stairway to heaven

“Apart from the cross,
there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.”

St. Rose of Lima


(Hotel Oud Huis de Peellaert stairway/ Bruges, Belgium/ Julie Cook 2011)

Remember back in the day, those heady days of the early 1970’s?
We had just crossed over the infamous Rubicon—a time of transition from the turbulent 60’s
crossing the threshold into a new decade—we did not want to look back.
Rather we crossed over, hoping the new decade would bring us
the gift of change….positive, war-free days change.

Musically it was a time just prior to the colorful days of spinning mirrored balls,
platform shoes, Night Fever and the world of all things Disco.
It was a quickly closing window of time…a time when rock bands still vied for the
waning spotlight.

It was a time when every sweaty-palmed young man and every young lady whose smile bore
the glint of silver braces, each felt a magical flutter when hearing the familiar and melodic
opening notes to the perfect slow dance song of all time—
the song that created an almost 10 full magical minutes of holding close slow dancing…

Should you dare rest your head on his shoulder??
Should you dare pull her closer to your chest??

Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven

And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all is one and one is all, that’s what it is
To be a rock and not to roll, oh yeah
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven

Robert Plant, Jimmy Page / Led Zeppelin

Granted, I for one loved dancing to the song…especially if I was dancing
with “the one”—that particular boy who had stolen my fancy at that particular time
in life.

But I must admit, I often pondered those lyrics as the visual image of a stairway to Heaven
was akin to St. John Climacus’ The Ladder of Divine Ascent, also known as the Ladder of Paradise.


(The 12th century Ladder of Divine Ascent icon /Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt/
showing monks, led by John Climacus, ascending the ladder to Jesus, at the top right.

There were 30 rungs to the ladder…each a nod to the thirty some odd years of Christ’s life.
“It is the Divine model of the religious,
it presents a picture of all the virtues and contains a great many parables and historical touches,
drawn principally from the monastic life, and exhibiting the practical application of the precepts.”

And all of these thoughts came flooding to the forefront of my thoughts when I read today’s quote
by St. Rose of Lima.
There is no avoiding the cross as we look to climb the ladder to Heaven.

Many of the faithful, more of our Protestant brethren, often don’t understand what is
most often perceived as a bizarre and often macabre view of the cross, or crucifix,
that our Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican brethren seem to fixate upon.

And I for one tend to be one of those who look toward that cross.

It is the dark shadow of our faith that so many prefer to ignore or simply look past
pretending it doesn’t exist…but I see it for what it is.
The only means by which I now have hope.

For it there was no cross, there would be no hope.
If there is no decent into Hell, there is no ascent to Heaven.

It is the ugly truth as some would say…but I say it is the only truth.

There would be no Easter, no resurrection, without the cross.

We are told that we must carry that cross if we wish to live.
We can not avoid it.

There is no Easter joy if there is no cross of Good Friday.

The sacrifice had to be made if any of us were to be saved.

So yes, the cross is indeed our stairway to Heaven…

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness will cover the earth, and deep darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will rise upon you, and His glory will appear upon you.
And nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Isaiah 60:1-3

who turns sorrow to joy?

“My prayer is that the good God may establish His absolute reign
in your heart and in the hearts of all.”

St. Julie Billiart


(the clouds above a still sea / Julie Cook / 2021)

“Jesus will turn your sorrow into joy.
One can only imagine the shock and bewilderment the Apostles felt when
the Lord told them he must go away.
Though they could not understand it at the time, his departure was for their benefit.
The same is true of the unexpected setbacks and tragedies we experience in this life . . .
When I consider the times when I have been confounded by events that seemed so contrary
to what I thought God wanted for me, I should be mindful that they were permitted
by the Lord’s inscrutable providence for my own good, as difficult as that might be to fathom.”

Patrick Madrid, p. 251
An Excerpt From
A Year with the Bible

How could one Julie not highlight another Julie??

Julie Billiart (12 July 1751 — 8 April 1816) was a French religious leader,
social worker, educator of poor children, and Catholic saint,
who founded and was the first Superior General of the Congregation of the
Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.
(Wikipedia)

a lamb lead to slaughter or just another dumb sheep?

