Before and after…the question

The south facade of Notre Dame before the fire…


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

Now the upper portion of the same facade, after the fire…


(Associated Press)

Despite the brilliant blue sky, the delightfully warm late afternoon sun,
a heaviness continued to linger…

I dumped a portion of the hardwood chunks of charcoal into the grill then used the
lighter to ignite the charcoal.

When the soft yellow-orange glow began, I closed the lid, cracking open the vents while I
proceeded to wait.

Soon enough, I opened the lid as the flames rose while the burning wood chips popped
and crackled.

I stared down into the grill, filled with those yellow-orange licking flames,
while I purposely and intently listened to the sounds of both fire and wood.

My thoughts seemed to have gotten stuck on an unseen replay button…
replaying the scenes from yesterday’s images of both Notre Dame and of the fire.

I thought of each trip, over the past decades of my life,
that I have walked into that cavernous and overwhelmingly
historic and spiritual “house” of worship.

The sounds of my own footsteps echoing off the soaring stone walls and massive pillars
as my steps reverberated against the barrel vault high above my head.

Awe stopped me in my tracks as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting
while the hints of pungent incense lingered in my nostrils.

I grappled with the magnitude of the historical and the physical while my mind
wrapped around the Spiritual impetus for this seemingly gargantuan whale that
had suddenly swallowed me whole.

The rising flames in the grill jerked me back to the present and my need
to get about my grilling supper…

I would say that this historic and catastrophic fire is proving devastating
on a great many levels.

The world is painfully mourning an iconic cultural loss.
Paris is mourning a devastating loss of an iconic piece of her home’s heart.
As we the world mourn both an artistic and architectural loss.

The proverbial bucket list destination for tourists and one of the spiritual
pilgrimage destinations on the lists of the faithful is now forever changed…
just as much of humankind is now changed.

But what I think is even more important, the fire has shaken loose a deeply hidden
sense of loss found in most of Western Civilization…it is a loss on a subconscious level
that we’ve never been able to put our finger on…
a loss that has long existed…one we have subconsciously known
was there but yet we didn’t know.

It is the loss of our Christian Spirituality…
our Spirituality that we have allowed to slip from, not merely our
hands, but from our very psyches and souls.

Yesterday I offered a response to a friend’s comment on my day’s post regarding
the fire and that comment has now lingered in my thoughts…

“someone I was listening to last night posed the question—– and I’ll paraphrase-
‘With so much of Europe becoming so secularized—–we’re seeing these massive ancient bastions
of Christian faith becoming more and more like museums rather than houses of worship.
With everyone now clamoring to rebuild…
the question we must be asking ourselves is what are we rebuilding?

Are we rebuilding a museum that lost so much art, etc…art that can never be replaced…
or are we rebuilding a church, a house of worship?…

I find that to be the very key question for our very postmodern Christian selves”

It is not lost on me that we are in the midst of the most Holiest of weeks within
all of Christendom while in the midsts of an ever-shrinking Christian faith
in our culture.

This fire is yet another visceral image of our own human tragedy and the fall of man.

It shakes loose our hidden sense of grief and loss over our flailing and fragile faith.

Christ descended into the depths of a raging fire of our very sin…
and on the third day, He rose from those ashes…

May we now use this sense of loss and grief, allowing our faith to be rekindled as we too rise
upward out of the ashes of what has become such a sinful loss…

Loss no more..but only gain…as the spire rises again…

“So you’re giving up?
That’s it?
Okay, okay. We’ll leave you alone, Quasimodo.
We just thought, maybe you’re made up of something much stronger.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

There is never coincidence, not even in the dark of night

“And I saw that truly nothing happens by accident or luck,
but everything by God’s wise providence …
for matters that have been in God’s foreseeing wisdom,
since before time began, befall us suddenly,
all unawares; and so in our blindness and ignorance we say that this is accident or luck,
but to our Lord God it is not so.”

St. Julian of Norwich


(Pieta in The Cathedral of Notre Dame / Paris, France /Julie Cook / 20118)

“Many of the saints tell us that these times of God-ordained ‘desolation’ or dryness
are very important times of growth if we persevere through them by exercising a deeper
faith, hope, and love.
It is particularly important, they tell us,
not to give up our spiritual practices but to remain faithful.
God in His wisdom knows how long and how deeply we must be tried in order to come closer to Him,
and we should patiently trust Him during the trial while persevering in our practices.”

Ralph Martin, p.174
An Except From
Fulfillment of all Desire

With God, there are no accidents.
Never.

Even when, in our thinking, a near-irreparable tragedy, of which is a true accident and is
nonetheless horrific and simply unbearable…leaves both our lives and bodies shattered…

We are reminded that God is still very much present.

Yet such a reminder, to those who are living in and with the aftermath,
rings often empty and even bitterly insulting.

Our pain and our anger are both agonizingly palpable.

Yet such moments, more often than not, send even the most staunch religious
and spiritual among us into the depths of deep darkness.
A wasteland of sorrow, loneliness, bitterness and yes, a gnawing and seething anger…

The wasteland can last, for what can seem, an eternity.

Or…on the other hand…perhaps there was no accident…no tragedy…

There was no particular impetus for a sudden wandering into the wasteland of an empty soul…

We simply find ourselves, our souls, suddenly and oddly empty and cold.

At best, our faith remains shallow…
At worst, our faith seems lost forever…

However, we are reminded to hold fast.

To hold on.

Words, which to the hurting, the lost, the lonely, more often than not,
echo of emptiness and even the trite.

It will take a conscious act of totally emptying oneself to all that is.
It will take a complete letting go of all that we know and hold dear.
It will take a blind leap of faith.
It will take a willingness to trust in that which we cannot see while we cling to
a promise given to each of us long ago.

We have a choice…
we can choose to remain lost, bitter or angry.
Or we can cling to the one promise we have…

Be not afraid…

The tragedy, the accident, the sorrow which could not, cannot be prevented…
nor that of the painful results, while one seems to remain caught in the vicious cycle
of pain both physical and spiritual, that results from such situations…
is ours to either keep and hold on to or to let go of while we figure out how to find our way back…home

That is our choice, our conscious decision.

There are no accidents with God, no coincidence.
And when in the desert, He remains steadfast despite a perceived silence.

I say all of this as I am in the midst of reading a book that is a tale
of the horrific, the unthinkable, the unimaginable and yet a tale
of the hope, the healing, and the Saving Grace…
of which far outweighs that of the Evil.

More on this story as time allows.

It does indeed seem empty to say to those who suffer the unimaginable that they must simply
hold on and hold tight…
but that is exactly what we all must be willing to do…
and to “will” ourselves takes a conscious act…

Something Beautiful Happened
A Story of Survival and Courage in the Face of Evil
by Yvette Manessis Corporon

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
“All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.

Isaiah 41:10-13

what was that about animal or angel…

“I see clearly with the interior eye,
that the sweet God loves with a pure love the creature that He has created,
and has a hatred for nothing but sin, which is more opposed to Him
than can be thought or imagined.”

St. Catherine of Genoa


(image courtesy a UK internet news outlet)

Yesterday we took a brief look at what it is that separates man from beast…

That being the conscious conscience–

Our ability to make a conscious choice to believe…in say, that Jesus Christ was and
is who He said He was…as He remains to this day—that being the Son of God…

So a conscious conscience separates us.

Otherwise, we’re pretty much alike as in that we are born of both male and female, we
eat, sleep, play, seek shelter, have similar bodily functions…

And yet we possess a higher order of thinking—a conscious conscience.

We can choose to follow something rather than said following being simply an innate
reaction or some sort of imprinting.
We can follow literally or we can follow figuratively and consciously…or, choose not to…

It’s no secret that I love football—
that being American football and not the soccer version of futbol.

And we can whittle that down even further in that I prefer college ball…
but I will always take what I can get.

So needless to say, I joined the rest of this football and commercial loving Nation,
all who gathered either in person or around a thousand and more televisions in order
to watch the big game Sunday night…the Super Bowl.

I am neither Eagle fan nor Patriot fan…and despite being from Atlanta and having the
Falcons being my team by proxy…Green Bay is actually MY team of heart…

And as to why that is—is beyond my soul.. but I bet it goes back to childhood or the adoption…
just saying.

So in such a competition as a Super Bowl, one usually opts to pull for one team or the other…
and as I am tired of the Patriot Dynasty constantly winning and Coach Belichick’s
sloppy sideline apparel along with his monotone one-word press conference interviews,
add in a constant dour demeanor, I thought we should give Philly a go.

And so perhaps in hindsight, I was wrong in that notion.

Following the Eagles routing over the Patriots Sunday night, Philadelphia,
that city of brotherly love, broke out into insanity…

And not mind you the type of joyful, happy, triumphant, euphoria of insanity witnessed
at the moment of a victory…such as in the…
“Hey, Nick Foles, what are you going to do now that you’ve won the Super Bowl???…
with that joy-filled, confetti swirling answer being a triumphant “I’m going to Disney World”

But rather this victory swirled down into the insanity of hate, destruction, violence,
and lawlessness.

