looking forward rather than at now…

“Let us love the Cross and let us remember that we are not alone in
carrying it.
God is helping us.
And in God who is comforting us, as St. Paul says,
we can do anything.”

St. Gianna Molla

“Every pious desire, every good thought, every charitable work inspired by the love of Jesus,
contributes to the perfection of the whole body of the faithful.
A person who does nothing more than lovingly pray to God for his brethren,
participates in the great work of saving souls.”

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich

I think I’ve touched on this thought before.
I think it was most likely this same time last year.

It never fails that each year, during this particular season of the Chruch calendar,
this season of Advent, this time of notable anticipation,
I just can’t help but look forward.

Maybe I shouldn’t look ahead…
but I just can’t help it…I do.

I just can’t help but not to look.
I can’t help but know already how the story ends.

Of course I’m not alone in that…
most of us who are Believers already do know how the story ends don’t we?!

And yes I know, technically the story doesn’t really end…
but perhaps that’s a bit of a spoiler for those not exactly in the know…

However that’s not today’s worry.

The lamenters will cry “why can’t you just enjoy the moment?!

And maybe I should…maybe I should just turn a blind eye to what I know
while ignoring the facts.
Maybe I should just bask in the magic of this season;
enjoying this time of joyful expectations, of mystery, of hope and of celebrations.

But I can’t ignore the fact that there is a looming foreboding shadow that I
simply can’t shake.
Consider it the ying and yang if you will.

For both Advent and Christmas, this mix of a season that speaks to all that is to be,
happiness and joy, is what some might call the front end of the story…

Or maybe it’s actually what is known as the backstory to the end story…
the story that is behind the real story.

Figuring I wasn’t alone with this notion,
I poked around a bit and found the image above at the front of the post.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one who understood that there is more to this
time of all things of happiness, newness and of birth.

For we all know, whether we like it or not, birth leads to life which in turn leads
eventually to the grave.
But who wants to think about a grave and or death when we can be toasting to what
is happy and bright right?

Not a self-absorbed culture, that’s for sure.

And so whereas we do indeed rejoice, as so we should,
we do so with a knowingness.

I’ve used this image of this particular painting before.

It is a painting by one of my favorite artists, Michelangelo Merisi
(Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio–or just Caravaggio for short.
He’s known by his town of birth and not so much by his birth name.

The painting in question is known as Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri)

Caravaggio’s paintings and subject matter can be unsettling to some viewers.
His life was no less unsettling.
And he was certainly far from saintly as his life would make any modern-day gossip tabloid
green with envy as his life truthfully read of such fodder and yet his talent,
his skill, his gift, his vision, his juxtaposition of his subjects
along with his use of light and dark, shadow and dramatic lighting…
all seem to be an exclamation point to his chosen imagery and subject matter.


(Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri) 1605-06 / Galleria Borghese)

I love this painting because it is so dramatic and powerful…

Allegorical yes, but it’s that end story in a very stalk and near visceral nutshell.

The end being the crushing of both Evil and Death.

Leaving us with birth, life, death, grave and yes, finally, victory…
All of which is rolled into this one single painting.

As both Mary and her small son, all under the watchful gaze of both Mary’s mother
and Jesus’ grandmother, St Anne…who watches on as now both mother and child put an
end mark to that which desires nothing more than to haunt their lives…

Mary’s yes to God, along with Jesus’ willingness and sacrifice, are all that was necessary
and needed in the resounding NO to Satan.

In the painting, they figuratively demonstrate victory, our victory, over both Evil and Death,
in a very decisive fashion.
Crushing the head of the snake.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

Mary who was told great things by the angel Gabriel and who was told great things by
the Magi, and who was told great things by Simeon…basked in the celebration of the
birth of her child, all the while looking forward.

She had been told and she knew and she held it all in her heart.
And I doubt that a day did not pass while she lived the life of a loving mother to this
atypical son of hers, that she didn’t feel the same foreboding that I sense now.

My sense of foreboding, however, pales in comparison to the one whose heart
had been pierced the day she said: “yes, I will do your bidding, Lord.”

Mary knew both joy and sorrow, both life and death…but the most important thing
that Mary knew was that there is victory over death…victory that just so happened to be
found in the birth of her son…

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Then the angel left her.
Blessed Among Women

Luke 1:38 MSG

And Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them,
I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge;
the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me
a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

John 12:44-50

We can’t help but look forward….

the secular stealing the Sacred

As a survivor of the Communist Holocaust I am horrified to witness how my
beloved America, my adopted country, is gradually being transformed into a
secularist and atheistic utopia, where communist ideals are glorified and
promoted, while Judeo-Christian values and morality are ridiculed and
increasingly eradicated from the public and social consciousness of our nation.
Under the decades-long assault and militant radicalism of many so-called
“liberal” and “progressive” elites, God has been progressively erased from
our public and educational institutions, to be replaced with all manner of
delusion, perversion, corruption, violence, decadence, and insanity.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn


(vintage Christmas Card)

About a week back or so, I wrote a post about the fact that we actually have two
Christmases…with the truth being that we do…we do have two.

And in turn, we have what seems to be a melding.

One is the secular Christmas of Santa, presents, stockings, commercialism and merchandising.

The other, of which is the original of the two, is the Christmas of a birth.

A birth that isn’t just any kind of birth…but rather it’s the birth of
a Savior…the birth of the Sacred.

So now that we have all of that clear—I should let you know that I have always tried hard
to keep the two separated yet at the same time, trying to keep them as one.

I think that chore is more of a burden that is not merely my burden alone…
but rather a burden that most Christians have struggled with…that being
the balance of the Sacred and secular.

