Faith without content

“Don’t ask why, ask what—
What am I suppose to do?”

St Padre Pio


(a killdeer hunkers down on Mackinac Island, MI /Julie Cook / 2017)

In reading through the the tiny book that literally fell off the shelf
the other day, landing squarely at my feet,
There Are No Accidents / In All Things Trust God
by the late Fr. Benedict J Groeschel
with John Bishop

(https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/there-are-no-accidents/)

I have naturally circled and highlighted things that happen
to “speak” to me as I go.

The first half of the book is a running dialog between and interviewer
(John Bishop) and interviewee (Fr Benedict)

The book was published in 2004 but as I’m reading through
all comments, questions and responses,
I’m finding them to be ever most timely.
As in not much seems to have changed in 13 years time…
but perhaps only grown wider in both depth and scope.

Fr Benedict notes that “there is a decline in society in the western world.
Because, after all, sexual morality, among its many purposes,
is the protection of family life.
That is a very high, primary responsibility.
Family life is decaying everywhere.
The cause is a naïveté of the pro-abortion group,
and particularly Planned Parenthood.
They not only have done everything possible to undermine the sacredness of life,
but have done everything to undermine sexual morality.”

He goes on to explain how “the media” follows along these same lines of thought.
Fr. Benedict points to a study /survey that was conducted in California,
around the same time of the interview, of approx. 200,000 media folks.
The results showed that 92% of them favored abortion on demand…
and that 94% favored public acceptance of homosexual relationships.

Opinions that obviously ran/ run very counter to the teachings of the Church
(and I mean the universal Christian Church not only the Catholic Church).

Next Fr Benedict points out that there were also numbers showing,
once again numbers true to the time of the interview,
that 94% of folks in the US believed in a personal God.
92% believed in meeting God upon departing Earth and 86% believed that Jesus Christ
was the Son of God.

Yet Fr Benedict also points out that despite the high percentage numbers,
in actuality, he notes that most of those folks have no idea of what all any of
that really means—of which basically boils down to “faith without content.”

Which obviously made me think.

Faith is indeed a noun but I believe it also a verb…
as in Faith, our Christian Faith, is not merely something passive,
but rather active…as in it seeks, searches, serves…

Christianity is not a passive religion.
God is not a passive God.
He expects more from us than a lukewarm, quasi connected relationship.
He expects that we follow and live out His commands, His words.
There is no picking or choosing,
no this but none of that…
It is not easy and most everything He tells us runs counter to what
the world would have us say, think and do….
It’s all or nothing.

And it appears that more and more of those who profess to have faith,
are currently opting for nothing….

“Keep the charge of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways,
to keep His statutes, His commandments, His ordinances, and His testimonies,
according to what is written in the Law of Moses,
that you may succeed in all that you do and wherever you turn,
so that the LORD may carry out His promise which He spoke concerning me, saying,
‘If your sons are careful of their way, to walk before Me in
truth with all their heart and with all their soul,
you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’

1 Kings 2:3-4

“and when my life is over….”

“Where there is love there is life.”
Mahatma Gandhi


(coconut palms at The Breakers, Palm Beach / Julie Cook / 2017)

There are days when suddenly, for no apparent reason…
a song, a thought, a memory
pops into the forefront of consciousness.

While we are often left wondering why…from whence, from where and for what?

Sometimes… the whys are not to be understood.

My life is currently a herky jerky roller coaster full of emotions…
The days are punctuated by smiles and accented by endless tears.
Wandering about mostly lost.

And then a song from the recesses of time percolates to the current..
bridging a time that was to the time which is now…
That a random tune from a different season
triggers a memory, a feeling, a thought…
existing now to help assuage the current moment….

