Today is big

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.
C.S. Lewis
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(Fireworks in the night sky / Assisi, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

Today is big…really big…
But there’s no time to chat…
Much preparations, cooking, cleaning, anticipating….
Just know that today is joyous, spectacular and a hugely big kind of day!!!
and I’ll be filling you in soon…..

They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

Psalm 145:7

lowly

“Only in God is found safety
When my enemy pursues me
Only in God is found glory
When I am found meek and found lowly. . .”

Lyrics Only in God by John Michael Talbot
based on Psalm 62

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(tiny toadstools / Troup Co / Julie Cook / 2015 )

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(tiny toadstools / Troup Co / Julie Cook / 2015 )

How often do we as Christians, who are in this world yet not of the world, find ourselves in need of a source of strength, of a place of refuge or even a sanctuary of solace?
Most likely we have a church body, or a bible study, or a group of committed friends who are often our spiritual mainstay—the meat and potatoes of one’s faith.
Yet, for some of us, that is not the case and we may find that we are more alone than not, cast adrift as it were, floundering on the seas of the tempest of temptation and struggle.

No matter where we may find ourselves along our Christian journey, chances are we will find that there are those moments and times when we need, when we desperately long, to retreat inwards.
We yearn and need to seek a time of quiet—-a time for reflection, a time of prayer and a time of meditation.

For me it has been those stolen interludes, here and there over the years, of solitude when I could lose myself within the music of John Michael Talbot. Ever since I was a senior in high school, I have been drawn to the songs–to the lyrics of this rather unassuming musician.
A man whose soothing voice, as he is accompanied usually by only his guitar, would / could worshipfully sing the psalms.

There has always been a pinpoint accuracy to his simple songs of worship, adoration, imploring and lamentation. . .
Reverence, honor, genuineness and honesty.
Singing the psalms, as I imagine them to have been sung by a lone cloistered monk or nun in his or her cell, alone, lost in deep thought before both Savior and God.

I have written a previous post about John Michael Talbot and his music, as well as the impact it has had on my own spiritual journey.
https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/o-divine-master/

John Michael Talbot, who is more monk than anything else, is a Third Order Franciscan who lives, along with his wife, in a Catholic Community– The Little Portion Hermitage in Berryville, Arkansas.

http://littleportion.org

An odd place to find a cloistered community of both lay and religious folk alike who live in a place named for St Francis’s original cloistered community in Assisi, Italy—yet it is a comfort knowing that there are such places that exist in this ever maddening world of ours.

Psalm 62 has always been one of my favorite psalms as it speaks so rawly to my own inner struggles with the unseen God of my Salvation.
It is truly in Him where I find my rest.
It is to Him I run when the world has had its way with me–leaving me battered and bruised.
A stronghold and anchor in which I may tether myself as I wait out the storms of life.
He is always greater, while I am reminded that I am indeed, forever smaller.

Yet even in all of His greatness, He not only sees and notices, but He actually knows. . .me.
And it is during such times that I am often reminded, rightfully so, that I am indeed less than.
That I can separate myself from the world—a world that so often puffs up its inhabitants steeping them in arrogance and self-centeredness.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for those who feel their worldly importance to ever humble
themselves to the Creator of all of Creation.

John Michael Talbot’s simple yet powerful rendition of Psalm 62 has always helped to recenter me—as it has always had a way of bringing me back to the beautifully complicated relationship I have with the Creator of all of Creation. . .

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.
Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.
One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”

Psalm 62

It’s time to reclaim my friends

Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.
Rabindranath Tagore

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(long abandoned blue bird eggs / Julie Cook / 2014)

I know they were just two trees.
I know they were sick.
I know they needed to be cut . . .
. . .yet they were more than just trees.
They were homes.
They were alfresco dinning.
They were shelter.
They were shade.

Adjusting to their absence is not proving easy.
Just walking outside, immediately into the blinding sun, is a constant and very hot reminder–as are the two massive bare spots now covered in straw.

