life and death never cease to amaze me…

“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood
becomes a matter of life and death to you.”

C.S. Lewis

“I’ve reached the point where I hardly care whether I live or die.
The world will keep on turning without me, I can’t do anything to change events anyway.”

Anne Frank


(dried hydranga blooms / Julie Cook / 2018)

I had a couple of posts that I had been working on that were waiting in the wings.
Posts I was all geared up to finish writing and excited about sharing today.

I had just watched the latest offering by Bishop Ashenden–of which makes for excellent sharing…
And of course, there’s our friend the Wee Flea…and his latest observations…
of which it seems, often needs to be our own observations…as he is always spot on.

Then there’s the story of the animal folks out there and stories of the types of animals that
they’re trying to pass off as “service animals” as they try their darndest to get these
service creatures on planes.
It actually makes for a humorous, ridiculous and rather captivating tale that is now sadly
an indication as to the nuttiness of our society…

And of course, there is the on again off again notion of the Russians coming, going
and not coming or going…

I mean just open any newspaper or click on any news feed or watch ‘the news’—
and the supply of material for the offering of reflection is endless…

Or maybe it is simply a sign that we need to be more earnest with our prayers…as in
never ceasing….of which I believe is actually the case…never ceasing.

But as luck would have it today,
both life and death decided they each needed to intervene in my life.

If I haven’t mentioned it lately, we are officially in baby watch mode.
This first granddaughter of ours is due any day now.
There are however a few glitches that have popped up…but the doctors are assuring us that
we are not to be worrying…for what we see as a glitch, they see as nothing new.

And so as we now hold our breath as we prepare for a new life…today,
which is yesterday if you’re reading this on Saturday, is/was Aunt Maaaatthhhaaaa’s birthday.
She would have been 79.
Remember we lost Martha suddenly and unexpectedly in July.

And so whereas she and I had already had an adventure planned which we should have
lived out this past fall,
as I should have been sharing the tales of our latest exploits…
rather than exploits, I am offering the bittersweet remembrance of her passing.

And to add insult to injury…this morning, which is yesterday morning to you,
just as I was thinking about how much I was missing my aunt,
this accomplice in all things of adventure…
her daughter–that being my cousin….well her fiancee called me, totally out of the blue,
to inform me that she, my cousin, had actually died suddenly while out walking the dog.
On her mom’s birthday.
She was just 48.

She had had a nagging cough and had been tested for the flu but they were treating it as
chronic asthma. I think they are suspecting blood clots in the lungs but I also suspect
that as was very much overweight, I think her heart simply gave out.
She leaves behind a 26-year-old daughter who struggles with autism and a totally shocked
and bereft fiancee who had just proposed on New Year’s Eve.

Both my mother and her sister, Aunt Martha, clung to the old-school
wive’s tales and adamantly held to the notion that bad things always happened in threes…

I say this family has had its three.

And so now no one remains on my mother’s side of the family but for the daughter of
this cousin and me.

And so I am poignantly reminded that we human beings are a people who mark our
days by the significance of the calendar…the passing of time marked by events.
As there will always be ironies found in both our births and in our passings.

I was all ready to be heading off in one direction today when life saw that I should
head in a totally different sort of direction…one that is much more deeply reflective.
And just when I thought we couldn’t get any more reflective then perusing the thoughts of
Bishop Ashenden or the Wee Flea, David Roberston…life teaches us otherwise.

It seems that there will always be joy and sorrow constantly rolled into one another…
Some would call that a ying and yang of living or simply karma—the coming and going around
of the good and bad in the universe…

I simply call it life.

The ebb and flow of this gift we have been given.
Nothing on earth is a guarantee…all but for the love, God has for His children.

And whereas none of us know or are guaranteed another day, let alone another hour…
Knowing that our lives, as precarious and fragile as they are,
are at all times found safely in the hand of the Father, is comfort enough for me…
May it be comfort enough for you…

For despite the markings of the calendar, none of us know the day nor time
our earthly life will come to a close…I pray to be in the hands of the Father
when that day should come for me…

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring.
What is your life?
For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

James 4:14

comings and goings

You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
Deuteronomy 28:6


(the road leading Tremont Great Smokey Mt Institute, The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

During this season of holiday travel may we all remain safe during the
journey to and from our various destinations….

“The love and affection of the angels be to you,

The love and affection of the saints be to you,

The love and affection of heaven be to you,

To guard and to cherish you.

