looking forward rather than at now…

“Let us love the Cross and let us remember that we are not alone in
carrying it.
God is helping us.
And in God who is comforting us, as St. Paul says,
we can do anything.”

St. Gianna Molla

“Every pious desire, every good thought, every charitable work inspired by the love of Jesus,
contributes to the perfection of the whole body of the faithful.
A person who does nothing more than lovingly pray to God for his brethren,
participates in the great work of saving souls.”

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich

I think I’ve touched on this thought before.
I think it was most likely this same time last year.

It never fails that each year, during this particular season of the Chruch calendar,
this season of Advent, this time of notable anticipation,
I just can’t help but look forward.

Maybe I shouldn’t look ahead…
but I just can’t help it…I do.

I just can’t help but not to look.
I can’t help but know already how the story ends.

Of course I’m not alone in that…
most of us who are Believers already do know how the story ends don’t we?!

And yes I know, technically the story doesn’t really end…
but perhaps that’s a bit of a spoiler for those not exactly in the know…

However that’s not today’s worry.

The lamenters will cry “why can’t you just enjoy the moment?!

And maybe I should…maybe I should just turn a blind eye to what I know
while ignoring the facts.
Maybe I should just bask in the magic of this season;
enjoying this time of joyful expectations, of mystery, of hope and of celebrations.

But I can’t ignore the fact that there is a looming foreboding shadow that I
simply can’t shake.
Consider it the ying and yang if you will.

For both Advent and Christmas, this mix of a season that speaks to all that is to be,
happiness and joy, is what some might call the front end of the story…

Or maybe it’s actually what is known as the backstory to the end story…
the story that is behind the real story.

Figuring I wasn’t alone with this notion,
I poked around a bit and found the image above at the front of the post.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one who understood that there is more to this
time of all things of happiness, newness and of birth.

For we all know, whether we like it or not, birth leads to life which in turn leads
eventually to the grave.
But who wants to think about a grave and or death when we can be toasting to what
is happy and bright right?

Not a self-absorbed culture, that’s for sure.

And so whereas we do indeed rejoice, as so we should,
we do so with a knowingness.

I’ve used this image of this particular painting before.

It is a painting by one of my favorite artists, Michelangelo Merisi
(Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio–or just Caravaggio for short.
He’s known by his town of birth and not so much by his birth name.

The painting in question is known as Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri)

Caravaggio’s paintings and subject matter can be unsettling to some viewers.
His life was no less unsettling.
And he was certainly far from saintly as his life would make any modern-day gossip tabloid
green with envy as his life truthfully read of such fodder and yet his talent,
his skill, his gift, his vision, his juxtaposition of his subjects
along with his use of light and dark, shadow and dramatic lighting…
all seem to be an exclamation point to his chosen imagery and subject matter.


(Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri) 1605-06 / Galleria Borghese)

I love this painting because it is so dramatic and powerful…

Allegorical yes, but it’s that end story in a very stalk and near visceral nutshell.

The end being the crushing of both Evil and Death.

Leaving us with birth, life, death, grave and yes, finally, victory…
All of which is rolled into this one single painting.

As both Mary and her small son, all under the watchful gaze of both Mary’s mother
and Jesus’ grandmother, St Anne…who watches on as now both mother and child put an
end mark to that which desires nothing more than to haunt their lives…

Mary’s yes to God, along with Jesus’ willingness and sacrifice, are all that was necessary
and needed in the resounding NO to Satan.

In the painting, they figuratively demonstrate victory, our victory, over both Evil and Death,
in a very decisive fashion.
Crushing the head of the snake.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

Mary who was told great things by the angel Gabriel and who was told great things by
the Magi, and who was told great things by Simeon…basked in the celebration of the
birth of her child, all the while looking forward.

She had been told and she knew and she held it all in her heart.
And I doubt that a day did not pass while she lived the life of a loving mother to this
atypical son of hers, that she didn’t feel the same foreboding that I sense now.

My sense of foreboding, however, pales in comparison to the one whose heart
had been pierced the day she said: “yes, I will do your bidding, Lord.”

Mary knew both joy and sorrow, both life and death…but the most important thing
that Mary knew was that there is victory over death…victory that just so happened to be
found in the birth of her son…

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Then the angel left her.
Blessed Among Women

Luke 1:38 MSG

And Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them,
I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge;
the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me
a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

John 12:44-50

We can’t help but look forward….

there’s a shadow…..

