losing, looking, knowing, seeing…

“There are two ways of knowing how good God is:
one is never to lose Him,
and the other is to lose Him and then to find Him.”

Archbishop Fulton Sheen


(Christ Pantocrator, the oldest known Icon of Christ, 6th Century AD / St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai)

This past week has been one full of ups and downs, highs and lows,
and a week of all things in between.
Much of which has been beyond our immediate control.

So I think it was Tuesday morning when I actually was afforded my “quiet time”—
a time when I could truly be alone and in fellowship with God.
A time that was once as regular as clock work…
then people retired and mornings were no
longer my own…
Juggling time took on a whole different sort of meaning.

Tuesday morning I opened my morning devotion, a book of The Divine Hours—
I pray the liturgy of hours—an ancient form of
prayer based on a fixed time of prayer during the course of a day—
mine is an abbreviated devotion of morning, midday, and vespers.
A typical monastic cycle is based on a schedule of 7 times dispersed over a 24 hour period.

According to prayerfoundation.org:
The Seven Historical (Canonical) Hours of Prayer is based upon Psalm 119:164
“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.”

6:00 am – First Hour (Matins / Lauds / Orthros)
9:00 am – Third Hour (Trece)
Noon Prayer – Sixth Hour (Sext)
3:00 pm – Ninth Hour (None)
6:00 pm (Vespers / Evensong
9:00 pm (Compline)
Midnight Prayer.

These times basically overlap in the three large liturgical denominations…
Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican communions.

When I was attending the church of my childhood, Evensong was my most favorite service–
It was small, quiet, and intimate.
And that’s probably because I grew up in a massive Cathedral
and Evensong was always in a small gothic chapel rather than the cavernous sanctuary
and was always sparsely attended…but I digress.

Nowadays, I’m just lucky to be able to get in the morning devotional–

So Tuesday morning, when I began my reading and recitations, I began reading the affixed
reading for the day—a reading from the Book of Revelation:

Because you have kept My word of perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of the testing,
that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who live on the earth.
I am coming quickly; hold firmly to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
The one who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God,
and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God,
and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God,
and My new name.
The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Revelation 3:10-13

This is not a revolving sort of reading but a fixed reading.
Meaning it was not chosen precisely for this year of 2020.
It was not chosen for this surreal time but was rather more of a permanent piece of scripture–
it is the same verse read over the years, over the seasons on this particular day–
this Tuesday, the 3rd week of Advent.

And yet here it was staring at me on this particular Tuesday morning,
plain as day— speaking so pointedly to our trying days and time,
speaking plainly to our current prickly world which has been trying our souls day and night
since early March.

We have got to remember that God still sees and He still knows—
He knows we are heavily burdened.
We knows we are down trodden.
He knows.
He sees.
And in that seeing and knowing, He will write his Name upon us.
We will be His and He will be ours.

Hold fast.
The time draws nigh…

Advent.
We wait.
We watch.

refuge found in a memory

“The Lord manifests Himself to those who stop for some time in peace and humility of heart.
If you look in murky and turbulent waters, you cannot see the reflection of your face.
If you want to see the face of Christ, stop and collect your thoughts in silence,
and close the door of your soul to the noise of external things.”

St. Anthony of Padua


(a statue to Saint Anthony in the small chapel of St. Blasiuskirche, Salzburg, Austria / Julie Cook / 2012)

When I first read the quote that I’ve opted to use today,
I was immediately transported to a different time and place…
and to a previous post.

It was 2012 and I had recently retired from 31 years of teaching—I was also preparing
to embark on an arduous journey with my elderly father…how arduous, I had no idea,
but I knew life was changing and I knew it was not going to be for the better.

My aunt, another friend, and I had all embarked on a bit of an adventure
during that fall of 2012.
It was a wonderful trip which holds some very precious and treasured memories…
especially since my aunt is no longer with us.

Yet during that trip, there were a couple of very special moments that have stayed
near to my heart…and one thing I’ve learned over the years,
adventures offer lessons.