“A Song For You”

I’ve been so many places in my life and time
I’ve sung a lot of songs, I’ve made some bad rhymes
I’ve acted out my love on stages
With 10,000 people watching
But we’re alone now and I’m singing this song to you

I know your image of me is what I hope to be
I treated you unkindly, but darling can’t you see
There’s no one more important to me
Darling can’t you please see through me
‘Cause we’re alone now and I’m singing this song to you

You taught me precious secrets
Of the truth, withholding nothing
You came out in front and I was hiding
But now, I’m so much better
And if my words don’t come together
Listen to the melody, ’cause my love’s in there hiding

I love you in a place where there’s no space and time
I love you for my life, you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song to you

But I love you in a place where there’s no space and time
I love you for my life, you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you
We were alone and I was singing this song for you
We were alone and I was singing my song
Singing this song for you

the sippy spoons

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in
and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep,
leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can.
Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better
hour because it is dead.
Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones,
while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

Beryl Markham


(my grandmother’s silver sippy spoons / Julie Cook /2017)

Our trip to West Palm Beach was long, short, sad and wrenching.
653 miles spent driving down on a Friday…
only to then turn around and drive it all back again on a Monday.

It took about 10 hours, with only one quick stop for gas.
Coupled by a constant flow of bumper to bumper traffic hurling itself,
as if lemmings on some odd unknown mission, to an unforeseen southward destination.

We drove and we drove to what seemed to be the ends of the earth…
but that would have been Key West and that would have required more time with
more stops than our backsides would allow.

The color of the sky changes when one is traveling so far south—
It goes from the more familiar north Georgia’s typical hazy blue sky,
to a faint veiled gauzy cloudy azure blue…
Maybe it’s because the land lays so flat, punctuated only by pencil thin palms
as the soil is more white sand than dirt…
and with the sun so intense, light easily reflects back upon itself.

The heat of day does not dissipate with the waning of a day as it does at home.
It doesn’t back off when the sun finally sets, providing that long awaited
respite of comfort.
There is actually a tremendous heaviness that engulfs one’s whole being…
this being due to the overtly high humidity which makes breathing nearly
impossible.
And I thought our humidity was bad.

Moving from air conditioned buildings, which is essential to survival,
out to the oppressive heat and unrelenting sun leaves glasses fogged over
and skin and clothing feeling sticky and oddly wet even before one has had
proper chance to sufficiently break a true sweat.

This is the place Martha called home for the past 30 years.
A far cry from the years spent in Alexandria, Virginia during the early years of
her marriage.

I now understood why…for despite the apparently tropical beauty,
Martha would always protest…
“no no, let me just come up there”…
And because of that one fact, of her always wanting to come to us as she
would always prefer to venture north,
this was our first visit to West Palm Beach.

Martha would drive or fly up several times during the
year, staying for a couple of weeks at a time,
back to state she still considered home…
or more specifically near the city of her birth and raising….
Atlanta.

I can’t really say all that I should or would like to at this point
about all of this…not yet.
Having lost three of the most important people in my life in the past six months
has simply taken its toll…
As processing the emotions, memories and feelings of such emptiness
will take some time.

One by one… the supports and shorings are now gone…
Those that helped to hold up the life I had always known…
This is part of the transition where I become the shoring to others…
a transition that denotes change, loss, growth and new…
all rolled uncomfortably into one.

My cousin, Martha’s adopted daughter,
had asked that I come to the house the day following the funeral
to see what if anything I would like to carry back home with me.

Martha was an avid antique collector…
and her collections were eclectic at best…
old antique Papier-mâché halloween decorations with a proclivity for pumpkins.
North Carolina’s famous family of folk art pottery, the Meader’s ugly jugs,
along with the primitive pottery of Georgia’s Marie Rogers.
The Ohio Longaberger baskets numbering in the hundreds…
to early vintage RCA radio dogs..
all the way down to antique turkeys of every size and shape.

I was really overwhelmed when we walked into the house and actually saw
the level to which some of the “collecting” had spiraled.
Her house not equipped for the excessive spillover.

My cousin immediately asked if I would like Martha’s sterling silver
flatware set.

