detach from worldly things

“Be brave and try to detach your heart from worldly things.
Do your utmost to banish darkness from your mind and come to understand what true,
selfless piety is.
Through confession, endeavor to purify your heart of anything which may still taint it.
Enliven your faith, which is essential to understand and achieve piety.”

St. John Bosco


(St John Bosco)

There is so much more that I’d like to write about John Bosco, this educator/saint,
but again time is not on my side.

Hopefully, I will do so, God willing, as time allows.

But until then, I’ve included a brief biography of this man from Turin, Italy below.

This past school year was a very trying time for my daughter-n-law.
And that is putting it mildly.

Here she was, a new young first-time mother of a young child learning to manage
motherhood and her work…as work was anything but easy.

She had taught school in the public sector for several years, earning the reputation
as a stellar educator.

This past year, due to moving and making home in Atlanta, she made the move to a parochial school.

Initially, the hire seemed to be a God-send.
The woman who hired her, the then acting principal, was moved by my daughter-n-law’s record as
an educator as well as her exceptional interview.

Yet as fate would have it, this woman retired only to be replaced by an interim principal.

To say that the replacement was a bully and difficult would be an understatement.

As a veteran educator of 31 years, when I had the opportunity to meet her fellow colleagues
at her baby shower, I was struck at how miserable this staff actually was.

The entire staff hated this bullying tyrant acting principal—several vowed to quit,
many long-time veterans were fearful their contracts would not be renewed.
All the while this sadistic man seemed to have a laser of extreme hatred,
focused on his co-teacher, our daughter-n-law.

I was fretful because as our daughter-n-law was very pregnant, I was more than aware of
what outward stress internalized could possibly do to an unborn child.

We were all on pins and needles as our hands felt tied.

Frustrated and anxious summed up the winter months.

At the end of February, our son and daughter-n-law bought a new rug.
I was there the day they brought the rug home.
As we unrolled the rug, we found what first appeared to be a half dollar rolled up
inside the rug.

Upon further inspection it was a St John Bosco medal.

Hummmm…

We are not a Catholic family so my son and daughter-n-law were a bit perplexed
and unaware of who this man was.

My quasi-Catholic self knew good and well about St. John Bosco.

“Abby”, I exclaimed, “don’t you see…this is St John Bosco…he is more or less
the patron saint for educators…”
“It is a sign…God sees and He knows of your troubles…you’ve got to trust”

I had no doubt after this “coincidence” that God was at work.
Because in my world there are no coincidence but rather only the
workings of the Holy Spirit.

It’s is a long story that I will save, but circumstances grew to such a level that this
hateful man actually painted himself into a corner.
Word was issued, via e-mail, during Spring Break that this principal had been relieved of his duties
and would not be returning.

It was an answered prayer not only for our family, but also for entire school staff.

God hears, God sees, and God knows…

It is us, His often lost and clueless children, who so often need reminding.

St. John Bosco reminded our small family…

Saint John Bosco’s Story

John Bosco’s theory of education could well be used in today’s schools. It was a preventive system, rejecting corporal punishment and placing students in surroundings removed from the likelihood of committing sin. He advocated frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion. He combined catechetical training and fatherly guidance, seeking to unite the spiritual life with one’s work, study and play.

Encouraged during his youth in Turin to become a priest so he could work with young boys, John was ordained in 1841. His service to young people started when he met a poor orphan in Turin, and instructed him in preparation for receiving Holy Communion. He then gathered young apprentices and taught them catechism.

After serving as chaplain in a hospice for working girls, Don Bosco opened the Oratory of St. Francis de Sales for boys. Several wealthy and powerful patrons contributed money, enabling him to provide two workshops for the boys, shoemaking and tailoring.

By 1856, the institution had grown to 150 boys and had added a printing press for publication of religious and catechetical pamphlets. John’s interest in vocational education and publishing justify him as patron of young apprentices and Catholic publishers.

John’s preaching fame spread and by 1850 he had trained his own helpers because of difficulties in retaining young priests. In 1854, he and his followers informally banded together, inspired by Saint Francis de Sales.

With Pope Pius IX’s encouragement, John gathered 17 men and founded the Salesians in 1859. Their activity concentrated on education and mission work. Later, he organized a group of Salesian Sisters to assist girls.

Saint John Bosco

how shall you be known?

“A lie is a delusion of the mind, while evil is a delusion of the will.
The sign by which one is distinguished from the other is the judgement of God Himself…
that which He teaches a man is the truth;
that which He leads a man to will is the good.
But whatever contradicts this is entirely false, entirely evil.”

St. Nicholas Cabasilas

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“Watch out for false prophets.

They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.

By their fruit you will recognize them.

Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit,
but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
(Matthew 7:15-20)

Where it is important that we should be able to recognize what is true, real and pure…
that which is not a falsehood, a lie, an evil…

Is it not equally as important that others should be able to look at us,
both you and me,
and recognize what drives us, guides us, leads us…?

What do they see?

Can they see what we stand for, what directs us, what motivates us…

Are we a mirror, reflecting the Grace, Mercy and determination of Christ

Or do we cast shadows of obscured light…

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(persimmons / Troup Co, Georgia / Julie Cook / 2016)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness
and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

Romans 1:18

You have no idea. . .or maybe, perhaps you do

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Thomas Merton

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(backyard neighbor / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(backyard neighbor / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(backyard neighbor / Julie Cook / 2015)

Ode to the backyard rabbit. . .

You have no idea just how much you truly mean to me. . .
Not that you know me or that I know you—
Yet we know of one another’s existence.
You are out there and I’m back here, usually up, looking outward at you, down there.
And I know you know, just as you know I know.

For you see, I need to know that you and your world remains, as always, the same.
I need to know that when I have fought through another day, another journey, another time of attending to duties I would prefer would disappear, I know you are out there, doing what it is that you do day in and day out.

When I turn on the television, only to see a world that I no longer recognize, I know you are the same, as in, you never changed.
When I see a country I no longer understand, I can thankfully understand you.
When I grow weary of the pettiness, the arrogance, the self-centeredness of man, I can look out at you, unencumbered, offering no pretense, no bravado. . . just being yourself. . .
and I can exhale–simply enjoying watching you, simply being you. . .

And as I ramble on about the small joys received in the simple act of sitting back and basking in the solitude of watching a wild rabbit, or two, going about its life–eating, running, jumping. . .appearing simply happy to be alive, I am struck by the very words I have used to offer up to a little rabbit—that in much the same vein, the words may be offered up as a simple prayer to God—

That He knows, before I know, just how much He means to me. . .
despite my inability to grasp or readily recognize that need.
That I can actually rest in the knowledge that He is who He is and has been since the beginning of time–That He is not merely the Creator of all that was, and all that is, and all that will be. . .
but that He is also a Father. . .my Father. . .
who loves,
who comforts,
who sees,
who knows,
who indeed does understand.
That He mourns just as I do when I look out over this world of ours.
As thankfully, He remains steadfast, always the same—
unmoved,
unchanged,
never transformed or moulded by mortals who are constantly changing and transforming our own world to fit our own selfish desires, perverse pleasures, and arrogant agendas.

He offers me the gift of Creation—as I find in that Creation a small creature, that offers me a glimpse of everlasting peace. . .

And whereas the rabbit and I merely recognize one another’s existence, I can rest in the fact that The God of all of Creation, does indeed know, and knows most personally, me. . .and that single thought alone is what allows me the ability to exhale at the end of each long and hard fought day. . .

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(backyard neighbor / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(backyard neighbor / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(backyard neighbor / Julie Cook / 2015)

En Masse

Resistance to the organized mass can be effected only by the man who is as well organized in his individuality as the mass itself.
Carl Jung

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(an October Georgia evening as a flock of starlings seek a place to roost for the night / Julie Cook / 2014)

Their numbers are limitless.
Their sound is deafening.
Their precision is inspiring.
They are just a bunch of birds,
and yet. . .they represent so much more. . .

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Upon first glance, it appears as if there is a giant moving, living, breathing black cloud undulating overhead.
It glides across the sky to and fro, with no particular rhyme nor reason.
It is not following the current of the wind as it sets its own course.
It defies any law of gravity as it goes where it chooses, when it chooses.
The cloud descends, en masse, onto power lines or within the tops of trees with a deafening din of chatter.
It is as masterful as it is precise.
It is greater and more artfully versed than any human could ever hope to choreograph.

To watch a flock of birds in flight, especially a large mass of birds such as starlings and / or blackbirds, is nothing short of mesmerizing.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of birds in one maddening swarm move in and out, up and down, shifting and weaving with such precision, it’s simply difficult to comprehend.

These birds, although individuals, combine to make what appears to be a single living and breathing mass or entity which for all apparent purposes appears to have a mind of its own.
They, these individual birds, must interact with such agility and precision as not to fly into one another as well as avoid colliding with trees and / or power poles. Their ability to work effortlessly in tandem is nothing short of humbling.

