to eat

“Eat without scruple whatever God has prepared for you at the common table…
whatever God provides for you, take that with simplicity of heart from his hand”

St. Philip Neri


(wile turkey gobbler / Cades Cove, TN / The Great Smokey Mt National Park / Julie Cook / 2018)

“For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks
my blood abides in me, and I in him…this is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.

John 6:55-56,58

vigil

Sleep my child and peace attend thee,
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee,
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and vale in slumber sleeping,
I my loving vigil keeping
All through the night.

1st verse to an ancient Welsh folksong

“And, in the end
The love you take
is equal to the love you make.”

Paul McCartney

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(the little Ga Tech bear that sits vigil at the foot of Dad’s bed)

There’s a lady in our town who makes teddy bears.
The premise is that you can bring her an old blanket, shirt or some other piece
of clothing, from either a growing child or even a departed loved one,
and she will make a bear using the blanket or fabric of said loved one…
she calls them “remembrance bears”…

Just before Christmas, when I was picking up a prescription at my pharmacy,
I saw this Ga Tech bear sitting on a small stool at the end of an aisle.
I asked the pharmacist if this particular bear was for sale or merely a display.
She informed that it was indeed for sale as her mom was now making collegiate bears.

“Well”, I excalimed,
“I know just the perfect person for this particular bear”…

And ever since this little black and gold bear has been sitting at the foot of dad’s bed,
or in the nearby chair…
keeping a steadfast silent vigil throughout these days and nights
of both waxing and waning….

and right now the days and nights are waning.

I was meet this morning by both nurses…hospice and the care service.
Dad had had a bad night, throwing up repeatedly, resulting in them having to administer
an anti nausea drug from the “emergency” hospice kit.

This emergency kit was provided when Dad was first placed on hospice care.
It’s a little brown box that was to stay in the refrigerator
as it had the emergency morphine for when pain got really bad…
as there may not be time to quickly order new meds.

It’s a little brown box I pushed way in the back of the fridge…
hiding it behind the eggs and milk…
as I didn’t want my stepmother to mistakenly throw it out,
and I didn’t want to see it,
I didn’t want to be reminded of it,
and I prayed we wouldn’t have to use it.

They started using it about three weeks ago.

The hospice nurse was also giving him a good going over….
from head to toe…checking the catheter, his vitals, etc…
When one is terminally ill, dignity is the first casualty.

Later my nurse friend came into the kitchen where I was waiting
and told me that she really didn’t think it would be much longer…
Maybe a week at best.

I reminded her that we said that two weeks ago…
yet I was very aware that we both knew the deal…
that no one can ever predict time in these sorts of matters…
however I also knew that she’s ridden in this little rodeo before…
her knowledge and intuitive skills certainly surpass mine in these sorts of situations…

And so after running to the grocery store and doing some errands for the
maintaining of their household…
I went back to sit with dad.

His speech was slurred, his eyes fluttered open and shut…
but he did have his cable news turned on and was attempting to go through
the motions of reading over the newspaper.
It is from Dad that I get my keen interest in all things news, political, football and history.

His legs were twitching back and forth,
As he told me that a former caregiver had died.

She had not died and is actually alive and quite well.
His mind is working hard to sort reality from that of dreams.

And as I sat with dad, watching news story after news story concerning the complete
idiocy of this nation of ours, I was suddenly and tragically aware that there were countless
other families doing exactly what I was doing…
and that is keeping vigil over a loved one.

The furtherest thing of importance that should be on our radars are these
ridiculous demonstrations, protests and marches.

When you cut away all the minutia of life…
all of the pettiness,
the bitterness,
the anger,
the tantrums,
the selfishness,
the lies,
the hate,
the lunacy…
you will see what is truly important…

And that is simply living,
as well as dying,
and most importantly the love that it to be found in each of those human functions.

Damn to pink hats, to rock stars, to actresses all performing for the mania…
those who now only live for the “will he or won’t he” that is gripping the minds of the hysterical,
It all matters not one iota when you find yourself slowly losing either your own life
or slowly losing the life of one you love…

It is the love found in that life that really only matters.
The love given, the love demonstrated, the love received…

May you open your heart not to the maelstrom of the mania that is currently
roaring past you…
but rather may you seek and find the love in life…
that one lasting piece of each of us that really truly only matters…

because in the end…it is only the love that will remain…

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height
nor depth, nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:37-38

exacting

We are, by astronomical standards, a pampered, cosseted, cherished group of creatures…
If the Universe had not been made with the most exacting precision we could never have come into existence. It is my view that these circumstances indicate the universe was created for man to live in.

John O’Keefe

“There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world.
And no places that are safer than other places.
The center of His will is our only safety –
let us pray that we may always know it!”

