a vision of Lent

“Contrary to what might be expected,
I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful,
with particular satisfaction.
Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in
my seventy-five years in this world,
everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence,
has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained…
This, of course, is what the Cross signifies.
And it is the Cross, more than anything else,
that has called me inexorably to Christ.”

Malcolm Muggeridge

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

Lent…
giving up
sacrificing
doing without
fasting
denial
hard
difficult
arduous
abstinence…

But what is it about this Lent…this entering into the desert…
this time of isolation and self denial….
What brings us here?
Why are we here at this crossroads…
Where is it that we are now bound…
What will be the point of this…
longing,
introspection
and intent of focus…

As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs.
We see his blood as he dies.
We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection.
He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were,
in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you.
His whole body is displayed for your redemption.
Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind:
as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you,
so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul.

St. Augustine

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(detail/ painting by Julie Cook)

Woe be unto those….

“Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee, as for the time it did me.
There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness.”

Herman Melville

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(Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland, Julie Cook / 2015)

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about rebellions and revolutions.
About groups shutting down other groups….
About silencing and dismantling..
destroying and eradicating….

I’ve heard a lot about fascists and Nazis
About propaganda and lies
About those new Hitlers and Stalins…
the modern day monsters and dictators…

I’ve witnessed the edicts by those saying who may or may not speak…
Those new selective few who divvy out the rights for only their chosen…
To those who hit and scream…
And those who smash and destroy…

I see the polar opposites of left and right…
The corrects and the wrongs…
I see the guise of extremes that anger now takes…
The zealots from both sides of the same coin…

and quite frankly it all makes me quite very weary.

Oh little man…or perhaps…is it little woman,
whose agenda is merely your own…
Orchestrating and administrating the lives of your proletariat,
hiding behind the falsehoods of rights and freedoms…

Remember that you now stand at the crossroads of time
And your imaginary choices are yours and yours alone
The repercussions exist not only for the misinformed
but for you who have declared yourself your own god….

This is what the Lord says:

“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
I appointed watchmen over you and said,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But you said, ‘We will not listen.’
Therefore hear, you nations;
you who are witnesses,
observe what will happen to them.
Hear, you earth:
I am bringing disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes,
because they have not listened to my words
and have rejected my law.

Jeremiah 6:16-19

Turning point

From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.
Franz Kafka

We have come to a turning point in the road. If we turn to the right mayhap our children and our children’s children will go that way; but if we turn to the left, generations yet unborn will curse our names for having been unfaithful to God and to His Word.
Charles Spurgeon

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(twilight in the western Georgia sky / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(a rising moon in an eastern Georgia sky / Julie Cook / 2014)

In the stillness of the in-between time known as twilight,
Sandwiched between sunset and moonrise. . .
Stepping briefly away from the never-ending emotional assault of manmade turmoil,
The otherworldliness found in Nature’s landscape, offers a respite to overwhelmed senses.

There is silence.

In front lay the setting of a December sun, offering a palette of warm and cool hues swiped across the western sky—the day’s final mark of the Master Artist’s dripping brushstrokes.
Behind rises a brilliant white disc shrouded in the purple gauze of a cloudy eastern sky. Each canvas offset with the royal shades of blues and purples as well as a few touches of soft pink whimsy.

Pivoting and turning both ahead and back, as each landscape’s offering is vastly different yet captivatingly mystical, a great sense of calm descends over the Earth.
Greater and more grand then anything made by man with the overstimulating offering of electronics, technology, and artificial this and that, the heavens above leave no doubt as to what is truly important.

The world stands at a crossroads.
Behind, lay the remnants of what was.
There in the shadows hides civility, morality, compassion, understanding, kindness, and the common goals of unity . . .
Ahead, the seemingly sinister rages of anger, anarchy, chaos, violence, looting, hatred, mistrust all coupled with a strong helping of individual self-centered agenda, set about ready for destruction. . .
The tragic results of falling away and turning from God’s word.
Yet many scoff at such simplistic explanations of the sad state gripping our world—
As the concept of an Omnipotent God competes with the more modern theology of Self.
Appeasement and all inclusiveness seem so much nicer than the following of certain tenants as stated in the covenants established between God and man.