More like, dare we say it, animals…

Add to the fact that the image I found today was from a UK news site,
as in the world watched how badly “we” behaved.

And I say ‘we’ because ‘we’ are, for all intent purposes, Americans…
As in I just happen to be from Georgia, and the game just happened to be played in Minnesota
and it just happened to be a game between New England and Philidelphia players—
so “we” are all, when the dust settles, in this together…as Americans.

Sigh.

I for one find the behavior seen in Philidelphia, bottom of the barrel, awful.

However, the questions remains…are these “fans” going to be held accountable?

Maybe some were arrested.

Yet I’m pretty certain many more slipped into the dark
of night over those who actually were arrested for “disorderly” conduct—
throw in a little looting and destruction of private property to that citation.

Whose cars were those flipped over and torched?
Or what about sending those regular citizens who were caught in the middle of the madness,
sending law-abiding folks who just happened to be in downtown businesses and hotels,
into some sort of panic attack, so afraid they would become victims of the animal mob?

Not a pretty picture to say the least.

And so I think about all of this ugly Americaness of ours…these seemingly selfish,
self-centered acts of consciousness…decisions made which are,
when all pretense is stripped away, acts of the demonic-
As in the very lesson, we learned yesterday, that being it’s man’s choice when
he leans toward anger, hate, violence lawlessness, sinfulness..in other words, acts of evilness,
of which has its impetus in the demonic and certainly not the angelic or saintly…

And just as we have the conscious conscience of choice to be more like the animals—
we also have the conscious conscience to choose that of the angelic, the saintly and that
of love.

May we choose love….

Once again, another life lesson brought to us by a mere game.

“Love is a strong force — a great good in every way; it alone can make our burdens light,
and alone it bears in equal balance what is pleasing and displeasing.
It carries a burden and does not feel it; it makes all that is bitter taste sweet…
Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing higher, nothing stronger, nothing larger,
nothing more joyful, nothing fuller, nothing better in heaven or on earth;
for love is born of God and can find its rest only in God above all He has created.
Such lovers fly high, run swiftly and rejoice.
Their souls are free; they give all for all and have all in all.
For they rest in One supreme Goodness above all things,
from Whom all other good flows and proceeds. They look not only at the gifts,
but at the Giver, Who is above all gifts.”

Thomas à Kempis

animal or angel

“To love at all is to be vulnerable.
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.
If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one,
not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries;
avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.
But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change.
It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.
To love is to be vulnerable.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves


(Marc Chagall / Cow with a Parasol / 1944)

In his Second Sunday before Lent homily, Bishop Ashenden puts before us the notion
of the identity of Jesus.

Who Jesus really is.

He notes that no one—not Buddha, not Mohammad, not Abraham, nor Moses…
none of these individuals ever professed to be God…

But that Jesus was different.

He did claim to be the Son of God…and in turn God.
That He was in the Father and the Father was in Him.
(John 14:11)

Yet Bishop Ashenden notes that our culture does not teach that Jesus is or was any
different from anyone else.
And also notes that none of us can actually prove what Jesus did.
We only have the written word…no tangible proof that shows the world definitive proof
of this or that.

And so we are left asking ourselves…
why were these things done the way that they were done and
why had these things been done and said even in the first place?

The good Bishop notes the words of C.S. Lewis when Lewis referenced man and choice…
that the choice of man is to be either animal or angel—or more aptly, animal or saint.

For in animals we are all similar in that we are born of both male and female.
And from that… man is then born of consciousness/ brain/mind…
with his conscious being the separator between man and animal…
as some may even dispute that…

So thus, by the conscious being of his conscience, man (us) has the capacity to
become children of God.
The choice between dust or to live eternally.

And so comes Jesus to show how humanly conscious choice is put into practice.

For the Children of God are born not only from man and woman but also from
the Holy Spirit.

And yet even worse than the animals…man, with his consciousness, can, therefore,
choose to become demonic…
because man can consciously choose malice, anger, rage, hatred, damage…all things which
are demonic versus that of The Spirit.

And so Jesus, as God made man…demonstrated that Love was never designed to be kept
to self…but to be freely offered and given…that which counters the demonic…

“Humans are amphibians…half spirit and half animal…as spirits they belong to the eternal world,
but as animals they inhabit time.
This means that while their spirit can be directed to an eternal object,
their bodies, passions, and imaginations are in continual change, for to be in time,
means to change. Their nearest approach to constancy, therefore, is undulation–
the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back,
a series of troughs and peaks.”

