the nagging issue of a name

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,
but I’ve never been able to believe it.
I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables


(the crest for my maiden name, Nichols)

If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you know that I’ve written a good bit
about my adoption…and that of a quest.

It has been a roller coaster of emotions with the exhilaration of discoveries–
all of which have been met by the slamming of doors, tightly shut…
all the way to the bewildering opening of different doors, much more welcoming.

In all of this is a name…
or more aptly, two names.

A before name and an after name.

The ‘now’ name of Julie and the ‘then’ name of Sylvia Kay…

Two names for one person that were exchanged after only three short months.

The Julie side of all of this has had the staying power of nearly 60 years while the
initial Sylvia Kay side was used but for a short time…

The whys and significance of Sylvia Kay remain unknown but to one.

Albeit a brief name, it none the less has most certainly remained in the recesses of the
conscience of a certain 83-year-old woman.
She has slammed shut the door but none the less has obviously allowed this name to fester…
just as it has festered in my own thoughts.

Yet Sylvia Kay was the “before” name.

The name following, which was officially Mary Julia and shortened by Dad to ‘Julie’,
has been the ‘after’ name—a name that has remained for all these many years…
the name with the real staying power of identity.

And so it was this morning, as I was reading a verse from the Bible, that I noticed
the real importance of before and after names.

I read a verse in which Abraham was referred to as Abram.

I am obviously no Bible scholar.
I was raised an Episcopalian and we all know Episcoplains are not Old Testament,
let alone Bible, aficionados.

I noted that it seemed odd as I am more familiar with the name Abraham
but I figured it must indeed be a “before” name for Abraham.

A sort of ‘before God encounter’ name.

And it seems that I was more correct than I realized.

You’ve often heard me quote and share the teachings of a simple
Benedictine monk from Australia who is currently living in a monastery in England.
He is best known as Father Hugh—Father Hugh Somerville-Knapman OSB

The good Father’s post from yesterday opened with a picture of the
Jerusalem-version lectionary used throughout England and Wales.
Father Hugh asks all viewers if they can spot what it is that is the glaring mistake…
a mistake that is actually used twice.

The glaring mistake is found in a name.
The name Abraham.

Because of where this name falls in reference to the before and after encounter
of Abram with God, it is indeed, incorrect.
Instead of the after name Abraham, the Lectionary should use the before name of Abram.

Before Abram encounters God, he is known as “exalted Father”
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
Creator of heaven and earth.
And praise be to God Most High,
who delivered your enemies into your hand.”

Genesis 14:19-20

After his encounter and ensuing covenant with God, Abram becomes Abraham, “father of many nations.”

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said,
“I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless.
Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him,
“As for me, this is my covenant with you:
You will be the father of many nations.
No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham,
for I have made you a father of many nations.
I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.
I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your
descendants after you for the generations to come,
to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.

Genesis 17:1-7

Why does any of this matter?
What is the big deal about a before and after name?

Well, it matters a great deal…
For we see time and time again throughout the Bible, names matter.
Names have meaning…purposeful meanings.
And in this case, the case of Abram, it matters because of the implications
of a covenant.

A covenant being an agreement.

And this agreement between Yahewh and Abram has lasting implications for all
generations to come…of which include both you and me.

On the other hand, my little before and after names are much smaller in scope.
They matter really only to me…and perhaps one other.
Mine is a simple matter of why…
Abram’s before and after is a matter of the beginning of reconciliation which
in turn leads to the salvation of all mankind.

Yes, big or small, names matter.

Please see the link below for Father Hugh’s most excellent teaching post

What’s in a Name

“you may be an undigested bit of beef…..”

“You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese,
a fragment of underdone potato.
There’s more of gravy than of grave about you,
whatever you are!”

Charles Dickens / Scrooge in a Christmas Carol

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(Alastair Sim as Scrooge in a 1951 adaptation of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol)

An undigested bit of beef, a piece of moldy cheese…
a sour stomach due to indigestion…

Indigestion, that’s it!!

