rest not at the entrance

“The Lord manifests Himself to those who stop for some time in peace and humility of heart.
If you look in murky and turbulent waters, you cannot see the reflection of your face.
If you want to see the face of Christ, stop and collect your thoughts in silence,
and close the door of your soul to the noise of external things.”

St. Anthony of Padua


(St Anthony of Padua / Sainte Sulpice / Paris, France / Julie 2018)

So the religious soul finds in the heart of Jesus a secure refuge against the wiles
and attacks of Satan, and a delightful retreat.
But we must not rest merely at the entrance to the hole in the rock,
we must penetrate its depths. At the mouth of the deep hollow,
at the mouth of the wound in his side we shall,
indeed, find the precious blood which has redeemed us.
This blood pleads for us and demands mercy for us.
But the religious soul must not stay at the entrance.
When she has heard, and understood, the voice of the divine blood,
she must hasten to the very source from which it springs, into the very
innermost sanctuary of the heart of Jesus.
There she will find light, peace, and ineffable consolations.
St Anthony of Pauda

A bookstore, a war and a reunion….

“Be swift as a gazelle and strong as a lion to do the will of God in Heaven.”
(as seen on the ex libris of a book looted by the Nazi’s, a reference to
a line form the Mishnah, the Jewish redaction of oral traditions:
Andres Rydell The Book Thieves)


(the interior of a book store in Padova, Italy (Padua) / Julie Cook / 2007)

Today’s tale began many years ago, when my aunt and I found ourselves wandering
and weaving up and down the snake-like alley streets twisting through the old historic district of Padua, Italy…
better known to the Italians as Padova.

We were actually en route from Milan to Florence and opted to stop over for 3 days
in order to explore this deeply rich historical city.
And it just so happened that during our stay, during this particular mid June,
it was the height of the city’s yearly commemoration of Saint Anthony.

Padua is home to the Basilica Pontificia di Sant’Antonio di Padova, or the Pontifical Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua—a massive and beautiful church built to honor the Portuguese born saint who settled in Italy, making Padua his adopted home.
The building of the basilica was begun  in 1232, a year following Saint Anthony’s
death, and was finally completed in 1310—with modifications taking place in both
the 14th and 15th centuries.

It was a wonderful experience being a part of such a festive atmosphere, as
thousands of Catholics worldwide flock to this small Northern Italian town for
the June 13th feast day—
The city goes all out to make a colorfully vibrant yet equally respectfully spiritual
time for the thousands of pilgrims and tourists who flock to this city just south of Venice.

There are parades where the various ancient guilds are dressed in period costume as children, nuns, priests, monks and lay people march solemnly through the
narrow ancient streets all carrying flags as residents drape banners from their windows.

Yet Padua is more than just a spiritual hub, it is also very much of an intellectual
hub as it is home to the University of Padua, one of Europe’s oldest universities,
having been founded in 1222.
It is here where Galileo Galilei spent 18 years, of what he has described as being
the happiest years of his life, while he was the head of the Mathematics Department…
teaching, studying, lecturing and writing.

Italy, so rich in history, also happens to have a wonderful history with
paper making as well as bookmaking.
And Padua has its fair share of both fascinating and beautifully rich paper
as well as book shops–shops selling books, antique lithographs and rare prints.

It is said that after Spain, Italy is where paper making actually had its start.
It was most likely introduced to southern Italy by the Arabs who had in turn first
learned the craft from the Chinese.
Arab influence, particularly in architecture, can still be seen in and around the
Veneto region.

So it was during our visit, as we were wandering about one evening following supper,
that we saw the book store I’ve included in today’s post. The store was closed for the night and as we were going to have to be at the train station bright and early the following morning, I knew I would only get to visit this store by pressing my nose
to the window.

All these many years later, I still think about that store.

It had a wealth of what I surmised to be rare antique and ancient books.
Books, despite the language barrier, beckoned for my further investigation.
I would have easily considered giving up my train ticket to Florence just to be able
to wander in, dig and explore….
but it would take years for me to actually understand the draw as to what I would
be digging and looking for….
And as Life so often has her way, time has simply afforded for my wistful musing of
what might have been.

Having finally finished reading The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell,
the image of that book store in Padua has drawn me back time and time again
as I made my way through Rydell’s book. There is a very strong pull to go back
to look, to seek and to wonder.

There are not words nor adjectives enough for me to do justice to the meticulous story
Rydell lays out as he recounts the Nazi’s scrupulous, maniacal and highly
calculated quest to en masse the books of the all of Europe and Russia with
a keen penchant for those of the Jews.
Not only did they attempt to eradicate an entire race of people, they wanted
to hold, own and control the entire literary word of man—
particularly that of religion, science and history.
As they saw themselves as the new keepers of the history of humankind.