And it seems as if, every year about this time, I jump on a tiny soapbox pontificating this
same ol conundrum…
And every year I tell myself, enough is enough.
I won’t get sucked in…not again.

There’s a lot of work to do for our secular side.
And it’s really a great deal of busy, and even expensive, sort of work.
And oh how we stress over it all.

We fret over the tiniest of details.
We strive for perfection while always falling short as we are then made to feel as if
we did not live up to the expectation our culture has put upon us.

But let’s be honest, we really put it on ourselves do we not?
If put another way, we actually “allow” it to make us feel as if we have not lived
up to the perfection….
However, me thinks there is something more going on here, more than meets the eye…

It’s actually something which many would consider near criminal…
A crime that is actually taking place in plain sight—
yet none of us appears to be any the wiser.

It is the stealing of the Sacred by the secular.

Yep, you read correctly.

The secular is, or certainly is trying, to steal the Sacred.

Yet here’s the thing…we are allowing it to happen.
We are complicit.
We are falling hook, line, and sinker— while all throughout this theft, we’re being dupped.

It is in our defense, that I state for the record, that we are being hoodwinked.
We are being lulled into this crime of complicity by the shiny lights and sounds
of the slick merchandising of the season that now ramps up sometime after July 4th.

So this year, my one small “rebellion” against complicity…

I opted not to send out Christmas cards.

At first, it was going to be the lights.
Then it was the tree, the gifts, the cooking, the decorating….see what I’m saying??
we’re living on an out of control fast rolling snowball turned avalanche.

Every year, early in the Fall, I’d seek out my Christmas Cards.
I did not take the task lightly.

When our son was little, ours was the basic card of a small family wishing
A Merry Christmas to all.
It was always a photo type card of our little boy with a Christmas Greeting from
all three of us.

Yet as time passed and he grew to be a young man versus that of a little boy, I shifted our
card focus from the greeting of a family through the image of their child to now
a card of only the Sacred.

A religious card that proclaimed the birth of a Savior.

It was not to be one of those types of cards with pictures of the whole family at the beach,
or on some exotic trip or some sort of montage of family feats and accomplishments…
nor was it to be one of those letter types of card that is a laundry a list of who, what
and where of the great and grand.

I understand that the simple sacrificial Christmas card morphed into becoming a surrogate
form of communication…
It became the equivalent of filling in the gaps of a year without having touched base
with the list of names on a list.

The Christmas card turned into the catch-up of life, liberally spiked with a heavy dose
of grandstanding.

It became the litany of a brag sheet of trips, events, accomplishments, and milestones…
Nothing about Christmas…that being Christ’s mass.

Nothing about Christ even being hidden in the details of that spectacular vacation to Machu Pichu
or your eldest now graduating top of her class.

Where is Jesus in the tales of where you went, who you saw, or what you accomplished?
Are there any thoughts or reflections regarding your service to Him or his sheep?

I don’t mind the images of the little children or even those of grandchildren as children
seem to be the connecting glue between the Sacred and the secular…
it is the children…or so that is what it should be.
The Sacred is that of a child and the secular is that of collective children.
Or so it was to be…
Innocence and the mystical mixed with the gift of Sacred birth.

So I figured…I’d send out my card here instead.
Just one big card for friends, family, and even strangers…

And since I would have sent them out by now, I figured I should do so here today.

So I offer you this lovely Italian baroque time period painting of the Nativity–also known
as the Adoration with Saints Francis and Lawrence…
a beautiful image for reflection and proclamation.

Yet it is a painting by the Italian artist Caravaggio—commissioned in 1609 as an altarpiece
for an oratory in Palermo, Sicily, the Oratorio di San Lorenzo…
A painting with a mysterious past, painted by a rogue of a painter…

It would be centuries following its completion that the painting would be
quietly taken by two men working for the Mafia and in turn
it would be “lost” for nearly 40 years.

A painting of the Sacred, painted by one who was anything but…
A painting that was stolen by those who were perhaps even worse than the artist…

Thus we have an example of the secular literally stealing an image of the Sacred….hummmm

(here’s a little link to the backstory behind the painting and artitst…I’ve written
about Caravaggio before…a very secular rogue of an artist who could paint oh so powerfully
the of the Sacred in a way unmatched by many other artists…one of my favs…
http://art-crime.blogspot.com/2009/12/breaking-news-on-stolen-caravaggio.html )

May we all be blessed as we recall the Sacred birth of Salvation…


The Adoration / Nativity with St. Francis and St Lawrence / Caravaggio 1609)

heads of serpents

“The final battle between the Lord and the kingdom of Satan will be about marriage
and the family.
Do not be afraid,
because anyone who works for the sanctity of marriage and the family will
always be fought and opposed in every way,
because this is the decisive issue.
However, Our Lady has already crushed his head.”

Sister Lucia


(Madonna and Child with St Anne / Caravaggio / 1605-1606 / Galleria Borghese, Rome)

Caravaggio was a masterful late Renaissance painter who seems to have been able to
capture the overwhelming importance of certain biblical moments with merely the tip
of a brush.
He mixed both arrangement, size, light and proportion to make both impressive,
as well as tremendous, visual impacts.

Yet for many art historians, this particular painting is not considered one of his better works.
However workmanship aside, the visual representation based on the verse from Genesis 3:15,

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

is indeed a powerful painted statement none the less.

