By the Grace of God

For the sake of the world, for our own sakes, and for the sake of God,
we desperately need, as individuals and as a Church,
not to behave as if what we have in the way of spiritual or material goods is due
to our own merit or a result of our own will or strength.
Rather, it is the pure grace of God

Ralph Martin
from Fulfillment of All Desire


(a bumble bee buzzing the new blossoms of the blueberry blooms / Julie Cook / 2019)

“Who art thou, that thou shouldst be afraid of a mortal man?
Today he is, and tomorrow he appears no more. Fear God, and thou shalt have no need of
being afraid of man. What can anyone do against thee by his words or injuries?
He rather hurts himself than thee, nor can he escape the judgment of God whoever he be.
See thou have God before thine eyes and do not contend with complaining words.
And if at present thou seem to be overcome,
and to suffer a confusion which thou has not deserved,
do not repine at this and do not lessen thy crown by impatience.”

Thomas á Kempis, p.148
An Excerpt From
Imitation of Christ

groanings

“A revival may be expected when Christians have a spirit of prayer for a revival.
That is, when they pray as if their hearts were set upon it.
When Christians have the spirit of prayer for a revival.
When they go about groaning ouheart’sr hearts desire.
When they have real travail of soul.”

Charles Grandison Finney


(no visitors to the flowers / Julie Cook / 2018)

The other day a fellow blogger, Colorstorm over on The Lion’s Den, offered a post musing
about Genesis and the stories of God’s Cheribum.
Cheribum are found in various pieces of scripture throughout both Old and New Testament.

However, CS digressed somewhat to a different thought…that being the latest news on
Hawaii’s volcanic eruptions with the following observation:
“What fool would not enjoy the mercy of God?
We currently see the fiery lava flows in Hawaii, and should beg God to spare us,
but we do not, and act as if this freak of nature is common as the underappreciated rain
from heaven. (but I digress)”

(full post here:
https://thenakedtruth2.wordpress.com/2018/05/11/not-particularly-now/#comment-18179)

And so it was his digression that got me thinking.

My mind went to the mention in Scripture about the groanings of the earth.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth
right up to the present time.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit,
groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship,
the redemption of our bodies.
For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.
Who hopes for what they already have?

Romans 8:22-24

Which brought my mind around to my own more up close and personal observations.

This Spring has been a bit quiet.
Quiet in an odd and unsettling sort of way.

The usual and almost taken for granted flurry of activity in the yard between the birds,
bees, butterflies, etc.,
has not been what is typically seen for this time of year.

Truthfully, I consciously first took notice of this back in February when I had not seen a
single robin bobbing about the yard in search of stirring grubs and worms.
Usually, by February my yard is awash in robins—yet nary a one had been seen until just the
other week. And then it was merely two birds.

My hummingbirds, my typical clan of three, showed briefly in April, disappeared for several
weeks while just yesterday I noticed a single male dashing about.

Usually when the blueberry bushes are blooming, of which takes place in late March into early April,
the bushes are a buzzing melee of bees of every shape and description along with a myriad
of butterflies.
But do you know that I can count on one hand how many butterflies I’ve actually seen visiting the
yard this Spring?
A tiger swallowtail, a little coastal skipper, and a small white butterfly.
This coming from a yard that could typically pass as a butterfly house.

All of which is so very very out of sync for my small neck of the woods.

Now biologists, who have already raised the alarm over the slow yet noticeable disappearance
of frogs and that of their kin, would chalk my observations up to climate change or perhaps
even just a fluke of a year….or maybe some overuse of pesticides in the area…

But that I don’t buy.

Vulcanologists are most likely chalking up Hawaii’s volcanic activity to the natural
occurrences taking place deep down within the earth…
As those Pacific islands were formed by volcanos, it should come as no surprise
that there’s still volcanic activity on islands where there are active volcanoes.

However the haphazard and precarious in all of this is that people happen to live
near the volcano.

Houses have been destroyed and thousands of folks are now dispersed, evacuated and devastated
while tourism is a bit on hold as this area of the world just happens to be what the US
consider’s her own personal piece of paradise…
and paradise just happens to be currently teetering on a molten and burning inferno.