Millions and millions of books, both precious and random were taken…as myriads
are now lost or destroyed for all of time.

The Nazis had a detailed system for categorizing the stolen books.
And many of the books that are now scattered across the globe…
be they in large University libraries or small college collections,
to the random bookshop or second hand store—
many of those books still bare the labels of the Nazi’s numerical filing system.

The long arduous journey of Rydell’s very sad, horrific and overwhelming tale ends
in England with his actually reuniting a granddaughter, Christine Ellse, with a lone
little random book that had belonged to her grandfather–
a man she had never known personally but knew he had died in Auschwitz.
There were never any photographs, no sounds, no memories of a the man
this now grown woman so longed to know.

“Although I’m a Christian I have always felt very Jewish.
I’ve never been able to talk about the Holocaust without crying.
I feel so connected to all of this,” says Ellse,
opening the book and turning the pages for a while before she goes on.

“I’m very grateful for this book, because…I know my English grandparents
on my mother’s side.
They lived and then they died.
It was normal, not having any grandparents on your father’s side.
Many people didn’t, but there was something abnormal about this.
I didn’t even have a photograph of them.
There was a hole there, an emotional vacuum, if you see what I mean.
There was always something hanging midair, something unexpressed,”
Ellse says, squeezing the book.

“You know, my father never spoke about this.
About the past, the war.
But my aunt talked about it endlessly, all the time.
She was the eldest of the siblings, so she was also the most ‘German’ of them.
She coped with it by talking;
my father coped with it by staying silent about it.
I knew already when I was small that something horrible had happened.
I knew my grandparents had died in the war.
Then I found out they’d been gassed, but when you’re a child you don’t
know what that means.
It’s just a story—you don’t understand it.
Then I learned they’d died at Auschwitz. Only after I grew up did I begin to understand and get a grip on it.
It was very difficult when I found out they’d been murdered just ten days
before the gas chambers were shut down.
It was agonizing.
I imagine myself sitting on that train, experiencing the cold and the hunger.
And then straight into the gas chambers.
I’ve never able to get over it.”

Historian Patricia Kennedy Grimstead, a woman with a mission to see that war plunder is eventually reunited with families, notes that “millions of trophy books–although no one can say how many there are—will remain as ‘prisoners of war,”
Today, in Russia, there is no willingness to return books to the countries or families
that were plundered. But we still have to know what books are still represented there
from Europe’s cultural inheritance, a monument to the libraries that were destroyed
and scattered as a consequence of the most terrible war in human history.”

And so my mind wanders now back to that bookstore in Padua—
what book, if any, was there that had once been someone’s personal book
before madness took it away…
a book I now wish I could have found, in order to have brought it back home
to its rightful family.

The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind.
At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark.
You will be unsuccessful in everything you do;
day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you….

All these curses will come on you.
They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed,
because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands
and decrees he gave you.
They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever.
Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly
in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst,
in nakedness and dire poverty,
you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you.
He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.

Deuteronomy 28:28-29, 45-48

Taking the hidden path

“Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

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(Photograph: Padova, Italy/ Julie Cook / June 2007)

On this new morning of this new week, may you be ready and willing to travel down or up the new road(s) you find placed before you. May you be ready for any and all new adventures. Is there an unfamiliar closed door in front of you? Do not be afraid to open it…for behind that door, ’round that corner is a new journey, a new adventure, a new experience(s) waiting on you. I pray you have the courage to go forward. My principal use to always tell us, his teachers, if you aren’t moving forward, you’re only moving backwards. Plan on going forward–today!

The mystery and adventure found in an old friend

“A book is a fragile creature, it suffers the wear of time, it fears rodents, the elements and clumsy hands. So the librarian protects the books not only against mankind but also against nature and devotes his life to this war with the forces of oblivion”
–Umberto Eco

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(Photograph: Padova, Italy–Padua to English speakers–Julie Cook / June 2007)

I thought this quote by the Italian author appropriate as this picture is taken of the interior of a very old bookshop in Padova, Italy (Padua to English speakers). I wish I had a room in my house that looked like this—there are bountiful mysteries and treasures to be found and unearthed amongst all of these very old and ancient books precariously perched on equally old wooden shelves. Padova is known for its array of antique “paper” shops–be it book, map, or early engravings–there is a treasure trove of shops waiting to be explored.