Or maybe a migraine…
or a change in weather…
or the dropping barometric pressure…
perhaps a change in season…

Any explanation other than the truth…

The truth of the nagging encounter.

The encounter that is meant to turn you around.
Bringing you to your knees,
opening your eyes,
but more importantly, turning your heart.

Oh say what we will about the character of the man Dickens…
One thing is certain, his stories spoke deeply of the condition of the heart of man.

How long will we try to rationalize our encounters, our moments,
when the Spirit meets us in mid journey, as something other than indigestion
or a coincidence, or something other than…
the Divine…

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you;
and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 26:36

Should I go or should I stay…

Darlin’ you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I’ll be here ’til the end of time
So you got to let me know
Should I stay or should I go?

Lyrics by the Clash

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(springtime visitor / Julie Cook / 2016)

“The call goes out,
and without any further ado the obedient deed of the one called follows.
The disciple’s answer is not a spoken confession of faith in Jesus.
Instead, it is the obedient deed.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Discipleship

They were busy…
preoccupied with the business of the day.
Counting, looking, figuring, chatting, organizing and arranging.
This day was like any other day…
just like the day before…
And it was safely assumed to be pretty much the same tomorrow.
Life innocently being life.

Friends, customers, coworkers were all coming and going…
each equally busy with the business of the day.
No one sensed that change was in the air…

Was the sun shining or was it overcast…?

It was most likely warm, dry and sunny…
Yet it appears the weather was not to be a factor…
Change was to come with or without the shining sun.

He was accustomed to folks passing by his booth.
Some would stop, having a need of his services, others would pass taking no notice.
Maybe that’s why he looked twice when the stranger approached him.

Was he tired of his business?
Had life dealt him one hand too many?
Or was it something else.
What could it have been about this stranger to have made him simply walk away.

He was a Jew who was accustomed to working with Greek speaking Romans…
yet took the money of the Hebrew Jews.
Why was this stranger, who was also a Jew,
who obviously had no businesses with taxes or a collector of such,
now stopping by his booth?

They had all observed a conversation between the two men.
No exchange of money passed hands…
Just what appeared to be a causal conversation…
Yet what could this stranger have said,
causing Levi to get up, leaving his money and his papers to simply walk away?

He walked away from everything he had known.
His business, his associates, his income, his dealings, his family…
He left it all behind, at his booth, in order to go with this stranger.
“Was that not the Galilean?” one was heard to ask…

We know there was an encounter…as well as a request…

Come…leave…follow…

That simple.
There was no haggling, no convincing, no defending, no arrangements.
Just a simple agreement and in turn, a walking away from the known…
while now entering into the unknown…

It is one thing when asked to simply respond with a causal “Yes. I believe.”
Or even a “yes I can” or “yes I will…”
It takes far greater courage to actually get up, leave, go and do…

The question we must all ask ourselves today–are we willing to get up, leave, go and do?

As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
Mark 2:14

Pests and pleasantries

It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly. And it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life.
Epicurus

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(dangling sweet gums balls / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(a tent caterpillar / Julie Cook /2015)

Busying myself with yard work a few days back, I rounded a corner of the house when I spied
this fuzzy little stripped fellow clinging to the brick.
Suddenly I was 8 years old again. . .

Spying the first caterpillar of the season, or it could have been the first lightening bug,
I made a mad dash inside frantically searching for a jar.
And since I couldn’t find any empty jars sitting around, I scoured the cabinets and the refrigerator.
Begging my mother to scoop out all of the mayonnaise from the jar that was sitting in the fridge, as I was in desperate need of that particular jar as it was the perfect size you know, just big enough to reach one’s 8 year old hand down into in order to place the necessary sticks and straw. . .
I could never understand my mother’s overt reluctance to give up the jar.
How hard could it be to scoop out the mayonnaise putting it in a bowl??

I needed it washed and dried.
I would then need the icepick.
“What?” I can still hear my mom shriek followed by a resounding “NO.”
Much to my mother’s fears. . .did she not understand that
I had to poke holes in the top of the jar.. .
Even caterpillars, or fireflies, needed to breathe, I thought everyone knew that.

