finding peace…in and with the world

Be at peace with your own soul,
then heaven and earth will be at peace with you.

Saint Jerome

Who except God can give you peace?
Has the world ever been able to satisfy the heart?

St. Gerard Majella


(an apple gourd—who knew??? / Julie Cook / 2022)

Ten some odd years ago when I started this little blog…when I began taking up
a tiny bit of residence in this endless space known as the blogosphere,
my desire was to share my personal ramblings of that of both journey
and transition…I was a teacher for heaven’s sake…we share by the sheer
nature of our trade!

And at that time, it just so happened that my life was one big journey
of transition…

There was the new transition and journey into retirement.

While at the same time there was the sorrowful transition of walking
from that of life to that of death’s door with both my dad and my aunt.

There was the journey of handing a child’s hand, turned that of a
man, to that of another woman’s hand…the passing of a torch so to speak
from one to another.

There was the discovery of a real biological past…complete with names and faces.
Yet there was the renewed rejection of a birth mother to that of her adopted child.
Again.

There was the eventual addition of two new joyous lives into my own.
The filling up of one’s heart…a heart that had just shortly before felt so
sorrowfully full of loss.

There was a pandemic.

There was a new retirement.
There was moving.
There was divorce.
There was loss.
There was unfamiliar.

And so now, as I stop for a bit of introspection and reflection,
I think my thoughts have shifted just a tad.
As in my axis has tilted just a wee bit off from its normal rotation.

I’m finding the notion of Peace…be that peace within, as well as peace outward,
to be a more immediate focus.

I think that’s why the following observation by Thomas á Kempis
has resonated so deeply within this restless soul of mine this evening.

I don’t believe that our dear brethren Thomas is inferring, as so many observers
quickly and most falsely assume of our Christian faith….
that being that we must suffer in order to eventually acquire peace…
but rather I find it all to be quite to the contrary…

It is the notion that we should seek peace amidst the chaos of
this life…a feat short of the miraculous given our current day and times..

We mere mortals will all eventually endure some sort of suffering in this
life—some, more it may appear, than most.
Fair or unfair as it may be….yet suffering, be it just or unjust, there
it will be.

And so therefore, it should be our task to seek peace within such times
and within such circumstances as we may be currently finding ourselves.

For it will only be in that Peace…that we may find rest amidst the storm.
For if we do not seek we will never find nor know that there is indeed a
Peace far greater than any turmoil life can throw at us…

And so now we begin a new journey of transition…that of Peace…

Will you come walk this path with me?

“You must first have peace in your own soul before you can make
peace between other people.
Peaceable people accomplish more good than learned people do.
Those who are passionate often can turn good into evil and
readily believe the worst.
But those who are honest and peaceful turn all things to good
and are suspicious of no one….
It is no test of virtue to be on good terms with easy-going people,
for they are always well liked.
And, of course, all of us want to live in peace and prefer those
who agree with us.
But the real test of virtue and deserving of praise is to live
at peace with the perverse, or the aggressive and those who contradict us,
for this needs a great grace…
in this mortal life, our peace consists in the humble bearing
of suffering and contradictions,
not in being free of them, for we cannot live in this world without adversity.
Those who can best suffer will enjoy the most peace,
for such persons are masters of themselves,
lords of the world, with Christ for their friend,
and heaven as their reward.”

Thomas á Kempis, p.72-73

Thank you

Grief is the price we pay for love.
Queen Elizabeth II


(Town and Country)

Indulge me please, if you will, as I look backwards a bit—to a different year,
a different day, a different funeral…but yet…a funeral that harkens forward
to today’s global family’s funeral.

There were, no doubt, countless numbers of funerals today around our world.
Hearts that are broken.
Lives that are now turned upside down…all as good-byes have been somberly said.
Good-byes that we mere mortals find most difficult to comprehend.

Death.

We as a collective group of humankind do not “do” death very well.
We find it very difficult to wrap our heads, let alone our hearts, around
such a notion.

