The cross

The whole life of Christ is the cross. And the more spiritual progress you strive for, the heavier will your crosses become, for as your love for God increases so will the pain of your exile.
Thomas à Kempis

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

There will always be many who love Christ’s heavenly kingdom,
but few who will bear his cross.
Jesus has many who desire consolation, but few who care for adversity.
He finds many to share his table, but few who will join him in fasting.
Many are eager to be happy with him; few wish to suffer anything for him.
Many will follow him as far as the breaking of the bread,
but few will remain to drink from his passion.
Many are awed by miracles, but few accept the shame of the cross.

The cross, therefore, is unavoidable. It waits for you everywhere.
No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it,
for wherever you go you take yourself along.
Turn where you will–above, below, without, or within–
you will find the cross.

If you willingly carry the cross, it will carry you.
It will take you to where suffering comes to any end, a place other than here.
If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase the load,
though still you have to bear it.
If you try to do away with one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one.
How do you expect to escape what no one else can avoid?
Which saint is exempt?
Not even Jesus Christ was spared.
Why is it that you look for another way other than the royal way of the holy cross?

Thomas à Kempis

The choice in decision…for it is indeed a choice…stands before you each and every day you open your eyes to each new morning…
Will you forgo your comfort, your smooth road, your ease for which you prefer living…
all in turn to heed His beckoning, His calling, His desires for you?

You want to say yes.
Your lips easily and readily form the word…
Yes
And you want to follow, really you do…

Sorrow verses joy
Hardship verses ease
Pain verses suffering
Culling verses gathering
Isolation verses abundance
Emptiness verses fullness
Denial veres accepting
Uncomfortableness verses comfort

The road less traveled…

You stand in the middle of the decision, the choice,
as you continue staring straight ahead to the cross.
The overwhelming obstacle that cannot be circumvented or ignored
It stands between you and Him
You and Eternity

Are you truly willing to give everything up for Him.

Chances are you are not.

Relinquishing all

We have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, with the whole Christ,
so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet.

St Andrew of Crete

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(a silvery canopy of Spanish moss / Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook / 2016)

No one is ever united with Jesus Christ until he is willing to relinquish not sin only, but his whole way of looking at things. To be born from above of the Spirit of God means that we must let go before we lay hold, and in the first stages it is the relinquishing of all pretence. What Our Lord wants us to present to Him is not goodness, nor honesty, nor endeavour, but real solid sin; that is all He can take from us. And what does He give in exchange for our sin? Real solid righteousness. But we must relinquish all pretence of being any thing, all claim of being worthy of God’s consideration.
Oswald Chambers

Relinquish
To let go
To yield
To release
To surrender

No holding on
No waffling
No balancing
It’s all or nothing.

Jesus beckons…
He calls your name.
He wants you…

Not the pieces…
Not the parts…
Not this or that
Not a portion…

But all…
Of you…

He wants everything…
Every aspect
Every love
Every like
Every dislike
Every hate
Every passion
Every possession
Even…
The darkness
The savings
The wealth
The debt
The stuff that makes you who you are
Your temper
Your joy
Your anguish
Your secrets

Yet are you willing to give Him your secrets?
The things you’re afraid others will see.
That which you hope to hide, especially from Him…
That which you hope to keep hidden…

What of the status, the position…
Your place among others…
What of the security…
The pleasures…
The comfort…
Are you willing to give away that which makes you comfortable?
Stable,
Steady,
Happy…

Are you willing to lay yourself, your entire being…
The good, the bad, the indifference, the naivety, the ignorance, the pompousness…
Everything that makes you you…not only at His feet
But under His feet?

Offering it all
100% of it all
No holding on and no holding back…

To the One who gave His all to you….

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
1 John 2:15-17

Shortcomings

“When judging other people’s shortcomings, remember yours”
Leo Tolstoy

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(crucifix hanging beside the shrine to St Maximilian Kolbe, The Polish Museum, Rapperswill, Switzerland / Julie Cook / 2012)

I am always amazed when reading the writings of Christian theologians and clergy who were living in the midst of Hitler’s rise to power, as well as the chronicles of the holy living throughout the perilous struggles during the height of the war, all these many years later.

