understanding

“I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe,
but rather, I believe in order that I may understand.”

St. Anselm of Canterbury


(Galileo surveys the night sky of Florence / Florence, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)

“So when we pray, we must stand in His presence, on His level.
We must see His suffering in the same way that we see His greatness,
and as we picture His compassion.
But we must also remember that that suffering,
that greatness and that compassion will one day judge us.
We shall be weighed in the balance by them; and if we are found wanting in any way,
we shall hear the words:
‘Depart from me…’
‘Go elsewhere; go to those who refused to be my friends.'”

Dom Augustin Guillerand, p. 53
An Excerpt From
The Prayer of the Presence of God

see, hear then seek….

It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.
Mother Teresa


(image courtesy the web)

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,
keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—-
I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:
to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior,
who is the Messiah,the Lord.
This will be a sign for you:
you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,
praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds
said to one another,
“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place,
which the Lord has made known to us.”
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph,
and the child lying in the manger.
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,
as it had been told them.

Luke 2:8-20

Imagine yourself a rather lonely shepherd sitting watch throughout a long dark night.
Your livelihood is your herd of sheep.
It’s how you make money.
It’s how you care for your family.
It’s how you feed your family.
As your sheep’s existence depends upon you and your existence depends
upon your sheep.

During the passover,
you sell your sheep, the young lambs, to those who want to offer sacrifices for
their faith.
Your sheep are important to you as they are important to the faithful.

You lead the sheep to fertile fields for feeding, you sheer them when its time,
you keep count of the ewes, rams and lambs and you watch out for any predators.

Sheep need tending to—they are considered to be defenseless animals as well as
not very bright or smart.

They eat, sit, stand, sleep…. and they run.
They run if they sense trouble—that’s about the extent of their defenses.
They do not take a stand.
They will not fight to the death.
And they don’t always run far or totally out of harm’s way.
They will scatter, not knowing how to find their way back to the herd.
A lone sheep is a defenseless sheep.
Their adversary is more stealthy, faster and more determined and knows how
to disperse a herd.

So sheep need a shepherd.
They need an overseer.
And thus the shepherd keeps watch, both day and night.
Yet it is in the night that the shepherd must be more keen to watch because
predators prefer to do their hunting in the dark of night.

There are only a few out this night, watching.
Most likely it is you and a few relatives, as this has been how your family has made a living since you grandfather’s father and his father before him made their way.
Maybe tonight it’s just you and your brother-n-law, or maybe it’s an uncle and a cousin
who have joined you during this dark lonely night.

Each of you pull the woolen blankets tighter around your shoulders because the air is
more chilly then usual.
The herd seems a bit agitated.
Do they smell a predator?
Have they heard something edging its way closer?

The moon is not full yet the night sky is oddly bright.
You scan the sprawling and now eerily lit field, looking for any sort of movement.

Looking upward into the inky night sky, you notice a single star casting an
unusual intense direct light.
Are your eyes playing tricks or is the night slowly becoming more like day?
Looking toward to where the light is cast, you can actually make out the far-off
silhouette of Bethlehem—because the star seems to be directly over and actually illuminating the sleepy little quiet town.

You call your kinsmen to come close.
What do they make of the oddly lit sky.
What do they know of Bethlehem.
This town which bore the King David.

And just when you are pondering the oddity of this particular bright star, you are
suddenly aware that you are no longer alone.
It’s no longer just you, your relatives and the sheep on this lonely chilly night.

There is a multitude of beings you have never seen before.
Before you have time to even focus on what you are witnessing, they speak.

“Fear not” they say….

as you suddenly realize you actually have no fear.

They speak with authority and they explain the reason for the star.
They explain good news.
They explain a birth.
They explain salvation.
and not some sort of generic salvation, but….
your salvation.

In that your salvation has just been born and is to be tangibly found—
lying directly underneath the light from the very star that you had
noticed shining over the far distanced town of Bethlehem…..

Oddly you don’t feel the need to decipher or discern…you don’t feel confused or
disoriented.
You are neither overwhelmed or dismayed—rather you are fully alert and
in the minute…the only thing you feel is now a sense of urgency to go to
see this newly born “Salvation”….

As it is now to this star that you know you must now go….

And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
Daniel 12:3

More than

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
― Augustine of Hippo

I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts,
there can be no more hurt, only more love.

Mother Teresa

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
― C.S. Lewis

“The harder the conflict,
the more glorious the triumph.”

Thomas Paine

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(remnants of Cong Abbey , County Mayo, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

It whispers across a cool morning breeze…

Do you hear it?

It’s the sound of a thousand and one voices drifting endlessly across the ages.
It’s the mournful cry of a dove at dawn.
It’s the melodic symphony of an unseen orchestra of crickets on a warm summer’s night.

It rides along the ocean’s waves…

Do you see it?

It’s the wonderment you feel as you gaze upon the night sky awash in a million twinkling lights.
It’s the brilliance of color bathed endlessly across a skylit canvas as the sun offers a joyful good morning.
It’s the overwhelming eruption and dazzling display of a myriad of blooming wildflowers in a quiet hidden meadow…

It’s a familiar scent wafting upwards from somewhere unexpectedly…

Do you smell it?

It’s the fresh scent of grass from a newly mowed lawn
It’s the heavy smell of rain riding in on the winds before a storm.
It’s a long lost memory catching you off guard as you suddenly capture a whiff of your grandmother’s home

It races from touch to touch…

Do you feel it?

