Before and after…the question

The south facade of Notre Dame before the fire…


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

Now the upper portion of the same facade, after the fire…


(Associated Press)

Despite the brilliant blue sky, the delightfully warm late afternoon sun,
a heaviness continued to linger…

I dumped a portion of the hardwood chunks of charcoal into the grill then used the
lighter to ignite the charcoal.

When the soft yellow-orange glow began, I closed the lid, cracking open the vents while I
proceeded to wait.

Soon enough, I opened the lid as the flames rose while the burning wood chips popped
and crackled.

I stared down into the grill, filled with those yellow-orange licking flames,
while I purposely and intently listened to the sounds of both fire and wood.

My thoughts seemed to have gotten stuck on an unseen replay button…
replaying the scenes from yesterday’s images of both Notre Dame and of the fire.

I thought of each trip, over the past decades of my life,
that I have walked into that cavernous and overwhelmingly
historic and spiritual “house” of worship.

The sounds of my own footsteps echoing off the soaring stone walls and massive pillars
as my steps reverberated against the barrel vault high above my head.

Awe stopped me in my tracks as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting
while the hints of pungent incense lingered in my nostrils.

I grappled with the magnitude of the historical and the physical while my mind
wrapped around the Spiritual impetus for this seemingly gargantuan whale that
had suddenly swallowed me whole.

The rising flames in the grill jerked me back to the present and my need
to get about my grilling supper…

I would say that this historic and catastrophic fire is proving devastating
on a great many levels.

The world is painfully mourning an iconic cultural loss.
Paris is mourning a devastating loss of an iconic piece of her home’s heart.
As we the world mourn both an artistic and architectural loss.

The proverbial bucket list destination for tourists and one of the spiritual
pilgrimage destinations on the lists of the faithful is now forever changed…
just as much of humankind is now changed.

But what I think is even more important, the fire has shaken loose a deeply hidden
sense of loss found in most of Western Civilization…it is a loss on a subconscious level
that we’ve never been able to put our finger on…
a loss that has long existed…one we have subconsciously known
was there but yet we didn’t know.

It is the loss of our Christian Spirituality…
our Spirituality that we have allowed to slip from, not merely our
hands, but from our very psyches and souls.

Yesterday I offered a response to a friend’s comment on my day’s post regarding
the fire and that comment has now lingered in my thoughts…

“someone I was listening to last night posed the question—– and I’ll paraphrase-
‘With so much of Europe becoming so secularized—–we’re seeing these massive ancient bastions
of Christian faith becoming more and more like museums rather than houses of worship.
With everyone now clamoring to rebuild…
the question we must be asking ourselves is what are we rebuilding?

Are we rebuilding a museum that lost so much art, etc…art that can never be replaced…
or are we rebuilding a church, a house of worship?…

I find that to be the very key question for our very postmodern Christian selves”

It is not lost on me that we are in the midst of the most Holiest of weeks within
all of Christendom while in the midsts of an ever-shrinking Christian faith
in our culture.

This fire is yet another visceral image of our own human tragedy and the fall of man.

It shakes loose our hidden sense of grief and loss over our flailing and fragile faith.

Christ descended into the depths of a raging fire of our very sin…
and on the third day, He rose from those ashes…

May we now use this sense of loss and grief, allowing our faith to be rekindled as we too rise
upward out of the ashes of what has become such a sinful loss…

Loss no more..but only gain…as the spire rises again…

“So you’re giving up?
That’s it?
Okay, okay. We’ll leave you alone, Quasimodo.
We just thought, maybe you’re made up of something much stronger.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

ok

Everything’s gonna be alright
Nothing left, but love’s in sight
Everything’s gonna be alright now
Everything’s gonna be alright
It’s gonna be alright

Lyrics by England Dan and John Ford Coley


(sign at Spruill art gallery / Dunwoody, Ga / courtesy the web)

We drove over to the northern Atlanta suburb city of Dunwoody yesterday afternoon.
My cousin’s wife, who is retiring after 41 years of teaching—high school math of all things,
was the focus of a little retirement shindig.

It had been years since I’d been to that area north of Atlanta.
So much growth and so much congestion…
I can remember when the area was nothing more than a sleepy little northern hamlet…
an area more accustomed to farms and cows than to high-end restaurants and shopping malls.

Change is inevitable I suppose…
progress so they say….

If you’re anything like me, these past several months have left you feeling….
well anxious…
and if the truth be told, you’re anxious without even realizing how truly anxious you really are.
It seems as if there’s just been an unsettling that has completely settled over our lives.

Unless you are an Orthodox monk living on Mt Athos or a Buddhist monk living in some
lost to time nook in Tibet, you have been overloaded with the caustic vehemence that
most of the world is currently hurling back and forth on itself…
so much so without even realizing just how overloaded by it all you’ve become….

It’s troubling for even the most grounded among us.

It’s been sad, depressing, agitating, frightening and even alarming.

