pierced heart

“As the sun surpasses all the stars in luster,
so the sorrows of Mary surpass all the
tortures of the martyrs.”

St. Basil


(detail of Mary at the deposition of Christ by the Flemish artist Rogier van der Weyden circa 1435)


“In this valley of tears, every man is born to weep, and all must suffer,
by enduring the evils that take place every day.
But how much greater would be the misery of life,
if we also knew the future evils that await us!
‘Unfortunate, indeed, would be the situation of someone who knows the future’,
says the pagan Roman philosopher Seneca; ‘he would have to suffer everything by anticipation’.
Our Lord shows us this mercy. He conceals the trials that await us so that,
whatever they may be, we may endure them only once.
But he didn’t show Mary this compassion.
God willed her to be the Queen of Sorrows, and in all things like his Son.
So she always had to see before her eyes, and continually to suffer,
all the torments that awaited her. And these were the sufferings of the passion
and death of her beloved Jesus.
For in the temple, St. Simeon, having received the divine Child in his arms,
foretold to her that her Son would be a sign for all the persecutions and oppositions of men. …
Jesus our King and his most holy mother didn’t refuse,
for love of us, to suffer such cruel pains throughout their lives.
So it’s reasonable that we, at least, should not complain if we have to suffer something.”

St. Alphonsus Liguori, p. 222
An Excerpt From
A Year with Mary

I’m still making my way slowly through the book The Divine Plan by Paul Kengor and Robert Orlando.
A book based on a seemingly oddly matched friendship and the ‘dramatic end
of the Cold War.’
The book is about the relationship between the Catholic Pope, John Paul II,
and the Protestant American President, Ronald Reagan and of their individual
journies toward that friendship that changed the course of history.

I’ve previously read many books recounting the work of this dynamic duo and the subsequent
dismantling of the USSR…books that recount the seemingly odd match Fate found in
two vastly different world stage players.
But this book’s authors, as do I, believe that this particular match was a match set in
motion long before there was ever an iron curtain,
a relationship that was formed by something much greater than mere Fate.

Hence the title, the Divine Plan…

But today’s post is not so much about that particular Divine match…
that post will come later…
Today’s post, rather, is actually a post about someone else whose life was
Divinely tapped to play a pivotal role in our collective human history.

A post inspired in part by something that I actually read in the book regarding
Pope John Paul II when he was but a young boy growing up in Poland and known
simply as Karol Wojtyla.
It’s what I read which actually lead me to today’s waxing and waning.

When the Pope, or rather young Karol, was 8 years old, his mother died after an
acute urinary tract infection, leaving an impressionable young boy to be raised
by his former military father.

Blessedly the elder Wojtyla was a very devout Christian man and was determined to raise his
young son under the direction of the Chruch.
And so he took a bereft young boy to one of the many shrines to the Madonna in order to pray
and to explain to Karol that the woman he saw in the shrine, that being Mary the mother
of Jesus, was to now be the mother to whom he must turn.

If you’ve ever read anything about Pope John Paul II then you know that he had a very
deep and very real relationship with the Virgin Mary—it is a relationship that reached back
to the void in the heart of an eight-year-old boy who had lost his earthly mother.
It was a relationship that would serve the Pope well throughout his entire life.

So it was this little tale about Mary that got me thinking.

Being raised as a Protestant, we don’t always fully grasp the relationship our Catholic kin
have with Mary.
In fact, we often look at the relationship sideways as if it were some sort of
obsessive oddity.

We scorn them for it.
We ridicule them over it.
And we’ve even accused them of idolatry over it.
And I think we have been unfair.

But this post is not about all of that, not today.

However, this post, on the other hand, is about my thoughts about the mother of Jesus,
the mother of our very own Lord and Savior.

I think history, theology, Christianity often gives Mary a bum rap.
And if it’s not a bum rap, it simply opts to gloss over her.

We tend to put her over in a corner someplace and move on.

And yes that is the role she readily accepted.

We think of her on or around Christmas eve as we recall her wandering the backroads of
a desert night, riding on the back of a donkey as she and her young husband look
for shelter as she is about to give birth…
and then, after Christmas, we don’t think much else about her, ever.

Many mothers accept such a role.
One of obscurity and the role of simply being put in a corner someplace as their child or
children shine in the limelight of whatever direction life should take them.

It’s kind of what mothers do.

And thus I write this post today in part because I have been, as I am currently,
a mother.
And in turn, I kind of get what it means being both mother and grandmother and what
that entails on an earthly level.

I get that it can be a deeply gut-wrenching, emotionally charged roller coaster
ride of life.
I get that it can be both physically, emotionally and spiritually exacting.

Just as it can literally break one’s heart.

Think of those women who have lost their children to illness, accidents, suicides or even
lost to war.

But for Mary, let’s imagine a woman who’s more than just a mother of a son,
but rather a woman who must also look to that son as an extension of her own God.

Who amongst us wouldn’t find that dichotomy utterly impossible to comprehend?

Your son being also your God…

This being the baby you carried for nine months.
Who you delivered through in pain and duress…
The baby who you had to flee town over.
The baby who kings came to visit.

