Getting ready for being actively receptive..

“Nothing, how little so ever it be,
if it is suffered for God’s sake,
can pass without merit in the sight of God.”

Thomas a Kempis


(Arizona)

There are resolutions made fresh and anew at the beginning of each new year…
those things we decide to give up or take on in hope of becoming better at simply being us.

Some are kept, most are not.

Then comes Lent…a time when there are also things to be given up and or taken on
all in order to recall one man’s journey in a desert for a period of 40 days, in hopes
of bettering our souls.

Some are kept, others are not.

Yet it is during Lent that the keeping and or the letting go seems to be more important,
sharper and keener…
The burden is better understood, the giving in and letting go pricks more sharply.

It matters not whether your church, your avenue of faith, carries you along the road
of participating in Lent or not.
It matters little whether or not you “practice” Lent.
All Christians can, however, come together in the reflection of this time of Jesus’
earthly journey while on His spiritual path.

The entire idea is simply to be present with Christ on this journey.

How you decide to do that, is well, how you decide to do that.
Simply being present to Him…as in just you and Him…on a journey, together,
in a barren wasteland with everything and anything that is a distraction
being stripped away…while there is one who does his darndest to thwart your efforts
of being focused and present with and for your companion.

If it’s giving up chocolate because you always give up chocolate,
and later finding yourself fudging here and there, then that’s not
really taking a part of the journey now, is it…
Thinking that chocolate or the lack thereof helps you to focus
more keenly on the journey and on your companion…well, I don’t know.

This journey is bigger than chocolate…just saying.

For this journey is not a surface sort of trek…
but rather it is a time of real darkness and trial.
It is an arduous journey taken not by the faint of heart.
For it is a journey to the recesses of your being.

And it is a journey we are afforded, or better yet offered, to take yearly…
As each year we are reminded and allowed to recall that first foray of determined boldness
into the desert so long ago.

Deserts are formidable places.
Desolate, dry, lonely, empty, hot places.
Places we don’t much wish to find ourselves.
As our shadowed nemesis delights in tempting us out and away from this
place of deep introspection.
And yet Jesus goes…willingly.

It is here where we first see the earthly glimpse of His willingness to go…
just as we will shortly see, His willingness to descend into hell
for three days in order to do battle for our souls.

Yet each year, we make the conscious decision to choose to go along.
We decide to accompany Jesus into this desert…both His and our own.

Some of us will try to muster on while others of us turn relatively quickly for a fast
retreat.

And yet year after year, we make a choice as to whether or not we want to take this
journey alongside Jesus, knowing we may or may not make it…
But the real fact of the matter is that Jesus always makes the same choice…
the choice to always go…

As Jesus becomes our lynchpin.
He is our support in and out of the desert.

Our friend over on the blog Thoughts from the Side of the House
reminds us of this notion…he explains that our choice boils down alone to the single
matter of desire…as well as our being open to that desire…receptive to that choice.

Receptive to the choice of wanting to actually go hand in hand with Jesus on his arduous
journey into the desert.

As his friend Monsignor Heintz reminds us that whatever we attach our attention to,
becomes us.
If our desires are worldly, then the desert is not to be our foray.

Therefore as we now stand in the shadow of Lent, standing before the Desert…
we each much ask, are we will willing to travel with Jesus with the focus and intent
such a journey requires.

It is not for the faint of heart.

When I was in grad school a couple of my professors introduced me to the concept
of “active receptivity,” an influential concept in the thought of a
Polish philosopher named Karol Wojtyla.
Roughly, it means willingly desiring to receive certain gifts and,
if necessary, actively doing things to make such reception possible.
For instance, when I was a student, if I truly wanted to learn, I had to desire to
learn, to actively listen, engage and study concepts to truly understand them.
This idea is key for me in my spiritual life.

“In the early Christian tradition of mystical theology,
there was an aphorism of anonymous origin and goes like this:
“you become the object of your contemplation.”
That is, whatever we fix our attention upon,
whatever becomes the focus of our energies and our imagination,
whatever it is that consumes our thoughts and desires,
has an imperceptible but genuine impact upon us, shaping our sensibilities,
molding our personality, and making us – far more than we often realize – who we are.
The standard objects of fallen human desire: power, pleasure, wealth, can subtly take
hold of us, and our desire for them changes who we are;
we stray farther and farther from God and find ourselves in a land of unlikeness.

Monsignor Mike Heintz

You Become What You Think About

wrestling and waiting

“Father, teach us all how to wait.”
Andrew Murray


(shelf fungus / Julie Cook / 2017)

I must confess that I’ve been in a prayerful desert as of late.
Meaning I have been petitioning God long and hard…
yet it seems that my pleas just fall upon a vast emptiness….
as in…deaf ears.