There is one glaring change, however, that is proving almost too painful to bare.
The sound.
There is no sound.
No rustling of leaves.
No rush of wind.
Yet the most startling loss of sound is from my feathered freinds.
No chirping.
No singing.
No fluttering of my birds.

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This image of St Francis is on a little card I picked up several years ago when visiting Assisi. It is one of my favorite images of Francis. There is adoration, joy, wonderment, and even serenity.
Arms outstretched, wounds of a stigmata are bourn on hands and feet. . .and the birds rejoice!

The birds rejoice.

And so, with that notion in mind. . .it was time I took matters into my own hands—It was time for me to bring back my birds!! The bevy of constant activity and action taking place on a daily basis just past my window in the two beautifully majestic oaks–both now gone, now silent, now bare.

Fast forward to this morning. . .

I pulled into the massive parking lot, practically jumping from my car, immediately grabbing a buggy (aka for non southerners, shopping cart) and making my way inside the store like a crazy woman on a mission, I then make a bee line to the source of my need.

I push the cart past the ant poison, grabbing two cans–can’t ever have enough ant poison, past the displays of fake christmas trees (helllooo we haven’t even had Halloween yet. . .I digress), past the tropical plants,ooooo pretty orchids–pay attention!! all the way to the back wall.
Looking past the rows of fertilizers, past the potions of weed be gone, past the bottles of gopher poison (do we even have gophers and why should we be killing them??)
Oh, look, sacks upon sacks of rattlesnake killer. . .interesting. . .do I need that?
FOCUS!!!

Moving methodically along the shelf, I finally stop dead in my tracks, for at last, the path of searching and seeking has finally lead to that which I have so desperately sought—-the bird feeders, the bird seeds, the bird houses, the bird suet, the mealy worms?!. . .
EXCELLENT!!

“Cut down my trees. . .huh uh”
Defiant thoughts run through my head as I gleefully pile my buggy (cart) to the brim as if in a trance.

Once back home, it’s assembly time.
I bought a telescopic “pole” thingie, of which will take the place of a tree. I know, I know, it’s a stretch yes, but I was a girl scout—one must always be prepared and must make do with what’s available!!!
Locating a sledge hammer, I proceed to pound that sucker into the ground. It will afford me to hang up 4 feeders. Woooowhooooo!
I found a cute little suet house which holds two suet packs.
I found a really interesting feeder that holds 4 pre molded pods of seed. Oh the advancements in feeding the birds!
Ooooooo!!

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Finally putting on all the finishing touches, I step back to admire my bird “retreat”

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Hummmmmm. . .
Too much?
Ok, so maybe it’s a bit over the top.
Maybe it makes me look a tad desperate. Don’t answer that.
Maybe Peaches is not exactly a welcoming mat (welcoming cat, get it. . . digressing)
Now it is time to head back inside and wait.
And woe to first raccoon, with hot little paws, attempting to undo what I spent all afternoon doing–otherwise I’ll be right back at that store taking a close second look at that gopher poison. . .just saying.

Valleys

“When walking through the “valley of shadows,” remember, a shadow is cast by a Light.”
Austin O’Malley

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(a beautiful view of the Basilica Papale di San Francesco and the sweeping valley below Assisi as seen from a journey up to the summit of the hill town ,The Rocca Maggiore Castle / Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

Today all of mankind walks through the valley of the shadow of death,
as a veil is pulled across all clarity.
Unbeknownst to humankind, a war currently wages for its very soul.
Oblivious to the cost paid, the sacrifice made or the blood spilt,
the sons of Adam strut about in the small world they have created for themselves.

Angels and demons wrestle over the lives of clueless specters as
the former Bearer of Light holds court.
Shoulders contort as bones separate from familiar joints.
Lungs burn desperately for oxygen as stretched muscles ache pushing upward for air.

Wails and cries mix in a never-ending cacophony of agony,
as a mother’s heart breaks.
Memories of the nine months of wonder and awe suddenly give way to the Prophet’s cries.
Death’s cold hand grazes her cheek as he sweeps toward the cross.
The secrets held deep in her heart, now smashed into a thousand drops of blood,
while her tears fall to dust.