Yet the same baby whose dirty diapers you changed.
Whose spit-up you cleaned up.
Whose hands you popped as they reached for danger…
The toddler whose hand you held when he took his first steps;
The child whose fever you prayed would go away; whose broken bones you willed to heal…
Whose broken heart, you wept over…

And then this same child grew to be an extension of the same God who had come to you
on a lonely night, telling you that He was taxing you with a seemingly impossible task.

Imagine the anguish you felt when, on a family trip, you thought this child of yours was
in the care of relatives…until you realized that no one really knew where he was.

This only child of yours was lost.

It had been three days when you realized he wasn’t with your family.
You had assumed and taken for granted and now he was gone.
How could you have let this happen?
You mentally begin to beat yourself to death.

You now realize he was left behind, alone, in an unforgiving town.
Who had him?
What had become of him?
Was he frightened?
Was he alone?
Was he hungry?
Was he dead?
Was he gone forever?

After frantically retracing your steps, desperately searching both day and night,
calling out his name, you miraculously finally find him.

He is at the Temple.

Your knee jerk reaction is to both cry out while taking him in your arms and then to simultaneously
yank him up by his ear, dragging him off back home all the while fussing as to the
sickening worry he has caused you.

And yet he meets you as if you’ve never met before.
You eerily sense an odd detachment.
He is subdued, calm, even passive…
An old soul now found in what should be a youthful, boisterous child.

Your brain struggles to make sense of what greets your eyes.
His now otherworldliness demeanor is puzzled by your own agitated level of angst.

He matter-of-factly tells you that he’d been in “his Father’s house,
about His father’s business. A simple matter of fact that should not have
you surprised or shocked.
It was as if he felt you should have known this all along.

You let go of him and stare while you try to wrap both your head and heart around what
you’re hearing.
Your anger and fear dissolve into resignation when you painfully recall the words
spoken to you years earlier…
“your heart, like his, will be pierced”…

In the movie, The Passion of the Christ, I was keenly stuck by one particularly
heartwrenching scene.

It was the scene of Jesus carrying the cross through the streets as
Mary ran alongside, pushing through the gathering crowd, watching from a distance
as tears filled her eyes while fear filled her heart.

Mother’s are prewired to feel the need, the urge, the necessity to race in when their
children are hurting.
Mothers desperately try, no matter the age of their children, to take them in their arms…
to caress their fevered brow, to kiss away their salty tears to rock their pain-filled body…

In the movie we see Mary watching as Jesus stumbles under the weight of the
cross–this after being brutally beaten.
She particularly gasps for air…willing her son to breathe in as well.
Her mind races back in time to when, as a young boy, Jesus falls and skins his knees.
He cries as the younger mother Mary, races to pick up her son and soothe his pain.

And just as suddenly, Mary is rudely jolted and catapulted mercilessly back to the current moment,
painfully realizing that she is now helpless to be there for her son.

Her heart is pierced.
As it will be pierced again as the nails are hammered into his flesh and he is hoisted
up in the air…left to die a slow and excruciating death of suffocation
while bones are pulled and dislocated.

And so yes, my thoughts today are on Mary.
A woman who taught us what it is to be a loving mother as well as an obedient woman…
obedient unto the piercing of a heart.

I would dare say that we still have so much to learn from her example.

Obedience seems to have very little in common with such things as abortions,
hashtags and feminism.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.
And his commandments are not burdensome.

1 John 5:3 ESV

poppycock, pagans and the post days of a slippery slope

“In this deconstruction of humanity there are several steps
yet to happen.”
David Robertson


(cemetary located on the grounds of St Kevin’s Monastary / Glendalough National Park/
Co. Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Over 76 million blogs, or so say their statistics, happily spend their time on WordPress.
That’s a lot of blogs, a lot of words and a copious amount of thoughts zipping out there
in cyberspace, rocketing their way to your favorite electronic device of choice.

And as I’ve been tied up with the wee one and short on time, I’ve not been able
to hunt down and breakdown the stats relating to how many of those 76 million blogs
are Christian related—
But I would surmise that the numbers would be a respectable percentage.

And so here’s the thing,
there are obviously a healthy amount of Spirit-filled voices canvasing the
airwaves–so to speak.

Much like that of Voice of America or Radio Free Europe, each of which got their
start during those fretful days of WWII and the Cold War when Nazi and Communist regimes
were rife with delivering propaganda…the airwaves were inundated with brave countermeasures
bringing real news and hope to those living under the oppression of fascism,
socialism, and communism.

Yet to have been caught even listening would mean certain reprimands such as beatings,
internment or even death.

Corrie ten Boom recounted in her book The Hiding Place the story of the family
keeping a radio against the Nazi’s allowance.
“Although the Germans demand seizure of all radios,
the family keeps the old radio and turns in the portable one.
Corrie feels bad for lying, but knows that the true reports,
although disheartening, are necessary to hear….”

Necessary to hear the truth.

I would like to think many words out there in the blogosphere are doing much the same for
those hungry for the Good News…spreading Truth.

Two things recently from our friend the Wee Flea brought to mind the notion of brave words
with the hope of the Good News coupled with the frightening reality of our times.

David, in a recent post written while on Sabbatical in Australia, noted that
our Western society is finding itself precariously perched on a terribly
slippery slope as recalls his clarion calls to the faithful…

In this deconstruction of humanity there are several steps yet to happen.
We will leave aside trans-human, trans-species and trans-abled, for the moment
(although we have already seen examples of people arguing for all three of these)
and instead turn to two more in the area of sex and sexuality.

