The garden

“We all long for Eden, and we are constantly glimpsing it: our whole nature at its best and least corrupted, its gentlest and most human, is still soaked with the sense of exile.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

“When Adam ate the irrevocable apple, Thou
Saw’st beyond death the resurrection of the dead”

C.S. Lewis

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(Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2016)

There once was a garden that was perfect in every sense.
There were no need for boundaries nor signs, not even a single fence.

Its beauty was undeniable as its splendor was amazing.
There were animals of every shape and size contently roaming and grazing.

The trees grew tall and the pastures lush, as the bushes grew full and wide…
While all manner of flower and fruit blossomed with unapologetic pride.

God sweetly handed man the keys proclaiming that he should now enjoy,
Creation could but only hope for a happy ending to this perfect story…

But happiness and peace were not to be this story’s blissful end…
For there was far more trauma and tragedy that this writer should have penned…

There were whispered lies and falsehoods uttered, as selfishness stepped on stage.
With the die being cast and death now laughing, it is only sorrow for this new age..

The gates to this most beautiful place were sealed and tightly locked.
As both seraphim and cherubim stood to the side confused and terribly shocked…

Forever banished now is Adam, with Eve right by his side…
Along with every hope and dream, which has each now quickly died…

Death this tragic day was given dominion over this now broken world…
As chaos and madness mixed together and evil loomed and swirled…

Our generation is no different from the rest with each now having come and gone…
We wonder if today’s the day as we look beyond this morning’s dawn.

Will Christ come riding triumphantly upon the clouds so white…
And will this once beautiful garden ever be returned to earth’s most anxious sight?

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
Revelation 22:1-3

the saint, the sultan and a first in meetings…

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( modern grave markers within the ancient cemetery located within the grounds of St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

In 1219 a humble and simple Italian Franciscan monk ventured across raging seas and hostile lands with the hope of eventually crossing enemy lines in order to meet one of the most feared men of his time, Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt… who also happened to be the nephew of the greatly feared Muslim warrior Saladin.

This was the height of the 5th Crusade. The Holy Roman Empire was embroiled, once agin with Muslim forces, as Jerusalem and what is known to Christianity as the Holy Lands, was under Muslim rule. Pope Innocent III and his successor Pope Honorius III, along with King Andrew II of Hungary and the Grand Duke Leopold VI of Austria launched a Holy Crusade to rid Christianity’s holiest city and her lands of Muslim rule once and for all. The irony here however is that Sultan Malik al-Kamil was actually one of the more tolerant Muslim rulers and allowed Christians living in and traveling to and from Jerusalem safe passage as well as greater freedoms than had previous rulers. Gone were the days of persecution and vast bloodshed. Yet the Catholic Church and most of Europe held the belief that the only good Jerusalem was a free Jerusalem.

Francesco Bernardone, affectionately known to us today as St Francis of Assisi, according to historical record longed to travel to the land of the Saracens not only to witness to the Muslims in the name of Christ but to broker peace. There is much debate over this encounter—had Francis simply wished to die a martyr in his hope to convert the Sultan as some historical documents record or had he hoped to intervene a peaceful solution putting an end to the ages of hostility, violence and bloodshed which had existed between these two religions for hundreds of years…scholars continue to debate these varying schools of thought.

The one fact however greatly agreed upon is that the meeting was one of mutual respect and peace.
Both men departed company with a lasting impression of mutual admiration and an understanding that each honored God…albeit in his own way.

As the world sits and watches the daily violence and mayhem unfolding within the very same region of the encounter of Francis and the Sultan…in Northern Arica and the Middle East, there appears to be an endless rolling wave of violence and bloodshed that seems to have been relentless since the dawn of mankind…as those deadly ripples reverberate ever outward into a gravely unaware world.

And it is during these global dark days in which my thoughts often turn to the teachings of that humble monk from Assisi.
I wonder how St Francis would view the current crisis with the current global assault by ISIS…
As this rising new unbending rule within Islam seems to lack the wisdom and tolerance of the long ago Sultan.

