saints and sinners

Lives of the saints are valuable not only for the virtue they reveal but also
for the less admirable qualities that also appear.
Holiness is a gift of God to us as human beings.
Life is a process.
We respond to God’s gift, but sometimes with a lot of zigzagging.
If Cyril had been more patient and diplomatic,
the Nestorian church might not have risen and maintained power so long.
But even saints must grow out of immaturity, narrowness, and selfishness.
It is because they—and we—do grow, that we are truly saints,
persons who live the life of God.

(Franciscan Media)


(icon of St Cyril of Alexandria)

I will readily admit that there are many folks out there who ardently dismiss the notion
of saints, sainthood and what all that sort of thinking entails…
With the dismissal of thought coming from both sides of the aisle…the aisle of
Believers and non-believers alike.

Non-believers just love hitting up Believers with arguments around the whole concept of
saints and sainthood…

As in who merits being let into the special club of sainthood and who doesn’t?
Who sets the determining standards and factors?
Who gets the right to say yay or nay?
Can you de-saint someone if you determine they were more screwup than up and up?
With the kicker remark being…” and so, these saints of yours, are they suppose to have
some sort of superpowers which makes them saint worthy?”

And if anyone really studies much history then the actions of many of these so-called
“saints” comes flying into question.
As in…was this person more rouge or saint or both?

We go through life hearing phrases about living a saintly or Godly life.
We hear stories of those selfless good deeds matched often with some sort of
other-worldly gifts.

There are even various denominations which are more prone to recognize the lives of saints…
those being mainly both the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox faiths…along with
Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Anglicans…
Denominations that have long been looked at sideways for this saint fascination of theirs.

Yet there are many a Protestant who will refer to Peter and Paul,
as well as a handful of others, as “Saints”

And remember… many a denomination recognizes All Saints Day on the Christian calendar.

But this isn’t a post about whether or not Saints are real or not.
Meaning the person may have been real, but should they be classified in a particular
category of Godliness?

It’s not a post about miracles or the lack thereof.
It’s not a post about virtue or perfection.
And it’s not a post about what is or what isn’t the proper Chrisitan doctrine regarding
this whole to be or not to be saint business.

Far from it.

I’ll be the first to admit that there are well known “saints” and not so well known saints.
There are saints who are recognized by both the Latin West (think Catholic) and Eastern Orthodox
faiths… while some saints are not recognized hardly at all.

There are even saints which all denominations will claim while others are claimed by
a mere handful.

All of which can make this saint business even more confusing for a Believer…and let’s
not even go over to the nonbelieving side as there is simply not enough time nor energy…

Suffice it in knowing that things can be fuzzy at best when trying to figure out
who is whom and what is what.

Yesterday I caught a posting on “the saint of the day” by the Felician Sisters CSSF blog
that gave me considerable pause to ponder…
https://cssfinternational.wordpress.com

Being a lover of history and always fascinated by those who blazed the various trails of
long ago…
those scoundrels, scallywags, and glorified who each fought the good fight while
affording all of us more or less today the freedom to worship, or not, as we please…
I was most interested in learning about this early 4th century Patriarch of Alexandria
who was later known as “Saint and Doctor of the Chruch.”

However, we should note that it wasn’t until many centuries later that Cyril actually
made the cut in both the Latin West and Eastern branches of faith…
becoming recognized by the Chruch as a saint and Doctor of the faith in 1882.

I will confess that St Cyril of Alexandria, despite his deep roots in the early Church,
was not top on my radar.

And so it wasn’t so much his teachings, his biography, his fight against heresy or even his
rush to those knee-jerk responses to that said heresy of which has left some of his actions
somewhat questionable–actions and teachings best sorted out by historians…
rather it was what the Franciscan media noted in regard to Cyril and that of his slightly
off-putting and less than saintly ways, that made the greatest impression on my reading
of the day.

The idea that both Holiness is a gift from God and that life is a process.
And that it is our response to the gift, of which comes with a great deal of “zig-zagging,”
is what this is all really about.

Hindsight, time and clarity so often provides those of us more modern-day folks
with a better vision as to what once was…
But with that hindsight, time and clarity comes a certain level of smugness and arrogance.
A smugness and arrogance that falsely allows us to think we are better than,
smarter than and wiser than those who trod before us…and in that lies a danger.

A danger in thinking that we need no longer grow.
A false sense that we are above our own immaturity and flaws.
And in turn, we become narrow in our thinking.

