Lord, I stand in awe

“Lord, help me to make time today to serve you in those who are most
in need of encouragement or assistance.”

St. Vincent de Paul


(Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2019)

“Fear of the Lord does not mean to be afraid of God.
St. John tells us that where there is love, there is no fear.
Rather, fear of the Lord is to stand in awe and wonder before the greatness of the Lord.
It is to recognize that God is the creator and we are the creatures.
Fear of the Lord should lead us to praise and worship.”

Rev. Jude Winkler, OFM, p.95
An Excerpt From
Daily Meditations with the Holy Spirit

What are we to do?

“Make up your mind,” Moab says. “Render a decision. Make your shadow like night – at high noon. Hide the fugitives, do not betray the refugees.”
Isaiah 16:3

DSC02486
(a morning glory found deep in the woods / Julie Cook / 2015)

Both Lucy Lipiner and Gerda Weissmann Klein have a tale to tell. . .

Each woman weaves a story steeped in the sweet innocence of childhood which is suddenly and unimaginably lost in the midst of unspeakable horrors. . .yet thankfully theirs is a tale of eventual survival and of small yet victorious triumphs.

There are a few differences between these two woman of which create two very individual stories. . .
Differences such as their age and the fact that they were each born in different small towns.
Yet it is to the similarities between them that inextricably binds them together for all of eternity.
I am pretty certain that these woman do not personally know one another nor have they ever met, but I somehow think that in many ways they have known one another very well for a very long time as they have both survived the unimaginable stemming from the same wicked source. . .

Each woman was born in Poland and each woman was born into a Jewish family.
Whoever would have imagined that those two seemingly insignificant factors would mark these women for the rest of their lives by placing them in the valley of the shadow of Death. Had they been born say, in America or Canada, or England, their stories would certainly have been less then memorable. Lives lived as mostly anyone else’s.
But because they were born in a country lying in the path of a very hungry and vicious animal, tragedy was to be their lot.

I have finished reading Lucy’s tale and have now begun Gerda’s equally gripping story.
As I waited in the dentist office yesterday, reading until I was called back, I had tears flooding my eyes as I read the story of an individual family, like my own family or anyone’s family, being ripped apart as they stood by helpless to prevent the rupture.

Despite the fact that these two lady’s stories took place over 70 years ago, I have been struck by the similarities of the worldwide current plights now littering our news.

Each was a young girl when The War broke out–when Germany marched forth seizing Poland as its own.
Each girl came from a prominent family within their respective towns. They were loved, nurtured and happy living their lives as innocent children.

I think it is Lucy’s story that I have found to be most relevant to any story I might read in today’s paper—that of any number of families fleeing Syria or Egypt or Turkey or Somalia or Tunisia, or Eritrea, etc.— each seeking refuge from the unspeakable horrors of the upheaval of what was an average life.

Lucy’s family was on the run for almost 10 years. Starting when she was 6 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939– they became just another statistic of families in the throng of the displaced as they sought refuge in the Soviet Union and later Tajikistan then briefly back to Poland and ironically to Germany and eventually to the US.
There was death, violence, sexual abuse, grave hunger, incapacitating illness, loss, sorrow, separation and near madness.

They had been a family like any other family–they had a nice home, nice clothes, nice jewelry. They went to Temple. They enjoyed their extended family. They attended school. They had jobs. They played music as they lived, loved and laughed—-

Suddenly life took a turn beyond their control and they lost everything–they became hunted, like animals. They were reduced to wearing clothes turned to rags as there was no longer choice. They lost weight. They were hungry. They were infested with bugs, inside and out. They ate rotten trash and drank fetid water to quell an endless hunger. They were dirty, they smelled. They were sick both physically, spiritually and mentally.
They were shells of human beings.

Miraculously the family remained intact but it came at a tremendous cost to each member of the family. They survived in part due the kindness of those strangers and individuals encountered along the long and arduous journey who were willing to offer aid, shelter and comfort, as meager as it was. . .to dirty and seemingly unsavory subhuman individuals who were considered enemies of every state simply for being Jewish.

Yesterday’s news ran a story about the discovery of a lorry, or tractor trailer, abandoned on a road in Austria containing at least 70 dead bodies of migrants, or refugees, who were on what they thought to be a journey to freedom.

Today there was the story of another capsized ship losing possibly 500 individuals–men, women and children drowning while on their way to freedom.

There have been the stories of the Chunnel being overrun and shut down, day after day, by the thousands of migrants in Calais seeking asylum and freedom.

There was the story of an arson attack on a migrant shelter in Germany, as Angela Merkel was booed by those Germans not wanting to see Germany overrun by the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking safe haven.

It is said that the current influx of migrants from both Africa and the Middle East is the largest exodus of people since World War II.

A humanitarian crisis of epic proportion.

The worry– how will the small European Nations absorb the millions of people running away from tyranny, abuse and horror. . .how will they be able to provide for all of these “other” people as they continue providing for their own. . .?

These refugees are different–culturally, religiously and ethnically.

Later I read a story about the marking the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The story told the tale of how one group of New Orleans citizens did not want the “other” New Orleans citizens, those who were the evacuees coming from the more disadvantaged areas, to cross the bridge bringing them into the more affluent neighborhoods.

These citizens were afraid of being overrun with what was thought to be unsavory individuals bringing with them drugs, crime and violence—those citizens coming from the areas which were known to be rife with such—
And I suppose some of those feelings may have been justified after we heard the stories of the rapes and murders taking place within the Superdome when it was opened to those evacuating the lower 9th ward.

