an earthly perception of hell

“The Christian is not just to rage against the darkness…
we are to proclaim the light”.

David Robertson


(a lone sanderling at dusk / Rosemary Beach, Fl / 2017)

In the course of the past two days I have read, in two vastly different places, the
notion of what hell actually is as it is perceived by those still earthly
bound mortals…

And as you know, I don’t believe in coincidence…but rather in the intervention
of the Holy Spirit.

Each of the two views has come from a member of the clergy, one being a former Church of England prelate who now hails as a Reformed Anglican Bishop and the other–
an Eastern Orthodox monk who passed away 24 years ago.

Each man relates a similar thought concerning hell…
that being an absence.
As in a permanent and perpetual void.

I can only think, for us humans, to be able to understand this concept of absence
and void is if, and only if, we have experienced the death of a loved one.
For in death there is a separation…an earthly permanent seperation.
As in a state of no more…as in no more—ever….
at least not on this earth.

If we are Believers, then we know that death is not a permanent situation…
perhaps on this earth yes, but in Heaven no.
And if we are not Believers of the Christian faith…
then there is perhaps even a keener awareness of this state of ‘no more.’

And in that state of emptiness, for both the Believing and unbelieving,
there is an almost unconsolable sorrow of loss.
And this utter cutting off and separation, for some, is often more
than can be borne by both soul and flesh.

Both of these clerics express this notion in very different ways.

Bishop Ashenden recently had to have emergency surgery for a detached retina.
He explained that the healing process is most arduous—
He had to lie very still on his right side, at a 45 degree angle for 10 days—
24 hours a day of laying very still in a particular position
with only a 10 minute break here and there to use the bathroom.

The pain, when using the drops which aggravated his wound, was as if someone was
taking a screwdriver and was constantly digging and twisting it in his eye with no
easing off or letting up.

This reminds me of cancer patients and those with severe nerve damage where the
pain is a constant state of the unbearable.

I saw this with my mother when the cancer had spread to her bones and later with my
dad who had developed a severe Kennedy ulcer the last two weeks of his life.
The wound developed a horrible infection and opened all the way to his bone…
The slightest movement for both my parents was excruciating and yes, unbearable.

Bishop Ashenden said that in his pain he got to the point that the pain was such a
constant persistency, that it was to the point that he could not even pray—
his prayer being simply “help me Lord”—the prayer of suffering and agony.

And in that pain there was a consuming sense of isolation—
For that’s how pain is—it is totally consuming to such an extent that there is
no sense of communion with God—rather there is no sense of God…only agony.

Be that a physical pain or emotional pain or spiritual pain….

And it is often in such moments that many a Believer and even non-believerer
will actually be to the point where they say “to hell with God”
“If He cannot help me, relieve me, then let Him just be damned.”

That is to the lowest we go as humans.
And it is a tragic state.

Archimandrite Sophrony (1896-1993) offers us a bit different vision
of a mortal’s interpretation of hell.
He shares what he has learned from those monks who have gone before him…
in the way of what is known as a “custom house”

The customs houses about which the Fathers write are symbols of a reality.
The Fathers understand them as follows: after the fall of man,
the soul is nourished by the body, in other words,
it finds refreshment in material pleasures.
After death, however, these bodily passions that used to divert the soul
no longer exist, because the soul has left the body,
and they choke and stifle the soul.
These are the customs houses and eternal torment.
Abba Dorotheos says that eternal torment is for someone to be shut up
for three days in a room without food, sleep or prayer.
Then he can understand what hell is.

Elder Sophrony of Essex. I Know a Man in Christ

Bishop Ashenden admonishes us all that it would behoove us to be of a constant
state of prayer—during those times in life when we are free to offer up our prayers…
be they of worship and praise, adulation and jubilation, thanksgiving and awe,
or simply intercession—
For we must do so with a fervency…because none of us are exempt from pain.

Just as it would behoove us to understand that hell is very real, very lasting
and it is not the sort of place we should want to or settle on going—
For if we find the early glimpse unbearable, what would eternity be….