And so I looked back at that original post and found that the serenity that I had experienced
during that adventure, and later in the writing of the post,
I realized that I greatly needed to relive, as well as share, again, that
peaceful gratitude I found one quiet fall afternoon.

And so here is that post from October 2013 about a warm fall afternoon in 2012
in Salzburg, Austria:

The deep groaning and creaking sound of the huge ancient wooden door being pulled open
echoes loudly throughout the small yet cavernous chapel.
It must be the vaulted ceiling helping to carry the sound deep into the hallowed room.
The burning votives cast an otherworldly glow.
There is a lingering scent of incense mixed with the musty dampness.

There is a lone figure, an older woman, kneeling at one of the front pews…
her rosary woven through her fingers, moving ever so slightly,
bead per bead as she silently makes her petitions before the small statue.

I once heard it put that religion was just something for old women and children.
Pity that…as that must mean that older women and children are the only ones
who “get it”…everyone else must be too vain, too prideful, and too arrogant
to truly understand.

My eyes begin to adjust to the lack of lighting as the cool air is a welcomed feeling
against the late afternoon Autumn warmth outside.
I walk slowly, quietly, reverently down the small aisle,
my hand resting on the smooth wooden end cap of each pew, as I make my way to my seat of choice.
I kneel slightly, the genuflection of reverence, before slipping into the pew.

I’m not Catholic but raised Anglican–yet I oddly welcome and greatly appreciate the nuances
of ancient worship–-more than would be expected from my raising.
There is a deep mystery that I believe many in our mainstream churches miss.
This Christianity of ours is an ancient faith but that is too sadly forgotten in this age
of the technologically savvy megachurch.
The ancient components of worship seem lost on those now sitting in stadium type seating waiting,
as if ready for the latest blockbuster to begin,
to be wowed not by participation but by passive viewing.

Despite my pained attempts to muffle my movements,
each step, each rustle of my jacket, causes deep reverberations through this ancient room,
I feel very conspicuous even though just one other person is present.
She never wavers from her intense focus to her prayerful conversation.
She is oblivious to my presence.

I take in my surroundings before dropping to my knees.
The chapel is hundreds of years old as worship here dates back to the 1200s.
Dark wood paneling with cream-colored walls.
Arched vaults line the ceiling with stone columns systematically placed,
acting as supports, creating the aisles throughout the room.
This is not one of the beautifully bright and light Rococoesque churches of Austria
that the tourists clammer to enter in order to view famous paintings,
statues and frescos with ornate altars boasting a multitude of plaster cherubs
heralding glad tidings.
This chapel is small, dark, ancient, and humble.
Perhaps that is why I was drawn inside.

I slip down to my knees as I make the sign of the cross.
I begin my “conversation”—-it is one of thanksgiving and gratitude as a tremendous sense
of warmth and contentment engulfs me.
I then begin my petitions—-not for myself,
but for those I love who are not with me on this particular journey.
After some time, I open my eyes.
How long had I been praying?
I rest in the moment as a tremendous sense of safety and peace washes over me–-it is almost palpable.

Am I a tourist or a pilgrim? I like to think that when I travel, I am a pilgrim.
I want to not merely observe, but rather, I want to partake…
I want to be a part of each moment in time.
I am not here to watch an old Austrian woman in prayer,
watching from the shadows of an ancient chapel as some sort of voyeuristic individual
or as someone viewing animals in an enclosure,
but rather I want to pray beside her to the same God who hears each of our prayers.
I am in communion with her even though she never glances my way.
I want to appreciate this chapel that is a part of her daily life,
wishing I too had such a special and reverent place of retreat.

The history here is so old as countless individuals previously have gathered
here to worship, to seek, to lament, to rejoice.
I slowly rise from my knees slipping out of the pew.
I make my way to the small alter to pick up a fresh votive.
I gently touch the fresh wick to one of the existing burning flames–my hand slightly shakes.
I feel the warm heat against my cheeks rising from the candles.
I place my lit votive in an empty slot silently thanking Saint Anthony
and God for this time of communion with not only them but with this woman
who never seems to notice my presence.