A little history behind the painting, taken from the site Caravaggio.org

The Madonna and Child with Saint Anne was painted between 1605 and 8 April 1606,
when a final payment to Caravaggio was recorded,
for the Confraternity of Sant’ Anna dei Palafrenieri, or Grooms, of the Vatican Palace.
The composition depicts Christ and the Virgin treading simultaneously on the serpent of heresy,
watched by the Virgin’s mother, St. Anne, who was the patron saint of the Palafrenieri.
It was an unusual although topical theme based on an ambiguous biblical passage, Genesis 3:15,
which does not make it clear whether it was Eve, the antetype of Mary, the ‘New Eve’,
or her offspring who was meant to strike at the serpent’s head.
What started as a theological dispute became caught up in the wider debate between
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism,
with the Protestants not unnaturally arguing in favour of the offspring and, hence, Christ.
The issue was resolved on the Roman Catholic side, however, with commendable textual accuracy,
not to say religious tact,
by a Bull of Pius V which ruled that ‘the Virgin crushed the head of the serpent
with the aid of him to whom she had given birth.’
It is this interpretation which Caravaggio followed, possibly basing himself on a
slightly earlier picture by the Milanese artist Figino.

Yet Papal Bulls, Reformations and denominations aside…
Today’s faithful know that the head of the serpent was indeed crushed following that fateful
Friday afternoon outside of the walls of the old city of Jerusalem.
And if the truth be told, the vice hold on the head began that lone starry night
in Bethlehem 33 years prior.

The quote from above is offered by Sister Lucia, the oldest of the three shepherd children
who, while tending their sheep in Fatima, Portugal in 1917, were visited by a strange yet
lovely lady.

And yet it matters not where you are on your Christian journey as to whether you
take stock in the tale of the shepherd children or of the tale of the miraculous..
Just as it matters not as to whether you believe that there was indeed such a heavenly
encounter now 100 years passed…
The important thing here however is to understand that wisdom and warning both
come to us in a myriad of fashions.

There are many in today’s world, both believers and ardent non believers,
who wonder and even argue that those tales of miracles and those outspoken prophets of
the bible are found only there…
in between the pages of ancient texts…
and that our world has not been privy to such powerful and outspoken voices, with such
names as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Moses, John, Peter, Paul and that we have not witnessed such
miraculous examples as to partings of seas, or to the raising of dead bodies,
or to waters that turn either to blood or wine…
but if truth be told,
both believers and non believers, yearn for that very thing.

It is a yearning for the tangible being found in the miraculous of that of the intangible.

Our current time is precarious at best…
Where persecution of the faithful becomes seemingly more elusive yet more sinister….
as it is an intellectual and spiritual suffocation.

While that which was once overt is no longer clearly visible but rather is now veiled in
the gossamer shadows of confusion.
It is a place where the notions of acceptance and approval pervasively reign for that
which is upside down.

What was once accepted as Truth has now been twisted into something other than
as we are being spoon fed a most palatable mix of half truths and lies…
all the while we continue to clamor for bite after tasty bite.

Yet the time has come…
shall the faithful speak up and speak out?

A final battle will eventually ensue..
there have been preparations, when he left us, he made certain we were well equipped.
As he has provided ample opportunities, all of which have been freely offered..
all the while as a holy foot has held the head of the serpent at bay…

So the choice is now clear, either we opt to crush the head of the serpent or
we become his prey…

He who commits sin is of the devil;
for the devil has sinned from the beginning.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
No one born of God commits sin; for God’s nature abides in him,
and he cannot sin because he is born of God.
By this it may be seen who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil:
whoever does not do right is not of God, nor he who does not love his brother.

1 John 3:8-10

Narcissus and the selfie obsession

“For the most part people are not curious except about themselves.”
John Steinbeck

Narcissus,-c.1597-99-large
(Narcissus by Caravaggio 1597-99 / Galleria Nazionale D’Arte Antica, Rome, Italy)

I just don’t get it.

Were we not taking pictures, those of ourselves, long before the word selfie came into being the most recent phenomenon cultural obsession?
Those good ol days of the Kodak instamatic, with its four part flash cube, clicking away at the important moments of our lives. . .

Excitedly we’d pop out the film role, being careful not to expose it to light, racing it off to the nearest camera shop as we could barely contain our excitement over our soon to be developed pictures.
Only to joyfully retrieve the prints after several days of anxious waiting, marveling at the double exposures, red eyes, and blurry images as being careful not to get sticky fingerprints on the new glossy picture prints.
Were we a bit more cautious as to what we were taking pictures of as we knew that there was a person at the camera shop who would be developing said pictures and we certainly didn’t want him or her to see us in any poor choice of situation—perhaps with the developer acting as both filter and conscience. . .Hummmmmm. . .

But I suppose yes, we have come a long way. . .I just don’t know if its been a very good journey.

And social media, I don’t much get that either. . .

This whole FaceBook, Twitter, Instagram. . .”insta” this and that obsession in this obsessive connect every dot, unabashedly sharing of everything, and sadly I mean everything, with everyone and anyone world of ours. . .
Keeping up with the Joneses has now met the 21st century way.
A virtual brag sheet of trips and activities with the sharing of our intimate and private moments. . .with not only friends and family, but everyone!

Maybe it’s the latest national, no actually global, obsession, of everyone wanting their 15 minutes of fame—with, as we again sadly see, that fame often leading to instant demise. . .

I know what you’re thinking. . .you’re thinking I’m really showing my age, my ignorance, my uber unclooness. . .
Well I prefer hoping that maybe I just might be simply on a quest for wisdom.

I’ve stated before that I’ve never joined in with the whole FaceBook phenomenon.
I don’t tweet, pin, post, chat and whatever it is that most folks are now doing on this communicative world stage of ours.
Oh I understand the whole “it’s how I stay connected with my family who live so far away” mentality. . .I get that.
I get you want to see pictures of the grandkids. . .share what the kids are up to with a traveling spouse. . .share those treasured family moments with literally the world, I get it. . .I’m just wondering if we haven’t also turned into a culture of. . . what’s the word??. . .oh yeah, creepers or maybe just plain ol voyeurists–as we fill our time by pouring over ours and our neighbor’s, those known and unknown, virtual worlds.