It’s caught up in the soothing memories from a now distant childhood.
It’s the sudden chill you feel as the sun dips out of sight on a cool fall’s night.
It’s the welcoming comfort found in an offered smile.

It’s much more than ancient history or the crumbling bits of mortar and stone now abandoned and long forgotten…

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(crumbling remains hidden away deep within Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

It’s really more like the bits of sand found in your shoe after a walk along the beach…small and tiny, yet largely distracting,
rather uncomfortable and most difficult to ignore

The curious and the tourist alike each pick their way through the labyrinth of time long past, as they wander about pondering and musing what it all meant and wondering where it all went.

Yet you know don’t you….?

You know it never went anywhere.

It’s been here all along.

Buried deep within your heart.

But it was never meant to stay buried or forgotten.

Never meant to be for tourists or the curious to gawk and pick.

It was never meant to crumble nor decay

For it is living and breathing and yearns to be shared

It’s the gnawing ache felt in each beating heart.

It’s that nagging feeling of being out of sorts as your spirit seems lost in the fray.

It’s in the melancholy and sorrow that shadows a seemingly empty day

It’s the longing for home when you’re already there.

A Spirit most holy yet hidden, longs to hide no more.

A Spirit Loving yet concealed, longs to be revealed.

A Spirit Mighty and Great, longs to be proclaimed

You know It don’t you….?

Because It knows you….

Mystical

“The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness”
― Albert Einstein

“I used unexpectedly to experience a consciousness of the presence of God, or such a kind that I could not possibly doubt that He was within me or that I was wholly engulfed in Him. This was in no sense a vision: I believe it is called mystical theology. The soul is suspended in such a way that it seems to be completely outside itself. The will loves; the memory, I think, is almost lost; while the understanding, I believe, thought it is not lost, does not reason—I mean that it does not work, but is amazed at the extent of all it can understand; for God wills it to realize that it understands nothing of what His Majesty represents to it.”
― Teresa of Ávila

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(a shrouded moon in the wind swept changing night sky / Julie Cook / 2014)

Do you believe in promises?
I do.

Wandering outside during a dark and shifting night, as change streaks across sky, have you ever found yourself gazing heavenward–gazing upward to the moon and stars, wondering?
Did you feel anything?
Did you hear anything?
Anything whispering across the wind, perhaps written across the gossamer clouds?
Was there a deep stirring in your core, one that made you feel uncomfortable, made you catch your breath?
You’ve read the old texts.
You’ve heard their words echoed throughout your youth.
You’ve dismissed such as
implausible,
irrelevant,
unbelievable.
Yet here you are, in the blackness of night, alone, wondering.
Is He really there?
Here?
Now?
Perhaps it is the wind through the spindly limbs of the barren trees.
Perhaps it’s the rustling of dried leaves swirling across the lawn. . .
Was that a dog barking?
An owl in the distance. . .?
A sudden bothersome feeling a smallness engulfs your soul.

Watching
Waiting
Wondering

I wait upon a promise. . .
Might you be doing the same?

The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
Our God comes
and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me this consecrated people,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.

Psalm 50:1-6
Psalm to be read the second Sunday of Advent

Waning and Waxing

When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the Creator.
Mahatma Gandhi

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(the waxing crescent moon of the end of August / Julie Cook / 2014)

A waning summer is soon to be written down in the annuals of time as just another volume known simply as the memories of a summer come and gone. . .

First it was June who offered her sheer joy of freedom and the simple recklessness of abandon which was to be found lurking in the heart of both young and old. Freedom whispered as Summer offered her enticing and welcoming warmth, coaxing all winter weary souls back into the light of day. The Days grew long and luscious as bare feet relished the cool tall grass. Soft laughter was heard across the evening skies as we gave ourselves permission to sit out just a little bit longer and a little bit later while savoring the perfume of gardenia and jasmine on a summer’s night breeze as we watched the fireflies dance with the stars.

Next came July, marching forth wearing her Red, White and Blue. Her night skies lit bright with the colorful displays of triumph and freedom. Reminding us of who we are and why we are and why any of that really matters. Children squealed with delight as the juice of watermelons and ice cold popsicles trickled down cheeks and chins. We packed our baskets full of fried chicken and potato salad. We gathered by lakes and ponds, casting our lines and pulling our skis–donning lotions and potions keeping sun and insect both at bay. Happiness and joy mingled sweetly together with the myriad of pitchers of lemonade, the bottomless bowls of homemade ice-cream while the smoke of a thousand grills and cookouts wafted heavenward.

Finally August arrived on a long hot summer wind. The sun bore down as a brilliant flame ready to bake a silent earth. The grass withered, the creeks dried as air quality alerts were sounding the alarm. Triple digits danced across the meters as we darted and dashed from house to car, from car to work in the maddening avoidance of the furnace blast of an unforgiving month. Our clothes clung to sweat soaked bodies as each breath labored under the thick stagnant humid air. Energies were drained as the heat of the day took its toll. Joy and pleasure took a nap along with the brilliant colors of flowers and blooms which gave way to dried crunchy browns. The cicadas sang their endless song under the blanket of a hazy heavy night.

And here we are again, preparing one last time, ready to offer up one more final “Hooray”–one last chance to capture the elusive siren known as Summer. One more opportunity to grab with gusto a little summertime enjoyment before the page turns, waxing toward a hopeful new season and time. A refreshing Fall is waiting in the wings, ready to offer her brilliance of color, intoxicating warm woody scents, and rich full heady flavors—but until that time comes, we must give Summer her due and pay her homage one last hot and humid time. . .