I have strayed like a lost sheep.
Seek your servant,
for I have not forgotten your commands.

Psalm 119:176


(Francisco de Zurbaran / Agnus Dei / 1639)

If you know me, you know I have always loved that whole sheep and shepherd thing.
In fact I’ve often waxed poetic about moving to Ireland, living somewhere near
Dingle, with about 5 sheep.

A plot of emerald green land that looks out over the Atlantic Ocean….
ahhhhh… (thanks Paul)

I suppose this affinity of mine actually goes back to having grown up in a traditional
Episcopalian church…more “high” church—more Anglican than what we know now.

Each Sunday morning, working our way through the morning’s daily office, we would recite the
Confession taken from the Book of Common Prayer.

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against thy holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore thou those who are penitent;
According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake;
That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
To the glory of thy holy Name.

Amen.
1928 Book of Common Prayer

I so often felt like that erring and straying sheep…especially as I aged.
I could err and stray with the best of um.

So I always keenly felt that whole “I am the Shepherd and the sheep know my name”
You know, that verse out of John??
I would yearn to hear that loving and forgiving voice of my Shepherd.

We sheep aren’t often the brightest and are easily lead astray.
And yet Jesus took on that role of sacrificial lamb.
Laying down His life for His own sheep…the Agnus Dei.

You know that wonderful piece found in Isaiah???–
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished

Isaiah 53:6-8

So much symbology…so many beautiful and yet tragic images.
Albeit tragic melding into triumph…

But today, I felt perhaps a little ‘less than’ triumphant.
I simply felt that I was being a good dumb sheep.

I was joining the herd.

Maybe they should use the term ‘flock’…
Flock immunity vs herd immunity.

I don’t know if you’ve had your “vaccine”.
I don’t know if you want to get “the” vaccine.

I thought I didn’t want to get my vaccine.

There are so many schools of thoughts—so many bickering camps out there–
each touting a different mantra regarding the vaccine.

“It’s a biologic not an anti virulent”
“It will alter your DNA”
“You’re doing your part for your fellow man”
“It’s made from aborted fetus cells.”
“You’ll be dead in a year”
“You won’t be able to travel if you don’t get the shot”
“It’s the culling of the human race”
“Do your part”
“It’s the mark of the beast”

That last one gets me a bit because this new zip code of ours ends in 666—
of course there are two other numbers in front of that little triple line up…but
none the less, I hate even having to give out our zip code.
And that is in part as to why my husband feels that we’ve had such a time with this
new old house of ours.
Never buy something you didn’t build is his mantra…
But that’s another story for another day.

I have a dear friend who I grew up with who is a doctor.
She’s been practicing for over 30 years—she is well established and well respected.
She was adamant…DO NOT GET THE VACCINE! DO NOT LET THEM VACCINE SHAME YOU!”

Really??

Then I have another friend who is a doctor…one who has also been practicing for over 30 years
and is also well established and respected—plus these two both grew up with me and they went to
med school together.
He was like…”don’t forget to get signed up for your shot, my wife and I have already had our two.”

So.
Hum.
A quandary.

Throw in reading various takes on all of this and the confusion between the
do’s and the don’ts is exponential..
It is a matter of ‘name your game’ sort of thinking.

We had COVID back in November and thankfully lived to tell about it.
I figure we have some immunity going on but for how long is anyone’s guess.

I confess…. we felt vaccine shame….
and since my husband is 71, I got him signed up through the country’s health department.
I took him yesterday.

My new doctor signed me up despite my being 61 as she proclaimed that I am my husband’s caregiver.
Oh if she only knew…

Anywhooo, she signed me up in her office this past week.
And so I had to be at the University Cancer and Blood Center yesterday morning at 9AM sharp.

Driving over, I really felt like some dumb sacrificial sheep.
Was it the right thing to do??
Was I signing my own death sentence or was I simply doing my part for all mankind???

Who knows.

But what I do know is that the most caring professional group gave me, along with 799 other
sheep, a first dose yesterday morning.

