there’s a shadow…..

“There is strong shadow where there is much light.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


(Lorenzo Costa / 1490 / Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France)

Birth usually brings with it a great deal of joy, expectation as well as a fair share
of anticipation…
Yet in some rare instances, there is sadly a presence of foreboding.
As in something troublesome is looming while the expected state of gladness is not
entirely free of worry.

A feeling of something, yet not quite known or understood….just a sense.

For it is both anticipation and foreboding to which we, the faithful, must now look.

Never mind that as much as we may prefer to simply bask in the glory of the news of
this happy and tender moment, we are reminded that a shadow is constantly present.

Anticipation: a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action
b the act of looking forward; especially : pleasurable expectation

Forbode: to have an inward conviction of (something, such as a coming ill or misfortune)

Looking at this particular image of the Nativity, painted by the Italian artist Lorenzo Costa, I am drawn to the expression on Joseph’s face.
Should there not be a smile?
What of an assumed expression of happiness and even pride
in the birth of this new child?

Yet instead of exultation and happiness,
those emotions are replaced by an expression of sadness, perhaps even sorrow.
There is a resignation of something greater than….
greater than we the viewer are privy to.

Mary’s eyes also allude to something other than jubilation over the birth of this
child of hers.
There is a feeling of the resolute hiding behind a prayerful countenance.

And even the child himself…resigned.

And where we have spent the past month or longer reveling in all things Christmas…
with the culmination of jubilation coming about on Christmas Day…
as the faithful marked, once again, the birth of the Christ Child….
there remains a shadow….an ominous foreboding shadow.

For this particular birth brings with it more than the joy to be experienced at the birth of a child….for this child, this glad tiding, is no mere child….

Eight day’s following the birth and the mysterious visits of strangers, both meek and
grand, the child was brought to the Temple, as religious custom dictated, to be
circumcised. And following which, also with custom, the time of the presentation, purification and sacrifice as required.

At this time a strange old man approached the young family.
Mary drew the child close to her breast as the stranger continued coming closer, arms open wide, babbling and now reaching for the babe.

But there was something oddly familiar in the way this man was speaking, something that
moved Mary to volunteer the baby, with now her own outstretched arms,
giving up her child just as she would eventually have to offer up her son for
the salvation of all mankind…

“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
as you have promised.
I have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared for all people.
He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him.
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother,
“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise.
He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him.
As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Luke 2:29-35

A shadow draws across the jubilation…..

see, hear then seek….

It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.
Mother Teresa


(image courtesy the web)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—-
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah,the Lord.
This will be a sign for you:
you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds
said to one another,
“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place,
which the Lord has made known to us.”
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph,
and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,
as it had been told them.

Luke 2:8-20

Imagine yourself a rather lonely shepherd sitting watch throughout a long dark night.
Your livelihood is your herd of sheep.
It’s how you make money.
It’s how you care for your family.
It’s how you feed your family.
As your sheep’s existence depends upon you and your existence depends
upon your sheep.

During the passover,
you sell your sheep, the young lambs, to those who want to offer sacrifices for
their faith.
Your sheep are important to you as they are important to the faithful.

You lead the sheep to fertile fields for feeding, you sheer them when its time,
you keep count of the ewes, rams and lambs and you watch out for any predators.

Sheep need tending to—they are considered to be defenseless animals as well as
not very bright or smart.

They eat, sit, stand, sleep…. and they run.
They run if they sense trouble—that’s about the extent of their defenses.
They do not take a stand.
They will not fight to the death.
And they don’t always run far or totally out of harm’s way.
They will scatter, not knowing how to find their way back to the herd.
A lone sheep is a defenseless sheep.
Their adversary is more stealthy, faster and more determined and knows how
to disperse a herd.

So sheep need a shepherd.
They need an overseer.
And thus the shepherd keeps watch, both day and night.
Yet it is in the night that the shepherd must be more keen to watch because
predators prefer to do their hunting in the dark of night.

