hospitality while staying the course

“The most deadly poison of our time is indifference.
And this happens although the praise of God should know no limits.
Let us strive, therefore, to praise him to the greatest extent of our powers.”

St. Maximilian Kolbe

“Do not seek to be regarded as somebody,
don’t compare yourself to others in anything.
Leave the world, mount the cross, discard all earthly things,
shake the dust from off your feet.”

St. Barsanuphius


(a tiny ladybug rumaging about the hydranga blosoms / Julie Cook / 2018)

June, albeit already being known as National Icecream month, is quickly becoming
my national babysitting month…
This as I am here and there, acting as said keeper of the wee one, as work schedules and
summer workshops are currently on a collision course.

However, you won’t hear any complaints coming from me…more than happy to oblige…

But this balance of both distance and time, of which are each keeping me overtly busy and
currently stretched thin, is hindering my ability to fully contribute and offer meatier
and tastier posts… as well as forcing my unintended negligence to those day to day interactions
with those of you who are my friends and kind enough to offer your own thoughtful reflections,
feelings and words of wisdom.

And speaking of interactions…

I suppose I’d like to say a word or two regarding some rather interesting interactions
I’ve had with those who have been wandering into cookieland…
wanderings taking place from say, a week or so ago.

I’ve written about this sort of thing before.

As it’s an odd occurrence really.

Let us reflect a moment on the notion of hospitality.

I’m Southern born and raised and those of us who hail from the South are usually known
for our Southern Hospitality.
A graciousness in opening our doors, our homes, our lives our hearts…welcoming and inviting
others to ‘come sit a spell’…inviting others to come rest while we offer a
bit of respite from the pressures of life.

I shared this very notion, just the other day with Tricia, from over on
Freedom Through Empowerment.

I explained to Tricia that years ago I had read a small book that had actually been
written centuries prior.
It was actually more of a manual rather than a book.

The book is known as The Rule of St Benedict and it was written by Benedict of Nursia
in the 1st Century.

Benedict wrote the book as an instructional manual for those who were wishing to follow
in his footsteps…living life as a Christian monk…
an order of Christian monks known as the Benedictine Order.

It was written for those Christians living during the persecution of the Roman Empire…
a time not known for its hospitality toward Christians.

The little book has had amazing staying power as many a Fortune 500 company has their upper
management read the book as a lesson in how to work with others as well as how to treat others.

According to Wikipedia “The spirit of Saint Benedict’s Rule is summed up in the motto
of the Benedictine Confederation: pax (“peace”) and the traditional
ora et labora (“pray and work”).
Compared to other precepts, the Rule provides a moderate path between
individual zeal and formulaic institutionalism;
because of this middle ground it has been widely popular.
Benedict’s concerns were the needs of monks in a community environment:
namely, to establish due order, to foster an understanding of the relational nature
of human beings, and to provide a spiritual father to support and strengthen the
individual’s ascetic effort and the spiritual growth that is required for the fulfillment
of the human vocation, theosis.

However, there was one rule in particular that spoke to me more so than the others…
it is the Rule of Receiving Guests.

All guests who arrive should be received as Christ so that he will say,
“I was a stranger and you took me in” [Mt 25:35].
Show honor to them all, especially to fellow Christians and to wayfarers.
When a guest is announced, let him be met with all charity.
Pray with him, and then associate with one another in peace.
(Do not give anyone the kiss of peace before a prayer has been said, in case of satanic deception.)
Greet guests with all humility,
with the head bowed down or the whole body prostrate on the ground,
adoring Christ in them, as you are also receiving him.
When the guests have been received, let them be accompanied to prayers.
Then let the Abbot, or some he chooses,
sit down with them.
The divine law be read to the guest for his edification,
and then you should show him every kindness.
The Abbot should break his fast in deference to the guest,
unless it is a day of solemn fast,
which cannot be broken.
The other brothers however should keep the fast as usual.
The Abbot should pour the water on the guest’s hands,
and the whole brotherhood should join him in washing the feet of all the guests.
When they have been washed, let them say,
“We have received your mercy, O God, in the midst of your temple” [Ps 48:10].
Let the greatest care be taken, especially when receiving the poor and travelers,
because Christ is received more specially in them.