Living, preaching, teaching, writing, ministering to the faithful, as well as the faithless, during incessant bombings, times of disease, brutality, starvation. . .during times of hiding, as well as internment, while even facing certain death.

The perspective of their faith during such dire times is still so very relevant to our own time almost 80 years later.

That they could maintain a holy presence of mind while witnessing unspeakable atrocities.
That they could hold desperately to a faith during the days of ungodliness and devastating betrayal.
That they never wavered or buckled when the world had seemed to abandon all sense of hope and sanity.
That clergy, nuns and priests such as Father Maximilian Kolbe, who were murdered in the death camps, could continue to minister to their fellow prisoners while enduring horrific tortures–still able to sing songs of praise even when their mouthes were so utterly dry from starvation that not a sound could be heard.
Yet sing they did in their hearts.

I am always amazed reading the reflections written during such a different time and in such a different world which are eerily so timely still today.
And perhaps that is what makes me sad.
The continued relevance and timeliness.

Reading the words, not knowing that they belonged to a different era, the casual observer would no doubt be surprised that they were not written today.
Such are the reflections of Dietrich Bonhoeffer regarding the Christian Church prior to and during the war.

The following daily reading is taken from A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer and could easily be spoken today.
Pope Francis, during a recent visit to Turin, Italy in order to view the Shroud of Turin, gave a talk regarding the Church’s failings during the war noting that she struggles with her shortcomings of the faithful today. . .

The Sins of the Church
The church confesses that it has not professed openly and clearly enough its message of the one God, revealed for all times in Jesus Christ and tolerating no other gods besides. The church confesses its timidity, its deviations, its dangerous concessions. It has often disavowed its duties as sentinel and comforter. Through this it has often withheld the compassion that it owes to the despised and redacted. The church was mute when it should have cried out, because the blood of the innocent cried out to heaven. The church did not find the right word in the right way at the right time. It did not resist to the death the falling away from faith and is guilty of the godlessness of the masses. The church confesses that it has misused the name of Christ by being ashamed of it before the world and by not resisting strongly enough the muses of that name for evil ends. The church has looked on while injustice and violence have been done, under the cover of the name of Christ. It has even allowed the most holy name to be openly derided withou contradiction and has thus encourage that derision. The church recognizes that God will not leave unpunished those who so muse God’s name as it does.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Ethics 138-139

Precarious yet Precious

Hopes have precarious life. They are oft blighted, withered, snapped sheer off In vigorous growth and turned to rottenness.
George Eliot

“Why does everything that lives have to die?
So life would be precious, Asher. Something that is yours forever, is never precious.”

Chaim Potok

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(a wounded spicebrush swallowtail resting in a tree / Julie Cook / 2015)

What is life but a precarious dance with death
A game of slight of hand
Hide and seek
Catch me if you can. . .
And yet it is a gift, sacredly given–
A gift to be. . .
Savored
Guarded
Cherished
and
Honored. . .

All life matters. . .
The born and the unborn
the young and the aged
the sick and the healthy
the bright and the dim
the tall and the small
the believer and the unbeliever
the White
the Black
the Asian
the Indian
the Muslim
the Buddhist
the Jew
the Christian
the Taoist
the liberal and the conservative
the republican and the democrat
the whig and the tory
the carnivore and the vegetarian
the learned and the ignorant
the faithful and the faithless
the wise and the unwise
the good, and yes, even the bad. . .

And what we do with that most precious of gifts is what matters most

Give or take
Comfort or ignore
Help or turn away
Reach out or hold tight
Love or hate. . .