. . .as that would require the belief in such a God and the yielding of self to something much greater. . .

The following words spoken by the late exiled dissident Russian author and Noble Prize Laureate, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, given during a speech in the late 1970’s, eerily ring deeply more prophetic for us today than perhaps the writer could have ever known:
“We have become hopelessly enmeshed in our slavish worship of all that is pleasant, all that is comfortable, all that is material — we worship things, we worship products. Will we ever succeed in shaking off this burden, in giving free rein to the spirit that was breathed into us at birth, that spirit which distinguishes us from the animal world.”

Time is of the essence, yet who is listening. . .
as the sun continues to set and the moon continues to rise. . .


Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever!
Amen.

2 Peter 3:17-18

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(sunset in a western Georgia sky / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(soon to be full moon / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(a full December moon / Julie Cook / 2014)

Saints, sinners and popes

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The image above is a copy of the San Damiano cross. The original 12th century cross in now located in the Basilica di Santa Chiara in Assisi, Italy (The Basilica of Saint Clare). It is the very cross, in approximately 1206, that a young Francesco Bernardone, prayed earnestly before as his very life was at a monumental crossroads. The image of the Chrsitos or Christ is said to have so captivated the young Italian, as he knelt before the cross, the eyes of Christ penetrating into the very core of Francesco, that he actually heard the voice of God speak.

The young Francesco had come to a secluded poor hermitage that was off the beaten path. A poor simple priest maintained the dilapidated “sanctuary” that was literally falling in on itself. It was here, in this humble structure before this simple cross, that a young man sought the word of God. And it is here that the world would never be the same.

It is amazing imagining how the prayer of desperation from one young man could and would influence an entire world!

Francesco came from a very well to do family. He lived a lavish wanton life as did many young men of the time. Wine, women and song was the theme of the day—the great Troubadours of the day. Parties, lots of drinking, lots of mischief. Sounds as if I am describing the youth of today rather than the youth of the early 13th century.

There was, however, a troubling spirit within young Francesco. There was no “peace” in his life. The partying and “living large” was but empty–leaving a deep place in his very being that needed to be filled by much more than alcohol, parties, empty relationships, and money thrown at fun for the sake of fun.

Unbeknownst to young Francesco, his very core had been touched by God, and once that is so, there will be no denying God’s desire or plan—Francesco tried to ignore the inner urgings by placating this emptiness with more carousing, more mischief, more parties. He eventually found himself, alone, having walked away from his friends and his fast passed lifestyle, to a lonely, broken down structure that housed a peculiar little cross.

God told Francesco that “His house had fallen down and was in need of repair”. Overwhelmed with the words he heard he took the voice at the literal and began rebuilding the small church in which he had prayed. But as is the way with God, His words most often speak of a larger situation in need of repair. Francesco Bernardone renounced the life he had known and became simply, to us, “Francesco” or Francis to the english speakers—

I will not go into a in-depth biography of the life of St. Francis as there are so many wonderful books written about this simple, humble and oh so human of Saints. However I cannot let the day pass without noting the wonderful choice of Cardinal Bergogilo’s choice of names. Some my wonder why a Jesuit would choose the name of a Franciscan, but I think it speaks to the character of Jorge Bergoglio.

He is obviously publicly recognizing the state of God’s current house in the Catholic Church, as well as in Christendom as a whole. We caregivers have let things fall into a bit of disrepair…clergy as well as the faithful…the house needs rebuilding. From the ground up. We must look to care for all of our brothers and sisters–those who are hungry, hurting, lonely, imprisoned, in need….we must start there first…with our fellow man. Repairing house per house….I think Cardinal Bergoglio may have the right idea. Where as he could have chosen to be a Benedict XVII or a John Paul III, he opted to use a new name. A name never chosen in 265 previous popes…a name that denotes humility and simplicity as well as action and work.

There is much work to be done–may those of us in the Christian family (note I do not say merely the Catholic family but for all Christianity) take up our cross, along with Pope Francis, and go forward to the task of re-building our/ God’s house.