gifts, speaking, demonstrations

“You must speak to Jesus, not only with your lips,
but also with your heart; actually, on certain occasions,
you should speak with only your heart.”

— St. Padre Pio


(Jules, black sheep and skellybegs…a collection of sheep / Julie Cook / 2018)

I collect sheep.

No, not real live sheep…but I kind of wish I did.

Think rather more like sheep/lamb figurines, prints, paintings…
And no, it’s not excessive or of the kitschy or silly…think more unique and even antique.

However, the latest acquiring is a bit silly but since we shared the same name, I really
had no choice.

I’ve got several of these sheep sitting on my kitchen counter above my sink.
They sit or stand, depending on the sheep, perched amongst various Icons that also
occupy this now apparently sacred space…the space above the kitchen sink.

And so it just seems natural that this particular space should be scared as it is
a space where I spend a good bit of my time…
in the kitchen and at the sink.

In some regards, I have these things here to help keep my mind on that which is greater than
as well as beyond.
Helping me to redirect my thoughts…
And it was especially important when I was still teaching and was in definite
need of redirecting.

My love of sheep goes back to the line in the confessional prayer from the Book of Common Prayer:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against thy holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
And we have done those things which we ought not to have done;
And there is no health in us.
But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders.
Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults.
Restore thou those who are penitent;
According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord.
And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake;
That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life,
To the glory of thy holy Name.
Amen.

(BCP 1928)

For you see, I am that straying and erring sheep in need of a Shepherd.

And so, sheep have spoken to my heart ever since I first learned of our similarities.

And I keep an eye out for the unique and special during my jaunts.

So when visiting the gift shop at Andrew Jackson’s home The Hermitage, I recently added to the
collection when I picked up a ceramic sheep made by artisans at the Colonial Folk Art guild
in Virginia.
The sheep was named “Jules”…a name that many have called me throughout my
entire life.
So it was a no-brainer.

Jules the sheep now sits by another ceramic sheep.
A black sheep that is more reminiscent of soot than wool.
He is quite round with nails acting as his legs.

A sheep that I suspect is from a raku firing where the pieces are fired to a certain temp then
removed from the kiln and placed into a metal can (metal trash can) that is usually filled with straw.
The ultra hot ceramic piece causes the straw to burn and naturally darkens the clay piece.
This black sheep is stained much like a raku piece.

My aunt picked him up from an artist in North Carolina and it was actually the last gift she
ever gave me.
It was a Christmas gift a year ago this past Christmas.

My thoughts are gravitating to this little black sheep because it was a year ago this month,
on the 12th actually, that my aunt died—dying suddenly while undergoing treatment
for cancer.

Now granted my aunt has “gifted” me with a few other things since her death…”gifts”
that her daughter had given me following my aunt’s death.
Gifts such as a few antique wooden duck decoys, a few of my aunt’s beloved turkey collection
(think me and sheep…well she was that way with turkeys…go figure)
as well as an ancient armless rocking chair that was my grandmothers.
My aunt’s daughter, this cousin of mine, actually passed away 6 months following my aunt’s
death…so we have closed a door on that small bit of family.

All of these thoughts of sheep and gifts came to mind when I read the words offered today
by Padre Pio…

The good friar admonishes us to remember to speak not always with only words but at times,
more importantly, we are to speak with our hearts…of which I suspect is more ‘actionary’…
demonstrative in the actions of a living embodiment of the Spirit within.

A thought which actually makes me think of the importance of what it is that we leave behind…
that which we leave behind to those who follow us…

Do we leave behind merely things..things that sit around collecting dust or simply conjuring
up forlorn memories…
or do we leave behind an example of that which is so much greater than ourselves…
a polestar that points others to the One who is so much greater and everlasting…

Sometimes the heart speaks louder than the mouth…

My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26

loneliness or alone…a matter of perspective

Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses
the glory of being alone.

Paul Tillich


(somebody’s watching you, or acutaly they were watching me / Julie Cook / 2018)

You may remember about a week or so ago I posted a curious image of a pile of bluebird
feathers beneath one of my bluebird boxes.

I surmised from the mass of scattered feathers that something bad and somewhat
tragic had taken place during the veil of darkness.

I also knew we had marauding raccoons who often came to visit the yard at night,
scavenging the stale bread I often throw out back for the birds.

And I knew that raccoons were notorious for stealing bird eggs.

A quick internet search also revealed that they are not choosy when it comes to their
need for a meal.
They are equally notorious for snatching whole birds.