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth
Psalm 139:13-16

Innocence and sorrow

I leave to children exclusively, but only for the life of their childhood, all and every the dandelions of the fields and the daisies thereof, with the right to play among them freely, according to the custom of children, warning them at the same time against the thistles. And I devise to children the yellow shores of creeks and the golden sands beneath the water thereof, with the dragon flies that skim the surface of said waters, and and the odors of the willows that dip into said waters, and the white clouds that float on high above the giant trees.
Williston Fish, “A Last Will,” 1898

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

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(the forgotten antique toy soldiers of a long ago childhood / Julie Cook / 2015)

Who among us has not known his or her fair share, or perhaps overtly unfair share, of sorrow and grief? Who has not railed angrily, with fiery fist raised while wearing tear streaked cheeks, cursing the unseen God to whom is lain all blame and guilt?
Who has not known the pain of suffering—either physical, emotional, mental or spiritual?
Who has not experienced the anguish of loss, the torment and frustration, as well as the helplessness, of having life totally out of ones control—unable to prevent or stop the suffering and anguish of sorrow?
Who has not demanded answers, the revealing reasons as to why the misfortune, coupled by the agonizing torment of the hows and the whys. . .

How many of us have looked recently at the news, only to see the face of the teddy bear browned-eyed young girl of idyllic youth and hope sweetly looking back at us and finding ourselves wondering how could such a joyful youthful soul fall victim to the madness half a world away— and suddenly finding that what was “over there” seems eerily now over here, effecting us all. . .all the while pondering how the God of all things past, present and future could allow such a seemingly gentle child, a girl who could have been the daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, friend of any one of us, to be snatched away in the height of her youthful quest for goodness at the hands of those who are cold, calculating and void of any sort of empathy?

The night after the story of Kayla Mueller’s death at the hands of IS, with stories swirling that she had been married off to one of the ISIS leaders as a prize of war, there seemed to be more questions then answers that were met with the overflowing grief of a family which was shared publicly Tuesday during a press conference. Yet many of the more cynical and jaded among us have been heard to wonder out loud “what foolish individual in their right mind would go over there right now. . .?”

But what we must know about human beings is that there are those among us who run to the sound of fire rather than from it. . .those who selflessly and unequivocally rush in to offer help, support, ease and comfort to those individual who are stuck in the midst of misery. They go with little to no regard of self—and if the truth be told, we are all glad they do.

Whether we agree that that region of the world is simply too dangerous for the Kayla Muellers among us to venture. . .be it the middle east, many parts of Africa, Ukraine, parts of the far east, and even the Philippines—that such places are only for the military and well trained to traverse, the truth of the matter is that where there are people and children who are caught innocently in the middle of conflict–those who suffer grievously because of the madness of others, there will always be those among us who hear, as well as heed, the call to render service and help—be we Jew, Gentile, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc—the drive to offer empathy, compassion, aid and care for our hurting fellow human beings is a hardwired trait that hides deep within our psyche–it’s just that some of us are better at hearing and heeding it than others.

Tuesday night, after having spent much of the day glued to the news and having grieved along with Kayla’s family, having noted that she was the same age as my son, having wrestled with the position of the United States in such matters as hostages and war, I found myself settling in for the evening reading over the Bonhoeffer book I have previously mentioned Meditating On The Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer translated by David McI. Gracie.

The evenings reading was based on Psalm 34:19 A Sermon on the Suffering of the Righteous
It was a meditation that Bonhoeffer had actually written down and mailed to his dear friend Eberhard Bethge while Bonhoeffer was a prisoner in Tegel Prison near Berlin—the first of three different prisons before his subsequent execution. Bonhoeffer had already been held by the Nazi’s for over a year, his future uncertain. He had just become engaged prior to his arrest, and with it now being over a year away from those he loved, the confinement was wearing on his soul.

Once again, as the created and not being the Creator, there are those events in life that we simply will never truly understand no matter how hard we try. We can write them off as this or that, we can grow bitter and cold or simply empty and numb but there are those moments when we will find ourselves at a loss for words, a loss of understanding. It will be there, in the midst of the suffering and sorrow, that we will meet God. . .

I want to offer the following excerpt of the meditation as I find its subject most timely and most enlightening. . .(the translator has chosen to mix up the use of the feminine and masculine pronoun)

Psalm 34:19
The righteous person must suffer many things;
but the lord delivers him out of them all.

1 Peter 3:9
Repay not evil with evil or railing with railing,
but rather bless, and know that you are called to this,
so that you should inherit the blessing.

