The noblest of acts

“Cheerfulness prepares a glorious mind for all the noblest acts.”
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton


(the only sign of color this fall / Julie Cook / 2019)

“The true reason for which God bestows so many graces upon the humble is this,
that the humble are faithful to these graces and make good use of them.
They receive them from God and use them in a manner pleasing to God,
giving all the glory to Him, without reserving any for themselves…
It is certainly true that he who is humble is also faithful to God,
because the humble man is also just in giving to all their due, and above all,
in rendering to God the things that are God’s; that is,
in giving Him the glory for all the good that he is,
all the good that he has and for all the good that he does;
as the Venerable Bede says: ‘Whatever good we see in ourselves,
let us ascribe it to God and not to ourselves.’
To give thanks to God for all the blessings we have received and are
continually receiving is an excellent means of exercising humility,
because by thanksgiving we learn to acknowledge the Supreme Giver of
every good.
And for this reason it is necessary for us always to be humble before God.
St. Paul exhorts us to render thanks for all things and at all times:
‘In all things give thanks.’ (1 Thess. 5:18).
‘Giving thanks always for all things.’ (Eph. 5:20).
But that our thanksgiving may be an act of humility it must not only come
from the lips but from the heart, with a firm conviction that all good comes
to us through the infinite mercy of God.”

Rev. Cajetan da Bergamo, p. 87-8
An Excerpt From
Humility Of Heart

This is the real reason…

“If you wish to strengthen your confidence in God still more,
often recall the loving way in which He has acted toward you,
and how mercifully He has tried to bring you out of your sinful life,
to break your attachment to the things of earth and draw you to His love.”

St. Alphonsus Liguori


(the first tiger swallowtail takes flight at the blueberry bushes / Julie Cook / 2018)

Somedays I get it better than other days.

There are those days I totally get it.

I understand it.
I can see it.
I can live it.
I can claim it.

And I readily share it…

For there is a conviction.
A confidence.
Plus I even have a bit of a swagger as I wear it smoothly and easily.
It is mine and I rest in it.

And I feel good about it.

But then there are the other days…

The days, which for unknown reasons, things are not nearly as clear.
I totally miss it.
I totally, and very obviously, don’t get it.
I don’t demonstrate it.
I don’t mirror it.
I don’t live it…
while doing it a great disservice.

And that disservice is very much acknowledged by my inner self…
As sometimes I can even feel a bit of ill intent.
A defiance.
Add a bit of delight and satisfaction to that defiance.
And the wickedness rises.

This is when I actually realize how very much I am off track.

I have wandered, for whatever disjointed reason, away.

And this is when I am pulled back to a cross and an empty tomb…

“God will forgive you if you ask him to.
Though your sins be numerous as the grains of sand on the shore,
God’s merciful forgiveness is far greater than your sins.
Do not be afraid.
Trust in his love.
Repent of your sins without delay and return to the house of the Father.
He is waiting for you.”

Patrick Madrid, p.15
An Excerpt From
A Year with the Bible

E=MC2

It is better to believe than to disbelieve;
in so doing you bring everything to the realm of possibility.

Albert Einstein

I don’t know if you had an opportunity to catch the biopic miniseries on the
National Geographic Channel based on the life of Albert Einstein entitled Genius,
of which finished up last week with the airing of the final episode…
it was actually quite good and extremely fascinating.
And I suspect that they will be rerunning the series.

The series spanned about 10 consecutive Tuesday evenings for an hour long episode
and was based on the book by Walter Isaacson Einstein: His Life and Universe

The movie was produced by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer.
Actors Geoffrey Rush and Johnny Flynn each played both the
elder(Rush) and younger(Flynn) Einsteins.

It was a well done series with a few little exceptions…
such as the scenes of Professor’s Einstein’s many trysts and dalliances
with various women…in particular a scene with his much younger secretary as they
“enjoyed” themselves in his office one afternoon up against the black board…
which was a bit too graphic and realistic for what I care for in a historical biography
that could otherwise have been so readily utilized within the classroom of say
high school age kids.

Other than that, the film was very informative and exceptionally well done.

One thing that struck me from the very beginning was how selfish Einstein was in
his relationships with people.
It took a much older Einstein to fully grasp this notion when he was confronted
with the blatant candidness from his then second wife, who
just also happened to be his first cousin…
and then later, near the end of his life,
by his estranged grown son Hans Albert.

Each berated the Professor for his utterly blind selfishness and insensitivity to and in
regard to the feelings and love of those who he should have been putting foremost
in his personal life.
From his many extramarital affairs to his total physical absence from the lives of his sons…
all of which he’d flippantly quip “they’ll understand”…..was a glaring flaw of character.