May God shield you on every step,

May He aid you on every path,

And may He hold you safe on every slope,

On every hill and on every plain;

On earth and on sea until you are home again.”
Irish Blessing

the collision of patriotism and xenophobia

“In the first place, we should insist that if the immigrant who comes here in good faith
becomes an American and assimilates himself to us,
he shall be treated on an exact equality with everyone else,
for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed,
or birthplace, or origin.
But this is predicated upon the person’s becoming in every facet an American,
and nothing but an American…
There can be no divided allegiance here.
Any man who says he is an American, but something else also,
isn’t an American at all.
We have room for but one flag, the American flag…
We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language…
and we have room for but one sole loyalty and that is a loyalty to the American people.”

Theodore Roosevelt

article-2307859-193fc4e3000005dc-15_634x552
( part of the health screening for those passing through Ellis Island)

Immigration, the coming and going of peoples from one country to another…
freely…
as in, it’s ok because there is a working process of passage in place…

It is a process for those possessing the desire of becoming something other…
hopefully better, thankfully freer, happier, safer, more prosperous…
and in the end,
American.

It worked in ages past when it was done openly and legally,
as in going through the proper steps and stages.
Remember Ellis Island–

However today, that is no longer the case–as in it is now a harry carry mess…
often a covert process at best…
clandestine, and even sinister, at worst…

A process that has existed unchecked and unabashedly out of control for decades…
And maybe that’s because none of that had really mattered during those previous decades.
Maybe it was believed that the Nation could keep up and absorb the flow.
Provide for, house, educate, keep healthy and well, defend and protect and afford…
the flow….

Yet, in time, as the world shifted,
we began to not only witness, but rather experience that very shift.
No longer could the flow be absorbed…
Financial affordability and responsibility was maxed…
The original intent was no longer the same…
English was not wanting to be learned.
Assimilation became a bad word.
It was a flow wanting perks without dues…

New words crept into our vocabulary….
Undocumented
Alien
Drug lords
Border control
Terrorism
Islamic extremists
Al Qaeda,
Taliban
ISIS

Tunnels were dug…
As planes flew into buildings…
all with a grave purpose….
And we were learning that things had to change…
there had to be new safety steps put in place….

Yet no one cared to recognize the folly or the negligence in allowing things to continue…
They preferred to rally….
vehemently angry while trying to counter any means possible to corral
and bring some semblance of order to a broken process.

They march while holding signs.
They quit work to protest.
Yet they refuse to do those necessary things that should be done, must be done…
properly…
legally…
correct….
inorder to make it all work…

And so those who say such words as…
proper
broken
assimilate
learn
legal…

are taunted, jeered, cursed and ignored…

Time and resources are passing away…
making it all too late to make things right….

confusion
apathy
ignorance
greed
loss
now replace what once was…
loyalty,
patriotism,
and National honor…
rendering a once strong nation….neutered.

“A nation that cannot control its borders is not a nation.”
Ronald Reagan

a continuation of beginnings and comings

See me safe up: for in my coming down,
I can shift for myself.

Thomas More

dscn4719
(the frozen demise of the mint / Julie Cook / 2017)

Despite our having just journeyed through the season known for all things of anticipation…
that sacred time of observing Advent, which then culminates with the wondrous arrival
of the illuminating Nativity…
we actually, in this silent and slumberous time of deep winter,
continue finding ourselves waiting and watching.

Found in the Latin word adventus, which is the translation of the Greek word parousia,
we find a word and meaning that has traditionally been used to refer to the Second Coming of Christ.
Not so much denoting a single and initial birth, but rather embracing the anticipation of
a second birth…a sort of re-coming…

Yet, as William Stringfellow observes,
“we live now, in the Untied States, in a culture so profoundly pagan that Advent
(or any other Christian “season”)*
is no longer really noticed, much less observed.
The commercial acceleration of seasons,
whereby the promotion of Christmas begins even before there is an opportunity to enjoy
Halloween, is superficially, a reason for the vanishment of Advent.
But a more significant cause is that the churches have become so utterly secularized
that they no longer remember the topic of Advent.
*(parentheses mine)

And so it seems that our secular and worldly selves have given way from our
continuation of waiting and watching to rather the glossing over of a key
observational time within our faith.
We have allowed, as it appears we have preferred, to move away from that which should
still be our focus, yielding rather, to the superficial luster of the fleeting.

For it seems that the notion of Advent, or any other of the “seasons” of the church,
has fallen way to the more glamorous secular association of what should actually be the truly
innate spiritual rhythms of our beings.

