Song of Triumph

“We thank Him less by words than by the serene happiness of silent acceptance. It is our emptiness in the presence of His reality, our silence in the presence of His infinitely rich silence, our joy in the bosom of the serene darkness in which His light holds us absorbed, it is all this that praises Him.”
― Thomas Merton

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou – Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Emily Bronte

Eternal truth, eternal righteousness, eternal love; these only can triumph, for these only can endure.
Joseph Barber Lightfoot

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(the first butterfly of the new season, a Tiger swallowtail amongst the quince / Julie Cook / 2015)

We greet this brand new morning not as we normally would every other morning of every other day. . .
But rather, this new morning, this new day, is greeted with great expectancy. . .
We greet this morning not simply as a new day through old cloudily lenses but rather we greet this morning with the clarity of new sight.
For today marks the beginning of a day of transformation.

It is as if we, you and I, have emerged under the wing of the Victor from deep within the sealed dark and dusty tomb of Death
Eyes now clear, wide opened and focused are anxious to behold the brilliance of a new dawn.

And we greet this new morning with a song. . .
We sing our song in the face of all that was broken, damaged and dying.
For ours is the song of hope, of life and of Love

For what was fragmented, splintered, lost and laid in a tomb to rot has been found, recovered, repaired and made brilliantly whole.
For this new morning has been paved with wholeness. . .
Life indeed is now transformed
As we triumphantly sing this new morning’s song of a clear and brilliant Alleluia

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
The strife is o’er, the battle done,
the victory of life is won;
the song of triumph has begun.
Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
The powers of death have done their worst,
but Christ their legions hath dispersed:
let shout of holy joy outburst.
Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
The three sad days are quickly sped,
he rises glorious from the dead:
all glory to our risen Head!
Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
He closed the yawning gates of hell,
the bars from heaven’s high portals fell;
let hymns of praise his triumphs tell!
Alleluia!

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Lord! by the stripes which wounded thee,
from death’s dread sting thy servants free,
that we may live and sing to thee.
Alleluia!

Words Symphonia Sirenum Selectarum, 1695
first three lines adapted from Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestria, 1525-1594
arranged by William Henry Monk, 1823-1889

What is your mission statement?

And I believe that what I believe
Is what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me. . .

excerpt from the song Creed
Rich Mullins

“All I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I hold another creed, which no one ever taught me, and which I seldom mention, but in which I delight, and to which I cling, for it extends hope to all; it makes eternity a rest – a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss. Besides, with this creed, I can so clearly distinguish between the criminal and his crime; I can so sincerely forgive the first while I abhor the last; with this creed, revenge never worries my heart, degradation never too deeply disgusts me, injustice never crushes me too low. I live in calm, looking to the end.”
― Charlotte Brontë

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(deer hair caught in a barbed wire fence / Julie Cook / 2015)

It seems as if every business, corporation, agency, assembly, organization, all across the planet, has some sort of mission statement, guiding principle placard or pledge of delivery—some sort of proclamation of purpose, commitment of services rendered or a list of the promises made– ready to be executed by and to both its members and or consumers or customers.

Everyone it seems these days, needs some sort of directional treatise.
A form of purpose-driven compass that is clear, concise, transparent and “consumer friendly”. . .
Nothing hidden
No duplicity
No secret agendas
As in a “it is what it is” sort of realism which seems necessary in which to conduct bushiness, function as a corporation, or basically to serve ones clients, consumers, stakeholders, stockholders–i.e., the general public.

In the year 49AD there was a meeting of the early church fathers–Paul, Barnabas as well as various Bishops and Apostles. The new upstart “religion,” or cult as some leaders of the day observed, those who were continuing to follow the teachings of the Nazarene, were finding their numbers of followers growing exponentially. Direction, teaching and leadership was quickly becoming paramount. The tradition of oral teaching was the norm. The majority of people were not versed in written communication or literacy. Reading and writing had been entrusted to the rabbis, Sanhedrin and Roman prefects.

There had to be some sort of cohesiveness or unifying factor in which all followers could claim, relate to, and use as a basis of their faith.
Yet there was still the conundrum of the importance of the Law of Judaism.
Jesus, a devout Jew himself, had spoken of the importance of the Law. And yet His teachings, His death and subsequent resurrection had turned some of the Law upside down by bringing forth “amendments” to the older Laws of Moses. Not only were there commandments of what not to do such as the forbidding of sexual promiscuity or any unnatural sexual act, the eating of raw uncooked meat, the eating of sacrificial animals and the drinking of animal’s blood, the making and worshiping of idols, the forbidding of stealing, committing murder, infanticide, abortion, etc– there were now commandments of what a believer was to do such as loving and treating others as one would wished to be treated and the belief that all are called to be followers, not just Jew, but Gentile as well, and therefore all that one must do to follow is to be willing to pick up one’s cross and claim as well as live the teachings of Jesus.