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

I wish….

“Without free will we cannot have moral responsibility.
And without moral responsibility we cannot have justice, law and indeed society.
Human beings cease to be human and instead become just a collection of chemicals
living out the pre-determined paths of our meaningless existence.”

David Robertson


(a small remaining cluster of American Beautyberries—probably what my mockingbird got
drunk off of / Julie Cook / 2017)

During the course of one’s life, it is hoped that at some point, one will actually understand—as in comprehend with inward knowing….
where exactly one has been,
where one currently is,
and where one still needs to go….

I can say that with a great deal of certainty that I have, in the course of figuring
out where it is I have been, along with where I currently am, as well as where
I need to be…. that I have in turn done things, said things, thought things…
all of which would have been best never to have done,
never to have said, and never to have been thought.

Some of these things were said, done and thought most willingly—
While others were said, done and thought more reactionary or as fleeting bits of thoughtlessness or even innate quirks of randomness…
None the less, having caused pain, sorrow and suffering to others while often being
totally unbeknownst to myself, as they were done with mere flippant thoughtlessness.

Some of which, over the years, have been most grievous—
and in hindsight, grievous to both others as well as to myself…

I have done, said and thought things with mean intent, ill intent, selfish intent,
hurtful intent, harmful intent, malicious intent, prideful intent, sinful intent…
as the intents are ad infinitum.

And I wish, in this place of life’s hindsight, that I could go back in time
undoing each action, word and thought that was wrong, hurtful, mean, boastful,
selfish and or egregiously sinful.

But I cannot.

I can perhaps apologize, if such an apology would be appropriate, yet there have
actually been instances that I was simply unaware of…
instances that I was clueless to and unaware that I even needed to make some sort
of amends.

Plus time has a way of removing us so far away physically from those first moments
of error that the opportunity to “make things right” or even simply to offer a
sincere word of remorse have closed for the duration of life on this earth.

People come and go…and lives each come to an end.
Actually making it is impossible to extend a conscious heartfelt ownership
of wrongfulness in some instances…

There is however, one thing certain…
we have a responsibility to ourselves as well as to others.

That is a fact of being a human being.

It’s something that is part and parcel with being a part of the human race.
And yet we most often forget that simple fact…and it is in that forgetfulness
where most of our errors come to surface.

Just as it is part and parcel of being human that we will make poor choices in
our actions, words and thoughts against both ourselves as well as others.
But what never changes is that each poor choice of action, word or thought has a consequence.

It’s just that some are more noticeable then others.

And when we have nothing but hindsight to remind us, it is then and there, in the
solitude of our remembrances, that we must seek the Grace that God so freely offers.

The act of contrition and true repentance.

As our remorse and sorrow over these mis-actions, words and thoughts weigh heavy on the burden of a soul.
And if they do not, then the checking of a pulse just might be in order.

Grace will not erase our actions, words or thoughts, once so arrogantly, vainly or ignorantly displayed, but it will always change our perception of such actions, words and thoughts just as it will change us…
ever so slightly back to that image our Creator had of us all along…

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people.
It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions,
and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,

Titus 2:11-12

Dumb and dormer or the age of the mea culpa

“…our impulses are too strong for our judgement sometimes”
Thomas Hardy

DSCN8418 2

Should a soon to be 55 year old woman climb out of the dormer windows in order to scrub the mildew off the trim and gutters?
Don’t answer that. . .not yet.

Trees around a house can be a messy affair.
There is the annual profusion of dropped leaves or pine straw.
There are the mishaps of falling limbs and branches during storms and ice.
Then there is the dampness which hides in the shadows causing havoc to roofs, gutters, trim and paint as the moisture never dries—plus trees have a tendency of sloughing off “stuff.”

After cutting down our trees a couple of weeks ago, the ugly mildew around the windows and gutters, which I had not noticed prior to the cutting, now taunts me from above.
I have a couple of options:
A. I can clamor around on ladders, precariously holding aloft a pressure washer hose, getting soaked in the process during this nippy time of year, possibly knocking off some integral piece to the house, say the shingles, and finally slipping off said ladder. . .
B. Let my husband do the above as I hold the ladder, receiving the full brunt of roof run off and worrying that he’ll fall off the ladder, on me.
C. pay a fortune trying to find someone who does this sort of thing professionally.
D. climb out the windows and scrub the sides myself, worrying about the gutters later.

Hummmmmmm. . .

