there’s a shadow…..

“There is strong shadow where there is much light.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


(Lorenzo Costa / 1490 / Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon, France)

Birth usually brings with it a great deal of joy, expectation as well as a fair share
of anticipation…
Yet in some rare instances, there is sadly a presence of foreboding.
As in something troublesome is looming while the expected state of gladness is not
entirely free of worry.

A feeling of something, yet not quite known or understood….just a sense.

For it is both anticipation and foreboding to which we, the faithful, must now look.

Never mind that as much as we may prefer to simply bask in the glory of the news of
this happy and tender moment, we are reminded that a shadow is constantly present.

Anticipation: a prior action that takes into account or forestalls a later action
b the act of looking forward; especially : pleasurable expectation

Forbode: to have an inward conviction of (something, such as a coming ill or misfortune)

Looking at this particular image of the Nativity, painted by the Italian artist Lorenzo Costa, I am drawn to the expression on Joseph’s face.
Should there not be a smile?
What of an assumed expression of happiness and even pride
in the birth of this new child?

Yet instead of exultation and happiness,
those emotions are replaced by an expression of sadness, perhaps even sorrow.
There is a resignation of something greater than….
greater than we the viewer are privy to.

Mary’s eyes also allude to something other than jubilation over the birth of this
child of hers.
There is a feeling of the resolute hiding behind a prayerful countenance.

And even the child himself…resigned.

And where we have spent the past month or longer reveling in all things Christmas…
with the culmination of jubilation coming about on Christmas Day…
as the faithful marked, once again, the birth of the Christ Child….
there remains a shadow….an ominous foreboding shadow.

For this particular birth brings with it more than the joy to be experienced at the birth of a child….for this child, this glad tiding, is no mere child….

Eight day’s following the birth and the mysterious visits of strangers, both meek and
grand, the child was brought to the Temple, as religious custom dictated, to be
circumcised. And following which, also with custom, the time of the presentation, purification and sacrifice as required.

At this time a strange old man approached the young family.
Mary drew the child close to her breast as the stranger continued coming closer, arms open wide, babbling and now reaching for the babe.

But there was something oddly familiar in the way this man was speaking, something that
moved Mary to volunteer the baby, with now her own outstretched arms,
giving up her child just as she would eventually have to offer up her son for
the salvation of all mankind…

“Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace,
as you have promised.
I have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared for all people.
He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”

Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him.
Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother,
“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise.
He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him.
As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Luke 2:29-35

A shadow draws across the jubilation…..

mysteries

“that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love,
and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding,
resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself”

Colossians 2:2

The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw and knew…
I saw all things in God,
and God in all things.

Mechtild of Magdeburg

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(annunciation from The Book of Hours/ also known as the Black Hours due to the process of first layering the vellum with carbon / 1470 / Bruges, Belgium)

We are a people of mystery who in turn love a mystery…
The stuff of which puts one sitting on the edge of one’s seat…
nail biting and gripping.

The strange and often unexplainable,
yet which,
is always nicely and neatly revealed and eventually solved in the end.

Solved…
as in understood
as in light has been shed,
as in understanding has been gained…

Resulting in…
satisfaction and fulfilment.

Yet how to understand that which is not understandable?
How to solve that which is unsolvable?

The angel went to her and said,
“Greetings, you who are highly favored!
The Lord is with you.”

Simple enough…

An angel,
an ethereal being,
an otherworldly being…
that which is beyond us…

Strange,
Intriguing,
and Unexplainable…

But the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.
You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever;
his kingdom will never end.”

Presented, most matter of factly, is the unexplainable…
as curiosity is piqued.

How will this be,” Mary asked the angel,
“since I am a virgin?

As the strange and the unexplainable is neatly revealed.

The angel answered,
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God.
Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age,
and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month.
For no word from God will ever fail.”

Nail biting.
Intriguing.
Exciting.

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.
“May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Then the angel left her.