We often feel anger, resentment, unbearable sorrow and for some, yet for a
fortunate few, we might even feel a sense of relief and yes,
eventually if we are fortunate…we feel that ping of hope.

There has been lots of global news as of late…sorrows, tragedies,
storms, pain, suffering…
yet the majority of the news, along with a good bit of the the world, stopped
today to say their farewells to a well known woman.

All as a family grieves and a nation grieves and as a global world family
grieves…

Yet in all the well televised grief, one thought came galloping into my mind—
the simple thought of gratitude.
That of a simple, “thank you.”

For I believe a soul’s example of simply living out one’s life day to day,
is the best example, the best teacher, any of us will ever or can ever receive.

And so we look back to April 2021….
knowing in our now hindsight that the gentleman in the photograph at the
end of the post who is tipping his hat, undoubtedly extended his hand to
the lady we bid farewell to today…

more and more alone…
but we all know we are never alone…and she knows too!

“What you are to do without me I cannot imagine.”
George Bernard Shaw

“The strongest men are the most alone.”
Ibsen


(BBC)

Anyone who might have watched the funeral Saturday for Prince Philip,
or even caught a passing news story regarding his service,
undoubtedly saw the painful image of an elderly woman clad in black, stooped
with age, sitting alone in a cavernous and seemingly empty sanctuary.

Donning a black mask–attempting to breath, shedding tears, mouthing
the ancient words to an ancient faith…muffled and hindered–all adding
to the heaviness of grief.

It matters not that she just happens to be the current sitting Queen
of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland along with
other realms, as well as head of the Commonwealth and Defender of the Faith…

On Saturday, Elizabeth that elderly woman, was very much alone.

Elizabeth is the only ruling leader, from around this great big world of ours,
who is a part of that Greatest Generation…
She is the only remaining active leader who can personally remember the
time when a world was torn a part and a time when she,
along with the rest of her generation rolled up their sleeves,
doing what it took to fight tyranny and defend Western Civilization’s
democratic freedom.

I was deeply struck by that thought…
the only remaining currently active leader…

Awed by such a thought and yet I also was left feeling rather empty.

We are losing members of our Greatest Generation daily…
actually quite rapidly.

“According to US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 325,574
of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are alive in 2020.”
nationalww2museum.org

Those who I have known and loved, those who served either in war or
at home, are now gone…all but my one remaining aunt who will be 96
later this year.

Before they were wed, Prince Philip served active duty in HMRN
(His Majesty’s Royal Navy) and while as a young princess, Elizabeth,
upon turning 18 in 1944, insisted on joining the women’s branch
of the Royal Army–the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS)

Despite royal lineage, they each chose the path of service.
It mattered not that their service would be precarious and even dangerous…
doing one’s part for the betterment of the whole was the only thing
that mattered.

And that is what troubles me.

Elizabeth is now alone—as in having lost those who lived that
previous time with her.
Those who knew peril yet persevered none the less.
They were stalwart.
They didn’t complain, they simply pressed on…ever forward.

No limelight, no self seeking attention, no apology tours, no
tell all books, no interviews of self complaints…
no “look, woe is me” placards worn around one’s neck…
there was nothing about self because there was no time to
think about self–there were too many others to worry over.

More or less, it was a stoic approach to a foreboding and
unrelenting storm.

And by the way, you and I, and all the generations behind us,
are the better for their generation.

But the thing that truly saddens me is that the following generations
don’t get it…they have no idea as to the sacrifice or lessons that
are to be gleaned.

I can only imagine the grief this woman feels in her heart.
Her family are all a rather fractured lot and now she has lost her
only remaining stalwart companion–
a man who had been by her side for 73 years.
That companion, that husband, that “stay” is now gone–leaving
a woman lost in her solitude.

Her grief, as witnessed in that picture of a lone figure bidding
her husband good-bye, is palpable…but I also know that Elizabeth
has a strong faith.

She and Billy Graham had a chance encounter decades ago.
A documented encounter that appears to have had a lasting effect
on Elizabeth’s faith.
So whereas Elizabeth is certainly feeling most alone today,
she actually knows that she really is not alone…not ever really.