May Cryil, along with the host of sinners now saints,
those who have all gone before us having seen the glory of both mercy and grace,
continue to teach us that God can take that which seems hopeless, broken and
lost and turn it all around…
as in a sinner to a saint…

And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders
fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense,
which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 5:8

https://www.franciscanmedia.org/saint-cyril-of-alexandria/

thinking good

“Help Other People By Thinking Good About Them”
Elder Thaddeus

Thinking good.
Sounds easy enough.
Yet is it?

Elder Thaddeus reminds us how much the world can effect those efforts of trying to
think “good”….turning those best efforts upside down as the world works
to cloud all thoughts of goodness, kindness, benevolence and graciousness.

Just turn on the news as any and all thoughts of anything good quickly dissipate.

“A person who is entrapped in the vicious cycle of chaotic thoughts,
in the atmosphere of hades, or has only so much as touched it, feels the torments of hell.
For example, we read the newspapers or take a walk in the streets,
and afterwards we suddenly feel that something is not quite right in our souls;
we feel an atmosphere; we feel sadness.
That is because by reading all sorts of things, our mind becomes distracted and the
atmosphere of hades has free access to our minds.”

Thaddeus (born Tomislav Štrbulović) of Vitovnica, was both a Serbian and Orthodox monk.
Born in 1914 to humble working class parents, Tomislav was a sickly child who was not
expected to live much past the age of 15.
It was shortly after doctors made their grim prognosis of his supposed short earthly life,
that Tomislav entered an Orthodox monastery.
In 1935 Tomislav made his final vows and became known as Fr Thaddeus.

Thaddeus served dutifully the spiritual needs of the Serbian faithful as heirmonk,
or what is known as both priest and monk during the 1930’s and 40’s.
As a priest Thaddeus would conduct services, administer communion, hear confessions, etc.
As a monk, he would be more prone to the life of a hermit, a life of solitude and prayer
within a monastery.

During WWII the Serbs suffered grievously at the hands of both the Nazi regime as well as
the Ustaše, otherwise known as the Croatian Revolutionary Regime—
a fascist National Terrorist organization which became a puppet state of Nazi Germany
during WWII.

The Ustaše was responsible for the heinous barbaric treatment and the mass murders of
hundreds of thousands of Jews, ethnic Serbs, Romas and all those living in Yugoslavia
who were not considered “ethically pure.”

It is estimated that upwards of 500,000 Serbs and Croats living within the borders of
Yugoslavia, those in Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia, were systematically murdered in what
became known as the Serbian Genocide.
With the infamous Jasenovac Concentration Camp being known as the Auschwitz of the Balkans.

Fr Thaddeus was arrested and imprisoned by the Gestapo for refusing to stop
practicing his faith and for refusing to cease administering his office of priest.

Following the war and his eventual release,
Fr Thaddeus became the hegumen, or acting abbot, of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Belgrade.
He served at the church and several monasteries in and around Belgrade until his death in 2003.

He is both revered and respected by Serbs, Croats and Bosnians alike and many
Muslims who converted to Christianity hold Elder Thaddeus in special high esteem.

Elder Thaddeus is “credited for proposing the idea that our thoughts determine the
outcome of our lives.”

(Wikipedia)

I am always amazed by the wisdom of those who have suffered so grievously at the
hands of monsters…
those who have witnessed unspeakable horrors and yet have found the resolve and
eventually the peace to not only forgive and pardon those offenders,
but who actually go forward, teaching and reminding the rest of us what it is
that we must do in order to save not only ourselves but our sick and ailing world….

Elder Thaddeus is one such individual…

“We can keep guard over the whole world by keeping guard over the
atmosphere of heaven within us,
for if we lose the Kingdom of Heaven, we will save neither ourselves nor others.
He who has the Kingdom of God in himself will imperceptibly pass it on to others.
People will be attracted by the peace and warmth in us;
they will want to be near us, and the atmosphere of heaven will gradually pass on to them.
It is not even necessary to speak to people about this.
The atmosphere of heaven will radiate from us even when we keep silence or talk about
ordinary things.
It will radiate from us even though we may not be aware of it.”

Elder Thaddeus

hard words

As fire is not extinguished by fire, so anger is not conquered by anger,
but is made even more inflamed.
But meekness often subdues even the most beastly enemies,
softens them and pacifies them.

Tikhon of Zadonsk

300px-tikhon_of_zadonsk
(icon image of St Tikhon of Zadonsk)

“It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved.
To look upon another–
his weaknesses, his sins, his faults, his defects–
is to look upon one who is suffering.
He is suffering from negative passions,
from the same sinful human corruption from which you yourself suffer.
This is very important:
do not look upon him with the judgmental eyes of comparison,
noting the sins you assume you would never commit.
Rather, see him as a fellow sufferer,
a fellow human being who is in need of the very healing of which you are in need.
Help him,
love him,
pray for him,
do unto him as you would have him do unto you.”

