silence and the greatest foe

“Whenever anything disagreeable or displeasing happens to you,
remember Christ crucified and be silent.”

St. John of the Cross


(the spoils of the surf /Julie Cook / 2021)

“Let us beware of complaints, resentments,
and evil-speaking against those who are ill-disposed to us,
discontented with us, or hostile to our plans and arrangements,
or who even persecute us with injuries, insults, and calumnies.
Rather let us go on treating them as cordially as at first,
or more so, as far as possible showing them esteem,
always speaking well of them, doing them good,
serving them on occasion, even to the point of taking shame and disgrace
upon ourselves, if necessary to save their honor.
All this ought to be done, first, to overcome evil with good,
according to the teaching of the Apostles; and secondly,
because they are our allies rather than our adversaries,
as they aid us to destroy self-love, which is our greatest foe;
and since it is they who give us an opportunity to gain merit,
they ought to be considered our dearest friends.”

St. Vincent de Paul, p.413

An Excerpt From
Cultivating Virtue: Self-Mastery With the Saints

Which obstacle to tackle first?

“For our path in life…is stony and rugged now, and it rests with us to smooth it. We must fight our way onward. We must be brave. There are obstacles to be met, and we must meet, and crush them!”
― Charles Dickens

“For the person who has learned to let go and let be, nothing can ever get in the way again.”
― Meister Eckhart

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(sticker bushes, barbed wire and a bull / Julie Cook / 2015)

The brambles
The barbed wire fence
The bull. . .

Three daunting obstacles. . .
One more focused than the other
Each one more formidable than the one before it.
Yet. . .I suppose it really doesn’t matter does it. . .
You’ve simply got to push through it all—regardless.
One
Two
Fifty. . .
An obstacle is an obstacle. . .it matters not the number.
The only question remaining, do you tackle all three at once or one at a time?

Do you race through the first foe, then immediately on to the second, all willy nilly as you continue racing onward to the final hurdle, practically falling on your face in order to get there?
And by the time you do reach that final obstacle, you’re all busied and bloody. . .wounded and winded, you’re really no match for that final foe now are you?

Slowly
Deliberately
Thoughtfully

First and foremost you must exercise a little restraint and caution as you make your way ever so carefully and delicately, picking your way through the lethal stickers.
Gingerly step up, over, around, gently pulling and pushing. . .slowly as not to become entangled.. you must call upon finesse.

Once past the stickers. . .
You must climb.
Lifting one leg up, being careful where and what you grab hold of. . .being very thoughtful where you place your other foot.
Balancing oh so carefully, as you push and pull yourself up and over making certain you clear the barbs. . . applying both skill and great concentration as you traverse this unsteady hurdle.

Eventually, in one piece, you feel somewhat triumphant as you now stand on solid ground on the opposite side, past the first set of troubling obstacles.
Yet
here
You finally come face to face with your greatest obstacle of them all.

A herculean giant to battle
A massive stone wall to scale
A seething ocean to cross
A terrible foe to defeat

The odds seem stacked against you.
You are tired and frustrated, battered and bruised,
as you’ve already journeyed so far and through so much just to reach this point. . .
this single point of now or never.

Exhausted and fearing defeat. . .
Part of you screams “give up!!
Yet the other half screams fight on!!!

You stare your enemy in the eye
Resolute
Determined
Relentless

As it all now seems to come slowly into focus
And that’s when you hear, from some cavernous place within your head, a tiny voice that grows stronger with each beat of your heart. . .
“Beloved, be not afraid”

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When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: “Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”
Deuteronomy 20:1-4

My Foe verses my Enemy

Who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.
John Milton

The battlefield is a scene of constant chaos. The winner will be the one who controls that chaos, both his own and the enemies.
Napoleon Bonaparte

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(“the enemy has grown bold in my neglect”—Julie Cook / 2014)

I come to you, lying in a pool of my own sweat, from somewhere on the floor of a cavernous basement.
The cement beneath me is hard, dusty but cool.
Flat on my back I stare bleary eyed at the wooden joists overhead.
“How do those cobwebs get up there and where do they keep coming from. . .”
These odd thoughts swirl through my mushy mind as I will myself to not give in to the overwhelming exhaustion.
I close my eyes.
I prefer not to see what I must clean.