“There is strong shadow where there is much light.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


(Lorenzo Costa / 1490 / Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France)

Birth usually brings with it a great deal of joy, expectation as well as a fair share
of anticipation…
Yet in some rare instances, there is sadly a presence of foreboding.
As in something troublesome is looming while the expected state of gladness is not
entirely free of worry.

A feeling of something, yet not quite known or understood….just a sense.

For it is both anticipation and foreboding to which we, the faithful, must now look.

Never mind that as much as we may prefer to simply bask in the glory of the news of
this happy and tender moment, we are reminded that a shadow is constantly present.

Anticipation: a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action
b the act of looking forward; especially : pleasurable expectation

Forbode: to have an inward conviction of (something, such as a coming ill or misfortune)

Looking at this particular image of the Nativity, painted by the Italian artist Lorenzo Costa, I am drawn to the expression on Joseph’s face.
Should there not be a smile?
What of an assumed expression of happiness and even pride
in the birth of this new child?

Yet instead of exultation and happiness,
those emotions are replaced by an expression of sadness, perhaps even sorrow.
There is a resignation of something greater than….
greater than we the viewer are privy to.

Mary’s eyes also allude to something other than jubilation over the birth of this
child of hers.
There is a feeling of the resolute hiding behind a prayerful countenance.

And even the child himself…resigned.

And where we have spent the past month or longer reveling in all things Christmas…
with the culmination of jubilation coming about on Christmas Day…
as the faithful marked, once again, the birth of the Christ Child….
there remains a shadow….an ominous foreboding shadow.

For this particular birth brings with it more than the joy to be experienced at the birth of a child….for this child, this glad tiding, is no mere child….

Eight day’s following the birth and the mysterious visits of strangers, both meek and
grand, the child was brought to the Temple, as religious custom dictated, to be
circumcised. And following which, also with custom, the time of the presentation, purification and sacrifice as required.

At this time a strange old man approached the young family.
Mary drew the child close to her breast as the stranger continued coming closer, arms open wide, babbling and now reaching for the babe.

But there was something oddly familiar in the way this man was speaking, something that
moved Mary to volunteer the baby, with now her own outstretched arms,
giving up her child just as she would eventually have to offer up her son for
the salvation of all mankind…

“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
as you have promised.
I have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared for all people.
He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him.
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother,
“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise.
He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him.
As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Luke 2:29-35

A shadow draws across the jubilation…..

time to get busy

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God,
at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”

Mother Teresa


(the ‘I couldn’t wait’ poundcake / Julie Cook / 2017)

I suppose I could be living in Alaska and I would still feel this
impending sense of dread.

For you see, this is just how deeply I care and feel for this land I call home…
Whenever there is some sort of calamity approaching this great country, I fret.
Much like a mother hen over her chicks.

It doesn’t matter if its raging fires in the west, drought in the southwest,
blizzards in the north and northeast, earthquakes in the heartland, or floods,
tornadoes and hurricanes in the South…
I feel an almost overwhelming sense of foreboding that is hard to shake.

I think it has a lot to do with me being a doer and or a fixer…
as in I need to be in action doing and fixing.
For it is in such cases, cases where I am relegated to simply sitting, watching
and waiting, that I feel most helpless.
How can I help, fix or alleviate that which I can only watch?
I can’t.

And such is the nature of natural disasters and disease…
we most often have to sit, watch and wait.

So with today, as I write, being Saturday,
the sun is brightly shining in a near cloudless blue sky,
as the wind gusts pick up in both frequency and gusto….
I know Irma is drawing ever closer.

I sit and watch the reports of a massive storm inching its way closer and closer
to my sister southern state.
And I know there will be catastrophic damage.
Storms are just that way.

So as I feel a wealth of nervous energy, I’ve done what I always do when there’s
nothing to do but wait and watch.
I cook.

Today it’s what I’m calling a hurricane pound cake.
As we are being told that we will most likely have flooding, high winds and will
lose power along with the millions to our south….
there’s nothing like a fresh pound cake to munch on in the stormy dark.

So as I try to busy my hands, my thoughts and my body…I also must busy my soul.
For all we truly have in such precarious times is prayer.
To have conversation with God.
And in that conversation, we must be prepared to wait as we listen.
Much like we do in a storm…as in we wait and listen…
Yet the difference with God is that we know there is
no one greater in which to turn.