It is my view that, unless we wake up to what is happening,
the next barrier to fall will be incest and that will then be followed by a gradual
acceptance of pedophilia
(first of all as a sexuality and then as a normative way for some people).

Revealed – The Next Step on the Slippery Slope

Then just yesterday David posted a three-minute interview on his reflections of the difference,
or perhaps more aptly, the similarities of Christianity in 1st century Europe versus
Christianity of today.

David notes that the early family of Believers lacked the convenience and speed of travel
as well as the speed of communication that we readily take for granted today.
Add to that the fact that living during Pagan-Grecco / Roman times meant society was run amuck
with hedonism and wantonness that clashed with the new religious “cult”

The “cult” had to be severely dealt with.
People were rounded up, tortured and killed until those Believers were forced underground.
And yet the “cult” prospered.

David notes that despite the depraved times, the slowness in the travel of news and word,
the dire times, the persecutions, the executions, the torment…
the early Chruch prospered.

David also notes that our society is in a tailspin of regression. Regressing rapidly backwards
to those early days of a Pagan-Grecco way of life…all we have to do is to look around at television
advertisement, the news, the movies, and we readily see the depravity,
the twisted view of sexuality along with the death of the traditional nuclear family unit…
It is more than obvious that we are beginning our descent on that slippery slope.

tuning in

”What the press has been in the Nineteenth Century, radio will be for the Twentieth Century.”
Joseph Goebbels
Hitler’s Nazi Propaganda Minister


(My grandfather’s mid 1940’s Philco shortwave radio / Julie Cook / 2017)

I’m still in the process of slowly but surely picking through a lifetime of
“stuff” buried in Dad’s basement and attic…
Today my husband and I schlepped down and up two ancient pieces of technology…

One being grandfather’s 1942 shortwave radio…which if the truth be told, Dad had commandeered as a teen.

I can remember when I was little, “tuning in” to very “staticky” pitch rising
and falling foreign voices.
What I was hearing and listening to was both thrilling and frustrating.

Thrilling because I was listening to distant sounding voices in Germany,
Italy, Japan as my imagination carried me around a world that had most recently
seemed detached and strange.
Yet frustrating because I had not a single clue as to what was being said.

This was a time during the height of the Cold War.
Spies, Communists and propaganda was rife as was the threat of nuclear
annihilation…and as an impressionable young girl,
I yearned to be a part of it all…
the radio could be my key….or so I thought.

But my spy days were short lived due in part to to my age as well as my lack
of a language other than my own.
And I’m certain that watching shows such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E. as well
as Get Smart fueled that youthful imagination of mine.

So today as I brought the radio up from the basement,
the memory of my short lived spy days came flooding back
to the forefront of conciousness…

Once home this afternoon, I did a little research and was intrigued
to read that shortwave radio was still alive and well….

Old school technology seems to be happily having a bit of a resurgence…
Maybe low tech just might have a stronger and longer lasting connection
in the long run of importance…
who knew?!

“Did you know that it is possible for you to reach the entire world with
your message? Are you aware that you can reliably communicate to the
entire world from a single radio station that is equipped with multiple
antennas that target the entire globe and multiple transmitters?
If you live in the United States, this is a secret that has been held
by interest groups for nearly fifty years.
This secret is broadcasting on international world-band shortwave radio.”

“Recently, it has come to our attention that the internet as a whole may soon
become a field unsuitable for spreading the Gospel in any form.
More and more it is seen on the news how the United Nations is
trying to seize control of the internet. Countries that are members
of the United Nations are obliged to acknowledge the United Nations as
a superior authority.
As a result, if the United Nations gains control of the internet,
one could very easily find him or herself without the freedoms
guaranteed in the United States,
facing U.N. World Court in the Hague for ‘hate crimes,’
should someone or some interest group take offense to someone’s webcasts
or web page.
International world-band shortwave broadcasting, however,
is firmly protected in the United States under freedom of speech in the
First Amendment of the Constitution, and is protected from such restriction.
The idea of being brought up by the United Nations to World Court
for hate crimes may seem a bit of a stretch, but then again,
who would ever have thought Canada would officially proclaim the Holy Bible as
‘hate literature?’

“You are now aware of the best kept secret of evangelism.
This candle of truth, in America long hidden under a bushel,
is now placed on a candlestick,
where it illuminates America with the truth of the secret of world-band
international shortwave radio.
Shortwave radio is rapidly returning to America as people seek a source of
news and information that is unfettered by the forces of political correctness
and government policy.
With international shortwave radio rapidly becoming popular in the United States,
now is the best time to begin broadcasting, catching the wave of new listeners on international world-band shortwave.”

International Radio Station WWRB

Then I saw another angel flying in midheaven, with an eternal gospel to proclaim
to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and tongue and people;
and he said with a loud voice,
“Fear God and give him glory, for the hour of his judgment has come;
and worship him who made heaven and earth,
the sea and the fountains of water.”

Revelation 14:6-7

the Russians are coming…

Russia is a riddle
wrapped in a mystery
inside an enigma.