“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani”
The heaviness of a breathless statement is carried away on the wind,
as those who have come to gawk, cackle with glee.
“Where is you god now prophet?”
“Free yourself and us, oh you mighty king”
Scorn and ridicule horrifically collide into conviction and hope.

The hour finally draws nigh as Day gives way to Night.
Light lets go, allowing Darkness its false victory.
With the toll now paid, as the demons dance and shout, the lone Creator turns His back.
Man, still unaware of his role, sports the Innocent’s blood on his hands.

Silence is all that remains.
The deep dark emptiness filling the void turned tomb,
as the Earth trembles and quakes.
There is no hope.
Not today.
“It is finished” is all He said.

Day and Night, how wondrous….

The day is Yours,

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and Yours also the night;

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You established the sun

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and moon.

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It was You who set all the boundaries of the earth;
You made both summer

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and winter.

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Psalm 74:14 NIV

I thank you and praise you oh Lord.
I am humbled and awed by the majesty of your hand.
For you are the Creator and I am the created–I am a part of your hand, your thoughts, your desires…..for in you I have my breath, my hope, my life, my all….

Images from: Assisi, Italy / Piazza del Comune / 2007
Crater Lake / Oregon/ 2013
Santa Rosa, Florida / 2011
St Francis in the snow / 2011

Do the impossible

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
St. Francis of Assisi
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This photograph is an image of one of the beautiful Umbrian valleys surrounding the peaceful hill town of Assisi. The view of this sweeping valley is one that Francesco Bernardone, later known simply as St. Francis, gazed upon most assuredly, often. There is indeed a serenity to this area of Italy, as it issues, beckoning and inviting, a whisper that seductively yet warmly calls out to anyone who is restless of spirit.

I imagine that a young Francesco often retreated to these hills, forlorn and heavy of heart, as he wrestled within himself….the young troubadour and dandy whose days and nights were idly filled with shallow friends and raucous wanton carousing…and yet, all the while inwardly, Francesco was so very heavy with conflicting emotions. A crisis of self. A crossroads with soon to be explosive results.

What better place to contemplate ones life.

The air heavy with the scent of jasmine, the wind gently stirring the grasses covering the endless hillsides as the sun radiantly sparkles in a deep Giotto blue sky. I imagine our young Francesco laying on his back nestled in the swaying grass, arms folded behind his head, gazing skyward wondering why he was so unhappy. Fretful, unsettled, burdened.

When God calls, there is no stopping what then follows… we can never go back and we can never be the same. We may run as hard and as fast as we can in the opposite direction. We run out of fear and even out of anger. We fight the call by denying His very existence–we go to the brink of the abyss, but He will stand fast…waiting.

The conflict within will come to a crashing crescendo. The chaos colliding with the Divine. The old self must die giving way to a new birth of a new self. That is the miracle. Not so much the great and grand works we then are to accomplish but rather that we are transformed and reborn–that we are changed forever.

Saul had his road to Damascus. He was a mercenary answering really to no one but himself. He was paid to uncover and route out the new rebellious lot of the followers of the crucified man from Nazareth. Much like a modern day hit man or assassin. He went about his paid commission with steely and unemotional precision. The job paid well and he actually sadistically enjoyed it.

Sometimes our hearts are so cold and blind that our eyes must be blinded in order to get our attention. Extreme living often requires extreme turn abouts. It matters not how hard we may live, how bad, how destructive we wish to be, when the call comes, as it most likely will, we will be purged.

Are you restless of spirit, are you troubled…or are you seemingly living the perfect life, happy and supposedly content, yet there is just something unsettled deep within? Perhaps you must seek the solitude of self in order to determine the cause of the wrinkles of heart. Is God calling, beckoning…is there greatness in you that even you yourself deny?

We all have our time contemplating our existence, our roads to Damascus—the question remains… how long will we travel and contemplate before we finally recognize the One who is calling? How long will it take until we are ready to do the job we are called to do by the One who knows that we are the only one who can do this one particular chore….