Chrisitianhistoryinstitute.org

In other words, how to be a gracious host.

Benedict admonished those managing the various monasteries to always be willing to
open their gates and doors to all who would venture to knock…
no matter the time day or night.
He told the brothers to get up in the middle of the night if necessary in order
to warmly welcome both stranger and friend should anyone come knocking with a need.

The brothers were to open their doors, offering food and drink as well as a place of rest to
wayward travelers.

That one “rule” made a strong impression upon me because early in our marriage,
my husband would often call me at the last minute to inform me that he’d received a call
from a “friend” who just happened to be passing through and informed my husband
that he wanted to come for a visit.

Such news would usually leave me grousing as I scrambled to tidy up,
put out fresh linens while rushing to prepare an impromptu meal usually after
I had worked all day.

So much for feeling very gracious.
Rather, I reluctantly confess, that I selfishly felt put out.

Yet over the years, I’ve come to understand that the giving of ourselves,
our time, our attention,
our skills, our food, our home, our possessions are really not so much about “us”,
but rather it’s about something far greater than ourselves…

And so it’s with St Benedict’s Rule in mind that I have faced a bit of a conundrum here
in my little corner of the blog world.

For you see, I tend to write about mostly Chrisitan related content.
Content that I’m pretty passionate about.

Be it my sharing of the insights and observations from two of my favorite clerics
from across the pond to my serious concern over those ancient Middle Eastern Christian
sects that have come under violent attacks by ISIS, to my dismay over
living in what has quickly become known as a post-Christian society to
the unraveling of what we call Western Civilization.

And yes, I am often outspoken as well as passionate about my concerns.

But the thing is, I’m writing a blog…small as it is.
There is no social media tied to this blog.
No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, no Pinterest…
Why?
Because I don’t participate in “social” media…only that of a blog.

Therefore my little corner is small and limited, yet passionate none the less.

I’ve always found that I like to learn, share and grow in my own faith…
as I still have so much to learn.
I like to do so by reading and learning from what others teach.
I consider my blog, and those I enjoy reading, an extension of a Chrisitan
Community.

I grow in the Spirit by reading and learning from other Chrisitan Spiritually based
individuals.
I don’t go looking for trouble.
I don’t go trolling.
I don’t care for those who do.
Trolling is a waste of time.
Nothing good comes from such.
Why waste life’s precious time by doing such?
I’ve yet to figure that out.

And at times I do believe that I am a bit of a Christian Apologist…
a defender of the Faith as it were.
God’s Word being God’s Word.
No mincing.
No rewriting.
No twisting.
No changing because we as a people feel the need to change.

Speaking what I sincerely believe to be Truth.
God’s universal Truth.
Speaking His Truth here on this blog.

All here on a blog that is here if you want to read it…
or not.

And that’s the key…or not.

Meaning no one has to come here and read anything I write.
That’s kind of the magic of a blog…you have a choice…
to read or not to read.

In fact, that’s how I do it.
I seek to read those who teach me and fulfill me with that which is edifying….
meaning it is rich in the Word as it offers up a hearty offering of Life in the Spirit.
Offering the positive because why would I want the negative?

Not the hostile.
Not the angry.
Not the hateful.
But rather that which is edifying, uplifting, and even liberating.

So imagine my surprise when I was hit by a barrage of those doing just the opposite.

Professing agnostics and atheists who had come visiting, en masse,
speaking of indoctrination, dinosaurs, lies, falsehoods, contraception, abortion,
young earth creationists, the Bible as fairytale, no Noah, no Moses, no flood, Jews,
science…as the list and comments grew and grew in number.

As cordial as I could be while standing my ground, the sneering, the questioning,
the snideness, the belittling, and the vehemence only escalated or rather more
accurately devolved into a swirling quagmire of running in circles.