There is a historic meeting which is soon to take place.
It is a meeting between the two leading men who sit on the ancient thrones of their collective branches of Christianity.
Pope Francis, the Sovereign of Vatican City and the Bishop of Rome, the leader of the western Latin Roman Catholic Church, who is the 266th pope to sit on the throne of St Peter, will meet with his Orthodox counterpart, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leading patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This meeting is a first between these two branches of the same tree. Previous popes have attempted to meet with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy but the rift between these two “sister” churches is deep.
All of which indeed goes back to the Great Schism of 1054 when Christianity was divided between the Latin West and the Eastern Orthodox.

However with the Russian Orthodox the wariness seems to go even further as the Mother Church of Russia looks at the Latin Church as one who has long hoped to lure away the Russian faithful while the Catholic Church has long wondered how “close” the Russian Orthodox Church has been first with the ruling Tsar’s and then later with the Communist regime…with current continuing questions regarding the relationship and roll between it and Vladimir Putin’s government.

Yet it is with grave mutual concern over the rampant rise in global Christian persecution, especially in the region of Northern Africa and the Middle East, that these two holy men will put aside all differences in order to come together in a greatly historic and unprecedented union in hopes of creating a unified front, while the world watches and wonders how many more must die at the hands of barbarism before someone stands up and says enough is enough.

As the time of this historic meeting fast approaches, may our collective Christian families join together in united prayer for these two men as they prepare to meet later this month in Cuba.
May the Holy Spirit make His presence known and felt as these two men of deep Christian faith, who speak as representatives on the global stage for all of Christianity as well as humanity itself…may they find the necessary common ground within their shared faith, their love of Jesus Christ…may their two voices join as one as they speak for those who cannot speak.
May the world stop long enough to hear these two men’s collective wisdom which is steeped in the wisdom of the One True Spirit of God.
And may all Christians join together in support as we stand together as the Light shining in this every darkening world….

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35500973

Where is the Sacred?

“There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”

― Wendell Berry

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(St Kevin’s Monastery / Glendalough, County Wicklow / Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Where is the Sacred,
the Holy,
the Hallowed?

Where has it gone?

Has man lost his connection to the Divine
and what it means to be
reverent,
quiet,
observant….

Oh how it so seems…

Does the mocking of a drowned two year old child, off the coast of Turkey,
make anyone else uncomfortable, distressed or disturbed…
or is it just me?

Does Charlie Hebdo and others who make light over everything and anything,
who use the satirical to…
malgin,
berate,
and draw attention to…

Do they, the magazines, the papers, the comics.. try to make us…
better,
wiser,
more insightful…?

Do they make us think, laugh or simply feel numb?

All with their mocking, ridiculing and disrespect…?

Freedom of speech…
it is the rallying cry is in not…
The defensive call to arms.
Yet whose word is free and whose words are not?

What of….
what of the respect found within that freedom…
what of the cost of human sanctity found within that freedom
what of the spilled blood found within that freedom

Was respect not rooted in the foundation?
Civility?
Courtesy?
Fairness?

What of the respect for…
for life,
for death,
for the living,
for the dying,
for the less than,
for the maligned,
for the young,
the old,
all found within that freedom…

What of the honor to be afforded to all human beings regardless of…
stature,
class,
race,
age,
belief,
Does none of that matter…
Is it all just fodder now for our obsession with the biting satire of our own contagious dark humor?

Oh laugh and chuckle if you will.
That nervous sort of ridiculing and jaded scoffing…
Join the masses of those who have grown numb, cold, closed, shallow, empty…
and so over the top that there is no longer room for the kind, the compassionate, the soul…
the Hallowed,
the Holy
or
the Sacred…

Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
Exodus 3:5

the tontine

If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time.
And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm.

Mahatma Gandhi

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(The Rock of Cashel cemetery, County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

A tontine…
A french word used during the 17th century to denote an investment created by several individuals…With the premise being that each member of the group agrees to initially pay a set sum…
The money is never touched, rather it is allowed to grow over time.
As the years pass and the members of the group eventually, one by one, die off, the remaining shares grow…with the last surviving member of the group amassing the lump of the sum plus all accrued interest.

