changing hell into paradise

“The path to paradise begins in hell.”
Dante Alighieri


(Georgios Klontzas, 16th Century icon)

No matter one’s concept of hell, I think most Believers would agree…
Hell is the total absence of God.

An endless, as in never ending, void of the Divine…
ergo no hope, light, joy, love, compassion….
you get the idea…

So leave it to an Orthodox monk to offer an interesting thought concerning
how the demons handle the desire of a condemned’s longing for God….

And yet what an interesting thought it is…that even in hell the demons quake
at the notion of one reaching upward to the Almighty…

One day we met on the site where the construction of the new church had begun,
and the Elder said, “It is a difficult thing today to build a church.
All the demons will rise up.”
And he told me an anecdote that he had heard in Russia:

“Someone went to hell, but he wanted there to be a church there too so that
he could pray. Despite his sinfulness, he loved God and wanted to pray.
He began to measure the site in order to lay foundations.
A devil asked him what he was doing.
He replied: Ί want to build a church so that I can pray.’
The devil was uneasy, because it was impossible for a church to be built in hell,
and he tried to stop him. He did not manage.
He summoned other demons. They could not do anything either.
They reported it to their leader.
Then many demons gathered and they threw him out of hell,
to prevent a church being built.”

And he continued:
“So we build churches to change hell into Paradise,
and if we do not manage to do that,
we will succeed in not being accepted by the devil in hell.”
And he laughed wholeheartedly.

—Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos. I Know a Man in Christ:
Elder Sophrony the Hesychast and Theologian

As seen on Discerning Thoughts:
(https://thoughtsintrusive.wordpress.com/2017/10/28/someone-went-to-hell-but-he-wanted-there-to-be-a-church/)

people of the book

“We are dealing with a nation of high culture, with ” a people of the book.”
Germany has become a madhouse–mad for books. Say what you will, I fear such
people! Where plunder is based on an ideology, on a world outlook which in essence is spiritual, it cannot be equalled in strength and durability…
The Nazi has robbed us not only of material possessions, but also of our good
name as “the people of the Book.” The Nazi has both book and sword, and this is his strength and might”

Excerpt from the the 1939 diary of Chaim Kaplan, a Jewish teacher in Warsaw


(an old friend’s family Hebrew bible / Julie Cook / 2014)

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the term “people of the book” is Islamic
in nature.

The Quran uses the term in reference to Jews, Christians and Sabians
(those from the land of Sheba) in a variety of contexts, from religious polemics
to passages emphasizing community of faith between those who possess
monotheistic scriptures.
The term was later extended to other religious communities that fell under
Muslim rule, including even polytheistic Indians.
Historically, these communities were subject to the dhimma contract in an
Islamic state.

In Judaism the term “People of the Book” (Hebrew: עם הספר, Am HaSefer)
has come to refer to the Jewish people and the Torah.

Members of some Christian denominations, such as the Baptists, Methodists, Seventh-day Adventist Church, as well as Puritans and Shakers, have embraced the term “People of the Book” in reference to themselves.

Growing up in an Episcopal Sunday School, the only year I can remember really
delving into Scripture, other than later in high school during youth group,
was when I was in the 5th grade and the teacher had us memorize Bible verses.

This sweet woman was bound and determined that we would commit various pieces of
scripture to memory if it was to be her last act on this earth.
And unlike learning weekly spelling words for school, learning the verses was both
positive and fun as she made it game-like by “rewarding” us with various little
Christian trinkets.

That was the carrot for the 9 and 10 year old mindset—learn and recite a verse and
“win” a cool glow in the dark little plastic cross.

This was great for warding off vampires in the middle of the night as this was the time that most kids my age raced home from school to watch Dark Shadows—a campy daytime TV drama in the mid 1960’s about what else, vampires, werewolves and witches…
seems television just can’t get enough of the dark side…..

As I type this, I’m shaking my head as there is just so much wrong with that one memory from childhood that it’s almost comical.

Yet I am so appreciative for that 5th grade Sunday School teacher as I believe that
that was the year in which a true spiritual foundation was actually poured and made solid.

Now I’ve always loved singing hymns, even in “children’s church, as those lines,
stanzas and tunes have stayed with me for most of my life but those Bible verses
from 5th grade, with also having memorized the Nicene Creed, the Lord’s prayer,
The 23 Psalm, and the Agnus Dei….they have each played a pivotal role in my
spiritual growth.

