mystery of our own life,
nothing of the mystery of another person,
nothing of the mystery of the world;
it means passing over our own hidden qualities and those of others and the world.
It means remaining on the surface,
taking the world seriously only to the extent that it can be calculated
and exploited, and not going beyond the world of calculation and exploitation.
Living without mystery means not seeing the crucial processes of
life at all and even denying them.”

― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas