we’ve got our work cut out for us…

“In the name of God, stop a moment,
cease your work, look around you.”

Leo Tolstoy


(this little pile of “work” has only multiplied since two weeks ago with a new highend
formula due to the reflux and more meds / Julie Cook / 2018)

When we think of work, we think of, well…work.
That whole 9 to 5, 8 to 4, 7 to 11, 11 to 7 or the on 12 off 12 gig…
As in work.
The daily grind…
A profession…
A career…
A calling…
The thing we do to pay the bills, afford some stuff, have a life…
The proverbial climbing of the ladder…
The thing we do until we either retire or die…or whichever comes first…

The end to our end really…

However, according to Thomas á Kempis,
from his best selling 1418 book The Imitation of Christ
a book that according to Christian History, Sir Thomas More,
England’s famous lord chancellor under Henry VIII
(and subject of the film A Man for All Seasons)
said it was one of the three books everybody ought to own.
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits,
read a chapter a day from it and regularly gave away copies as gifts.
Methodist founder John Wesley said it was the best summary of the Christian life
he had ever read…

Thomas á Kempis tells us that:
“No one who follows Me will ever walk in darkness (Jn 8:12).
These words of our Lord counsel all to walk in His footsteps.
If you want to see clearly and avoid blindness of heart,
it is His virtues you must imitate. Make it your aim to meditate on the life of Jesus Christ.
Christ’s teachings surpasses that of all the Saints.
But to find this spiritual nourishment you must seek to have the Spirit of Christ.
It is because we lack this Spirit that so often we listen to the Gospel without really hearing it.
Those who fully understand Christ’s words must labor to make their lives conform to His.”

Thomas á Kempis, p.15
An Excerpt From
The Imitation of Christ

And so we are reminded, schooled, scolded, informed…
that in order to have the Spirit of Christ within us, there is much work on our parts to be done.
A sort of work that should be our primary life’s focus rather than that of time clocks,
paychecks, ladders, and promotions…

And whereas that’s all great and grand… as it does help pay the bills…
in the end, when it is all said and done, “those who fully understand Christ’s words
labor to make their lives conform to his…”

“We must imitate Christ’s life and his ways if we are to be truly enlightened
and set free from the darkness of our own hearts.
Let it be the most important thing we do, then, to reflect on the life of Jesus Christ.”

Thomas á Kempis

when feeling insignificantly small

“If you once realize that to-morrow,
if not to-day, you will die and nothing will be left of you,
everything becomes insignificant!”

Leo Tolstoy


(a lone little sanderling eyes both sea and beach / Julie Cook / 2017)

The morning reading began with a portion of Psalm 119.

Incline my heart to your decrees and not to unjust gain.
Turn my eyes from watching what is worthless, give me life in your ways…

Psalm 119:37

The reading was actually verses 33-40 but it was verse 37 that actually reached
out and grabbed me by both shoulders.
It shook me so hard and fast that it caused me to reread what I had just read twice!

I grabbed a pen.

I underlined.

I digested.

And then I felt a sense of a galactic knowingness…an invisible nod from a great
and distant Source that approvingly found satisfaction in the
“by jove, I believe she’s got it” moment of knowing.

I think it was the part about “turning my eyes from watching what is worthless….
give me [rather] life in YOUR ways….”
(with accent and brackets being mine…).

Turn…me…from…worthless…to…You….

in a nutshell!

Maybe it’s because that’s what I’ve been doing all these many months.
I’ve been watching this whole global and national situation as if being some sort
of innocent bystander.
Someone who is watching madness unfold yet is either being held hostage or is
helpless to do anything of any real significance to stop the madness.
As both society and culture…careen out of control.

And then there came the readings closing prayer….

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly;
and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away,
to hold fast to those that shall endure;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Collect for the Sunday closest to Sept 23rd, Book of Common Prayer

As in let me not be anxious, fretful, depressed, overwhelmed, sad, frustrated
about earthly things…BUT [rather] love things heavenly…hold fast to that which will endure—that being Jesus Christ who lives and reigns along with the Holy Spirt
and the One True God…for ever and ever…

And whereas I have at time felt very much like a small insignificant David standing in the shadow of an overwhelming Goliath….as the world and her ills have appeared more than challenging, more than daunting, more than overwhelming…
as I add to that my own more seemingly insignificant yet equally comsumming
issues of life, God has spoken…
He has not forgotten as He remains consistent and steadfast…
Nothing is too great or too overwhelming for a great and Awesome God…

And the people were heard to say AMEN!

choose to be in love…

“Where love is, there God is”
Leo Tolstoy


(vibrancy found at the garden center / Julie Cook / 2017)

“Our greatest danger is not our sins, but our indifference.
We must be in love with God.
All other loves pale in comparison.
Our nature is not built for so strong a love, so we must change our nature.

All other loves I have must be a sample of the love of God.
All the world and everything in it must be sample of the love of God

When we say that we love God with our whole heart, it means whole.
We must love only God.
And that sets up the triangle—
God, the soul, the world.”

Dorothy Day

The conundrum

“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”
Leo Tolstoy

“He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension preternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.”
Edgar Allen Poe

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(an ancient wall to St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

“We live in dangerous times…”

And yet what individual, throughout the course of humankind, has not waxed the same morose sentiment?
Has not our history on this planet been steeped in danger…albeit it primarily of our own making?

Today is no different than of perilous ages past.

Having read several articles in recent weeks, with the latest being today while perusing the BBC, as well as The Guardian, I have noted with rising alarm the palpable fear amongst many French Jews, most recently of those living in the southern port city of Marseille—France’s 2nd largest city that has the second largest French Jewish population after Paris.

In recent years many of France’s cities have seen a wave of rising violence, with many of the incidents directed toward French Jews. Marseille is the latest city in a long list of cities to witness attacks directed at her Jewish population with the most recent being carried out by a machete wielding 15 year old Kurdish Muslim boy against a male Jewish teacher. The boy, who succeeded in slashing the man’s back and arms, when apprehended lamented his shame in having failed at killing the teacher but was proud of his attempt. A student with good grades and a stable family who had come to France 5 years ago with his family from Turkey proclaimed that he had acted in the name of Allah and IS.

Such recent attacks have prompted French Jewish leaders to issue warnings to those men who choose to wear the traditional kippa, otherwise known as a skullcap. A telltale distinct indication of a more devout Jew.

France lives with the painful memory of the dark days of WWII when a compliant French government agreed to the Nazi “request” of rounding up and deporting her Jewish population–who were to be “interred” at “detention centers” (aka death camps) in Germany and Poland. More than 75,000 Jews were shipped out of France.
Victims of Hitler’s final solution.

It is with both troubled hearts and minds that leading Rabbis are making the request of the hiding of one’s identity as a means of safety and actual survival… as such warnings bring back the traumatic memories of events from those terribly troubling days of the Holocaust.
With insanity seemingly having returned, as once again Jews must hide being jewish.

see the full articles here:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35445025

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/13/teenager-to-appear-in-court-over-marseille-jewish-teacher-attack

I don’t know whether to be mad and angry or simply resigned and sad.

I know that at times, throughout some of my travels within this world of ours, I have found myself dropping the cross that I wear around my neck, never one to take it off, down into my shirt as to discreetly conceal the fact that I am a Christian as the area I may be finding myself is known for being “hostile” towards Christians.

Yet I question myself as to why do I find it necessary to hide the fact that I am a Christian.
Just as the Marseille Jews now believe it is a matter of safety and survival to hide the fact that they are indeed Jews.

Do I want to live in a world where I have to hide those small things of my faith that speak to my devotion…?
Be it a necklace, a head covering, a skullcap, a prayer rope…

I find it a bit ironic that Muslim women, who by French Law have been banned from wearing the burqa, the full head and face covering, are currently being defiant by wearing them anyway.
When in Paris just shortly after this law went into effect, I can remember almost coming unglued passing Muslim women on the street who were defying the law by blatantly wearing the full covering. Being a stickler for the law, I was mad at the blatant show of defiance and disrespect for the law, as well as the country of France, with the thought that if you want to live by Muslim law, live in a Muslim country.
It should be noted that the law is indeed a safety issue as terrorists, even males, have been known to hide underneath the cloak hiding suicide bombs.

In our western society we are accustomed to seeing the faces of those people who we pass on the street, sit alongside on the tram as well as conduct daily business with. Those who hide their entire face could be hiding so much more than simply adhering to strict Muslim law by not being visible in public.
Muslim women may still cover their heads and bodies, all but their faces.
Yet many continue to take a defiant stance to the law, with oddly little to no repercussions.

Muslim defiance verses Jewish and Christian fear….hummmmm

As a Christian I am keenly aware of my historical relationship to the Jewish people.
My Savior just so happens to have been a very devout Jew who some historians even believe to have been of the more Orthodox branch, a Hasidic Jew.
I for one have never blamed Jews, as some throughout history erroneously have, for having been complicit in Jesus’s death. I find that to be a ridiculous thought as such is clearly steeped in ignorance of the history and time period.

I am also very aware of God’s special bond with the Jewish people. The Jews are indeed God’s chosen as is the land of Israel.
I am merely a child by adoption and Grace.

I am also an ardent believer that God has stated that He will show no favor to those who do not honor his children or the land of their ancestors.

All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.

Isaiah 41:11-13

I am therefore torn with this whole idea of being bold in one’s faith as opposed to being safe by hiding any visible signs or identification…
Should not my life be a reflection and witness to that very faith?
Wearing a cross around my neck, small and not large and gaudy as has become sadly the fashion trend in the hiphop culture, but rather a small tangible bond, as well as a symbol, of being marked as Christ’s…

Yet I can understand parents worries as they send their children off to school or simply out in public wondering whether or not they will be targeted for wearing the kippa or a cross? Will they be victimized for praying the rosary or reading a bible?

Here in the States there has been the occasional story of the business or governmental agencies that have banned all employees from wearing any religious symbols…a cross or star of David…
Sadly as this country of mine wrestles with itself over separating itself from any reminder of faith…
Where is the honoring in that I wonder…..

Yes, we are sadly living in troubling times and those of us who wish to profess or save our faith are indeed in a bit of a conundrum….

“The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded.”
C.S. Lewis

Nothing from nothing leaves. . .something

“Nothing from nothing leaves nothing,
Ya gotta have something”

Billy Preston (Nothing from Nothing song lyrics)

You have to create something from nothing.
Ralph Lauren

“We can know only that we know nothing.
And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”

― Leo Tolstoy

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(a “volunteer pumpkin on the compost pile / Julie Cook / 2015)

We have a growing pile of debris that has risen and fallen over the course of our time living here at this house. It sits right on the edge of the property just at the periphery of woods which surround our property on two adjoining sides. It’s where we usually put all of our clippings from the bushes, any fallen tree limbs, discarded shrubs and spent flowers. I think of it like a rather large compost pile that ebs and flows with the passing seasons.

After this spring’s big yard re-do, the brush pile grew exponentially as the landscapers dumped stumps, stripped grass, and discarded shrubbery lost to the change.

There have been a few past Christmas trees which have found their way to the brush pile, as well as numerous pumpkins that just didn’t seem to survive the Fall, petering out before Thanksgiving.

And it is to these pumpkins that my recent attentions have now turned. . .

The other evening when I was dumping some grass clippings on the pile, I noted a squash-like vine emerging from the debris spreading out in two separate directions. I pleaded with my husband not to mow over the vine because I was exciteed to see what might happen if we left it to grow. . .
He throws in some comment about needing another plant for pollination so it won’t ever come to anything. . . but I countered with a “leave it to the bees and we’ll see. . .”

Low’n’behold, a white pumpkin is now growing from my debris pile.
I remembered back to last Fall when I had bought a multitude of heirloom pumpkins—there were indeed a few white pumpkins in the mix. . .
I am so excited!
A bonus pumpkin, given as a small gift from the compost. . .

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Which brings me around to another sort of thought. . .a real thought about debris, reclaiming, and growth.

Many many years ago when I was a college sophomore, attending a very large state university, I found myself in a familiar situation that a great many young Christians find themselves in when heading off to college—that surreal state of desperately seeking that hidden balance between one’s faith and one’s life while taking in the whole college experience–
Greek life, parities, sports, dates, new friends, new thoughts, new experiences, liberal minded professors and courses, challenges, questions and hidden insidious digs executed from the dark one—all of which are attacks upon a fragile young threatened faith.

I rode the waves.
Sometimes staying on top, wildly riding the monster wave. . .other times, I was falling off the proverbial surf board of life, miserably wiping out while nearly drowning in the crashing waves.

Having come home one weekend, during an away football game no doubt, I found myself sitting in the office of one of my priests from my home church, having a bit of a late afternoon confession session.
I had failed miserably and instinctively knew I needed a good dose of wisdom, tough love, and true Christian absolution.

Patiently he listened. . .
offering a tissue,
while quickly cutting through the crap.
Saying something that has stayed with me all these many years later. . .
“it doesn’t matter what you have done–it doesn’t matter what you still may do, or how bad you may have been or how bad you may yet be—even if you’re covered from head to toe in dog crap, God still wants you, cares for you, loves you. . .nothing you have done is going to separate you from His love as long as you continue to seek His Grace. . .
We call that unconditional love. . .”

It was a never give up on yourself sort of talk.
While being countered with the need for change on my part talk. . .
the stop being a yo-yo Christian sort of talk.

I’ve used that same line of thought with lots of my kids over the years at school and I’ve had to recall it often in my own life.
I’ve fallen lots of times over the years.
I’ve screwed up.
I’ve gotten to that place when I’ve felt as if this time was it. . .as in, it’s all over.
I’ve done it for sure this time, there’s no going back. . .
I’m done, I’m toast, all chances are up, chips are cashed in, there’s no going back. . .

I think we’ve all gotten to that place in our lives when we’ve felt as if we’ve gone too far.
We’ve crossed the line and we just figure there’s no going back. God has washed His hands of us and finally walked away—or at least He should walk away.

We shrug our shoulders, as we toss our spiritual beings on the brush pile out back, believing our relationship with an unseen God is over as we’ve pushed the envelope just one time a little too far.

Yet God has never given up on the junk out back.
There’s life to be had in that compost.
It might be a volunteer pumpkin or it might be a redeemed heart and soul. . .
Either way. . .there’s always HOPE in that which was thought to be nothing. . .

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. 19 It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.
1 Peter 1:18-19

Tiny treasures

Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.
Golda Meir

True life is lived when tiny changes occur.
Leo Tolstoy

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(a tiny Gray Hairstreak tiptoes on the sedum / Julie Cook / 2015)

In all truth, it is in the tiny, the small and the demure where we are to find real strength and value.
It is not to be found in the grand, the exquisite, the large or the garish for that is too easily recognized and assumed.

Contrary to popular thought, the tiny and small will never be lacking–for within those often hidden tiny treasures is a wealth of wonder and joy. . .

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(a tiny Gray Hairstreak tiptoes on the sedum / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(fiery skipper amongst the heather / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(a thread-waisted wasp visits the heather / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(fiery skipper amongst the heather / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(a most welcomed visitor to the heather, a honey bee / Julie Cook / 2015)

“But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? “Man does not know its value, Nor is it found in the land of the living. “The deep says, ‘It is not in me’; And the sea says, ‘It is not with me.”Pure gold cannot be given in exchange for it, Nor can silver be weighed as its price. “It cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, In precious onyx, or sapphire. “Gold or glass cannot equal it, Nor can it be exchanged for articles of fine gold. “Coral and crystal are not to be mentioned; And the acquisition of wisdom is above that of pearls. “The topaz of Ethiopia cannot equal it, Nor can it be valued in pure gold.
Job 28:12-19

Shortcomings

“When judging other people’s shortcomings, remember yours”
Leo Tolstoy

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(crucifix hanging beside the shrine to St Maximilian Kolbe, The Polish Museum, Rapperswill, Switzerland / Julie Cook / 2012)

I am always amazed when reading the writings of Christian theologians and clergy who were living in the midst of Hitler’s rise to power, as well as the chronicles of the holy living throughout the perilous struggles during the height of the war, all these many years later.

Living, preaching, teaching, writing, ministering to the faithful, as well as the faithless, during incessant bombings, times of disease, brutality, starvation. . .during times of hiding, as well as internment, while even facing certain death.

The perspective of their faith during such dire times is still so very relevant to our own time almost 80 years later.

That they could maintain a holy presence of mind while witnessing unspeakable atrocities.
That they could hold desperately to a faith during the days of ungodliness and devastating betrayal.
That they never wavered or buckled when the world had seemed to abandon all sense of hope and sanity.
That clergy, nuns and priests such as Father Maximilian Kolbe, who were murdered in the death camps, could continue to minister to their fellow prisoners while enduring horrific tortures–still able to sing songs of praise even when their mouthes were so utterly dry from starvation that not a sound could be heard.
Yet sing they did in their hearts.

I am always amazed reading the reflections written during such a different time and in such a different world which are eerily so timely still today.
And perhaps that is what makes me sad.
The continued relevance and timeliness.

Reading the words, not knowing that they belonged to a different era, the casual observer would no doubt be surprised that they were not written today.
Such are the reflections of Dietrich Bonhoeffer regarding the Christian Church prior to and during the war.

The following daily reading is taken from A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer and could easily be spoken today.
Pope Francis, during a recent visit to Turin, Italy in order to view the Shroud of Turin, gave a talk regarding the Church’s failings during the war noting that she struggles with her shortcomings of the faithful today. . .

The Sins of the Church
The church confesses that it has not professed openly and clearly enough its message of the one God, revealed for all times in Jesus Christ and tolerating no other gods besides. The church confesses its timidity, its deviations, its dangerous concessions. It has often disavowed its duties as sentinel and comforter. Through this it has often withheld the compassion that it owes to the despised and redacted. The church was mute when it should have cried out, because the blood of the innocent cried out to heaven. The church did not find the right word in the right way at the right time. It did not resist to the death the falling away from faith and is guilty of the godlessness of the masses. The church confesses that it has misused the name of Christ by being ashamed of it before the world and by not resisting strongly enough the muses of that name for evil ends. The church has looked on while injustice and violence have been done, under the cover of the name of Christ. It has even allowed the most holy name to be openly derided withou contradiction and has thus encourage that derision. The church recognizes that God will not leave unpunished those who so muse God’s name as it does.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Ethics 138-139