I almost find myself laughing out loud over the thought of what if that Sunday School classroom experience was today…can you imagine how some parents would think such
practice would be considered extreme, cruel or perhaps harmful to the psyche
of the child!? They’d proclaim that every child should have a glow in the dark cross
just for showing up and why should it just be a cross, why not a crows foot lest we discriminate against the wickens…
on and on the 21st century dysfunction goes.

Over the years I have read many a harrowing account of those who were imprisoned in
various death camps, as well as accounts of those who have been held as prisoners
of war, who claimed that it was the memory and the ability to recall those once
memorized and recited scriptures and or hymns that they had learned as children which
was the key that helped to keep them not only sane but actually sustained their
will to survive.

For we are indeed a people of the Book.

A Book that is the divinely inspired words of a very real living God.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish
one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit,
singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

Colossians 3:16

When God speaks

“In the silence of the heart God speaks.
If you face God in prayer and silence, God will speak to you.
Then you will know that you are nothing.
It is only when you realize your nothingness, your emptiness,
that God can fill you with Himself.
Souls of prayer are souls of great silence.”

Mother Teresa


(a bluebird laying claim to the birdhouse / Julie Cook / 2017)

χάρισμα—xárisma–chrisma
a gift of great Spiritual proportion…
a favor Divinely given despite the lack of deserving merit…

During the course of one’s life, knowing one soul who seems to speak words that come
from a place that is beyond the confines of this world…words of Divine origin…
it is a gracious gift most precious and rare.

Most will pass through this world without ever hearing the words spoken by one who
has been gifted, or burdened, with listening, discerning and then sharing.
Many will claim such a knowledge…
and many will be wrong…
being caught up in the emotion of something greater than that which can be comprehended.

Divine Grace operating within a few, directed by the Holy Spirit.

I have known 3 such persons.

One of those three has spoken…
reminding me…
and I have listened…
as I am reminded that…

God has spoken…to me, again

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139

in all of our tears… there rests the Divine

“A sense of the divine presence and indwelling bears the soul towards heaven
as upon the wings of eagles.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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(ornamental cabbage / Julie Cook / 2017)

Obviously I am tired.
Not in a working-out sort of tired.
Not in the end of a really long day or week sort of tired.
Not in the sleep deprivation sort of tired.

I’m just weary.
And I am very tired.
And I am overwhelmed.

For such is the season of my life

And such is the life of a person who is caring for aging parents…
where one of the two is in the process of dying from cancer.

The daily commuting to and fro is hard.
The coordinating of the care, the medical issues, the groceries, the house…
that is all hard.
The lack of time for one’s own world and home is hard…

Life?
Who has one?

Friends?
What are those?

Clean house?
hahahahahaha……

Yet it is to the waiting and watching for the inevitable…
that is the hardest.
It is also the saddest.

For ever since mother died 30 years ago, it’s been pretty much, for good or bad,
just me and dad.
I took over the roll of parenting him when both mother and my grandmother died just
months apart.
I had just turned 26 at the time.
And despite his remarrying when he was almost 70, it’s really just been me and him.

Watching the body slowly failing and falling apart…
The moans and groans of pain…
The halting morphine induced thoughts and speech…
The sounds, sights, smells…
nothing good.
Especially when I’ve already done the same thing 30 years prior.

Add to that the now spouse…the one who suffers with the ever increasing dementia…
the one who has nary a clue as to who any of us are…
it makes things either really really comical or really really sad…
…and my money is on the comical.

Oh but I don’t want to waste our time here today bemoaning my life.
You really don’t want to hear about it anyway.
No one really likes a complainer…

Yet maybe we ought to try telling that to all those nutters out there who are currently
spending their time shouting, marching, demonstrating and protesting…
I bet they’re tired…
tired of fussing…
just as much as the rest of us are tired of hearing
and seeing it all…
but I digress….

I can’t even find respite in my sleep…
for in my sleep are the dreams of a mind that is over burdened.

In last night’s dream there was this scene of my mother’s funeral where my husband
decided to wear a Hawaiian shirt rather than a suit, rendering me mortified.

The reality is that my mom’s funeral was over 30 years ago and my husband doesn’t own
nor would he ever wear a Hawaiian shirt.

Or how about the other night when my husband had to shake me awake in order to get me to stop
“screaming” in my sleep…
all because I was dreaming that I had walked into the house that use to be our house years ago
and there were strange people, squatters, trying to take over the house…
I was screaming at them to get out.
A disconcerting moment at 3 AM when one’s spouse is sound asleep.