It was time for a verbal proclamation of belief to be firmly established.
A specific written treatise which could be held up for all followers and non followers alike to be able to hear, see, read, proclaim, as well as live.
It was to be the cornerstone of the infant Christian church.

The declaration known as the Apostles Creed was born:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,
And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Yet as was typical of any new teaching, or in this case a new way of life, there came those who wanted to craft and sculpt the new Church as their own. Allowing ego, pride, misguidance, selfishness, avarice, disbelief, or simple ignorance to filter in and dilute the purity of the given Word. There were those who waged their own agendas against what was considered to be the Truth.
Discord, quarrels, uneasiness, disagreements were becoming rampant.
Heresies began to abound.

In 325 a new council meeting was requested by leading bishops wishing to quell the latest rising of heretic teachings. These were the men of trial and tribulation. Many having endured persecution, torture and often escaping with barely their very lives. Men who were greatly invested in the necessary and correct direction in which to set the future of the Christian faith.
Emperor Constantine, who was the leading Holy Roman Emperor, oversaw the historic meeting.

Three hundred years had past since the first council in Jerusalem.
Bishops, deacons and priests from Rome to Palestine, from Asia Minor to Hispania, from Greece to Gaul, from Georgia to the Danube region, from Armenia to Syria all converged in Nicaea, present day Turkey, in order to silence growing heretical teachings and to finally bring a cohesive understanding to the doctrine of the Trinity. Finally establishing that all Christians would be on the proverbial same page.

Time was also allotted to the sorting out of various directional issues such as deciding on one agreed calculation to be used in order to determine the yearly date for the Easter celebration as well as considering cases of extreme spiritual demonstrations of self denial such as self castration. Extreme directions believers felt compelled to follow as signs of deep devotion and as a way for attaining a higher level of “holiness” which were all more self destructive than spiritually edifying.

The Council was in session for over a month.
Not only were new Church cannons, or laws, established— such as the prohibition of extreme demonstrations of asceticism (i.e. self castration); the establishing of a specific process for the ordination of clergy; the forbidding of young women, while visiting alone, to enter the home or chamber of priests; the forbidding of usury among clergy; a specified “proper” procedure for holy Baptism; as well as the establishing of a new creed.

Enter the Nicene Creed.

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The cornerstone and guiding principle of a young church.
A lasting, declaration of belief.
A creed written approximately 1700 years ago, recited and unchanged to this day.
A unifying statement for all Christians–Catholic, Orthodox and the various Protestant denominations to be recited and proclaimed.

And as Rich Mullins so aptly stated. . .
“. . . I believe what I believe
Is what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me
It is the very truth of God and not
The invention of any man. . .”

Yes, it is indeed making me. . .

The Relic, the Mystery and there’s just something about those eyes

What needs my Shakespeare for his honoured bones,
The labor of an age in pilèd stones,
Or that his hallowed relics should be hid
Under a star-y-pointing pyramid?
Dear son of memory, great heir of fame,
What need’st thou such weak witness of thy name?”

― John Milton

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“Any relic of the dead is precious, if they were valued living.”
Emily Bronte

“Like Roman Catholics, they (Eastern Orthodox) believe that the grace of God present in the saints’ bodies during life remains active in their relics when they have died, and that God uses these relics as a channel of divine power and an instrument of healing.”
Timothy Ware (Metropolitan Kallistos Ware) (1993-04-29)

“Orthodox Christians respect and venerate the relics of the Saints (bodily remains) because the body along with the soul is redeemed and sanctified; one day it will rise from the grave to be with God forever.”
Anthony M.Coniaris (2010-12-29)

In yesterday’s post I had shared a little bit about my love and
fascination with history—
as it is all basically a lengthy story–and who doesn’t like a good story?
I also shared the tale of a chair and a love I have with and for antiques—
namely those things I’ve “inherited” along this life’s journey of mine–all from grandmothers and mother.

I left you with a bit of tantalizing intrigue asking you to stay tuned
as there was a quasi Part 2 to the story—

This is a story about a visit to the big monthly Antiques extravaganza known
as Scott’s Antique Market held at the old convention center located south of
the city near Atlanta’s massive airpot.
The show comes to town the second weekend of each month.
Two enormous “convention” centers are packed to the brim with every sort
of antique and dealer imaginable.
Even the outside areas are packed with a more flea market sort of vibe,
but equally interesting.

You want to find a matching plate to the set of dishes your
grandmother gave you years ago?
It’s here.