Yet my thoughts rest not readily nor so easily on the dismissive reasons found within the
pages of the textbooks of the geothermal world or that of climate change.
Not that I don’t believe man and his quest for bigger, better and more has not had a
progressively negative impact on our environment…we have and we are currently doing
a nice job of destruction…
however…

The earth is groaning.

The smallest indicators of this world are bothered…

Yet the earth has groaned since that fateful day when the gates to Paradise were forever
shut to man…yet shut with a promise that those groanings would only increase with time…
for the time is approaching when a Holy foot will touch the mountain that will split
under the power of something greater than this world has yet to ever see or experience.

The tiniest amongst us know.
The earth groans—for she knows.
And all of mankind will soon tremble…

Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant.
And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder,
an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.

Revelation 11:19

what is Grace

“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices,
so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow,
just in order to become a child again and begin anew.
I had to experience despair,
I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide,
in order to experience grace.”

Hermann Hesse


(even the weeds provide sustenance to the bees / Julie Cook / 2017)

I do believe in a personal God, because I too have had revelations,
answers to my questions, to my prayers, and if the answer fails to come,
which is usually the case because God wants us to work out our own salvation,
I have that assurance God gave Saint Paul and he passed on to us,
“My Grace is sufficient for you.”

And what is grace?
Participation in the divine life.

Dorothy Day

measuring

The measure of a life,
after all,
is not its duration,
but its donation.

Corrie Ten Boom

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(everything is so early this year—blooming cherry trees and the visiting honey bees/
Julie Cook / 2017)

We are a measuring people…
we just seem to love to measure…
It’s as if we’ve been measuring ever since the dawn of Creation.

We measure everything….
space,
time,
distance,
amounts,
gains,
averages,
percentages,
odds,
growth…

Just as we measure…
decline,
decrease,
failure,
depletion,
shrinkage,
loss,
and demise…

We measure both life and death…as well as the distance separating the two.

This whole concept of numbers, benchmarks, averages and time seems to be of the
utmost importance to us.
Measuring allows us the satisfaction of knowing if we’ve actually been successful,
having accomplished a certain task, goal or desire.
It also gives us some sense, some idea, as to how far we still need to go in order to
reach a set goal, desire or postion.

Measuring and its results makes us feel in control.

And it is certainly paramount when considering such endeavors such as construction,
tailoring, manufacturing, producing, building, mending…
It is in such that both precision and measurement walk hand in hand.
Meaning… we can’t have one without the other.
Anything other then precise leads to skewed, crooked, awkward, flawed
as well as imperfection…
as we’ve learned to equate measurement with both precision and perfection…
as well as with safety.

Yet no matter how precise we try to be, no matter how perfect, how accurate…
we continue making mistakes.
And our mistakes can have catastrophic results…
leaving us not in the place we prefer…
that of being knowledgable and in control…
but rather…
we find ourselves as helpless victims of our own failures and errors.
Wishing to hide, lest anyone know it was upon our mistake of flawed measuring
which resulted in disaster….

Yet we simply, and often flippantly, chalk that up to human nature…
for we are indeed an imperfect lot…
despite our best attempts to measure…along with precision, perfection,
accuracy and control…
we misread, mismeasure and miscalculate…

Yet in our busyness of measuring, we have become accustomed to measuring
not only the abstract…
but we are very comfortable measuring ourselves…
We measure our self worth and our sense of well being…
With our benchmark being anything and everyone other than ourselves…

We constantly gauge our level of satisfaction by how others measure up to us and
how we measure up to others…

Are we happier than…
Are we more successful than…
Are we better off than…
Are we more financially secure than…
Are we healthier than…
Are we prettier than…
Are we thinner than…
Are we younger looking than…
Are we more comfortable than…
Are we further along than…
Are we more popular than…

Our question must therefore remain…what is it that we measure?
And what shall we be measured by…

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought,
but rather think of yourself with sober judgment,
in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.