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

I caught this quote this morning while playing catch up reading over several blogs.
An Orthodox monk offered the quote and when I read that very first line,
its was if St. Tikhon reached out across space and time,
grabbing me by both shoulders while proceeding to shake me to consciousness.

“It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved….”

Whoa…
Ruminate over those words for a minute…letting them sink in…

“It is a fearful thing to hate whom God has loved…”

Not just that it is a fearful thing to hate, but he adds, whom God loves.
As in doubly significant…

It is an ominous observation that transcends time.

St. Tikhon was a Russian Monk who lived in a monastery in Zadonsk during the 18th century.
He is venerated as a saint within the Orthodox Church.
And his observational words are as timely today as they were in mid 1700’s Russia.

The wisdom of those who have trod the very earth of this planet prior to our own wanderings,
have much to offer those of us today struggling to manage our lives.

Have we as Christians not been told repeatedly that God loves each of us…
each last individual one of us???

All 7,465,271,925…of us
(click on the world population meter and this number will have grown considerably
by the time you are reading these words…
it is almost frightening how fast the counter rolls off number after number…
http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/ )

Turn on any television,
read andy news feed,
watch any current banter, particularly in the US,
and you will see right fast that there is very little if any love roaming about
this great Nation of ours.

Yet St. Tikhon tells us that it is a fearful thing, as in bad…as in really really bad,
not to love those whom God loves.

And don’t we know, aren’t we told that God loves everyone…
Not just Christians…but Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, Muslims…

If you can name them, He loves them…
as well as those you can’t name.

Remember the words of the prophet…

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah 1:5

Let that sink in.

He knew you…as in you and you alone….
and He knew me and all those people now around us…

He even knows and loves those who you now hold with great disdain….

let that sink in…

For whom you hold with disdain,
for whom you loath,
for whom you distrust,
for whom you can’t stand,
for whom you claim to hate…

He, in turn, knows and loves.

And now remember the words of the saint…

Help them
Love them
Pray for them

And love them as He loves you….

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath,
for it is written:
“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:18-21

the saint, the sultan and a first in meetings…

DSCN0358
( modern grave markers within the ancient cemetery located within the grounds of St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

In 1219 a humble and simple Italian Franciscan monk ventured across raging seas and hostile lands with the hope of eventually crossing enemy lines in order to meet one of the most feared men of his time, Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt… who also happened to be the nephew of the greatly feared Muslim warrior Saladin.

This was the height of the 5th Crusade. The Holy Roman Empire was embroiled, once agin with Muslim forces, as Jerusalem and what is known to Christianity as the Holy Lands, was under Muslim rule. Pope Innocent III and his successor Pope Honorius III, along with King Andrew II of Hungary and the Grand Duke Leopold VI of Austria launched a Holy Crusade to rid Christianity’s holiest city and her lands of Muslim rule once and for all. The irony here however is that Sultan Malik al-Kamil was actually one of the more tolerant Muslim rulers and allowed Christians living in and traveling to and from Jerusalem safe passage as well as greater freedoms than had previous rulers. Gone were the days of persecution and vast bloodshed. Yet the Catholic Church and most of Europe held the belief that the only good Jerusalem was a free Jerusalem.

Francesco Bernardone, affectionately known to us today as St Francis of Assisi, according to historical record longed to travel to the land of the Saracens not only to witness to the Muslims in the name of Christ but to broker peace. There is much debate over this encounter—had Francis simply wished to die a martyr in his hope to convert the Sultan as some historical documents record or had he hoped to intervene a peaceful solution putting an end to the ages of hostility, violence and bloodshed which had existed between these two religions for hundreds of years…scholars continue to debate these varying schools of thought.

The one fact however greatly agreed upon is that the meeting was one of mutual respect and peace.
Both men departed company with a lasting impression of mutual admiration and an understanding that each honored God…albeit in his own way.

As the world sits and watches the daily violence and mayhem unfolding within the very same region of the encounter of Francis and the Sultan…in Northern Arica and the Middle East, there appears to be an endless rolling wave of violence and bloodshed that seems to have been relentless since the dawn of mankind…as those deadly ripples reverberate ever outward into a gravely unaware world.