― Corrie ten Boom

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(heat lightening in a hot Georgia July night sky / Julie Cook / 2015)

For some it comes gradually…painstakingly and agonizingly slow…

For others it comes in the fury of immediate energy found in the flash of lightning…
precise…
pinpoint…
and near deadly…

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of the word Exacting is: requiring much time, attention
or effort from someone : very difficult or demanding

And it is to that exacting end, of the often difficult and demanding road,
that Christians are dutifully bound….

For ours is an exacting God and a demanding fatih.

He is a God who requires much from us, His created.

For the life of a believer is not a passive experience.

It is not a life of basking in the wonderment of being created,
the rhythmic marvel of breathing…
or the mystery found in forgiveness.

It is not a life of prestige, or comfort, or even ease.

Rather it is a life that runs against the grain.
It is rough as raw cut wood
and yet it is as smooth and as slick as polished stone.

It is faith both trying and challenging and not for the faint of heart.
For the cross we carry is not light nor ever manageable but rather cumbersome and weighty.

This faith of ours is not for those who choose to tarry, often taking their sweet time…
For it is that very thing called time that is of the true essence…

This living faith is not for those who believe in immunity, free from pain, or hurt or sorrow.
As believers, we often face the tempest storm, alone…for the world will turn its back.

We live in a time of reality’s denial.
And a time of mandatory tolerance…yet the tolerance is not ours to know.

He asks His own to stay while the world chooses to go.
He calls upon His own to go when the world decides to stay.

He asks, He commands, He requires…

For it is ultimately a choice between life and death…

And it is for that very Life that we each have so chosen to die…

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
Romans 6:6

Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts.
Jeremiah 7:23-24

We choose to celebrate life

Each day holds a surprise.
But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us.
Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise,
whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy.
It will open a new place in our hearts,
a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.

Henri Nouwen

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(black eyed susans / Watercolor Beach Resort / Julie Cook / 2016)

To celebrate life is not always an easy option.

For life is not always easy…

Nor is it…
perfect,
happy,
joyful,
or smooth…

Yet we find in its ups and downs, in its ins and outs, in its rhythmic breathing…
our joy.
our peace.
our hope.

We choose to live and let live.
We choose to embrace and be embraced.
We choose to go forward and not back.
We choose Grace…

We are given one more day…
Yesterday is no more
Tomorrow is not guaranteed…

We rejoice or we lament
Yet we live…
and that is the gift..

Celebrate

You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11

Graciousness appears to have died

“Win without boasting.
Lose without excuse.”

Albert Payson Terhune

“A man who called everyone a damn fool is like a man who damns the weather.
He only shows that he is not adapted to his environment,
not that the environment is wrong.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

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(ghost crab who’s given up the ghost / Santa Rosa Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)

We’re not a people accustomed to losing.
We don’t like to lose…
Who does?!
Nobody, that’s who!

We’re a people of winners.
We like winners.
Who doesn’t like a winner…
Nobody, that’s who!

Maybe we’re a little too accustomed to winning.
Maybe we’ve grown to expect it.
Maybe…just maybe…we’ve forgotten how to lose.
We’ve forgotten that in losing there must be graciousness…

Let’s look at a few things…

We love our sports teams.
We want them to win.
Some of us bet on them to win…
as in… betting money…
as in… betting big money.

Losers don’t make us money.
Some of us have been known to do bad things to make our teams win.
We have cheated, lied, twisted reality, conspired with others to do bad things.
We’ve been known to “fix” a game in order to win
We like to win at all costs…

Others of us get into fights when our teams lose.
We decide to fight those whose team beats our team.
We decide to beat the crap out of the opposing winning team’s fans.
We don’t lose well….

Look at our elections…

We like our candidates of choice to win.
We work for our candidates.
We campaign for our candidates.
We yell at other people who don’t support our candidate.
We call those who don’t support our candidates ugly names.
We get into fights with people who don’t support our candidate.
We vote for our candidates.
We get mad when they lose.
We decide not to accept the winner because our candidate should have won.
We contest the voting count.
We demand a re-count.
We demand a re-vote
We make up stories about the winning candidate to make him / her look bad.
We paint a really ugly picture to sway the results.
We lie, pay bad people money…
We want to win at all costs

Look at our primary elections…
There are a lot of people who don’t like a man like Donald Trump
He’s loud, obnoxious, brash, arrogant and troubling to most…
Maybe he’s not “president” material…
Yet he’s been voted into the top position.
He’s the presumptive nominee.
He earned the spot.
But those who don’t want him are mad.
As those who didn’t vote for him are doing and saying all sorts of things to stop him.
They want to ignore the majority of the other people who voted for him.
They want to say that everyone who voted for him is ignorant and racist and just wrong.
When did voting for a person of one’s choice become ignorant, racist and wrong?
We don’t like the voting to not go our way…

