Walking hand in hand with the Spirit

“O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You.
Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me.”

St. Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

(detail of Christ Enthroned from The Book of Kells along with the image of a Celtic goose—
seen in the upper corners. The Celts often depicted the Holy Spirit as a wild goose /
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland)

“The Spirit of God is a spirit of peace, and he speaks and acts in peace
and gentleness, never in tumult and agitation.
What’s more, the motions of the Spirit are delicate touches that don’t make a
great noise and can penetrate our spiritual consciousness only if we have
within ourselves a sort of calm zone of silence and peace.
If our inner world is noisy and agitated, the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit
will find it very difficult to be heard.
If we want to recognize and follow the Spirit’s motions,
it is of the greatest importance to maintain a peaceful heart in all circumstances.”

Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 37
An Excerpt from
In the School of the Holy Spirit

the Holy Spirit is on the move…

“Often, actually very often, God allows his greatest servants,
those who are far advanced in grace,
to make the most humiliating mistakes.
This humbles them in their own eyes and in the eyes of their fellow men.”

St. Louis de Montfort


(detail from an altar’s funerary tomb within the Chruch of Santa Maria sopra Minerva/
Rome, Itlay / Julie Cook / 2018)

On a warm October afternoon as my husband was back in the hotel taking a much
needed and long awaited nap—
I opted to step out into the streets of the madness which is synonymous
with the Eternal city of Roma…
Wandering with a purpose while drinking in both past and present.

Now I will say that ever since I was a wee child,
napping was just something that was never ever on my radar.
Mother would ‘put me down’ for my nap, gently closing the door, as I’d wail in protest…
Once I realized I was pretty much stuck, I would then defiantly stand up on the bed with
little elbows resting on a windowsill as I’d stare out wondering about the world outside.

What was I missing?
I wasn’t sleepy.
Why waste this precious time offered for living by sleeping??

And before all of you nap advocates out there begin to read me the riot act over the
glorious benefits of naps…
with those first protestors being my cats and my husband…
I will simply plead my defense to my odd wiring…
I am simply not a napper.

So on this early October afternoon, I chose not to nap but rather to explore, meandering
the overtly crowded streets near the frenetic sea of tourists milling in and around
the Pantheon in Rome.
And as usual, I found myself drifting off course.
I cut down a side street that gave way to a quieter and much smaller piazza.
The Piazza della Minerva.

Seeking peace amongst the madness.

I quickly realized I was standing outside of the Dominican Chruch of
Santa Maria sopra Minerva, or rather known to English speakers as
Saint Mary above Minerva—
The name is due to the fact that a Christian Chruch was built over an early temple
dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, or rather the Latinized version being
that of Minerva.

Nothing gives me a greater sense of peace when I’m visiting a large frantic historic city
then finding a hidden, off the radar, church…be it big or small…

Ode to the sacred that beckons me to come in…
Coming in to marvel,
to rest,
to wonder
to ponder,
to think,
to pray…

I am drawn in to such places like an iron ball is drawn to a magnet.
With my eyes open wide, usually adjusting to the dim flickering candlelight,
as my head tilts upward, all the while I try to find my balance as I take in the size
and scope of what it is I’ve been drawn in to.

I allow myself to bask in the utter majesty or rest in the pure simplicity of our
Christian roots.

Such was the case in this ancient gothic church constructed in 1320.

I’ll share more about this visit later as there is a beautiful statue of the risen Christ,
flanking the main altar, carved by Michelangelo…along with the beautiful frescoed altar
paintings by Filippino Lippi
(you remember I was an art teacher right??)

I reverently wandered in this cavernous church while the footsteps of both myself
and those who had also come inside..those who were both curious as well as seeking,
echoed throughout the massive sanctuary.

I stopped before each niche and each chapel, studying and soaking in what I saw.
Soaking in the stories, the emotions, the glory, and even the sorrow offered
to those who take the time to look, read, ponder and imagine.

When suddenly I found myself gazing upon what
appeared to be a large collection of various polished white marble statues.

It was actually more like one particular statue that was just one piece of a much larger
carved funerary tomb which held my gaze steadfast.

There were several statues of women and angels.
Large and imposing, they made me feel very small…both physically as well as metaphorically.

One figure, that of a woman who I initially assumed to be Mary, turned her body away from
the viewers, as well as from her fellow statues.

She was covering her face, turning her body, in what appeared to be a
state of anguish or perhaps even shame…
All the while, a small cherub, also known as putti, looked directly at her in a most knowing
and penetrating fashion.

What did he know about this woman?
What had happened?

Yet rather than being a statute of Mary, this woman was actually a portrayal of Justice…
And rather than being a typical blindfolded image of a woman, as Justice is usually depicted,
this statue, designed by Bernini, was portrayed as a woman who seemed consumed by grief.

There were suddenly a thousand thoughts racing through my mind as I gazed up at this somewhat
painfilled moment of time.
A moment that should have otherwise been private, was here on display for all to see.

No hiding her grief.
No mourning and crying privately.
The putti knew…and now I knew.