Looking for the perfect English corner cabinet for the living room?
It’s here.

Looking for the perfect old new rug for the family room?
It’s here.

You need a piece of silver or silverware?
It’s here.

Wanting to find a special gift for that impossible person to buy for?
It’s here—whatever it is, it’s here!

Old toys, jewelry, furniture–big and small, gadgets, cookware, figurines,
pottery, glassware, silver, trinkets and treasure–
it’s a fun way to spend a day hunting and rummaging.
And usually for the right price, it, whatever it is,
is going home with you.

As June’s show fell just after our big wedding event down in Savannah,
my aunt, who was staying with us throughout the big hoopla, wanted to take in Scott’s before she had to return back home to south Florida.

I also had two dear friends who wanted to tag along with us on this little antique adventure. Rummaging for treasure is always more fun with more eyes to take
it all in–
so off we all went looking for nothing in particular,
but thinking that we may stumble upon some little treasure we just couldn’t
live without.
Little did I know. . .

This show is a huge draw for the curious, the shopper and the dealer.
Buses come from all over the South.
There was a bus for the Junior League of Birmingham,
a group down from Nashville, folks from North Carolina,
Mississippi, etc—a regular “picker’s” paradise to be sure.

Once we found a parking spot, we made our way into the cavernous market.
We wandered up and down the aisles poking and prodding through the various booths,
tables and stalls when suddenly, out of no where,
a rather large and very worn crucifix catches me off guard.
I make a bee line for a closer inspection.

I stand.
I stare.
I marvel.

Remember, I am an art teacher who loves her art history and who possesses
a strong penchant for Byzantine, Renaissance and Baroque time periods—
early Christian art.
The cross and figure of Christ had seen much better days, which was making me even
more curious as to its story–
yet there was just something in that face which held me in my place.

I took a peek at the price.
“Maybe she’ll take less” I muse in a silent attempt to reassure myself.
At which point the owner ambles over. . .“it’s French you know.”
“Yes, I thought so.”
“Plus it’s a relic”
“Really?
Where?
How?”

At which point she begins to explain the part of the story that she knows.
Located at the base of the cross, or what the cross is actually mounted on,
is a small wooden and glass enclosed box which holds an ancient nail.
She gently tilts the crucifix back so I can have a better view.

“When I found this, the glass was black with age and grime,
I didn’t realize it was a box”
she continued tilting the cross back
as she continued with her story.
“It seems that the monastery which originally possessed the cross,”
a monastery she now has no idea as to its identity,
“had a nail which they actually carried to Jerusalem,” or so she tells me,
“to be blessed and to be held to the purported nails of the True Cross.”

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“Ah, a third degree relic” I interject.
“Yes, how do you know that?”
“A third degree relic is an item that has been brought in contact with a purported original relic in order to receive various graces.”
“Are you Catholic?”
“No”
I lightly chuckle, “I just know these kind things”

I ask what she’d take for it as my aunt and friends now stand and stare
at me as in a ‘have you lost your freaking mind’ kind of stare.
One of them even asking
“is this something you would want to look at every day…all that blood and agony?!”
“Oh yes, very much so” I murmur as if in a trance.

She then tells me her bottom line price, which she explains is way down from the
original price— but she has had it a while and as she is receiving a new shipment
of items from France, she needs to “clean house”
I tell her I need to walk around a bit in order to think about it.

We walk around about 40 more minutes.
“Don’t you like this tureen” my aunt almost implores holding up a
Mulberry ware covered bowl, as in, ‘get this china pot instead of that dilapidated old cross, it’s cheaper and is not so ‘falling apart.’
“Yes, it’s nice but I don’t need more china” this as my mind is still churning over the crucifix.

I’m now mindlessly walking around, rationalizing and ruminating in my head
about having saved up for a new purse and wallet, something of a small treat.
Thinking to myself that perhaps I should forego something as trite as a new
purse for a treasured piece of history.
Something so terribly personal and immensely moving.

I haven’t had a new purse in several years…
but who needs a new purse when I can take home this ancient crucifix…
it certainly won’t go out of style I muse.
There’s nothing wrong with my old bag.
This will be an investment in history.
Plus there’s just something about those eyes…”

This battle waging in my mind as we continue wandering about the maze of booths and dealers.

“Ya’ll can look around here, I’m going back to that booth to ask about the cross.
Swing by when you finish here”
this as I practically call out over my shoulder as
hurriedly I make my way back to find the cross.

Once I re-find the booth and the owner, I tell her I’ll take the cross.
She warily studies me for a moment.
I think she originally thought I had intentions of reselling it.
Probably wondering why someone like me, not looking to be the overtly
religious type as in no collar or wimple,
would want such a piece for personal use.