My collected caterpillars, much to my chagrin, never turned into butterflies.
How was I suppose to know that these guys were not of the butterfly variety?!
Sadly I was attempting to raise moths.
And not the beautiful lunar month mind you but more like a devastating pest.
For my caterpillar was known as a Tent Caterpillar.

Tent caterpillars.
Have you ever seen a tree with a mass of white webbing covering large sections of limbs?
As in, there are hundreds of these ravenous critters inside that white gauze,
waiting to come out as moths. . .yet it is the caterpillar who is very hungry. . .
as in no leaf is safe. You know, as in everything you’d prefer to keep in tact and whole,
gets consumed by hundreds of creepy crawlies.

While way up high, nearly touching the sky
resides the sweet gum ball.
Currently a brilliant light green ball which dangles, like a thousand little earrings, from the branches of the tree.
As time passes, come the Fall of the year, these tender green balls turn spiny and brown, falling to the ground.

A sweet gum tree can grow as tall as 100 feet and is a most hardy and prolific tree.
It is a rapid grower and actually possesses a rather pleasant sweet aroma discovered
upon crushing a few leaves between one’s fingers.
And. . .it is a favorite tree of the tent caterpillar.

Eradication means cutting the wrapped up limbs and disposing of them before it’s too late.
The caterpillars are also very dangerous to horses who graze in areas where tent caterpillars roam.
Mares who consume tent caterpillars are likely to become infertile and pregnant mares are at great risk for losing folds.
Who knew?!

The happenstance of seeing this single caterpillar immediately transported me to a different time and place. . .a place full of wonderment and joy. I wasn’t thinking that I was gazing upon a pest who needed to be immediately disposed of before he and his thousands of minions, wherever they may be, devoured a tree. . .

Rather I was back at a certain place and time relishing the simple pleasures of life. It was a time when Nature, with all that she had to offer to an 8 year old child, was something to be savored and enjoyed.
For it was through the lens of a child that I looked upon this current-day pest—
I was seeing it not as a ravenous creepy crawly but as the fond recollection of youth.
Happily, for that brief moment in time while busily working in the yard, upon this momentary encounter, all that came flooding back in that single moment was a warming sense of contentment as happiness washed over me like welcoming wave on a hot summer’s day.

Here’s to childhood, caterpillars and the joy of Spring. . .

Humbling encounters

I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment, while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance that I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.
Henry David Thoreau

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(a wee field sparrow visits the yard / Julie Cook / 2015)

It often borders on the spiritual. . .
Magical moments
Brief encounters
Hushed observations
It is when Nature is at her best with the local, and not so local, residents known as
Wildlife.

Most often times, these intimately captured moments and / or encounters
are much more sublime than wild.
These are the marvelous moments which. . .
soothe our nerves
slow us down
and wow our senses. . .
We take on the role of voyeur with our indirect interactions stealthily from afar.

To be so close, yet to go unnoticed as to allow “their” life to go on as it normally would, without our interruptions, our disturbances, our infringing, our alarming, our misguided desire to be closer than we should. . .
We see them as they are. . .
Free
Uninhibited
Reckless with abandon
Just simply happy to live
To eat
To fight
To play
To exist. . .
Uninhibited and unhindered. . . without our intervention and interaction—
Allowing those so fortunate a brief and tender taste of the Divine, just by merely being in close proximity.

We are humbled, being taken out of ourselves for but a brief moment.
Mesmerized
Content
Honored
Awed
We reconnect a part of ourselves to them.
A natural order seems to return to the world which otherwise is frustratingly spiraling out of our control.
There is a harmony and rhythmic accord which sweetly slips back into balance. . .
Which leaves us feeling forever grateful.

We may exhale and rest in the tiny window afforded us, a sneak peek into God’s masterful order
Be it quick,
Be it brief
Be it short lived
We regain our humanness
Our sense of wonder
Our decency. . .
For the quickly passing precious secret moments of observation, as well as for their presence in our lives, helps to make our existence happier, calmer, more joyous and seemingly better. . .

But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this?
Job 12:7-9

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