Once was a time, long long ago, when every young bride
looked to building her proper entertaining set of silverware.
Receiving the coveted wedding gifts of silver pieces was as common
as the throwing of rice…
That being a particular pattern of sterling silver complete with
utensils and serving pieces.
Everything from teaspoons to seafood forks to butter knives….
As that now all seems to be for a time that was more civilized than
our own today.

But already having my mother’s and great aunt’s sets…and truth be told,
as my world shrinks, entertaining and cooking is now not nearly what it once was,
I tried to instill the importance of her keeping the monogramed set for both her
and her own daughter.

But when she opened the dusty old silver chest, my eyes locked immediately on the
well tarnished bundle of silver drink spoons / straws…
or what we had always referred to as sippy straws or spoons, depending on who
was using them.

While growing up, whenever we visited my grandmother,
we were always served a tall glass of icy cold
Coca Cola complete with a silver sippy straw.

Coke never tasted so good as when sipped through an elegant silver straw.
It provided a seemingly civilized air of savoring verses gulping and quaffing.
Probably Mimi’s way of getting us to slow down, enjoying and not wasting…
as she was a woman who lived during a time when waste was indeed considered sinful.

The straws were always kept in a certain drawer in my grandmother’s kitchen…
inside the 1920s small Atlanta Buckhead home.
A pale wooden light green kitchen cabinet, I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye,
was where the straws, always shiny and polished to perfection, were stored.

In 1989, when my grandmother passed away, Martha and I were the only two left to
the task of sorting and emptying the house for market.
She got the straws.
I had always wanted just one…
just one to remember.

Over the years I’d see other straws at various antique markets and silver stores,
always thinking I’d buy myself just one,
but in the end deciding it just wouldn’t be the same…

It wouldn’t be one of the straws I’d gleefully
retrieve out of the pale green drawer, delightfully anticipating plunging
it into my frosty glass of brown fizzy liquid…
as I’d gently clench the straw between my front teeth,
feeling the cold drawn liquid being pulled up into a parched waiting mouth…
So refreshing because Mimi’s house, back in those days, was not air conditioned…
an icy cold Coke, on a hot Georgia summer’s afternoon,
seemed like the greatest treat a child could have been given…

I asked my cousin if I could have the straws.

She was 10 years younger than I was and did not have the same fond memories
from time spent with our grandmother.
Being so much younger and living so far away, never afforded her much time to
bond with the long widowed woman with the poodles there in Atlanta as I had.

I had been the only grandchild for many years and we only lived 10 minutes away.
Plus Mimi was not a warm and fuzzy grandmother like others and what warmness
there was, faded with her mind as the dementia grew more and more.

My grandmother had lived a hard life.
A life that she had forged alone for herself and her two daughters during
a depression and a World War as a widowed woman…
long before it was common for women to own a business and work outside of
the home.
Both of which she did very successfully for most of her adult life.

My cousin was more than happy to give me the straws and seemed almost
sad that I really didn’t want to take much more as her task is now daunting
as she figures out what to do with years of accumulated treasured stuff.

This as I still have my own years of stuff to sort through at Dad’s.
As both cousins are now left to the task of picking through,
as well as picking up, the pieces—
all of what stays and all of what goes.

My cousin tells me that she wants to sell the house, eventually moving northward
where there are actually seasons, hills and trees…
verses living where the sky meets the ocean coupled by the
oppressive heat, humidity, and an azure blue sky….

I think I’ll polish my straws and then do something I haven’t done in years…
I’ll pour myself a Coke, a real Coke…bottle only mind you,
over a tall glass of ice…and I’ll plunge a straw deep down into the glass of
cold fizzy liquid as I draw up the memories of lives once known but always loved.

Moving on, to the next

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.
But that is not for them to decide.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien


(the mounded rocks to help break the storm waves at The Breakers Hotel /
Palm Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2017)

“It was too perfect to last,’
so I am tempted to say of our marriage.
But it can be meant in two ways.
It may be grimly pessimistic—
as if God no sooner saw two of His creatures happy than He stopped it
(‘None of that here!’).
As if He were like the Hostess at the sherry-party who separates two guests
the moment they show signs of having got into a real conversation.