I was rather crestfallen when I thought that the poor bluebird family this year was not
to be thanks to my four-legged black masked visitors…

That was until I walked past the same box where previously a pile of feather lay…
and I suddenly felt that odd feeling when you realize you’re not exactly alone.

I turned toward the bird box and saw what I thought to be an eyeball staring at me.

Watching me ever so closely.

Over the course of a few minutes, the eyeball became two eyeballs…

And then an entire head…

And so it appears that Mrs. Bluebird is alive and well, yet I fear she just might
be a widow.

And as I stood staring at this lone little head peeking out of a birdbox, the notion of this
lone bird now having to sit on a nest of eggs, hatch said eggs and in turn work
like mad to feed the now filled nest of hungry mouths…filled me with a bit of melancholy.

And so I found myself overcome by the odd thought of loneliness and of being alone.

And whereas I know that birds don’t necessarily look at the circumstance of life as I do…
it’s just the fact that I have the knowledge of knowing how hard things will be for
her raising a brood without the help of a mate sharing in the endless search for food
for wanting little mouths.

It reminded me of my own bit of emptiness when it’s time for my little
granddaughter to go home.
Such as she did Sunday.
I find myself with such a lonely ache in my soul.
Not that bird’s heart’s ache or that they have a soul for that matter…

Yet despite these thoughts of a bird’s loneliness and of my own feelings and sense
of a lonely ache, I recalled reading recently an interesting article about
the skyrocketing epidemic in this country centering around loneliness.

The title of the article was
“God may have put you in a lonely place for an incredible reason”
by Pastor Rick McDaniel

Now I know that lots of folks will scoff at the linked thoughts of loneliness
to what we believe
to be a loving, all knowing, all powerful God…
I also know that there will those who will scoff at any sort idea of a God…
Plus that there will be those who will scoff at the notion of our being alone
as an impetus for our, in turn, reaching up and outward from ourselves…
oblivious and unaware of what gifts may actually await us just beyond our
aching empty hearts…

I know how hard it can be when one is in the midst of feeling so utterly
void and alone to imagine that God’s hand could or would be ever so close…

However, I have always been comforted by the words of Padre Pio, that mysterious Capuchin monk
who taught that it is in the depths of our greatest suffering in which God is actually the
closest to us.

There are many who will question such a statement…
but in the hindsight of my own life, I have seen the truth behind his words.

Yet for many, it is the depths of loneliness when there is a real feeling of anger and
resentment toward the unseen God who in our suffering, believe is choosing not to
“rescue” us from our plight of loneliness thus our belief that that is cause for
our feelings of anger.

Yet as Pastor McDaniel points out,
“Sometimes God causes us to seek him by driving us to him through the loneliness we experience.
We can get angry, depressed or we can see it as a gift.
Loneliness is a great benefit if we have drawn closer to Christ.”

While at the same time, I find this whole notion of skyrocketing loneliness an odd result
from the advent of social media where anyone can be connected to everyone with just
the click of a button…

And while our obsession with technological engagement has created a generation of
folks who more often than not feel utterly isolated,
albeit for the screen of an electronic device,
it is that very sense of isolation that can either lead us up and out of ourselves
to something much greater and so much more…or cause us to sink into despair…

I think it’s a matter of perspective…

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2018/05/26/god-may-have-put-in-lonely-place-for-incredible-reason.html

Said the sinner to the saint

“You must not be discouraged or let yourself become dejected if your actions have not succeeded as perfectly as you intended. What do you expect? We are made of clay and not every soil
yields the fruits expected by the one who tills it. But let us always humble ourselves and acknowledge that we are nothing if we lack the Divine assistance.”

Padre Pio (Saint Padre Pio of Pietrelcina)

The only difference between saints and sinners is that every saint has a past while every sinner has a future. ”
Oscar Wilde

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(a photograph of Padre Pio on the wall of a small cottage in Glencolmcille, County Donegal / Julie Cook / 2015)

Said the sinner to the saint, bending low in humble contrition…
“You must pass first sir, for I am unworthy to be seen in your presence…”
Said the saint to the sinner, bending deeper in overwhelming compunction
“Sir it is you who has offered me the glimpse of Light which has been hidden within my own shadow”

To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Romans 1:7

For all of us sinners are indeed called to be saints…..

Dark and Light

“What hurts you, blesses you. Darkness is your candle.”
Rumi

Sometimes a post has no particular impetus of origin. Nothing dictated, no particular catalyst.
Other times there is an inner nudging–an internal pushing of the writer toward a specific topic and / or subject.
And so it is today. . .