However I know that I am not alone in my frustration or perplexity
of this seemingly one way spiritual conversation.

I am not the first nor will I be the last to beat upon the gates of Heaven
only to hear…what is perceived to be…..nothing.

Yet on and on I pray with little to show for my diligence.

Or so it seems…I go unanswered.

There are tears.
There is anger.
There is frustration.
There is indifference…
and there is a sense of hopelessness….
until….
It all begins all over again….
As a determined penitent rolls up her sleeves, continuing on, unabated.

It is because I will not be deterred…
not by the whispered doubts and naysaying….
not by the one who would like nothing more than for me to quit,
give up and walk away in disgust and frustrated anger.

And the truth is that somedays are indeed much harder then others…

And so today, as I was continuing to walk through the desert,
focused and imploring….
I actually stumbled upon a small respite of wisdom.

For I learn just how old my plight actually is….
As the wisdom of those who have trod this path before offer me a cup
of refreshing living water….

My child, hear about another delusion.
There are also other monks who work on all the virtues together,
and trust in their works. And when they pray and ask something from God,
they do not seek it with humility, but with insolence and pretension,
as if they have obligated God with their toils and therefore He owes it to them.
When they are not heard and the Lord does not do their will,
they are troubled and greatly grieved.
Then when the Devil our enemy sees them with this ignorance,
he attacks them with twisted thoughts and teaches them saying,
“See? You are struggling so hard even until death to work for Him,
and He doesn’t even listen to you!
So why do you work for Him?”
Then he pushes him to blaspheme the name of God,
so that he may enter inside him and possess him,
and then people bind him with chains….

But you, my beloved child in the Lord, since you are obedient,
and confess everything openly, do not be afraid.

excerpt from Elder Joseph the Hesychast.
Monastic Wisdom: The Letters of Elder Joseph the Hesychast.
An Epistle to a Hesychast Hermit. Chapter XII.

For the full reflection see the post:
https://thoughtsintrusive.wordpress.com

There are times when our prayers seem so one sided.
On and on we pray, beseeching and imploring and yet….we hear no movement..
we see no results.

We often expect, or if the truth be told… we actually demand,
that after we’ve demonstrated an unrelenting persistence of time, energy and focus…
then surely God will move Heaven and Earth in order to show us how much He cares
and just how well He listens and just how much He agrees with each
and every component of our prayer…never mind if there are others involved in
said prayer…

As it is all just so utterly frustrating when we believe that all we see and hear
is merely empty silence.

No movement, no shifting, no little glimmer that things are working in the direction
of our desire, need, hope, want….

And for many, it seems almost cruel…this silence.

Yet we are told that no prayer goes unheard.

I once heard it put that God answers prayers in one of three ways….
Yes
No
Not now….

And more often then not, it is the ‘not now’ that is most vexing.

And so we pray on…

Because He knows and He sees and He is listening…

We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end,
so that what you hope for may be fully realized.

Hebrews 6:11

the Flea is on fire

“Atheists don’t fly planes into buildings” –
it was a point delivered with all the certainty of a man who feels he has
just delivered a killer blow to his opponent who was in this case,
yours truly.
His ‘point’ repeated thousands of times on atheist and secularist
websites and social media (from whence he had gathered this bon mot)
was greeted with rapturous applause by those who shared his faith.
The response?
‘Neither do Presbyterians…nor Baptists…nor Catholics…nor Anglicans…
not even Charismatics…and in fact neither do the majority of Muslims”.
But for the simplistic worldview of the Atheist Fundamentalist this point is missed.
In their world they put together two and two and make 25.”

David Robertson


(a summer evening’s view of Sault Ste Marie, Ontario, Canada / Julie Cook / 2017)

The flea is on fire…
or so it seems in his latest installment of the book review
The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray.
(and may I note that in my past writings regarding Mr. Murray, I think I have inadvertently referred to him as
as “David” rather than Douglas—too many Davids on the brain I fear…
so I have gone back and corrected those previous errors)

I have yet to order my copy…and maybe it has something to do with
my latest book purge taking place at home, but I have every intention of
ordering a copy…as I feel as if the good pastor
has pulled out such tantalizing nuggets, whetting my appetite,
that I can barely wait to begin reading.
For the Wee Flea, with obviously the help of Mr. Murray,
has sounded the alarm as he is acting as that lone voice in the desert.

This part 3 review deals more in the way of the views of the Muslim world and Islam
as through the eyes of Europe—but like I said the other day, why stop at just
Europe…because this book speaks as much to those of us here in the US
as it does to our friends across the pond.