I am grateful.
I slip a few coins into the small metal locked box by the door.
I make my way back outside, into the light.
It almost hurts my eyes as it is now so sunny and bright.
The sounds of the throngs of people on the streets are almost painful to my ears.
This is Oktoberfest, the streets and alleyways are teeming with a sea of people.

For a brief moment, I had a glimpse of the Divine.
I feel different for the encounter.
Changed.
Better.
Not in an arrogant sort of way but more in the way that I have been fortunate
to be privy to something so rich and so special.
I look out at all of the throngs of people reveling in this historic and exciting
city during this raucous time. I slightly smile inward thinking that I hold a special
secret that no one else knows…no one other than that older woman back in the chapel
and myself.

Bowing, kneeling…humility, reverence

“Every man’s measurement is determined by his responses
when he is on his knees before God.”

J. Otis Yoder, When You Pray


(a woman worships in silence alone, in a small Florentine chapel in Florence, Italy / Julie Cook / 2007)

I grew up in a Christian denomination that included a great deal of kneeling throughout its services—
I became quite comfortable early on, being on my knees when I came before God…
be there a cushioned kneeler or a bare floor.

I was also accustomed to solemnly bowing if I ever crossed in front of the altar.
Bowing was a sign of respect and reverence as the church’s cross was center-point above the altar.
I would also genuflect, a slight kneel, before and after entering or exiting my pew.

Reverence and humility offered to and for God—both deeply ingrained in my being long ago.

I carry that same sense of respect and reverence with me to this day.

I humble myself before God.

I do so because I am reminded of Moses coming before the Great I AM, and being told to remove his
sandals because he was standing on Holy ground. (Exodus 3:5)

Each of our houses of worship, consecrated to the Lord, becomes Holy ground.

It is why I will offer myself as a humble servant when entering a House of Christian Worship.
It is why I will kneel in the quiet of solitude when I pray alone, be it at home or
someplace else, whenever I come before the Lord my maker.

O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand…

Psalm 95:6-7

Yet oddly kneeling and bowing seem to have become quite the hot item as of late.

And it has nothing to do with the worship of God but rather the worship of man.

Last month the in vogue thing was the wearing of masks…
that is now replaced with a demanding that one should kneel or bow…
as a sign of servitude to another human being.

Bowing and or kneeling are now required by the ‘madness mob’ as an act of contrition.
It is demanded by those who deem that you and I are either the wrong skin color
or that we are on the wrong side of their movement—think Seattle and their
new 6 city block zone that is now proclaimed as a “new” independent country
within a country.

I don’t bow or kneel to man.
I bow and kneel to God—plain and simple.

We must respect our fellow man as we strive to serve mankind with our actions and heart…
but our kneeling and bowing…our worship is reserved but for One and for One alone.

During my marriage ceremony, the priest asked that my soon to be husband and myself
would step up to the altar and kneel–this as he proceeded to bless us.

We were kneeling at the altar, before the cross, as a sign
of our respect to God…we knelt, inviting God to please come and be a part of this new journey
that we were about to embark upon….we knelt asking for His blessing of our union–
two becoming one.

I am now deeply perplexed as I watch human beings demanding that other human beings kneel
and bow down before them—and if one does not comply…the result, with the least being ridicule
and the common being bodily harm.

What have we become to one another?

There was a wonderful story this past week about a Georgia State Patrol officer who had
gone to work a protest.
He, as have officers all over our country been told to do, was asked by the crowd to kneel
before them in order to show his contrition and respect.

He stated that he has respect, otherwise he would not have given up vacation time in order to
come oversee a protest in hopes of keeping everyone safe…but that he will only kneel…
to God.

https://www.fox35orlando.com/news/georgia-state-trooper-tells-protesters-in-viral-video-i-only-kneel-for-god

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven,
and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:10-11