The righteous person suffers in this world in a way that the unrighteous person does not.
The righteous person suffers because of many things that for others seem only natural and unavoidable. The righteous person suffers because of unrighteousness, because of the senselessness and absurdity of events in the world. She suffers because of the destruction of the divine order of marriage and the family. She suffers not only because it means privation for her, but because she recognizes something ungodly in it. The world says: that is how it is, always will be, and must be. The righteous person says: It ought not to be so; it is against God. This is how one recognizes the righteous person, by her suffering in just this way. She brings, as it were, the sensorium of God into the world; hence, she suffers as God suffers in this world.
“But the Lord delivers him.”
God’s deliverance is not to be found in every experience of human suffering. But in the suffering of the righteous God’s hope is always there, because he (the righteous person) is suffering with God. God is always present with him. The righteous person knows that God allows him to suffer so, in order that he may learn to love God for God’s own sake. In suffering, the righteous person finds God. That is his deliverance.
Find God in your separation and you will find deliverance!
The answer of the righteous person to the sufferings that the world causes her is to bless.
That was the answer of God to the world that nailed Christ to the cross: blessing.
God does to repay like with like, and neither should the righteous person.
No condemning, no railing, but blessing.
The world would have no hope if this were not so.
The world lives and has its future by means of the blessing of God and of the righteous person. Blessing means laying one’s hands upon something and saying: You belong to God in spite of all. It is in this way that we respond to the world that causes us such suffering. We do not forsake it, cast it out, despise or condemn it. Instead, we recall it to God, we give it hope, we lay our hands upon it and say: God’s blessing come to you; may God renew you; be blessed, you dear God-created world, for you belong to your creator and redeemer. We have received God’s blessing in our happiness and in our suffering. And whoever has been blessed herself cannot help but pass this blessing on to the next one; yes, wherever she is, she must be herself a blessing. The renewal of the world, which seems so impossible, becomes possible in the blessing of God.
As Jesus ascended to heaven, “he lifted up his hands and blessed” his followers. We hear him speak to us in this hour: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Amen

King of the kingdom

The Lord gave the wonderful promise of the free use of His Name with the Father in conjunction with doing His works. The disciple who lives only for Jesus’ work and Kingdom, for His will and honor, will be given the power to appropriate the promise. Anyone grasping the promise only when he wants something very special for himself will be disappointed, because he is making Jesus the servant of his own comfort. But whoever wants to pray the effective prayer of faith because he needs it for the work of the Master will learn it, because he has made himself the servant of his Lord’s interests.”
― Andrew Murray

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(a small bug perched atop the bud of a snapdragon, surveying his kingdom / Julie Cook / 2015)

Who is the servant of your comfort?
Who do you seek when tasked with fulfilling your desires?
What prayer do you pray for your satisfaction?
What is the litany recited for your wants?
Whom do you seek as the king of your kingdom?

What is the name you call when in need?
Who are your followers, your disciples?
To whom do you pay homage?
Do you know the way of the effective prayer?
Who is the Lord of your interests?

What land do you survey and call your own?
To what promises do you cling?
Who’s work is it that you carry out?
From whence comes your salvation?
Whom do you call upon as your kingdom crumbles?

To one and only one is power given.
To one and only one is honor paid.
To one and only one is the title Master granted.
There is one and only one who offers you His hand.
The one true King calls you to His Kingdom.
Will you finally heed His call?

In need of a little comfort?

As the years pass, I am coming more and more to understand that it is the common, everyday blessings of our common everyday lives for which we should be particularly grateful. They are the things that fill our lives with comfort and our hearts with gladness — just the pure air to breathe and the strength to breath it; just warmth and shelter and home folks; just plain food that gives us strength; the bright sunshine on a cold day; and a cool breeze when the day is warm.”
― Laura Ingalls Wilder

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(Freshly baked Breton Biscuits / Julie Cook / 2014)

Where do you go when you find yourself out of sorts, stressed, tired?
Where does your heart wander when it is wounded, sad, heavy?
Where do your spirits travel when your world is rocked, your day is shot, your feelings weary?

To the kitchen, that’s where!!