In this latest review, I have actually pulled more of the fiery flea’s words
than I have Mr. Murray’s as Pastor Robertson is spot on in his observations.

“It seems to me that there are those who are so obsessed with hating the Christian background of their own culture that they are willing to ignore or distort the
teachings of Islam –
solely as a means to attack their real hatred.
Or perhaps even worse –
there are those who have such a hatred for the Jews that they are willing to
excuse and even endorse the ideology that wants to wipe them out.
What does Murray argue about Islam?

Firstly he points out that the liberal elites are so determined to show that their
belief that Islam is compatible with Western civilization that they will do
their utmost to promote what amounts to a re-writing of history and a distortion
as serious as those who want to portray all Islam as barbaric.
And they combine this understanding of Muslims as the new oppressed people
(and themselves of course as the Social Justice Warriors/Saviours of the Oppressed)
with their hatred of their own Christian traditions,
by building up the former and demeaning the latter.”

David Robertson

We might consider the fact that here in the US, we are currently reeling, caught in
in the very throws of much of the same mentality,
as we are now witnessing those here in this country who are desperately
trying to rewrite our history as they try, albeit in vain,
to whitewash our past into something that never even existed…
as if erasing the bad will now make everything perfectly good and somewhat of a nonexistent utopia

Add to that our own influx of immigrants, those who are here illegally, as well as
the hundreds if not thousands of foreign nationals who, since before 9/11,
have come into this country from the Middle East, as officials now admit,
that there are countless individuals here who have simply fallen off the radar
and basically have “disappeared into the crowd” as our various agencies
have failed to keep track and account of such individuals.

So no longer are we the proverbial melting pot, but rather we are
a dangerous and angry boiling pot…waiting simply to boil over.

“In fact such is the fear of Islam, or of being accused of being Islamaphobic
that our liberal elites are even prepared to change our whole culture for the sake of accommodating their fears.
“In September 2015 officials in Bavaria began to warn local parents to ensure their daughters did not wear any revealing clothing in public. ‘Revealing tops and blouses, shirts and shorts or mini skirts could lead to misunderstandings’, one letter to locals warned. In some Bavarian towns, including Mering, police warned parents not to allow their children to go outside alone. Local women were advised not to walk to the railway station unaccompanied.”

Mr Murray Page 196

Pastor Robertson continues…
“Even worse than that officials and politicians are sometimes too scared to face
up to the implications of what is going on.
The Rotherham case is the worst example we have of this.
Over 1500 girls were abused because they were white girls and their abusers
considered themselves to be immune of prosecution because of the authorities fear
of being accused of being Islamaphobic and racist.”

David Robertson

And just in case you don’t grasp the serious concerns over the progressive
secular liberal leanings within this current culture of ours, the good pastor,
reminds one and all about the dangers in the rise of such a demigod mentality.

“Secular Liberalism cannot help itself.
It so believes itself to be ‘god’ that anyone who goes against its doctrines
will be banned –
in this respect questioning Islam is on a par with questioning
Same Sex Marriage which itself is seen as being on a par with racism,
genocide etc.
The white Middle-Class guilt complex leads us down some very strange paths!
One of which is that there will shortly come a time when my even writing an
article like this could be considered a ‘hate crime’.
David Robertson

Robertson continues “Murray pointed out in an article in The Spectator that the “popular al-Jazeera star and leading cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi when he said:”

‘Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hands of the believers.’
Douglass Murray

They fail to grasp one of the most essential differences between Christianity and Islam is that Islam is a political system as well as a faith.

Lastly from a Christian perspective I return to the question of what the Lord of history is doing in permitting this ‘death of Europe’.
It could be that it is a judgment – after all Turkey was once the stronghold of Christianity, then North Africa –
and look where the church is now in those countries.
Southern Africa, China and South America will probably be the growth areas for the church in the 21st Century.

“But Europe can still be resurrected….”
David Robertson

Pastor Robertson does leave us with a slight ray of hope.
He muses that perhaps there is still hope for Europe,
as that same hope applies to us here in the US.

He ends his review with the notion that perhaps the influx of Muslims
is but an opportunity to the Faithful to press on in their witness of
the salvation from Jesus Christ…in turn leaving the family of Christian
believers to be the final hope found in the lost sea of mass immigration.

The Strange Death of Europe – 3 – Islam

When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

Isaiah 43:2-3

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

dscn2555
(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

img_0373
(detail/ painting by Julie Cook)

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

dscn2555
(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 cross roads…
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

img_0373
(detail/ painting by Julie Cook)

Waiting and arrivals

“Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life”
Simone Weil

boucicaut-meister
(Illuminated manuscript from the Book of Hours, the Annunciation 1410)

We have entered a new season within our faith…
Those seasonal cycles of the Church.
For we have now entered the season of waiting…
Otherwise known as Advent.
Taken from the Greek word, parousia, meaning arrival.