For during each our lifetimes we will inevitably be faced with this glimpse of hell,
and when we are, we must know that we are ‘shored up’…
that during those times when all we can do is cry out “help, please” that we may rest
in knowing that He has heard us and we are not as we feel, alone and tormented…
For He has already walked our journey long before we were even conceived.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 10:28

crying in need


(baby goat pic found on the web)

There I was on a hot Friday the 13th afternoon in October—
did I mention it was hot?

Mid October and there has yet to be any near sighting of the
long awaited and highly anticipated Fall…

Anywhooo back to our tale….

There I was just coming out of Lowes, one of our big home improvement centers, headed for my car when I first heard it…

Baaaaaaaaaaahhhhh

Was that a sheep?????

“Must be the heat” I mused as I continued on my journey to my car,
with air filters in tow….

Baaaaaaaaaaahhhhh

I stopped dead in my tracks in the middle of the parking lot…listening.

Baaaaaaaaaahhhhh

Without skipping a beat, the baying sound filled the entire parking lot.

Baaaaaaaaaahhhhh

A woman just getting out of her car stops dead in her own tracks right by me…
“What is that crying? she asks confused.

Baaaaaaaaaaahhhhhh

We both are standing still as statues, listening….

Baaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh

“I think it’s coming from over there” as I point toward a yellow pickup truck
several lanes over.

Baaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh

More people stop…mostly women.
The same question…”what is that crying?”

Baaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh

Finally I discern that indeed it is the yellow pickup truck that happens to have
a large animal carrier in the back of the truck bed.
The truck is one of those that has a full back cover for the bed,
of which was propped up as the animal carrier was wedged between bed and
cover. I could make out something white moving a bit side to side in the carrier.

Baaaaaaaaaahhhhh

“Is that a sheep?” another woman walking passed asks bewildered.

“That or a goat” I respond as we all now stare in the direction of the truck.

Baaaaaaaaaahhhhh

By now I’m feeling a strong urge to follow the cry, but reason tells me
“take the air filters to the car and drive on home…”…
or maybe that was actually my husband’s admonishement from afar
telling me “do not stop, we do not need nor want a baby lamb or goat…GO HOME!!!”

Baaaaaaaaaaahhhhh

Inside my car I can still hear the cries….

Baaaaaaaaaaahhhhh

I roll down my window as I begin to pull out of the parking spot still feeling
a strong urge to go to this crying “baby.”

Baaaaaaaaaaahhhhh

I notice several other shoppers, all women, making a bee line for the truck.

Inquisitive?

Absolutely…
but this draw was something much more than mere curiosity.

Baaaaaaaaaaahhhhh

This poor baby goat or lamb was in dire straights as it was wailing for “mother”

Baaaaaaaaaaahhhhh

Finally pulling far enough away I no longer could hear the cries…
yet in my rear view mirror I could still see various women making their way over
to the truck…

Pondering as I drove….
was it the cries of a child, albeit animal, crying out in desperation that sent
out some sort of distress signal to the maternal instincts in the female
shoppers today??

The draw was strong to go attend to this crying baby…
I know because it was all I could do not to walk over to the truck myself.

And then the thought occurs to me—what of our own cries?…
those cries we utter and offer up to our unseen God and Father…Abba?

Those cries of anguish, despair, pain, desperation, sorrow…
Cries offered, or perhaps actually hurled outward and upward,
most often in distress or resignation…
cries of need and want…

And what of the One who hears those cries…is He not then drawn, even more powerfully
to our cries then we are to the cries of our own crying children….
So much so that He immediately runs to the sound each and every time!
As we rest assured, He runs…


(little lamb found on the web)

In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.

Psalm 18:6

inviting and yet locked

“By confronting us with irreducible mysteries that stretch our daily vision
to include infinity, nature opens an inviting and guiding path
toward a spiritual life.”

Thomas More

As polarized as we have been,
we Americans are locked in a cultural war for the soul of our country.