I confess that I’ve been feeling a bit blue and out of sorts as of late. . .blasé
—the trees didn’t help. . .
. . .but I don’t want to talk about that.
I was flipping though my most recent edition of Saveur Magazine when I found myself stopping on one particular page.
One word stopped me. . .
Butter

If there is one little thing that screams “let me comfort you my dear” it’s the real deal unctuous amalgamation of cream and salt.
Butter.
YUMMMMMMMM

The article was entitled Butter Queen showcasing a Brittany (region in France) specialty, Gâteau Breton or Gallettes bretonnes–better known as a light, delicate, sandy textured butter cookie.
That’s what I’m talking—-a light hearted version of a shortbread!!
Comfort is now a recipe away!!

So let’s make a little comfort shall we. . .

This particular recipe is originally from Le Cordon Bleu’s cookies edition as taken from the Joy of Baking
A recipe for Sables—the French Butter cookie (how many names can a little butter cookie have?!)
It’s a simple no fuss cookie. It can serve as a canvas for the adventuresome and creative, or simply as pure pleasure for the purist.

Here’s what you’ll need:
–10 tablespoons (140) grams unsalted butter, room temperature (Plugra, Presidents or other European brands)
–1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
–1 large egg (organic)
–1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (my homemade brew)
–2 cups(260 grams) all purpose flour (unbleached King Author
–1/2 teaspoon baking powder
–1/4 teaspoon salt (Real Salt Kosher)
Egg Wash–1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

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Is it just me or is red a dominant color on the pallet of my products of choice?
When you make something as simple as a butter cookie, it is key to have the very best ingredients in your repertoire available as there are so few ingredients involved. With butter being the primary , the best butter you can get your hands on is crucial. Plugra is a great US butter which is out of Texas and handcrafted in the tradition of European butter–meaning it has a higher butter fat content–making for a richer, more savory creamy product—
(see the previous post:
https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/butter-and-lent/ )

I’ve chosen President, a French butter for a French cookie, mais non?

I’ve copied the original recipe here:

Sables: In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Add the egg and vanilla extract and beat until blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat just until incorporated. Do not over mix the dough.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface, knead the dough a few times to bring it together, and then divide the dough in half. Wrap each half in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm (at least an hour).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (177 degrees C) and place rack in the center of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Remove one portion of the dough from the refrigerator and place on a lightly floured work surface. Roll out the dough until it is 1/4 inch (1 cm) thick. Using a lightly floured 2 inch (5 cm) round fluted cookie cutter, cut out the cookies, placing them on the prepared sheet. Place the baking sheet of cut out cookies in the refrigerator for about 15 -20 minutes to chill the dough. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the egg with the water for the egg wash. Remove the cookies from the refrigerator and brush the tops with the egg wash. Then, with the tines of a fork (or I like to use the end of a toothpick), make a crisscross pattern on the top of each cookie. Bake cookies in the preheated oven for about 12 – 14 minutes (depending on size of cookie) or until golden brown around the edges.

Cool cookies on wire rack. Store in an airtight container for up to a week.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
(using a 3 inch cutter gave me a larger cookie which numbered 18 total)

My organic eggs, since I’ve yet to procure “my girls” for the very real deal :

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The recipe calls for the use of a 2 inch cookie / biscuit cutter however I used a 3 inch cutter, making for a tad larger cookie. Instead of 3 dozen cookies I had 18. If you wanted to be festive, I don’t know why you couldn’t use fun cookie cutters, say pumpkins, or leaves, or turkeys, or snowmen. . .as these are not sugar cookies but a rolled and cut cookie all the same.

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I’m not a big fan of egg wash as I think it “yellows” the top of the cookie and “seals” the tops often allowing the cookies to get mushy after a day or so rather than staying nice and crisp–when I make these again, I won’t use egg. . .

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When you use a fork to crisscross the top of the cookies, use the back of the fork–the front of the fork will cause the soft raw cookies to pull–the back keeps the lines smooth.

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Not too sweet with a slight saltiness offering a clean buttery finish.
These could be fun little ice-cream sandwich base cookies or another type of filling sandwiched lovingly between theses thin little butter wafers of wonderment or even dipped in melted chocolate for a chocolate dipped sandy. . .skies the limit, but I prefer the simple buttery goodness.

Pure Comfort to be sure
Bon Appétit

If You’re Afraid of Butter, Use Cream
Julia Child