But what did I know?

I felt compelled to offer, albeit in some distant fashion, comfort.
I could feel the weight of her pain.
But why?
I had no idea.

Fast forwarding to yesterday morning, I was reading my morning devotions when I came to
the following excerpt from Father Jacques Philippe.
I had a similar reaction to his words as I did to that statue…
there was a sense of the deep weight of both pain and understanding.

Like I say, we will come back to take a deeper and wider look into the beauty and mystery
of Santa Maria sopra Minerva but for now…
The Holy Spirit is busy…
this much I do know…

“When uncertain about God’s will, it is very important that we tell ourselves:
‘Even if there are aspects of God’s will that escape me,
there are always others that I know for sure and can invest in without any risk,
knowing that this investment always pays dividends.’
These certainties include fulfilling the duties of our state in life and practicing
the essential points of every Christian vocation.
There is a defect here that needs to be recognized and avoided:
finding ourselves in darkness about God’s will on an important question . . .
we spend so much time searching and doubting or getting discouraged,
that we neglect things that are God’s will for us every day,
like being faithful to prayer, maintaining trust in God, loving the people around us here and now.
Lacking answers about the future,
we should prepare to receive them by living today to the full.”

Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 55
An Excerpt From
Interior Freedom

imports and exports

“Jesus, help me to simplify my life by learning what you want me to be,
and becoming that person.”

St. Therese of Lisieux


(a lovely orange bell pepper / Julie Cook / 2018)

Here it is the height of the summer despite many school systems already heading back
for the start of the new school year.

Living down South, in a place where summer’s luscious produce is hitting its zenith, despite
the stores beginning to put out their fall and Thanksgiving goods, I happened to notice
an odd occurrence when stopping by the local grocery store.

I ran in the store in order to pick up a few things the other day and grabbed one
of the colorful bell peppers stacked ever so neatly on the grocery store’s produce shelf.

I usually prefer the red, yellow or orange varieties over the innocuous green ones as
they taste no different but add a splash of color to whatever one is preparing.

Once home, as I was putting away the groceries, I pulled out my bell pepper.
I looked at the tag stuck to the pepper, reading to see if my bell pepper came from
either Florida or California…all the while secretly hoping it would read Georgia.
It’s that time of the season you know here in Georgia—when gardens are now fully bearing
their long-anticipated fruits of a farmers labor.

Yet I am well aware that our Nation’s produce belts lie in our more temperate climate states…
States such as California and Florida…for various fruits and vegetables and places like
Nebraska or Iowa for corn.

However, imagine my surprise when I read that my beautiful bright colored pepper hailed from none
of the aforementioned states but was actually born and raised in Holland.

The last place I think of when I think of something like a bell pepper is Holland…as in this
low land, country is known for several other things besides bell peppers.
Beer yes, peppers no.

If I still had a garden, this is the time when my own peppers were coming into their own.
Would it not make more sense to have a pepper from right here in Georgia…
since this is our time of year for the likes of produce such as peppers???

Instead I picked a pepper, not a peck of peppers mind you, that had to actually come to me
via a cargo container…and yet despite an arduous journey from the land of canals and windmills
over the Atlantic Ocean, a beautiful orange pepper arrives at my grocery store…
looking pretty as the day it was most likely plucked.

Makes me wonder as to how this pepper has stood up so well during its travels from Holland
to my fridge here in Georgia.

And so yes, it may not be convenient for me to trek out to the local farmer’s market–
getting grocery items at the grocery store and produce items at the produce market and then
butcher goods from a local butcher (of which we no longer have in our smaller community)
I just might want to rethink my shopping habits as I would prefer a fresh locally grown
pepper as to this lovely trans Atlantic pepper.

And nothing against Holland nor this beautiful pepper…but I do prefer local when I can find it.

There are things that each country does well—think Chocolate form Belgium, Beer and sausages from Germany, olive oil from Italy, Spain and Greece…along with olives…
think wines from France, Italy, Portugal and yes, California…

We all have something that is indicative to each of our home nations…
products that we do well…and it should be noted that some nations have been
doing what it is they do now for centuries…

But when it comes to summer produce…well, I kind of prefer mine to grown a bit closer to home…
because Heavens knows that here in the South, we are in the height of the season…

Makes me think about my own seasonal worth and productivity…
that of my own exports and imports…

What has God labored over within me that is now ready for harvest…

And once harvested, it’s time to share…

“However great our efforts, we cannot change ourselves.
Only God can get to the bottom of our defects, and our limitations in the field of love;
only he has sufficient mastery over our hearts for that.
If we realize that we will save ourselves a great deal of discouragement and fruitless struggle.
We do not have to become saints by our own power;
we have to learn how to let God make us into saints.
That does not mean, of course, that we don’t have to make any effort…
We should fight, not to attain holiness as a result of our own efforts,
but to let God act in us without our putting up any resistance against him;
we should fight to open ourselves as fully as possible to his grace, which sanctifies us.”

Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 14-5
An Excerpt From
In the School of the Holy Spirit