Demands of justification, clarification, debate, arguments, proof, and defense
continued not over the course of a few comments but rather such ran on and on for days.

Verbal attacks and the pushing downward into the unending rabbit holes of nothingness…
down into the black abyss of nonsense.

Other’s jumped in, in defense.
Words grew heated and even ugly.
The word was spread by the nonbelieving to rally because the Christians were now
proclaiming.

A real shame.

But I hear that is the plan.
Divide, confuse, conquer.
Or so they say.

My thinking…you don’t like what you’re reading, go find what it is you do like.
Don’t berate.
Don’t harangue.
Don’t belittle.
Don’t be smug.
Don’t be snide.
Don’t be divisive.
Don’t be hateful.
Don’t be crude.
It benefits no one…especially yourself.

But don’t pretend you’re confused and that you don’t understand.
Don’t pretend you truly want explanation and clarification because all you want
is to publicly mock, accuse and berate.
You are sly and cunning…as those are the pages that come from your playbook.

However, my door will remain open to anyone who comes to visit.

The invitation will always be extended to one and all to come…
to come put up one’s feet and to sit a spell.

But come because you want to come…
Come because you want to visit, feast and fellowship.
Come because you want to share, to learn, to grow.
Come because you want to offer to others…
Come because you want to offer more, not less.
Come with peace, not hostility…

Or simply don’t come…

Don’t come but go elsewhere…
Go where you find your fulfillment because obviously, you’re not finding that here.

As St Benedict so wisely instructed, “Do not give anyone the kiss of peace before a prayer
has been said, in case of satanic deception”

So, therefore, may we pray for discernment over deception while we continue to extend the hand of hospitality.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

Hebrews 13:2

do all roads lead home


(just a little road off our walk one morning…it’s a dead end–as in it dead ends
into the ocean / Julie Cook / 2018)

It was said that at one point in the history of time that all roads lead to Rome.
More accurately that should have stated that all roads radiated out and away from Rome.
Such being that if one found themselves heading back to the city,
one could have said that any road would get them there.

Rome was the epicenter of “modern” civilization and the zenith of all that was
during the height of its day.
It only made sense that an empire as mighty as Rome would build a network of roads
leading out of the city–in turn, connecting Rome to and with other various places of
necessity and importance.

The picture I’ve thrown in today was taken during a recent morning walk while in Florida.
It’s a shot of a small side road that apparently is a dead end…
Just looking at the road one might not be able to see that the little road is indeed
a dead end but the sign on the right of the road is the first clue.

The sign indicating that there is no way for a car to circle out or around or on
to someplace else.
The road simply stops.

The road stops at a small walkover bridge. Thus that being the second clue…
the pavement ends.
That’s a pretty good clue as to a dead end—no more pavement, no more road.
The pavement ran out directly at a small wooden bridge.
There was a little patch of “wetlands” and a dune that the bridge skirted over…
leading those on foot over the small pond area and the dune–out and over to the beach
and eventually to the ocean.
So, in essence, the road basically stops at the sea…or actually at the beach in front
of the ocean.

No going to Rome via this little road…and no going anywhere really but to a few houses
scattered about.

And speaking of home, I am back…at home that is.
As my aunt would often say, it was a “quick and dirty” sort of trip.

Not that I exactly ever really ‘got’ what she would mean by that little euphemism of hers
but I assume it was just her odd way saying quick and easy…, and we’ll leave it at that.

After taking a myriad of roads down and a multitude of paths back to get home.
As there is no easy direct route— instead of there is a weaving in and out from
significant to minor roads…
all in hopes of finding the quickest, easiest and least congestive route home.
A direct route is not to be had, and if it were, it would be so busy,
we’d be in search again for some other direction.
Because that’s what we do as humans—
We look for the easiest and quickest routes to our destinations.