Romans 12:3

‘You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity.
‘You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin;
I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:35-36
(ephah: a Hebrew dry measurement / hin: a Hebrew liquid measurement)

Isn’t it lovely….

Isn’t “it” lovely
Isn’t “it” wonderful
Isn’t “it” precious

Adpated lyrics Stevie Wonder
Isn’t she lovely

“And what is there to life if a man cannot hear the lonely cry of a whippoorwill
or the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night?”

Chief Seattle, 1854

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(a southern toad, Bufo terrestris / Julie Cook / 2016)

Down through the ages both frogs and toads have long gotten a bad wrap.
In almost every culture around the globe, within every tale, legend and folklore,
frogs and toads are inevitably cast in a bad light

They have been accused of causing warts.
Witches seem to love turning people into frogs.
And even Biblically, frogs and toads don’t always fair well.
As we read in Revelation that frogs spew forth from the dragon or beast’s mouth…
(Revelation 16:13-14)

They are instinctively thought to be slimy.
They like to eat flies, a little thing which seems to gross most folks out,
but hey, something has to eat them.

And of course there are those members of their clan which are poisonous.

And whereas frogs and toads are often looked down upon and considered lowly
they should also be considered most lovely.

They are considered by the scientific world as bioindicators.
A measuring stick if you will for the environment.
As frogs and toads populate both wet and dry lands and their skins are such that they readily absorb toxins and poisons form their surrounding environments, they are the first responders to show signs of distress and or a problem.

They have been around for over 250 million years pretty much as we see them today.
They have weathered the rages of time…yet their current numbers are shrinking at alarming rates.

An educational website, Save the Frogs, states:
“Frog populations have been declining worldwide at unprecedented rates, and nearly one-third of the world’s amphibian species are threatened with extinction. Up to 200 species have completely disappeared since 1980, and this is NOT normal: amphibians naturally go extinct at a rate of only about one species every 500 years!!! Amphibian populations are faced with an array of environmental problems, including pollution, infectious diseases, habitat loss, invasive species, climate change, and over-harvesting for the pet and food trades. Unless we act quickly, amphibian species will continue to disappear, resulting in irreversible consequences to the planet’s ecosystems and to humans. Frogs eat mosquitoes; provide us with medical advances; serve as food for birds, fish and monkeys; and their tadpoles filter our drinking water. Plus frogs look and sound cool, and kids love them — so there are lots of reasons to save the frogs!”
( Savethefrog.com )

It seems some of our lowest and most often ignored fellow creatures, such as bees and frogs,
are much more important to our survival than we often care to imagine.

When thinking about seemingly insignificant beings such as lowly frogs and toads having such a tremendous impact on the vast environment, eventually impacting our own existence, I am often reminded of the story of Androcles and the lion…

Of how tiny unsuspecting things can paralyze the great and the mighty.

Androcles demonstrates tenderness and mercy to the great beast by removing the thorn from his paw—I find it amazing that a great and mighty beast, such as a lion, is brought down my a tiny thorn stuck deep within his paw…
It’s a tale that should give us pause as we should consider the afflictions to the bees and amphibians
and that if they remain afflicted, they will inevitably die, taking us eventually with them.

A little bit of care and concern today, could do all species a wealth of good.

“Listen to this, Job;
stop and consider God’s wonders.
Do you know how God controls the clouds
and makes his lightning flash?
Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge?

Job 13:14-16

Holy discontent

“Bees do have a smell, you know, and if they don’t they should, for their feet are dusted with spices from a million flowers.”
― Ray Bradbury

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Spring has sprung a bit early…so it seems
Temperatures are running 15 to 20 degrees above the average for this time of year…
Early March is feeling a lot like late May…
It is an unexpected delight…yet troubling just the same.

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(shots of the blooming cherry trees complete with bees and ladybugs / Julie Cook / 2016)

We aren’t much for being the creatures of the unexpected…we humans…
we grow alarmed and anxious when things, especially in nature, step out of sync.
We prefer the expected…
The tried and true…
that of the habitual habit…
We know our times, our seasons, our rhythms of life,
and we like for them to be, well, predictable.