Winston Churchill

The Russians are coming, The Russians are coming….
is the title of a 1966 comedic spoof based on the accidental beaching of a Russian sub
off the coast of a small fictional New England island town during the midst
of the Cold War.
The film stared Alan Arkin and Carl Reiner so you can only imagine the off the chain humor.

Fast forwarding all these many years later and history oddly seems to be repeating itself,
but this time it’s not over a comedic movie yet we can still hear that familiar war cry…
that the Russians are coming…

I’ve really tried, really really I have tried, to ignore the latest brouhaha concerning
Mother Russia and all things Russian…
all the latest “did they, didn’t they” sort of mumbo jumbo that is currently consuming all
things political and newsy.

I’ve really tried to tune out all things ‘news’ related since hysterical pandemonium
hit the airwaves following the election…

All because global news media are still having apoplexies following the US election,
all because the US simply elected another new president….
as in its something we’ve gotten pretty good at doing every 4 years…
Yet oddly this time, this process, this election…
although it was one that seemed to follow the same standard procedure of every other
election since General Washington’s election, has been anything but standard…
and I for one have grown weary of the now ensuing melee.

The conspiracy theorists on both sides of “this trouble” have whipped themselves
into such a frenzy that I’ve sadly found it all so very exhausting.

While the question remains, exhausting for what?

Has all this focus, frenzy and fuss made the world a better place?

Has world hunger been eradicated?
Are children no longer dying due to starvation or from treatable diseases?
Have we discovered the cure for cancer?
Have all the global conflicts and wars finally ended peacefully?

No?

No, I didin’t think so…

But rather than focusing on doing things to make living better for people…
easier, happier….
we’ve all decided to lose our minds and go nuts over a president half the population hates
and the notion of invading Russians from within the highest ranks of government.
Forget that kids are dying from starvation in the Sudan as I type.
Forget that airstrikes are raging in Syria as I type.
Forget the growing opiate addictions in this country.
Forget the widening global human sex trafficking nightmare….
Forget global terrorism.
Forget escalating violence.
Forget that half the United States now hates the other half….
Forget anything regarding the relevance of improving the suffering of humanity…
but rather, focus on collusion and intrigue….

Obviously according to the news, none of that humanity stuff matters and actually pales
in comparison to all things Trump and Russian.

The Russians, bless their hearts, all they have to do each morning is to wake up and
stare in bewilderment at their televisions because the Americans have pumped them back up to
being Enemy Number 1 without their ever having to lift a finger.

Putin doesn’t even have to act like his typical jerky egotistical, megalomania, tyrannical
self because we’re doing a fine enough job inflating his depraved ego
without his even trying…

During the Cold War, we were afraid of being blown off the map…
just as the Russians, aka Soviets, were afraid of the same fate.
It was literally a game of Russian Roulette with global annihilation at stake.

Churchill, way back in the 1940’s, first alerted the world that the slumbering Eastern Bear
would awake, making its presence known in a way that would cause grave troubles for all.

He was right.

Stalin proved him right….
As a long and dangerous “cold” war ensued.

Stalin’s crimes against humanity have rivaled, if not surpassed those of Adolph Hitler,
yet due to the silent steel curtain that has blanketed Russia since Lenin’s death and Stalin’s
rise to leadership in 1924, those facts have been buried in an eastern murky mire.

The world, following WWII, lived precariously and dangerously from day to day.
that was until 1989 when a dividing wall came tumbling down and a massive thaw took place….

However oddly it appears that both the leaders of the US and Russia seem to be more than
happy to return, turning the clock back to such frigid and frightening times.,..
as our news media readies the way….

Or maybe the truth of the matter is that we never really left those precariously
uncertain times….

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles
in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.
Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ,
but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

Romans 16:17-18

it’s baaaaaaaackkkkkk….

“Yea, I shall return with the tide.”
Kahlil Gibran

dscn4408
(a flock of gulls, Santa Rosa Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2016)

Today I thought we’d take a break, venturing far from the tales of woes of my
on-going trials and tribulations…
preferring rather to take a gander at the behavior of seagulls and the similarity they seem
to have with repetitions in history….

Have you ever walked along the shore and approached a
flock of gulls milling about the sands?
They congregate en masse, especially near where any humans congregate…
all in hopes of snagging forgotten scrapes of food…

If you don’t believe me…offer said mass a piece of bread and suddenly…
you’re Tippi Hedren in a scene right out Hitchcock’s The Birds….

Anywhoo, back to our train of thought….

While out casually strolling the beach, all one must do is to
venture too closely to a group of gulls and the birds immediately scatter…
either scurrying out of a perceived harm’s way or quickly taking to flight.

dscn4406

Once you, the perceived danger passes, they return right back to
said spot of just hanging out and waiting…
It’s what gulls do…

This gull image came to mind yesterday when I came across the following news story
regarding Vladimir Putin’s desire to “resurrect” the KGB…The former Soviet Union’s
dreaded and oh so mysterious Secret Police…

An odd correlation perhaps…
but actually really rather appropriate.

We must remember that Putin is a former KGB man who rose through the ranks to where he is today…
One of the most powerful men on the planet.
Whereas you younger ones may think that lofty position belongs only to any US president,
perhaps it’s time for a small history lesson…

Old school USSR days were nothing like this new Mother Russia business
of a happy Federation today…
It was the old school dark days of a Cold War…
as the cloyingly murderous scent of Joseph Stalin still lingered heavy in the air.

