the direction of bricks and mortar

Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow for other’s good,
and melt at other’s woe.

Homer

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(Julie Cook / 2015)

Currently feeling most grieved over the latest madness sweeping across this
great nation of ours…
what with the divisiveness and hateful discourse bombarding our daily lives…
Of the recent marches and demonstrations…
with now high school kids adding to the mix…

My thoughts shift to relationships…
meaningful and significant relationships…
To those components of mortar and to the building blocks…
to all that builds and creates a base
a community…

to those footings…
to the foundations…
and to the resulting communions we build…

Thoughts shift to those who have crossed my own life…
to those who imprinted and imparted upon me…
a betterment,
a lastingness,
an endurance..

where would I be without such…

Today I ran across a post I’d written 2 years ago…
oddly it was just sitting out there on the internet…
under a particular search word…

It seemed rather timely so I decided to borrow a portion it for today’s post…
because it recounts the importance of a life that helped to form my own life.

For I now see that our youth currently need individuals in their lives who are strong…
those who don’t mind taking time…
those who aren’t afraid of taking a risk …
Those who want to help…
to mould,
to shape,
and to guide.

For our kids need to hear the words “don’t” and “no”…
as well as “good” and “job well done”
they need to be loved and nurtured…
not ignored or simply turned out…
they need to be disciplined and held accountable
not left unbridled or excused…
they need to be given directions…
but not carried…

Because they will seek out those individuals…
that communion and community..

the concern will be to whom and to what….

excerpt–original date Jan 12, 2015…

Being able to express myself was always important.
I most often found that freedom in the process of simply writing.
First, as a young girl, in the form of a journal / diary,
then as I grew older,
it came through the writing of letters.

It was in the writing of letters where I allowed myself to fully express my thoughts.
It was the one place my often frustrated brain could and would be allowed to soar.

In the days before computers, emails and word documents…
I loved buying and sending cards.
I would spend hours writing letters–
especially the letters I’d write that bordered more along the lines of epistles,
those lengthy and meaty tome like lettes to my godfather–a long retired Episcopal priest.
He passed away late December at the age 94.
I have often referenced him and his influence in my life in many a previous post.

The letters were often written with a myriad of misspelled words,
despite the large dictionary by my side.
There were gaping gaps in the written thought… as I would think much faster than I wrote.
The letters were laced with outrageous sentence structure,
which in turn would make any english teacher cringe,…
yet they were letters written with passion, honesty and humility.
And despite the holes, the poor sentence structure or the youthful angst,
my godfather would receive each letter expectantly, happily, and lovingly…
all without a judgement of content or the editing of grammatical structure–
this from a man who made a living writing and speaking.

Our correspondence began when I was around the age of 15.
My early letters were laced with the pangs of innocence and adolescence.
Yet as I aged and matured those letters became more complex,
even troubling, as I fought my way, often with fraught emotion,
through the often tangled jungle of life.
I wrestled with my faith and beliefs.
Life was not always easy nor kind.
There were obstacles, illnesses, deaths, disappointments, poor choices, grave mistakes,
coupled with a few triumphs, glimpses of joy and moments of contentment.

Always with love and often, no doubt, with great frustration,
he would offer words of either encouragement or warning,
lessons or simply the “if I were you”…
yet his words were always laced with love.
It was here, within the correspondence of a young girl, now grown woman,
where I learned about unconditional love.

I never filtered my words or emotions yet perhaps today, looking back,
I see that it would have behooved me to have used a bit more restraint—
yet he never faltered or expressed disappointment.
My Godpoppa, the busy world at large Anglican leader,
would never specifically tell me what to do,
despite my often desperate queries.

He would never say “yes” or “no” but rather he’d offer wisdom woven with advice all of
which he hoped would allow me to eventually find my own way.
He was a signpost of guidance,
of the miles thus traveled and of miles yet to be traveled.