And it is during these global dark days in which my thoughts often turn to the teachings of that humble monk from Assisi.
I wonder how St Francis would view the current crisis with the current global assault by ISIS…
As this rising new unbending rule within Islam seems to lack the wisdom and tolerance of the long ago Sultan.

There is a historic meeting which is soon to take place.
It is a meeting between the two leading men who sit on the ancient thrones of their collective branches of Christianity.
Pope Francis, the Sovereign of Vatican City and the Bishop of Rome, the leader of the western Latin Roman Catholic Church, who is the 266th pope to sit on the throne of St Peter, will meet with his Orthodox counterpart, His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, the leading patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.

This meeting is a first between these two branches of the same tree. Previous popes have attempted to meet with the Russian Orthodox hierarchy but the rift between these two “sister” churches is deep.
All of which indeed goes back to the Great Schism of 1054 when Christianity was divided between the Latin West and the Eastern Orthodox.

However with the Russian Orthodox the wariness seems to go even further as the Mother Church of Russia looks at the Latin Church as one who has long hoped to lure away the Russian faithful while the Catholic Church has long wondered how “close” the Russian Orthodox Church has been first with the ruling Tsar’s and then later with the Communist regime…with current continuing questions regarding the relationship and roll between it and Vladimir Putin’s government.

Yet it is with grave mutual concern over the rampant rise in global Christian persecution, especially in the region of Northern Africa and the Middle East, that these two holy men will put aside all differences in order to come together in a greatly historic and unprecedented union in hopes of creating a unified front, while the world watches and wonders how many more must die at the hands of barbarism before someone stands up and says enough is enough.

As the time of this historic meeting fast approaches, may our collective Christian families join together in united prayer for these two men as they prepare to meet later this month in Cuba.
May the Holy Spirit make His presence known and felt as these two men of deep Christian faith, who speak as representatives on the global stage for all of Christianity as well as humanity itself…may they find the necessary common ground within their shared faith, their love of Jesus Christ…may their two voices join as one as they speak for those who cannot speak.
May the world stop long enough to hear these two men’s collective wisdom which is steeped in the wisdom of the One True Spirit of God.
And may all Christians join together in support as we stand together as the Light shining in this every darkening world….

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35500973

Pope Paschal I, Iconoclasm and hospitality

rome-santa-prassede-apse-mosaic-pope-paschal-i-st-paul-and-st-praxedis-or-pudentiana_medium
(detail from the mosaic tiled ceiling in the Church of Santa Prassede, Rome, Italy of Pope Paschal 1)

9467-santa-cecilia-trastevere-rome-apse-mosaic-valerian
(a small detail of the mosaic tiled ceiling of St Cecilia’s Church Trastevere, Rome– of Saints Valerian and Cecilia–a church founded by Pope Paschal I)

February 11th, in the Catholic Church, is noted as the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. Undoubtedly we’ve all heard of Lourdes, that small town in extreme southern France with the mystical healing waters and the grotto dedicated to the Virgin and of her apparitions to the young peasant girl Bernadette. . . even those of us non Catholics and the most jaded among us are familiar with Lourdes. . .but who, I wonder, has heard of Pope, or should I note saint, Paschal I? — even those die hard hagiographers, those who study the lives of the saints, no doubt gloss over this lesser known saint who sits among the giants of the church.

Yet it must be noted that February 11th is also the feast day Pope Paschal 1

Why in the world would a little known pope from the 9th century, who reigned as pope for approximately 8 short years, be of any consequence to us today?
Good question.
Pope Paschal I is but a blip on the historical map of an ancient church whose history spans 2 thousand years. Some of the popes have certainly been anything but virtuous—more along the lines of scoundrels and scalawags which leaves many modern day observers, especially those of us who are not members of the Catholic Church, wondering why in the world these people (Catholics) would ever venerate, let alone consider to be of any significance, many of these unscrupulous, lecherous, self indulgent men.

Now I cannot comment upon the virtuous life of or lack thereof for Pope Paschal I.
Little is known.
He was born in Rome and served as Pope form 817- 824. His pontificacy is laced with a bit of intrigue and questions of complicity to executions, all of which lead church members, at the time of his death, to not allow the burial of his body to take place in St Peters.
Certainly sounds a bit scandalous.

It is however of one particular incident, of rather some significant importance, which has lead me to dig a bit deeper into the history of this man whose feast day the Church celebrates today. It is upon closer study that one learns that Pope Paschal I was head of the Latin Church (the western branch of Christianity) during a period known as the Byzantine Iconoclasm—or simply the time of The Iconoclast.