Lungs and limbs alike now burn and ache.
I think I hear the sounds of angels, far off someplace in the great distance, singing.
“Is it help come to save me. . .?”
Oh, yeah, that’s my iPhone.
“Oh Bono, he’s still singing. . .”
“Bless his heart”
“He just won’t give up on me” a pleasant thought as a slight smile comes to my parched lips
The timer beeps.
“Must find water. . .” I hear myself mumble.

Not much has changed since I last met this nemesis, this foe of mine. Was it back in say late June or early July? We had been constant companions, it and I, for better or for worse–since Valentine’s day.
Day in and day out for months–as it promised to help me become the svelte mother of the groom.
We worked together every single day.
It never wavered.
I wanted to throw up.

Yet, my butt actually began to feel as if it could fit comfortably into my shorts.
My thighs no longer waved in the breeze.
My arms actually had a bit of definition.
My heart said “thank you”

The windows are still dirty.
The cobwebs are still hanging down from the ceiling.
Yet the robins are gone from the back yard only to be replaced with the summer resident catbirds.
The sun still shines through the lefthand window making me duly hot before I break my first bead of sweat.
As the elliptical just sits there, silently goading and taunting me. . .

The calendar has turned a page.
The seasons are changing.
My new leaf is ready to be turned over.
The excuse of Summer is no longer viable.
It’s time to get back to a healthier routine. . .

Which in a round about way, brings me around to the whole concept of “my foe verses my enemy.”
In my mind, I believe a foe to be a formidable opponent.
I find that we usually have respect for our foe(s).
We feel competitive toward this said foe.
We may actually develop an affinity for this said foe.
Be it the scales, the elliptical, the mountain, the wave, the mess, the deer, the cat’s litter box (digressing), the whatever it is that is staring us in the face and goading or taunting us to master it, to beat it, to out smart it, to clean it, to better it, to eventually better ourselves. . .

An enemy, on the other hand, is more sinister.
More callous.
There is no feeling of camaraderie.
No kinsmenship.
The enemy does not want me to better myself.
It does not wish me well.
It does not care.

Pondering this fine line of difference between foe and enemy, as I look off the back deck drinking my protein smoothie–yuck— I spy the small group of deer, who have been goading and taunting me all season long with my garden, boldly going where I have valiantly fought keeping them from. . .
Oooooo, they have now grown most bold and defiant as I have grown haplessly weary.
Daylight or dusk they now wander into the midst of my territory undeterred.

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We went round and round, those deer and I.
And yet, I never truly wished them harm.
I simply wanted to keep them at bay, long enough for me to gather, literally, the fruits of my labors.
I did not mind sharing those “fruits.”
I did grow frustrated.
Even discouraged.
I felt challenged.
And yet I knew that they did not wish me ill.
They simply saw an opportunity and took full advantage of it.
And now that I have grown weary, as the garden has grown over, they have thrown caution to the wind and are enjoying, with gusto I might add, the lingering fruits of my previous labors.

Others in this world of ours are not so docile.
Foe and enemy gather round–just as the clouds gather over head.
They are opportunistic to our weariness, our ignorance, our self obsessions.
They are poised to take advantage of the “crack in the door.”

There are foes who will always seem to be the proverbial thrones in our sides.
They will preen and strut, taunting and goading us, yet truly they do not wish to witness our destruction because in the back of their minds they are smart enough to realize that our destruction would be their own.

There are also enemies who are secretly plotting and planning.
They remain often in the shadows, waiting and watching.
They are patient, cunning and ever watchful.
They, unlike our foes, do seek our destruction because in their minds they see our defeat, our destruction, as their glory.. .
. . .Despite the fact that that glory would in turn be their own demise. . .

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, And my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken. But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. . .
Psalm 13:3-5