Moms following their kids around cyberly making certain all is on the up and up until the kids “unfriend” them (which is good and all, but maybe policing their allowance of usage with technology would be better serving. . .I know, you’ve got an argument for that. . . as I’m obviously far off the grid here)
And what of the old high school and college flames reconnecting, never mind one or the other may still be married. . . or maybe you’re just trying to rekindle that whole “what was” business only to discover “what was” in now 40 years in the future and we and it has all been changed by time. . .

And yes I get the whole raise the awareness of current issues and crises. . .the promoting of businesses, the whole global drawing attention to the growing list of the lost and hopefully soon to be found. . .yet I fear our obsession is going too far—

And what’s up with this whole “sexting” business?
Where folks sashay out into the world of casual sex in a way that oddly is rationalized off as safe, as in no body is touching anybody and therefore there is really no sex, no potential disease, no true infidelity or premarital sex, so it’s all harmless—no biggie that you’re posting pics of your intimate areas as it were, looking for love or affirmation or whatever it is you’re looking for in all those wrong kind of places. . .only to see those private images go suddenly viral. . .now there’s a sticky wicket—and then that leads us to the growing sickness with cyber porn, child predators as we open an entire world of technology darkness. . .lets not even talk about cyber stealing. . .

Maybe you’re just feeling really good about yourself these days and you want the cyber world to know it as you upload selfie, after selfie, after selfie. . . .is there not more to your world than you?
And who exactly is it who is seeing these images. . . and just when you may have second thoughts about having posted those pics, hitting delete later doesn’t delete you from cyber space where you and that image remain until the end of time. . . .looking hot and good for ages to come. . .Hummmmmm

We’ve seen the selfie of the young lady, all grins as she snaps a picture of herself while on that special European trip, standing at the gates of Auschwitz—-a big ol happy smile with that cold dark gate standing behind her as the sign of “welcome” still remains. . .maybe she didn’t get that whole history of where she was standing thing. . .

What of the other young American tourists scratching their names into the side of the Colosseum there in Rome then snapping pictures in order to post to FB of their “kilroy was here moment”. . .never mind defacing a National historic treasure of Italy or the arrest, or of the fine. . .
or of the stupidity. . .

What of the tourists mugging for the camera with the bodies of the calcified remains of the victims of Pompeii—maybe it’s just me but that just seems a bit awkward—everyone pull in tight as we snap the pic of us with our arms around the case containing the remains of a human being who met a tragic end. . .everybody smile. . .

Are we so caught up in the moment of snapping that picture that we forget where we are,
what we’re doing. . .too busy to take it all in because we’d much rather get the perfect picture of us with “it”— and not merely of “it”, wherever and whatever it may be—as in look at me, here I am with “it”, at it, on it, under it, in it. . . but I’M here, ME, WE. . . forget it. . .

Oh sure there are the shots of the adrenaline rush moments with the GoPro taking us places most of us will never be or of things we will never see or of perspectives that are not our own. . . of the parachuters, the whitewater rafters, the free fall divers, the skiers, the surfers, the sharks, the rhinos, the birds, our dogs. . .

Yes there is certainly coolness and there is good. . .yet there is sad and there is dark as well. . .

I fear that our focus has become more about us, as in. . . see us, see we, see me. . .
all of this self obsession as a world continues spiraling out of control, as its troubles keep growing- – -yet we keep on smiling and sharing. . .


I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:20

Suffer the little children. . .

For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
Genesis 18:19

“Safety and security don’t just happen, they are the result of collective consensus and public investment. We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
Nelson Mandela

DSC01277
(a self-portrait by my now grown son when he as a little boy / Julie Cook / 2015)

Over the past weekend, various news reports were extolling the overt covert Delta Force take down of one of the IS masterminds while in the same breath heralded the news that IS had captured Ramadi. . .
Obviously a many headed snake slitters in our midsts.
Cut off one head only to deal with another, and another, and another. . .
It seems like a small gain in an attempt to cripple a monster, while the monster takes another large stride without skipping a step. . .

300px-Medusa_by_Caravaggio_2
(Medusa by Caravaggio / 1597/ The Uffizi Gallery / Florence, Italy )

60 Minutes aired a troubling story last evening—they seem to run a lot of troubling types of stories these days. . .Child Suicide Bombers reported by Lara Logan.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/child-suicide-bombers-lara-logan-60-minutes/

Ms Logan likened today’s suicide bombers as the modern day equivalent to the Japanese Kamikaze pilots from WWII, while noting the fact that a growing number of these misguided souls, suspected to be in the hundreds, are actually children.

And it is a horrific tactic that has been perfected by the Taliban in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Children as young as 7 are recruited and trained in the sinister art of suicide bombing—as in being wired, going to or being taken to a specific location or “target” and proceeding to detonate oneself as a living bomb. And should the child, at the last minute, decide to change their mind, a “handler” who has taken the child to their target location can actually detonate the child themselves. Meaning an adult can push a button in order to blow up the child purposefully as if they were like a bug to be squashed under foot.

Ms Logan interviewed both a major general in the Pakistani army as well as a Taliban commander with ties to Al Qaeda. One man who is doing all he can do to stop the devastating practice while rescuing as many of the children as possible as the other man, who is hellbent on not only building the practice but advancing it—even to the point of wanting his own 5 year old son, who he claims is mentally ready to make jihad, to become one of the suicide bombers.

What 5 year old child is mentally ready for much of anything except for play???