Pat Buchanan


(an inviting, yet closed and obviously shuttered, secluded entrance way / Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

There is a lovely Orthodox Christian blog that I follow…
Where I often find the most beautiful wisdom presented in the simplest of fashions.
This morning was no exception.

https://thoughtsintrusive.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/what-does-charismatic-despair-mean/

When I first read this morning’s posting’s title, with words such as Charismatic and despair…words that at first glance appear to be polar opposites of one another, I wasn’t prepared to find both a sweet reminder as well as an embracing
comfort all rolled into one.

I am reminded that as we each journey through this thing we call life,
we will each inevitably encounter times of great frustration, difficulty…
even overwhelming sorrow.

We will come to those places along on our walk where we find our pathway blocked
with the doorways, those apparent entrances beckoning us to continue forward, each shuttered and locked tight. There will be no obvious alternate path allowing for us
to continue onward, proceeding freely and unhindered.

It is at such a juncture on the path, where we are met by both doubt and despair.

Choice suddenly appears limited or even nonexistent.
Knowing we can’t progress forward and that we certainly can’t turn around,
going back from whence we came…for too much time has passed for turn arounds,
we are stymied. A rushing fear washes over us as we realize that we have
no other options, no choices.

And this is where we must look not obviously outward from ourselves
seeking our answers,
but rather we must look inward…traveling deeply within ourselves.

For it is in this very moment of inward verses outward, of how we will decide
to interact with the obstacles and locked doors,
which will eventually decide how we continue forward on our journey.

And so it is here, tucked gently away in this morning’s reading of simple words
offered by a simple monk, where we are gently yet profoundly reminded that
in our apparent despair, we are driven not by the seemingly overwhelmingness
of that very despair and its accompanying frustration, but rather by the divine interventions of the Spirit…
He who urges us, without our even being aware, to seek the only One who has
the key to unlocking those shattered doors, allowing for us to continue forward
on this odd little journey of ours.

It begins with a frustration or a pain or a sorrow and it ends with
an imploring prayer…


(the wisdom of Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex from the book Remember Thy First Love)

Moving on, to the next

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times.
But that is not for them to decide.
All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien


(the mounded rocks to help break the storm waves at The Breakers Hotel /
Palm Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2017)

“It was too perfect to last,’
so I am tempted to say of our marriage.
But it can be meant in two ways.
It may be grimly pessimistic—
as if God no sooner saw two of His creatures happy than He stopped it
(‘None of that here!’).
As if He were like the Hostess at the sherry-party who separates two guests
the moment they show signs of having got into a real conversation.

But it could also mean ‘This had reached its proper perfection.
This had become what it had in it to be.
Therefore of course it would not be prolonged.
‘As if God said,
‘Good; you have mastered that exercise.
I am very pleased with it.
And now you are ready to go on to the next.”

― C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

In that place of sheer isolation and utter vulnerability,
deep within the quagmire of mourning and sorrow of which we find ourselves
sinking helplessly into the quicksand of our losses and suffering…
we humans are fast and keen to denounce the omnipotent God..
we proclaim Him to be most cruel, sadistic and menacingly cold hearted.

For we are hurting for heaven’s sake….
can He, does He, not see…
does He not know…
or worse….
does He simply not care…??

As C.S Lewis reflects on the loss of his wife—
he, in such typical Lewis fashion, expresses the thoughts and feelings that
are our own…
that of our angst and misery culminating from the overwhelming painful experience
we all eventually experience from our living, death and loss…

As he sums it up nicely in one wonderful notion…

“Good; you have mastered that exercise.
I am very pleased with it.
And now you are ready to go on to the next.”

And so we are…ready to go on
on to the next….
to the next whatever…
the next whatever God has in store…
all the while nursing our wounded hearts,
we move on, by His Grace, to that which comes next…

(for a wonderful movie about Lewis, his marriage, the death of his wife due to cancer and how Lewis wrestles with God…see the 1993 movie Shadowlands staring Anthony Hopkins and Deborah Winger—a marvelous and timeless movie)

A Maundy Thursday example of love

“Preach the Gospel at all times.
When necessary, use words.”