We can certainly prepare for life’s storms all we want as we tick off those items
on a checklist of what to buy, what to have ready, what to do…all just in case.
Knowing that once the dust settles, the time to really get busy will truly be underway.
Such as helping and cleaning and comforting.

Yet with all this talk of waiting and watching and praying,
I was poignantly reminded today of the very notion of depending on prayer.

This afternoon I watched the most recent postings of one of my favorite
Christian apologists.

Nabeel Qureshi.

I’ve mentioned Nabeel here before.

Nabeel is a young roaring Christian lion.
He is an ardent and outspoken Christian convert from Islam who minces no words.
He is a lecturer and author who is rooted deeply in the Word of the One True God
as He has been washed in the Blood of the Lamb.

Nabeel is also a husband and a father who is in the latter stages of aggressive
stomach cancer.

I have watched periodically Nabeel’s youtube videos chronicling his journey
with cancer.
His fight, his treatments, his testimony…
Inspirational is putting it mildly as I have marveled over his unyielding faith
in the face of so much physical suffering and emotional uncertainty.

Somehow seeing Nabeel and hearing the frustration and depression fighting their way
into his being, I continue being blessed by his ardent faith in God’s will.
And as a dear friend noted as we both lamented together over this most recent
turn of events in Nabeel’s battle…
Nabeel WILL be healed, no matter what!!

So as we gather our thoughts and prayers, readying for yet another storm to take a
swipe at this country, it’s time to get busy…
Busy in prayer…
that we may remember not only those standing in the crosshairs of a hurricane,
but that we recall those who are in the midsts of their own personal storms..
such as Nabeel and his battle with cancer.

Remembering that in the end, God’s will wins,
and in turn, guarantees that we win as well.

https://christcenteredteaching.wordpress.com/2017/09/09/let-nabeel-know-on-facebook-and-twitter-that-you-love-him-and-you-are-praying-for-himvlog-42-palliative-care-on-youtube/

The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:17-18

3 minutes ’til

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(old wall clock in the Jameson Distillery, Midleton, Co Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The Doomsday Clock

A metaphorical clock created in 1947 by a group of scientists who all had a hand in creating the nuclear bomb.

A clock whose hands, when set at midnight, would signify the almost certain and impending demise of all mankind.

Interesting that those who helped to create “the bomb”… the very thing touted as being the be all to end all wars…in turn create a clock marking the end of mankind….hummmmm

The clock is currently set at three minutes ’til midnight.
The only other time, during its 69 year existence that the clock edged closer to the ominous midnight hour was in 1953 when it was set at 2 minutes ’til midnight.

What pray tell, one may ask, could ever be a determining criteria to the fretful moving of the two hands ever closer to or further from the dreaded bewitching midnight hour?

Well the obvious threat would be that of nuclear war or the use of nuclear weapons somewhere across the globe….
think Iran, North Korea, China, Pakistan, Israel, India, Russia, the US, ISIS….you get the picture.

Global economic stability…or lack thereof…think IMF, stock markets, world banking, black markets, recessions, depressions….

The precarious health of the environment….think global warming, global cooling, locusts, plagues, floods, erosion, pollution….

Seeing any or all of the latest headlines ringing round the world and you can get some sort of idea to the scope of “criteria” as to what makes the doomsday hands tick closer to the proverbial pumpkin turning, glass slipper seeking, fairytale stroke of midnight turned reality tale type of harbinger of cataclysmic death and destruction.

Yet I’m not really certain as to why we need a group of world renowned scientists, nobel prize winners and leaders in all things academic amassed together in some sort of board room or labortory telling us we’re almost ready to implode. One look at the news and anybody with any sense can plainly see the alarmingly rapidly increasing impending demise of mankind splattered across every news outlet from Sydney to Katmandu, from Spokane, to Liverpool, from Tibilsi to…..you get the idea.

It all reminds me of those homemade beacons of foreboding doom stuck in the ground along wayward roadsides declaring to one and all… “REPENT! THE END IS NEAR”

And yet, I’ve not noticed a run on the churches…
You know, like when the weathermen start predicting an impending storm and suddenly all of humanity descends upon every grocery store within the bullseye of the storm in order to snatch up every loaf of bread and every gallon of milk as if those two things alone are the only things that can sustain us throughout the duration of hunkering down and battening down the hatches…

One might imagine that when the rallying cry of doom is sounded by those in the know, the average citizen would feel as if he or she may want to get serious with that whole getting right with one’s God concept, as in the time has come….filling the local pews to the brim as everyone jockeys for position while seeking the saving grace before the you know what hits the fan….

