living in the middle with a need for contrition

“There are in truth three states of the converted: the beginning, the middle, and the perfection.
In the beginning, they experience the charms of sweetness; in the middle the contests of temptation;
and in the end the fullness of perfection.”

Pope St. Gregory the Great


(butterflys eating at the butterfly house at Callaway Gardens / Julie Cook)

“For want of contrition, innumerable Confessions are either sacrilegious or invalid;
the penitent so often breaks his promises to God,
and falls again so easily into the same faults,
and many souls are eternally lost.

Contrition is that true and lively sorrow which the soul has for all the sins it has committed,
with a firm determination never to commit them any more…

Many Christians spend a long time in examining their consciences,
and in making long and often unnecessary narrations to the confessor,
and then bestow little or no time upon considering the malice of their sins,
and upon bewailing and detesting them.
Christians such as these, says St. Gregory, act like a wounded man who shows his wounds to the doctor
with the utmost anxiety and care, and then will not make use of the remedies prescribed.
It is not so much thinking, nor so much speaking of your sins that will procure their pardon,
but heartfelt sorrow and detestation of them.”

Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus, p. 289
An Excerpt From
The School of Jesus Crucified

our confliction…

“Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast,
And each will wrestle for the mastery there.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

“History is much more the product of chaos than of conspiracy.”
Zbigniew Brezezinski

As people of faith we learn to be bi-focal.
We look through the eyes of secular newsflashes,
and we look through the eyes of spiritual and theological discernment.”

Bishop Gavin Ashenden

Anytime a Western coalition is mounted against “the bad guys”…whomever
those bad guys may currently be…more and more questions abound…
more questions than there may be answers.

Maybe it’s because I grew up during the Vietnam war.
A horrific conflict and war where thousands were killed, maimed, scarred and lost…
leaving no clear win or victor.

The bad guys were still bad and we were left limping back home…
home to a Nation now divided…and still dividing as we speak.

For Christians, the notion of war is a tough call.

The Koran makes no bones about the allowance for war and killing.

Our faith, on the other hand, admonishes those who opt not to turn the other cheek
or refuse to offer the shirt when the tunic is first taken.

For the Believer there is an inner turmoil…a conflict of both faith and righteous indignation.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pacifist German theologian, lived this turmoil.
It also lead him to the gallows.
A walk he took decidedly confident because he knew his faith secure.
He looked to the words and teachings of St Thomas Aquinas when he agreed to be a part of
an assassination attempt against Adolph Hitler.

The moral issue here is that of tyrannicide…
the killing of a tyrant, and specifically, the killing of a tyrant by a private
person for the common good.
Technically, there are two classes of tyrants: a tyrant by usurpation
(tyrannus in titulo), a ruler who has illegitimately seized power;
and a tyrant by oppression (tyrannus in regimine),
a ruler who wields power unjustly, oppressively, and arbitrarily.

The key conditions for a justifiable act of tyrannicide in this case include
that the killing be necessary to end the usurpation and restore legitimate authority;
that there is no higher authority available that is able and willing to depose the usurper;
and that there is no probability that the tyrannicide will result in even greater evil
than allowing the usurper to remain in power.

However, if the tyrant by oppression attacks the citizen,
jeopardizes the welfare of the community with the intent leading
it to destruction or killing the citizens, or commits other evils,
then a private citizen can morally commit an act
of justifiable tyrannicide.
Moreover, if because of the tyrant’s rule, a nation cannot defend itself,
is on the course of destruction, and has no lawful means to depose or to condemn the tyrant,
then a citizen may commit an act of justifiable tyrannicide.
Interestingly, many modern political philosophers would posit that a leader who abuses
power and has become tyrannical ipso facto loses legitimacy and becomes a usurper.

(Catholic Resource Education Center / Fr William Saunders)

(see the previous post:
https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2016/07/16/the-seeds-have-been-planted/)

And so it is with interest that I’ve read a couple of the most recent posts by our friend
Bishop Gavin Ashenden regarding his feelings and thoughts about the coalition attack
on Syria.

