seeking and hiding

“In moments of exaltation one expressed sentiments that outstripped
one’s spiritual capabilities by a vast span; and she knew well that
unless God is sought for Himself alone, with a selflessness
of which she was at present incapable,
He is not to be found.”

― Elizabeth Goudge


(wild blackberries are ripening deep in the Georgia woods / Julie Cook / 2017)


(the ripening blueberries bushes out back in the yard / Julie Cook / 2017)

I go to great lengths when it comes to seeking out, and subsequently picking,
those glistening seasonal black and blue ripening gems…
those succulent orbs and globes of juicy blueberries and now
the incoming crop of wild blackberries.

I have been known to go to near daredevil feats in order to fill a basket, bowl or bag
with these precious little beauties.
I have braved chiggers, ticks, snakes…as well as bleeding to death due to digging deep
into the proverbial briar patch.

This obsessiveness over berry picking worries my husband.

He seems to believe that I do not possess the gift of lithe or grace when it comes to say,
walking…let alone standing on my head while reaching deep into a thicket of the unknown
in search of the elusive black or blue jewel.

I think it comes down to the fact that he’s going to hold that broken ankle business
against me for the rest of my non broken life.
It wasn’t my fault I fell in a drain hole while putting out the pine straw that spring…
a hole he’d dug out just days prior and failed to fill back in before I stepped in it.

So when I must balance on a narrow brick wall,
while leaning over as far as I can with one foot planted on the ledge while
the other leg is sticking straight out behind me in some sort of yoga like pose…
all the while as I’m reaching as far as I can
without face planting into a mass jumble of branches,
fruit and leaves…
well, I don’t know what the fuss and worry is all about.

I mean, I watch for the snakes, bees and ants.
I try my best not to fall, really I do.
I can’t help that I’ll be covered with red whelps the following day that will itch like
nobody’s business…
I can’t help that I scream the word “STOP!!” when we’re happily and quietly driving down
a road in the middle of nowhere when I suddenly spot a lovely ripening bramble bush
along the side of said deserted road… beckoning to be picked.
He likes the pies and cobblers…so what’s all the the big worry???

So naturally while I was reaching and digging deep buried up to my elbows in stickers,
all during the throws of my berry seeking session yesterday,
oh so busy about the task of finding and picking…
I was stuck by a startlingly similarity between my hyper focused quest in seeking
the elusive hiding fruits—the object of an almost obsessive determination, and
the lengths to which I know God goes when He wants, nay yearns, to seek out and
eventually find….us….

As we have the tendency to hide, always painstakingly out of arms reach…and
yet a loving God painstakingly seeks his own…
for He will go to even much greater and even more daring lengths in His quest for us
than dare say I do over a mere berry….

And boy how grateful I am that He does!

I will seek that which was lost,
and bring again that which was driven away,
and will bind up that which was broken,
and will strengthen that which was sick:
but I will destroy the fat and the strong;
I will feed them with judgment.

Ezekiel 34:16

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

DSCN0417
(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.

DSCN0344
(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.

DSCN0317

DSCN0364
(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.

DSCN0401
(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.

DSCN0412
(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

DSCN0409
(Glendalough / Julie Cook / 2015)

DSCN0415
(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…

DSCN0393
(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…?”

DSCN0426
(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. . .

DSCN0357
(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.

Melancholia

“I began to understand that suffering and disappointments and melancholy are there not to vex us or cheapen us or deprive us of our dignity but to mature and transfigure us.”
― Hermann Hesse

DSC01732
(a visitor to the blackberries / Julie Cook / 2015)

Waiting for the burdens to lift,
growing familiarly uncomfortable,
we ripen like freshly picked fruit.

Tender to the touch yet apt to bruising far too easily,
Colors now slowly blend, as the sun continues to work her charms.
Time will not be kind.

Buried by inconsistencies while hiding in the dappled light,
We long for the miraculous of the Divine
Only to be transfigured and made all the more beautiful.

And so we hope and wait.

Colorful returns

There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.
Nelson Mandela

DSC01392

DSC01388
(early season wild blackberries / middle of nowhere Troup County, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2015)

Bejeweled little beauties
Transforming in the May sun’s warmth
Like tiny chameleons. . .
They charm and captivate
First green then red
And later purple, maybe even blue. . .
Before finally reaching the lusciousness of black. . .
Bulging with sweetness
Beguiling and beloved
They bedazzle and bewitch
Tempt and bemuse
Announcing Summer’s triumphant return . . .

Beauty in the Brambles

My berries cluster black and thick
For rich and poor alike to pick.
I’ll tear your dress, and cling, and tease,
And scratch your hand and arms and
knees.
I’ll stain your fingers and your face,
And then I’ll laugh at your disgrace.
But when the bramble-jelly’s made,
You’ll find your trouble well repaid.

—THE SONG OF THE BLACKBERRY QUEEN
by Cicely Mary Barker

IMG_0583

RSCN4964

RSCN4962

DSCN4958

Tiny tender forming berries lie hidden among the thorns
Time and sun, mixed with gentle rains, soon will transform these tiny green gems to change from first a crimson red to the deep purple black of ripeness.
Come late June, sweet juice bursting forth will be ready for both jam and pie.
As Summer’s calling card lies hidden in the thorns. . .