The other thing that struck me was how, as a young man, he renounced his German citizenship…
declaring himself a free citizen of the world who was null and void of all things political…
and hence responsibility to something larger than himself.
And also, in almost the same breath, proclaiming to be void of any sort of religious view…

And yet it was the older man who studied hard to become a citizen of the United States
and who also lobbied for the creation of the Jewish state of Israel.

One would most aptly presume that a man such as Einstein would have no use for religion
or the belief of an Omnipotent God.
Science and proof was his sole life’s purpose.
And for a while during his younger life, the lack of any sort or belief,
was indeed the case.

His was a life of physics and the quest of testing, defining and discovery.
To unlock and solve the mysteries behind what makes the universe just that…
the awesome mysterious universe that it is.

He had failures, he had frustrations, he had set backs, he had doors slammed in his face,
he struggled financially, he lived in dysfunctional relationships,
he suffered loss and sorrow, he was discriminated against,
he was betrayed and undermined by colleagues and scrutinized
for his convictions….plus he made some very poor choices…

And yet there is no disputing the fact that he was indeed brilliant none the less.

On more than one occasion he was asked about his belief in God.

“To sense that behind everything that can be experienced there is something that
our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly:
this is religiousness.
In this sense…I am a devoutly religious man.”

In response to a young girl who had asked him whether he believed in God, he wrote: “everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest
in the laws of the Universe—-
a Spirit vastly superior to that of man.”

And during a talk at Union Theological Seminary on the relationship between religion and science,
Einstein declared: “the situation may be expressed by an image:
science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
(quotes from an article by Bishop Robert Barron)

Einstein was born a Jew—and when he was younger and,
more or less very much a know it all…
thoughts of the God of Israel had very little if any appeal.
Remember this was a selfish young man as far as relationships were concerned….
he was never willing to give to a relationship the emotional commitment required…
or to invest in such for any real length of time.

Yet living and working in Berlin while Adolph Hitler rose to power and being a Jew,
a very famous Jew at that…despite being a non practicing Jew,
actually became a matter literally of either life or death for Einstein.

This was a time of a turning point for Einstein…
a turning point for his feelings and belief about being a Jew,
a free thinking man, and the responsibility that humans have to
something greater than themselves…
something even greater than his beloved physics.

I’m including NatGeo’s link to the series as viewing episodes from the homepage is possible.
just in case you’d like to watch one or two, or all….

I may not ever understand his science,
I many not always agree with his life’s choices or views…
but I can appreciate the fact that as brilliant as Einstein was…he eventually
understood the idea that there was a true connectiveness in man to that which is much
greater than himself…

http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/genius/

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thought

Isaiah 55:8-9

human

“Do you know what the definition of insane is?
Yes.
It’s the inability to relate to another human being.
It’s the inability to love.”

― Richard Yates


(Leonardo’s Vitruvian man / 1490)

So last night, as I sat flipping through a bit of television, I stopped to catch a bit
of the reality singing competition The Voice.
I don’t like watching much that is offered on television.
I find most everything to be repulsive, in poor taste, vile, overtly violent, offensively
borderline pornographic, or plain silly, dumb and insulting to one’s intellect and moral code.

So I took my chances with people singing who were wanting to win a singing competition.
Relatively benign…that is until the judges open their mouths.

One of the guy contestants chose to sing the song Human and made the comment that
he was all about love and none of the current hating mindset ravaging the country…
what with all the full blown contempt everyone seems to have for those who may differ
in opinion than, say, their fellow man….

His particular song of choice has been around a while with a myriad of remakes.

Maybe I’m foolish
Maybe I’m blind
Thinking I can see through this
And see what’s behind
Got no way to prove it
So maybe I’m blind
But I’m only human after all
I’m only human after all
Don’t put your blame on me
Don’t put your blame on me

It’s a nice enough sentiment I suppose.

As in I’m just human….
full of vulnerability, foibles and obviously error prone.
So don’t blame me…..

But herein lies the rub….or at least the problem.

It’s that whole “don’t blame me” sort of mentality that currently has us in
the worst of trouble.

It’s the passing of the blame.
It’s the “I’m right, you’re wrong” tit for tat, back and forth we go mentality.
It’s the lack of stepping up to the plate of responsibility.
The whole deferring to taking responsibility for ones actions.
Act like a bafoon one minute then maybe apologize later if you get caught.
“I didn’t mean to, I’m only human”

It’s the “uh oh—it seems that when I got mad and decided to go join the protest,
getting caught up in the excitement of the destructive moment and threw that brick through
that bank’s plate glass window then helped overturn the police car, lighting it on fire…
well, your honor, I’m only human and didn’t really mean it….