There are only a few out this night, watching.
Most likely it is you and a few relatives, as this has been how your family has made a living since you grandfather’s father and his father before him made their way.
Maybe tonight it’s just you and your brother-n-law, or maybe it’s an uncle and a cousin
who have joined you during this dark lonely night.

Each of you pull the woolen blankets tighter around your shoulders because the air is
more chilly then usual.
The herd seems a bit agitated.
Do they smell a predator?
Have they heard something edging its way closer?

The moon is not full yet the night sky is oddly bright.
You scan the sprawling and now eerily lit field, looking for any sort of movement.

Looking upward into the inky night sky, you notice a single star casting an
unusual intense direct light.
Are your eyes playing tricks or is the night slowly becoming more like day?
Looking toward to where the light is cast, you can actually make out the far-off
silhouette of Bethlehem—because the star seems to be directly over and actually illuminating the sleepy little quiet town.

You call your kinsmen to come close.
What do they make of the oddly lit sky.
What do they know of Bethlehem.
This town which bore the King David.

And just when you are pondering the oddity of this particular bright star, you are
suddenly aware that you are no longer alone.
It’s no longer just you, your relatives and the sheep on this lonely chilly night.

There is a multitude of beings you have never seen before.
Before you have time to even focus on what you are witnessing, they speak.

“Fear not” they say….

as you suddenly realize you actually have no fear.

They speak with authority and they explain the reason for the star.
They explain good news.
They explain a birth.
They explain salvation.
and not some sort of generic salvation, but….
your salvation.

In that your salvation has just been born and is to be tangibly found—
lying directly underneath the light from the very star that you had
noticed shining over the far distanced town of Bethlehem…..

Oddly you don’t feel the need to decipher or discern…you don’t feel confused or
disoriented.
You are neither overwhelmed or dismayed—rather you are fully alert and
in the minute…the only thing you feel is now a sense of urgency to go to
see this newly born “Salvation”….

As it is now to this star that you know you must now go….

And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
Daniel 12:3

St Stephens Day

You desire that which exceeds my humble powers,
but I trust in the compassion and mercy of the All-powerful God.

Saint Stephen


(portion of the Demidoff Altarpiece 1476 / The National Gallery / London, England)

In the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke praises St. Stephen as
“a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit,” who
“did great wonders and signs among the people”
during the earliest days of the Church.

Luke’s history of the period also includes the moving scene of Stephen’s death –
witnessed by St. Paul before his conversion –
at the hands of those who refused to accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

Stephen himself was a Jew who most likely came to believe in Jesus
during the Lord’s ministry on earth. He may have been among the 70 disciples
whom Christ sent out as missionaries, who preached the coming of God’s kingdom while traveling with almost no possessions.

This spirit of detachment from material things continued in the early Church,
in which St. Luke says believers “had all things in common”
and “would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all,
as any had need.”

But such radical charity ran up against the cultural conflict between
Jews and Gentiles, when a group of Greek widows felt neglected
in their needs as compared to those of a Jewish background.

Stephen’s reputation for holiness led the Apostles to choose him,
along with six other men,
to assist them in an official and unique way as this dispute arose.
Through the sacramental power given to them by Christ,
the Apostles ordained the seven men as deacons,
and set them to work helping the widows.

As a deacon, Stephen also preached about Christ as the fulfillment of the
Old Testament law and prophets. Unable to refute his message,
some members of local synagogues brought him before their religious authorities,
charging him with seeking to destroy their traditions.

Stephen responded with a discourse recorded in the seventh chapter of the Acts
of the Apostles.
He described Israel’s resistance to God’s grace in the past,
and accused the present religious authorities of “opposing the Holy Spirit”
and rejecting the Messiah.

Before he was put to death, Stephen had a vision of Christ in glory.
“Look,” he told the court,
“I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”

The council, however, dragged the deacon away and stoned him to death.

“While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,’”
records St. Luke in Acts 7.
“Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice,
‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’
When he had said this, he died.”

The first Christian martyrdom was overseen by a Pharisee named Saul –
later Paul, and still later St. Paul –
whose own experience of Christ would transform him into a believer,
and later a martyr himself.