The mystery,
the intriguing
the gripping,
the unexplainable….

Revealed…

Explained…

As in solved…
as in understanding is gleaned…

Leading to inviting acceptance…

In turn leading to satisfaction…
as in light has been shed…

And soon…
fulfillment is satisfactorily achieved…
for all involved….

And so it is….

(Luke 1:26-38)

simply too casual

Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,
Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d,
Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill’d;…

Matthew Arnold

A human being becomes human not through the casual convergence of certain biological conditions, but through an act of will and love on the part of other people.
Italo Calvino

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(Adare Manor, Adare, County Limerick, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

There once was a time when we were more stately…
We were more formal, more deliberate, more serious.
We were respectful, mindful, courteous.
We gave honor to where honor was due.
We were appreciative and we knew how to convey our gratitude.
We were respectful to those who were older, who held office, who defended our Nation.
We knew that it was ok if we didn’t always agree with someone else’s opinion, we could appreciate the differences of thought while still being polite, kind, courteous.

We dressed in our best when going to the airport, to church, temple, to school, to a play, out to eat or to the movies.
We took pride in our appearance despite our social status.
We appreciated the work done by all as we all took pride in what we did.

God was the Creator
Jesus was His risen son
and the Holy Spirit, a Divine Mystery.

We were wooed and awed by the Divinity of the Creator
He wasn’t our friend, our pal, our buddy…
But rather He was our God.

We worked hard, studied hard and revered our faith.
We marveled in the mysterious.
We knew of our place in the Universe and were humbled to be participants.

We were human and appreciated our humanness
We respected life
As we mourned the loss of life
We cheered for the good guys and we collectively rallied against the bad

We were civilized and took pride in our civility.
We appreciated orderly and clean.
We worked hard for what we had, even if it was very little, we were still proud.

Today we have grown overtly glum, smug and casual as we consider most of life passé.
We have become rude, disrespectful, self absorbed and consumed by massive consumerism.
We don’t give a damn about others or what they may think or care how they may feel—
Just take a look at our politicians, entertainers and athletes…
We want everything for nothing, as in we want it all and we want it now…
We wear entitlement like a badge and are proud for all to know it.
We don’t want to work hard for what we have, preferring to take the easy way up and out.
Clothes are optional as everything and anything goes.
Our faith has been dumbed down to a feel good prosaic.
We make excuses, demands and assumptions.
We have grown mean to one another, hateful to those who have differing opinions and distrustful to anyone who dares to cross our path.
We don’t have much time for religion as it tends to slow us down.

As the question now begs to be asked…
Are we now the better for who we’ve become?

Christians today appear to know Christ only after the flesh. They try to achieve communion with Him by divesting Him of His burning holiness and unapproachable majesty, the very attributes He veiled while on earth but assumed in fullness of glory upon His ascension the the Father’s right hand.
A.W.Tozer

Southern magic, mystery and enchantment

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself”
William Blake

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(Photograph: Savannah, Georgia/ Julie Cook/ 11/2012)

There is something almost magical about spanish moss draped ever so delicately over the branches of a graceful southern oak, pecan or even lowly pine tree. It as if the moss itself is suspended magically in air– just slightly above a branch– not dumped heavily or haphazardly. The branches do not bend or bow down under its weight, it is more ethereal in nature, which only adds to it’s ghostly charm.

To be in the deep south on a hot humid evening, with the tiniest breath of a breeze gently swaying the suspended moss, ever so slightly in the branches overhead… along with the hypnotic cadence of the cicadas gently humming in the dark…there is a deep rooted, magical, wondrous mystery in all of this. Life is slower, calmer, of another time and place.

If you have never seen the moss in person, walked under the branches with their gently flowing silver hair languishing downward toward the ground, breathing deeply in the heavily perfumed air of gardenias or even the ever present salt of the nearby sea, then you have not known nature’s true eloquence. This is a gift that I wish for you…..