But it could also mean ‘This had reached its proper perfection.
This had become what it had in it to be.
Therefore of course it would not be prolonged.
‘As if God said,
‘Good; you have mastered that exercise.
I am very pleased with it.
And now you are ready to go on to the next.”

― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

In that place of sheer isolation and utter vulnerability,
deep within the quagmire of mourning and sorrow of which we find ourselves
sinking helplessly into the quicksand of our losses and suffering…
we humans are fast and keen to denounce the omnipotent God..
we proclaim Him to be most cruel, sadistic and menacingly cold hearted.

For we are hurting for heaven’s sake….
can He, does He, not see…
does He not know…
or worse….
does He simply not care…??

As C.S Lewis reflects on the loss of his wife—
he, in such typical Lewis fashion, expresses the thoughts and feelings that
are our own…
that of our angst and misery culminating from the overwhelming painful experience
we all eventually experience from our living, death and loss…

As he sums it up nicely in one wonderful notion…

“Good; you have mastered that exercise.
I am very pleased with it.
And now you are ready to go on to the next.”

And so we are…ready to go on
on to the next….
to the next whatever…
the next whatever God has in store…
all the while nursing our wounded hearts,
we move on, by His Grace, to that which comes next…

(for a wonderful movie about Lewis, his marriage, the death of his wife due to cancer and how Lewis wrestles with God…see the 1993 movie Shadowlands staring Anthony Hopkins and Deborah Winger—a marvelous and timeless movie)

Wrestling and prayers

“The function of prayer is not to influence God,
but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”

Søren Kierkegaard


(falls in the Agawa Canyon Park / Algoma District, Ontario, Canada / Julie Cook / 2017)

I mentioned the other day that I was blessed with friends who are very wise…
Well as good fortune would have it, I had another wise friend has come along,
offering her own insightful guidance…
by actually offering a bit of wisdom in sharing.

She has passed along a link to A Painted Prayerbook by Jan Richardson
with the day’s thoughts resting on “The Wrestling Is Where the Bessing Begins:
(excerpt Aug 2, 2017)

Jacob is no stranger to encountering God in a dark, betwixt place.
It has been just four chapters and a lifetime since that night when,
fleeing for his life, he was visited by an angel-drenched dream that
assured him of God’s presence on his path.
Now, in this latest nighttime meeting,
Jacob learns that sometimes when the angel meets us in the wilderness,
it makes us work for a blessing.
This seems to be one of the ways the angels choose to minister to us,
knowing there are times when a good struggle comes as one of those
strange comforts of the wilderness.
Sometimes we need not to rest but to wrestle,
to be stretched to our limits,
to reach deep into the reserves we did not know we had.

(http://paintedprayerbook.com)

And like Jacob, I wrestle.

I wrestle with this thing I claim as life.
My life.

I wrestle with my perception, my wants and my presumed,
as well as intended, outcomes…
I then wrestle with God’s intention for my life…
for you see, those two thoughts are not always the same…
His verses mine.

And now I’m finding myself prematurely and uncomfortably pushed away from
resting undisturbed somewhere, while just hoping to sit under a shade tree.
I sit trying to avoid the heat of day…the prickly weight that pushes down on my
head from not only what is mine, but what is all around me.
I long to avoid the unbearable heat generated by my own life’s struggles,
as well as the heated percolation found in the greater world at large.

And here I now realize that I must wrest the blessing which is to be found in
all of this…
Because as you see, we sometimes actually have to work for a blessing.

And yet…
in that one little fact…
that being that I will often times be uncomfortable and even struggle while
becoming exasperated to the point of near failure….
yet still….
I find that within the wrestling…resides pieces of deep spiritual comfort….