Jihad, suicide bombs, Paradise, infidels, murder, death, blown to smithereens. . .
verses
Cartoons, super heroes, coloring, playing ball, running, skipping, laughing, loving. . .

I don’t know, is it just me. . .here we have, once again, another global issue of dire concern yet it is but a mere blip on the radar of the conscious world who would prefer to fill their time with the latest music award shows, stories of Johnny Depp’s illegally imported Yorkies into Australia, the latest news anchor or political pundit who didn’t exactly tell the truth, the bizarre fascination with the latest presidential candidates, the latest women to pop up pointing a finger at Bill Crosby, or the summer’s latest suspense psycho thriller showing up on television. . .anything but the real nitty gritty ugly side of humanity that needs to be addressed and stopped!!

Be it Al Qaeda, IS, Boko Haram, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Al-Shabaab. . .the list grows daily of “organizations” that recruit, kidnap and steal children in order to enlist them into the dirty work created by woefully misguided and evil adults.

This doesn’t even touch on the skyrocketing statistics of the human slave trafficking of young girls, and yes young boys as well, for purposes of an explosivly growing global prostitution epidemic.

Or what of the millions of children worldwide living in abysmal poverty who are forced into manual labor, working in outrageous conditions while carrying out deadly and dangerous jobs for little if any pay. . .

I would think, dare to assume, that most parents all over this globe love their children.
They find joy, pride, and pure love in their children. . .
Parents from Russia to Mexico to Brazil to Uzbekistan to Kuwait to the US to China to New Zealand, etc. . .parents who love their children. . .
who are pained when the living conditions are less than desired,
who fret if their children are hungry,
who worry should their child get sick,
who sorrowfully mourn at the loss of a child. . .
Yet there are the parents of these child bombers who send them to do the work of Allah, as in blowing themselves up in order to put an end to the “infidels”— these children who are trained, or better yet brainwashed, to commit jihad. . .

Who are these parents who allow 5, 13, 17 year old boys to strap bombs to themselves and go forth to blow themselves up- – -for what????

Lara Logan asked the Taliban Commander the very same question. . .
“For what? I don’t understand that. . .”
And his response was “You do not know the Quran. You are not a believer”

Well I thought the Koran / Quran espoused of peace and of the great love of Allah. . .
Not, send your children off to go blow themselves up. . .
What kind of “believer” is that who would pack off a 5 year old child to go learn how to get blown up into a million little pieces????

Aren’t parents wired to vehemently defend and protect their children???
To hold their hands as they cross the street?
To run to their beds in the middle of the night to soothe the bad dreams?
To hold cool cloths to fevered brows. . .???

Who for the love of God, gives their kid a bomb and says
“see ya, go off now to paradise”. . .

“Oh but Julie” you say “it’s a different culture, you just don’t understand because you’re a privileged American. . .”

Bullcrap!

I cannot repeat my initial response to that as it would not be rated G. . .
I don’t buy that crap.

Parents the world over love their children—rich or poor, privileged or not, black or white, red or yellow—
Something somewhere is now fatally flawed. . .
And I for one think the free thinking, free world needs to sound a global alarm- – –

Children are not expendable!!!!!

They are not commodities to be sold, bought, stolen or traded!
They are tiny living, breathing human beings who we, you, me, them, have been given charge of for the nurturing and caring of. . .

To “train them up” in the way they should go—and that is to go forward making this world a better place for the generations of children to come. . .

“When a poor person dies of hunger, it has not happened because God did not take care of him or her. It has happened because neither you nor I wanted to give that person what he or she needed.”

Mother Teresa

Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
Matthew 18:10

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My secret German love

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Call it Feng Shui, Chi, Balance, harmony or simply symmetry–
however you wish to view it or to name it, it is me and I am it.
I don’t know if I came preprogrammed this way or not,
but I am a very symmetrically oriented person.
Equally weighted and equally balanced.
None of this asymmetrical business for me.

And so it goes when I work on my own art.

I have always loved working with watercolors…
I like working with people, birds, nests, eggs, and you name it.
However, all my life I have felt that I have really wanted / needed to create
some type of opus, some sort of monumental tribute to God.

Why is that you ask?

Well, I think people who have talents and gifts—
well, they just don’t plop out of the sky.
A gift is just that—a gift…and it is something someone has given to someone else.
God has given me much, so what little I can give back…
well I’ve wanted to do it with a visual piece of art.

I’ve spent a lifetime looking at the Italian Renaissance masters,
passing later on to the Northern Renaissance…
with then the Germans and Dutch masters.
Powerful artists, who not only mastered body and mass,
but captured the epitome of emotion.
I can find myself in tears, full of emotion, while staring at various pieces.
I love the works of the Italian Caravaggio (see post What is an Icon).
Caravaggio’s Conversion of St Paul, or as it is actually known,
The Conversion on the Way to Damascus… is but one such piece.

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The space is tight; the figures juxtaposed with precarious lines of placement
and the use of light, crucial light—
oh Caravaggio’s use of light…
Critics argue about the use of space with the horse,
Paul /Saul, the groomsman, too many legs, not enough focus on Paul, etc.
I must disagree with the “critics” as I find it powerful.
Very powerful!

It is my belief that because this is a tremendous moment in time and
that it is somewhat crammed into a tight space as the horse seems to precariously
control his mighty weight so as to not step on Paul…
who is splayed out on the ground beneath him,
as a sword is dropped to the ground, just as the stricken figure of Paul/ Saul
lies now defenseless having been struck blind…
It is because of all of this and more that seems to make this big moment even bigger.
It’s a millimoment in time that is captured… and it works—or at least works for me.
It makes me feel overwhelmed and leads me to believe that I am witnessing something that is
shattering time.
Oh those Italians——always masters of emotion——
the wonderful excess of such.