The same holds true for our spiritual nature…
Our need to have a relationship with that which is Greater than ourselves.
As created beings we long, most often subconsciously, for our Creator…
For it seems that the need to have a relationship with that God of all Creation is truly hardwired within.

There are those who would argue that point…
As they do not see the correlation between man’s constant discontent and to his quest, nay need, to be made whole…

Those who eschew God for God’s sake, those who defiantly say…
“there is no God”
or
“I have no need for a God” …
Try in vain to fill the void, the empty abyss, with any and all sorts of need filling balms and placebos…

Be it addictions…
Those maddening and seemingly uncontrollable urges which gobble up all manner of ill in a frantic, albeit vain, need to stave the endless hunger of the spiritual void…

Or it might be the endless, yet empty, quest of searching and seeking after any and all things to worship…the longing to put something, anything, at the center of validation and justification of simply… being…
From demons to fatted calves, from nature to man himself…
humankind yearns to put something at the center of its very existence…

As man seeks, yearns, needs to hold something, anything, at the heart of his existence…
his insatiable need goes back to that very moment when God first breathed life into the lungs of the dust created Adam…

And it is to this day…
That we, me, you, us, long to breathe, once again, in rhythm with our Creator…
Seeking, longing, aching to fill the discontent with the rhythmic beating as one…
Restored within the relationship to…
God the Almighty…
The Father…
And Maker of both Heaven and Earth…

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
Hebrews 11:6

Glendalough, boardwalks and getting lost in Ireland

“Then shall we know, if we follow on to know the Lord:
His going forth is prepared as the morning”

Hosea 6:3

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(a stand of beautiful ash trees, Glendalough in the Wicklow National Park / County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“Walk up to the monastery, take a little look around then head left past the church, going on up to the trail head…take the first right…this will lead you to the boardwalk.
The boardwalk will take you to the upper lake where you’ll be greeted with quite the view—it’ll be about a 20 minute easy walk up then 20 minutes back…”

“Will you be coming with us?”

“No, no, I’ll be right here waiting on you when you get back…
Now off you go…”

Meandering through the tiny pig trails which crisscross through the overgrown knee high grass and brambles, all of which offer any casual observer a sense that a fuzzy patchwork blanket had recently been spread across the land, a seemingly long forgotten cemetery sits frozen in time. This once sacred site, littered with ancient and not so ancient graves, beckon to both pilgrim and tourist to come lose oneself in the mystery of time.

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(graves litter the ground of St Kevin’s monastery / Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

Stones worn by rain and time now stand as lonely sentinels to what once was. Many are in disrepair, dangerously listing to either left or right and terribly skewed off balance.
Despite the overcast skies, the honey bees busily buzz around the flowering and ripening blackberries reminding all that life indeed continues even amongst the departed.

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(rippening blackberries / Julie Cook / 2015)

After wandering through the long lost stone remnants of the 6th century celtic monastery founded by St Cóemgen or better known to the Anglican speaker as St. Kevin, we made our way to the trail head which, after a short jaunt by the lower lake, would take us gently upward for a spectacular view of the two lakes for which Glendalough is so named.

Walking past the lower lake we are greeted by the serene sight of deer grazing on the opposite side of the lake…and something even more amazing…
a joyous and peaceful silence.
Blessed beautiful peaceful silence.
No planes, no cars, no motorcycles—just the wind rustling through the leaves and the sounds of birds chattering overhead.

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(a group of fallow deer grazing / Glendalough / Julie Cook /2015)

Continuing on our way we come upon a fork in the trail. Stopping at a sign which points right for a 1.6 km hike upward along the lower lake or straight for a 1.4 km hike upward through a lush canopied forest…we ponder our choice.

Rationalizing our limited time and desire to see as much as possible, we opt for the best of both worlds…it made perfect sense, or so it seemed–we’d take the path leading into the forest, straight up for the journey upward and hit the boardwalk tail for the decent downward.

A no brainer.

As we began our upward journey, we soon noticed that the terrain was changing. No longer was the walking trail smooth–it was now narrowing and littered with meandering roots and stones. Stumbling a bit and tripping over the roots, we pressed onward.

