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

No east nor west

Oh, East is East, and West is West,
and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently
at God’s great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West,
Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face,
though they come from the ends of the earth!

Rudyard Kipling “The Ballad of East and West

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(a tiny skipper and honey bee share the same patch of sedum / Julie Cook / 2015)

DSC02147
(a tiny skipper and honey bee share the same patch of sedum / Julie Cook / 2015)

Having been raised in the Episcopal Church, attending a very large
southern gothic Cathedral, I relished in the rich hymns which would
echo off the seemingly cold limestone walls each Sunday morning.
Resoundingly joyous, as well as seriously solemn, proclamations
of faith carried aloft by both grand organ, choir and congregation would
ring out triumphantly each Sunday all those many years ago—
just as they do to this day.

It’s just that I no longer hear those hymns as I once did as I have long since moved away from my childhood home and church–having long since drifted away from the Episcopal Church.
Yet I know those hymns still ring true as that’s just a part of the strong tie that binds the faithful to the services of the various denominations of the Christian Church, most of which are steeped in rich traditional sacred music—despite the divisions and doctrinal changes, some things such as hymns, stand up to the rigorous test of time.

Every once in a while, for whatever reason, one of those beautiful melodies comes gently gliding back to the forefront of my thoughts and memories.
Oddly such was the case today.
I found myself mindlessly, or so it seemed, humming a vaguely familiar tune when it suddenly dawned on me what it was I was actually humming. . .In Christ there is no east or west, in Him no north or south, but one great fellowship throughout the whole wide earth. . .

A rather apt hymn given the current state of this overtly divided Nation, or rather make that World, of ours. . .

I did a bit of digging regarding the origin of the hymn—was there some sort of lesson God had to offer me as it seemed He graciously brought the tune and memory into focus this oh so average summer day.

The hymn was written in 1908 by William J. Dunkerly, aka John Oxenham, an English businessman turned poet, journalist and author. The poem / hymn was roughly based off of a story written by Rudyard Kipling nine years prior–The Ballad of East and West. A story steeped in the clashes and division of cultures found in Colonial India.

Oxenham’s hymn speaks not to the divisions and clashes of mankind and culture but rather to the unity—the unity of all humankind which can only be found in Jesus Christ.

And that’s the thing. . .there will be no unity of north and south nor east and west nor all that which falls within, not until man (and that word is a collective word which represents all humankind) can put himself (and yes that includes herself) under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Sadly ego, pride and that of personal agendas take precedence in the heart of man, and woman, as mankind decides to be his or her own god. Selfishly putting self, personal agendas and anything else for that matter ahead of a God who asks for a heart of submission–for all He asks is that we follow Him (Matthew 4:19)—yet as human beings stubbornly demonstrate time and time again they prefer to lead rather than follow.

The irony found in this need for submission is that so many folks view it as yielding to a state of being “less than” or of being held a prisoner by a grand puppet master. What they don’t understand is that within that submission, yielding, bending of self comes the gift of freedom and life eternal.
It is not a yielding to the dogmatic power of control exerted by some maniacal psychopath or deranged dictator, but rather to that of a benevolent and loving Creator who longs to gather His children close. Such following leads to the offering of self, not to self, but rather to the betterment of all mankind. . .

However I suppose the majority of this squabbling world of ours just prefers the agenda of self which simply leads to a twain that shall never meet and the inevitable silence of death. . .

In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord,
Close binding humankind.

Join hands, then, members of the faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as His child
Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
In Him meet North and South;
All Christly souls are one in Him
Throughout the whole wide earth.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Galatians 3:28

(and for anyone who is interested in hymns, their origins, their history, their usage. . .there happens to be a fellow blogger, Robert Cottrill, who has a site dedicated to just that very thing–
http://wordwisehymns.com )

A Gothic Masterpiece

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“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe.”
Proverbs 18:10

The Milan Cathedral, or Duomo, is one of the five largest cathedrals in the world, taking over 600 years to build. A church has stood on this location since the 5th century. The Cathedral is a wonder of Gothic architecture as it’s spires seem to reach up to Heaven. There are 135 spires and 3200 statues.
Mark Twain’s observation of the Milan Cathedral from Innocents Abroad:
“What a wonder it is! So grand, so solemn, so vast! And yet so delicate, so airy, so graceful! A very world of solid weight, and yet it seems …a delusion of frostwork that might vanish with a breath!…”

(photograph: Milan Cathedral, Julie Cook)