The necessity, the truth, the need, the deception, the compassion, the empathy,
the indignation is each woven into the fabric of our confliction as human beings.

The conflict between right and wrong, defending the undefended, the truth versus
the deception…
that which is right versus that which is wrong,
the need for freedom versus the oppression of tyranny…

What are our roles, our responsibilities, our culpability…

The good Bishop offers one more perspective, one more layer to the fabric we
Christians continue to weave…

Do I agree with his doubts, his concerns, his pointed questions?

I think his questions lead us all to a place of asking even more questions.

Yet the real question found in the Bishop’s concern is simply leading us back to wondering
where the real true answers rest…

So Syria has been much in the news.
But to the community of faith, Syria is not just a place.
It is both a birthplace, and an end-place.
Theologically, for Christians it is the birth place of the Church.
It is the place where in Antioch, we first became known as Christians (Acts 11.26);
for Muslims the place at the end of time, the apocalypse.
This dual identity lies at the heart of the present secular conflict and how we unders
tand it.

And yet, it is clear in geo-political terms that what is taking place in Syria
is a proxy war fought over future energy sources and types of Islamic hegemony
between Iran on one side and Saudi Arabia on the other.
The opposition to Assad was not a plea for regime change by democratic Syrians,
but an attempt to remove a non-Muslim ruler and replace him with a Muslim regime by
Saudi backed terrorist groups.
Twice now chemical attacks have been attributed to the Assad regime with the
immediate effect of inducing in the West a moral indignation that led to a call
for bombing the Assad regime.
But though the video footage was provocatively emotive, the hard evidence that laid a trail
back to Assad was always just missing.

Syria and the Western Christian conscience.

a continuation of beginnings and comings

See me safe up: for in my coming down,
I can shift for myself.

Thomas More

dscn4719
(the frozen demise of the mint / Julie Cook / 2017)

Despite our having just journeyed through the season known for all things of anticipation…
that sacred time of observing Advent, which then culminates with the wondrous arrival
of the illuminating Nativity…
we actually, in this silent and slumberous time of deep winter,
continue finding ourselves waiting and watching.

Found in the Latin word adventus, which is the translation of the Greek word parousia,
we find a word and meaning that has traditionally been used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ.
Not so much denoting a single and initial birth, but rather embracing the anticipation of
a second birth…a sort of re-coming…

Yet, as William Stringfellow observes,
“we live now, in the Untied States, in a culture so profoundly pagan that Advent
(or any other Christian “season”)*
is no longer really noticed, much less observed.
The commercial acceleration of seasons,
whereby the promotion of Christmas begins even before there is an opportunity to enjoy
Halloween, is superficially, a reason for the vanishment of Advent.
But a more significant cause is that the churches have become so utterly secularized
that they no longer remember the topic of Advent.
*(parentheses mine)

And so it seems that our secular and worldly selves have given way from our
continuation of waiting and watching to rather the glossing over of a key
observational time within our faith.
We have allowed, as it appears we have preferred, to move away from that which should
still be our focus, yielding rather, to the superficial luster of the fleeting.

For it seems that the notion of Advent, or any other of the “seasons” of the church,
has fallen way to the more glamorous secular association of what should actually be the truly
innate spiritual rhythms of our beings.

Yet as unrelenting and ever-faithful,
we now find ourselves transitioning from the anticipation found in Advent and the Nativity
to Epiphany, leading way to Ash Wednesday and the heaviness of the somber Lenten season…
as it too shall give way to the unending promise of Hope…

We enter, once again into a time of waiting and watching…
waiting not so much for the first birth with its earth shattering life that was cut
tragically short by a brutal yet necessary death…
but rather we, the dwindling yet tenacious faithful, both wait and watch
not for an ending associated with death but rather for the continuation of what is to come…

Life anew and everlasting…

As we find ourselves listening to once again, as well as claiming, those prophetic words of that
lone figure who cried out to the masses so long ago…
as his words continue to resonate in our hearts…

MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!'”
Matthew 3:3

Words are not enough

“I dream of lost vocabularies that might express
some of what we no longer can.”