And even if you’ve sworn off watching the news….
the heaviness is so pervasive that it has permeated deeply into not only our nation,
but it has saturated most of the greater free world.

Priorities are so screwed up that it leaves the more concerned among us wondering what
it is we can do in our own little corners of the world to makes things better, brighter,
softer, kinder and simply more sane…

So there I was driving home, following the afternoon’s celebration,
making our way back to the interstate when I spotted, with my periphery vision, the sign…

A large plain black and white painted sign on the side of an old barn….
a quaint old barn that is obviously a preserved and last standing vestige to the original
structures that once called this now uber urban city a rural country home.

“Everything will be ok”

I had to do a quick double take back to my left while focusing on getting through the
congested intersection just to make certain I had read correctly.

It was as if some wonderful paternal unseen force…
a force that was greater than anything in the world at just that very moment
had gently, soothingly and yet very matter of factly stated for all the world….
Everything is going to ok…

And so it shall be….

In you, Father all-mighty,
we have our preservation and our bliss.
In you, Christ, we have our restoring and our saving.
You are our mother, brother, and Saviour.
In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit, is marvellous and plenteous grace.
You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.
You are our maker, our lover, our keeper.
Teach us to believe that by your grace all shall be well, and all shall be well,
and all manner of things shall be well.
Amen

St Julian of Norwich

(A link to a nice little article about the barn and the inception of the sign
http://www.reporternewspapers.net/2016/05/26/everything-going-ok-dunwoodys-spruill-gallery/?utm_source=Reporter+Newspapers+Mailing+List&utm_campaign=b542a61cbf-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_DUN&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dbd6e0112e-b542a61cbf-407315065)

heightened senses….

“Memory believes before knowing remembers.
William Faulkner

23f7b44700000578-2869918-image-a-218_1418300218540
(Victorian Christmas Greeting card)

Every memory seems more keen.
Every sight seems more bright.
Every tear seems more heavy.
Every scent seems more strong.
Every sound seems more bold.
Every heartache seems more piercing.
Every loss seems more painful.
Every joy seems more complete.
Every touch seems more dear…

Each year, finding ourselves standing before what makes Christmas just that,
Christmas…
Our senses,
our thoughts,
our tastes,
our recollections…
seem hopelessly more intense, more sharp, more profound…

Be that a blessing
or
be that a curse.

Pain is greater.
Suffering is more fierce.
Joy is more contagious.
While satisfaction hangs precariously in the balance.

There are those who gravitate toward this more mystical and magical time
full of giddiness and glee…
while others wish to close their eyes,
not openning them again until mid January.

The sensory overload can be overtly overwhelming or palpably underwhelming.

And yet it is in that overload, be it over or under,
that we actually become more….
raw…
more open…
and even more vulnerable.

And it is in that vulnerability that the ego slightly abates….
the guard slips ever so quietly,
While pretense evaporates as the dew in first light…
As we are splayed wide open.

And it is in that moment of pure raw vulnerability that
the heart finally realigns,
beating rhythmically for the first time since the tragic Fall,
as it is once again, albeit briefly, in sync with all of Creation…

For no word from God will ever fail.”
Luke 1:37

Just not a good day

There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
William Shakespeare

DSCN4240
(clouds before the storm / Julie Cook / 20160

It was a long day.
A bad day.
And all so very overwhelming….
The dishes still are sitting in the sink…
as I just can’t seem to attend to them.

Cancer is a bad word.
But of course we all already know that don’t we?

My little family has heard that word before.
30 years ago.

We heard it again yesterday.

Aggressive
Invasive.
Advanced stage.

sigh…

A CT scan Friday…just to see how far it’s spread…
Spread…
I always hated that.

He asked how he got this….
“No one knows” was the response.

Next it will be to the oncologist.

We had to buy a wheelchair yesterday because he couldn’t walk from the car to the doctor building…
even with his walker.
He stopped on the curb and told us he could go no further and went to sit down on the curb.
Sweat pouring down his face.
My son grabbed him before he went down for the count.
He could walk last week.
Don’t know what that’s all about.

Lots of change right now.
A little bit too much.
Both good…
both bad…
in this small family’s life

Looking for the balance….

One day, I’ll think about the dishes again…

And He was saying,
“Abba!
Father!
All things are possible for You;
remove this cup from Me;
yet not what I will,
but what You will

Mark 14:36

The Queen Mum speaks

“Your work is the rent you pay for the room you occupy on earth.”
Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

“My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”
― Joseph Conrad

IMG_0668

Oh, you were expecting someone else weren’t you?

queen_mother23_1480343i

Hoping you’re not too terribly disappointed in the selection of queens, I did however, want to share with you the words spoken from this particular queen mother—words which were used to pay homage to the transition of her son, the heir apparent, as well as welcoming words to the addition of his bride into our lives . . .