For you see, that sort of mindset does not hold water….
and yet sadly that is the mindset sweeping through our land.
I’m really not responsible for what I do because as a human, screwing up is just part and parcel…
Add all those thinking along the same lines and you get….
Irresponsible manic mania.

Is it not enough that there is a sweeping lack of moral conviction,
humankind irresponsibility or a total lack of understanding for those who
actually believe in taking the higher ground…
but now we simply blame it on our humanness.

Contrary to popular belief,
we are called to stand up and be accountable to not only ourselves but to our fellow man.
We are called to be responsible for our actions.
We are called to be respectful to ourselves as well as to others.

The code for living that was delivered to Moses was pretty simple…as well as clear cut.

Recently I caught an interview over on Fox News with their chief Religion correspondent,
Lauren Green….
She has a new book out, Lighthouse Faith: God as a Living Reality in a World Immersed in Fog

Lauren explains the title of her book as being based on the concept of the Ten Commandments.
She notes that “here you have a seminal point found in the very first commandment…”
“You shall have no other gods before Me.”

Lauren goes on to explain that by breaking commandants 2-10, you will always have broken 1.
As number 1 is the pinnacle that everything else descends from.
A very academic and legal approach to looking at how we are to be living our lives…

So yes…we are only human—
perfectly formed and lovingly made—
by an awesome and Omnipotent God who knew, that in our vulnerable humanness,
we would need a set of rules to live by—simple and straightforward…
yet as only as we humans could…we messed up simple and straightforward—

And so now enters the One who takes that humanness of brokeness and error
and brings both healing and Grace…

This is love: not that we loved God,
but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

1 John 4:10

what do you think about all day….

“What do you think about all day?”
Worldly things?
There is your heart.
Are you concerned about health, bodily goods?
There your heart is.
If one falls in love, all the habits of life are ruled
by that love—letters, telephone calls, whatever we do.

Dorothy Day


(flowering maple shrub / Julie Cook / 2017)

As is the case with the loss of any loved one…
life as we know it, turns upside down.
Not only is there the emotional aspect of loss, there is the
stark reality that even in death, there are responsibilities which remain.
The complications of living simply do not cease upon death.

I have been met head on with the reality of what it will now entail to
tend to dad’s worldly life, finishing up where he left off.

Lawyers, banks, accountants, the house, the car, paying for and eventually closing
accounts, the utilities, Social Security, insurance, a pension, taxes….
the list goes on and on…and it will for quite sometime.
Add in a step-mother…..

It will take weeks for the primary significant paperwork to arrive,
then there’s a visit to the court house in downtown Atlanta.
There will be new bank accounts as old accounts are closed.
And a new role as I begin the arduous and laborious process of closing one’s
existence out of our society.

I told someone today that it’s easier to be born than it is to die…
I suppose we think everything just stops when we die…but it doesn’t.

I can remember when both of my grandmothers and mother died and how Dad worked to
settle their estates…
It took years to finally put an end to things.

Needless to say…overwhelmed is now my mantra.

So when I read the sentence by Dorothy Day asking what it is that I think about all day…
and as to her follow-up remark to whatever the filling in of that blank would be…
“there is your heart”
I felt a real conviction of spirit.

Convicted because my thoughts are currently of worry.

And so there is my heart…steeped in worry.

And whereas I would suppose most anyone in my current pair of shoes would
be feeling much the same sense of overwhelming worry…
I have been thankfully jolted to refocus my sights…

“We must remember…
God is a sensitive lover.
God will not force you to choose him.
It is an insult to God to worry so about things of the world.”

Dorothy Day

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
than falling in Love in a quite absolute,
final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

Inside out

“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”
Ezra Taft Benson

DSC02446
(a spicebruch swallowtail butterfly found its way into the kitchen / Julie Cook / 2015)

My aunt and I walked out onto the back deck this afternoon–out from the kitchen door in order to get a closer look at a deer out in the back yard—we had left the kitchen door slightly ajar.
As we stood gawking at a doe nibbling on the grass, a spicebrush swallowtail butterfly, sporadically flittering over our heads,
makes it’s way along the deck heading directly for the kitchen door–
with the cat in hot pursuit.

The next thing I know, the butterfly is in the kitchen, flying immediately toward the shuttered kitchen windows. In a blink of an eye it makes its way through the slats of the far window, trapping itself between the shutter and the window. The cat now stretching to reach the window.

