looking forward rather than at now…

“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

“Every pious desire, every good thought, every charitable work inspired by the love of Jesus,
contributes to the perfection of the whole body of the faithful.
A person who does nothing more than lovingly pray to God for his brethren,
participates in the great work of saving souls.”

Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich

I think I’ve touched on this thought before.
I think it was most likely this same time last year.

It never fails that each year, during this particular season of the Chruch calendar,
this season of Advent, this time of notable anticipation,
I just can’t help but look forward.

Maybe I shouldn’t look ahead…
but I just can’t help it…I do.

I just can’t help but not to look.
I can’t help but know already how the story ends.

Of course I’m not alone in that…
most of us who are Believers already do know how the story ends don’t we?!

And yes I know, technically the story doesn’t really end…
but perhaps that’s a bit of a spoiler for those not exactly in the know…

However that’s not today’s worry.

The lamenters will cry “why can’t you just enjoy the moment?!

And maybe I should…maybe I should just turn a blind eye to what I know
while ignoring the facts.
Maybe I should just bask in the magic of this season;
enjoying this time of joyful expectations, of mystery, of hope and of celebrations.

But I can’t ignore the fact that there is a looming foreboding shadow that I
simply can’t shake.
Consider it the ying and yang if you will.

For both Advent and Christmas, this mix of a season that speaks to all that is to be,
happiness and joy, is what some might call the front end of the story…

Or maybe it’s actually what is known as the backstory to the end story…
the story that is behind the real story.

Figuring I wasn’t alone with this notion,
I poked around a bit and found the image above at the front of the post.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one who understood that there is more to this
time of all things of happiness, newness and of birth.

For we all know, whether we like it or not, birth leads to life which in turn leads
eventually to the grave.
But who wants to think about a grave and or death when we can be toasting to what
is happy and bright right?

Not a self-absorbed culture, that’s for sure.

And so whereas we do indeed rejoice, as so we should,
we do so with a knowingness.

I’ve used this image of this particular painting before.

It is a painting by one of my favorite artists, Michelangelo Merisi
(Michele Angelo Merigi or Amerighi) da Caravaggio–or just Caravaggio for short.
He’s known by his town of birth and not so much by his birth name.

The painting in question is known as Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri)

Caravaggio’s paintings and subject matter can be unsettling to some viewers.
His life was no less unsettling.
And he was certainly far from saintly as his life would make any modern-day gossip tabloid
green with envy as his life truthfully read of such fodder and yet his talent,
his skill, his gift, his vision, his juxtaposition of his subjects
along with his use of light and dark, shadow and dramatic lighting…
all seem to be an exclamation point to his chosen imagery and subject matter.


(Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Dei Palafrenieri) 1605-06 / Galleria Borghese)

I love this painting because it is so dramatic and powerful…

Allegorical yes, but it’s that end story in a very stalk and near visceral nutshell.

The end being the crushing of both Evil and Death.

Leaving us with birth, life, death, grave and yes, finally, victory…
All of which is rolled into this one single painting.

As both Mary and her small son, all under the watchful gaze of both Mary’s mother
and Jesus’ grandmother, St Anne…who watches on as now both mother and child put an
end mark to that which desires nothing more than to haunt their lives…

Mary’s yes to God, along with Jesus’ willingness and sacrifice, are all that was necessary
and needed in the resounding NO to Satan.

In the painting, they figuratively demonstrate victory, our victory, over both Evil and Death,
in a very decisive fashion.
Crushing the head of the snake.

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

(Luke 2:34-35)

Mary who was told great things by the angel Gabriel and who was told great things by
the Magi, and who was told great things by Simeon…basked in the celebration of the
birth of her child, all the while looking forward.

She had been told and she knew and she held it all in her heart.
And I doubt that a day did not pass while she lived the life of a loving mother to this
atypical son of hers, that she didn’t feel the same foreboding that I sense now.

My sense of foreboding, however, pales in comparison to the one whose heart
had been pierced the day she said: “yes, I will do your bidding, Lord.”