—Catholic News Agency

Seek Him

Christmas tells a different story.
It tells us that a deeper moral change comes from encountering the
Presence who loves us, instead of threatening us;
Who comes to find us instead of shaming us;
who comes to change the human heart by offering it compassion and forgiveness
instead of forcing and humiliating us.
Christmas is ‘God with us’ rather than the ‘state over us.’

Bishop Gavin Ashenden


(image courtesy the web)

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests!”
Luke 2:14

“God has done everything; he has done the impossible: he was made flesh.
His all-powerful love has accomplished something which surpasses all human
understanding:
the Infinite has become a child,
has entered the human family.
And yet, this same God cannot enter my heart unless I open the door to him.”

Pope Benedict XVI

A very Merry Christmas to all of my family, friends and dear blogging family,
each and everyone…be they near or far…

Pax

Eve’s “No” verses Mary’s “Yes”

“i imagine that yes is the only living thing.”
E.E. Cummings


(Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden / Masaccio / 1425 / Florence )


(Bicci di Lorenzo / 1433-1434 / The Annunciation panels / private collection)

Please enjoy the Christmas Eve Homily offered by Bishop Gavin Ashenden.
Bishop Ashenden raises an interesting observation…

That in Eve’s having said “no” to God—in her refusal to His obedience,
man then fell victim to the addiction to sin and disobedience.

Mary in turn counters that sinfulness no by offering her simple “yes”….

And in Mary’s yes…she brings us all to God’s saving Grace.
Of which brings to all of humankind, through the birth of her son Yeshua,
the freedom from this never-ending cycle of disobedient addiction…

when the sacred becomes the forgotten

Those who love desire to share with the beloved.
They want to be one with the beloved, and Sacred Scripture shows us the great
love story of God for his people which
culminated in Jesus Christ.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate.
Let them not be quite forgotten at the throne of God when the simple
come into their kingdom.

Evelyn Waugh


(detail of the face of an antique french crucifix I bought several years ago at
an antique show / Julie Cook / 2017)

The other day when I was listening to the latest segment of Anglican Unscripted
featuring my favorite man of the cloth and rebel with a Cause, Bishop Gavin Ashenden,
I was struck by something the good bishop said—
yet it wasn’t something you would have thought would have or should have
made any sort of profound impact on me or on anyone else for that matter—
but it did.

I would bet that it wasn’t even something that the good bishop would probably
have thought anyone really even noticed he had said.

Bishop Ashenden was offering a bit of an aside about a recent trip to Normandy…
just idle chatter really with the host—
as it seems Normandy is a place where he and his wife often enjoy visiting
as it seems they have a “retreat” there in Northern France.
And it just so happens to be a place where they seem to enjoy visiting various
antique / flea markets…

The good bishop made mention that during such shopping adventures,
he’s always on the hunt for all things nautical.
A nod to his father who had severed in the Royal Navy during the war and had taken his young son on many a sailing adventures.

But it wasn’t to sailing or to all things nautical that caught my attention but rather
the single one line he offered just following his explanation of his antique quests…
and that being “and to rescue crucifixes”

Seems the good bishop also keeps an eye out for the antique and vintage crucifix.

Funny….I do too.

And I have for most of my life.

When I was maybe 11 or maybe 12, my dad took us on a “vacation” as we drove
from Atlanta to Lake Charles, Louisiana to attend the wedding of my oldest cousin.

Dad thought he’d be smart and kill two birds with a couple of stones by
turning our having to attend a wedding into a family vacation—
as well as marking his and mom’s anniversary which was to take place while
on the road.

We stopped in Mobile on the way out and toured a submarine.
We went to Vicksburg and Natchez to visit old stately plantations and now silent battlefields.
We visited with cousins and family in both Lake Charles and Monroe as I even found
a first young love in our cousin’s neighbor—a boy about my age.