I use to pour over maps.
You may remember those now long antiquated folding road maps you could never
fold back to their original folds…

I’d spread out a map and with a trusty highlighter in hand, highlighting the passage of
least resistance…or even a passage of the most scenery and quietude…
just all depended on the urgency of the travel.

Nowadays, I try to input a point of destination, and in turn,
I depend on the car’s GPS or that of the phone’s to weave me in and out of the
current life’s journeys.
Yet I’ve gotten where I don’t exactly trust either the car or the phone with directions
anywhere anymore as we, meaning me, my car and my phone, are not always on the same page.

Their idea, as in the car’s and the phone’s, for quick and trouble-free, is not always
or exactly a guarantee of quick and trouble-free.

So whereas maps, GPS, coordinates, addresses are all great and grand, I find that a
good dose of intuition is still a vital component when traveling.
Knowing how to use a compass and knowing the position of the sun is also still
extremely important…or so says my husband the boy scout.

So if we worry, bother and fret about getting from point A to point B in a relatively quick,
easy and safe fashion–
why don’t we put in the same amount of effort or concern when it comes to living our lives.

Are we not concerned about where this thing called life is taking us?
And as to how we will get to that final point of destination…?

If we happen to be Believers, then we pretty much keep our eyes focused on being Heaven bound.
Right?
And in turn, we pretty much know the steps to getting there.
Right?

But what of the countless others out there who don’t consider themselves Believers or believe
in Heaven…what then…what in the heck then do you think this whole life’s journey
has been all about???
All for naught??

So no, not all roads will lead you Home.
Some are simply dead ends.

First, you’ll need to figure out what exactly is Home and as to where it just might
happen to be…
Next, you’ll have to figure out how you’re going to be getting there.
Waze?
GPS?
Mapquest?

There is only one roadmap and it was written about 2000 years ago…
It’s pretty precise, specific and never needs recalculating.

It still likes to be opened, spread out on a table and highlighted…just saying

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand.

Psalm 37:23-24

limeaide?

Since you cannot do good to all,
you are to pay special attention to those who,
by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances,
are brought into closer connection with you.

Saint Augustine

DSCN4191
(my first limes from my little lime tree / Julie Cook / 2016)

I certainly know all about that seemingly simplistic little adage…
You know the one…
when life hands you lemons,
make lemonade…

Sometimes that seems so much easier said then done…

Plus it sounds somewhat childlike, sappy and far too sweet for the more caustic moments of life.
For it is a far cry from the reality of the nitty gritty lives we are living.

It’s kind of like saying, Life just handed out a pile of crap and now you’re suppose to turn it into something sugary sweet and oh so refreshing…

Not happening.

My lemons on my lemon tree aren’t ripe yet, but the limes are.
Or so I thought they were…
So I wanted to test them…
Turns out they are good and ripe…

DSCN4190

Life right now is anything but a time for sipping a nice long, tall and cool glass of lemonade.

Now granted I did grab a lemonade from the drive through at a Chick-fil-A yesterday,
in-between taking Dad here, there and yon…
and their lemonade is the best I’ve found….
but it’s just that somedays even the thought of a refreshing lemonade falls flat on our hearts….

For life is now hard.
It is pulling while pushing.
It is relentless and frightening at the very same time.
While there is both physical and emotional pain.

A friend of mine recently confided a haunting confession…
that he’s been feeling as if a steel curtain had been drawn between him and God.

I think there has been an almost palpable distance and or dryness.
That there has not been that usual deep spiritual connection between him and God.
His feelings have been dried up and most likely rusted tight.
He’s been going through the motions but simply not feeling the Love as it were.

I think St John of the Cross called it the dark night of the soul.

I don’t know a single Believer who has not experienced living in that dark vacuum at some point of other during the course of their life as a follower of Chirst.

Mother Teresa recounted that she had actually spent the better part of her life
living in that darkness.

And yet we see what she was about doing, during the course of her life,
with that feeling of distance and longing heart…
trudging through the darkness, always moving forward toward the Cross.