Look at the recent vote in Great Britain.
People voted.
The vote was to exit.
But those who lost the vote are mad.
They’ve decided that those who voted to exit are racist, ignorant, wrong.
It was put to a vote…
stay or go…
Go was chosen…
but now…
All those people who voted their choice to go, are now labeled as ignorant, racist and wrong.
We want a re-count.
We want to block the decision.
We don’t want to concede to the majority’s vote.
We want to do everything possible in order to turn the vote around to our vote, our choice.
We no longer believe in choice, or two sides
We will fight and call those who voted against our wishes ugly names.
We won’t accept anyone else’s opinion or right of choice because it is different from our own.

We forget that there are always two sides—
Winning and losing.
And sometimes we just have to live with losing….

Graciousness appears to have died….

But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness,
and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.

2 Corinthians 8:7

Bear ye one another’s burdens

“It is easy to tell the toiler
How best he can carry his pack
But no one can rate a burden’s weight
Until it has been on his back”
― Ella Wheeler Wilcox

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(memorial of St Christopher carrying the Christ Child dedicated to Willian Connor of the 1st Dublin Company, the Boy’s Brigade , located in St Patrick’s Cathedral / Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

In yesterday’s post I reflected on the abstract idea of thankfulness and gratitude—that sublime ability to feel and experience a personal and intrinsic sincere gratitude and thankfulness within ones life—Of which is just another piece of the puzzle to understanding the gaping divide between those associated with groups such as ISIS, Islamic or other militant groups set on death, mayhem and destruction.

And it should be noted that such a thought is not to be considered and taken as being overtly simple, idealistic or naive…as most would find such an observation exactly to be when comparing such violent groups quest for the general populace of whom seems to be their key target. It is but one small observation of the current state of turmoil which is circling around the world of the us and the thems…as it seems to be just one glaring missing component in one of the two divided camps—the true sense of joy, gratitude and thankfulness of simply living our lives that the majority of us feels verses the cold hearts of the thems…

And whereas it is easy to sit back with the countless numbers of officials and
powers-that-be who are currently grappling with figuring out / understanding the reasons and the whys—as in why are “they” so hell bent on causing misery, woe, mayhem, destruction and death for and to the rest of us…as in what is their angle, their desired end result…as don’t all groups who set out on some sort of quest have a desired end result…?

And as such thoughts have been coursing through our minds as of late, it is no doubt that we have all read or seen the story of the very sad and heinous tragedy that took place November 10th in Indiana—that of the young pregnant wife and mother…that the young, brightly smiling, beautiful young girl married to the young pastor who was the victim of a home invasion. She was raped then shot dead while her infant son was asleep in another room. As two others had gone to empty out the couples cash at an ATM. Not only was she victimized, brutally assaulted, raped and murdered but her unborn child was party to the brutality as well.
Two lives tragically, horribly, senselessly taken…

How are we to wrap our minds around such horrific events?

Yet we have not heard nor seen the sort of events as witnessed in other recent senseless tragedies following this such as…
National news teams have not descended upon this community.
No one has marched in protest.
No college football teams have refused to play.
No college presidents have resigned.
No police officers have been fired.
No cities looted, stormed or burned as a result.

An 18 year old boy was arrested yesterday, as two others are now being sought.

There will be those who will claim that these young men are victims as well, victims of a system that has marginalized them…
The same arguments will be raised that they are victims of race, socioeconomic positions, perhaps those from broken homes, or fatherless homes who never had the opportunities of others….
All of which–I simply refuse…I don’t buy such excuses….
For wrong is wrong and right is right and 99.9% of the time those who perpetuate such crimes are indeed aware of right and wrong—the caveat being that they simply don’t care…as their hearts are indeed cold—cold to life and cold to living, cold to justice and cold to Grace.

So rather than creating a resulting spinoff of chaos and madness as in the other recent events our country has witnessed, as if the death and loss are not chaos enough, this particular family and community are tragically left stunned and deeply hurting.

Anger is indeed the forefront resulting emotion when we face such horrors.
How could they?
How dare they?
Anger is our knee jerk reaction..

As now a young pastor and father is left to wonder, to wrestle, to question, to hurt, to ache and to grow numb…as he wrestles with his emotions…as he is left to raise his infant son alone…as he buries both his wife and unborn child.

How can a just God, a loving God, allow such…is the question we hear screaming in our heads.

And there is never a simple answer for such a question.

We live in a world of Light and Dark, Good and Bad, Holy and Evil

and we have been given a command…Bear ye one another’s burdens….