I love old places like this shop as they have so much to offer the curious—not only from the books themselves and their stories, but from the items perhaps tucked away hiding between the pages of each old tome—leaving me wondering who once may have owned or held one of these particular old books…There is the immediate smell upon entering such a shop–the unmistakeable scents of dust and time emanating from of an old shop housing either old papers, maps, books or art–a bit of must and mildew, the endless battle a book lover/paper lover has with the Elements protecting all from the ravages of time– preserving the ancient for the inquisitive browser such as myself.

New or old, I love a “real” tangible book—none of this e-reader business for me. I love the feel of the binding–perhaps soft leathers, and often the brittle pages of yellowed paper, the smells– often musty, the visual, as well as tactile, relationship a reader develops with a book in hand, turing each page either carefully as not to tear the fragile sheet, or as in quickly, as not being able to wait to read what comes next….it’s as if you are sitting with a dear old friend of whom there is familiarity, ease and comfort.

It’s predicted to pour down from the heavens all weekend–torrential rain—this will be a wonderful opportunity to park myself on the couch complete with a cup of hot tea, and one of the myriad of books waiting for me to pick them up, introduce myself and develop a deep kindred connection—oh for the stories I will read and the places I will be transported to–all from a single book. Happy reading this rainy weekend.

the bracelet, the Saint, the mystery

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The human mind and heart are a mystery; but God will loose an arrow at them, and suddenly they will be wounded. Psalm 64:7

Growing up I had a vague idea about the Saints. Those ancient mystical individuals who lived and died heroes proclaiming the Gospel. Stories exotic and fanciful, taking place in lands far away from the world I knew. We weren’t Catholic, however as Episcopalians, the concept of saints was not a foreign notion. My family attended the Cathedral of St. Philip, the chapel was named St. Michael and I had a St. Christopher medal. So saints abound, all around my little world. There just wasn’t much of a personal relationship.

One of my favorite hymns we sang in children’s church was I sing a song of the Saints of God. It totally captured my imagination as it reveled in the lives of Queens and shepherds and of people being slain by fierce wild beasts. I imagined a dragon on some far away land doing battle with a brave knight. Perhaps the reference was to St. George.

The hymn went on to proclaim the virtues of “average” folks as well, those you’d meet at school or at a store… the hymn proclaimed that saints not only lived in ages past but are still here today, rich and poor– just everyday folks doing what they do in their daily lives but also working and doing the will of Jesus…”and God help me to be one too” I’d sing with great enthusiasm! So saints were not necessarily individuals who lived in ages past in ancient books, they were actually timeless.

I say all of this as I’ve learned that, although many of these individuals lived long ago and have stories associated, many with, magical legends, their stories, and that of their faith, are as fresh and relevant today as they have been down through the ages.

There is one Saint, however, who I’ve had an interesting relationship with over the past several years. San Antonio di Padova, better known to English speakers as Saint Anthony of Padua. The funny thing is that Saint Anthony is not from Padua, Italy but actually Lisbon, Portugal. It is as the finder of lost things that many of us know of Saint Anthony and of his role in our modern day world. The person we call upon if something, say like, keys or a book goes missing.

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My first introduction to this “miracle worker” who finds all sorts of lost things was at school. Our bookkeeper would often invoke Saint Anthony when something went missing in her office. She’d start chanting this little “prayer”

St. Anthony, St. Anthony
Please come down
Something is lost
And can’t be found

I found the chant a little silly not to mention sacrilegious. I knew most folks at work were not familiar with saints, let alone the Catholic Church, and that this little chant was more voodoo than heartfelt prayer. But she believed in it and who was I to rain on her parade. If she felt it helped, so be it. It wouldn’t be long before I too found a need to invoke the assistance of St Anthony.

Years ago, shortly after my mother’s death, my Dad and I found ourselves practically turning around burying my grandmother. After the sad dust of our lives had settled, it was the time for sorting out the small details of losing two loved ones almost back to back, Dad decided that I should have her my grandmother’s jewelry. She had a beautiful diamond tennis bracelet.

The bracelet was very special and something I would only wear on very special occasions, otherwise it would need to stay locked up and safe.
As the years passed by, I became less particular when deciding what was to be a “special” occasion. I had adopted the mind set that if you had something special it should be enjoyed all the time, not relegated to the occasional ” dress up” affair. Life was short, I needed, we all needed, to enjoy the todays as the tomorrows may not ever come.

So one night when we were invited out to eat with another couple, I put on Nany’s bracelet. I had taken to wearing the bracelet even to work; the thought of a casual evening out seemed equally appropriate. How was I to know that once I got back home, I’d go on autopilot and “forget” taking off the bracelet and putting it in my pocket. I always checked my pockets before either hanging up my pants or tossing them in the wash. Didn’t I?