The reality was that I had flipped through the television and caught a bit of that alligator
Swamp People show…there had been a devastating flood in southern Louisiana last
year and one of the regulars on the show had to leave his home because it had flooded.
The episode showed him coming back to the house after the flood waters had receded…
leaving behind a house full of huge bullfrogs and a giant snapping turtle.

Or how about the other night when I was dreaming that I was trying to take my son,
who in the dream was a toddler but in real life is almost 30,
in order to seek safety because the planet was under attack by evil aliens…
space aliens, not the illegal variety…
and we were racing in a car, desperately trying to find safety as we were having to hit,
running over, the evil invaders in order to get away….

The reality was that I had flipped through, once again, the channels catching a brief
snippet of the movie Fury on the History Channel—
it was right when the Sherman tank, commandeered by Brad Pitt’s character,
went rolling over the heads and bodies of Germans in their fox holes, naturally crushing them…
I think that’s when I flipped it as I wasn’t up to the horrors of war that evening…
only to have them come flooding back oddly in a dream…sigh….

So not even in sleep is there a safe haven these days.

Yet…however…
no matter how bad things may be right now…
No matter how sad,
how heavy,
how hard…

I know I do not go this alone…
Despite often feeling very much alone.

I can’t make dad better, I can’t even make him feel better right now.
As this is now all pretty much out of my hands…

Yet I know that neither Dad nor I are alone in this.
Despite the naysayers cries, those non-believers who scoff
at the purported “fairytale” which is to be found at the center of all of this…
There is a Hand moving much deeper in all of this…

For this particular moment in time is but fleeting…
despite the seemingly never ending and endless melancholy
merry go round we now ride…
For there are blessings, there is Grace…
and there is the Divine…
the very hand of God…

“Rejoice in the Lord,’ said St Paul (Phil. 3 : 1).
And he was right to say, ‘in the Lord’.
For if our joy is not in the Lord, not only do we not rejoice,
but in all probability we never shall. Job, as he described the life of men,
found it full of every kind of affliction (cf. Job 7 : 1-21),
and so also did St Basil the Great.
St Gregory of Nyssa said that birds and other animals rejoice because
of their lack of awareness, while man, being endowed with intelligence,
is never happy because of his grief.
For, he says, we have not been found worthy even to have knowledge of the blessings
we have lost. For this reason nature teaches us rather to grieve,
since life is full of pain and effort, like a state of exile dominated by sin.
But if a person is constantly mindful of God, he will rejoice: as the psalmist says,
‘I remembered God, and I rejoiced’ (Ps. 77 : 3. LXX).
For when the intellect is gladdened by the remembrance of God,
then it forgets the afflictions of this world, places its hope in Him,
and is no longer troubled or anxious.
Freedom from anxiety makes it rejoice and give thanks;
and the grateful offering of thanks augments the gift of grace it has received.
And as the blessings increase, so does the thankfulness,
and so does the pure prayer offered with tears of joy.”

St. Peter of Damascus

passage of Providence

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(the quince are about a month early / Julie Cook / 2017)

“In a clock, stop but one wheel and you stop every wheel,
because they are dependent upon one other.
So when God has ordered a thing for the present to be thus and thus,
how do you know how many things depend upon this thing?
God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence
that falls out this day or this week.”

Jeremiah Burroughs

fertile ground

“A sense of the divine presence and indwelling bears the soul towards heaven
as upon the wings of eagles.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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(a lone viola emerges out of nowhere, nestled between the rocks/ Julie Cook / 2017)

Spring is wanting to come early this year…
But Winter refuses to relinquish his time…
It’s an age old battle for the right to reign.

The surrounding landscape is still bathed in shades of grey, brown and
all things bare…
While the deer have nipped and eaten any and all remaining winterized vegetation…
As the armadillos have rooted out any hiding grub or tender waiting bulbs.

This is the time for transition.
It is a time waited upon anxiously…
As it is a time that has been manically hoped for and painfully longed for.

A time of turning the page from nothingness into a hint of newness.

All the while a cold wind blows and
Freeze warnings remain.
And pale white dry skin yearns for the flush of warm and radiant supple pink…

Yet hidden amongst the nooks of crags…
found in the hollowed-out crannies, wedged between the cold barren rocks..
a small and easily missed prophesy of growth takes a stand…

As we are left asking—
is fertile ground to be found anywhere within our hearts…

dscn4800

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says:
I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it;
I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and
lofty mountain.
On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it;
it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar.
Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.
All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree
and make the low tree grow tall.
I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

a time of signs

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him
to show them a sign from heaven.