― Francis of Assisi


(Mother Teresa’s bare feet)

I’ve used this image of Mother Teresa’s feet before in a previous post—
it was a post for a previous Easter that touched not only on the notion
of Jesus’ example of the washing of feet, but it explored our obsession with health,
wealth and all things fit and beautiful.

Like hands, feet are a good indicator of the type of life one has lived.

Rough, calloused and gnarly…
or
smooth, soft and pampered…

I tend to like the first notion…as in rough, calloused and gnarly being signs of
at best, a life really lived to the fullest….
or
at the least, lived to the best of ones abilities as
things had perhaps never been easy nor comfortable.

I find there is more character to be found in the rougher, harder, calloused side to living.

Following that evening meal of so long ago, a chain of events had been set in motion
and there was no turning back…
hope no longer remained in avoiding the inevitable.
I imagine everyone in the room that quiet night had a sense that things were to be
different very soon but as to exactly how, only one knew for sure.

The mood was somber…and not just because it had been a meal intended to
commemorate and reflect upon the struggles of a people from a previous time,
but rather because the master of ceremonies
himself was obviously melancholy as his thoughts were far removed.

Just as I know other types of jobs and services stress this same sort of approach,
in education, teachers are constantly reminded of the importance of leading by example.

Don’t just tell it or say it….
Do it and show it!!!!!
This so others may see.
Visual and tactile learning create a most lasting impression.

So Jesus set out that evening to do that very thing…
one more time…
to lead by example.

The point wasn’t just to wash feet.
Feet, as important as they are, are considered pretty lowly.
They aren’t the prettiest things to look at what with their bunions, hammer toes,
ingrown toe nails and rough cracked skin…
they can be oddly shaped, they get dirty quickly,
they usually stay covered up…for a reason,
and they are not the first things we prefer to look at,
plus they can smell.
Not good combinations.

So dealing with people and their feet has always been looked at,
other than from a podiatrist’s point of view, as something somewhat subservient….
especially if the feet are rough looking, with dirty cracked and broken nails…
Not the first thing most folks want to caress and love on…unless they’re a bit odd.

So naturally when Jesus set about wanting to wash everyones feet, he was quickly and
awkwardly rebuffed.
It was embarrassing to have the Master wash the dirty, dusty, dry feet of the followers.
Think of a General wanting to do such for a private…
As that’s exactly what it was like.
Unheard of….

But the washing wasn’t the lesson.

It was the leading by example.

The doing of and the action of that which would be otherwise considered lowly and less than,
being done to another…
As the recipient of such, that of the the washed,
would be thought to be more highly than the washer….

It was the notion of serving with the serving being of such a lowly but very respectful
and loving manner…that that was the key.
Doing something so lowly but doing it in pure unselfish care and love…

Mother Teresa’s feet are examples of a person who worked long and hard all her life—
her feet do not lie.
She toiled on those feet her entire life…always for others.

Being with Dad’s caregivers day in and day out, assisting as they had to turn dad from
side to side as I had to hold him up on his side towards me just so they
could wipe his bottom, cleaning him after he had soiled himself….

I marveled at the care and thoroughness in which one caregiver in particular
went about her task.

I don’t think I could have done or do what she did and does.
Taking care of the most basic needs of a human—
feeding and then cleaning…much as one does for a baby.

Baby’s are cute.

Old cancer ridden bodies that smell and are wasting are not.

As the days passed, physically moving dad was difficult as he winced and cried in pain…
but the cleaning still needed to be done…
And it was done with dignity, compassion…as

that is the rough, calloused, gnarly example of what love is all about…

“Love one another as I have first loved you…..”

And with the best way always being by example…..

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas,
the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power,
and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet,
drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied,
“not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet;
their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.”
For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said
not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place.
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.
“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.
Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should
wash one another’s feet.
I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master,
nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.
Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

Matthew 13:2-17

Merry Christmas to one and all….

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:14

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