Plus they gave me a goodie bag…

I’m a sucker for a goodie bag.

Plying me with chocolate is probably a good idea–thus I don’t think too much
about this whole ordeal of leading me to the slaughter business…

But like our friend Kathy said over on atimetoshare, “I guess if I’m going to die from it,
it doesn’t really matter, because that means I’ll go to heaven sooner,
but God is in charge of all that too.”

Amen Kathy!!!

God is still in charge!

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

So much change yet so much anticipation…

There is a rich parallel between farming soil and spiritual soil.
It’s no accident that one of the most important virtues of the Christian life is humility,
a word that stems from the Latin word “humus”, meaning “earth”, or literally, “on the ground.”
Humility is a virtue required of men and women alike,
and truly the one virtue all the saints hold in common.

Carrie Gress and Noelle Mering
from Theology of Home II: The Spiritual Art of Homemaking


(early January 2020 / the sun comes up over the ocean / Julie Cook)

I took the above picture almost exactly a year ago to the day.
It was early January 2020…

2020.

Let that soak in.

A year, that before it would blessedly come to a close, we would all eventually grow to loath.

Yet on this particular morning in January of 2020, it was just a quiet walk along the beach.
Life was life.
Peace was found in the rhythmic sounds of an undulating surf that simply
was breathing in and out.

We had yet to hear of words such as Wuhan, COVID, Coronavirus, pandemic,
lockdown, masks, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, riots, protests, CHAZ, socialism,
radicalism…
words that would soon come washing over us like a callous Tsunami.

There was however already the nauseating media circus over an impeachment proceeding…
but had we not all basically grown somewhat numb to the media’s OCD obsession over
all things Trump?

And who could have known that a year ago, when life seemed typical and average…we would find
ourselves, a year later, yearning and pleading for things to be just that…
simply typical and average?

I learned a long time ago to be cautious about wishing one’s life away.

On a collective whole, we have all grown to hate the year 2020.

Oh there are some who had joy throughout the year, but we haven’t
heard much about that joy or the positive milestones nor of the blessings.
Rather we have been inundated with the negative, the darkness, the isolation
and the death.

And so the collective thought is for a good riddance to 2020.
Yet in that good riddance, we must be both willing and open
for welcoming in a new and unknown.

So my prayer on this new day of this new and unknown year is appropriately
from the Book of Psalms…sung prayers.

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.

Psalm 143:8

A Happy NEW year to us all!

“If you would suffer with patience, the adversities and miseries of this life,
be a man of prayer.
If you would obtain courage and strength to conquer the temptations of the enemy,
be a man of prayer.
If you would mortify your own will with all its inclinations and appetites,
be a man of prayer.
If you would know the wiles of Satan and unmask his deceits,
be a man of prayer.
If you would live in joy and walk pleasantly in the ways of penance,
be a man of prayer.
If you would banish from your soul the troublesome flies of vain thoughts and cares,
be a man of prayer.
If you would nourish your soul with the very sap of devotion,
and keep it always full of good thoughts and good desires,
be a man of prayer.
If you would strengthen and keep up your courage in the ways of God, be a man of prayer.
In fine, if you would uproot all vices from your soul and plant all virtues in their place,
be a man of prayer.
It is in prayer that we receive the unction and grace of the Holy Ghost, who teaches all things.”

St. Bonaventure, p. 25-26
An Excerpt From
The Ways of Mental Prayer

summoned to live…

Amid all the fear that characterizes our time,
we Christians are summoned to live in joy and communicate joy—
joy in spite of fear, joy in the midst of fear.

Hans Urs von Balthasar
from You Crown the Year with Your Goodness


(December sunset in Georgia 2013 / Julie Cook)

“Prayers are God-filled words in which our love and God’s love are joined.
That love embraces the people for whom we are praying,
and love always changes people and situations.
This doesn’t mean that we will always get what we want,
but Jesus does promise that we will get what we need.”

Rev. Jude Winkler, OFM, p. 14
An Except From
Daily Meditations with the Holy Spirit

East to West, West to East…and a very Merry Christmas to all!