A dark time in history when many fanatical members of the Eastern branch of Christianity, including Emperor Leo III, decided that any and all images (Icons, statues, paintings, mosaics. . .) of God, Christ, and other Holy and sacred individuals were considered sinful, idolatry, and must be destroyed— along with many of the artists, owners as well as those who venerated such images. A dark time of vast persecution of a people who had loved the sacred images and had used them as part of their very deep personal services. Photographs, as it were, of a Savior for a people who wanted, and continue to want, to put a face with that of the Mysterious. Do we not still yearn for such images today?

It is in these dark times of such fanatical ignorance, which has been laced throughout much of the history of mankind, that I believe is one of man’s greatest faults. As an art educator and humble historian, the destruction of various Cultures and their artifacts, which simply boils down to the pure essence of the identity of a people is, in my humble opinion, catastrophic.

This ancient sort of destructive “out of sight out of mind” feeding frenzy has actually played out throughout much of history with a few of the more notable and infamous being that of the Italian Dominican monk Savonarola and his Bonfire of the Vanities, to more recent times with the book burnings of the Nazi’s during the early 1940’s, to the more recent destruction of the giant ancient carvings in Afghanistan, those known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, by the Taliban in 2001. A warped mindset that if the powerful can simply destroy the “things” and or creations of a certain people, then the people will also cease to exist. History teaches us that perseverance is more than things..

Pope Paschal I was a sympathizer to those members of the Eastern Orthodox church who not only created the sacred art images but to those who continued to want to display such in churches and in homes. He afforded those who fled the persecution in Greece and Turkey a safe haven. He actually encouraged the creation of mosaics and other sacred art by these individuals in many of the churches in Rome. This during a time of great divide between the two Churches.

This little known Pope overlooked the differences of the two bickering arms of a single faith in order to offer hospitality to those victims of persecution. It is because of the very amnesty offered by and of the preservation afford to such treasured pieces of the Christian faith by such individuals as Pope Paschal I and those long forgotten monks who smuggled many of the sacred images to remote monasteries such as St Catherine’s’ in the southern Sinai Peninsula, that those of us today may glance upon images that date to the very inception of our faith.

So on this Tuesday, February 11, may we be reminded of the lesser known names in the annuals of a history, who, such as Pope Paschal I, have helped to preserve important pieces to the puzzle of our past. To those who have demonstrated moments of brave compassion by offering safety to those suffering the persecution of faith.

Hospitality, compassion, benevolence—words to take to heart on this chilly February morning.

Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step towards dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.
Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B

Symbolism

DSC01123

I can remember sitting in my 10th grade English class reading either Main Street by Sinclair Lewis or Our Town by Thornton Wilder—either way, there was a story about some fictionalized small American early 20th century town and our teacher was keen on having us unmask all of the symbolism.

I recall rolling my eyes, once again, wondering why this couldn’t be just some sort of story that simply means what it says and says what it means—does there always have to be “symbolism” behind everything!? Can’t it just be a story for the sake of a story? Why can’t people just write what they mean without having to hide it, leaving the poor reader (in this case me) to not only read something (I) deemed as boring but tasked with, on top of everything else, trying to figure out what on earth the author was trying to say.

To this day I tend to be rather direct in my own thoughts, words and deeds, eschewing hidden meanings…but this is not a story about that. I am also a person who is now very intrigued by symbolism but not necessarily that which involves conspiracy theories, bizarre ancient cults, free masons, or what Leonardo da Vinci was attempting to tell the world in buried secrets throughout his art work …this rather, is a story about The Holy Trinity— The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit and my relationship with this group of Three. Talk about symbolism…

As a Christian, I am here to say that I learn something new each and every day about what it means to be a Christian…from not only the history of our Faith, but to what it means to live one’s life as such, not to mention how much I learn from others who are living examples of this thing we call our Christian Faith…. there is always something new to learn and encounter.

Our Faith is a living Faith—which I think equates to ever growing, ever changing, ever moving. As we live, our Faith lives—it lives through our actions, our words and our deeds—that’s why, when Mother Teresa says for us to “spread the love of God through our lives but only use words when necessary,” she is speaking to the fact that God’s love is present to others through our actions, by our “doing”—the spoken word is merely secondary…as it is our actions, and actions alone, which speak volumes. Unfortunately many of us forget this fact during the living of our oh so busy lives…

To understand my Faith, I need to look at the three components, which makes it so vastly different from all of the other religions of the world and that is the concept of the Trinity—The Father, The Son, and the Holy Ghost/ Spirit. The Three in One. But how can that be? How are three, one? This is an age old question that is asked, and has been asked down through the ages, by many believers as well as non-believers. It is a perplexing mystery and yet so simple.