As I stand staring, as if in a hypnotic trance, gazing skyward–listening and watching the ethereal ariel spectacle, my mind fumbles for words. I think of the verse in Matthew, Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

That the omnipotent one true God of all of Creation knows the birds.
That He knows each bird. . .
Each bird in this massive, confusing swarm of precise madness, and yet. . .
I am told that He also knows me.
He knows me even more so then He knows these birds.
Knows, as in an intimate relationship. . .
as in everything known and hidden, good and bad. . .as He is said to have formed me (knit me together) in my mother’s womb. . .
the same mother I never knew, yet it is He who knew me. . .even before I was formed, He knew me. . .
I am also told He cares for me more so than these birds.
These birds who are able to dance across the sky with grace and magic, soaring and diving in grand unison.
And yet, He is aware of me.
More than aware. . .He has a deep abiding knowledge which goes beyond acquaintance.
He knows, He sees, He loves.

And as I continue staring at a black cloud dancing across the horizon, a tremendous sense of well being engulfs a weary soul. . .

knowing when is when

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
― Leonardo da Vinci

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(the spent and deadheaded geraniums / Julie Cook / 2014)

I probably would never make a very good farmer, master gardener and I’m now worried about my becoming a small potatoes chicken farmer, but more about that later.

“Huh?”, you shrug.

You know the whole mindset of cutting away in order to make way for bigger and better–well that’s a tough call for me. It’s the fine art of knowing when is when.

Now I can do the whole deadheading thing—as in when a flower is spent and fading fast, wisdom tells us to cut away the dead and dying in order to promote more growth and flowering.
That one is a no brainer.

However when it comes to pruning a tree or shrub, a tree or shrub that is by all accounts healthy and happy, that’s when things start to merge over to the grey side of decision making.

I totally get the whole symmetry thing, as I’m all about some symmetry, but when faced with the proposition of cutting away this or that healthy branch in order to foster taller growth or to prevent future troubles, as in falling limbs, etc— that’s when and where things start to get dicy.

Add to that the seedling issue of a garden and I’m toast.

The instructions on the packet read:
Plant 4 to 8 seeds in hill (I’ve never understood the whole hill thing, but I mound hills up every year– God forbid the one year we opted not to “hill”– the squash and zucchini were not as prolific or healthy. . .so my husband now swears by the “hill” effect)
Space hills 4 ft apart.
Thin to 3 to 4 plants per hill.
Keep fruit picked for longer production.

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Ok I more than understand the whole pick the fruits and vegetables on a timely basis concept, as that pretty much is the whole point of planting—as in picking and eating. . .but it’s this business of planting 8 seeds then pulling up, killing, destroying and throwing away 4 healthy ones—leaving 4 others to remain in the hill, which gets me.

I certainly like to think I’m a “waste not want not” kind of girl.
Is it just me or is planting double the number of seeds than one actually needs– not the most thrifty or economical plan?
I suppose one of the leading reasons for this plethora of seed planting would be whether or not all the seeds germinate. Perhaps it’s the safety in numbers concept or more like there’s a guarantee in numbers.
Or perhaps the school of thought here is for the really thrifty minded among to pull up those “throw away” seedlings and replant them on a new mound. But who has time or room for that added adventure? All my “hills” are full.

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(we had a real gully washer night before last so our soil is saturated / these are the squash seedlings, with 4 unsuspecting little ones waiting for their preselected death)

This year I even tried my hand at planting tiny seeds in tiny little starter cups. Look at all those future carrots—who by the way were also soaked by the torrential downpour from the heavens above—Which just may mean that all little carrots, leeks and red swiss chard may have drowned, saving me from the decision of deciding who stays and grows or who goes to the compost grave.

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I think it all must boil down to some sort of predisposed decision making, sans emotional attachment, process that I failed to receive at inception. I cannot for the life of me not feel badly or torn for the seedlings I choose to discard. My mind races with thoughts of how the little plants could / would grow into beautiful plants with succulent vegetables. How could I ever choose who lives or who dies—I’m certainly no Caesar with that whole thumbs up thumbs down sort of thing.

Happily I acquiesce the painful duty of plant selection to my more cold blooded husband. Without a single thought or agonizing internal argument, he simply bends down and plucks and plucks until the proper healthy number of plants remains. No real thought process or internal struggle or personal dilemma on his part—just merely pulling up a couple of extra plants here and there.

The moral of this little tale, which we are all now wondering and hoping will come to light. . .would be that some of us have an innate sorting ability while others of us–not so much. As Leonardo has so aptly reminded us. . . it’s not enough that we “know” what must be done, the important matter is that we must apply that knowledge, we must do what it is that we know we must do.
It is the action side of knowledge that is important.
And as far as gardening is concerned, that can be a matter of life and death—-oh dear, even writing that down has me torn.
No matter, for if you’ll excuse me, I must go pull weeds. I’ve certainly got no problem there.
I can pluck and toss a weed any ol day.
Happy weeding!