As in we are waiting for an arrival.

Yet do we not seem to spend our lives waiting?

Waiting on things to take place, to happen, to hurry up, to change, to come or to go….

However Father Henri Nouwen, in his essay Waiting For God, reminds us that
“for many people, waiting is an awful desert between where they are and where they want to go.
And people do not like such a place.
They want to get out of it by doing something.”

So waiting seems to be something we are relegated to suffer.

But Father Nouwen continues…
“Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state
determined by events totally out of our hands.”

“But there is none this passivity in scripture.
Those who are waiting are waiting very actively.”

“Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction
that somethings happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.
A waitng person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is the moment.”

“A waiting person is a patient person.

The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and to live the situation
out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.
Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and
therefore want to go elsewhere.

“Waiting, then is not passive.”

“To wait open-endedly is an enormous attitude toward life.”

So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that
God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear.
The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment,
trusting that new things will happen to us,
new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction.

“That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.”

And so we begin to wait…
actively and radically waiting….

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.
See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth,
being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains.
You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.

James 5:7-8

(Father Henri Nouwen’s words taken from Watch for the Light
Readings for Advent and Christmas
/ Plough Publishing House

Credo quia absurdum

Crucifixus est Dei Filius, non pudet, quia pudendum est;
et mortuus est Dei Filius, prorsus credibile est, quia ineptum est;
et sepultus resurrexit, certum est, quia impossibile.

— (De Carne Christi V, 4)

“The Son of God was crucified: there is no shame, because it is shameful.
And the Son of God died: it is by all means to be believed, because it is absurd.
And, buried, He rose again: it is certain, because impossible.”

Based on the writing of Tetullian

DSCN0264
(stain glass window Christ Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“I believe that Christ died for me because it is incredible; I believe that He rose from the dead because it is impossible”
A.W. Tozer

“Let me seek Thee in longing…let me long for Thee in seeking; let me find Thee in love, and love Thee in finding”
St Anselm

It is indeed incredibly impossible, absurd and even implausible that we Christians believe what we believe—certainly in the eyes of the non believer but actually…even to ourselves.

Anyone who stops long enough to actually ponder Christianity, the faith, as well as the inception of that faith which actually began, not so much with the earthly three year ministry of Jesus, but rather on the day that his tomb was found empty.

It begins with us now, during this time of Advent.

We, the Christian faithful, now expectantly and vigilantly wait and watch….

We wait and watch along with three Wisemen, who came from all we know to be the East…
We also wait with a handful of desert shepherds…
All of whom had each seen signs and had visions of something miraculous, life changing and unbelievable that was soon to take place…
Taking place in the far flung regions of poverty on the outer reaches of the Roman Empire…in the middle of nowhere.

We anxiously wait with a simple an honest man named Joseph— the young nervous husband chosen by the Creator of the Universe to be the earthly father to a heavenly king.

We expectantly wait with a young Jewish woman who is pregnant with her first child, yet she has never had sex. Instead she was visited by an angel who told her that she had found favor in the sight of God…and now she is alone, only with her husband, as they are on the road traveling and she is ready to deliver in the middle of nowhere.

We look for the star, a sign, a seemingly tangible apparition in the heavens—a sign that something monumental is about to rock the very foundations of humankind.

Later in the story, we follow the words of a crazy zealot who lives in a desert, eating bugs and wearing next to nothing…who preaches to any and all who would give him ear. Preaching to the birds and animals when no people come to listen. He tells both man and beast that God will send a savior for all mankind. He tells those who listen that in order to be “saved” all must be baptized, first by water, than by the Spirit—being born once again.

We believe the words of a 33 year old man who preached, healed and taught to whomever would listen. We believe he walked on water, made the dead rise, made the blind see, the lame walk and the possessed free.

We choose to follow him along his journey… all the way to his death— brutal and barbaric as a death could be.
And we believe that when he says he will be back…from the gates of hell and death itself…he will indeed, be back.

And we believe when a woman finds an empty tomb…

2000 years pass and we are still believing.

Absurd, impossible, implausible, incredible…

All the better reason to believe…

I acknowledge, Lord, and I give thanks that you have created your image in me, so that I may remember you, think of you, love you. But this image is so obliterated and worn away by wickedness, it is so obscured by the smoke of sins, that it cannot do what it was created to do, unless you renew and reform it. I am not attempting, O Lord, to penetrate your loftiness, for I cannot begin to match my understanding with it, but I desire in some measure to understand your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to undertand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this too I believe, that “unless I believe, I shall not understand.” (Isa. 7:9)
St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury 1093