The idea of a tontine played out on one of the episodes of the hit show M.A.S.H.

In this particular episode Colonel Potter, the patriarch of the cast, received a secretive and oddly strange package of which suddenly cast a grave pall over his entire demeanor. Naturally those closest to the beloved leader, Hawkeye, BJ, Margaret and Charles each grew terribly concerned seeing that the Colonel had grown almost inconsolably depressed after having received this most odd package.

The entire episode evolved around what was in the package, what was wrong with Colonel Potter and what could this rag tag group of friends do to help.

Finally Colonel explained…
The package was a bottle of fine French Brandy.

The story behind the bottle was that during World War I, when Colonel Potter was a young soldier, his regiment had found themselves dangerously deep behind enemy lines in German occupied France. His small group of comrades had come upon the bottle of brandy as they hunkered down in an abandoned shell of what was once an elegant home. Right then and there this little group of beleaguered soldiers made a pact, or more appropriately a tontine. Should they survive the war, they would save the bottle of brandy by placing it in a safety deposit box. The bottle would then remain under lock and key until there was but one lone survivor of the group–upon which time the bottle was to be delivered to the “last man standing” who would in turn drink a toast to what had been.

Colonel Potter, who now bitterly found himself still fighting, what seemed to be a lifetime of wars all these many years later, was the last living soul remaining from his once youthful regiment, as his own mortality now mockingly taunted him as it stared him in the face… all the while a lonely bottle of brandy begged to be consumed.

Life is indeed bittersweet.

If we are fortunate, we live a long life supported and surrounded by family and friends.
We journey together through both joy and sorrow, trepidation and gallantry.
We ride the waves of triumph both high and mighty then hold fast and tight during the calamity of storms.
We experience shared moments, good and bad, which become the mortar between the building blocks of our lives.

Then one strange day we suddenly realize, that while we weren’t paying attention or taking much notice, ever so slowly and one by one…our numbers mysteriously have decreased…

We find ourselves on the opposite side of happily ever after, looking back wondering where the time has gone. One by one we are left more and more isolated and alone, until finally we are the last man / woman standing out of a once large troupe of beloved comrades, family and life long companions.

Gone are those who were in our lives to protect, to cheer on, to share with, and to relish with….those who were the life-lines, the wise ones, the sages of our lives…
Leaving us in the unfamiliar position of now being those very things for a much younger lot than ourselves…
A lonely feeling.
A bittersweet feeling.
A very sad feeling.

And that was the very overwhelming realization for dear ol Colonel Potter…

The friends that had transitioned with him from boyhood to manhood, under cloak of war, we’re all now gone. Those who had lived through and understood a lifetime now long past had all but vanished, leaving him as the only remaining one who could recall and understand a time that was as he found himself now surrounded by a much younger group who had not been there nor done that…he was now the odd man out.

Yet through the heavy sense of loss with the weight of age suddenly bearing down and crushing his shoulders, our dear Colonel Potter understood that as he may be the last of his particular group to survive, he was still surrounded by companions, loved ones and friends… albeit of a different generation.
Life was still to be lived, relished and enjoyed.
Occasionally he could look back and recall all that was, but life was indeed for the living and it was time to say good-bye to the past while looking toward the future.

And so as he opened the bottle of bandy that had delightfully mellowed with time, offering a toast to those who once were and to a life that was well lived…he also offered a toast to those standing by his side and to the life that was yet to be…
toasting the memories of friends now gone and toasting the lives of those friends now standing by his side.

May those of us who now find ourselves standing closer to the end of our own life’s tontine remember, that as our numbers maybe decreasing, our importance in the lives of those who come behind us is greatly increasing.
Our experiences, our history, our life’s knowledge is all necessary in order to help light the path for those generations behind us as we continue moving toward an unknown future of the possibilities of what will be.
We stand as the mile markers and guideposts for future generations…may we, with God’s grace, direct them well…

And the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.
1John 2:17

to infer

Since reasoning, or inference, the principal subject of logic, is an operation which usually takes place by means of words, and in complicated cases can take place in no other way: those who have not a thorough insight into both the signification and purpose of words, will be under chances, amounting almost to certainty, of reasoning or inferring incorrectly.
John Stuart Mill

The idea of a God we infer from our experimental dependence on something superior to ourselves in wisdom, power and goodness, which we call God; our senses discover to us the works of God which we call nature, and which is a manifest demonstration of his invisible essence. Thus it is from the works of nature that we deduce the knowledge of a God, and not because we have, or can have any immediate knowledge of, or revelation from him.
Ethan Allen

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(St Kevin’s Monastery / Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Limitation collides with the Limitless
Try as it must, it cannot describe that which is beyond description.
The human mind labors to find the words…
even just one word…
but it fails.

An Entity that is without time, without form, without definition, without words…
Efforts are made to contain, to explain and to chain…
To detect, to dissect as well as inspect
Yet to do so has proven impossible.

Is IT greater than?

Of course IT is…
Without exception…

Yet…

The ego must see, must touch, must measure….
in order to claim, to believe and to state that something is indeed real.

The masses are left to merely inject, project, and to infer…
their own words…
their own thoughts…
their own meanings…
as well as
their own feelings…

Making IT forever less than…
less than IT should ever be…

“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, indeed everything that is in the heavens and the earth; Yours is the dominion, O LORD, and You exalt Yourself as head over all.
1 Chronicles 29:11

Backwards and forwards

Nobody gets to live life backward.
Look ahead, that is where your future lies.

Ann Landers

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(St Kevin’s Monastery / Gleandalough National Park / County Wicklow / Julie Cook / 2015)

Peering over the top of the rock wall, we stare out over an unfamiliar site.
The who’s, the what’s and the why’s of another day and time.
Names forgotten.
Beginning and ending dates, once so important to those whom the comings and the goings of these particular lives truly mattered, are now nothing more than mere worn numbers.

We live,
we perish,
we mourn,
as the living move forward.

Are we different because of those who now are on the other side of the wall?
Are we better?
Are we worse?
Have we been affected at all?

Their voices may now be silent, yet we hear them whisper…
There are warnings, advice, encouragement and guidance
But only if we stop long enough to listen.

Their’s are regrets, sorrows, as well as lives well lived and loved.
Many, such as those across the wall, are all but long forgotten.
A weathered worn marker, ravaged by time and the elements, once a place
for melancholy recollections, stands now as a lonely sage to an unsuspecting future.

We can look and wonder…
We can imagine what may have been,
as we wonder what might yet be…

The way was paved.
For good or for bad.
There were mistakes…grave and regrettable.
Yet there were also moments of greatness and wonder.

Are we better?
Would they be amazed or would they knowingly shake their heads in disbelief?
Do they know what we don’t…
that we too have a date with destiny…
Yet with but two choices remaining…?

We must choose to yield a stone cold will
or
Either we choose to set that will to stone…
just like many of those on the other side of the rock wall…

Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.
Romans 6:13

The Great Divide

“The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the division which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near, and they must hold on and persevere until it comes. Only he will be blessed who remains loyal to Jesus and his word until the end.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

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(a worn weary relief of Jesus adorns an ancient cross, marking an equally ancient grave in the Rock of Chasel Cemetery / County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

On a random day oh so long ago, in a place and time unknown,
a bond of union and love was irreparably broken…

Ripped apart and torn asunder, a Heart was left in pieces.

A chasm so consuming was cut instantly deep and wide.
Two sides now existed where before there had been but one.
Where there was once only Light…darkness now laid claim.

As the separation of man and his Creator was now catastrophically complete.

For He who is without sin may not, can not, gaze upon he who is of sin…
and man had made his sinful choice as Death was now his eternal companion.

With the Heart that knows no sin splayed open…broken and shattered, shame enjoyed the show, as sorrow and contempt swept across the land…
Agony and darkness joined with pain, colliding together as one.

Nothing could, would, ever be the same.

“GO” was the agonizing command, “Be Gone from this sacred place for you are no longer welcome”
There was to be no turning back nor return.
The gate was forcibly slammed as it vanished far from sight.