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians6:7-10

Ashes to Ashes…a history lesson

Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the
earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our
mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is
only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

(Prayer taken from the current Book of Common Prayer’s Ash Wednesday’s service and the imposition of the ashes)

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(Master of San Francesco crucifix / Louvre Museum / Pais, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

Ash Wednesday, for Christians worldwide, marks the solemn period of the liturgical year known as Lent—the forty day time period which recalls Jesus’ time spent in the desert being tempted by Satan, as this was the precursor to his public ministry.

For Christians, Western and Eastern alike, Lent is the 40 day lead up to Easter.
(it should be noted however that the time period of Lent differs in both the Western and Eastern churches as they each adhere to a different liturgical calendar)
Lent is intended as a time of deep reflection, repentance, personal denial, and remembrance. For many, Lent is marked by the Ash Wednesday church service which most likely involves, for those in attendance, the imposition of ashes administered to the forehead.

The imposition of ashes has its roots in ancient Jewish belief and is based on various passages from the Old Testament with the foremost being taken from Genesis 3:19
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

(NIV)

The phrase, “from dust you came and to dust you shall return,” is also a key prayer from The Rite of the Burial of the Dead, the Book of Common Prayer:
FORASMUCH as it hath pleased Almighty God, in his wise providence, to take out of this world the soul of our deceased brother, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; looking for the general Resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come, through our Lord Jesus Christ; at whose second coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself
(Prayer to be said at the graveside for the burial of the dead taken from
The Book Of Common Prayer, 1789 edition)

It is the belief that we, the descendants of Adam, who God formed from the dust of the ground, would all eventually return to that very beginning, of decayed dust. It is because of the Resurrection that the saved souls of the temporal bodies of dust will eventually rise upon the day of Judgement and ascend, just as Jesus had ascended, to Heaven and that of the eternal Kingdom.

The priest marks the forehead of those attending the Ash Wednesday service not as a symbol to be worn with pride–not as a “look at me, I’ve been to church on a Wednesday of all days and got ashes smeared on my head” kind of symbol, but one that goes much deeper.

The ashes are a symbol to remind the recipient, as well as any observer of such, of simply put, the sinful nature of man. There is no sugar coating of the facts here. This is the real deal acknowledgement. . .no politically correct business here. It is called as it is—sin— and it is displayed as such that all the world may take note and hopefully reflect— that we are sinners and we all fall short of the Glory of God.

Nothing more and nothing less.

Something more akin to the blazing red A as seen in Nathaniel Hawthorn’s tale of the Scarlet Letter–the ashes are a symbol of sin and we are all reminded that there is simply no way getting around the issue—we are sinners–sinners in desperate need of redemption. But in our tale of the wearing of the painful reminder of glaring offenses, we already know the ending of the story . . . redemption, love and hope are now available.
For Lent is a “season” of life offering to us all a powerful reminder of the importance examining our lives and of who we are and of our relationship to God as Creator and to His son as Redeemer, and of our desperate need for that very redemption.

The following excerpt, taken from Colin Buchanan’s book A to Z of Anglicanism,
is a nice bit of history regarding the use of ashes in the Ash Wednesday service”
Ash Wednesday.
The first day of Lent is called “ Ash Wednesday.”
It originated in the enrollment of catechumens for the period of
preparation leading to baptism at Easter, from which Lent itself is derived. Thus the day is also traditionally the beginning of Lenten fasting for the whole church.
The use of ashes within the liturgy, traceable in the West to before the 10th century, stems from the Jewish background of using ashes to express sorrow and self-humiliation (cf. Matt. 11.21), though there has usually been a secondary theme of a reminder of mortality (cf. Gen 3.19). The imposition of ashes was prohibited by the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, which inaugurated instead the commination service. In Thomas Cranmer’s Prayer Books, the day was entitled “the First Day of Lent, commonly called Ash Wednesday”—a clear indication that the old title was now viewed as misleading. The use of ashes has slowly reappeared in some Anglican provinces over the last 100 years under the influence of the Anglo-Catholic movement, and consequently official provisions is now made within modern Prayer Books, as in the Church of England’s Lent, Holy Week, Easter. There is a widespread custom of burning palm crosses distributed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday in order to provide the ashes for use on Ash Wednesday.

May we all take pause either this day, Ash Wednesday, or at some point during these next 40 days of Lent, as we are afforded (oh how many times are we afforded. . .) a time of deep reflection leading up to the celebration of Renewal and Hope known as Easter, to contemplate our lives lived, our mortality, our sins and of the deep endless love of the Father of all Creation and of the Son of Renewal and Hope—May this time awaken in our souls the knowledge that we all need so much more than what we can simply offer ourselves which are the limitations of this life— but may we rather look beyond ourselves, to that which is so much greater—for it is in only in the Redeemer that we may live.