She knows who her Savior is.

So whereas I am not worried that Elizabeth will succumb
to her grief–because she is a woman of duty and service who knows where
her true Hope lies—rather—I worry for us…
I worry for both you and I.

We are rapidly losing the leadership who understood what it meant to serve.
To put others ahead of self…putting others before their own self-centered
wants or needs.

No talk of self or selfish agendas…
No dalliance in to false ideologies.

Simply the defenders of both freedom and faith.

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus,
who will judge the living and the dead,
and in view of his appearing and his kingdom,
I give you this charge:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct,
rebuke and encourage—-
with great patience and careful instruction.
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.
Instead, to suit their own desires,
they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say
what their itching ears want to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship,
do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

‘sour wood’ does bear goodness

“I knew I should be grateful to Mrs Guinea, only I couldn’t feel a thing.
If Mrs Guinea had given me a ticket to Europe, or a round-the-world cruise,
it wouldn’t have made one scrap of difference to me,
because wherever I sat –
on the deck of a ship or a street cafe in Paris or Bangkok –
I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar,
stewing in my own sour air.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

“By then I knew that everything good and bad left an emptiness when it stopped.
But if it was bad, the emptiness filled up by itself.
If it was good you could only fill it by finding something better.”

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast


(a sourwood tree in my wooded home/ Julie Cook / 2022)

Sourwood…
any southerner worth their salts knows sourwood…

However you might be asking yourself, what is it about this sourwood
that southerners seem to know….

Well, the simple answer is that sourwood is synonymous with honey.

A seemingly oxymoron of sorts—
that being…how can something known as “sour”wood produce
something as delectably sweet as honey??

Well maybe the real question might need to start with…
where exactly does this said sourwood honey actually come from?

The source would be the sourwood tree.

The sourwood tree, Oxydendrum arboreum, is also known as
The Lilly of the Valley Tree or the Sorrel tree and according
to NC State’s extension gardener website:
the Sourwood tree is a deciduous small tree that may grow 20 to 30 feet
tall and a trunk 8 to 12 inches in diameter.
It is native to North Carolina and can be found throughout the state,
although more rarely in the low, alluvial plain.
The tree has laurel-like alternate leaves that are finely toothed
and sour to the taste.
The bark is red-brown with deep vertical furrows that separate flat,
pointed ridges.
In mid-summer, small, white, urn-shaped flowers mature on panicles.
The tree produces 5-valved capsules borne on panicles that mature
in the fall and release the very tiny, 2-winged seeds.
Fall foliage is red to reddish-purple.
Terminal inflorescences resemble the elongated, bony fingers of a witch.
This plant blooms in early summer, and blooms up the axis.
Blooms are effective for 3 to 4 weeks. Flowers are fragrant and bloom poorly in the shade.


(sourwood tree blooms in a clear blue sky/ Julie Cook / 2022)


(sourwood tree blooms in a clear blue sky/ Julie Cook / 2022)

So we have a tree known for being sour, adorned with frilly whispy flowers,
that produces a very unique tasting honey…

Enter the humble honey bee.

According to The Asheville Beecharmer Company:
Sourwood honey is consistently one of the most sought after honeys around the world,
and for good reason. Sourwood honey has a beautiful amber color and bold,
yet balanced, flavor: buttery sweet with rounded caramel notes on the back end.

Sourwood honey is specific to the United States since sourwood trees
only grow within our eastern mountain corridors.
The top sourwood honey producers, however, come from the southern Appalachian
mountain regions of western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, and northern Georgia.

Sourwood honey is created when honey bees collect pollen and nectar
from sourwood tree flowers.
Due to the density of sourwood trees in the southern mountains,
honey bees can feed almost exclusively from their flowers during peak season,
which results in pure monofloral honey

(https://ashevillebeecharmer.com)

So ‘sour’wood seems to magically transform into a sweet dark smokey honey—
an amazing mix that only a honey bee seems to innately understand….
And that of the one Great Creator.

Sounds a lot like my life as of late.
Lots of sour, laced with a little sweet and yet specific to a particular place.

Sometimes life is simply too sour isn’t it?
Often bitter…leaving a near caustic taste upon one’s tongue.

And yet magically, or perhaps more miraculously, there comes along a small
something that takes that sour, turning it into something new,
something different and yes, even something even sweet.

Ode to the lessons from a sour tree and a humble bee.

Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
Psalm 34:14

the resolute found in super powers

Love is the selfless communication of what is mine and the
selfless welcoming of the other in myself.

Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar
from the book The Meaning of the World Is Love


(a little thought my cousin sent me)

Today I found the quote in the above image to be most appropriate for my
current journey.
My cousin sent it to me this morning.

And well, it just seems to be one more “sign” in a long line of what some would consider
to be merely coincidental signposts seen along my current life’s travels—
but since I believe in the timing of the Holy Spirit and not in the coincidences
of life…well….there you go.

It’s all about appropriate timing vs coincidental timing.

And so speaking of super powers…
oh what a super power it would be to be able to keep one’s cool,
hold one’s tongue, and maintain one’s emotions when there are those who desire
nothing more than to spread falsehoods, half truths, and drag you down the
gravel rutted pig trail of life while throwing you from the bus,
and gleefully hoping to run you over in the process.

So it does seem that in order to take the higher road in
this thing we call life…we need all the super powers we can get—or more aptly,
we need to have some other-worldly powers!
And I have a hunch that we believers have more than a few good examples to follow.

When I read the following quote offered by Pope Benedict XVI regarding Mary
and her reaction to the news presented to her by Gabriel, the Heavenly messenger,
well, I thought of super powers.
The very super power Mary found buried deep within her being.

I’ve often thought of how she bore up under that one word, as well as how she then
chose to live her life…all as a result found in her saying “Yes” to God.

The weight of the world suddenly rested on her tender shoulders as her
young fiancé was thrown for a terrible loop by her unbelievable admission that
she was pregnant all the while professing vehemently
that her virginity was indeed intact.
How could he believe her incomprehensible story?
What of her small village?
Would they not love nothing more then to trash and vilify this young
unwed mother to be along with her family?
And what of her family??
What of the sudden received, albeit false, sense of shame?

Yet Mary was resolute in her yes.

She bore that resolute yes her entire life….
even as she watched her dear son
mocked, ridiculed, tortured and killed.
Her heart pierced just as her son’s side was pierced.

Resolute even unto sacrifice and death.

So yep…when the world manages to say all manner of ill against you…
call upon your super power—the power God placed long ago within your heart.
The power to both love and forgive…
as hard as it will certainly be…

“[Mary] does not remain locked in her initial troubled state
at the proximity of God in his angel,
but she seeks to understand.
So Mary appears as a fearless woman,
one who remains composed even in the presence of something utterly unprecedented.
At the same time she stands before us as a woman of great interiority,
who holds heart and mind in harmony and seeks to understand the context,
the overall significance of God’s message.
In this way, she becomes an image of the Church as she considers
the word of God, tries to understand it in its entirety and
guards in her memory the things that have been given to her.”

Pope Benedict XVI, p. 33

fine lines

When were the saints at the height of their joy,
but when they were suffering for their God and Saviour?

St. Teresa of Avila,
In a letter to the Reverend Father Hohn de Jesu Roca,
Carmelite, at Pastrana


(Palmer Chapel Methodist Church / Cataloochee National / Cataloochee Valley in the
Smokey Mountains)

Something that I’ve long observed as a Christian is that we members
of the faithful flock often walk a fine line with our faith and following.

We do so because we have been programed by words like sin, guilt, suffering,
penance, punishment—words that have throughout time
become sentiments hammered into our heads—worn around our necks like a
an every growing weighted chain.
Sentiments that we must experience if we are to be true to our faith.
Simply put, the burden is part and parcel of life as a Christian.