About a week went by before I thought about the bracelet. The bracelet! Where was the bracelet!? Oh my God!!! I suddenly felt sick. I didn’t know which was worse, losing the bracelet, letting Nany down or telling my husband, who had been telling me ever since Dad gave it to me, that he didn’t like me wearing it –it was just too expensive for me to wear.

As I began telling my husband, I immediately started crying. Maybe that saved me from certain death by an angry “I told you so.” I called the restaurant, the dry cleaners, I scoured the house, the car—I went through every single pair of pants in our closet—both my husbands and mine. I even had him in a panic thinking that maybe I had handed it to him at some point that night and that perhaps he had misplaced it—shared guilt in a crisis is not a bad thing, providing a bit of comfort.

I thought of Saint Anthony. No, I wasn’t thinking of that silly little nursery rhyme plea, but rather an honest to goodness prayer of intercession. I feverishly began researching St. Anthony and prayers asking for his assistance. I found a legitimate prayer of intervention.

Now I know enough about our Christian faith, despite our denominations or affiliations, that there is indeed a mystery involved in our use of prayer. I also believe that there is indeed power in prayer. I also believe in miracles but this, however, was not the place in which I was to ask for such—a miracle is to save a life, heal the sick…not intended for the recovery of a piece of materialism. Sadly it wasn’t just the fact that I had lost an expensive piece of jewelry. Nor that I had let down my grandmother, my husband, or myself…but now I was going to have to tell me dad what I had done.

When I was in the seventh grade my Grandmother had given me her college ring. It was from 1918. It was a very small gold ring from a small middle Georgia woman’s college. The ring was so small, as my grandmother was a very petite woman, which at age 12, my finger was the only finger around that it would fit.

That summer the entire family took off on a road trip to Louisiana in order to attend my cousin’s wedding. I can remember it as if it was yesterday rather than 41 years ago. We stopped for gas in the middle of nowhere Mississippi. I went to the bathroom. I slipped the ring off my finger so I could wash my hands, and failed to put it back on. Why I thought I should take it off to wash my hands is beyond my soul, but take it off I did.

My dad made me tell my grandmother, once we all made it to Lake Charles, that I had left her ring in a bathroom of a gas station back in Mississippi. I can remember the same sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. My grandmother, who was gracious and not nearly as concerned over its loss as my dad, told me not to worry about it. She certainly didn’t intend on wearing it again. Even though I was somewhat off the hook, I still felt terrible. To this day I still can get bothered thinking about my carelessness. And here I was, all these many years later, in the same sick feeling boat. Damn my luck, or blast my careless stupidity.

And now here I was, in another sticky wicket again, seeking the assistance of a Franciscan monk who had died over 700 years prior. I wasn’t expecting to be “heard” as this was not, in the big scheme of life, registering on the scale of most important life issues. Not worthy of a noteworthy saint, let alone something I should bring before God. He had much more important issues to attend to and desperate prayers to hear from those who were truly in need.

However I still felt compelled that I should pray the prayer, adding my own “I know this is a materialistic object and that losing it was not the end of the world but boy, it sure felt like the end of the world.” I conceded that perhaps I had not taken the care I should have when entrusted with something of value. I also told St Anthony that I was use to praying directly to God and that by no means was I trying to circumvent that approach but just that I had heard that he, St Anthony, was helpful in these sorts of troubles.

I then relinquished it all. I had said my prayer. The bracelet was gone, I had searched, I had screwed up, and it was now over.

A couple of weeks passed by since saying my prayer—it was now the Friday before Spring Break—the long awaited “holiday” had finally arrived. As a teacher there was a spring in my step this morning. The weather was warm, the day sunny and we were about to have a week off. I grabbed a pair of khakis that I thought I’d to put on to wear. The kids and I would be doing a little spring-cleaning in the classroom so casual was the call of attire for the day. As I put on the khakis, I pushed my hands down into the pockets straightening them out. I felt something in the right pocket. I pulled out of the pocket what I had felt and just stared. The bracelet.

The pants had come and gone to the dry cleaners. How in the world had I not found it when I was checking all of the pants, turning in and out every pocket in our closest? The cleaners also double-checked all pockets. I had talked with them about the bracelet; they knew I was desperately searching. How in the world?!

I ran into the kitchen screaming. My husband was dumbfounded.