The omnipotent God and Creator, the Alpha and Omega Son and Savior, the ever-present Spirit and Helper or Paraclete. As I am not versed in theology, I am not here to debate the roles and existence of the Godhead Trinity. I am not here to debate the glitch in the progression of that Trinity which brings contention between western and eastern Christians; I am, however, here to tell you that I marvel in the very existence of the Three in One.

It is in my marveling that leads me to often yearn to have a tangible connection. I yearn to make a connection. A connection with that Godhead of Three. I yearn to explore the beauty of the unity of the Three in One. It is a complex layering of relationships. There is a “connectiveness” which in turn yearns to bring me in to that very connection and bond of the Three.

There are many aspects to me and to my little blog, as the blog is just a bit of an extension as to what makes me, me. I love to cook, I love to travel, I currently have a broken ankle, I am a retired art teacher, I like sharing with others, I feel, that even though I may be a retired educator, I still feel as if I have things to “teach”. I have an aging father who is dealing with a fading memory. I have a son who is working very hard to finish his degree, and he has a fiancée,so that means I have a daughter-n-law to be, I have a husband who works very hard to run his small business, but at the core of all of that is the single fact that I am a Christian. I am a part of an ancient and living Faith.

In my art I have often tried to reach towards the Divine. Not on some grand scale as those bigger than life artists have in the past. Not like some esoteric new age artist. No, I have merely just wanted to make a connection between me, the created, who yearns to know the Creator.

There is a contemporary song that has a line in it that really strikes at a chord within me when I hear it. It is from Love Song for A Savior by Jars of Clay:

Someday He’ll call her and she will come running
And fall in His arms and the tears will fall down and she’ll pray,
“I want to fall in love with You”

(here is a link to a lovely little You Tube video based on the song, it is a song about the loving arms of Jesus, unlike the depiction used in the on-line Christian dating service of the arms being that of a couple—totally wrong use of the song, but I digress http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_wb38KMXLs )

I often feel as if that song is talking to me… I simply don’t quite yet understand, I don’t quite get it… but one day I will and when I do, I will run into those outstretched arms…those arms that will actually be there—tangible arms…. All I want is to run into His arms and finally feel that embrace of unconditional love. To simply rest in that embrace. The embrace that knows all of the junk and crap I carry and doesn’t care. The embrace that is bigger and stronger than any fret or worry, any pain or sorrow I have ever known. The thought of such is overwhelming to me—it brings me to tears. I want that—I somehow think all humans yearn for that—and that is the bond of Father and child.

Many hardened hearts however hear such and call it sentimental gibberish. They scoff at the idea of a “loving” Father, a resurrected Son/Savior, a descending wind left to “Help”— This however is not gibberish, this is all about Grace, pure and simple… but as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us, it is a costly Grace. Not all of us wish to take on that type of cost in order to follow. Following does require much from us, it requires our very being—and it is a struggle for Believers each and every day.

So I suppose, when working with my art, I enjoy exploring that “feeling” as well as for the use of symbolism, which makes up much of the Christian Faith. I appreciate the relationship Christianity shares with Judaism. I think a lot of Christians forget that Jesus was not a Christian—he was a very devout and religious Jew. Therefore our Faiths are inextricably linked. I like exploring that eternal link between our two faiths.

And as one who loves history, I like exploring the history of our Faith—from our earliest Roman and Greek roots to our links with the Celts as well as for our bonds with the eastern cultures of the Orthodox Christians—as there is more that binds us rather than divides us—I just wish we could all remember that.

I am also one who deeply and greatly appreciates the depth of the rich Christian traditions—I greatly appreciate those bells and whistles, or bells and scents if you will, of the early church. No modernism for me—there is a mystery that is still retained in our rituals and rites, based on and within the early baby church, which speaks to an ancient chord in my soul. The mystery of what takes place during the service of the Eucharist—the Transubstantiation, the Mystery, the Change, the Trans-Elementation, μεταστοιχείωσις metastoicheiosis, is just that, a mystery—one that I cannot necessarily ever understand as I am the created and not the Creator.

It is not for me to pick apart this Holy Union and attempt putting it under a microscope for definition or worldly explanation of knowledge. God remains a mystery—and so He should. He has broken it down in terms that you and I can understand—there is Love, Action, Compassion, Empathy, Concern, Sacrifice, and a few others words that put this Mystery in a language we can better understand.