Mary knew both joy and sorrow, both life and death…but the most important thing
that Mary knew was that there is victory over death…victory that just so happened to be
found in the birth of her son…

And Mary said, Yes, I see it all now:
I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve.
Let it be with me just as you say.
Then the angel left her.
Blessed Among Women

Luke 1:38 MSG

And Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me.
And whoever sees me sees him who sent me.
I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.
If anyone hears my words and does not keep them,
I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge;
the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me
a commandment—what to say and what to speak.
And I know that his commandment is eternal life.
What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

John 12:44-50

We can’t help but look forward….

up, down or through

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth
and be an atheist,
but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say
there is no God.”

Abraham Lincoln

What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.
Helen Keller

I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.
Charlotte Bronte


(view looking up a hollow tree that has a small hole on the way up / Julie Cook /2017)


(looking down the opening to a different hollow tree / Julie Cook / 2017)


(looking through a third hollow tree / Julie Cook / 2017)

God looks down…
We look up…
He sees through…

Some writers use the word charity to describe not only Christian love
between human beings, but also God’s love for man and man’s love for God….
On the whole,
God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him.
Nobody can always have devout feelings:
and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about.
Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will.
If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment,
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’
He will give us feelings of love if He pleases.
We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right.
But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference;
and, therefore,
it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins,
at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 132-133.

Get what you need…

No, you can’t always get what you want,
You can’t always get what you want,
You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometime, you find,
You get what you need

(Lyrics by Mick Jagger)

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(flowering hawthorn / Julie Cook / 2016)

Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined,
and a house divided against itself will fall.
If Satan is divided against himself,
how can his kingdom stand?

Luke 11:17-18

Looking left
Looking right
Running around in circles…
Looking endlessly,
Yearning voraciously
Wanting impatiently

Never seemingly satisfied.

Children out of control
Teens out of control
Parents out of control
Athletes out of control
Politicians out of control
Entertainers out of control
Musicians out of control
News folks out of control
Clergy out of control
Average folks out of control

Frustration
Dissatisfaction
Fragmented
And now fractured beyond repair

That is us
And it is now

Divided and divisive
Spiraling out of control
Crashing and burning
A world set adrift and endlessly burning

One need
One want
One remedy

One Hope
One Savior
One God

“The world is in flames.
Are you compelled to put them out?
Look at the cross.
From the open heart gushes the blood of the Savior
This extinguishes the flames of hell.”

Edith Stein
Thy Will Be Done
Bread and Wine
Readings for Lent and Easter

Are you happy with what you seek

“There are only three types of people; those who have found God and serve him; those who have not found God and seek him, and those who live not seeking, or finding him. The first are rational and happy; the second unhappy and rational, and the third foolish and unhappy.”
Blaise Pascal

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(St Kevin’s Monastery, Gleandalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Where is it that you go always looking to and fro?
Is your life filled with too much noise and a quest for grander toys?
Is it all simply too distracting, time consuming and soul extracting?
Are your days spent wasted while your heart lays empty,
As you whittle away your life with that which is small and petty?

Listen now my friends to the wisdom offered long ago….

Up now, slight man! Flee for a little while, thy occupations; hide thyself, for a time from thy disturbing thoughts. Cast aside now thy burdensome cares, and put away thy toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of thy mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid thee in seeking him; close thy door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! speak now to God, saying, I seek thy face; thy face, Lord, will I seek (Psalms 27:8). And come thou now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek thee, where and how it may find thee.
St Anslem

May your days be many and your troubles be few. May all God’s blessings descend upon you. May peace be within you may your heart be strong. May you find what you’re seeking wherever you roam.”
Irish Blessings

The advent of Advent

The Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, come into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.
~ C.S. Lewis

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(a golden red carpet / Cades Cove, TN / The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

Advent—the season of waiting, watching and expectancy…

As in waiting and watching with expectant anticipation.

With the anticipation being so wonderful, so indescribable, so over the top…you can barely contain yourself.