No Light:
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Now with light:
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One minute we’re void of color, perched within a tonal world of black, white and grey.. .
Add a little light. . .
and Voila, bathed now in full warm radiant color!
Amazing what a little light on the subject, or in this case, under the subject, can do!!

Which brings us to the quote by the 13th century Persian poet, Rumi. . .
I think most of us would be hard pressed to agree with the afore mentioned sentiment “what hurts us, blesses us.” Not unless some of us like that sort of thing and then I think that just brings up an area that deals in negative psychology, human behavior, masochism. . . and that is certainly not where I’m wishing to go this morning.. .

Now back to darkness and blessings. . .
St John of the Cross, the 16th century Spanish Mystic, wrote extensively on this very subject in both his Ascent of Mount Carmel as well as the follow-up, the Dark Night of the Soul
With the latter acting as a balm to ones tried and tired soul, albeit a bit heavy and deep to wade through. The language is of the poetic and very deep indeed. Remember, we’re talking about mysticism which is indeed rooted in a deep internal journey to the discovery of a relationship with God as Creator on a level other than the obvious and more than what most of us tend to be familiar with.

It is this very “book” and of St John of the Cross himself, in which Karol Wojtyla, a once young Polish catholic priest, chose to write his dissertation– actually writing it in Spanish as to fully understand and appreciate the original translation of St John’s work. We should note that this young priest later went on to become Pope John Paul II.

I dare say we have all suffered through dark nights of the soul throughout our lives at some time or another. Sometimes these dark times seem to last an eternity. Other times, thankfully, they are brief encounters. It is my experienced belief that those of us who are deep feelers, meaning those who internalize a great deal as well as those who tend to ruminate over much of life, tend to be a bit more inclined to these darker bouts.

Churchill had his “black dog” and Mother Teresa is said to have confessed in her private journals of a very dry and dark suffering which she felt throughout much of her adult life as her life seemed terribly void of God’s presence. Parents who have lost children suffer grievously this darkness, as do any of us who have lost loved ones.

Be it circumstance or disposition, the Darkness can be a very real and a very difficult place to find oneself–particularly for any length of time. Which brings us to the Light.

Padre Pio, a recently canonized capuchin monk, from a very impoverished area in Southern Italy, also knew a thing or two of the struggles with Darkness. His is indeed an interesting story, one we don’t have time to delve into here but I do recommend that you perhaps find a good biography to peruse as his is a story of stigmata’s, struggles with evil, bilocation, healing, witch hunts, humility and endurance.

It is Padre Pio who tells us to take courage when we feel as if we are plagued by sadness and Darkness– it is during such times that God actually draws closest to us. I’ve written on this subject before yet I feel it has much merit in being repeated as we all suffer at some point in this life. If we live, inevitably we will suffer—sadly that’s just the way of life.

I have been known to curse the darkness as well as the light, Life— and I have even been known to yell and scream at God. Anguish can be a very lonely frustrating place. I certainly have not felt heavenly supported during such dark times but it is said that an army of God’s angels envelope us during such trials—which in hindsight is a welcomed blessing.

All I know is that God is not immune to our suffering. He does not cause it, puppeteer it, manipulate it, or sadisticly enjoy it as many have attempted accusing Him of throughout history. He weeps with us and His anguish is deep. As beings who live with free will, in a fallen world, there will always remain sickness, sadness, evil, pain and suffering–such is life in a fallen world.
I say that as not to cause discouragement. Remember there is hope, kindness, mercy and Grace…but this is not that post. This post is merely about dark and light.

To offer comfort to those of you who are currently in a place of dry darkness is not an easy task. I personally tend to go within myself and there’s not much anyone can say or do which helps at those times—it is only once I emerge that I can appreciate the loving intentions of others. It also does me a wealth of goodness to read such works as St John’s —as well as the words of the Psalmist as his lamentations and yearnings are so very timeless. Often knowing that others have suffered in one form or another and yet survived can, to me, act as a morsel of hopefulness.

May you, who are currently in the midst of a dry and dark place, find the solace of a loving Father. May you weather the storm raging within or bear that of the silent emptiness. May you be encouraged that you are never alone–as countless fellow journeymen have borne similar burdens as there is a host of the unseen warriors of Heaven who have readied themselves to engulf you Life is hard, often heavy with its share of darkness–yet thankfully it is always countered by the light of love, laughter and that of the human connection.