Obviously this version, the written version, is sans the emotion. The tears, the raw moments which where marked by a mother who would find herself choking up when she had otherwise been the proverbial rock. There is also something very moving, as well as overwhelming, when you find yourself standing before a gathered group of nearly one hundred folks—family friends, who have journeyed near and far in order to be with your family for a celebration.
A very humbling moment indeed.

This is a copy of the “toast” I offered on behalf of Brenton’s dad, Gregory (he just gets too emotional at such moments–remember, I am the rock), and myself as we brought our magical evening to a close. I think I echo the words of most parents out there who find themselves in the position of offering their child, who has suddenly grown up, to another person and family–while, in turn, welcoming another individual and family into their family.
It’s all a matter of transition. . .

And as this special day of ours fell on the 70th anniversary of D Day—-I took the opportunity, before beginning my little “talk”, by offering a brief history lesson—which was geared especially to all the young people gathered in, of all places, a restaurant named Churchill’s in a banquet room known as Number Ten Downing, who I think all need a good dose of reminding of such a monumentally perilous and heroic moment in the history of the free world. . .leave it to the teacher in me. . .

As most of you who know me, know that I express myself best through the written word, tonight shall prove no differently.

Again, Gregory and I would like to thank each of you for making the journey here to Savannah this weekend. We would also like to thank you for making this journey with us a parents—Each and every one of you has had a hand in helping to raise these two very precious individuals who are seated here in this room this evening. Had it not been for all of you and of the role you’ve played in the lives of both Brenton and Abby, this joyous weekend, possibly, may not have ever taken place.

As a teacher, I was always keenly aware of the importance of the role I had in helping to raise children other than my own. It was a role I took very seriously for over 30 years of my life. It is for that very reason that Gregory and I are both so truly grateful to all of you here with us this evening.

I am also keenly aware of those individuals who had a hand, either directly or indirectly, in and with the lives of Brenton and Abby— who are no longer physically with us —in particular Abby’s dad Chris, as well as for my mom Mary Ann and my Uncle Paul.

I don’t know if this was true for any you parents or not, but I believe that when we, as new parents, first hold our freshly delivered baby in our arms, we immediately begin planning.
Planning an illustrious future.
We immediately begin planning when our child will walk.
We plan what sports he or she will play.
We plan their academic success, we plan what college they’ll attend and chances are, we plan their career choice…

We also, no doubt, immediately begin planning, or at least imagining, their wedding.
Who will they meet?
Who will they fall in love with?
Will they have to endure broken hearts?
Will they be happy?

Life and parenthood is truly all about planning.
Planning for ourselves as well as planning for our children.

But as any parent in this room will testify—all that planning can just be thrown out the window because no child will ever live according to the plans or the schedules of any well-intentioned or well-organized parent.

Yet nevertheless, plan I did.

I cannot speak to the parents who have raised multiple children, as Brenton is our only child.
And it should be noted that there is a lot of pressure on only children. They fortunately or unfortunately receive all, and I mean all, of their parent’s love, attention, and planning.

Follow all of that with telling folks your mom’s a teacher and you may multiply that planning and attention by at least a million.

From the time Brenton was born, it was happily always the three of us. We went everywhere and did everything together as a family. The first time Gregory and I ever went away on a weekend trip together, Brenton was a junior high school. I won’t talk about the destroyed freezer, the burn marks on the patio, or the exceeded limit to the “guests” at the house that weekend but just know that the three of us were pretty much a team for most of Brenton’s life.

And in the back of my mind, I always imagined who would one day come into our lives to make our team of 3 a complete team of 4.

So not only was I always planning and imagining, I was always praying.
Praying that God would bring the right girl, one day, into Brenton’s life.

I think He’s certainly answered that prayer.

Not being one who can speak to quick proposals, as my mother would have been the first to tell you, I couldn’t say a word when after only a brief courtship, Brenton told his dad and I that he had found “the one” and wanted to propose to Abby.

The flip side to a quick proposal has been the length of the engagement. Of which I think their friends have begun teasing them, but of which I have found to be a blessing as they have had ample time in the sorting out process.

I like to think that if they’ve made it this far– through the trials of growing together as a couple, having shared joint custody of their beloved Alice, their very sweet black lab, as well as having struggled with schooling, job searches, finding a new home and discovering who they are as both individuals as well as a couple,
then maybe, they are indeed ready for a life as two verses life as one.

We have been truly blessed welcoming Abby to our team of three, as she completes the missing piece of the puzzle, making our family a complete team of four.
The daughter we do not have.

I would like to conclude with a reading taken from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young German pastor who lost his life at the Flossenbürg Death Camp in 1945. This excerpt is taken from his Letters and Papers from Prison

Marriage for God
“Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7)
In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive.
Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as your are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.
From the first day of your wedding till the last the rule must be: “Welcome one another. . .for the glory of God.”
That is God’s word for your marriage. Thank God for it; thank God for leading you thus far; ask God to establish your marriage, to confirm it, sanctify it, and preserve it. So your marriage will be “for the praise of God’s glory”

AMEN.

To Brenton and Abby