“It’s beautiful” I sincerely tell her.
I proceed explaining that despite not being Catholic, I have a profound draw to the Catholic Faith and that I am, believe it or not, a very devout believer.
The cross, the lifelike plaster image, with it’s peeling paint and overtly dusty and fragile appearance, calls to my heart.
The face, his face, his eyes draw me inward, beckoning, calling.
“I am here, I suffer, I bleed, I do this for you. . .”

She then tells me that it’s her understanding that many of the churches in France,
just prior to the Nazi’s invasion,
took items such as this cross out of the churches,
hiding them in fear of looting or even worse, desecration and destruction.
It’s her understanding that this cross was moved and never made its way back home.
She proceeds to show me how to open the box, showing me the nail which is anchored to
a crumbling and faded burgundy velvet pad by a small piece of old wire.
Ever so gently she retrieves a yellowed folded piece of very fragile paper.
It is a certificate of authenticity–written in Latin and stamped,
proclaiming the nail to be a relic of the true nail of the true cross–
dated 1883.

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After I get the cross home, I immediately and precariously climb up on a stool,
perched on the counter, in order to place it high on top of the book case–
a perfect place for anyone coming in the house to see it.
It’s also a perfect place keeping it safe.
But just before placing it up and away,
I retrieve the fragile piece paper from the box, one final time,
in order to make a copy so I might do a little research of my own

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My current school of thought is that the monks only carried the nail to Rome,
to a church named for Jerusalem, but I could be wrong.
The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem—
Latin: Basilica Sanctae Crucis in Hierusalem.

Many more questions than answers to be sure.
I would love to somehow figure out where this cross came from–
what church or monastery.
Wouldn’t it be marvelous to be able to find its original home,
returning it to its rightful place of reverence and worship?!
My new goal and quest.

I’ll be keeping you posted to be sure—but for right now I need to go decipher a little bit of Latin. . .

Frozen in time

Cold in the earth — and the deep snow piled above thee,
Far, far removed, cold in the dreary grave!
Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee,
Severed at last by Time’s all-severing wave?

Excerpt taken from Emily Bronte’s Remembrance

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(the frozen bird bath, Julie Cook 2013)

This time of year always seems to usher in a bit of wistful nostalgia. Not only does the calendar alert us that Christmas is nary upon us, we also happen to have a birthday in this house as my son is turning 25 later this week. As he was a scheduled Christmas baby, who decided to arrive a week early, this has always been his favorite time of year and holiday. Happily or sadly, I fear, I must confess that each and every year as the calendar rolls around to this particular week, I cannot help but feel as if a part of me is somewhat frozen in time as I, ever so sweetly, recall those years which now seem so long ago. . . when he was simply a little boy.

Once upon a time a trip to McDonalds and a Happy Meal was a magical event. Spending time watching his favorite cartoons, be it Spiderman, Batman or the Ninja Turtles, was some of the best time I recall spending during that delightful time of innocence oh so long ago—as he and I would sit together on the couch or floor mesmerized by the long serving super heroes of what seems to have been each or our childhoods (sans those turtles for my youth).

With his dad always working and our living in a different community from the one we worked in and attended school, and with his being an only child, there was a great deal of time, for better or worse, spent together. Today he may look back and think he was a lonely child or somewhat sheltered, I look back seeing the time as simply what our world was, and relish the memory of the close bound the 3 of us shared.

The crisis of a child, which at the time can seem monumental, was most always easily fixed by some extra attention, hugs, favorite meals or a trip for ice-cream. Sadly I must admit that those crises which occur today are not nearly as easily remedied or alleviated. What I thought broke my heart for him when he was 5, truly breaks my heart now in the shadow of 25. At this grown up age, in my parental frustrations, as well as sorrowful regret, no longer do I know how to readily fix things. Such is the burden, I fear, of mothers world wide. All of this as I am reminded of another mother, long ago, who eventually bore the weight of the world as she held her newborn son under the light of a single star.

And so it is with such thoughts, which rise to the surface from this mother’s constantly wounded heart, when gazing upon a frozen bird bath in the throws of a winter morning. Thankfully, however, I am sustained by the knowledge of the eventual thawing and giving way to , once again, free flowing streams of water–as the thaw gives way to free waters, so too does it give way to the hope of soothed hearts, mended dreams, and bright futures.

‘Stop your crying and wipe away your tears.
All that you have done for your children will not go unrewarded.
They will return from the enemy’s land.
There is hope for your future.
Your children will come back home.
I, the Lord, have spoken’.

Jeremiah 31: 16-17
Good News Bible