“Bear in mind that the more the enemy assaults you, the closer God is to your soul. Think about, and penetrate this great and comforting truth.” Padre Pio

You are a spiritual being

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(Julie’s east-coast southern feet in the cold Mighty Pacific Ocean at Cannon Beach, Oregon 2013)

“You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience. You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I must confess that I am not greatly versed in the works of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin–only having read snippets here and there. And knowing that controversy surrounded him during much of his life with his own beloved Catholic Church, as much of his writings/ publications often ran in opposite directions, or more aptly, in uncharted waters.

Not being a theologian nor Catholic, much of my Christian/Catholic theological knowledge has come about merely by my own curiosity and immersion into the studies of the ancient and more current “doctors of the church”…that of their teachings and writings—and that “church” would be the “global christian church” as I do venture into the realm of other theological minds—remember my admiration for Pastor Bonhoeffer—a Lutheran.

This quote by Father Teilhard de Chardin spoke to my heart as it reminds me that I am created in God’s image—and that there is a connective cord between me and my Creator Father–that of a spiritual cord—a spiritual umbilical cord if you will. It is said that we cannot even pray be it not for the small tiny spiritual piece of God already planted in our very being at the time of our very beginning. A tiny piece of the Divine that resides so deep within that I am not even aware of its very being—The Spirit is living in me and It connects me to my Father.

The ancient Desert Fathers and Mothers were aware of this piece of the Divine planted deep in our being as they sought quiet and solitude in order to focus all of their life energies seeking and engaging with this most Holy treasure. We all have an innate desire to connect with this Sacred piece…many seek it, not even aware that it is the very “longing” of which they so seek—or more aptly, long for.

And that is how it is with me—a deep longing that I often cannot define or put my finger on. It is often a sense of melancholy, possessing a palpable pain. St. Teresa of Avila wrote of this as she spoke of the holy arrow that pieced her heart, wounding her with such a beautiful pain that she described herself swooning, wounded–yet as if in a state of ecstasy (see Bernini’s statue The Ecstasy of St Teresa/ Cornaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome/ for a beautiful physical rendering of this “wounding”)

St. Hildegarde von Bingen, the medieval German mystic nun who wrote of the trance like states she would find herself falling in—leaving her with severe headaches giving way to Divine visions, is another example of one who knew of this Divine piece resting in her very being. In our own life time there was Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, the southern Italian Capuchin monk who wore the actual wounds of Christ on his body, just as did St. Francis– as they each recieved the Stigmata—the bleeding wounds of Christ from the Crucifixion.

Others, which is the majority of us, go about most of our lives seeking this piece of the Divine, not even knowing that is what we are actually doing—-we fill ourselves and our lives, in an effort to fill this unseen void, with so much “emptiness”– thinking that these things will satiate this longing—we fill the void with material goods, be it electronic gadgets, clothing , jewelry, cars, homes–multiple homes–one to live in others to “vacation” in, (have you ever thought about that? only in our world do some people have no home, and others have multiple homes–why do we really need multiple homes…? but I digress)—then there are the “addictions” which we think will fill this longing—food, drugs, sex, gambling—-all in an effort to stanch the endless bleeding so to speak….make the gnawing of this longing stop—the ache must be stopped as it makes us hurt and uncomfortable……

But what we don’t understand is that this ache and longing, which we just simply can’t explain, define or put our finger on, is the Spiritual piece that is planted in our very being, longing to connect us, our Spiritual selves, with that of our Heavenly Father….and the majority of us spend a lifetime trying to do this, but don’t even know that that is what we are even doing—-so we spend our lives running in circles as it were…some of us chasing after mystical experiences that are not of our Father…those who engage in zen experiences, satanic or witchcraft ceremonies, various cult rituals… all in an aimless attempt to ease the longing…and yet the longing seems to still remain along with the frustration and undefined emptiness —-that is,until, luckily, we finally realize, and it is often through the trial and pain of life, that the longing of what we seek, has all along, simply been a relationship with the Creator Himself, our Father.

There are many who would disagree with me and that is fine—it’s just that it’s taken me many pains and sorrows along this life of mine to finally figure this out—but most of us seem to learn best by the harsh reality of life’s trials and pains… so I can’t force you to agree with my observation and where it is that I have finally come to in order to finally “get this”—-it must come about by your own stumbling…and yes various types of meditation practices may augment this seeking, but are not the final answer, just more pieces along the way….