It was the days of suspicion, mysterious deaths, poisonings, spies, counter spies, double spies,
mysterious disappearances, iron fists, gulags, suppression, oppression, lies,
total power control… and lots and lots of secrets…

So just when you thought it was safe to be Russia’s friend again….
Here comes the following story…

http://abcnews.go.com/International/russian-president-vladimir-putin-reportedly-planning-reforms-effectively/story?id=42190514

It’s as if the world went out one day walking, much as we do at the beach…
but for our story here, the world was out walking and demandeding an end to Soviet Communism…

Those die hard Soviets, feeling the surmounting world pressures, quickly scattered.
However the die hard and dyed in the wool Soviets, never disappeared…
much as the world had thought and hoped.
They merely flew away and waited…waiting until the perceived threat passed…

They simply waited until the world passed by and forgot…

Because that’s what happens with us human beings…
we tend to adhere to that whole ‘out of sight out of mind’ school of thought…

So just when you thought Putin’s Russia was now more like us, you might want to think again…

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies
and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Proverbs 6:16-19

Turning point

What most of all hinders heavenly consolation is that you are too slow in turning yourself to prayer.
Thomas a Kempis

DSCN8758
(detail of a pinecone / Julie Cook / 2014)

As a tale-end Baby Boomer and child of the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the USSR, The Federation of the Russian Republic or simply Mother Russia, has always been an uncomfortable shadow over my shoulder, just as it has for most everyone my age and older. The enigma known as Russia, who most graciously hosted the world last February for the Winter Olympics only to turn around and shock us all a few months following with the “invasion” of Ukraine, has remained a conundrum for the free world since the Russian Revolution of 1917 which gave way to birth of Communism.

When I was in high school, which seems to be many lifetimes ago, I had the good fortune of taking a Russian History course—with the most memorable experience being of my introduction to the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I had the good fortune of reading several of his books. . . One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, The Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward.

Now all these many years later I find myself drawn back to the writings and words of Solzhenitsyn, of which I find more prophetic than I had ever imagined.

For those of you unfamiliar with Solzhenitsyn, in a nutshell, he was a Russian soldier (WWII), Gulag prisoner (for nearly 10 years), writer and novelist, historian, Soviet dissident, Nobel Prize recipient and finally, again, Russian citizen.

As a life long member of the Russian Orthodox Church, Solzhenitsyn was guided by a deeply spiritual moral compass. He was a very loud and vocal opponent of Totalitarianism, of which expedited his forced exile from the Soviet Union, yet he could also be equally critical of the West and its obsession with Capitalism, Consumerism and Materialism. All of which reminds me of the chastisement the West often received from Pope John Paul II, as well as Mother Teresa—as perhaps those who have suffered more grievously under the Socialist and ultra Nationalistic Regime of the Nazis and then that of the Communist Soviets, have perhaps a clearer perspective of our often blind view of what we consider to be “the good life”

I am poignantly reminded of Solzhenitsyn, his words and wisdom as well wise counsel and rebukes of those who have witnessed first hand the sinister wiles and atrocities of Evil, particularly during this time of year as it seems the world always appears to crescendo to a heightened sense of madness–just as the holidays come into focus. I don’t know why that is except that as the world seems to not only witness an abundance of joy and goodwill, there seems to be an equal measure of evil and chaos. Perhaps it is because Christians are drawn to the birth of the Savior and Jews begin the celebration of the miracle of light and the rededication to the Second Temple– a time of a tremendous pull of people toward God—as it seems Evil must have its share of the pie by unleashing its part of unimaginable pain and suffering in order to create some sort of sadistic counter balance.

Perhaps our senses are on hyper drive this time of year as we keenly feel the highs of Joy and Wonder along with the bottomless pit of despair and suffering as they each roll in to one. These thoughts reverberate in my mind just as Sydney, Australia was held hostage Monday by a radical Islamist madman leaving 3 individuals, including the gunman, dead. Then on Tuesday, Pakistan witnessed an unimaginable attack on a school leaving 132 children and 9 adult staff members dead all at the hands of the Taliban.

We currently have a menacing cyber attack taking place at Sony as North Korea is suspected to be retaliating to the release of a tongue and cheek movie which sadly mocks an attempted assassination of an, albeit, unhinged world leader. Sometimes I think we, those of us in the West with our often sophomoric entertainment industry, have lost our sense of what is considered off limits or morally wrong when it comes to the exploitation of movie making and entertainment—but I suppose a moral compass would be needed in the first place in order to be reminded of such. . .

We have just marked the tragic anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre as we continue reading headline after headline of local, national and global tragedies. Just as the world tries to come together in some sort of unity marking two very sacred holy times of the year as well as the secular merry making of Santa, Papa Noel and Kris Kringle’s arrival.

In reading Solzhenitsyn’s book Warning to the West, which is actually a brief composite and compendium of the texts to three separate addresses made in the US in the late 1970’s, it is startlingly frightening noting the parallels of then verses now. I am keenly reminded of the relevance of Solzhenitsyn’s words which were uttered almost 40 years ago as they could very well be spoken on the world stage today regarding today’s global state. I will leave you with a few pieces of his excerpted texts in order to ponder and ruminate the relevance and warnings which echo across our prosaic landscape as we wrestle to make sense of the tragic events which continue to unfold before our very eyes this holiday season. . .