The naysayers and militant unbelieving will immediately jump on the
“God is maniacal, mean and even evil” train.
Mocking all who dare to believe…yet seemingly struggle and hurt.
Sharply pointing out that this God of ours sits upon His lofty throne
sadistically watching us squirm in our suffering…

And that’s the thing.

Even when it gets hard, dark and painful…
Even when our hearts and bodies are broken.
With or without feelings…
we muster on toward the Cross…

because we were given the very same Divine example….

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

“Who will save your soul?”

“To save all we must risk all.”
Friedrich Schiller

“poor boy! I never knew you, Yet I think I could not refuse this moment to die for you, if that would save you”
― Walt Whitman

‘You are no saint,’ says the devil. Well, if I am not, I am a sinner, and Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Sink or swim, I go to Him; other hope, I have none.
Charles Spurgeon

DSCN0801
(Timoleague Friary / County Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“Who will save your soul…..?”

A lyric trapped inside one’s head, playing over and over and over…
Had it been the background song at the grocery store?
Newly imposed on some uptick television commercial?
Something playing in the distance of one’s small world….?
As it appears to have been picked up at some point during one’s day…
and is now forever stuck on constant replay, deep inside the recesses of the subconscious.

The same line running around and around inside the brain.
Unconsciously hummed, muttered, softly sung…
When suddenly, unable to remain on the periphery…the words come crashing into focus.

More than a simple lyric to an older song.
More than a folksy balard offered up by a young woman long ago
More than a simple soulful melody caught inside your head…

“Who will save your soul…?

It is not merely a lyric, a song or a random musing…
It is rather one of the most deeply profound questions ever to be asked, pondered or entertained.

It is a question that spans the very inception of both time and space.
A question queried for both life as well as death.

If it is to be agreed that each being, each life, does indeed have a soul…
then the question certainly begs to be asked, who or what will save each and every soul?
When all is said and done…who is the savior?
When life, as it is currently known, has come to its conclusion and ceases to be…
be it suddenly and unexpected, stolen simply by time… or be it slow and simply accepted…
What then of the soul?
Does it extinguish itself with the last living breath?
Will it simply be left to float upon the whispers of others?

Will this soul be claimed
Or
Is it all mere nothingness?
A fabrication?
A myth?
A fable?

The question is being asked…Who will save your soul?

Yet the answer, this answer of both life and death, remains for many something oddly to be ignored, left uncomfortably unanswered….

So….
What say you then my friend….
Who will save your soul….?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast
Ephesians 2:8-9

Recollections

“Remembrance and reflection how allied!
What thin partitions Sense from Thought divide!”

― Alexander Pope

DSCN8821
(my mom’s little trio of antique carolers / Julie Cook / 2014)

It is at this particular time of year that our memories of times and loved ones long past, now seemingly forgotten, seem more clear and potent than at any other time.
Waves of melancholy collide into the crashing tides of joy leaving us with both tears and warm smiles mingling lightly upon the heart.
Recollections of the vignettes of a life once lived, a life which once seemed so far away, races rapidly now to the forefront of thought.

A tacky plastic ornament.
A cherished family heirloom.
A tattered and torn old card
A musty copy of A Christmas Carol
A fragile figurine
The sound of much beloved carols

Whether we are fortunate enough to be able to gather with those special and dear people of our lives
or merely recall their presence in our hearts, the often endless expanse of space and time miraculously narrows each year at Christmas.
No longer does death nor distance separate us–
For “God imparts to human hearts, the blessings of His Heaven”
As that which was, and that which is and that which is yet to be are sweetly
united and are “met in thee tonight”

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above your deep and dreamless sleep,
The silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light,
The hopes and fears of all the years,
Are met in thee tonight.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim thy holy birth
And praises sing to God, the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous Gift is giv’n!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sins and enter in,
Be born to us today.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell:
Oh, come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Lewis Brooks and Lewis Redner
1868

Dear Parents. . .