I will never totally understand, as it is not for me to do so, but it is for me to wonder, to exalt, to glorify, to love, to share and I hope I do so, in some small tangible way for others…….

This latest piece I completed, which is still waiting to be framed, is about 3ft by 3 ft. It explores visually the connection of The Trinity—tying in aspects of all 3 into one piece.
It is a cutout, layered piece that symbolizes the depth of layers to our relationship with the Godhead Trinity. A picture does not do it justice as the literal depth of the piece is lost.

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These other framed pieces are also large and unfortunately as they are framed it is difficult photographing them due to reflections and glare.

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(all art and Photographs by Julie Cook)

What’s in a name?

If you have read any of my previous posts, you may be detecting a bit of a trend, if you will, between my name and me. Legal name, nickname, biological name, adopted name, married name…names, names, and more names!!

It is obvious that a name is very important. It is important because it creates identity. It tells others who we are. It tells others a little about who we are. It tells others from where we originate in relationship to a particular location on the globe. A name is very telling.

Remember the old defiant saying we use to say as kids?…sticks and stones may break our bones but words can never hurt us. Well I’m not so sure about that. If you were ever called an ugly name, as a child, by other children, I guarantee you can still recall the name, the place it was stated, who said it –plus, I can even bet that the same sad uncomfortable pain you felt back then, can still be felt as you read this today. Name-calling creates a negative identity, one that can have a lasting effect.

As soon-to-be new parents, part of the joy and anticipation of the nine months of waiting is deciding on what to name the baby. Truth be told, many a young girl, and I bet a few boys as well, have always dreamt of what they will one day name their future child, even as that event is many years away.

Fathers-to-be usually wish to bestow a part of the family legacy on future generations by naming a son after themselves, or after their own father or grandfather—hence junior or the III. Mother’s sometimes opt for a family name as well or the name of a dear friend. The new moniker carries loves, honor, and respect. Sometimes even originality but I don’t wish to get into that debate, as the news is full of kids having names that actually force families to court to create legality or legitimacy to a particular chosen name that is, say, off the beaten path of names.

There can also be, however, the lasting negative connotation of names. Who wants to be named Judas, or Hitler? A name that was once ok and common, by the act of one individual can alter how the world views that name from that day for evermore—always casting shadows on anyone who carries such a name in a future generation.

Those of the religious communities, particularly within the Catholic and Orthodox faith, usually take on a new name upon their ordination or consecration—particularly those seeking a life in the monastic communities. The choice of name helps to create a new identity in the new chosen life. The leaving of the old self behind, a death in many ways, giving way to a renewed birth—a new life, a new identity, a new future. There is the hope of being able to live up to the new name, as it is usually the name of a Saint—big shoes to fill.

We recently witnessed the importance of names, as just last week, the world waited with bated breath, as to what name our new pope would choose. The name Francis has resounding possibilities—will he live up to the chosen name remains one of the questions we all wonder as we have placed so much strength and hope in this particular name of choice. And why is that? Is it because of one Francis who lived so long ago? One person with one name cast his stone to the waters and the ripples continue to reverberate to this day. Yes. There is power in a name.

Many of those of the Jewish Orthodox Faith will not say the word that we so often take for granted…God. Nor will they not write the name; it will appear often as G space d. It is too powerful a name for us mere mortals to utter. And so it use to be. More about this momentarily.

One of my most favorite quotes by Mother Teresa is: “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.” I used that on my school e-mail as my tag line. It was important to me that those of us, especially in Education, to be reminded of the most important part of our job—creating lasting relationships with our learners/ students.

In a time that has only created suspicion and paranoia about the adults who are entrusted to tend to and care for children I thought, and still think, it very important that those strong bonds be able to continue to be forged. And those bonds and relationships all begin with the learning of a name.

On the first day of school the roll is called and there is acknowledgment made to the called name and it is at this important moment a relationship begins…

As I think about the beginning of relationships, I think of Moses meeting God for the first time…when that most of important relationships began. It is hard for me to even imagine such an encounter. But because of that relationship, I now have a relationship with the very same God.

As Moses came upon the burning bush—a conversation began. Moses was uncertain as to whom he was speaking. From the story in Exodus (Ex 3), we all know that the voice and the presence form the burning bush is that of God, but can you imagine…you are out in a barren land (look at pictures of this area of Sinai—barren sums it up pretty well) tending to some sheep or cattle. All they have to eat is some dried brush. Jagged mountains, dust, rocks, sky is all that surrounds you. Suddenly you see what you think is a brush fire.