Now lost and alone for the very first time, the fallen wrapped themselves in shame as a sick and twisted laughter worked to fill the deafening void.
Ridicule and mockery rushed to offer service…
As pride and arrogance proceeded to build a shrine.

As the eons of time drifted along the wind, sorrow, division and separation remained.
Suffering, illness, lies and deceit lay cluttered across the land.
Hatred, self-centeredness, self obsession, mistrust and ignorance perfected their craft,
As man was hopelessly lost unto himself…

And so there was yet another day not so random, yet oh so long ago, that the Heart which once lay broken offered the only solution possible for a seemingly lost state of irrevocable divide…
The only option remaining was for that which was once broken…to break itself again.

And so it was, on a not so random day, equally long ago, chosen particularly by Love itself…there was a cross, then a tomb, and finally a unified Heart…

You must be a gambler

“Yes, I can understand that a man might go to gambling table – when he sees that all that lies between himself and death is his last crown”
Honoré de Balzac

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

James 4:14

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(an unmarked ancient grave in the cemetery of St. Kevin’s Monastery Glendalough, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Words were once uttered.
Promises were clearly made
Covenants and tenants were freely given.

A roadmap, if you will, to living within the realm of balance.

Dos and Don’ts
Cans and can’ts
Yes and no

The wisdom of one Wiser than yourself issued a decree.

Ancient words now reduced to dust
Mumbo jumbo and poppycock
Fairytale dribble

You deem its relevance unnecessary

Was it real or imagined
Made up, fabricated, perpetuated
Promises given or just a pack of silly lies?

Yet in the back of your mind, you’re always left wondering…
There are days you consider the possibilities
Did He?
Didn’t He?
Was He?
Wasn’t He?

Is He…?

You live your life as though He never was.
His words, if they were His words, mean nothing to you.
You scoff, you ridicule, you curse His very existence.
Yet the words dog you, nagging and nipping at your heels.
Why curse that which you deem non-existent?
Why do you let it bother you, allowing it under your skin,
if it’s nothing but a tale?

You roll the dice each morning when you wake.
You’ve perfected a poker face…all the while hiding behind the emptiness
You live your life as if the odds are stacked forever in your favor…
yet you can’t help but wonder…

Take the risk or play it safe, throwing caution to the wind…
Or do you simply turn around, walking away forever…
A friendly little wager of “what if”…
…or is it really something much more costly…

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

Ephesians 5:15-17

time being a relevant thought

To be a Christian who is willing to travel with Christ on his downward road requires being willing to detach oneself constantly from any need to be relevant, and to trust ever more deeply the Word of God.
Fr.Henri Nouwen

Time is a brisk wind, for each hour it brings something new… but who can understand and measure its sharp breath, its mystery and its design?
Paracelsus

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(grave markers found in the cemetery at the Sligo Abbey, County Sligo / Julie Cook / 2015)

The hour grows late and it appears as if I have run out of time…

There once was a time when these markers, these words, these remembrances were thought well of—for they marked the lives lived of those who once mattered to someone else.
They mattered to those in a certain time who thought well enough to remember, to mark and to recall the lives, the times and the deaths of others who mattered…

For there once was a time to celebrate, a time to mourn and a time to remember…

It also appears that there has been a time to forget…

For Time has simply had his way…sweeping gently away the physical reminders of that which once was…as the names, the lives and the times of those once thought well enough of… have slowly faded…as time has now long passed since the days of remembrance for the lives and times of those who now lie buried here…as they, their lives, their times are now forgotten and simply abandoned to the ravages and march of Time…

For some of us Time will be quickly passing…
While for others it will be a time slowly to depart.
Yet all of our time will surely wane…
Making way for a new time…

As the questions hang heavy…when did those who had taken the time to recall and remember, take the time to simply walk away, disappear and forget…?

For it seems that at some point in time each and everyone of us will indeed have our day and our time… yet…
Just as quickly, our days and time will surely pass…as we too will simply be a name, a date, a time of a life and time that once was…leaving others in a different time to wander and wonder..
Which in turn leaves only just one question….before our time has waned and is to be forgotten…

… how shall we then pass those days and that time…?

“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice”
John 5:28

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