How do I contact you in Heaven?

If you tell God no because He won’t explain the reason He wants you to do
something, you are actually hindering His blessing.
But when you say yes to Him, all of heaven opens to pour out His
goodness and reward your obedience.
What matters more than material blessings are the things
He is teaching us in our spirit.

Charles Stanley


(my godpoppa and me on the day of my wedding–with Mother looking on,
he was the priest who presided over my wedding in 1983)

I use to write letters.

Real letters with a real pen and real paper.

Real words.

Real scratched out mistakes.

Numerous misspellings.
Typos.
Grammatical errors.

There was no spell check—only a dictionary.

Sometimes your letters were typed, sometimes written by hand.

Mine were always by hand.

I use to write you so many letters.

You use to write to me as well.

I still have a box with so many of those letters and cards.

If the truth be told, we really meet through a letter, you and me.
In 1975.

I still have the card you sent.

When I went away to college, I use to sit at the bus stop writing feverishly before the bus arrived,
whisking me off to yet another class miles across campus.

I’d sit in the park, back propped against an ancient oak tree, writing.

I sat up late on the night before my wedding, writing.

We wrote one another long before there were computers…
ages before there was texting.

We wrote on paper and cards.
We put stamps on envelopes and we put letters in a post box.

We would each excitedly spot that telltale script…written and addressed
with our name—
it would arrive in the day’s mail.

I checked my box at least twice a day.

Wonderment and even excitement filled our thoughts.

We’d each steal away…to a quiet private place as we’d tear open the postmarked envelope.
Savoring the “Dearest Jules” or the ‘Dearest Godpoppa”

Apprehensive and anticipatory wonder mixed with anxiousness…
coupled with a deep sense of joy…
accompanied the arrival of each letter and every card.

What was the word?
What was the news?
What was the need?
What was the advice?

We wrote for nearly 40 years…back and forth…just you and me.

The subject matter growing often hard and difficult with time.

Those letters…the writing and the receiving.
The intimate words shared between a surrogate father and his adopted goddaughter.

The pouring out of the most sacred and secretive thoughts from the novice to the wizened
sage.

Confessions.
Encouragement.
Idle chatter.
Hope.
Love.
Compassion.
Warnings.
Advice.

You were born in 1922
You were adopted in 1923.
I was born in 1959
I was adopted in 1960

Lessons taught and lessons learned.

And yet now, now when I need to hear from you the most, how do I write to Heaven?
How do I address such a letter?
What would you tell me now…how do I proceed?
What should I do?
What would you say?

I’ll be waiting…and I’ll be listening.
Somehow I know you know.

“Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you;
and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.

Deuteronomy 4:36

when man reaches up towards Heaven…

“Spira, spera.”
(breathe, hope)
Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

The day we met,
Frozen I held my breath
Right from the start
I knew that I’d found a home for my heart…

I have loved you
For a thousand years
I’ll love you for a thousand more…

(Lyrics from Christina Perri A Thousand Years)


(Pieta by Niccola Coustou / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2019)

Notre Dame—Our Lady of Paris

850 years of–

Christianity
faith
religion
spirituality
mysticism
relics

history
ingenuity
construction
architecture
labor
sacrifice

art
sculpture
poetry
prose
music
colored glass

revolution
desecration
coronations
funerals
burials
weddings

bishops
nuns
confessions
monastics
saints
sinners

humanity
bloodshed
loss
wars
peace
victories

humankind
survival
life
death
breath
hope…

Yet for now, there are too many emotions to express regarding this collective sense
of sorrow, grief and loss.

Our frail and feeble earthly attempts to reach upward to God will each eventually perish
while fading to both ash and dust…

and yet…

Our Heavenly Father’s reach, downward to us his children, will remain for eternity…


(detail of Virgin and Child by Antoine Vassé / Norte Dame Cathedral / Paris, France/ Julie Cook / 2019)


(detail of the iron work on the main entrance doorway / Norte Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2019)


(detail of the central portal (central enterance) of Notre Dame Cathedral / The Last Judgment, constructed in 1220/
Julie Cook / 2019)


(vaulted ceiling of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France/ Julie Cook / 2019)


(South Rose Window / 1260 / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook 2019)


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)


(detail of flying buttresses and gargoyles / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)


(detail of bell tower / Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France/ Julie Cook / 2011)


(south view of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)


(Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / 2011)


(Wesrtern facade of the bell tower entrance Notre Dame Cathedral /Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

“He therefore turned to mankind only with regret.
His cathedral was enough for him.
It was peopled with marble figures of kings, saints and bishops who at least
did not laugh in his face and looked at him with only tranquillity and benevolence.
The other statues, those of monsters and demons, had no hatred for him –
he resembled them too closely for that.
It was rather the rest of mankind that they jeered at.
The saints were his friends and blessed him; the monsters were his friends and
kept watch over him.
He would sometimes spend whole hours crouched before one of the statues
in solitary conversation with it.
If anyone came upon him then he would run away like a lover surprised during a serenade.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

Prayer, penetrating to Heaven

“When we pray, the voice of the heart must be heard more than the proceedings from the mouth.”
St. Bonaventure


(somewhere over the Pyrenees Mountains / Julie Cook / 2018)

“Prayer, considered as petition, consists entirely in expressing to God some desire in order
that He may hear it favorably; a real desire is, therefore, its primary and essential condition;
without this, we are merely moving the lips, going through a form of words which is not the expression
of our will; and thus our prayer is only an appearance without reality.
The way, then, to excite ourselves to pray, to put life and fervor into our prayer,
and to make of it a cry which, breaking forth from the depths of the soul, penetrates even to heaven,
is to conceive the real desire mentioned above, to excite it, to cherish it;
for the fervor of our prayer will be in proportion to the strength of the desire we have to be heard;
just as what we have but little at heart we ask for only in a half-hearted way,
if even we ask it at all; so what we desire with our whole soul we ask for with words of fire,
and plead for it before God with an eloquence that is very real.”

Rev. Dom Lehody, p. 4-5
An Excerpt From
The Ways of Mental Prayer

She died stringing beans

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Hamlet / William Shakespeare


(tomb in Santa Maria sopra Minerva / Rome, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)

“After William Shakespeare’s Horatio sees the ghost of Hamlet’s father and
scarcely believes his own eyes, Hamlet tells him that there is more to reality
than he can know or imagine including ghosts.”

So reads a small excerpt I recently came across when flipping through a new book catalog
I’d just received in the mail.
The catalog is from Ignatius Press and the excerpt was part of a brief overview
for a new book release by both college professor and Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft.

I found the Shakespeare piece, the quote from Hamlet, quite telling.

That there is indeed more to this reality of ours…with death being a bit of a doorway…
not so much the ghost thing…as I do believe in a spiritual warfare…but this is
not about that…not today anyway…

But I should confess that every once in a while I do find my thoughts turning to my
own mortality.
Perhaps that’s a bit morbid, but hey, it happens.

I suppose such thoughts increase as one’s age increases.

Since I hit another birthday last week, I suppose such thoughts concerning both
life and death are just typical brain fodder.

You know when you’re actually closer to that magic number that those supposed experts
keep telling us is a typical life expectancy age for a relatively healthy US woman…
well, the reality becomes a bit hard to ignore.

I’ve mentioned before that if you have ever lived through losing, utterly prematurely, a
loved one or perhaps a dear friend due to a catastrophic illness or tragic accident…
you naturally find yourself wondering, more often than others,
‘when might my your own number get called up??’

So yesterday while I found myself standing at the kitchen sink…a sink full of green beans
that needed snapping and stringing before being cooked…my thoughts wandered off course.

And by the way, I don’t know why but I can never find fresh pole beans this time of year…
just those generic string beans now sold in pre-packaged plastic bags all imported from
south Florida or worse…California….anywhooo, I digress.

So there I was mindlessly stringing and snapping a sink full of imported beans as my mind
started wandering.

My thoughts actually got around to the notion of what if I did just suddenly fall out
here at the sink…
what if I dropped dead while stringing these beans…???!!
I suppose they could sadly write my epitaph “She died stringing beans”

But there are certainly worse ways to go.

And in typical fashion for my life, that’s how it will be you know.
It won’t be like something out of the movies but rather it will be
nothing I will have expected or planned on.
Death doesn’t work that way.

With a healthy melding of both humility and hubris, I’ve always thought it will never
be in some sort of glorious heroic sort of finale.
It’ll be more like something stupid or either something plain awful.

Funny how the brain and ego work in tandem when imagining one’s own ending.

Death waits for no man, and if he does, he usually doesn’t wait long…
That quote comes from Markus Zusak, author of The Book Theif (I didn’t care for the book)

So yes, Mr. Zusak is correct, Death doesn’t wait.

And I think we’d all agree that Death, here in our realm, is mostly perceived as
something most tragic and dreaded…
It’s a permanent-seeming sort of separation and, for far too many, it can be
a painfully slow and lingering happening.
And the odd thing is…that when it is long and painful, we then view Death as a blessed
release.
We even note that the one suffering suffers no more.

Yet death is a thought that leaves all of us unsettled…
particularly when we think about our own demise.

Chances are all of us, at one point or another has mused over when, where, how and why…

Yet what we must remember is that in the mind of God, death is more or less liberating.
It’s the cutting of an earthbound tether… as we humans suffer from
a gravitational pull that keeps us grounded… and Heaven knows, we certainly like
our earthly grounding.
But the cutting of the earthly tether allows for a reunion.
A reunion between Creator and created…
it’s just that we don’t always think of it those sorts of terms.
Instead, we dread it or simply see it more as an ending rather than a beginning.

It’s hard to imagine that death is actually an act of ‘freeing’ us.
Yet for me, it tends to be more of a scary thought than not.

For those of us who lay our hearts, our lives, our sins, our hopes at the foot
of the cross…
those of us who die on the Cross with Christ and are in turn risen from the tomb with
Christ Resurrected…death should not be seen as the ending but rather the beginning…
but yet I’ll be the first to admit, it’s a bit scary walking out into that unknown.

So as I was stringing my beans, I quickly realized that our idea of death is not God’s
idea of death…and that in itself alone is a very good thing.

When I recently visited the Basilica of Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome, I
was taken aback a bit when I saw two separate tombs that actually had the real skulls
of the deceased embedded into the tombs as part of the elaborate construction.

A somewhat creepy reminder of our own mortality.

Just like those catacombs in France and other places scattered around the world…
catacombs with thousands of human bones..those of deceased monks,
elaborately displayed in a macabre reminder that from dust we come and to dust,
we will return.

And so as we prepare to enter into this season of Advent, that season of waiting and
watching…
A time of anticipation, birth and the newness of life…we must be mindful that the
shadow of the Death remains…
it remains not to frighten us but rather to offer us hope.
The Hope of Life which comes through the Ressurection of a life that overcame Death.

A hard concept to wrap our earth bound heads around, but wrap we must because it is in
our dying that we truly have our life…

It remains not as a harbinger but rather as a reminder…harbinger being man’s idea as
Hope is God’s idea…

And thus the reminder being….that Jesus, through His own death, overcame our death,
allowing us to live…to truly live with Him.

Therefore in Christ, we gloriously find birth, life, death and then finally life eternal…
all intertwined.
A gift as it were…with it being the best gift our Heavenly Father could give…
that being a reunited life free of sin or earthly strife…

So tomorrow when I find myself making a pumpkin pie, who knows where my thoughts will
lead me…at least my epitaph won’t read she died stringing beans…
dying while making a pumpkin
pie certainly sounds so much more festive…complete with whipped cream…


(images from The Bascilica of Santa Maria sopa Minerva / Julie Cook / 2018)

Three questions…at the foot of the cross

“A word or a smile is often enough to put fresh life in a despondent soul.”
St. Therese of Lisieux


(St Dominic at the base of the cross, with my reflection in the protective glass, also at
the foot of the cross / Freco by Fra Angelico / The Convent of San Marco / Florence, Italy

“The beatitude of the saints is immutable, like that of the Son of God. . .
Add ages to ages; multiply them equal to the sand of the ocean or the stars of heaven;
exhaust all numbers, if you can, beyond what the human intelligence can conceive,
and for the elect there will be still the same eternity of happiness.
They are immutable, and this immutability excludes weariness and disgust.
The life of an elect soul is one succession, without end,
of desires ever arising and ever satisfied, but desires without trouble, satiety or lassitude.
The elect will always see God, love God, possess God and always will wish to see Him,
love Him and possess Him still more.
This beatitude is the end destined for all;
God has given us time only in order to merit it, being and life only to possess it.
Reflect seriously on this great truth, and ask yourself these three questions
at the foot of the crucifix:
What have I done hitherto for heaven?
What ought I to do for heaven?
What shall I do henceforward for heaven?”

St. Ignatius of Loyola, p. 179
An Excerpt From
Spiritual Exercises

simplicity of faith

“Christ is my Spouse.
He chose me first and His I will be.
He made my soul beautiful with the jewel
s of grace and virtue.
I belong to Him whom the angels serve.”
St. Agnes

(a simple cross on an old pine for a simple deditcation / Julie Cook / 2018)

“Jesus Christ did not think the sovereign beatitude and glory of Heaven too dearly
purchased at the price of unspeakable tortures, and by suffering His sacred
flesh to be mangled by nails, thorns, and scourges.
Great indeed must be the value of that which cost the Son of God so dear!
And yet we esteem it so little, as to be even ready to renounce our claim to it,
as, in fact, so many of us do, for the sake of some wretched pleasure or despicable interest!
Ye blind and deluded children of men, contemplate the Wounds of your Crucified God,
and see in what manner the gates of the kingdom of glory have been opened to you!
See what it has cost Him to place you in possession of it,
and understand, if possible, how infinite a benefit was bestowed upon you by the
Son of God when He purchased for you, Heaven, which you had lost by sin! …
Enter in spirit into these sacred Wounds,
and you will comprehend the value and sublimity of that eternal felicity which
they have acquired for you, and you will learn to detach your heart from the
earth and from creatures, so as to place all your affections and desires upon Heaven.”

Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Christ,
p. 226-7
An Excerpt From
The School of Christ Crucified

why he’ll go to Heaven and I won’t…

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here.
This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…
Come further up, come further in!”

C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle


Salut St Marie, Canada / Julie Cook / 2017)

Ok, so that’s probably not the most logical, theological or rational assessment
of who is and who isn’t Heaven bound…

But it’s how I often feel about my husband…

He’s a shoe-in…and well, the jury is still out with me…
or at least that’s how I often feel.

He’s good like that.

As in a much better person than I am.

He’s very generous.
He yields to others willingly.
He’s tender-hearted.
He can be emotional..unafraid to shed a tear.
He’s kind when others are not.
He defers willingly and graciously to others who don’t deserve it.
He will always step aside for those rushing past despite his falling back in line
or missing out.
He gives freely of his time to those who take it readily for granted.
He’s old school.
He’s modest.
He’s polite.
He’s content being last despite having always been a stellar All American athlete who
knew what it took to win…which he did back in the day.
He’s a gentleman.
He doesn’t begrudge.
He doesn’t disparage.
He has a simple and humble faith…

I on the other hand..well I attribute my more aggressive, bossy, helter-skelter demeanor to
being born and raised in the city verses his more country lineage.

Take today for example…

We’d gone over to Atlanta to help take the baby out for her first dining experience at a
real restaurant for what we hoped would be an enjoyable lunch for all in attendance…
ie. the exhausted set of new parents.

I grew up in this city and I can honestly say that I don’t recognize it anymore!

One of the past mayors once coined the phrase, “Atlanta, a city too busy to hate…”
I wonder if that mayor had ever driven himself around town,
say during the height of rush hour?

Not only has the landscape drastically changed with landmarks being mowed
down making way for bigger, better and glitzy…very few true Atlantans exist.
It has become a city of transplants.
No one even has a southern accent anymore…except maybe just me.

Driving in town is now much like driving in Rome, Italy.
Chaos living on the edge.
Lanes don’t seem to matter…
signals, lights, signs are all just adornments with the unspoken knowledge that they simply
are not to be followed.
Speed limits are merely numbers and considered totally optional as they are actually more
of a hindrance.

I was naturally driving today.

I always drive when we go to Atlanta because traversing the infamous Perimeter, aka 285,
is not for the faint of heart.
It takes a daredevil with an overtly aggressive mindset…
something my husband is not and has not.

Also, DOT illuminated roadsigns constantly alert drivers as to issues further down the road,
making the need of having a Plan B always essential.
Of which we had to do this past Sunday afternoon when the notice was flashing that
police activity had all lanes shut down near where our exit was located…
so I had to exit long before the impending backup and find an alternative route.

Think roller derby except with cars…
Cars that are driving a good 20 to 30 miles per hour over the posted speed limit…
yet we are reminded that speed limits here are optional.
Everyone is jockeying for position.
Cars going 90 mph on a 70 max mph interstate are as common as the name Peachtree on
every other street while each one prefers driving unbridled and uninhibited…
having no one near to block their progress.
Throw in a few carjackers also fleeing on the interstate as they don’t care who they
hit or cut off.
There is indeed a reason for those DOT signs always posting the number of roadway
fatalities…

Since we’ve installed a car seat base in my car, I opted to drive us all to lunch.
The baby, my son, and husband were all piled in the back seat while my daughter-n-law
and I commandeered the front.

As we approached the main thoroughfare, we stopped at the red light.
As any normal driver would do when seeing a red light, I stopped.
Isn’t that what a red light means…stop??

The opposite traffic had a turning arrow.
Arrow lights in Atlanta are really fun.
Even when they end and turn back red, cars continue turning…
as if the red light is non-existent.

These moments make my husband nervous as he begins grousing and loudly complaining as
to why anyone would want to live in this city.

Cars will turn in front of oncoming traffic until the mass of oncoming cars
dares to simply run them over…then they’ll stop….like they should have
when the light actually turned red.
This is a reason as to why the city has red light cameras now in place.

Like a camera will get these people to actually stop…yeah right….

So as I had the green light to go straight, I wanted to do just that…go straight.
But the opposite on-coming cars just kept turning on their red light arrow.
Finally, I had no choice but to lead my line of cars straight…
right into those trying to turn against us.
I laid on my horn.
At this point, my husband wanted to open the car door, discreetly exit and walk home.

The driver of the fourth car that continued turning through a red arrow looked right
at me and proceeded to throw the F word my way.
Really???

Here I was going, as I should, on a green light, having even allotted these idiots
free time to cut me and an entire line of green light cars off and I get cursed.

I hit the horn again.

By now my husband is having apoplexy and my son is ready to fight someone as he’s had to cut
his teeth in this city.

Long story short—we finally got through the intersection in one piece.

Lunch was delightfully uneventful.

And everyone in the car was more than ready to get the heck out of the city and head back
to the country…

So the next time when you hear the news or our politicians tout that those who live in the
more rural areas of our states are ignorant, backwards, deplorable, limited…think again…
they are actually the smarter ones amongst us.

And driving in the city is enough to make anyone lose their religion, even my poor husband…

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name,
and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
And then will I declare to them,
‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23