However as far as an artist who captures raw emotion with such vivid use,
there is none more so, to me, than the German Matthias Grünwald.
Who you ask?
A German, not an Italian?
All I ever talk about is my love affair with all things Italian and here I am suddenly
coming out with a secret German love?!
Yes.
I confess, a secret German love.

Unfortunately there is not much to the history books regarding Matthias.
He is a bit of an enigma.
His last name is really not his real last name.
As it seems a 17th century biographer inadvertently added Grünwald.
It is believed his name was actually Matthias Gothardt Neithardt.
He was born in Würzburg in 1480 but even that comes under question.
Who he studied under, who studied under him, all remains but a mystery.

The one thing that is not a mystery is Grünwald’s use of emotion.
We must remember that the artists of Grünwald’s time operated in a time even before
the printed word.
Images were everything;
they spoke volumes to the viewer—–their works, their paintings,
were the You Tubes of the day.
And yes, I like art that evokes emotion, passion and feelings–
why stare at something that speaks of nothing?

It is Grünwald’s Isenheim Altarpiece that, for me, evokes that tremendous emotion.
(again see the post “What is an Icon” as I’m taking from that post a tad)

crucifixion

This is one of my most favorite images of the crucifixion,
as it shows not a languid image of an intact pretty European body of Christ seemingly
floating against a cross, but rather in contrast,
it shows in graphic, vivid detail the results of a deadly beating,
a body nailed, pierced, abused, now dead body in full rigor mortis—-
the altarpiece was commissioned for a hospital in Colmar (now France but originally in Germany)
for patients with various skin afflictions (most likely plague and leprosy and St Elmo’s fire).
Hope in suffering—
resurrection form death…
Glory and victory over sin.

It is believed that Matthias may have been a plague victim and perhaps he had seen the
Black Death up close and very personally…
leading to his apparent visual knowledge of the human body in the midst of the mystery
known as death.
It is also his vision of what transpires after that death which is also worthy of attention.

It is from my appreciation of Matthias, and other artists,
who can so realistically capture the emotional dramas of human life and death,
as well as the mystical beauty often found in illuminated manuscripts,
that has lead me on my own journey of exploration of such mysterious moments
in time through my use of the visual arts.

I started working on my “spiritual” pieces about 12 years ago.
They began with the idea of the cross, ancient medieval texts,
the use of biblical languages such as Hebrew, Latin, Greek, and Aramaic,
as well as the use of mysterious mystical images as teaching tools.

The latest piece is a Triptych—
hence my love and need for balance and the symbolism as captured most
respectfully in this piece for the blessed Trinity.
It is not complete.
This whole “retirement” issue threw me for a bit of a loop and the groove of my diligent
quest has been slightly sidetracked.
There is a monastery in Hulbert, Oklahoma, Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey that I wish to
eventually donate the piece to—
they are a group of Benedictine monks,
originating out of Notre-Dame de Fontgombault,
a French Abbey, which belongs to the Solesmes Congregation.
I will write a later post about St. Benedict and the Rule of Benedict—–
a wonderful standard in which to conduct ones life.
I will also showcase the monks of Clear Creek Abbey.
http://clearcreekmonks.org/

I thought that during Holy Week,
it would be fitting that I share my love of God’s idea of symmetry
(Trinity/ Triptych/tri/three) with you, my viewing friends.

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The Twilight Zone, Cortona and Luca Signorelli

As we continue forward with the events of Holy Week, culminating on Easter Sunday with the celebration and rejoicing of the Resurrection—Jesus’ victory over death, which, in turn is our victory as well, I wish to continue looking at this week through the lens of art.

In yesterday’s post I explained my fascination with Medieval art, as well as my love for the art of the Italian Renaissance. I shared with you a visit to the small museum of San Marco located in Florence, Italy. I recalled the beauty of the museum for both the fact that it has retained its charm as a once active Dominican convent dating back to the 14th century, as well as for the historic and yet simplistic beauty of the frescos that adorn the monastery and the cell walls of the monks who once called San Marco “home.”

Today I would like to share another visit to another small church turned museum. This time we travel a short distance south of Florence to Cortona, Italy—a small medieval hill-town in southern Tuscany.

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I will not recount the wonders of Cortona that I have previously noted in my post Feast and Fellowship. There I recall the good food found in this quaint town, as well as some wonderful local merchants, the tie to author Frances Mayes, as well as for the small Italian village hailing as the adopted home of the University of Georgia’s visual art students. I will however recount a bit of my visit to Cortona, as well as to the Museum of the Diocese of Cortona, featuring the works of hometown boy made good, Luca Singorelli.

When traveling I usually depend on trains as my main means of transport, whisking me from city to city, country to country. This is certainly where Europe has travel perfected to an art. The US can learn a thing or two about the efficient use of train travel but I digress…as usual…

On this particular trip, my aunt and I had taken the train, from Florence, south to Cortona. With the one glitch being that Cortona is a hill town, the train station is down in the valley—this makes access a bit tricky. For towns such as Assisi, Cortona, Montepluciano, etc. the train stations are usually down in the “valley” in a separate small town or municipality. Buses run from the station up to the main town.

This trip was to be no different—station, bus, town. The problem was that the conductor was not calling out Cortona as a place to disembark. He was calling out the town location of the station, of which was not on my map. Panic began setting in. Not speaking Italian made listening to the intercom a little troublesome. As the train nears Cortona, or what I think to be Cortona, I suddenly panic telling my aunt to grab her stuff and lets make our way to the door. The train doors open, we throw our bags off, hopping off ourselves, when I quickly tell my aunt to grab her bag and get back on—NOW! Seems this was the stop before Cortona’s stop.