Matthew 16:1

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death,
and you will be hated by all nations because of me.
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other,
and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold,
but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations,
and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:9-14

signposts

Today I found myself once again on the interstate, a place that I am more times then not…
As the sun was headed toward the west, I was finally heading home form Dad’s…
who by the way is hanging on and still in the game….but just barely….
Merging onto the interstate, it suddenly dawns on me that the ratio of big rigs to cars
was not in the favor of the cars.

Some days are like that as I suppose as there are certain days that are considered
more or less “travel days” for those transporters of all things commerce.

Those “travel days” tend to make me a bit more nervous as I don’t especially enjoy
barreling down the interstate sandwiched in-between 5 lanes of tractor trailer
trucks and little ol me….

Focusing on keeping up with the flow while my mind drifts back and forth over to Dad
and to the things I need to be taking care of for them, my eyes and mind begin to focus
on the truck in front of me…
“The World’s most award winning Tequila”

Hummmm…I think I’ve had it in a margarita once….

Changing lanes, as I was working my way over to merge onto the next interstate, I
found myself behind another truck boasting the “2013 Award Winning Whiskey Bourbon, Roses”

Hummmm…I’d never heard of it before…yet found myself wondering if it hails
from Kentucky or Tennessee as only Kentucky whiskeys may be labeled bourbon…

As I exit onto the entrance ramp to the next interstate, I’m precariously passed by
a massive Little Debbie’s truck….

Hummmmm…Now I begin wondering if someone isn’t trying to tell me something…
as in…am I suppose to be heading to the nearest bar or to grab some
not so healthy snack cakes….???

Signs were all over the place it seems…
vying for me to remember, to consider, to seek, to find…????

So as I was finally on the home stretch of highway, eventually taking me home,
the whole notion of signs and their meaning flooded my mind,
shadowed by the significant and current visit taking place in Washington of Israel’s
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu….

I ruminated over the importance of the renewed support offered by our
new administration to Israel…
and to what that now may means for a nation who returns her support to the chosen
of God….

As some would flippantly quip that it means nothing,
while others would bemoan it just means more trouble,
while still others see great significance being found in this renewed support.

I have always believed in the importance of the United State and her relationship with
the Jewish state…

Yesterday we heard in his greeting to President Trump,
along with those gathered in the East Room,
Prime Minister Netanyahu offering an explanation as to why Jews are called Jews.

“Well, the Chinese are called Chinese because they come from China.
The Japanese are called Japanese because they come from Japan.
Well, Jews are called Jews because they come from Judea.
This is our ancestral homeland.
Jews are not foreign colonialists in Judea.”

The age long quest for the acknowledgement of existence.

Yet that acknowledgement continues being met with resistance…

The Middle East is a vast and formidable land..
It has always been shrouded in mystery, hostility, and suspicion.
With the seeming epicenter to be found in the obscure city of Jerusalem…

A city that is the knot in the bow tying and binding the three
greatest monotheistic religions together…
whether they like it or not…bound they are.
Yet it is a city that has been fractured and divided since its very formation…

The hostilities between Jews and Muslims is age old, dating back most notably to
the time of Abraham.
The Christians are really the upstarts in the mix, having entered the fray 2000
years ago.

So say what you will…
be it coincidence, myth, lore, legend, history, the Divine…or a combination of
each component…
The land of Judea is for the chosen of God…and peace will come…but…..

The prophet Zechariah reminds us with his words:
“Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of drunkenness to all the surrounding peoples,
when they lay siege against Judah and Jerusalem.
And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all
peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces,
though all nations of the earth are gathered against it” (Zechariah 12:2-3)

It seems that conflict will always be found in this epicenter…
only until such time comes that there is a final
collision between both Light and Darkness….

In Psalm 37 we hear David proclaiming that “the meek shall inherit the earth,
and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace”
(Psalm 37:11).
And in Leviticus we are told, “I will give peace in the land, and you shall
lie down, and none will make you afraid”
(Leviticus 26:6)

We are reminded, told, and shown that there will indeed be a day of peace in
this land that has only known dispute, war, hatred and suspicion.

So until that day of peace and reconciliation is upon us…
It may behoove each of us to consider the signs we are offered as we
look, wonder and wait…..

With Christ—“the Prince of Peace”—ruling the earth,
“there will be no end” to the peace that will envelop our planet (Isaiah 9:6-7).
As Isaiah hopefully noted,
“LORD, You will establish peace for us” (Isaiah 26:12).
And as each individual obeys God, he or she will enjoy peace.
“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You,
because he trusts in You” (verse 3).

(Life Hope & Truth)