Fast forward about 5 years. My aunt and I were plotting one of our adventures– Italian of course. Flying into Milan then taking the train the remainder of the way to Padua (Padova in Italian), Florence (Firenze), Assisi, Cortona and eventually Rome (Roma). I don’t know why I chose Padua. Maybe it was the Giotto frescos in the Cappella Scrovegni. Maybe I thought going to Venice would break the trip’s budget, as it is an expensive destination. Padua is not always on the tourist’s radar. It is a part of the Veneto region but it is Venice that takes the top-billing draw for this region.

It just so happened that during the time, in which our plans took us to Padua, the feast day of St Anthony was to take place, June 13th. A feast day for a hometown boy in the massive basilica of his same name is a big deal. The Feast day of Saint Anthony is a strongly recommended pilgrimage for Catholics. I had never been a part of a true pilgrimage, one with a true destination on a true day of a Feast day.

Arriving in Padua on the 12th of June there was indeed electricity in the air. People were already gathering at the Basilica as vendors were setting up all around the perimeter of the church. I’d love to tell you all about Padua. It is a lovely city –part Renaissance, part Moorish as it was under Moors rule at one point in its history. Padua boasts the oldest University in Europe. Galileo is still a recognized Chair of Mathematics here. I had the best Asparagus risotto at the famously ancient Café Pedrocchi but time will not permit me to give proper credit to Saint Anthony if I explore Padua.

Time unfortunately also will not permit me to go into a great depth about this humble Franciscan monk—who, by the way, started out as an Augustine monk. I will provide a few links for those of you wishing to know more. His life story is full of adventure, attempted trips to Morocco, desired martyrdom, illness, shipwrecks, and more—there were the trials and the joys. He was well known for his very knowledgeable preaching. He possessed eloquence and a fire about his preaching. He is a Doctor of the Church and it was St Francis who first assigned him as the instructor of theology for the Franciscan brothers.

St. Anthony was only 36 at his death, in1231, and was proclaimed a saint by Pope
Gregory IX, who referred to Anthony as “the ark of the Testament”, less than a year after his death, due in part because of a litany of miracles taking place at the humble friar’s tomb. His is the second fastest proclamation of a saint in history.

Today St. Anthony is venerated as a Saint for sailors and fishermen, barren woman and pregnant women, travelers and the poor, as well as those who seem have lost something. I like to think that perhaps the lost item may be more intrinsic rather than always something materialistic.

I marveled at the throngs of the faithful who had traveled to the Basilica for his feast day. At his tomb, hundreds lined up just for an opportunity of touching the huge cool marble edifice. There were a myriad of photographs and letters taped to the tomb and wall surrounding the tomb of people from all over the world who sought this humble saint’s assistance—many miracles are attributed to Anthony. The sheer number of people seeking Anthony’s aid overwhelmed me—I felt both a sense of sadness as well as comfort.

I can claim that I had a miracle—a truly undeserved miracle. It’s not something I proclaim by loudspeaker, as it was not deserved. I left an anonymous donation at his tomb, when we were in Padua, asking that the money be used in the ministry for the local poor, which a huge part of the works of the Franciscans at the Basilica.

Skeptics, non-believers, as well as many believers, would tell me that finding the bracelet was purely coincidental. Maybe so. But I know that I scoured every nook and cranny. There was no answer as to why the bracelet was in the pocket of a pair of pants that had been checked, taken to the cleaners, rechecked, dry-cleaned, eventually making their way back to the closet.

I have lived long enough to know that I cannot explain everything logically that takes place in our lives. Some things remain a mystery. Some things cannot be easily explained away. It is our nature to want to answer all questions and it is our arrogance in thinking that we can have all of those answers to all those questions. I, for one, am glad that it is not ours to know all.

St Anthony was dead for almost 40 years when a new Basilica was built in his honor—the church we see today. His body was to be moved to this new place of honor. It was St Bonaventure who presided over the removal of the body. Upon opening the tomb, St Anthony’s body had turned to dust, all but his tongue. His tongue was said to still be intact, fleshy and pink. St Bonaventure proclaimed “O Blessed Tongue that always praised the Lord, and made others bless Him, now it is evident what great merit thou hast before God.”

I know that not everything we pray for seems to be answered nor in the way in which we often desire. People will still get sick, people will still die, bad things will still happen to good people. Why is it to some things and why not to others? As I stated in the “about me” section of this blog, I marvel in the fact that I am the created and not the Creator—it is not for me to know all of the whys and the why nots.

http://st-anthony-medal.com/index.htm

http://www.stanthony.org/index.php/st-anthony-of-padua/

http://www.saintanthonyofpadua.net/portale/home.asp

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