DSC02444

DSC02445

I quickly opened the shutters, gently reaching in to cup my hands over my flighty visitor.
Easing my hands around him / her, I quickly escort my friend back outside. Freely opening my hands, the spicebrush takes off missing nary a beat with its herky jerky flight pattern. . .
this time far away from my open door.

Inside out, or outside in–either way it made for a bit of a trouble for the visiting butterfly, as well as for me, as I clambered over chairs to get to my guest quickly before it hurt itself or the cat beat me to it.

This latest escapade of mine had my thoughts shifting to the whole concept of inside out / outside in. . .
With Mr Benson’s quote for today’s post painting a very plain talking sort of thought, his words resonating deeply in my thought process. . .”God works from the inside out as the world works from the outside in. . .”

Intrinsic verses extrinsic.
Proactive verses reactive
Victim verses survivor

To be a Christian–one who lives in the world yet is not of the world is nothing short of learning to swim against the rip tide current.
When the world screams inclusiveness, the Christian claims conviction—
When the masses demand rights the Christian stands firm with an absolute.

Lines have blurred.
The world demands the bending of the sanctified spirit.
There are those who begin to question their beliefs—thinking that if the whole world seems to think that its way is the only way, lulling the questioning believer into falsely accepting such as truth, then the existence of the sanctified Truth becomes colluded.

Yet the Word was spoken. . .it has not changed, it has not deviated–it resonates deep from within, emanating outward—just as a stone dropped into a still pool of water with the rings of disturbance reverberating outward, ad infinitum, as it grows greater and wider from its center, so too does the Word of God. . .from the inside where God plants the seed of Truth in the heart of man, the Word spreads, speeding ever outward to touch a troubled world. . .and nothing shall stand in the way of God’s emanating Truth. . .that which starts from the inside spiraling ever outward.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1-5

Heroes, Bonhoeffer, and a troubling past

Yesterday I introduced you to the Memorial to the murdered Jews of Europe while I was sharing with you about my, albeit short, visit to Berlin.  I had told you that there was much I wanted to share with you regarding Berlin and that I would have to do so in small increments.  Whereas cities such as Rome, London and Paris are important to our western history as developing societies, as their pasts have helped shaped how many of us live our lives today, Berlin, on the other hand, is more important to our recent history as developing societies, demonstrating 20th century divisions that give way to successful unifications.

Image

I’ve also told you that I would share with you about my adoption, the loss of my mom, the suicide of my brother—oh, did I forget to mention that—that is for another day entirely, and then there is the rescue story of Percy, my other precious little cat…. but all of that must wait.  I cannot speak another word, especially about Germany, without stopping briefly and sharing  with you a tad bit about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

This is not, however, the time for me to give you a full-fledged biography.  There are a myriad of books on the market that can do a much better job of that then I.   But I do feel obligated to share with you about my friend Dietrich.

I suppose everyone has a hero in his or her life.  Some heroes are real, some are not.  Some of our heroes, we know personally while others remain as strangers.  Some of our heroes are living, while some are long gone.  We all have our standards as to what constitutes a hero.  For me hitting a ball, running fast, making lots or money, being famous are not the pieces, which formulate my view of a hero.  Rather descriptors such as self-sacrificing, integrity, conscience, morality, conviction, truth, and yes, even brave—as in “I will walk into the fire of hell to save you or help you disregarding my own well being brave”—these are the words that come to mind when I think of what describes my hero.

I have several heroes—from the mighty to the meek, but there is one in particular who stands out– especially as I speak of Germany and as I trudge through Lent reading, as part of my daily devotionals, the wise counsel of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Let me tell you when I first “met” my hero….

Many years ago when I was a junior in college I had come home for the weekend.  I attended church at The Cathedral of St Philip in Atlanta—the large Episcopal Church in town.  My godfather was the Dean of the Cathedral (there is a story one day about my Godpoppa ).  The sermon that particular Sunday was about Grace.  Grace being the mercy shown to us by God (and in some cases other human beings), even though it is not deserved…. The Dean began talking about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  All I knew about Mr. Bonhoeffer was the fact that he was a German Theologian and at 21, to me, that equated to someone heavy and boring.  But as my godfather spoke about Mr. Bonhoeffer, explaining about Mr. Bonhoeffer’s idea of Cheap vs. Costly Grace, he became quite emotional.

I was suddenly jolted back to paying attention.  There, before a congregation of almost 2000, my strikingly eloquent Godpoppa could barley finish his sentence.  What was this?!  What was he talking about?  Who exactly and what exactly had evoked this sudden and rare moment of intense emotion.  This is an Episcopal Cathedral remember?  The epitome of control and precision, not emotionalism!