Such teachings have been allowed to morph while getting tangled
and entwined in our mindset.
They become like a choking vine wrapped around a tender young sapling.
Eventually that choking vine outpaces and engulfs the poor sapling.

We are very much like that tender sapling…
striving to grow ever upward, seeking our place in the sun—or in our case
that is more like in and with the Son…but…sadly…
many of our Christian denominations have instilled in us a need to carry a
deep suffocating burden if we expect to be true followers of Christ…

And yes, we should note that that burden is in essence
our sinful nature and that of our sins…
of which I dare not wish to dismiss, diminish or make light of…
for as a sinner, I know all too well the deep and lasting effects sin
can have on our spiritual well being–especially
sin that is neither repented nor confessed let alone curtailed.

The fine line is found somewhere between redemption and that of the sin itself.

We should also note that not only do we bear the weight of our sins,
it’s as if we are expected to continue carrying the associated guilt and heaviness
of those sins and wrong doings despite our having confessed and having handed
them over to our Redeemer.
We are not allowed, nor do we allow ourselves, to truly feel the release,
the joy and the freedom that comes with redemption.

We are washed clean yet many of our denominations and religious teachings
have lead us to think, or better yet believe,
that we must constantly wear our hair shirts as a reminder
that we are never truly free.

And perhaps in many ways, we are not free.

We are tethered to this world and that of our own sinful nature.
Yet I honestly believe that Jesus wants to lighten our burdens
when we confess to him, yet in doing so, many of us, me included,
just can’t seem to shake the heaviness or associated guilt…guilt
the world and our ancient enemy would have us bear and claim despite
Jesus having claimed them for us in his death and resurrection.

It seems that I also have observed that we have been taught, again over time,
that we are to actually suffer for our faith.
And the question of this world then nags… if we are not heavy ladened and or suffering,
are we truly following as we should??

There are those who would say no.

And so we wrestle on…wrestling with our various doctrines as well as
ourselves.

Personally, I think Jesus has the better solution.
A solution I must embrace…I must listen for his call…
or perhaps that is more like I am yearning for his call…

Come unto me, all you who labour and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest
(Matthew 11:28)

But go and learn what this means:
‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Matthew 9:13

reporting in

“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
Mark Twain

“If you are suffering from a bad man’s injustice,
forgive him—lest there be two bad men.”

St. Augustine


(a healing view in NC/ Julie Cook / 2022)

I know there are a great number of questions regarding the sudden and now
lengthy absence of this blogger.

Some of you know the answers, some of you do not.

However for the sake of all involved…for this particular day,
I’ll simply stick with Mark Twain…
I am not dead.

I will say however that it has often felt like a thousand deaths over these
past many months.

In a nutshell life, my life, has turned upside down and
I will simply leave it at that.

What I would like for us all to remember however is that being turned upside down
is truly not an uncommon occurrence in the fabric of our humanness.
Most all of us, at some point or other, will experience a life that
often flips and flops.

Yet what we all need to remember is that the flipping and flopping isn’t the true nor
real story found in the turmoil…
The actual true grit of the matter is found in how we manage
through all the flipping and flopping.

I’ll just say that my family’s dynamics have changed.
No details are necessary…just the knowledge of flux and change is sufficient.

There has been both sorrow and anger.
Upheaval and tumult.
Pain and suffering.
Frustration and maybe…just maybe I can feel a bit of resolve.

So within all of the flipping and flopping, I have moved to a new state.
I am mending as I pick up my scattered pieces.

When one is attempting to put one’s life back together…routine becomes important.
And so I look forward to resuming my time spent here…a once cherished routine.
I want to be here with you—my blogging family and friends.

So with all that being said, it’s time we get reacquainted.
Please know I have missed you all.