We now came to the stop for Cortona.
A name I still didn’t recognize but hoped for the best. The train pulls into the station. The station however is so small that our train car stops well short of the buildng. The door opens and we find ourselves looking down at gravel. Not having much time at these small stops we hustle getting our luggage off the train, dumping it down out of our train car onto the gravel all before clamoring down the steps.

Here are now two women dragging their rolling luggage over gravel up to a now deserted tiny train station. I love Italians very much, but if you need some sort of help or assistance and it is the lunchtime hour, you can just forget it. . .as well as for the “siesta” hour following lunch.
The Italians do know how to live—but I digress, again.

The tiny station is closed up with nary a soul to offer directions or assistance. Panic sets in again as my aunt does have a tendency to panic a wee bit when things are not flowing smoothly as they should, especially in a country in which we do not speak the language. At least it was a sunny day.

We roll our luggage around to the front of the station to what appears to be a bus stop bench. I wander around a bit looking for some sort of sign. There are no taxis, no buses, no people—I’m starting to think of the Twilight Zone. I hated those wickedly twisted tales that I use to watch when I was young. They gave me the creeps and disturbed me. That’s why to this day I hate crap like that on TV—a good reason as to why children are not meant to see certain programs, but there I go digressing.
I was beginning to have those same uncomfortable feelings at this deserted train station…

Suddenly out of nowhere a young lady appears (see, Twilight Zone) and obviously notices two “out of towners” that must be lost, as we obviously look like two deer in headlights.
In quasi English/Italian, she lets me know that a bus will be by shortly.
I tell her we are going to Cortona, pointing upward.
She nods, telling us to wait.
A car pulls up out of no where, she gets in and departs.
We are alone, again (I’m telling you, Twilight zone).
A few more minutes pass and low n behold, a bus, more like a travel bus, like a greyhound, pulls up.
The door swings open and the driver looks at me announcing “Cortona.”

We pull (jerk) our luggage up the steps.
The air conditioning is a most welcomed relief, as we were really getting hot.
This was mid June— Italy + summer = misery.

We are the only riders on the bus…
are you now hearing the Twilight Zone theme playing in your head?
I am.
The bus wends its way up a narrow road of switchbacks eventually making its way to a “parking” lot area outside a massive and ancient stonewalled like fortress.
This is the old wall surrounding the town of Cortona.

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We practically throw our luggage off the bus, down on to the paved parking area.
The bus pulls off leaving us standing on a cobbled road leading into an arched entrance perched
between the large stonewall.
As we stare straight ahead at the archway, I muse how the bus is going to turn around in order to make its way back down to Twilightville.
Stepping forward, we our way into town on the cobbled stone road with our luggage loudly bumping behind us, announcing our arrival to all.
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There are groups of outdoor tables lining the sidewalks on either side of us full of patrons eating and drinking… making us feel a bit conspicuous with our clumping luggage.
As we begin seeking our hotel with our luggage trailing behind, we are grateful that Cortona’s main “strip” is as small as the town itself.
I have a map, the name of the street for our hotel…when bingo—our hotel…

The hotel, Hotel San Michele, is perched on a very steep side street. It is an actual old grand
palace / home converted into a hotel.
Our room was actually once the kitchen, complete with old large farm sink and ornate cooking hearth. It is a large and spacious room, well appointed and is truly one of the nicest and largest rooms we have ever had when traveling throughout Italy.

After getting checked in and situated, I decide I need to go to the Pharmacia I had noticed when we were bumping our way through town. If you’ve never been to a pharmacy in Italy, as well as throughout much of Europe, they are a treat in decorum and civility. The sales people wear white medical jackets. Much of the items you come to a pharmacy to purchase are behind the counter or in drawers that the sales people will help you with—none of the familiar shelves crammed full of “stuff” that we take for granted and grab like it’s going out of style. The sales folks/ pharmacy assistants are helpful and knowledgeable and can usually be most helpful to even the English speaker.

As we enter the store, we are warmly greeted. This particular Pharmacia is very nice and large. They even had a display of Dr. Scholl’s flip-flops—Ooooo. I’m always looking for shoes, especially when traveling, because the ones I would currently have on would most likely be giving me fits. Trust me, I do give much thought to what shoes I take on a trip, but with all of the walking, even tempurepedic shoes would hurt—but I digress….

As we look around the store, the sales lady makes for the door. She shuts the door and turns out the lights, putting her finger to her lips as to quiet all inside the store. We don’t know if the store is closing or if something bad is happening. She crosses herself and I start worrying that this “is it, the end.”
When I finally see what has her attention, I am most relived.
A hearse is driving past the store.
I think that is the only time I ever saw a car driving through Cortona, as it is primarily a pedestrian town.

As Cortona is a Medieval walled town the local cemetery is found well outside the city walls. I suppose the funeral is held in a local church, and then much like home, there is a procession to the graveside. It just happens that here the hearse is often the only vehicle; the mourners are often walking behind the hearse. As soon as the hearse and mourners pass, the sales assistant turns the lights back on and re-opens the door and it’s business as usual.
Interesting.

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There were many reasons I wanted to visit Cortona but one of the primary reasons was to catch a glimpse of one of Cortona’s homegrown stellar artists—it’s just that this particular hometown boy had been dead almost 500 years. He was a draftsman as well as a painter.

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Luca Signorelli was born in 1445 in Cortona. I first “met” Signorelli while I was studying art history at the University of Georgia. I was drawn immediately to his style and use of color. It is obvious that Michelangelo was influenced by the work of Signorelli. Both artists have a strong command of the human form. Signorelli also has a keen use of color. His paintings and frescos are just as vibrant today as they were the day he painted them. Thirty years after Signorelli’s Judgment, Michelangelo would go on to do the same themed painting for the Vatican.