Not quite ripe

DSCN1298

“Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will lift you for the work and give you strength.”
—Philip Neri

“STOP!!!” My husband slams on the brakes. “What is it??!!” “The blackberries, look at those!! I need to pick them…I can make a pie….I can make YOU a pie” I added that at the end to entice him into affording me some time to get out and pick the ripening blackberries.

“Do you realize we are in the middle of an overgrown section of this property that is infested with ticks, red bugs as well as snakes?? And you want to get out and trudge through that thicket picking berries?? You’re wearing sandals for heaven’s sake! I think not—plus do you know how many you’d need for a pie? More than are on that vine”…and he starts driving again.

He has some property in central west Georgia—an overgrown piece of land that is “recreational”–meaning it’s good to hunt, fish….and that’s about it. I do enjoy taking the Four wheeler or golf cart and simply riding over the trails—overgrown goat trails is more like it. This time of year can prove a bit hazardous if one dares to get off of the Four Wheeler….especially as I was not dressed to do so in the required long pants and boots. The whole snake thing gave me pause to reconsider the whole pie thing.

And anyway, the berries were not all ripe I reasoned with myself. As badly as I hate to admit it, it would take forever for me to forage for enough ripe berries. The place was just too overgrown for me to go rambling through the brambles…..at least things were “ripe” for picture taking….I had not come prepared nor dressed properly to pick blackberries–there would surly have been consequences had I stubbornly forged ahead with my impulsive and rather reckless desire.

Philip Neri, who today’s quote derives, was a man who lived life rather impulsively but with good results and a driven intent. He lived in Rome during the mid 1500’s. He had experienced a profound conversion when he was a teen, dedicating the remainder of his life to serving God. He did so, however, lightheartedly and always with joy. His teaching ways were often a bit unorthodox as he found humor to be the better teacher.

Brother Neri did not allow himself, or others, to take themselves too seriously. If one was overtly consumed by how he or she was perceived by others and was constantly concerned with the appearance of self, then how did that benefit God and the teaching of the Gospel? He constantly reminded his followers and fellow man that ones’ outward living of life should not be taken so seriously and if that focus remained on self and the empty worry of the perception of others, rather than offering humility before God, then the attempted virtuous life was all for naught. If one was too concerned with what others thought, then surly there was no room for what God thought.

Despite often taking the unorthodox road in his teachings and life examples, his faith and his relationship with God the Father, through prayer, was always taken seriously. He was known to often withdraw to the catacombs alone for prayer, having even lived life as a hermit for quite some time. His joy in living, he was convinced, was just one more way of praising God.

I am very guilty of often taking myself too seriously. It does me good to be reminded that humility, and the road to learning this virtue, is often by way of letting go of self and of the seriousness of self. To me, this can be a painful experience. Learning not to care so much about what others think or how my image may be perceived—a tough task. I need to focus more on my relationship with God, giving little to no regard as to how that may look to others because all that matters, in the long run, is what is between me and God—He has a great deal of work to do within me—sometimes that work is not easy and can be painful—but no matter—the end result will be most sweet—

So on this new morning to a brand new week—be not concerned nor consumed with what the world thinks of you but rather with the thoughts and concerns of your Heavenly Father—-how to best serve Him—because in the long run—His opinion and thoughts will be all that matters as all this other stuff will simply pass away…here is to humility!! Just know that I’m working my way there, stumbling along the way, with you!!

Just a few more weeks…..

DSCN0506

“Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand.”
Mother Teresa

Any walk in the woods, or even a ride down a rural road these days, will reveal that in the midsts of the weedy bramble and brush awaits beautiful tiny pink and red jewels which are slowly but surly ripening to a glossy juicy black. In just a few short weeks we will be rewarded by a wealth of blackberries—all ripe and ready for the picking.

Now these are of the wild variety, so they are smaller than their cultivated cousins and perhaps a bit more sour—all you need is to add just the right amount of sugar, a little lemon juice, a dash of cinnamon, a splash of creme de cassis…cook it down slowly and you have a heavenly warm compote worthy of ice-cream or pound cake—-or place this in a small oven proof dish and top with a mixture of flour, sugar, butter, oats…. creating a streusel topping and you have the quintessential crumble or buckle.

This is one of the joys of early summer which harkens back to childhood. Armed with only a bowl, I’d fight bees and red bugs, heat and humidity all the while being very weary of snakes under foot, just to spend hours picking the luscious berries from their thorny vines….two for me, one for the bowl, two for me, one for the bowl……… As the days warm and the temperatures soar, I still look forward to foraging the woods on the hunt for blackberries.

But as I wait for the blackberries and peaches to all come into season, to ripen on the vine or branch, I am reminded, always so aptly by Mother Teresa, that there is one thing that no one need wait upon for ripening…and that is the Love that is readily available from each of us for one another. God’s love, is constantly at our fingertips, always ripe and so ready for our hands to grasp—which in turn is the very love in our own hearts–which is always ready to be offered to those around us who are reaching and in need.

May we remember this the next time we walk past those folks we blindly pass by on the street, the halls of schools, the aisles of the grocery store— those strangers we sit by at the DMV, the doctor’s office, on the bus or subway… those in front of or behind us in line at the theater, the store…..so many people we encounter each and every day, who may simply need a smile, a kind word, a simple gesture of kindness…. all which equates to a Love that is easily shared with those in need….no need for that to get ripe–it’s already here……..let it begin with you and who knows how far reaching this Love can go….Happy pickings………