This is not the worrisome dreading sort of waiting.
Not the “oh no we’ll never make it” gloom and doom of the negative waiting.
Not the looking constantly over your shoulder with fear rising up from the pit of your stomach while you fret waiting for the other shoe to drop sort of the anxious dreading type of waiting, watching, looking, fretting and worrying…

This is rather the so great and so grand magnificent, I can’t wait, I’m so excited, as this is going to be really really good and really really big…full of sheer giddiness that I’m about to explode sort of joyful waiting and watching…

As in I can’t wait because there is going to be such wonder, relief and good things that all thoughts of bad, negative, dread and woe are simply nonexistent…

Yet is this the season that you’re all excited and giddy over because of the getting and receiving of more stuff? The I can’t wait to go to the mall and bask in the holiday specialness and magic of mega retail savviness sort of excited…??
Is it because this is the season you’ve long waited for because of the gathering and the getting of those gifts and presents and all manner of things that you’ve decided you just can’t live without sort of season…??

Is it the season that you’ve been long waiting and watching for as your calendar will now be filling up with all manner of parties, gatherings, galas and events offering the excuse of buying shiny and sparkly outfits with the expectancy of seeing and being seen while you imagine all the goodies to be sampled and savored…??

Is your watchfulness, your waiting, your expectancy over those things of this planet, this world, this generation’s idea of a good time?

Or is your watchfulness, your waiting, your expectancy over something else?
Something that is much bigger, more awesome, more unimaginable and more over the top than any of things of this life…those things and events which pale in comparison as they are simply fleeting and merely passing by…

For there is something really big and really monumental that is soon to be taking place
and those of us who wait, who watch, who look, who anticipate, who are full of expectancy, wonder and awe…. are not to be disappointed…

“God travels wonderful ways with human beings, but he does not comply with the views and opinions of people. God does not go the way that people want to prescribe for him; rather, his way is beyond all comprehension, free and self-determined beyond all proof. Where reason is indignant, where our nature rebels, where our piety anxiously keeps us away: that is precisely where God loves to be. There he confounds the reason of the reasonable; there he aggravates our nature, our piety—that is where he wants to be, and no one can keep him from it. Only the humble believe him and rejoice that God is so free and so marvelous that he does wonders where people despair, that he takes what is little and lowly and makes it marvelous. And that is the wonder of all wonders, that God loves the lowly…. God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

STOP!!!! There’s another sheep. . .

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

Daniel 2:21-23

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(a sheep farm on the road to Killarney / Julie Cook / 2015)

STOP THE VAN!!!!
“I can’t get a good shot while we’re moving. . .the sheep isn’t budging, you’re going to hit it!!!!!. ..”

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(a sheep sits contently on the road somewhere in County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

And so was the almost daily drill of the journey.
Stoping and going— for here was a sheep, there was a sheep and everywhere was a sheep sheep. . .

It is the poignant reminder that throughout each of our lives we will, inevitably, find ourselves on our very own and personal road to Damascus.
Wether we are believers or not.

And depending on our own perspective, it is either joyfully or frustratingly that most of us will end up on that same road over and over again, throughout our lives, as it often seems to take more than one chance encounter for things to truly sink in.

It is a road that we ourselves have each personally carved. A road that initially appears to be leading us in the direction of our thoughts, dreams and sights. . .a course that we perhaps set long ago, affording the opportunity of venturing forth, moving forward, as we seek our supposed heart’s desire…

Yet, if the truth be told, it is a road of destiny complete with the blinding encounter so often necessary to realign a misguided path. It’s just that for some of us, we need a constant stream of “encounters” before we finally “get it” and allow things to finally sink in…

Be it mere happenstance or Divine Intervention, we are struck, knocked upside the head and thrown to the ground, blinded and overwhelmed by whatever it is that is necessary in order to get our attention, change our course, wake us up, turn us around while eventually leading us to our true and proper path.

And so this journey was not really different from any other…

Setting off I had hoped, anticipated and even expected… something—but as to what that something was, it was not clear. . .

