work done while sleeping….

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long.
If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


(tiny prayer box / Julie Cook / 2018)

The above image is that of a tiny, badly tarnished silver, prayer box.
This particular little box, along with others like it, was very popular in the late
80’s early 90’s.
This is the one that I had at the time.

Just inside the tiny box, you can see a bit of blue paper.
And might I add, that is a very tiny piece of blue paper with an equally tiny
written prayer.
But we might note that the prayer was anything but tiny.

Below is an image of another prayer box.
This particular box was discovered buried along a street in the old City of David sandwiched between some tile during construction taking place in a car lot.
This tiny box, made of some sort of animal bone, dates from either the 5th or
6th century AD and is considered to be a Byzantine prayer box.

Rather than a tiny piece of paper with a tiny scrawled prayer resting inside the tiny box, there is actually a small and very worn Icon, or painted image, of what is thought to be Mary.
Such a prayer box was intended to be carried in a pocket or pouch and acted as a
tiny traveling church, as one could open the box and pray before a holy image…
taking one’s prayers directly to the source.

The Byzantine time period from which this little box dates was a very tumultuous time
for the Middle East along with the whole Mediterranean region.

The Roman Empire had fallen to the Visigoths and Carthage had fallen to the Vandals…
add in the push from Attila’s Huns and it was a very dangerous time to be either
Jewish or Christain.

I can only imagine the prayers offered before this ancient little box…
as I am left to wonder whose box it was and how did it come to rest buried
in a parking lot in Jerusalem.

Right before Christmas a longtime blogging friend emailed me that she wanted me to
look into something she had just purchased.
This friend has since moved on from the blogging world, as she is a working mom
with young children whose time has not been her own.
She is an extremely devout Christian with a deep Jewish heritage.

She is very familiar with the idea of prayer, particularly those that are written and
placed before God.

It is a tradition that at the Wailing wall in Jesurelum, prayers are written down and placed in the crevices of the wall, as the wall is considered Holy by Jews as well as many Christians.

Often seen rocking slightly back and forth as their heads gently touch the wall, Jews will stand for long periods of time before the Wall, hands resting outward with palms facing upward or either with hands reverently folded…they will be immersed in deep meditative prayer.
Others, be they tourists or locals, merely push tiny bits of paper into the cracks as they lay their written prayers before what it thought the Divine Presence of
God Himself.

The Wall is considered Divine because it is a remnant of the actual Temple.

Human beings seem to have a very deep need for the tangible when it comes to their relationship with the Divine Presence of God…to be able to touch, to write to physically connect is of the utmost importance to many of the faithful.

Be it prayer beads, a knotted prayer rope, icons or even a prayer box–the
tangible and physical connection between penitent and God is a deeply profound
yearning as well as a mystery.

What my friend wanted me to look into was what is known as a sleeping Joseph.

Now that might sound odd and even appear odd but the story behind the small figurine is anything but strange and is actually rather full of gentleness and a gracious sense of comfort.

We know very little about Jesus’ earthly father Joseph.
He is only mentioned early on in the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke and later in the books of Mark and John
It is in Matthew (1:1-18) that we read of his lineage harkening back to
David.

It is also when we read of the importance of dreams regarding Joseph as God came to Joseph at the most key moments in his life as a husband and father during his sleep. First Joseph is reassured that Mary is indeed telling the truth regarding her pregnancy and that he is to follow through with marrying her.
Secondly, Joseph is warned to take his young family to Egypt in order to flee Herod’s wrath and the killing of the Innocents.

I can remember my Godpoppa, the Episcopal priest, giving a sermon one Father’s day
about Joseph.

And he noted what we already know, that historically, we know very little regarding Joseph as he seems to simply “disappear” from scripture once Jesus begins
his earthly ministry.
He is not mentioned throughout the three years of ministry as being present and is not by Mary’s side at the crucifixion.

And so we simply and sadly assume he died at some point during Jesus’ growing up.

As we are left to wonder about this earthly father of Jesus.

Thinking about Jesus’ earthly father actually brought tears to my Godpoppa’s eyes as he had lost his own father when he was only 16. His was a heartfelt observation about what a life Joseph must have lived.

He most likely taught Jesus the skills of carpentry.
How to be a craftsman using both his mind and his hands.
He taught Jesus what it meant to be reverent and prayerful
He taught Jesus the demonstrative nature of what Jesus intuitively knew,
how to worship His actual Father…no doubt a precarious balance and a heavy burden
for the earthly father.
He also taught the young boy respect.

There was a humble yet focused obedience that Jesus learned from Joseph.

And he learned about the importance of prayer…

The small figurine my friend shared with me is a prayer box of sorts.
The idea being that as you ready for sleep you place your concerns, worries, prayers
written down while placing them under the sleeping Joseph.

How often is your sleep disrupted by the heaviness of concern and worry?
Your thoughts, including your subconscious, consumed by the weight of whatever it is
that is eating at you. Your family, your friends, your work, your health, the health of those you love…there is a quickening of need that plays out even while you attempt to sleep—you pray as you drift off only to toss and turn…

The Joseph “prayer box” asks that you write down these concerns and or petitions,
laying them beneath Joseph—a man who was accustomed to Godly encounters during his sleep through his dreams, as you literally give your concerns over to God.

Trusting that He will, as He does, see, hear and know…

This is not a discussion on the topic of Saints nor of the notion of their interventions or of denominational differences, infighting, and angst…
it is rather a reminder of the human need and desire for a tangible and or physical connection as we literally acknowledge the weight of our concerns, worries and thoughts along with the very real need to literally give them over to God.

For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though no one perceives it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on people
as they slumber in their beds,

Job 33:14-15

What’s wrong with this picture?

“We don’t adore icons,
we us them to adore God”

Fr John Sexton

DSC00762
( Vasari’s Annunciation / The Louvre / Julie Cook / 2011)

Over the course of this past weekend, an interesting story made its way into the news, which just so happened to catch the eye of this old art teacher.

Now you should know that I was a little more than bothered, as well as troubled, by this story as I have already touched on this sort of subject before and like any decent teacher whose students fail to comprehend the key components of a well delivered lesson, my feathers became just a bit ruffled…yet if the truth be known, this individual “student” had obviously totally skipped class altogether that day.

It seems that someone out there has decided to not only take issue with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York but has decided to go so far as to file a law suit—

“For what?”…. I’m hearing you ask…

Well it seems that upon a recent visit to the Met, as this individual was viewing some paintings of the museum’s collection of several Renaissance and Baroque masters depicting Jesus Christ, this said individual suffered “personal stress” as the images contained, typical of the time, images of a “white” Jesus. This individual is now claiming that these images of a white Jesus are racist and should be removed.

I can feel my blood pressure rising as I type.
Imagine that, white Renaissance Northern Europeans painting images of a Jesus which looked just like them!
Shocking??
Not a bit…
But rather indicative of the time, the culture, the history, and the existing knowledge of the world—let us consider the audience of these white Northern European Christian artists…other white Northern European Christian type individuals.

I almost came unglued right then and there as I read, then later watched, the story.
A huge collective “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!” should be reverberating as we all read of such lunacy.

If I had a ruler in hand, I would knock this said student upside the head as this is probably the most idiotic thing I have ever heard. But then given this day and age I would be fired as well as sued over such…sigh

First may I just say that this country has so many more glaring issues and concerns and so many more truly needful cases trying to work their way through our already dysfunctional legal system that a suit as frivolous and as ridiculous as this is a shameful waste of both time and money.

Do I feel “personal stress” when I view an exhibit of African Art, Asian Art, Hispanic Art, Native American Art, Muslim Art (although Muslims do not depict images of individuals), etc…
No, of course not.
Can I and do I understand and appreciate that art collections are more often than not, mere representations of various time periods and or cultures?
Of course I can and I do—

This entire story has me shaking my head.

It seems that a case such as this has found its little loopholes of merit as the museum receives federal monies, lots and lots of monies—so this individual and his legal eagles have thought that perhaps there is not only a little issue of separation of Church and state but also a throw back to a 1964 civil rights ruling…that a white painting of Jesus in a federally funded museum violates a civil rights act….

Which in my mind rivals with a giant exasperated “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

It’s one thing that someone out there looks at a painting of Jesus depicted as white and cries foul as that’s not exactly historically accurate. As he wasn’t white–he was a middle eastern Jew. I somehow think that our atheist brethren out there would / could and may have take / taken issue with the whole historical accuracy of all of this as to them, Jesus may or may not have even existed in the first place… and if they agree he did exist as mere mortal, then that whole crucified, dead, buried and risen depiction would and most likely might send them running to lawyer up as it were…

Has this politically correctness business of ours not yet gone too far people??!!!

Stories like this give me a headache because I am incensed that there are people out there who waste precious energies over things that are so trivial and meaningless when we have innocent people dying around this globe due to radical extremist ISIS nuts out there who want us all dead…. and we’re going to waste our time worrying about stress caused when someone looks at a 500 year old painting of a white Jesus in a museum!!!!

What part of any of this story sounds right, rational or makes any sort of logical sense??????

I’m pulling a snippet of that previous lesson I was talking about earlier with a link to the original lesson on an icon….

I don’t want to give an in-depth mini history lesson today regarding icons, or of this particular image, as there is so very much out there in the form of books or on the web for the curious to discover. I simply want to share with you something that is very meaningful to me. I think it is important to share with others the things that significantly impact our own lives as those are the things that make us who we are.

As a person who grew up with Western Christianity, or that of the Roman or Latin branch of Christianity, I was always accustomed, as no doubt you were, to what typically is considered to be images of Jesus. Benevolent images of a young man of fair skin complexion, soft brown hair and beard who most often had blue eyes. But the problem with that stereotypical image is that Jesus was not European. He was a Middle Eastern Jew. Therefore that meant he most likely had a more dark or olive skin tone, with a thicker head of very dark hair. He was an orthodox, meaning devout, Jew, so it is theorized that he most probably wore the hair ringlets as do the modern day Hasidic Jews. His features were not as close to ours in the West but rather he was closer in appearance to those currently living in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, etc.

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2014/01/17/pantocrator-2/

Historically rich are what our museums are and very well they should be.

Museums are places which thankfully exist around this globe, making available to us the wonders, marvels and lives of those from the past…allowing us to share in our collective history as humans.
And Lord know, the Renaissance was such a rich time in our history as developing human beings!

Who isn’t intrigued by the art work, scientific discoveries, architectural triumphs and sheer wonders of the Renaissance…a pivotal turning point in the history moving man from earthly dark to light…

Woe to this individual who can’t relish in the freedom he has been afforded, along with the readily available access and ability, to be able to go see these historical and beautiful bits and pieces—there are other places, other nations, around this world where there is not the freedom nor ability afforded to see or share in such…how dare he now complain that viewing such has caused him stress—you want stress—go visit the families who lost their children and loved ones 3 years ago at the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre as we sorrowfully mark that sad anniversary this week….
Or go to Paris and Belgium and feel the weight of sadness, anger, frustration and worry in the loss of life as the world is still reeling from those horrific attacks as we now mark the one month anniversary to that tragedy.

You don’t like a painting?

Move on from said painting, finding one you do like…it’s that simple.

My hope for this country—and that list is gravely long, is that we can get our act together as a Nation, to truly see what it is that is most important to us as a whole—and that is that we take care of the elderly, the infirmed, the young, the homeless, the hungry, the less fortunate, our environment, the dying and the needy….
That we can stop for just one day from being so utterly self absorbed and self obsessed, that we can reach out beyond our own wants, our incessant need to tweet, post and the taking of one more self absorbed selfie…tossing all of that nonsense and worthlessness aside as we reach outwards, far away from self, outward to those around us who are in desperate need both physically as well as emotionally and more important spiritually….

God have mercy on us all….

Prayers for the Ukrainians

Violence is like a weed – it does not die even in the greatest drought.”
Simon Wiesenthal

For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”
Simon Wiesenthal

DSCN3833

This is a very old, very tiny Russian Icon.
It is just a tad bit larger than a postage stamp.
I found it in an equally small antique shop tucked away in a small alley in the ancient hill town of Cortona, Italy, one summer, several years ago.
The small image of Christ the Pantocrator is hand painted and very detailed to be so small but difficult to capture with a camera as much of the detail is lost.
The sterling silver covering, the Riza, or риза meaning “robe”, is not intended merely to protect the underlaying painting, as is often the common assumption, but rather is an added bit of reverence or veneration.

After being the guest at large for the past three weeks, the world has most recently departed Sochi, Russia happy, pleased, as well as relieved. We were welcomed into what is a massively vast country, which for so many of us, for so very long, has been steeped and shrouded in dark mystery. Those of us who have lived through the inception, duration and eventual fall of the tangible walls of a bitter cold war, delightfully enjoyed this most recent and uplifting visit. A large exhaled collective breath could be heard reverberating across the world as the extinguishing of the Olympic flame signaled not only the closing of this year’s games but it also signaled the closing of the possibility, of what so many believed to be inevitable which thankfully had not taken place after all— that being an act of terrorism.

With the unifying events of the Olympics being played out in living rooms around the globe, a more sinister fog hung heavily in the air, seeping its way eastward from the neighboring unrest playing out in the Ukraine. Ukraine, which in fact translates to “borderland,” shares not only its eastern border with its massive overshadowing neighbor Russia, but the inextricably intwined bond of a people bound by language, religion and blood. For years the relationship between the two countries has been tenuous and strained as Ukraine has woven in and out of life under Czarist Russian rule, Soviet rule, eventually turning sovereign neighbor. Yet now, as the world waits and watches, the disturbingly new question begs to be asked if Ukraine does not currently play the part of occupied nation by that of a much larger hostile nation?

As the very fluid events unfold faster than I can type, we, the world hold our collective breath fretting what may be next, not only for the Ukrainians, but for us all as well. We see the faces on the news of people just like you and me—men, woman and children caught in the middle of a power play of political ideologies. The rhetoric escalates as European and American leadership dicker over roles of responsibility. All as the situation seems all too familiar, with actions from the past demigods unfolding as if in a stop frame slow motion camera. The once massive growling grizzly portrayed under the banner of a red hammer and sickle snidely nicknamed “Uncle Joe” sweetly gave way to the childlike cuddly teddybear of the Olympics.

What we must cautiously remind ourselves of today is that all wild animals, even those tamed circus bears and sweet Olympic teddybears, still remain wild at heart, naturally demonstrating tendencies of reverting back to the unpredictable ways of their wild nature. We wonder which bear Vladimir Putin claims for Russia.

May we all pray for a peaceful resolve to the very dangerous and fluid situation in the Ukraine.

Pope Paschal I, Iconoclasm and hospitality

rome-santa-prassede-apse-mosaic-pope-paschal-i-st-paul-and-st-praxedis-or-pudentiana_medium
(detail from the mosaic tiled ceiling in the Church of Santa Prassede, Rome, Italy of Pope Paschal 1)

9467-santa-cecilia-trastevere-rome-apse-mosaic-valerian
(a small detail of the mosaic tiled ceiling of St Cecilia’s Church Trastevere, Rome– of Saints Valerian and Cecilia–a church founded by Pope Paschal I)

February 11th, in the Catholic Church, is noted as the feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes. Undoubtedly we’ve all heard of Lourdes, that small town in extreme southern France with the mystical healing waters and the grotto dedicated to the Virgin and of her apparitions to the young peasant girl Bernadette. . . even those of us non Catholics and the most jaded among us are familiar with Lourdes. . .but who, I wonder, has heard of Pope, or should I note saint, Paschal I? — even those die hard hagiographers, those who study the lives of the saints, no doubt gloss over this lesser known saint who sits among the giants of the church.

Yet it must be noted that February 11th is also the feast day Pope Paschal 1

Why in the world would a little known pope from the 9th century, who reigned as pope for approximately 8 short years, be of any consequence to us today?
Good question.
Pope Paschal I is but a blip on the historical map of an ancient church whose history spans 2 thousand years. Some of the popes have certainly been anything but virtuous—more along the lines of scoundrels and scalawags which leaves many modern day observers, especially those of us who are not members of the Catholic Church, wondering why in the world these people (Catholics) would ever venerate, let alone consider to be of any significance, many of these unscrupulous, lecherous, self indulgent men.

Now I cannot comment upon the virtuous life of or lack thereof for Pope Paschal I.
Little is known.
He was born in Rome and served as Pope form 817- 824. His pontificacy is laced with a bit of intrigue and questions of complicity to executions, all of which lead church members, at the time of his death, to not allow the burial of his body to take place in St Peters.
Certainly sounds a bit scandalous.

It is however of one particular incident, of rather some significant importance, which has lead me to dig a bit deeper into the history of this man whose feast day the Church celebrates today. It is upon closer study that one learns that Pope Paschal I was head of the Latin Church (the western branch of Christianity) during a period known as the Byzantine Iconoclasm—or simply the time of The Iconoclast.

A dark time in history when many fanatical members of the Eastern branch of Christianity, including Emperor Leo III, decided that any and all images (Icons, statues, paintings, mosaics. . .) of God, Christ, and other Holy and sacred individuals were considered sinful, idolatry, and must be destroyed— along with many of the artists, owners as well as those who venerated such images. A dark time of vast persecution of a people who had loved the sacred images and had used them as part of their very deep personal services. Photographs, as it were, of a Savior for a people who wanted, and continue to want, to put a face with that of the Mysterious. Do we not still yearn for such images today?

It is in these dark times of such fanatical ignorance, which has been laced throughout much of the history of mankind, that I believe is one of man’s greatest faults. As an art educator and humble historian, the destruction of various Cultures and their artifacts, which simply boils down to the pure essence of the identity of a people is, in my humble opinion, catastrophic.

This ancient sort of destructive “out of sight out of mind” feeding frenzy has actually played out throughout much of history with a few of the more notable and infamous being that of the Italian Dominican monk Savonarola and his Bonfire of the Vanities, to more recent times with the book burnings of the Nazi’s during the early 1940’s, to the more recent destruction of the giant ancient carvings in Afghanistan, those known as the Buddhas of Bamiyan, by the Taliban in 2001. A warped mindset that if the powerful can simply destroy the “things” and or creations of a certain people, then the people will also cease to exist. History teaches us that perseverance is more than things..

Pope Paschal I was a sympathizer to those members of the Eastern Orthodox church who not only created the sacred art images but to those who continued to want to display such in churches and in homes. He afforded those who fled the persecution in Greece and Turkey a safe haven. He actually encouraged the creation of mosaics and other sacred art by these individuals in many of the churches in Rome. This during a time of great divide between the two Churches.

This little known Pope overlooked the differences of the two bickering arms of a single faith in order to offer hospitality to those victims of persecution. It is because of the very amnesty offered by and of the preservation afford to such treasured pieces of the Christian faith by such individuals as Pope Paschal I and those long forgotten monks who smuggled many of the sacred images to remote monasteries such as St Catherine’s’ in the southern Sinai Peninsula, that those of us today may glance upon images that date to the very inception of our faith.

So on this Tuesday, February 11, may we be reminded of the lesser known names in the annuals of a history, who, such as Pope Paschal I, have helped to preserve important pieces to the puzzle of our past. To those who have demonstrated moments of brave compassion by offering safety to those suffering the persecution of faith.

Hospitality, compassion, benevolence—words to take to heart on this chilly February morning.

Hospitality means we take people into the space that is our lives and our minds and our hearts and our work and our efforts. Hospitality is the way we come out of ourselves. It is the first step towards dismantling the barriers of the world. Hospitality is the way we turn a prejudiced world around, one heart at a time.
Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B