“Is it possible or impossible to transmit the experience of those who have suffered to those who have yet to suffer? Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another or can it not? Is it possible or impossible to warn someone of danger?
How many witnesses have been sent to the West in the last sixty years? How may waves of immigrants? How many millions of persons? They are all here. You meet them every day. You know who they are: if not by their spiritual disorientation, their grief, their melancholy, then you can distinguish them by their accents or their external appearance. Coming from different countries, without consulting with one another, they have brought out exactly the same experience; They tell you exactly the same thing: they warn you of what is now taking place and of what has taken place in the past. But the proud skyscrapers stand on, jut into the sky, and say: It will never happen here. This will never come to us. It is not possible here.”

“In addition to the grave political situation in the world today, we are also witnessing the emergence of a crisis of unknown nature, one completely new, and entirely non-political. We are approaching a major turning point in world history, the the history of civilization. It has already been noted by specialists in various areas. I could compare it only with the turning from the Middle Ages to the modern era, a shift in our civilization. It is a juncture at which settled concepts suddenly become hazy, lose their precise contours, at which our familiar and commonly used words lose their meaning, become empty shells, and methods which have been reliable for many centuries no longer work. It’s the sort of turning point where the hierarchy of values which we have generated, and which we use to determine what is important to us and what causes our hearts to beat is starting to rock and may collapse.
These two crises, the political crisis of today’s world and the oncoming spiritual crisis, are occurring at the same time. It is our generation that will have to confront them. The leadership of your country, which is entering the third century of existence as a nation will perhaps have to bear a burden greater than ever before in American history. Your leaders will need profound intuition, spiritual foresight, high qualities of mind and soul. May God granted that in those times you will have at the helm personalities as great as those who rested your country . . .”

(excepts taken from a speech delivered in New York July 9, 1975, at a luncheon given by the AFL-CIO)

Peace

We look forward to the time when the Power of Love will replace the Love of Power. Then will our world know the blessings of peace.
William Ewart Gladstone

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(A beautiful swan in the pond of the Boston Common’s garden / Boston, Massachusetts / Julie Cook / 2014)

I feel as if I want to yell at the top of my lungs “HOW DID I MISS THIS?!”
Last evening, after watching the umpteenth report regarding the Malaysian Airliner 17 which was shot down over the Ukraine, it suddenly felt as if I’d been hit in the face with a brick.. . .a “helloooo” moment.
I felt as if I was hit in the face with a stalk realization I’d been missing, or it had been so clouded and colluded. Something that has been there all along but finally revealed as tangibly real, as if a curtain has been finally lifted.

I am almost 55 years old.
Do you know, realize and comprehend that for my entire life, my entire 55 years, I, you, we have lived with a suffocating cloud of angst and agitation from and by the USSR, now Russia?

Ever since WWII it seems as if the Government of the former Soviet Union, now Russia, has relished in being a thorn in the side of the United States. And perhaps they, the Russians feel the same about the US.
I don’t know.
Be it a Cold War with the constant threat of annihilation under the threat of Nuclear attack or today’s posturing and jockeying of which is eerily pulling us all backwards rather than forward. . .
Our relationship with Russia is once again sliding backwards.

My earliest remembrance from grade school was the worrisome drills we would practice as the constant threat of a Nuclear War seemed tenuously imminent. It was a worrisome burden for grade school kids who wondered where we would hide when the Soviets shot the missile at us, fretting what would happen to our parents if such should happen while we were at school and our parents were at work and home. Obviously this is certainly no way for children to grow and thrive—not living in a state of constant worry and fear. But could we not say this same sense of insecurity is true today for so many other children around this fragile globe of ours?

An entire generation of us grew up with that very real threat and worry–and yet we’ve marched forward ebbing slowly away from a constant threat into a state of cautious forward progress. We marveled watching a Polish Pope work steadily and steely toward forcing the hand of an entrenched Communist Regime as President Reagan implored President Gorbachev to “tear down this wall”

And now, it is as if we have stepped back to a time that remains dangerous and perilous.
Shadows and question outnumber clarity and openness.
Trust has vanished.
Rhetoric is now the name of the game.
Sanctions, false truths, mysteries, rebels, lies, no ownership, battles, missiles, encroachment. . .all shades of a dark time that was— which oddly, is again, now.

Add to this the ongoing battles in Israel and I feel as if I’m in a time warp.
As far as we’ve moved forward, we have moved equally that much farther—backwards.

Peace
Cooperation
Coexistence
Support
Love

May we accept nothing less.

What he knew and others chose to ignore. Déjà vu or simply a continuum?

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
Winston Churchill

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Casablanca, 1943

On March 21, 2014, with the sweeping act of a single pen, Valdimir Putin signed away Crimea, transforming a portion of Ukraine back to what was Soviet Russia. Changing the world map.

In 1938 Adolph Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia, with a similar sweeping act of a pen, known as the Munich Pact.
Changing the face of Europe forever.