On our return home, we stopped in the Big Easy to get a youthful education on
the more profane side of life…
Bourbon Street, to a preteen and her 6 year old brother, was truly an eye opening
life lesson.

While in New Orleans, we visited The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France,
otherwise known to most folks as St Louis Cathedral.
It was in the bookstore that dad bought a small marble replica of Michelangelo’s
Pieta. He also bought something for me…a small black wood and silver crucifix.

That crucifix sat by my bedside, resting on the bedside table for the remainder
of my growing up…a symbolic and tangible link to the words
spoken in Matthew–“Lo, I am with you always, until the end of time…”
this was the hand reaching out to literally hold my hand–
especially over the years when I would find myself scared, sad or upset…
He was always there.
It even went with me to college as well as beyond.

And it seems that I’ve had an affinity for such ever since.

Now this is not a post to defend or deny the image of a crucifix,
I’ve done that.
Nor is this a post to defend or deny the Christian’s undeniable link to the image
of the cross,
I’ve done that.
Nor is this a post about the notion of the cross becoming a trendy fashion object
rather than a sacred religious symbol,
I’ve done that one as well.

But I do want to look a little further into this notion of “rescuing crucifixes.”

I’ve obviously been doing just that since as long as I can remember—
Often times in my purchasing history, these crosses have started out as new.
Yet as I grew and aged, finding myself visiting various flea markets and
antique shops, first with my mother then later with my aunt and friends,
I found myself unconsciously gravitating to antique Christian religious items.

My gathering has not been relegated only to crosses but there are small figurines
of the saints, Orthodox Icons, very old ‘finger’ bibles or the Book of Common Prayer
and even very old rosaries….

With the largest rescue being about a 3 foot tall, badly damaged,
very old, antique French plaster crucifix.
A crucifix that I would imagine to have once been a part of a local parish
church somewhere in France.

I’ve written about this cross before…and it is an interesting post about the
cross and its known history…a tale that, now having finished The Book Thieves,
makes me even more keenly aware of European religious items and books that have
been long lost, destroyed and or misplaced…all the victims of two world wars.

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/the-relic-the-mystery-and-theres-just-something-about-those-eyes/

But it wasn’t until I heard Bishop Ashenden actually verbalize the notion of
‘rescuing crucifixes’ that the thought dawned on me—

Why are we having to rescue them?

Why have they come up so randomly and obviously missing in the first place?

These items that someone once held dear and precious–
items instrumental to ones spiritual life and growth that are now simply sitting
forgotten on some dusty old random shelf of some shop or tucked away in some
booth at some sort of flea market…has me actually more sad then vexed.

And so I wonder, when was it exactly, when did we allow the sacred to become the
forgotten…

And in so doing…are we allowing our very faith to fade….

“Then they will know that I am the LORD their God because I made them go
into exile among the nations, and then gathered them again to their own land;
and I will leave none of them there any longer.

Ezekiel 39:28

Salvator Mundi

“Secularism is no friend of Christ.”
Melody Phillips, journalist for the London Times


(Salvator Mundi / Leonardo da Vinci cica 1500)

Salvator Mundi, or Savior of the world….

A haunting image is it not?
Soft, other worldly and ethereal yet also equally powerful.

Look into those eyes…

At first glance the sockets appear gauzy, almost empty or perhaps out of focus.
Yet upon further inspection, the eyes seem to be like a window, opening into a
different realm or dimension..as in, they invite the viewer to look further
and venture deeper to someplace else.

This particular painting by Leonardo just set a record sale at Christie’s Auction
House, fetching the highest amount ever paid for a single painting…
approximately 450 million dollars.
The buyer is so far undisclosed.

And there is an entire post alone waiting to be written about this particular painting,
of this particular version….but that is for another day—
for today we have more important issues to discuss.

Savior of the World—-
that is indeed, for the Christian believer, Jesus Christ.

He was not simply a moral teacher, a philosopher or Jewish rabbi…
He was, just as He said and just He remains today—
The Savior of the World.

He is of one point to the three pointed triangle of the Trinity.

It is through Him and Him alone that anyone is to be saved.