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Signorelli executed works in the Vatican but is best known for his frescos, particularly those in the series of the Final/ Last Judgment located in Orvieto. I think it was the studying of these frescoes that had a tremendous effect on me. I don’t know why Signorelli’s Last Judgment would effect me more so than Michelangelo’s, which is on the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel, but it is Signorelli’s work that has stayed with me these many years and I wanted to see him up close and personal.

Like most people, I don’t like thinking about Hell. That whole fire and brimstone business, going south where the sun don’t shine, a place where there is no ice water… yet with all humor aside, I know that Hell is indeed a real place that I do not ever want to find myself. Hell is the total separation from God my father—–I can think of no worse fate.

Signorelli depicts demons and devils, taking those who are cast aside by Jesus and the Archangels at the final Day of Judgment, with vivid clarity. There is despondency and despair on the faces of the souls cast aside. There is an equal counter of an evil resonance of delight and glee from the demons. I am reminded of the verse in Matthew where Jesus separates the sheep to his right and the goats to his left. These were the haunting images that have stayed in my mind from the time I had first studied Signorelli’s works.

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Cortona is a small stop on the path form Florence to the more popular destination of Assisi and eventually Rome. From a tourist’s perspective there is not a great deal of draw to this small hill town.

There is not the haute couture shopping that is found in Milan, Venice, Florence and Rome. There are not the stellar Michelin chefs entertaining guests in their lavish restaurants.
However there is the tomb of St Margaret of Cortona.

A fortress is perched atop the pinnacle of land that makes Cortona known as a “hill” town.
There is The University of Georgia’s Visual Arts Study Abroad campus. There is author Frances Mayes renovated Italian home (not a tourist destination as this is her private residence). There are stunning views of the surrounding valley and Lake Trasimeno.
There is peace and serenity.
And there are chimney swifts out the wahzoo.

The main piazza, Piazza dell Republica, is not as grand as one may find within, say, Florence.
It is a central gathering place nonetheless for both tourists and locals alike.
It is from here that one may find their way to the tiny Piazza del Duomo where The Museum of the Diocese of Cortona is located.
It sits besides the Church of Jesus—-an ancient medieval place of worship

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The Church leaders, having amassed, through donation and gift giving, a great deal of treasured artifacts, objects of religious veneration, and beautiful works of art throughout the centuries of church history, decided that a separate structure should be erected in order to house and allow the public the opportunity of viewing these hometown treasures. In 1945 the museum was officially dedicated and Cortona now proudly boasts a modern facility worthy of its rich Etruscan and Christian heritage.

If you are not careful, it may be difficult to spot the church, as well as the museum, as its exterior is very unassuming. My aunt and I wandered around a bit, almost in circles, certain we were in the correct location but without anything letting us know otherwise…
When we figured simply trying one of the many doors…and bingo!

As I’ve stated before, being able to see the actual works of an artist verses just pictures in a book makes a tremendous difference. An emotional connection is now allowed to take place as one stands before a huge painting, statue, fountain, or other piece of “art”…
There is a sense of being dwarfed by the mere size, or surprised by the smallness..
There is a feeling of being overtaken—overtaken by the sheer magnitude of what is commanding the attention of the viewer—be it large or small.
There is a physical presence to the artwork.
It comes to life so to speak.

I am always humbled by the obvious history behind a piece of art.
The distance of time which separates me, the current viewer, from the time of the works’ inception—
not to mention the myriad of viewers who also have stood before the very pieces of art that I now stand before.
From princes and popes, to queens and saints, to now, just me.
There is an intimate sharing that is taking place with all those who have gone before me, myself and those who are yet to come.
There is a tangible connection that is almost palpable.
There is a sense of the Divine.

Those who see art in a museum and just walk past, piece per piece, without giving thought or refection to what separates art and viewer is missing so very much.
There is living history, celebration and a serious story taking place.
It is there, free, for all to partake.

And so it was, when I saw the works of Signorelli, in this most intimate of settings.

Obviously the Orvieto frescos of the Final Judgment are not here.
As it so happens, it was here in Cortona that Signorelli suffered the grievous loss to two children on two separate occasions…
I often think that artists lose themselves, hiding from pain or sorrow within their art—–as the art provides an escape or an outlet for tremendous emotion.
This is most likely no different for Signorelli and his loss.
What then is there about his work, the emotion within each piece, that most likely hides his own torment and suffering?

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I will not attempt to play art critic, as that is not my job. My job, or rather my hope, is that by reading my recollections, you may be stirred within and moved by some unknown force prompting you to dig deeper and go further.
I hope you will want to look at the work yourself, either up close and personal, or through investigation in the world of art history. My dream is that we could all travel to see such treasures—but unfortunately that is not possible. It is therefore the responsibility of those of us who have seen various treasures throughout the world to share them with others.
As that is what art is about—sharing.

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Signorelli’s work is moving. Moving because of the subject matter, but equally moving because I also know of his sorrows. He is sharing his pain with me and countless other viewers.
Michelangelo shared…
Leonardo shared…
Caravaggio shared…
Not all share sorrow or pain…
For some it is frustration, for others, perhaps even joy…
Yet it must be known that all share a touch of genius.

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It is because of having read the accounts of others viewers and travelers that prompt me to often want to go myself, in person, to see and view such—whatever it may be. When that is not possible, which is much of the time, I find other means in which to glean a little bit more. I attempt digging deeper. Seeking to unearth my own piece of treasured information and emotion. May this be your little bit more, your little bit extra.

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