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:13

DSCN8751
(presents under the tree / Julie Cook / 2014)

When asked, I suppose most, if not all of us, could tell anyone asking what the best gift was we ever received. Maybe it was a shiny new bike, a much sought after doll, maybe it was a new baby brother or sister, maybe a pair of skates, maybe a car, a smartphone, a precious and greatly anticipated birth of a child, maybe it was a hot meal, a worn but loved coat, maybe it was shelter from a cold and icy night, maybe it was the returning of a loved one who had been gone far too long. . . .

As we find ourselves, at this particular time of the year, with time running out and patience running short. . .
As we dash about here and there in search of the “perfect” gift for those special someones in our lives. . .
As we find ourselves up to our elbows in wrapping paper, ribbons, tape and bows. . .
As we spend entirely too much time and money searching and buying things that folks could most likely do and live without. . .

I was deeply touched by something I read this morning.
It was a letter written to a set of parents. . .

Dear Parents. . .I don’t need to tell you how much I long for freedom and for you all. But over the decades you have provided for us such incomparably beautiful Christmases that my thankful remembrance of them is strong enough to light up one dark Christmas.
Only such times can really reveal what it means to have a past and an inner heritage that is independent of chance and the changing of the times. The awareness of a spiritual tradition that reaches through the centuries gives one a certain feeling of security in the face of all transitory difficulties. I believe that those who know they possess such reserves of strength do not need to be ashamed even of softer feelings—which in my opinion are still among the better and nobler feelings of humankind–when remembrance of a good and rich past calls them forth. Such feelings will not overwhelm those who hold fast to the values that no one can take from them.

These words and this message is not only timely but most current as this letter could be written by anyone who may be finding themselves far away from those dearly loved and cherished individuals of one’s life, especially during this time of year. As it always seems to be during the holidays, the certain times of the year which pulls at our hearts more so than any other time of year, when being away and “missing” intensifies to a near maddening unstoppable pain, our thoughts inevitably seem to return to matters of the heart and of cherished memories of times long and not so long past.

The letter was written just before Christmas in 1944 from a Gestapo prison in Berlin. It was written by the young Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was soon to be transferred to the notorious Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He spent two Christmases interred by the Nazis before ultimately being hanged two weeks before the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps.

The greatest gift Bonhoeffer’s parents had given him was not a toy or a ball. . .for their gift was not something tangible or of material merit, but rather their gift was a gift of great intrinsic value.

Their greatest gift was actually somewhat multilayered.

Firstly the gift consisted of the deep and abiding love his parents first held for one another and then for each of their children–of which created and fostered a deep sense of security in each child.

A second layer of the gift consisted of time—of both time and energy of which his parents extended to the entire family making certain that each Christmas and holiday season was indeed special for their eight children—Not by showering the children with extravagant gifts and presents, as buying such for 8 children would have been nearly impossible, but by providing their family with the knowledge of the importance of the true meaning of Christmas—the enduring message of Hope and Grace–of doing undo others as they would hope would be done for them, and ultimately the gift and knowledge of Salvation. A gift that would weave its way throughout the year and not merely just at Christmas—for this was a gift which would be carried in each of their children throughout a lifetime which witnessed not only contentment and happiness but that of hardship, sorrow and suffering topped off with the ultimate ending of Joy.

It was to this gift given long ago by his parents which would help to sustain Bonhoeffer during his lowest and darkest days as a Nazi prisoner. Isolated and never knowing if each new day would bring freedom or death, Bonhoeffer lived out the last two years of his relatively young life in a small cell very much alone.

I spent a good bit of time this morning pondering over Bonhoeffer’s letter to his parents and I found myself thinking about what it is to be a “gift giver” and to what constitutes the best gift we can give–especially to our children.

I pray that I may give my child, as well as those I love, the gift which will sustain them all during, not the easy times of joy and happiness, but rather a gift which will help to carry them through the darkness, sorrow, pain and isolation which most often finds all of us at some point in life when we least expect it.

Which brings us back to the initial query at hand. . .indeed, what is the greatest gift you’ve ever received. . .