We are traveling today the 10 plus hours down to West Palm Beach, to south Florida.
Martha’s memorial service is Saturday morning, at her beloved little Episcopal
Church.

I will greatly appreciate your prayers for our travels.
It’s a long drive in uncharted waters so knowing that a Heavenly host
travels with us is indeed a comfort and a blessing…
one not wrestled over I trust….

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

Jeremiah 17:7-8

God’s work

The spirit and the soul are two totally different organs:
one belongs to God, while the other belongs to man.
By whatever names one may call them,
they are completely distinct in substance.
The peril of the believer is to confuse the spirit for the soul and the soul
for the spirit,
and so be deceived into accepting the counterfeit of evil spirits
to the unsettling of God’s work.

Watchman Nee
March 8, 1933


(Gulf fritillary butterfly / Julie Cook / 2017)

God’s work…
that is what this is all about is it not?
That being this thing we call life….

Watchman Nee (1903-1972) was an ardent Chinese Christian Church leader.
He was also a profuse author.
I was first introduced to Watchman Nee and his books when I was in college
by a friend who was a bit older and had lived and weathered more of life than
I had up to that point.

Nee is not easy to read, for me at least,
In part because of the sheer depth of his faith.
as well as because much of his work spans the course of a century
that was full of great change.
It is as if one is reading the words of a mystic.
Deeply spiritual, deeply profound.

I have ebbed and flowed over the years with Nee.

Nee’s words have resurfaced recently in my life…
at a time when such words have not only been needed but most certainly
welcomed.

My road as of late has been difficult as I’ve watched my already small family
shrink even smaller. Losing the shoring piers to a heart that is being
battered and tested.

I remain consumed by what all it is taking to get dad’s life, post dad,
to a place of management.
The legal and financial aspect is simply daunting.

Add to the loss of dad, coupled by this organization and bureaucratic nightmare,
the untimely death of my aunt…a death seemingly so sudden.
Granted we knew she had been gravely ill,
despite the doctors saying “not to worry” give the meds time…”
As her body could simply no longer hang on.

My husband and I will be driving the 10 hour journey southward at the
end of the week in order to attend the memorial service.
We will remain for a few days sorting through what made Martha’s life her own.

On top of all the sorrow and frustration we are dealing with the early news of
becoming grandparents…as we worry over our son and daughter-n-law as they are
in the midst of job changes, long commutes and a bit of uncertainty.

So there is certainly a great deal of emotional overload…both up and down…
both good and bad.

That is why the words of those such a Nee are ever so important.

A wise friend of mine…
as I am fortunate in that I have many friends who are indeed wise,
recently shared with me his thoughts on my latest stand of sorrow and worry.
He told me that…
“Only when we realise that we can not do it all [alone]
(whatever the it might be in our lives)
we then cry out…
I believe God is so close to you at this time because you are crying out to him…”

I too believe that when we cry out, God draws ever closer despite our feelings
of isolation…
for it is in the isolation of loneliness…
when we are stripped bare of all distraction and false protection.

In 1949 when China became a Communist Nation, Nee was imprisoned—
He had refused to stop preaching, speaking, writing and sharing the Word of God.
A practice counter to all things communist.
An underlying theme in Communism is that it is important, if not essential,
to create false accusations in order to arrest, impression or even execute
those who speak Truth against the atheistic beliefs of the Communist state.

This was not an exception in the case of Nee.
He was falsely accused of crimes he never committed, arrested and sentenced to
spend what would be the last 20 years of his life in a forced hard labor camp.

His final words where found scribbled on a sheet of paper that had been tucked
beneath his prison cell pillow…

“Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and
resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe.
I die because of my belief in Christ.”

Watchman Nee

So what we must come to understand, as hard as it often is, that this life
that we claim as our own, is not for our benefit and glory but rather for
that of God’s…it is for His work, and His alone…
as we learn that we both live and die because of Christ Jesus….