There were the sheep…

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Those symbolic, innocent yet oddly mentally challenged creatures that have always spoken to my heart.
Gazing out the window, with my head resting on the glass, I stare mindlessly at the myriad sea of gently grazing animals as familiar words whispered through my thoughts…

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Luke 15: 1-7

Yet this idyllic gentle image, laced with with its warm sense of safety, peace and security, was suddenly jarred apart by the blinding image of sacrifice and suffering that punctuated the seemingly pastoral image of serenity with the mysterious utterance of a long ago vision which poured itself out upon my thoughts like the deeply crimson colored blood oozing from a fresh cut. . .

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.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,

nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Isaish 53: 7-9

At some point there was a wistful private reflection spoken aloud by simple habit as we all gazed upon a mysterious landscape… “how could any of this be seen as the mere happenstance of the collision of random particles…”

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(Lady’s View over the Ring of Kerry, County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(Somewhere along the Dingle peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(somewhere along the road in County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

I came seeking the wisdom buried deep in the past of what was as I strained to hear the ancient voices that lay hidden below my feet. . .

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(an unknown grave marker / Julie Cook / 2015)

Delightful to me to be on an island hill, on the crest of a rock,
that I might often watch the quiet sea;

That I might watch the heavy waves above the bright water,
as they chant music to their Father everlastingly.

That I might watch its smooth, bright-bordered shore, no
gloomy pastime, that I might hear the cry of the strange birds,
a pleasing sound;

That I might hear the murmur of the long waves against the
rocks, that I might hear the sound of the sea, like mourning
beside a grave;

That I might watch the splendid flocks of birds over the well-
watered sea, that I might see its mighty whales, the greatest wonder.

That I might watch its ebb and flood in their course,
that my name should be–it is a secret that I tell–“he
who turned his back upon Ireland;”

That I might have a contrite heart as I watch,
that I might repent my many sins, hard to tell;

That I might bless the Lord who rules all things,
heaven with its splendid host, earth, ebb, and flood…

Poem attributed to St Columcille (521-597 AD)

Yet it was late, when it was all almost over, with so much having been said and done, seen and savored…
Three spoken words resonated more deeply than any other morsel offered previously to my weary and worn five senses. . .

Be at Peace. . .”

And so, having fallen from my horse, stuck blind and confused—the clarity of something and someone so much more than myself has come clearly into focus—the scales having been removed from my eyes– and for the first time in what has been a lifetime, I can see…

And so it is…

“Be At Peace”

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(a sheep gazes out over the Atlantic among the cliffs of County Donegal / Julie Cook / 2015)

Looking for something

“There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

If, then, you are looking for the way by which you should go,
take Christ, because He Himself is the way.

Thomas Aquinas

I cannot think that we are useless or God would not have created us. There is one God looking down on us all. We are all the children of one God. The sun, the darkness, the winds are all listening to what we have to say.
Geronimo

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(black bear / Ketchikan, Alaska / Gregory Cook / 2015)

As relentless as this heat continues to be. . .
As hot as the southwesterly winds continue to blow, drying out an overtly parched landscape. . .
As that which was once lush now turns yellow, leggy, dry and spent. . .
Our eyes, our thoughts our desires turn toward a blank horizon, scanning the open vista as if looking for the arrival of a long lost love returning after a lengthy absence. . .

It is that certain time of year, of a waning summer, that a lone black bear wanders,
with intense purpose, his territorial domain in search of food. . .
seeking life sustaining fats in order to build protection from the coming winter’s hibernation.

The calendar reminds us that it is only August, the tail-end of a fleeting summer. . .
yet the bear knows that his time is drawing nigh.
Despite the heat, the bugs, the drying and dying of food, the bear must push ever forward as there is an increasing escalation of persistence.
Looking, seeking, searching. . .all with great intensity.
There is a stealthy determination.
Satisfy the need now and the guarantee of survival rests in his favor.
He seeks with purpose.
Each day has a goal. . .that of survival and life.

Do we seek with the same sense of purpose as the bear?
As though our life depended upon it?
Have we ever sought with that same sense of urgency?

We scan the horizon looking for something or someone,
yet we just can’t seem to put our finger on the what or the who of what that might be. . .
Life verses death. . .
Time being of the essence. . .
Yet we just don’t seem to understand. . .

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Deuteronomy 30:19-20