Unfortunately at that time in my young unlived life, I was simply unable to comprehend what my Godpoppa, was painfully well aware of.  It was the realization of what the very words he was speaking actually meant—that of Cheap Grace vs. Costly Grace….. with the very real knowledge of that oh so costly Grace which caused the hurt and even palpable pain in his voice that Sunday. It was that very Grace, which cost a great deal for his very life, and for my life and for the lives of everyone listening that Sunday.  It’s just that I didn’t/ couldn’t quite grasp that concept quite yet.

I could go into an in depth discussion about this Cheap grace and Costly Grace but there is already a book dedicated to the subject.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote the book in 1937.  Now let us remember that my intent here is not to review a book or examine a Sunday sermon from days gone by, it is however to introduce you to one of my heroes.

His story is long, intertwined with treachery and was silenced prematurely–or so thought the Powers of the time.  Although his life was cut quite short, as he was only 39 on the day of his execution, his thoughts, writings, sermons and life lessons are as strong and relevant today as they were 68 years ago.

He was the youngest of 6 children—that is, he and his twin sister were the youngest two of six.  He was a devout Lutheran minister, teacher of Theology, and outspoken critic of the times.  It was the conviction of his outspokenness that cost him his life.  He was a prisoner of the Nazis for two years. Why?  Because he would not be quiet.  He believed in pacifism and yet agreed that a plot to kill Hitler was necessary.  While in prison, Bonhoeffer continued his writings ( please see Letters form Prison), preaching against oppression and witnessing for that Costly Grace even as family members and friends were being taken and killed.

Bonhoeffer proved to be such an irritant to the Third Reich with his outspokenness—outspokenness against the war, outspokenness against the Lutheran Church for its capitulating by becoming the official church of the Nazi Regime, outspokenness against the Führer and outspokenness for the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews.  It was because of all this “outspokenness” that he invoked the full wrath of Hitler.

Dietrich’s outspokenness was not loud and brash. There was no screaming, no mass rallies, no marching.   His was rather a steady consistent path exemplifying Costly Grace.  And it was by that constant steadfast extolling of Grace that frightened the Evil of the day.

By April 1945 the war for Germany was in its final weeks.  It was obvious to all that Germany was all but beaten.  21 days separated their deaths.  Hitler ordered Bonhoeffer’s execution to be immediate even though he knew his world was quickly crashing down on top of him.  On April 9, 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer walked silently to the gallows never wavering in his conviction.  On April 30th Adolf Hitler, cowering in an underground bunker, put a pistol to his own head.  One brave, one a coward.

“If we want to be Christians, we must have some share in Christ’s large-heartedness by acting with responsibility and in freedom when the hour of danger comes, and by showing a real sympathy that springs not form fear, but from the liberating and redeeming love of Christ for all who suffer.  Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior.  The Christian is called to sympathy and action, not in the first place by his own sufferings, but by the sufferings of his brethren for whose sake Christ suffered.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Heroes do not capitulate.  They are not loud and brash. They speak for those who have no voice. They go silently to their deaths never wavering. They run to the fire as others run away. They do not cower in fear. Their life and their death is a witness for justice, a witness to their faith, a witness to their love

The Christian singer and songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman has a song that is the epitome of this conviction as it is based in the verse taken from John 15:12-13 …“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his brethren.”

 Man of courage with your message of peace

What is that look in your eyes?

Why have you come to this faraway place?

What is this story you would lay down your life to tell?

What kind of love can this be?

There is no greater love than this

There is no greater gift that can ever be given

To be willing to die so another might live

There is no greater love than this

Broken hearted from all you have lost

How can you sing through your tears?

What is this music that can bear such a cost?

What is this fire that grows stronger against the wind?

What kind of flame can this be?

This is the love that God showed the world

When He gave us His Son

So we could know His love forever

Beyond the gates of splendor.

My hero Dietrich Bonhoeffer took this command and lived it for not himself but for those who were being persecuted.  He took the unpopular and dangerous stand to disregard self for the sake of others.  A young Lutheran minister who said that the War, the Regime, the murdering of countless Jews was wrong and it must stop…unto his own death.  Heroes are brave.

It wan’t until I had lived a bit more that I came to understand personally about this Costly Grace.  If it was not for Costly Grace, I could not and would not be writing this post.  My hope for you this Lenten season is that you may come to know and experience the costly yet redeeming Grace that is for each of us to claim as our own.