The journey of the wise men took them from the east to the west…
and that’s the journey that Christianity took.
It started in Israel and it moves to Rome, the capital of the world.

Dr. Edmund Mazza
from Rediscovering Christmas


(ode to my world / Julie Cook / 2020)

Is that a bunch of presents, all tied up with a bow?
Oh.
No.
No, it’s not.
Wait, where’s the tree???
Is there a tree??

Yes, it’s in the basement, ready to be loaded on a truck.

What you’re seeing is just a small snippet of boxes and bubble wrapped pieces all
from a home ready for moving.

Who moves during a pandemic?
Obviously, we do.

This will be our last Christmas in a house that has witnessed 21 of our 37 Christmases.
Yet we’re off to see the Mayor and Sherrif for Christmas…so the cats will have to
carry on Christmas day without us.

The catnip is locked up!

The quote I used today by Dr. Mazza is somewhat technically true.
Things did seem to travel from east to west.

I somehow think that our Orthodox brethren might be able to agree on that eastern part—
as when we think of the east…we think ‘Eastern’ Orthodox…
However, they might dispute that notion of Rome being the capital of the world as
that capital kind of moved, at some point in ancient time, to Constantinople
(modern-day Istanbul)–

And of course it did sort of move back Rome’s way before it began heading off west again, spiraling, splintering and dividing– but I digress…
So we’ll just leave that footnote to be argued by the theologians and historians.

And so here I am in the west, preparing to move to the east.
Perhaps a bit backward…however by going east, I might just be heading back homeward.

Things are beginning to look barren and sparse.

Before:

After:

So as I live amongst the boxes and now travel over to share a magical time with both
the Mayor and Sheriff–
just know that I wish each of you a joyous, safe, healthy, and blessed Christmas!!!

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be
taken of the entire Roman world.
(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria).
And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea,
to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.
He went there to register with Mary,
who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.
She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger,
because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby,
keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
he is the Messiah, the Lord.
This will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel,
praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,
“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened,
which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby,
who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread
the word concerning what had been told them about this child,
and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things
they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

Luke 2:1-20

Oh do, let us come adore HIM!!

Christmas must mean more to us every year,
and we must not be afraid of immersing ourselves in its joy.

Mother Mary Francis
from Come, Lord Jesus


(my mom’s porcelain carolers / Julie Cook 2014)

Yes, let’s be not afraid—not afraid to sing our praises to the birth of our Savior.

Adeste fideles
læti triumphantes,
venite, venite in Bethlehem
natum videte
regem angelorum.
Venite adoremus,
venite adoremus,
venite adoremus,
Dominum.

O come, all ye faithful,
joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold him,
born the king of angels.

Refrain:
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

2 True God of true God,
Light of light eternal,
our lowly nature he hath not abhorred;
born of a woman,
here in flesh appearing.
[Refrain]

3 Sing, choirs of angels,
sing in exultation,
sing, all ye citizens of heav’n above:
“Glory to God,
all glory in the highest!”
[Refrain]

4 Yea, Lord, we greet thee,
born this happy morning,
Jesus, to thee be all glory giv’n;
Word of the Father,
begotten, not created.
[Refrain]

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant
Author (attributed to): John Francis Wade; Translator: Frederick Oakeley (1841; alt)
Tune: ADESTE FIDELES

losing, looking, knowing, seeing…

“There are two ways of knowing how good God is:
one is never to lose Him,
and the other is to lose Him and then to find Him.”

Archbishop Fulton Sheen


(Christ Pantocrator, the oldest known Icon of Christ, 6th Century AD / St Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai)

This past week has been one full of ups and downs, highs and lows,
and a week of all things in between.
Much of which has been beyond our immediate control.

So I think it was Tuesday morning when I actually was afforded my “quiet time”—
a time when I could truly be alone and in fellowship with God.
A time that was once as regular as clock work…
then people retired and mornings were no
longer my own…
Juggling time took on a whole different sort of meaning.