This week, Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaite, who is attending a European Council meeting of the heads of state discussing the EU’s response to the situation in Ukraine, told a BBC reporter that we, the world, are sitting on the edge of a new Cold War.

In 1946, Winston Churchill, addressing Westminster College in Missouri, introduced the world to the phrase “iron curtain” just as the Cold War was rearing its ugly head.

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Churchill surveys the ruins of chamber of The House of Commons after a German assault of the Blitzkrieg.

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The smiles of Uncle Joe deceive, while a wise Winston is all too keen to true motives.

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1943 Churchill addresses a joint session of Congress urging the American allies to remain steadfast, staying the course, in their “duty to mankind”

Within the blink of an eye and the sweeping act of a pen, the world changed this week. The world map shifted as a piece of the free world was unimaginably sucked back in time.
If we, the world, choose to simply remain as mere spectators, change will continue–history teaches us such.

Winston Churchill was the lone voice of foreboding warning alerting the World to the true motives of first, Adolph Hitler, then those of Joseph Stalin.
Each time, the free world chose to ignore his words.
Words which were alarming, scary, troubling.
Who wanted to think of such?
Why should anyone worry, it’s not like this was happening in the backyard of the US or that the island nation of Great Britain would be affected.
That was all over there, not here—these being our thoughts as we lulled ourselves into looking the other way.
Maybe it’s all just bravado and bluff.
We just want to live our lives.
We don’t want to dwell on bad things. . .

But then the bad things happened. . .

Each time, Churchill was correct.
And each time, the world was too slow to react.

I wonder what Churchill would say after this week’s blatant act of “what’s yours is now mine” by Valdimir Putin?
I somehow think there’s an “I told you so” out there somewhere.

May we be mindful of our continuing duty.

Prayers for the Ukrainians

Violence is like a weed – it does not die even in the greatest drought.”
Simon Wiesenthal

For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”
Simon Wiesenthal

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This is a very old, very tiny Russian Icon.
It is just a tad bit larger than a postage stamp.
I found it in an equally small antique shop tucked away in a small alley in the ancient hill town of Cortona, Italy, one summer, several years ago.
The small image of Christ the Pantocrator is hand painted and very detailed to be so small but difficult to capture with a camera as much of the detail is lost.
The sterling silver covering, the Riza, or риза meaning “robe”, is not intended merely to protect the underlaying painting, as is often the common assumption, but rather is an added bit of reverence or veneration.

After being the guest at large for the past three weeks, the world has most recently departed Sochi, Russia happy, pleased, as well as relieved. We were welcomed into what is a massively vast country, which for so many of us, for so very long, has been steeped and shrouded in dark mystery. Those of us who have lived through the inception, duration and eventual fall of the tangible walls of a bitter cold war, delightfully enjoyed this most recent and uplifting visit. A large exhaled collective breath could be heard reverberating across the world as the extinguishing of the Olympic flame signaled not only the closing of this year’s games but it also signaled the closing of the possibility, of what so many believed to be inevitable which thankfully had not taken place after all— that being an act of terrorism.

With the unifying events of the Olympics being played out in living rooms around the globe, a more sinister fog hung heavily in the air, seeping its way eastward from the neighboring unrest playing out in the Ukraine. Ukraine, which in fact translates to “borderland,” shares not only its eastern border with its massive overshadowing neighbor Russia, but the inextricably intwined bond of a people bound by language, religion and blood. For years the relationship between the two countries has been tenuous and strained as Ukraine has woven in and out of life under Czarist Russian rule, Soviet rule, eventually turning sovereign neighbor. Yet now, as the world waits and watches, the disturbingly new question begs to be asked if Ukraine does not currently play the part of occupied nation by that of a much larger hostile nation?

As the very fluid events unfold faster than I can type, we, the world hold our collective breath fretting what may be next, not only for the Ukrainians, but for us all as well. We see the faces on the news of people just like you and me—men, woman and children caught in the middle of a power play of political ideologies. The rhetoric escalates as European and American leadership dicker over roles of responsibility. All as the situation seems all too familiar, with actions from the past demigods unfolding as if in a stop frame slow motion camera. The once massive growling grizzly portrayed under the banner of a red hammer and sickle snidely nicknamed “Uncle Joe” sweetly gave way to the childlike cuddly teddybear of the Olympics.

What we must cautiously remind ourselves of today is that all wild animals, even those tamed circus bears and sweet Olympic teddybears, still remain wild at heart, naturally demonstrating tendencies of reverting back to the unpredictable ways of their wild nature. We wonder which bear Vladimir Putin claims for Russia.

May we all pray for a peaceful resolve to the very dangerous and fluid situation in the Ukraine.

An overdue thank you to P.O.W. Lt. Col. James Young

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I am a tail-end baby boomer. Seems as if most people 45 and up equate their existence with being some sort of post war child…. be it WWII, Korea- as in my case, or Vietnam. An entire new generation will, no doubt, look to Desert Storm and the continued “wars” on terror as defining birthing moments of their own.