Yet as unrelenting and ever-faithful,
we now find ourselves transitioning from the anticipation found in Advent and the Nativity
to Epiphany, leading way to Ash Wednesday and the heaviness of the somber Lenten season…
as it too shall give way to the unending promise of Hope…

We enter, once again into a time of waiting and watching…
waiting not so much for the first birth with its earth shattering life that was cut
tragically short by a brutal yet necessary death…
but rather we, the dwindling yet tenacious faithful, both wait and watch
not for an ending associated with death but rather for the continuation of what is to come…

Life anew and everlasting…

As we find ourselves listening to once again, as well as claiming, those prophetic words of that
lone figure who cried out to the masses so long ago…
as his words continue to resonate in our hearts…

MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT!'”
Matthew 3:3

God Comes

“Into this world, this demented inn
in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,
Christ comes uninvited.”

Thomas Merton

michelangelo_caravaggio_77_nativity_with_st_francis_and_st_lawrence
(Caravaggio’s Nativity with St Francis and St Lawrence / 1609 / Palermo, Italy)

“God Comes”

Pope Benedict XVI in his homily celebration of First Vespers
of the First Sunday of Advent
(Saturday, 2 December 2006)

“At the beginning of a new yearly cycle, the liturgy invites the Church to renew her
proclamation to all the peoples and sums it up in two words
‘God comes.’
These words, so concise, contain an ever new evocative power.

Let us pause a moment to reflect:
it is not used in the past tense—God has come,
nor in the future—God will come,
but in the present—‘God comes.’

At a closer look, this is a continuous present, that is, an ever-continuous action:
it happened, it is happening now and it will happen again.
In whichever moment, ‘God comes.’

The verb ‘to come’ appears here as a theological verb, indeed theological,
since it says something about God’s very nature.
Proclaiming that ‘God comes’ is equivalent, therefore, to simply announcing God himself,
through one of his essential and qualifying features: his being the God-who-comes.

Advent calls believers to become aware of this truth and to act accordingly.
It rings out as a salutary appeal in the days, weeks and months that repeat:
Awaken!
Remember that God comes!
Not yesterday,
not tomorrow,
but today,
now!

The one true God, ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,’
is not a God who is there in Heaven, unconcerned with us and our history,
but he is the-God-who-comes.
He is a Father who never stops thinking of us and, in the extreme respect of our freedom,
desires to meet us and visit us;
he wants to come, to dwell among us, to stay with us.
His ‘coming’ is motivated by the desire to free us from evil and death,
from all that prevents our true happiness.
God comes to save us.

The Fathers of the Church observe that the ‘coming’ of God—continuous and, as it were,
co-natural with his very being—is centered in the two principal comings of Christ:
his Incarnation
and
his glorious return at the end of time…
(cf. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechesis 15,1: PG 33, 870).

The Advent Season lives the whole of this polarity.

In the first days, the accent falls on the expectation of the Lord’s Final Coming,
as the texts of this evening’s celebration demonstrate.
With Christmas approaching, the dominant note instead is on
the commemoration of the event at Bethlehem,
so that we may recognize it as the ‘fullness of time.’

Between these two ‘manifested’ comings…
it is possible to identify a third,
which St. Bernard calls ‘intermediate’ and ‘hidden,’
and which occurs in the souls of believers and,
as it were,
builds a ‘bridge’ between the first and the last coming.”

Shaken not deterred

“The fact that the Son of man shall come again is more than a historic prophecy;
it is also a decree that God’s coming and the shaking up of humanity are somehow connected”

Alfred Delp

dscn1589
(broken bits within Sligo Abbey / Sligo, Co Sligo, Ireland/ Julie Cook / 2015)

Granted it seems a bit early yet to be looking toward the coming season of Advent…
but let’s try telling that to the giants of Sales and Marketing.

It certainly doesn’t seem to be too early for the department stores,
and all things merchandising, to giddily jump on the early bandwagon of Christmas.
as the mass marketing of Christmas frustratingly now precedes Halloween.

Yet we should remind ourselves that it’s really not Christmas,
not the Christmas that Christians know,
of which the Mass Marketing giants are now greedily rubbing their hands over.

And we must, year after year, work harder and harder to be mindful of such as it
becomes far too easy to get sucked into the maddening holiday hype which is currently
underway in earnest.
So much so that I find myself getting nervous just running in to pick up whatever from say
Target or the grocery store as Christmas is staring me in the face….

With the current state of my life being in a constant state of flux…
so unpredictable, so up in the air and so utterly chaotic these days,
I’m finding that I’ve got to grab at things when I can.
Hence why I jumped in a bit early to the Advent Book I received for Plough Publishing House

When the Time Was Fulfilled
Christmas Mediations by
Eberhard Arnold
Christoph Blumhardt
Alfred Delp.

And it was the entry by Delp, The Shaking Reality of Advent that has resonated so
deeply in my soul.

Maybe it’s because his words, written 72 years ago, seem as if they were penned last night.
Written by anyone with Christian conscious who is observing the tumultuous times of our world.