I announced that I was going to “clean” windows one morning recently as my husband was leaving for work.
“What do you mean clean windows? he asks.
“As in the dormers and all that mildew. I’m going to open the windows and hang out as far as I can reach and then scrub.”
“Well whatever you do, don’t you dare try getting out on that roof” this said on his way out the door.

Hummmmmmm. . .

Opening the windows, spying my mess, I begin scrubbing everything within arm’s reach.
Hummmm, the roof is a bit slanted but it doesn’t look all that steep. . . .
Maybe if I just climb out while holding onto the window frame with one hand. . .

Hummmm. . .
Rope.
Where’s a rope?
I could tie the rope to. . .the bed? A doorknob?

Hummmm. . .

The roof was beckoning and I was wanting to answer.

Two little me’s perch on my shoulders.
One little me reminds me of my husband’s last words as he left for work.
The other little me asks “what does he know?!”
The first little me brings up my broken ankle and the never repaired torn ACL
The other little me says “you’ve got this”
The first little me reminds me of my birthday this week, as in turning 55 then queries “what about the osteoporosis?
The second little me say’s “you’re fine. you’re as young as you feel. it’s not like you’d fall very far”
The first little me reminds me that it is a two story drop and “whereas there may be bushes down below, there is also cement.”
The other little me tells me to “grab the gutters on the way down, you’ll be fine. . .”

Hummmmm. . .

Adventuresome and Daring
or
Hard-headed and Impetuous.

Fool hardy and Tempting
plus
Reckless and Impulsive

Impulsive behavior, with the often very public apology or acknowledgement of poor decisions, has become all too common in our culture–
I call it the age of the mea culpa.

Everyone from entertainers to politicians, to news personnel, to athletes, to law enforcement officers, military personnel, musicians on down to your average everyday person–everyone seems to adhere to the latest trend of — Act first, think later.

Public, as well as private, apologies abound. Turn on the television or flip through any newspaper and someone is apologizing for some indiscretion or egregious action.
I often think the tide of apologies sadly stems from the mindset of having simply gotten caught and therefore an apology must follow.
I don’t know if we have grown more bold, more greedy, more self centered, more daring,
but self control appears to have been thrown out as the proverbial baby with the bath water.

Sadly it appears we have forgotten. . .
Forgotten that our God is a God of control and order, yet not a controlling God–there is indeed a difference!
He is not a god who condones the uncontrollable self absorption of a willy nilly gobbling up whatever comes down the pike people. The mindset and philosophy of today’s society appears to be ‘if I see it, I want it, and I’ll take it or do it”—-and it doesn’t matter what the “it” is—be it food, clothes, sex, drugs, people, money, etc. and to heck with the consequences.

We (as in the human race) were once given regulations, laws, commandments if you will, as to how we should live—laws which would make things much easier and simpler if we chose to abide by the “rules.” If not, then there are the inevitable consequences.

But somewhere along the lines we grew selfish, we grew impatient, we grew egotistical, we grew grossly independent, we grew desensitized, we grew hungry for things and experiences which would hopefully satiate the growing need within our inner core. Our psyches were / are in need of a deep “fix” of sorts and we are desperate to ease the ache. Somewhere along the line we grew puffed up with self and of our own sense of self importance which trumped the empathy required of living on a planet full of other people in need.

The roof was calling, self control was lacking and the sense of adventure coupled with the anticipated sense of accomplishment of having tackled a major chore all on my own glistened in the very bucket of cleaning solution I held in my hand.

But my husband said “don’t” for a reason.
It doesn’t matter that I’m an independent modern sort of freethinking woman.
My husband said “don’t.”
I could easily be hard headed and fool hearty, knowing that I’m old enough to make my own decisions and choices, selfishly disregarding how my actions could negatively impact those around me.
I could be impulsive, act now, go for it, shrugging off the potential for danger thinking, so what I fall off and break my neck. . .
I could be brave tackling a problem and perhaps save us from having to hire someone.
or
I could let better judgement prevail.
I could acquiesce to my husband as a Christian wife, who does look to her husband as the head of the household.
I could wait until I had help and not feel as if I had to prove my independence to say, the squirrels.

So rest assured this very soon to be 55 year old woman yielded to the better of the two mini mes— opting not to climb out onto the roof. Reminding myself of that very freethinking independent southern woman, Scarlett O’Hara, who so famously quipped, “I’ll think about that tomorrow for tomorrow is another day, fiddlededee.”

They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.

That, however, is not the way of life you learned—when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Ephesians 4:18-24