Tuesday morning I opened my morning devotion, a book of The Divine Hours—
I pray the liturgy of hours—an ancient form of
prayer based on a fixed time of prayer during the course of a day—
mine is an abbreviated devotion of morning, midday, and vespers.
A typical monastic cycle is based on a schedule of 7 times dispersed over a 24 hour period.

According to prayerfoundation.org:
The Seven Historical (Canonical) Hours of Prayer is based upon Psalm 119:164
“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.”

6:00 am – First Hour (Matins / Lauds / Orthros)
9:00 am – Third Hour (Trece)
Noon Prayer – Sixth Hour (Sext)
3:00 pm – Ninth Hour (None)
6:00 pm (Vespers / Evensong
9:00 pm (Compline)
Midnight Prayer.

These times basically overlap in the three large liturgical denominations…
Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican communions.

When I was attending the church of my childhood, Evensong was my most favorite service–
It was small, quiet, and intimate.
And that’s probably because I grew up in a massive Cathedral
and Evensong was always in a small gothic chapel rather than the cavernous sanctuary
and was always sparsely attended…but I digress.

Nowadays, I’m just lucky to be able to get in the morning devotional–

So Tuesday morning, when I began my reading and recitations, I began reading the affixed
reading for the day—a reading from the Book of Revelation:

Because you have kept My word of perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of the testing,
that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who live on the earth.
I am coming quickly; hold firmly to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
The one who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God,
and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God,
and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God,
and My new name.
The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Revelation 3:10-13

This is not a revolving sort of reading but a fixed reading.
Meaning it was not chosen precisely for this year of 2020.
It was not chosen for this surreal time but was rather more of a permanent piece of scripture–
it is the same verse read over the years, over the seasons on this particular day–
this Tuesday, the 3rd week of Advent.

And yet here it was staring at me on this particular Tuesday morning,
plain as day— speaking so pointedly to our trying days and time,
speaking plainly to our current prickly world which has been trying our souls day and night
since early March.

We have got to remember that God still sees and He still knows—
He knows we are heavily burdened.
We knows we are down trodden.
He knows.
He sees.
And in that seeing and knowing, He will write his Name upon us.
We will be His and He will be ours.

Hold fast.
The time draws nigh…

Advent.
We wait.
We watch.

signs of the Spirit

“Let us love the Cross and let us remember that we are not alone in carrying it.
God is helping us. And in God who is comforting us,
as St. Paul says, we can do anything.”

St. Gianna Molla


(Girolamo dai Libri / God the Father / 1555)

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,
gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Even though the Disciples suffered persecution, they were filled with joy.
One would have expected them to be depressed or angry or resentful.
The very fact that they responded to persecution with joy is a sign that the Spirit
was guiding their actions.
We can use that same test with our own words and actions.”

Rev. Jude Winkler, O.F.M., p. 11
An Excerpt From
Daily Meditations Holy Spirit

As I read this quote by the Rev. Winkler, I wonder do I, can I, possess this same power
of the Spirit–
a power that allows me to rise above the hardships of this day, the pressures of this life, the
trials of fighting an uphill and up-stream battle…
can I too possess joy in the face of persecution and suffering?

May God give me the gift of such a burden…

greater things than this…

“Nor did demons crucify Him; it is you who have crucified Him and crucify Him still,
when you delight in your vices and sins.”

St. Francis of Assisi


(one of my paintings from back in the day / 2010)

“Now, as he was riding one day over the plain of Assisi he met a leper,
whose sudden appearance filled him with fear and horror;
but forthwith calling to mind the resolution which he had made to follow after perfection,
and remembering that if he would be a soldier of Christ he must first overcome himself,
he dismounted from his horse and went to meet the leper,
that he might embrace him:
and when the poor man stretched out his hand to receive an alms,
he kissed it and filled it with money.
Having again mounted his horse, he looked around him over the wide and open plain,
but nowhere could he see the leper; upon which, being filled with wonder and joy,
he began devoutly to give thanks to God,
purposing within himself to proceed to still greater things than this.”

St. Bonaventure, p. 4
An Excerpt From
The Life of St. Francis