Upon closer inspection…it is not a brush fire per se. A voice from somewhere breaks your intent curiosity. It tells you to stop. Take off your shoes as you are on hallowed ground. Perhaps the shoes separate your being from touching the hallowed ground. There can be nothing that separates you from this Presence. Perhaps the shoes denote some sort of disrespect. You take off the shoes.

Moses had grown up in the court of Pharaoh. He knows all about respecting authority. He knows all about telling someone to do something and it is expected that whatever task it is will be done. He knows of rank and order. He also knows about suffering and torment.

God begins a conversation with this wayward shepherd, this lost soldier, and this lost child. As the conversation continues, Moses is told he needs to go back to the others of his “clan”, his people, the people of Israel and God’s people and “lead” them. A tall order, but Moses knows that when one is given an order by Authority, one must obey. It’s the others he’s a little worried about.

So he says to the bush (God), “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of our fathers has sent me to you’, and they ask me ‘what is his name?’ what shall I say to them? God says to Moses,” I AM WHO I AM.”

WOW, that’s pretty powerful. I Am Who I Am. No more explanation needed.

‘And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

So now I come to the whole gist of this little lesson in names.

Our society has become, shall we say, a bit more casual of society then previous generations. We don’t possess the same sense of need to be formal which can in turn be perceived as a lack of respect. We are casual with what we call one another. Names used as a general term of recognition today, generations ago were seen as an insult, a slur, a reason to fight. I don’t like this casualness.

We take names for granted. They no longer hold the authority that they once did. Street names take on greater importance than that of a birth name. It’s as it we have multiple personalities. The birth name is one person, the nickname, street name, the stage name …is someone else entirely. I don’t know if this is a good thing.

Over the years I have read a good bit about the Eastern Orthodox Church. Our Christian cousins. They remained a mystery to me—something seen as foreign. I knew the succession from Catholicism on down the western Christian family tree to the Protestant denominations we see today, but it was the Orthodox who I didn’t quite understand. And that I feel is a shame as Western and Eastern Christians have so much to share and offer one another.

So I immersed myself in reading the history and beliefs of these “cousins”. One thing I’ve discovered is that the Orthodox have a tremendous reverence for the name of Jesus, for the very power that exists within that name. I had not quite looked at it that way before.

As this society, of which I live, takes that name, and all other names for granted– the power it holds lessens. Not so much in reality of the name of Jesus, but in today’s perception of the name.

How many times do you hear someone say “Jesus Christ” as a form of frustration or anger?—a phrase clumped into the 4 letter word category. (and don’t get me started on the whole casual use of foul language in our society. People argue, “it’s just a word”…yes, well, words have meaning and power and should not be uttered with abandon and disregard—and others will argue “they only have power if you let them”…well let’s go back to the historical lesson we have here, shall we, and see what the Bush had to say about words, names and actions…but then you’d need to believe in the Power of a bush wouldn’t you—-I do.)

I suppose I was convicted that I had/have not taken the name as reverently as I should. My generation has been inundated with the irreverent use of the word. Form “the church lady” on Saturday Night Live to those oh so Southern television evangelists, from days gone by, who would slap people on their foreheads spouting “in the name of JEESSUS, be healed”…we make fun, we laugh, we lessen the power and importance of the name and of the Person.

I realized that I had become perhaps jaded and cynical– having lost some of the respect and awe that this name, Yeshua יֵשׁוּעַ holds for me and should hold for me, as it should hold for all of us who claim to be believers. We cannot make Him small but we have tried. We have tried to bottle Him up, make Him tiny and make Him our “friend”, our feel good drug, if you will, our quick fix, our fashion statement…but He is greater and deserves to be treated as such.

And so it was with the learning of an ancient prayer that is but simple and yet very powerful. I had originally intended to write about The Jesus Prayer, but I felt to understand the importance of the name would be the issue today more so than the history of the prayer. Once I was reintroduced to this oh so Powerful of Names, I came to claim this prayer, as countless numbers of believers before me, as a powerful tool.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on me a sinner”. It is a prayer that evokes deep feelings and yearnings. It is direct. An arrow prayer if you will. A prayer that is used to bring an inward sense of stillness and quietness for one’s very being. It is a prayer of focus and control. It is a cry in desperation. It is a soothing balm to a broken and contrite spirit.

I will write at a later date more about the prayer, its use, and its history. But for today, this Monday in the midst of Lent, I will leave you with the importance of a name and of the importance of a prayer. A prayer that calls upon the most important Name of names. May you find it as powerful as I have and may it bless you as it has blessed me.