It is not through good works, it is not through thoughtful actions….
it is only through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Therefore to repent.

To die unto self.

To believe in His Resurrection and His saving Grace.

Grace.

As in nothing done by one’s self…for Grace is beyond self.

Saved from self, from sin, from death…..

That is the summation of the Gospel.

The Bible, particularly the New Testament is the Holy inspired, written retelling
regarding that summation—the Good News.

It is the lynchpin of Christianity.

There is no Heaven, no Salvation, no Grace, no Hope without Jesus Christ.

He is the only way.

And yet today we have mainline churches who are pushing, have pushed,
that one key integral component to Christianity to the side.

It has become secondary to their now all consuming main focus of secularism.

For those who adhere to the progressive Christian narrative,
they are the ones who have decided to make an alliance with those who
push for all things secular…

Progressive, uptick, Christians who now believe and embrace the stance that
the world would have them embrace….and that is to see Christianity in a 21st century,
more modern image.

Yet what they fail to understand is that such a “friendship” will be the death of the Christian Church as we know it.

In the latest interview of Gavin Ashenden on Anglican Unscripted, he makes this
point perfectly clear.

Bishop Ashenden notes that the “anti Christian Secular Narrative is being
swallowed whole as if it is Christianity—
and it is most certainly not”

That narrative being the open acceptance of same sex marriage, openly gay clergy,
the embracing of transgenderism, newly defined family units…
all the while making it clearly known that, anyone opposed to such, shall be
labeled as a hate mongerer…anti love, anti accepting, anti whatever…..
never mind that the lies offered up as a new progressive gospel run counter to
the actual word of God.

In steps a woman named Lorna Asworth.

Lorna is Saskatchewan by birth and was raised as a Mennonite.
But as Life has its way, she married a Brit who was Anglican and so
the UK and the Church of England have now been her home ever since.

That is until most recently.

Lorna has been an active member of the laity who works very closely with the clergy
as she has risen in the lay ranks within the working body of the Church of England.

Yet when someone like Lorna tenders her resignation from said working body of the
Church of England, such a resignation, one would dare assume,
would not, should not, be cause for some sort of henny penny
the sky is falling sort of reaction…yet that is exactly what has happened.

This mild mannered wife, mother and church lay worker who considers herself
a conservative Evangelical Anglican has been active on the Archbishop’s
Council as well as serving in the General Synod for the past 12 years,
has found herself at the center of a growing maelstrom and as somewhat of
a poster child if you will, for the Orthodox voice of the Church.

Lorna recently granted an interview with Anglican Unscripted where she explains her decision to ‘abdicate’ her position from the Church’s working body as
she explains what is currently happening to the Church.

She explains that the Church has lost its way.
It has left behind those who continue to claim the Gospel as the true teaching of the Church. “The Glory of the Lord has departed as the Church of England
is moving outside the presence of God.”

“There are now two different Religious communities.
One is rooted in Christ and its right to ask for the Holy Spirit.
The Second is not—and is where Glory has disappeared.”

Lorna verbalizes so clearly what so many others now feel.
“What am I to do?”
I didn’t leave them, they left me”

She spoke of meetings where those more conservative members would actually
cite scripture to reinforce a point only to be met by rolling eyes and even jeers
from the more progressive attendees.

She cites that the Church is no longer talking about Jesus and the saving message
of Christ as she actually uses the word heresy when describing what is taking place
within the Church.

And in order for the Church to save herself from the inevitable implosion,
Lorna warns that there must be repentance, from the top down.
“We have lost what it is to fear (respect in some translations) the Lord.
If you fear the Lord, you will fear nothing else…and we have lost that.”

And so we leave it to a Jewish woman, one who leans a bit right in her
journalistic style, to write an article for the London Times noting that the departure
of Lorna Asworth from the Church is putting the Church of England on a trajectory
involved in self destruction.

As in it appears everyone gets it but the Church herself….

https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2017/17-november/news/uk/lorna-ashworth-resigns-from-general-synod-over-revisionism