― Jack Gilbert

DSCN0139
(Trinity College Library / Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

We try.
Really we do.
We try with our lofty intellects.
We try with our supercilious vocabulary.
We try with our treasure trove of books
We try with our tongues
and we try with our hearts…

We try to express, by putting into words, our thoughts…
Yet we fall gravely short as we painstakingly describe and define that which is
without description or definition.

Ours are but mere words…
Simple letters joined together in order to create and form words…
Words with meaning…
Meanings simply assigned by man…

Words both conceived and contrived in the minds of men
Limited minds.
Limited words.
Limited descriptions.
Limited man.

“…Thou dost seek us though Thou does not need us.
We seek Thee because we need Thee,
for in Thee we live and move and have
or being. Amen”

A.W.Tozer

Seek, as in sought…
Searched for as in there must be want and desire which lies at the root of said seeking..
Otherwise what would be the point to the seeking…

“To admit the existence of a need in God is to admit incompleteness in the divine Being.
Need is a creature-word and cannot be spoken of the Creator.”

A.W. Tozer

Creator.
A word assigned to something, someone that which is beyond our comprehension.
An acknowledgement that we and our world are created by said “Creator”
As in something bigger, greater and grander than ourselves.
As we acknowledge that we are a product of something other than ourselves.

“Whatever God is, and all that God is, He is in Himself.
All life is in and from God, whether it be the lowest form of unconscious life or the highly self-conscious, intelligent life of a seraph.
No creature has life in itself; all life is a gift from God.”

A.W. Tozer

God the Creator.
An Entity that man has tried to describe and define with mere words, having failed miserably to delineate I AM.

Words are made up and created by man.
The Creator is not created…
For He is and always has been…no beginning, no end…as in forever.
Therefore made up created words by the created are inadequate for the Creator.

The created cannot begin to define, adequately explain, or even offer sufficient praise for the Creator for He is beyond.
The Creator cannot be brought down into man’s, the created’s, limited understanding and neatly contained by man as something readily definable, explainable or analyzed.

To attempt to do so is to set limits on that which is limitless.

“The problem of why God created the universe still troubles thinking man; but if we cannot know why, we can at least know that He did not bring His worlds into being to meet some unfulfilled need in Himself, as a man might build a house to shelter him against the winter cold or plant a field of corn to provide him with necessary food. The word necessary is wholly foreign to God.”
A.W. Tozer

God does not have needs.
He does not need this earth, this land, this air, this space…
He does not need us, the created.
God does not need anything we might be able to offer Him because anything and everything we have is only because He has willed it so.

Rather it is us, the created that need Him, the Creator.

And in His all knowing infinite wisdom, The Creator knew that the created was in desperate need of a small piece of His very Essence and Being… therefore sending that very part of Himself here to us.

…and so He comes…once again offering a reminder of not His need but rather of His generous and abundant Love to His created…

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger…
Luke 2:7

In between

“Pleased rather with some soft ideal scene,
The work of Fancy, or some happy tone
Of meditation, slipping in between
The beauty coming and the beauty gone.”

William Wordsworth

DSC00545
(the dried remains of a crepe myrtle / Julie Cook / 2015)

Somewhere in between birth and death resides the beautiful. . .
Small and fragile, ever so demure, it begins. . .
Slowly at first, yet laced with excited energy. . .fullness eventually falls into place . . .
Bold
Strong
Even daring. . .
Yet never to be confused with
Pushy
Obnoxious
Or self-centered
Determination sets the cycle into motion
There is no turning back, no stopping what has started

And just as quickly as it began. . .
It all begins to fade, to go away, to change, to depart. . .
Slowly and ever so slightly
A tinge of brown,
A wilted droop,
A loss of vibrancy
Life juices dry as everything begins
Shrinking
Withering
Dying. . .

All that remains is the dried shell
A stiff skeleton of what was
No fragrance
No softness
No tender touch
Just sticky
Brittle
Brown

And so here we now sit. . .
Somewhere in between. . .
Waiting for the beautiful. . .