Is it fear that keeps us weary, holding our arms outward not as arms offering a welcoming embrace but rather as arms pushing away and repelling those who come seeking aid and assistance?

How can we take on an endless sea of people in need–economically absorbing the astronomical costs for healthcare, housing, education, employment and assimilation?

What of the hidden terrorists among the masses?

Are we not told to be hospitable and welcoming–offering sustenance and aid to our fellow human beings who are in desperate need?

Would we not want someone to do the same for us?

One country closes its borders.

Is that fair to the other surrounding countries?

How do we feed them all?

Where will they stay?

What of those who are criminals?

What of the illness and disease they bring with them?

What of the myriad of language barriers?

What will happen to our own way of life when it yields to the incoming masses?

Do we lose ourselves, our identity, while giving of ourselves to the “other?”

I don’t know the answers to these hard questions and I don’t think the rest of the world knows the answers either–
yet I simply keep hearing these words. . .

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25: 35-40

Lusia’s Long Journey Home
A young Girls’ Memoir of Surviving the Holocaust
by Lucy Lipiner

A Memoir
All But My Life
by Gerda Weissmann Klein

Walking stick or prop

“Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.”

Bill Withers

“Conceit may puff a man up, but never prop him up”
John Ruskin quotes

DSC02128
(walking stick made by a craftsman in Townsend,Tenn. / Julie Cook / 2015)

DSC02129
(my son when he was much much younger with the same walking stick on a hike in Cades Cove, TN / Julie Cook)

The above images are photographs featuring a single stick–
yes, you read correctly, a stick—
but this is not just any old stick. . .
This stick is a fine hand carved Tennessee walking stick—
built to aid one when traversing the paths and trails, for this particular stick,
throughout the Blue Ridge Mountains.

And as we see, this particular stick did indeed fulfill its duty for an eager young hiker. . .

Now all this talk of sticks has brought to mind a recent bit of dialog. . .

The other day I received a very kind comment on one of my recent posts from a gentleman in Cameroon.
He noted that in the bio section of my blog it stated that I had opted to retire from teaching as I needed to be free and flexible in order to help take care of my dad who lives in a different city than my own.
I needed to be able to drive over for scheduled appointments to doctors, the bank, etc as well as for those unexpected and unplanned drives when I would, and do, need to drop everything, making the mad 70ish mile dash to Dad’s. . .

This most kind gentleman in his comment equated my being the child who now serves as
a walking stick—being there to offer aid and support to an
aging father along this most latest journey.

His comment or perhaps observation stuck me as deeply profound.

It’s not that I feel as if I am doing anything out of the ordinary–certainly not to receive any sort of recognition–because I’m merely doing what is necessary–
Simply that which needs doing—

It should be noted however that in certain countries and cultures, other than my own, that it is often considered part and post to offer aid, support and comfort to one’s aging parents—even considered a privilege to tend to the elderly as the elderly are revered and seen as viable and important.

Sadly my observation of life here in the US is in stalk contrast to such as is seems our Nation’s opinion of aging is a bit skewed and warped as we tend to view aging as something tragically bad and something we will fight with our last dime and breath.

We Americans are not very good with this concept of aging as we’ve never been lauded as a country which truly honors it’s aging senior citizens.
We are, are we not, the country of youth and vigor—relishing in the freedom and mobility of perpetual agelessness as we continue searching for the elusive fountain of youth.
We work hard not to age— fighting it tooth and nail.
Those worn out, tired, aging and ill bodies are often seen as a hinderance to our
youth-minded and action packed lives.

But my thoughts today are not so much about aging or America’s view of its elderly but rather of the role of a simple stick, a walking stick. . .

A devise used to aid and assist verses a device meant to act as a mere prop. . .

The roles we hold throughout our lives vary as much as the seasons.
We first arrive into this world in a very dependent state, eventually transitioning to that of being independent with a final swinging back to that of being dependent again—all throughout the course of a single lifetime.

Ideally life flows from dependence to independence and briefly back to dependence toward the end of a long and well lived life. Yet sadly,for some of us however, life deals a cruel hand or two as we find ourselves at the height of independence suddenly falling rapidly back into a state of dreaded dependence.
Finding ourselves in desperate need of the aid and assistance offered by those walking sticks within our lives.

There are times that it is to a literal stick we turn, but more often than not, it is to the living walking sticks—those who come to our side offering their support– physically, financially, mentally and emotionally aiding us in moving forward.

A walking stick is active whereas a prop, which can indeed be a stationary walking stick, is more static. Props do serve a purpose but they are usually placed, then quickly forgotten. . .that is until they begin to fail and need replacing.

A walking stick however becomes a constant interaction—sometimes silent sometimes not.
A steady companion of sorts—allowing us to move forward, albeit aided and perhaps a bit slowly, but forward none the less–whereas a prop does not afford motion or progress.

Which begs the question of each of us—
are we a walking stick or merely a static prop?
I think I like the thought of being a walking stick myself. . .


***a thank you offered to Ngobesing Romanus at The World’s Best Success Inspirer blog for his most thoughtful comment

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all things acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your way.
Proverbs 3:5-6

Innocence and sorrow

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

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

DSC00435
(the forgotten antique toy soldiers of a long ago childhood / Julie Cook / 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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