“I’m not dressed for this. . .” one in our party grouses.

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(the beginning of an upward journey / Julie Cook / 2015)

Up and up we wander, suddenly realizing that we’re very much alone, as in the other hikers and tourists seem to be now long gone or have mysteriously disappeared. It’s just the three of us and a vast forest reaching ever upward.

Hummm….

“Isn’t it odd that nobody else is around…?”

“What time is it?”

“Well past the 20 minutes it was suppose to take us to the top”

Now huffing and puffing it appears as if the trail has begun to switchback rather sharply indicating we were heading up quite the mountain trail… oddly we had noticed a sign a bit of a ways back pointing to what must be an abandoned mine…
“Lead mine this way”

“Where’s the lake???” we simultaneously ask

“Where’s the view??

“What’s a lead mine?”

“Where they mine lead, duh”

“Way up here?!”

HUMMMMMM…

“I wish I’d brought my bottle of water.”

“It’s well past 20 minutes.”

“Reckon we ought to keep going?”

“He’s going to kill us if we don’t find the lake!”

“Who cares, I’m tired and I don’t have on the right kind of shoes for this.”

“Is that rain I feel?”

“I need to go to the bathroom”

“I think you can pick a tree for that”

“Did anyone bring a Kleenex?”

“I just thought this was a quick little stop to see a lake!”

Ya’ll stay here and I’ll go on up to the next turn to see if there’s any sort of clearing, lake or view. I’ll holler for ya’ll to come on up if I see something, otherwise I’ll come back and we’ll just go back down the way we came.

“Deal” the other two offer in unison as the relief of a brief respite is lost on no one.

Heading up the now very narrow tail, all I can see is switchback after switchback with trees still looming overhead. Certainly nowhere near the top and with nary a view in sight.

Part of me longed to keep going, straight to the top, proper shoes or not, as I’ve lived long enough to know of the sorts of rewards that await those who persevere upward…
yet my two traveling companions were having none of it and were more than ready to head downward…after all this was just our first day on this amazing journey and we’d certainly not built up any sort of traveling stamina just quite yet…and anyway, lunchtime seemed to be calling.

Slowly we began our decent while little by little the trail opened up.
Tiny waterfalls trickled down the hills as lush vegetation greeted us each step of the way

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(Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(Irish clover / Julie Cook / 2015)

Catching a view of the lower lake only added an exclamation point to the moniker “the Emerald Isle, as a delightful peace descended over three weary souls…

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(Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

Finally back down to the part of the trail that thankfully looked familiar, we glance the now infamous boardwalk to our left.

“Guess we should have just taken the boardwalk in the first place huh?”

” Oh I don’t know…I think what we’ve seen has been pretty darn great!”

“And doesn’t the air just feel so good? So much cooler and better than home…!”

Finally catching a familiar glimpse of St Kevin’s tower, we breathe a gentle sigh of relief as we can rest knowing the safety of the parking area and our van is happily close at hand.

“I guess we need to confess we missed the boardwalk and the lake…”

“Reckon he’s going to be worried, it’s been like what, two hours since we left…?”

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(the remains of St Kevin’s Monastery / Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

“Oh I don’t know, maybe that’s the point…just to let go and to lose ourselves…”

Lose ourselves or not, I’ve still got to go to the bathroom!…”

And thus began a marvelous adventure…or perhaps more aptly put, a marvelous misadventure of a lifetime….

…Time and nature have both joined together, allowing all who traverse this area a rare gift—one does not have to ponder long as to why St. Kevin chose this particular place in which to seekout God—anyone stopping long enough, to simply bask in the peace while listening to the engulfing silence, will actually hear the whispers of a Creator’s magnificent joy. . .

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(the grounds of St Kevin’s Monastery / Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

***Glendalough, meaning “the valley of the two lakes” is a beautifully serene area nestled within the Wiclow Mountains National Park, County Wiclow, Ireland. Only about 1 to 2 hours south of Dublin.
Glendalough was home to a once thriving celtic monastic community founded by St Kevin in the 6th century.