Maybe it’s because I know that he wrote these words while he was being held by the Nazis
as a presumed traitor of the state.
He had been tortured and beaten while awaiting his trial.
As a state prisoner in Tegel Prison in Berlin, Delp had been arrested on the grounds of a
connection with the final assassination plot against Hitler,
of which he was not involved,
it was customary for those prisoner’s hands to chained and handcuffed at all times,
yet Delp manages to secretly write spiritual reflections of Advent and Christmas while
secretly saying mass for his fellow prisoners.
We have his works to this day because they had been smuggled out of the prison and
shared with his fellow prisoners.

Delp was offered his freedom if he would denounce being a priest…
Yet he refused.
He was hung February 2, 1945 just a few months prior to the fall of Nazi Germany.
He was only 38 years old.

Maybe I am so drawn to Delp’s words because despite his position and his suffering,
he could joyfully look forward to Christ’s re-coming to a very darkened world…
because that’s what Advent translates to… ‘coming’…

So whereas, throughout these trying times of this nation of ours,
the family of Believers may be shaken, but we are not deterred…
Come what may…..

“Many of the things that are happening today would never have happened if we had been
living in that longing, that disquiet of heart which comes when we are faced with God,
and when we look clearly at things as they really are.
If we had done this, God would have withheld his hand from many of the things that now
shake and crush our lives.
We would have come to terms with and judged the limits of our own competence.
But we have lived in a false confidence, in a delusional security;
in our spiritual insanity we really believe we can bring the stars down from heaven
and kindle flames of eternity in the world.
We believe that with our own forces we can avert the dangers and banish the night,
switch off and halt the internal quaking of the universe.
We believe we can harness everything and fit it into an ultimate scheme that will last…

If we want Advent to transform us–our homes and hearts,
and even nations–then the great question for us is whether we will come out
of the convulsions of our time to awaken from sleep.
A waking up must begin somewhere.
It is time to put things back where God intended them.
It is time for each of us to go to work–certain that the Lord will come–
to set our life in God’s order wherever we can.
Where God’s word is heard, he will not cheat us of the truth;
where our life rebels he will reprimand it.
We need people who are moved by the horrific calamities and emerge from them with
the knowledge that those who look to the Lord will be preserved by him,
even if they are hounded from earth”

Father Alfred Delp’s writings on Advent smuggled out of
Tegel Prison, Berlin 1944
Delp was hanged by the Nazi’s in 1945
Excerpt taken from When the Time was Fulfilled

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him,
though he is not far from any one of us.

Acts 17:27

Rejoice

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”

(words taken from Mary’ prayer
Luke 1:46-56)

We wait, we wait….
Destiny waits in the hand of God, shaping the still unshapen.
Destiny waits in the hand of God, not in the hands of statesmen.
Come, happy December, who shall observe you, who shall preserve you?
Shall the Son of Man be born again in the litter of scorn?
For us, the poor, there is no action,
But only to wait and to witness.

T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral

DSCN0416
(a stand of ash trees / Gleandlough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland /Julie Cook / 2015)

What better visual expression and example could exist in which the earth proclaims the majesty of the Creator, as they, the trees, teach us all what it means to rejoice, to delight, to be jubilant and exuberant…

The trees lift our eyes and hearts upward, as we also yearn to reach ever heavenward…drawing our sights, our minds, our senses upward while raising our spirits as we lift our voices in unison singing HOLY, HOLY, HOLY…as we wait expectantly for the birth of the Savior of all mankind….

The 3rd week of Advent is known as Gaudete –latin for the word Rejoice
Hear the words of the ancient hymn:

Gaude! Gaude! Emmanuel,
nascetur pro te Israel!

Rejoice, Rejoice O Israel,
to thee shall come Emmanuel!

As this 3rd Adventen week begins, which will actually begin on Thursday December 17th, with the admonition by Paul– “The Lord is near”

Did you hear that?
The Lord is near…..whoa…
As in His presence is in close proximity to our own, your own..
He is close and getting closer by the day, by the hour, by the minute…
Not a mere fable or sweet little story of something that happened long ago..
but rather the approaching of someone real who is soon to be in your presence just as you will be in His…

Does that not make you want to turn around…
to look both left and right as the presence of the Almighty is near and drawing ever closer than you could ever imagine?

Your heart quickens as you feel the reverberations of something monumental.
Your palms are wet, your knees are weak and your mouth is dry.
Something bigger, greater and more grand than you have ever known is soon to take place…. as you my friend can barely wait…

Get ready…
Be ready…
Be watching…
The time draws nigh…
He’s almost here…
are you ready?

Prepare our hearts
and remove the sadness
that hinders us from feeling
the joy and hope
which his presence
will bestow.

(taken from the Catholic prayers for Advent)