I grew up in the shadow of a deepening Cold War which helped to spawn the Korean War—oh, let’s not forget to call it by it’s politically correct name shall we…”Police Action”…hummm…a war is a war is a war…. no matter how you try to paint it, but there I go digressing…
Which then spawned the Vietnam War; oh pardon me, Vietnam Conflict…and so forth and so on…

When I was in the 6th grade, it became a popular trend for us (as I suspect it was for the adults) to all buy and wear POW bracelets. The one pictured above is mine, the one I wore for almost two years—never taking it off. If I remember correctly, one could pay $3.00 (I found the receipt for my bracelet in the box mementos…it was $2.75) to whom and where the money went evades this memory of mine—- in return you would receive a stainless steel “bracelet” / band engraved with the name of a serviceman who was currently being held captive by the North Vietnamese. You might have received the name of a POW or the name of a serviceman who was currently MIA / missing in action. It was just kind of the luck of the draw as to the serviceman’s name, rank and branch of service you received.

I received the bracelet of a Lt. Col. James Young who had been a prisoner since 1966, taken captive just two days following the 4th of July—already imprisoned 6 years when I received his bracelet. To me and my young mind, the best way to comprehend that length of time was to think of how many Christmases he must have missed being from his family…. which was something, to me, absolutely inconceivable—a true affront to all I considered sacred—Christmas with your family. How dare they keep our American soldiers like that!! It truly struck a chord deep in my young impressionable heart.

Every night, for what seemed most of my young life and of the memory of that time, as we ate supper, we watched a small black and white television set perched in our kitchen of the nightly news conducted by the deans of nightly news, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Those were the days of real news and real reporting…none of this stuff of today’s biased argumentative dribble passed off as news—no hokey sappy feel good “anchors” who seem more concerned with lifestyle choices, entertainment and droll government bickering than what truly constitutes real news. It was delivered professionally and basically unemotionally. Eric Severid or Charles Karualt would report from Vietnam.

The journalist would give the number tally of the day. Staggering numbers, unheard of numbers, the numbers listing each day’s deaths, those taken prisoner, those simply missing—ours, theirs, both. By the time I was in the 7th grade the newspapers were running the lists of names of those killed, wounded, or missing. Each day of our 7th grade year we would all scan the newspaper in search of word of our “soldier, airman, marine or sailor”—I suppose our teacher saw this as what is known as a “real teaching moment” something far more lasting than the lesson at hand, as she allowed us the time to scour a paper, to hope and perhaps even mourn.

I can remember very clearly, as if I am back in that classroom standing over the desk pouring over the paper, the day my friend found the name of her “soldier” on the list of those declared deceased by our government. We were all of the age of 11 and 12 and yet we felt a tremendous burden—a heavy sadness—rooting and cheering for men we had never met and most likely would never know personally, and yet how devastating it was to “lose” them to a death that was so foreign to us– as this drama played out so very far away from our sheltered world. The bracelet would then come off.

I also remember most vividly the day it was announced that this “war” was declared “over” and a peace accord was being signed by both our country’s two governments. On Valentines Day, most appropriately, 1973 the many American prisoners, many wounded and on stretchers, would slowly begin to transition from captivity to freedom, being loaded in batches of approximately 40 or so onto air force transport planes which were to carry them all, finally, home. Seven years just past the first day he was taken prisoner, Lt. Col. James Young headed home.

Warm tears are welling up in my eyes as I type this recalling, all these many years later, these most heartening of events. The bitter sweetness of the moment still very real, very palpable, very emotional. Coming home.

Our teacher checked out a television from the library, the ones perched on top of carts pushed to the room by the boys who volunteered to go get the carts long before this practice was deemed unsafe. She set the cart in the front of the room so we could all see the special news reports of those first prisoners landing at Clarke Air Force Base. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, Capt. Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr., the first POW to disembark the plane—his wife and daughter running, arms outstretched, to embrace him as he made his way down the ramp–now home on American Soil.

My POW, Lt. Col. Young, also came home—home to his family in Hollywood, Florida. Once he had returned, I wrote to Lt. Col. Young and his family. I can’t remember how I found his address. I in turn received two letters complete with pictures of Lt. Col. Young and his lovely family. His eldest daughter, Carrie, who was in her early 20’s when her dad finally returned home—she was but my age (at the time) when he was captured. She asked if I could have my name engraved on the bracelet that I had worn those two years, sending it to them as they were going to make a plaque of his bracelets.

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My mom took me to a jewelry store where I had my name engraved besides the name of Lt. Col. Young. I placed the bracelet in a zip-lock bag, writing one more letter. However at the last minute, I just couldn’t mail it. Something inside my young heart wanted to hold on to this tangible reminder of what this war had meant to me—a young 7th grade girl in Georgia.

All these many years later, I still have the bracelet, always knowing where it is. I recently did a Google search, attempting to discover where Lt. Col James Young was now—Sadly I learned that he had passed away a few years ago, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease. A tortured prisoner of war, Lt. Col. James Young had seven years of his life stolen, only to lose his final battle to a cruel and unseen enemy. Life never seems quite fair.

On this 4th of July, as this country of ours has troops spread out all over this globe, risking everything they have to protect, defend and serve each of us here back home…as we enjoy a slice of watermelon, swimming or watching baseball, spending time with our families, enjoying the fireworks this evening—may we all give pause this day in order to say a silent prayer for their safety, for the comfort of their families and a grateful thanks to all the veterans, past and present, who have sacrificed so very much for the one important thing that makes us who we are—our Liberty.

Thank you Lt. Colonel James Young.

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