Or maybe not…

Maybe everyone is just so jaded, so gloom and doomed out…so hardened of heart…
as in over it…
as in sick and tired of thinking about the dreaded end…
merely preferring to think that destruction and mayhem are either over rated or merely part of the inevitable and that there’s just not avoiding the inevitable.
I actually think one of the networks has a new show, a black comedy, coming out focusing on the very concept of living life in the wake of “the end”….

At any rate, I found the story as well as the fact that the BBC found it necessary to report that the hands are somewhat stuck…as in they aren’t moving, most interesting. It’s three minutes ’til and that seems to be it for now…no moving backwards or forwards—and depending on one’s outlook, maybe that’s a good thing…at least we’re not moving forward, with maybe a chance to go backwards…

However, given the precarious global situation I don’t think backwards is going to be an option anytime soon.
And whereas man may need reminding every once in a while that he’s sitting on the brink of total annihilation, I am reminded of many a biblical passage which addresses this rather interesting position we’ve gotten ourselves into….

…And yet, I am not running about like Henny Penny proclaiming that the sky is falling…rather I am resting in the peace of the knowledge that no matter what may or may not blow at this supposed midnight hour, my life rests in the blood of the lamb, in the saving Grace of the One True Resurrected Savior of Jesus Christ.
Come what may, I am His and He is mine—
and there is a great deal of contentment found in that one small fact…

Here’s a link to the story…
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-35412454

Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

Isaiah 54:10

Head on a plate

We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.
Aiden Wilson Tozer

Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
1 John 4:1

DSCN8924

DSCN8925

DSCN8926
(howling winds usher in a foreboding change / Julie Cook / 2015)

Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6 He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Malachi 4:1-5

Who is this strange man, dirty and crazed?
This man who calls the wilderness home?
He is nothing more than a poor homeless clout.
Perhaps a demon possessed spirit,
who has been driven mad by the winds and rain.

Was he not one of us, born here amongst us?
Was he not raised as us, nestled in our safety?
Who is he to proclaim the word of God?
Yet why do we find ourselves unable to meet his eyes, his glance.

A seer, a visionary, a prophet, a fool.
He talks to the birds, the lizards and to anyone who would give him ear.
“Repent” and “prepare” are the tools of his trade
“Yet look not to me” he proclaims, “for there is one who comes, much greater than I. . .”
“I only point the way. . .”

And the people of the land laughed.
They mocked and pointed, hiding behind bravado and ego.
Yet individually, they each wondered.
They questioned.
They fretted.
They squirmed in their shoes.

His words penetrated to a place no one felt comfortable to visit.
His stare made them feel dirty and wrong.
So they laughed harder and made merry with abandon.
Uncomfortable.
Guilty.
Yet some were compelled to listen, even eventually choosing to follow.

His words relentless, his message never faltering.
Day and night he hammers the same message as if hammering a stake penetrating the souls of the masses.
More people turn, they listen, they follow.
However not all heed his words.
Those in authority grow wary, nervous.
They scream amongst themselves, “Silence the madman”

Plots and schemes are formulated.
An arrest is planned.
Betrayal is at hand.
Recant
Repent
Destroy
Prepare
Lust whispers in the darkness.
Greed reaches out its greasy hand.
Pleasure mingles with pain.
Yet his words remain the same.
“I am not the one whom you seek.
I am not the One.
I am but the messenger.
The one who was sent to prepare the way.
You will see, there will be One greater,
One who you cannot silence. . .”

All as a single head rolls, served upon a platter,
As the people resume their dancing and laughter,
Uneasiness reigns and the demons giggle with glee.
“Repent” and “prepare” swrill upon the foreboding winds. . .

It all began with a simple greeting

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As we enter into Holy week, I think back to the very beginning of how we came to the sorrow of this week– which will, thankfully, give way to joy. In the beginning there was also joy, just as there was the foreboding of sorrow— eventually giving way to victory….”Hail favored one! The Lord is with you.”
(photograph: reproduction of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation–Florence, Italy)