“The greatest advantage in knowing the difference between spirit and soul is in
perceiving the latent power of the soul and in understanding its falsification
of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just last night I was reading what F. B. Meyer once said in a meeting shortly before
his earthly departure. Here is a section of it:
‘This is an amazing fact that never has there been so much spiritualism outside
the church of Christ as is found today…
Is it not factual that in the lower part of our human nature the stimulation of
the soul is quite prevailing?
Nowadays the atmosphere is so charged with the commotion of all kinds of counterfeit that the Lord seems to be calling the church to come to a higher ground.’
Today’s situation is perilous.
May we ‘prove all things; hold fast that which is good’ (1 Thess. 5:.21)
Amen”

Watchman Nee
March 8, 1933
(forward from The Latent Power of the Soul)

when mothballs make me cry

“There’s a tear in my beer
Cause I’m cryin for you, dear
You are on my lonely mind”

Hank Williams


(a sack of bat deterrent, aka mothballs, Julie Cook / 2017)

When mothballs make me cry…

No, I’m not writing a new country song, not about mothballs anyway…
I’m literally talking about real mothballs.

You may recall that I’ve had problems before with bats wanting to roost under
the awning on my back deck…
and since this is where my cat Percy spends most of his daylight hours…
well, I can’t have bats hanging out where we and the cats hang out.

I tried stuffing dryer sheets up in their little crevices,
I tried squirting them with hornet spray…
I tried poking them with a broom…
but they kept coming back—

So I had a brilliant idea.
I’d hang up mothballs.

Well, I suppose I can’t take full credit, I think I read somewhere on
a critter catcher’s website that mothballs were a low tech deterrent.
I wanted to try something humane as I know and appreciate how beneficial bats
are in the yard and poking them with a broom just made them squeak at me and
spraying them with hornet spray is probably not
exactly good for them.

Back early in the Spring, I ventured to Home Depot and bought a box of mothballs.
Once home I hung up two bags on opposite ends of the deck, just under each corner
of the awning, where the bats had hunkered down to spend their days napping.


(my little neighbor who needed to move / Julie Cook / 2016)

Here it is late July and I’ve had nary a bat.
Conclusion….
the mothballs work.

Mothballs are meant to be in sealed-up containers where things like old books
or sweaters are stored as they are actually a pesticide for what else…
sweater eating moths and paper eating silverfish.

The smell is, well, toxic.
Hence why they’re suppose to be in bins and boxes and not necessarily
out for breathing.

But I figure we’re safe as I’ve hung the bags up high and downwind from where we sit.
and in just the right spot to fumigate the hiding nooks of bats.

Mothballs, like dry ice, dissipate over time when exposed to air.
So yesterday I noticed my little mothball sacks were now empty.
Meaning my mothballs had evaporated and I needed some refills.

Another trip to Home Depot and I returned ready to rehang bags of balls.

As I opened the box I was suddenly hit with an overwhelmingly pungent and
most familiar odor.

They say that scent, odor or smell is one of the most powerful triggers for memory.

Suddenly, I was a little girl rummaging back into the deep recesses of my
grandmother’s closet.
She had mothballs strewn all on the floor, in the way back, of her old cavernous
closet. I was immediately informed right fast not to touch the poisonous mothballs.
This being in the home where my mom and her sister Martha had grown up.
My mom and Martha.

Martha….

sigh…..

Seems I can’t even hang up some mothballs without remembering this heavy
heart of mine.


(Mother,the not so happy bride along with her not so happy 13 year old maid of honor..
seems Martha had been obnoxiously silly, embarrassing Mother the night before at the rehearsal dinner, so they weren’t speaking this otherwise joyous June day 1953…sisters….)

Time to que the country music…..

Lord, I’ve tried and I’ve tried
But my tears I can’t hide
You are on my lonely mind.
All these blues that I’ve found
Have really got me down
You are on my lonely mind

Hank Williams

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more,
neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore,
for the former things have passed away.

Revelation 21:4