We may run, but we cannot hide….When He calls, there will be no turning back…..Why is it then that you are still running so very fast so very far away…..He will stand fast, He will wait—you are needed to do the impossible.

O Divine Master

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“O Divine Master, grant that I may not seek to be consoled, as to console. To be understood, as to understand. To be loved, as to love. For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
― St. Francis of Assisi

Growing up, I don’t know exactly when or where it actually took place or how it all began, but I always seemed to knew about St. Francis. He seemed to be just a part of my young life’s knowledge bank. Not so much about his story or history. Not the sinner to saint route of passage. Rather it was most likely because he was always associated with animals. Every time I ever found a small wounded bird, baby chipmunk or the typical little garden shrew out in the yard (growing up in the city our “wildlife” was a bit limited), I would run in the house to find a shoebox all the while silently praying that St. Francis would help the little animal I was about to “nurse” back to health. Unfortunately not many, if any, of my patients survived.

Later in my life, when I was a senior in high school and active in Young Life (a nondenominational Christian Youth Group that reached across all local schools), I was introduced to the music of John Michael Talbot. My knowledge of Mr. Talbot, or Bother John ,was a sort of quasi understanding. I knew he was a Franciscan, but that he was married. He was involved with a “community” of like minded Franciscans…secular and religious alike, out in Arkansas. Seemed an odd place for a group of Franciscans as I thought that group was Italian in origin. So much for my limited Anglican understanding.

But it was the music, the hauntingly prayerful music that deeply spoke to my soul. Suddenly I was hearing a voice, along with the right inflection of tone, that reached down to my core and invoked my actual feelings of need—just how I felt and wished to express myself in that meditative type of prayer–but it was all put to music–a simple yet beautiful arrangement of music.

The album, yes the big vinyl wonderful scratched albums of my youth, the album that I most clearly remember was/ is “Come To The Quiet”–an album based entirely on the Psalms. John Michael Talbot was singing the Psalms—as the Psalms, in ancient Jewish tradition were intended to be sung. This 70’s something little city girl Episcopalian had no idea. To me they had just been a recited part of the liturgical service at Church. A seemingly boring mantra that we used throughout our service. But here, this was different. Here in this album, with this unseen voice, spoke emotion—the same emotion that was buried deep within my being just waiting for the right pry-bar to come along and lift the heavy seal, awakening my own soul.

Thus began my love for John Michael Talbot, his music, as well as for his story, plus my life long love of the Psalms—those prayers of anguish or joy that always seem to best capture my heart and my cries and my pleas to my unseen Creator. Brother John and his wife helped lead a singing ministry and helped to create the Little Portion Hermitage out in Arkansas–a Franciscan based community for laity and religious alike wishing to live in a cloistered catholic Franciscan tradition. This is where I learned that the secular individual, the regular person who is not a nun, monk or priest, can actually follow in the Franciscan tradition by becoming a part of the Third Order—taking vows similar to those seeking to live a life in a religious order but still maintaining life in the “outside” world such as at work or those who are married.

There was such a peacefulness in those albums. I remember buying the cassette tapes, playing them over and over in my car. I used them as a type of prayer–especially when I was in college. College being such a difficult place for a young growing Christian. Those tapes were a type of lifeline to me and God. My own soul would cry out as the voice on the tapes cried out to God. I can still vividly recall sitting out in my car waiting for class to begin, in the early hours of morning, watching the sun climb into the sky, listening to and praying with the songs on that particular tape. Over and over…clinging to the words as if when I got out of the car, I suddenly entered “the World” and it was not always a place where I could easily hang on to God.

All these many years later, I still have a CD of ‘Come to the Quiet’ in my car with my favorite Psalm being tract 10, Psalm 62 (I also love the last tract as well, Psalm 131–the namesake of the album–come to the quiet)—tears still well in my eyes as I sing/ pray the words of that powerful claim. He is my stronghold, my rock and my deliverer………