It was through the death and Resurrection of the Christ, the Χριστός, the Christós, מָשִׁיחַ (Māšîaḥ), the Messiah, that allowed for the final connection to be made possible. But I can’t make you believe this—this is the conncection you must find on your own….as we all seem to learn best the “hard way” but that is the way in which we learn of the cemented truth.

My point today however is simply to remind you that you are indeed a spiritual being—and it is a relationship of which you are seeking—as the Spirit resides in each of us, simply longing, along with us, to make the Connection…………..

When God draws near….

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“I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason.”
Elie Wiesel

Whenever I’m out in the yard or woods and I look down, only to see something lost and forgotten such as this decaying wing—or perhaps it is a feather, a bone, abandoned shell or horn from an animal, a small sense of sadness washes over me. Was this due to some natural cause such as a life coming to it’s natural end or was it due to the life and death struggle in the proverbial food chain—either way, I feel a twinge of sorrow, a certain feeling of loss.

When that same feeling of sadness from the loss of life comes to me on the much grander scale from that of human loss and/ or suffering, such as with the loss of a loved one or friend, those feelings are greatly intensified, as one would expect. When the frustration and helplessness comes while being in the troughs of watching a loved one, friend or even a complete stranger suffer the ravages of sickness and suffering there is another emotion that often surfaces besides the sadness—that of anger.

Perhaps it is a human response to such because we are so accustomed to being able to stop certain things from happening or because we think we should be able to alleviate certain pains…unfortunately there are those times that everything is out of our hands, out of our control and we can do nothing but watch and wait. Be it watching someone battle a sickness such as cancer or watching the destruction and havoc brought to so many by moments such as the Tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, we yearn to be able to either stop it from reigning death, pain, sorrow, destruction or swoop in making it immediately all better . This is when the anger replaces the sadness. We are angry that this all could not be stopped or avoided. That it was and is all out of our very control.

And with that anger, we often direct it to our unseen God. Our Father in Heaven. How could He, why would He…..we rile with frustration. We know that with our capacity to love that we, in love, could never allow such—if He in His infinite love allows such—what kind of love is that??

I have not lived through something as surreal as the Holocaust of which Elie Wiesel directs most of his thoughts, writings and feelings. I have not lived through the devastation brought forth from a natural disaster. My dealings with the anger of which I write, came from watching my mom battle cancer 27 years ago. As a young woman, watching my mom, who died at the age I am today, I sadly saw her pain and her resignation to death from life— I had those moments of anger with God. “How, why and if this must be, stop the terrible pain. Why won’t you stop her pain?! Why are you letting me lose her? Why are you letting me be so sad?…..” on and on those empty questions and statements go….

None of us are immune form pain and suffering—that is just apart of this thing we call life. Some experience more than what should be their allotted share…and so often, it all seems terribly unfair.
Padre Pio, a recently canonized catholic saint, spoke of suffering. He often told those who experienced pain and suffering (as these were constant companions of his during his life) that it is at such time God draws ever closer. To those who are in the midst of the pain and sorrow, such a statement perhaps sounds empty and shallow. But I believe it to be true.

I do believe that God is so much greater than our very anger. He is big enough to take it all. How can I say that you ask, or “it’s easy for you to say that as you type away in the comfort of a safe home….” I don’t have the answers to those tough questions often cried out in anguish–none of us do. I have cried them out myself, many times over the years—for me and for others. The famous book from the 80’s “Why do bad things happen to good people” attempted to sort such emotions out, but as is the case with such monumental emotions and questions, it too came up short.

I just have to cling to the fact that God is so much greater than I and that He is the Alpha and Omega—the Beginning and the End—He is the Creator and I am but the created. He does love, with a wealth of such so much more than what I can comprehend. That He is in the midst of the pain and suffering, full of the sorrow we all feel. My mind cannot wrap around the “whys” of the “somethings” that are happening at this moment and as to the “hows” of how they may effect something else at a different place and time or how something from the past is now tied in to this very moment now….the connections of transcendence.

He is ever present, omnipotent—being the past, present and future. My past, present and future—because if He is not, then all of this is for naught and that is a very sad predicament. So this is where this Hope I speak so much of comes into play. Without Hope, there is no tomorrow as there is nothing. I don’t want, nor can I live without the tomorrows, without the Hope.

I am thankful that He will take my anger, my pain, my sorrow, my suffering and, in turn, offer the Hope of a tomorrow. I cannot see tomorrow, but I know that it will come. Be it a good tomorrow or a bad tomorrow, the Hope of such will always be there–and often, that is comfort enough. May God take your anger, your pain, your sorrow and in turn offer you a tomorrow.