“My God, you know infinitely better than I how little I love you.
I would not love you at all except for your grace.
It is your grace that has opened the eyes of my mind and enabled them to see your glory.
It is your grace that has touched my heart and brought upon it the influence of what is so wonderfully beautiful and fair…
O my God, whatever is nearer to me than you, things of this earth,
and things more naturally pleasing to me,
will be sure to interrupt the sight of you, unless your grace interferes.
Keep my eyes, my ears, my heart from any such miserable tyranny.
Break my bonds—raise my heart. Keep my whole being fixed on you.
Let me never lose sight of you; and, while I gaze on you,
let my love of you grow more and more everyday.”

St. John Henry Cardinal Newman, p. 44-45

“these three Persons determine my life…”

“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds.
A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship,
and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

St. Basil the Great


(wild crabapples blossoms / Julie Cook / 2013)

“Now surely I do see what an immense effect such a doctrine
[of the Holy Trinity] must have upon life.
It is no mere question for theologians, but one that concerns every living soul.
Whatever is allowed by God’s power must be guided by His wisdom and
urged on by His love.
All that happens to me in life, the little worries and the great anxieties,
the crises and the daily annoyances, the sorrows and the joys,
the harms that reach me through the sins of others,
the great crimes of history, the huge and devastating wars,
the partings and loves and the whole cycle of human experience
are permitted by Power, which is itself wise and loving.
These three Persons determine my life, and, since I walk by faith,
I must surely grow very patient in my attitude toward life.
For how can I complain or criticize God’s Providence,
since it all comes under that triple influence of Power, Wisdom, and Love?
Under the guidance, then, of this mystery,
I can walk through the valley of death or the more perilous borders
of sin without loss of courage or hopefulness.
Nothing can make me afraid. How these are separate, yet one,
I do not know, nor can I reconcile in my concrete experience
the claims of each.
It is always a mystery, but a mystery in which I believe.
Whatever Power allows on earth is designed in Wisdom
and attuned by Love.”

Fr. Bede Jarrett, p. 10
An Excerpt From
Classic Catholic Meditations, p 10

cry of the soul

Suffering should be treated not as a twitch or a muscular contraction,
but as the cry of a soul, to whom another brother,
the doctor, runs with the ardent love of charity.

St. Giuseppe Moscati
from the book St. Giuseppe Moscati:
Doctor of the Poor by Antonio Tripodoro, SJ


(Gleann Cholm Cille, Co.Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“There was much in the Magdalen that she had never used,
perhaps never dreamed of, until she came to our Lord.
He revealed to her the secret of true self-development,
which is another word for sanctity.
And she found under His guidance that everything in her had henceforth to be used,
and used in a fuller and richer way than she had ever imagined possible.
It was in no narrow school of self-limitation,
in no morbid school of false asceticism,
that this poor sinner was educated in the principles of sanctity,
but in the large and merciful school of Him who has been
ever since the hope of the hopeless,
the friend of publicans and sinners;
who knows full well that what men need is not to crush and kill their powers,
but to find their true use and to use them;
that holiness is not the emptying of life,
but the filling; that despair has wrapped its dark cloud
around many a soul because it found itself in possession of powers
that it abused and could not destroy and did not know how to use.
Christ taught them the great and inspiriting doctrine
‘I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.’”

Fr. Basil W. Maturin, p. 40

what remains eternal

“One should not say that it is impossible to reach a virtuous life;
but one should say that it is not easy.
Nor do those who have reached it find it easy to maintain.”

St. Antony Of The Desert


(Klyemore Abbey /Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Beauty and every charm of this life passes….
The only thing that remains eternal is love,
the cause of every good work, which outlives us,
which is our hope and our religion, because God is love.

St. Giuseppe Moscati
from the book St. Giuseppe Moscati:
Doctor of the Poor by Antonio Tripodoro, SJ

living in the world…

Where we see sin, God sees pain;
and He wishes to heal us, refresh us, and free us.

Fr. Éamonn Bourke
from his book Make Your Home in Me: Reflections on Prayer


(quince blossom / 2017 /Julie Cook)

“I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment,
that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.
By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties,
problems, successes and failures.
In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God,
taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world.
That, I think, is faith.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer