heading out to sea, or to a cave, or even to the moon…

“Detachment and involvement:
the artist must have both.
The link between them is compassion.”

Madeleine L’Engle


(the willet shorebird / Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook

There’s a lot to be said for disconnecting.

There’s a lot to be said for getting off the proverbial grid.

There’s a lot to be said for living in and staying in a cave.
(yes, Wally you are correct!)

And now it appears that there is a lot to be said for not even going to
the store, the mall, the post office, work, school, church, temple or mosque…
And now it seems that it’s not even safe to go to the US.

The US has several travel warnings issued against it.

Hence, staying in the cave.

However, I’m about to the point where I want to grab our Nation up by the collective collar and
give it a good shake and say, “Hey, what in the world are you thinking?!”
Because I believe the majority of this Nation has fallen off the track of civility and
sanity.

I actually read today that an NBC News contributor and former FBI assistant had actually
gone on air stating that the President’s desire to order our flags to be lowered at half-mast
was a secret signal to all the White Supremacists out there and a little nod to Hitler.

Thankfully I had already swallowed my first-morning sip of coffee, otherwise,
I’d still be cleaning off my computer screen.

The President has asked that flags be lowered at half-mast as a sign of respect to the lives
lost in the most recent mass shootings.

Presidents do that.

So if it’s not the Russians, it’s now White Supremacists and of course, there’s
always that awkward nod to Hitler.

Despite the fact that we have folks all over the airways
making all kinds of crazy accusations…that all of our troubles rest
is an obsession with guns, extremism and the president…
we readily forget that the root cause of this hyper-focus on guns,
extremism, Russians and anything else hiding under the bed,
rests in one word…evil.

But before we talk about that…while seemingly to prefer to talk about extremism,
which is the only thing our news outlets want to focus on,
we as a people really need to see the elephant sitting on our laps.

But first, I must say that I have never liked any sort of extremist group or gang or
terror organization past or present.
They make no sense.
And they serve no purpose…

The purpose only… to fill the void of loss, lacking, isolation,
emptiness, selfishness, and yes, sinfulness.

Because extremists and terrorists are just that—extreme and terrifying remnants of
our own sinfulness.

Over the top, zealots, too much, excessive, drastic, absurd, out of control, violent
and seething with distrust, hate, and loathing.

They represent simply hate, head butting more hate…

Be it…
the Klan,
the Black Panthers,
Antifa,
MS13,
Hezbollah,
ISIS,
the Taliban,
the Crips,
the Bloods,
Neo-Nazis,
Skin Heads,
Hells Angels…
on and on goes the list— complete with a plethora of global spin-offs and hybrids.

Vigilante justice, terror organizations and drug lords doing what they do…
causing havoc, murder, mayhem and feeding the ego of Satan

Evil is as evil is.

those with…
Evil intentions.
Evil desires.
Evil actions.

And isn’t that the real key here?
Evil?

Mass shootings are an evil of our times.
Sex trafficking is an evil of our times.
Drug cartels are an evil of our times.
Addiction is an evil of our times.
The Mob is an evil of our times.
MS13 and all gangs are an evil of our times.

And yet no one really wants to say, hey, let’s stop the evil…
preferring rather to say “hey, stop the guns, stop the republicans, stop
the president, stop the conservatives, stop the Christians, stop the white males
stop all males, stop the traditional family, stop plastic straws, etc…”

Rather they claim the mere fanning of the flames of hate.

And so the people cry out to the government to save them…to save us.
And that very government has only turned on itself, devouring
itself alive.

So we are left to rant, to recant, to mourn, to wonder, to pray…to??

While the families of those killed and wounded—from the past week, all the way back to Columbine…
even before.. as well as after…mourn their losses and wither in their suffering.

Hear us oh Lord…

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:40

pardon the small disruption in service

No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.
Elbert Hubbard (1859-1915)


( a little seaweed / Julie Cook / Rosemary Beach, FL / 2019)

Apologies abound for the slight disruption recently in blogging…
But our family packed up two cars late last week and headed southward
toward the emerald waters and those sugar-white sands of Florida’s northern Gulf coast.

But more about all of that later…

So yes, a family vacation.

And so what do we know about vacations?
What do we know vacations to be?

In part, a vacation is intended for those who opt to head off to parts known or unknown,
in order to unplug, to unwind, to relax and perhaps actually reconnect with those
closest to the heart.

Our own little personal family’s jaunt included two under two,
so there wasn’t a whole lot of relaxing…
however there was a delightful shift in focus.

We were together.

And we were isolated from the rest of the world…or so it seemed.

The television, while seldomly turned on, was never turned to the news.

Computers were not turned on, let alone even touched.

Phones were used to take pictures not to check emails or alerts.

There was a much-welcomed 5 days of sheltered isolation.
We were simply left savoring the magic that happens between children and the seashore.
Nothing more, nothing less.

Yet yesterday, as we reluctantly and sadly loaded the cars in order to head back
to our real worlds, we were reminded in very quiet, yet very powerful ways,
that news had happened in our absence.

In small out of the way towns to tiny outpost post offices, as we journeyed northward,
flags were all flying at half-mast.

A US flag at half-mast is a very visceral and sobering gut check.
It reminds us that we are indeed a united Nation…no more so than in our
collective sorrow.

The half-mast flag is a significant sign of unification for a nation that has smugly
forgotten the very fact that it is united rather than divided.

It seems that there were more mass shootings taking place almost simultaneously around
the country.

31 lives lost
while many more hang in the balance from their sustained wounds.

And once again, the people cry out to their government, “What will you now do?!”

And it is in that cry that I am once again perplexed…

The people cry out to their government, their legislators, their president…
“what will you do to stop all of this???”

This oh-so divided Nation that tends to draw within herself when her flags are lowered,
now demands its government do something to stop the madness.

The evil madness of mass murders.

The real help, however, the real answers, will not be found in the voices of our
presidential pundits or of our local or national legislators…or even
in the words of our much-maligned president…

No…the answers will not be found in what man can do for man…
simply because man is too busy killing man…

The answer is simple really and is found in the tiny fact that we are a nation
that has abandoned our God.

There will be those, many in number, who will argue that God matters not when
a madman takes a gun…

And yet the evil remains does it not?

And so, therefore, where lies our hope, our help, our solutions, our redemption,
our salvation…?

In our government?
In our leaders?
In the words of man?

I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name,
I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations—
a people who continually provoke me to my very face,

Isaiah 65:1-3

an earthly perception of hell

“The Christian is not just to rage against the darkness…
we are to proclaim the light”.

David Robertson


(a lone sanderling at dusk / Rosemary Beach, Fl / 2017)

In the course of the past two days I have read, in two vastly different places, the
notion of what hell actually is as it is perceived by those still earthly
bound mortals…

And as you know, I don’t believe in coincidence…but rather in the intervention
of the Holy Spirit.

Each of the two views has come from a member of the clergy, one being a former Church of England prelate who now hails as a Reformed Anglican Bishop and the other–
an Eastern Orthodox monk who passed away 24 years ago.

Each man relates a similar thought concerning hell…
that being an absence.
As in a permanent and perpetual void.

I can only think, for us humans, to be able to understand this concept of absence
and void is if, and only if, we have experienced the death of a loved one.
For in death there is a separation…an earthly permanent seperation.
As in a state of no more…as in no more—ever….
at least not on this earth.

If we are Believers, then we know that death is not a permanent situation…
perhaps on this earth yes, but in Heaven no.
And if we are not Believers of the Christian faith…
then there is perhaps even a keener awareness of this state of ‘no more.’

And in that state of emptiness, for both the Believing and unbelieving,
there is an almost unconsolable sorrow of loss.
And this utter cutting off and separation, for some, is often more
than can be borne by both soul and flesh.

Both of these clerics express this notion in very different ways.

Bishop Ashenden recently had to have emergency surgery for a detached retina.
He explained that the healing process is most arduous—
He had to lie very still on his right side, at a 45 degree angle for 10 days—
24 hours a day of laying very still in a particular position
with only a 10 minute break here and there to use the bathroom.

The pain, when using the drops which aggravated his wound, was as if someone was
taking a screwdriver and was constantly digging and twisting it in his eye with no
easing off or letting up.

This reminds me of cancer patients and those with severe nerve damage where the
pain is a constant state of the unbearable.

I saw this with my mother when the cancer had spread to her bones and later with my
dad who had developed a severe Kennedy ulcer the last two weeks of his life.
The wound developed a horrible infection and opened all the way to his bone…
The slightest movement for both my parents was excruciating and yes, unbearable.

Bishop Ashenden said that in his pain he got to the point that the pain was such a
constant persistency, that it was to the point that he could not even pray—
his prayer being simply “help me Lord”—the prayer of suffering and agony.

And in that pain there was a consuming sense of isolation—
For that’s how pain is—it is totally consuming to such an extent that there is
no sense of communion with God—rather there is no sense of God…only agony.

Be that a physical pain or emotional pain or spiritual pain….

And it is often in such moments that many a Believer and even non-believerer
will actually be to the point where they say “to hell with God”
“If He cannot help me, relieve me, then let Him just be damned.”

That is to the lowest we go as humans.
And it is a tragic state.

Archimandrite Sophrony (1896-1993) offers us a bit different vision
of a mortal’s interpretation of hell.
He shares what he has learned from those monks who have gone before him…
in the way of what is known as a “custom house”

The customs houses about which the Fathers write are symbols of a reality.
The Fathers understand them as follows: after the fall of man,
the soul is nourished by the body, in other words,
it finds refreshment in material pleasures.
After death, however, these bodily passions that used to divert the soul
no longer exist, because the soul has left the body,
and they choke and stifle the soul.
These are the customs houses and eternal torment.
Abba Dorotheos says that eternal torment is for someone to be shut up
for three days in a room without food, sleep or prayer.
Then he can understand what hell is.

Elder Sophrony of Essex. I Know a Man in Christ

Bishop Ashenden admonishes us all that it would behoove us to be of a constant
state of prayer—during those times in life when we are free to offer up our prayers…
be they of worship and praise, adulation and jubilation, thanksgiving and awe,
or simply intercession—
For we must do so with a fervency…because none of us are exempt from pain.

Just as it would behoove us to understand that hell is very real, very lasting
and it is not the sort of place we should want to or settle on going—
For if we find the early glimpse unbearable, what would eternity be….

For during each our lifetimes we will inevitably be faced with this glimpse of hell,
and when we are, we must know that we are ‘shored up’…
that during those times when all we can do is cry out “help, please” that we may rest
in knowing that He has heard us and we are not as we feel, alone and tormented…
For He has already walked our journey long before we were even conceived.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

God’s work

The spirit and the soul are two totally different organs:
one belongs to God, while the other belongs to man.
By whatever names one may call them,
they are completely distinct in substance.
The peril of the believer is to confuse the spirit for the soul and the soul
for the spirit,
and so be deceived into accepting the counterfeit of evil spirits
to the unsettling of God’s work.

Watchman Nee
March 8, 1933


(Gulf fritillary butterfly / Julie Cook / 2017)

God’s work…
that is what this is all about is it not?
That being this thing we call life….

Watchman Nee (1903-1972) was an ardent Chinese Christian Church leader.
He was also a profuse author.
I was first introduced to Watchman Nee and his books when I was in college
by a friend who was a bit older and had lived and weathered more of life than
I had up to that point.

Nee is not easy to read, for me at least,
In part because of the sheer depth of his faith.
as well as because much of his work spans the course of a century
that was full of great change.
It is as if one is reading the words of a mystic.
Deeply spiritual, deeply profound.

I have ebbed and flowed over the years with Nee.

Nee’s words have resurfaced recently in my life…
at a time when such words have not only been needed but most certainly
welcomed.

My road as of late has been difficult as I’ve watched my already small family
shrink even smaller. Losing the shoring piers to a heart that is being
battered and tested.

I remain consumed by what all it is taking to get dad’s life, post dad,
to a place of management.
The legal and financial aspect is simply daunting.

Add to the loss of dad, coupled by this organization and bureaucratic nightmare,
the untimely death of my aunt…a death seemingly so sudden.
Granted we knew she had been gravely ill,
despite the doctors saying “not to worry” give the meds time…”
As her body could simply no longer hang on.

My husband and I will be driving the 10 hour journey southward at the
end of the week in order to attend the memorial service.
We will remain for a few days sorting through what made Martha’s life her own.

On top of all the sorrow and frustration we are dealing with the early news of
becoming grandparents…as we worry over our son and daughter-n-law as they are
in the midst of job changes, long commutes and a bit of uncertainty.

So there is certainly a great deal of emotional overload…both up and down…
both good and bad.

That is why the words of those such a Nee are ever so important.

A wise friend of mine…
as I am fortunate in that I have many friends who are indeed wise,
recently shared with me his thoughts on my latest stand of sorrow and worry.
He told me that…
“Only when we realise that we can not do it all [alone]
(whatever the it might be in our lives)
we then cry out…
I believe God is so close to you at this time because you are crying out to him…”

I too believe that when we cry out, God draws ever closer despite our feelings
of isolation…
for it is in the isolation of loneliness…
when we are stripped bare of all distraction and false protection.

In 1949 when China became a Communist Nation, Nee was imprisoned—
He had refused to stop preaching, speaking, writing and sharing the Word of God.
A practice counter to all things communist.
An underlying theme in Communism is that it is important, if not essential,
to create false accusations in order to arrest, impression or even execute
those who speak Truth against the atheistic beliefs of the Communist state.

This was not an exception in the case of Nee.
He was falsely accused of crimes he never committed, arrested and sentenced to
spend what would be the last 20 years of his life in a forced hard labor camp.

His final words where found scribbled on a sheet of paper that had been tucked
beneath his prison cell pillow…

“Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and
resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe.
I die because of my belief in Christ.”

Watchman Nee

So what we must come to understand, as hard as it often is, that this life
that we claim as our own, is not for our benefit and glory but rather for
that of God’s…it is for His work, and His alone…
as we learn that we both live and die because of Christ Jesus….

“The greatest advantage in knowing the difference between spirit and soul is in
perceiving the latent power of the soul and in understanding its falsification
of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just last night I was reading what F. B. Meyer once said in a meeting shortly before
his earthly departure. Here is a section of it:
‘This is an amazing fact that never has there been so much spiritualism outside
the church of Christ as is found today…
Is it not factual that in the lower part of our human nature the stimulation of
the soul is quite prevailing?
Nowadays the atmosphere is so charged with the commotion of all kinds of counterfeit that the Lord seems to be calling the church to come to a higher ground.’
Today’s situation is perilous.
May we ‘prove all things; hold fast that which is good’ (1 Thess. 5:.21)
Amen”

Watchman Nee
March 8, 1933
(forward from The Latent Power of the Soul)

when books were real

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”
― Marcus Tullius Cicero


(Dad’s 1932 copy of Jack the Giant Killer / Julie Cook / 2017)

Not a voracious reader…
not a fast reader…
not always an interested reader….
but a reader none the less…

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…
oh how I do love books.

Real honest to goodness books.

No e-readers or iPads.
But the tangible, hold it in my hand, turn the page, smell that bookish
musty smell love of a book.

I know the arguments about books…
those being that books are expensive, cumbersome, heavy, accumulating,
outdated, hard to travel with… as the list goes on and on.

Hand a kid a “notebook”, iPad or something else equally electronic and techie
and you’ve got a quiet, occupied, engaged kid…

And sadly I suppose you do.

Engaging the mind you say.
Stimulating brain cells, building higher order thinking skills….
yet all the while lessening personal contact and personal connectivity.
As in isolation.

But there are those who will argue that that is exactly how it was
with a kid with a book.

There they’d sit for hours on end engrossed reading, alone…isolated….

…but oh what of that imagination building….
the dreams of those far away places, people and lands…
And what of the bonding that came from sitting next to someone special who would
read those tales and adventures as your mind raced off to a myriad of different
places and times…

These are a few of my dad’s books from the early 1930’s when he was just a young boy.
He was not a keen reader yet he loved a good story.
Those stories in those books would take that young boy to places other than
his own room.

Dad always treasured his books.

Having just recently rediscovered these books, I am awed by the color,
clarity and quality of these well loved childhood books.
They have remained relatively intact and are still very much treasured.

I can remember when I was a little girl as my dad would read these same books
to me each night before bed.
I couldn’t wait until he turned to the page with the pop-up image as my mind
and imagination would place me right down in the middle of the image and action—
making the story soar, becoming so much bigger then life…

Ode to the time when one’s imagination would take them on so many grand adventures….

Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy,
and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.

Revelation 1:3

behold the Lamb….

“He, the Life of all, our Lord and Saviour, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those other His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognised as finally annulled. A marvellous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonour and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death’s defeat.”
― Athanasius of Alexandria, On the Incarnation


(a lamb on the cliffs of Slieve League / County Donegal / Julie Cook / 2015)

In death there exists a mind crushing silence.

For we long, nay need, to be in the presence of the living…
of those who breathe, who have movement and who are warm to one’s touch
That is the reality of our moment in present time.

It is our comfort…it is what we know and what we take for granted.

Yet to be in the presence of that same once living life which in an instant no longer breathes,
is now rigid and stiff and frighteningly cold to the touch,
is to be in the presence of overwhelming nothingness…

There is a suffocating moment of panic as the primeval reflex of run and flight wrestles
to take hold. We are choked by the need to escape.
The innate sense of racing from the black void of nothingness, desperate
to find the sensory fulness of the living…
because it is in that single moment of reality of loss that complete isolation is frighteningly found…as well as  utter
aloneness– all of which crushes and squeezes the senses of our present living…

Death is an endless void.
For in death we see what was and is now no more.
There is no light, no breeze, no warming sun,
no thoughts of tomorrow.
For tomorrow’s thoughts are of a life without.

In Death we are without and it is in that “without” that our brains labor to process…
for the very processing of the concept of loss and death is more than our reasoning can contain.
Death and its finality is a reality that we can only process slowly, even if then…as time, emotion
and physical wellbeing swirl into the forefront of survival.
Because it is Life of which we know and we hold on tightly to the knowing of the presence of that thing thus named Life.

Yet Infinte Wisdom, in compassion for man and his utter isolation found in  Death, offered a lifeline…as the concept of Hope was now to be returned.
The now endless rope of Salvation anchored permanently to Forever.

The stillness and darkened cold, along with the endless emptiness were vanquished by a thunderous ray of Light…as Life walked free leaving Death discarded in a tomb….

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning,
the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were wondering about this,
suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.
In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground,
but the men said to them,
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?
He is not here; he has risen!
Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee:
‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ ”
Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb,
they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.
It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James,
and the others with them who told this to the apostles.
But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to
them like nonsense.
Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb.
Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves,
and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

Luke 24:1-12

Where it begins

The boundaries which divide Life from Death are at best shadowy and vague.
Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?

Edgar Allan Poe

RSCN2878
(chives / Julie Cook / 2016)

Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose it must be at an end.
Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation and doubt about everything that exists!
Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality;
it must be born of nothingness,
it must taste this nothingness and be given it to taste in a way
that no philosophy of nihilism can imagine.

H. J. Iwand

It has its beginning in the depths of despair…
for it is not to be found in the rapture of joy.

Stripped of pretense and facade,
Its secret roots penetrate far and wide…

It resides deep within, hidden from plain sight…
Scattered across the dusty barren recesses of the heart.

It takes hold in the blackness of night,
During the empty isolation of the tortured soul.

It is during that bleakest and empty affair of abandonment…
the very moment the smug conclude that both it and we are finished…
As finally all our talk and foolishness will thankfully come to an end…

It is exactly within this bitter tasted instance of nothingness…
that our Grace explodes into existence…