The Continuum

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

“Life is not a continuum of pleasant choices, but of inevitable problems that call for strength, determination, and hard work”
Indian Proverb

DSCN8775
(Victorian Plant stand / Julie Cook / 2014)

A circle.
360º
No beginning.
No end.
Never stopping.
Never starting.
A continuum.

Very much like a cycle.
A repetition.
A loop.
A rhythm.
Over and over.
Constant.
Consistant.
Again and again and again.

Very much like the seasons.
Winter
Spring
Summer
Fall
One following always after the other.
Again and again.
Over and over.
A sequence.
Year after year.
Very much like life.

Yet. . .

In life, there is always a beginning,
as in birth.
And following, there is always an end,
as in death.
A beginning.
And eventually an end.
Birth
Life
Death
End of sentence.

Yet,

We know that God is more like the circle. . .
for God is a continuum.
as in. . .
He was.
He is.
He shall ever be.
As in forever.
As in forever was.
As in forever is.
As in forever will be.
The Alpha
The Omega

Not so however for our earth.
For the earth, and all that is in it,
shall pass away.
Because for the Earth,
there indeed was a beginning.
And therefore there will certainly be an end.
As in. . .
Decay
Demise
Destruction
Death

Yet

We know that with God there is no end.
Because with God there was never a beginning–
because He always was.
And therefore if there was no beginning,
there can be no end.
As in the perfect continuum.

He, in turn, offers us a place in the continuum.
A place with Him.
As in, the adopted children of Grace.
Who may join their Heavenly Father.
But as a loving Father,
He offers a free choice . . .

Beginning
Life
Death
as in it’s over and simply no more

Or

Beginning
Life
Earthly death
Heavenly Life. . .
as in eternity
as in forever and ever and ever

As in a perfect continuum

be willing…

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.”
― Meister Eckhart
DSCN2442
(image: beautiful fall day, Troup Co, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2013)

It may not be easy.
It may seem even pointless.
It might be terribly painful–both physically and emotionally.
It may be impractical.
Despite of and in spite of all of the above, getting up, out of bed, is always the first step.
It is the first requirement of each and every day. Each new morning asks of us but one thing—to get up.

Once we get up, we begin.
For some it may be a painfully slow beginning.
For others, a non stop whirlwind of motion and emotion.
Either way, it is the first step.

Perhaps the day’s prior activities were a bust.
A disaster.
A life changing trauma.
Hitting the rewind button the only empty desperate desire.
And yet, this new morning is calling. It will not be going away.
Pulling the covers up tighter is the first instinct. Screaming or moaning a silent “NO” within one’s brain is the general reflex. And yet the body knows the familiar motion–swing the legs and feet to the side, step down, roll out, sit up, stand up— however you do it, move toward making the physical happen.

It comes each new day whether we want it to or not, for good or for bad–the morning comes.
Meister Eckhart’s call is that we be willing to be a beginner, to begin and start each new day anew.

I see it as potential. As a chance to make things better. Oh no you say, things can’t or won’t be better—but I say to you, oh yes they can. Each new morning offers you a brand new slate. It is your choice of how you write it. No, we cannot change what happened yesterday. It’s all in the books, closed and finished. But today, this morning, that’s different—for it is still empty. It’s just waiting for you to put your fresh mark on things–to turn the bad into good, the sad into bearable, the sorrow toward joy.

It is truly your choice. None of us can change what Life brings our way no matter how hard we try otherwise–to give back the tragedy, the diagnosis, the final notice, the poor results, the losses, the sorrow, the pain, the poor lot we are given. . .
But it is our choice of how we deal with it all–and it is each new morning that offers us that opportunity to begin again anew.

Either we choose to be a beginner this brand new morning— or we don’t—but I don’t foresee much in the way of anything good from choosing the no, the not this day, I’ll wait till tomorrow.. .

Make the choice, the effort to be a beginner and change your world, each new morning, one new day at a time—it’s all we are promised in this life, a new morning, a new day, a new chance.

This is a familiar litany of mine and I think it is because I know how hard those mornings can be. Maybe I am saying all of this to myself, encouraging myself to get up and go. We all need encouragement. May this be yours. . .

Be willing to begin—this is all I’m asking.