And so as I currently find myself surveying a sea of rising national angst..
My thoughts now wander to those meaningful and significant relationships that we form…
those unique and timely bonds offered by the mentors and the role models amongst us…

To what direction are they now pointing…
To what sort of guidance do they long to impart…
To what sort of mortar and foundation do they wish to use…
and does anybody really still care…

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord,
not for human masters…

Colossians 3:23

(The Very Reverend David Browning Collins 1922-2016)

The gift of a peach

“The nectarine, and curious peach,
Into my hands themselves do reach;
Stumbling on melons, as I pass,
Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.”

Andrew Marvell

Dwell not upon thy weariness,
thy strength shall be according to the measure of thy desire.

Arab Proverb

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(my very own little peaches / Julie Cook / 2015)

I watched you today.
I knew you didn’t feel well.
You were quiet.
Not yourself.

I saw the worry on your face and heard it in your voice.
I could feel your preoccupation with the heaviness and grief.
I watched you take the last couple of pills out of the bottle
to help soothe your stomach.

Yet I knew you were still keenly aware of your surroundings.

I heard you mention how deep blue the sky was today as it was
accented by the new green growth of all the towering trees.

I watched as you ambled up and down the aisles of the garden shop,
snapping pictures of the blankets of new blooms exploding on every young plant.

I saw you plant the new little lime tree,
watching as you hoisted sack after sack of dirt in order to fill the pot.
I noticed how you forgot to put on the gloves,
growing agitated that the dirt got under your nails.

I watched your excitement when you noticed the tiny peaches sprouting out on the equally
tiny peach tree.

I’ve watched you labor with the tiny tree, ever since you brought it home two years ago.
It was a sad stick of a tree sitting in that hardware store.
You’d asked your husband if you could buy two of them hoping to eventually have your
own peach trees.

I felt your frustration when you unwrapped them and one of them was already dead.
I marveled as you planted the sole remaining little tree anyway,
offering it your care and your hope.

I watched as you watered it.
Fertilized it.
Moved it in and out as each season dictated.
You’ve defended it from the spider mites.

I’ve watched you over the years relish in the peaches you’d bring home from market.
Gently feeling each one for ripeness.
Placing your nose to each peach, breathing in deeply for that distinct scent.
I’ve watched you as a little girl bite into a ripened peach,
as the juice dribbled down your chin and the fuzzy skin tickled your tongue.

I had hoped you’d see the buds.
I wanted them to fill you with anticipation and excitement.
I’ve known things haven’t been easy and that you’ve felt lonely and overwhelmed.

I wanted you to know, through the tiny bud of a peach, that I am here. . .
That I do see you,
hear you,
feel you,
Love you. . .


“I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

2 Corinthians 6:18

“For He looks to the ends of the earth
And sees everything under the heavens.

Job 28:24

In the blink of an eye

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
Washington Irving

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(the fleeting frozen rains from hopefully the last cold snap / Julie Cook / 2015)

And just like that, in a fleeting single blink of an eye,
the triumphant joy ceases.
The crowds have quickly lost their jovial revelry.
Things are taking a turn–yet what sort of turn is yet to be seen.
There is a subtle shift in the winds.
Deep dark whispers now drift along the alleyways, replacing the recent laughter and jubilation.
A few dried palm branches are trampled underfoot, unnoticed.

What is passion?
Is it intensity?
Is it a feeling of indescribable and voracious love, longing, desire?
It is a consuming flame within the very core of one’s being, psyche, soul, heart?
Is it with or without control?
Is it with or without pain?

Groups of men are seen huddled together.
Any observer can note the seriousness of their conversations.
There is a hurriedness in the steps of those more official looking individuals.
Even the animals sense the change.
All are now anxious, fretful, nervous. . .
The sky grows dark, a storm seems to be brewing.

Is grief anticipatory?
Can sorrow be foretold?
Is the heart warned before breaking?
What of fear and anger verses hope and love?
Is one greater than the other?
Does love trump all other emotions?
Can one be broken hearted and full of love simultaneously?

Paranoia gives way to determination,
As a final solution is now at hand.
Selfishness, greed, control, swirl into a toxic mixture of treachery
A pigeon is found and a mole is set loose as the silver is gathered.
There are those who rub their hands together in twisted satisfaction as
there are those who wring their hands with foreboding and trepidation

Sorrow and love are now woven as one
There is no turning back as the die has been cast
The sequence of events is no longer reversible.
The truth of the matter is. . .they never were.
This pivotal moment was determined eons ago
Everyone has had a hand in it.

There is but one lone figure who has remained very far removed,
yet it is he who has watched this all unfold, generation after generation.
He stands in solitude perched somewhere between space and time, watching, waiting yet knowing
A single tear is seen to fall.
It is now left to time, which is all that remains separating. . .
what was
what is
and
what will be. . .

Innocence and sorrow

I leave to children exclusively, but only for the life of their childhood, all and every the dandelions of the fields and the daisies thereof, with the right to play among them freely, according to the custom of children, warning them at the same time against the thistles. And I devise to children the yellow shores of creeks and the golden sands beneath the water thereof, with the dragon flies that skim the surface of said waters, and and the odors of the willows that dip into said waters, and the white clouds that float on high above the giant trees.
Williston Fish, “A Last Will,” 1898

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

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(the forgotten antique toy soldiers of a long ago childhood / Julie Cook / 2015)

Who among us has not known his or her fair share, or perhaps overtly unfair share, of sorrow and grief? Who has not railed angrily, with fiery fist raised while wearing tear streaked cheeks, cursing the unseen God to whom is lain all blame and guilt?
Who has not known the pain of suffering—either physical, emotional, mental or spiritual?
Who has not experienced the anguish of loss, the torment and frustration, as well as the helplessness, of having life totally out of ones control—unable to prevent or stop the suffering and anguish of sorrow?
Who has not demanded answers, the revealing reasons as to why the misfortune, coupled by the agonizing torment of the hows and the whys. . .

How many of us have looked recently at the news, only to see the face of the teddy bear browned-eyed young girl of idyllic youth and hope sweetly looking back at us and finding ourselves wondering how could such a joyful youthful soul fall victim to the madness half a world away— and suddenly finding that what was “over there” seems eerily now over here, effecting us all. . .all the while pondering how the God of all things past, present and future could allow such a seemingly gentle child, a girl who could have been the daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, friend of any one of us, to be snatched away in the height of her youthful quest for goodness at the hands of those who are cold, calculating and void of any sort of empathy?

The night after the story of Kayla Mueller’s death at the hands of IS, with stories swirling that she had been married off to one of the ISIS leaders as a prize of war, there seemed to be more questions then answers that were met with the overflowing grief of a family which was shared publicly Tuesday during a press conference. Yet many of the more cynical and jaded among us have been heard to wonder out loud “what foolish individual in their right mind would go over there right now. . .?”

But what we must know about human beings is that there are those among us who run to the sound of fire rather than from it. . .those who selflessly and unequivocally rush in to offer help, support, ease and comfort to those individual who are stuck in the midst of misery. They go with little to no regard of self—and if the truth be told, we are all glad they do.

Whether we agree that that region of the world is simply too dangerous for the Kayla Muellers among us to venture. . .be it the middle east, many parts of Africa, Ukraine, parts of the far east, and even the Philippines—that such places are only for the military and well trained to traverse, the truth of the matter is that where there are people and children who are caught innocently in the middle of conflict–those who suffer grievously because of the madness of others, there will always be those among us who hear, as well as heed, the call to render service and help—be we Jew, Gentile, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc—the drive to offer empathy, compassion, aid and care for our hurting fellow human beings is a hardwired trait that hides deep within our psyche–it’s just that some of us are better at hearing and heeding it than others.

Tuesday night, after having spent much of the day glued to the news and having grieved along with Kayla’s family, having noted that she was the same age as my son, having wrestled with the position of the United States in such matters as hostages and war, I found myself settling in for the evening reading over the Bonhoeffer book I have previously mentioned Meditating On The Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer translated by David McI. Gracie.

The evenings reading was based on Psalm 34:19 A Sermon on the Suffering of the Righteous
It was a meditation that Bonhoeffer had actually written down and mailed to his dear friend Eberhard Bethge while Bonhoeffer was a prisoner in Tegel Prison near Berlin—the first of three different prisons before his subsequent execution. Bonhoeffer had already been held by the Nazi’s for over a year, his future uncertain. He had just become engaged prior to his arrest, and with it now being over a year away from those he loved, the confinement was wearing on his soul.

Once again, as the created and not being the Creator, there are those events in life that we simply will never truly understand no matter how hard we try. We can write them off as this or that, we can grow bitter and cold or simply empty and numb but there are those moments when we will find ourselves at a loss for words, a loss of understanding. It will be there, in the midst of the suffering and sorrow, that we will meet God. . .

I want to offer the following excerpt of the meditation as I find its subject most timely and most enlightening. . .(the translator has chosen to mix up the use of the feminine and masculine pronoun)

Psalm 34:19
The righteous person must suffer many things;
but the lord delivers him out of them all.

1 Peter 3:9
Repay not evil with evil or railing with railing,
but rather bless, and know that you are called to this,
so that you should inherit the blessing.

The righteous person suffers in this world in a way that the unrighteous person does not.
The righteous person suffers because of many things that for others seem only natural and unavoidable. The righteous person suffers because of unrighteousness, because of the senselessness and absurdity of events in the world. She suffers because of the destruction of the divine order of marriage and the family. She suffers not only because it means privation for her, but because she recognizes something ungodly in it. The world says: that is how it is, always will be, and must be. The righteous person says: It ought not to be so; it is against God. This is how one recognizes the righteous person, by her suffering in just this way. She brings, as it were, the sensorium of God into the world; hence, she suffers as God suffers in this world.
“But the Lord delivers him.”
God’s deliverance is not to be found in every experience of human suffering. But in the suffering of the righteous God’s hope is always there, because he (the righteous person) is suffering with God. God is always present with him. The righteous person knows that God allows him to suffer so, in order that he may learn to love God for God’s own sake. In suffering, the righteous person finds God. That is his deliverance.
Find God in your separation and you will find deliverance!
The answer of the righteous person to the sufferings that the world causes her is to bless.
That was the answer of God to the world that nailed Christ to the cross: blessing.
God does to repay like with like, and neither should the righteous person.
No condemning, no railing, but blessing.
The world would have no hope if this were not so.
The world lives and has its future by means of the blessing of God and of the righteous person. Blessing means laying one’s hands upon something and saying: You belong to God in spite of all. It is in this way that we respond to the world that causes us such suffering. We do not forsake it, cast it out, despise or condemn it. Instead, we recall it to God, we give it hope, we lay our hands upon it and say: God’s blessing come to you; may God renew you; be blessed, you dear God-created world, for you belong to your creator and redeemer. We have received God’s blessing in our happiness and in our suffering. And whoever has been blessed herself cannot help but pass this blessing on to the next one; yes, wherever she is, she must be herself a blessing. The renewal of the world, which seems so impossible, becomes possible in the blessing of God.
As Jesus ascended to heaven, “he lifted up his hands and blessed” his followers. We hear him speak to us in this hour: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” Amen

Dark and Light

“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”
Rumi

Sometimes a post has no particular impetus of origin. Nothing dictated, no particular catalyst.
Other times there is an inner nudging–an internal pushing of the writer toward a specific topic and / or subject.
And so it is today. . .

No Light:
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Now with light:
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One minute we’re void of color, perched within a tonal world of black, white and grey.. .
Add a little light. . .
and Voila, bathed now in full warm radiant color!
Amazing what a little light on the subject, or in this case, under the subject, can do!!

Which brings us to the quote by the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi. . .
I think most of us would be hard pressed to agree with the afore mentioned sentiment “what hurts us, blesses us.” Not unless some of us like that sort of thing and then I think that just brings up an area that deals in negative psychology, human behavior, masochism. . . and that is certainly not where I’m wishing to go this morning.. .

Now back to darkness and blessings. . .
St John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish Mystic, wrote extensively on this very subject in both his Ascent of Mount Carmel as well as the follow-up, the Dark Night of the Soul
With the latter acting as a balm to ones tried and tired soul, albeit a bit heavy and deep to wade through. The language is of the poetic and very deep indeed. Remember, we’re talking about mysticism which is indeed rooted in a deep internal journey to the discovery of a relationship with God as Creator on a level other than the obvious and more than what most of us tend to be familiar with.

It is this very “book” and of St John of the Cross himself, in which Karol Wojtyla, a once young Polish catholic priest, chose to write his dissertation– actually writing it in Spanish as to fully understand and appreciate the original translation of St John’s work. We should note that this young priest later went on to become Pope John Paul II.

I dare say we have all suffered through dark nights of the soul throughout our lives at some time or another. Sometimes these dark times seem to last an eternity. Other times, thankfully, they are brief encounters. It is my experienced belief that those of us who are deep feelers, meaning those who internalize a great deal as well as those who tend to ruminate over much of life, tend to be a bit more inclined to these darker bouts.

Churchill had his “black dog” and Mother Teresa is said to have confessed in her private journals of a very dry and dark suffering which she felt throughout much of her adult life as her life seemed terribly void of God’s presence. Parents who have lost children suffer grievously this darkness, as do any of us who have lost loved ones.

Be it circumstance or disposition, the Darkness can be a very real and a very difficult place to find oneself–particularly for any length of time. Which brings us to the Light.

Padre Pio, a recently canonized capuchin monk, from a very impoverished area in Southern Italy, also knew a thing or two of the struggles with Darkness. His is indeed an interesting story, one we don’t have time to delve into here but I do recommend that you perhaps find a good biography to peruse as his is a story of stigmata’s, struggles with evil, bilocation, healing, witch hunts, humility and endurance.

It is Padre Pio who tells us to take courage when we feel as if we are plagued by sadness and Darkness– it is during such times that God actually draws closest to us. I’ve written on this subject before yet I feel it has much merit in being repeated as we all suffer at some point in this life. If we live, inevitably we will suffer—sadly that’s just the way of life.

I have been known to curse the darkness as well as the light, Life— and I have even been known to yell and scream at God. Anguish can be a very lonely frustrating place. I certainly have not felt heavenly supported during such dark times but it is said that an army of God’s angels envelope us during such trials—which in hindsight is a welcomed blessing.

All I know is that God is not immune to our suffering. He does not cause it, puppeteer it, manipulate it, or sadisticly enjoy it as many have attempted accusing Him of throughout history. He weeps with us and His anguish is deep. As beings who live with free will, in a fallen world, there will always remain sickness, sadness, evil, pain and suffering–such is life in a fallen world.
I say that as not to cause discouragement. Remember there is hope, kindness, mercy and Grace…but this is not that post. This post is merely about dark and light.

To offer comfort to those of you who are currently in a place of dry darkness is not an easy task. I personally tend to go within myself and there’s not much anyone can say or do which helps at those times—it is only once I emerge that I can appreciate the loving intentions of others. It also does me a wealth of goodness to read such works as St John’s —as well as the words of the Psalmist as his lamentations and yearnings are so very timeless. Often knowing that others have suffered in one form or another and yet survived can, to me, act as a morsel of hopefulness.

May you, who are currently in the midst of a dry and dark place, find the solace of a loving Father. May you weather the storm raging within or bear that of the silent emptiness. May you be encouraged that you are never alone–as countless fellow journeymen have borne similar burdens as there is a host of the unseen warriors of Heaven who have readied themselves to engulf you Life is hard, often heavy with its share of darkness–yet thankfully it is always countered by the light of love, laughter and that of the human connection.

“Bear in mind that the more the enemy assaults you, the closer God is to your soul. Think about, and penetrate this great and comforting truth.” Padre Pio