the gift of paradise

“Where there is no obedience there is no virtue,
where there is no virtue there is no good,
where there is no good there is no love,
where there is no love, there is no God,
and where there is no God there is no Paradise.”

St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina


(sea oats along the beach at Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2018)

Jesus could’ve put an end to this right now with Pilate, but he didn’t.
He let it go on because he was going to war. This was his victory march.
He was going to win and it would all be shown on Easter morning, the day of Ascension,
and when he is glorified in Heaven. And you want to know when the real end result will be?
When all of us, who this work paid for our sins,
stand cleansed in the blood of the Lamb before God’s throne on the end day and he says,
‘Welcome into my presence, you good and worthy servants.’

Steve Ray
from The Pain of the Crucifixion

Meat and potatoes

One gets to the heart of the matter by a series of experiences in
the same pattern, but in different colors.

Robert Graves


(the red snapper at Bud and Alley’s Seaside Beach, Fl / Julie Cook)

Ok, I admit….this is a picture of a fish with potatoes and not a steak.
as in “meat and potatoes”

I did have a lovely picture of a prime rib roast which I had cooked a while back,
but the fish seemed a bit less red and well, meaty…as I know there are those
out there who just really are opposed to “red” meat….despite my knowing there are
those who will grouse over the whole well, whole fish…meaning head and eyes….
but we digress….

I’ve stated before, I’ve always been a meat and potatoes sort of girl.
Be that meat…fowl, pig, lamb, fish or cow…..

Yet today’s post is not about food…meat or starch…
but is a post that we might just call more of a hearty dose of the
Word of God….being sustenance for the soul verses the food for the stomach.
As in getting down to the heart of the matter….

And now that the dust has somewhat settled…as the snows are now melting…
life is settling back into its normal madness of Christmas….
sans any of the distracting, as well as debilitating, white stuff.

Power is now restored.
Limbs are now cut up and stacked.
Cars have been moved to where they belong….
As schools resume to normal schedules today.

So in the madness since late last week, when the snows did begin to fall,
I was literally pulled away from much of my reading and study as my duties
were needed immediately elsewhere—
And I was particularly pulled away from my reading and focusing on the teachings
of those 3 favorite clerics of mine…

And what a delightful hodge podge of spirituality they are—

A renegade Anglican priest, a reformed Presbyterian minister and a Catholic monk…

And may it be known that whereas each one of these men may seem,
from all outward appearances to be vastly different,
when all the pretense of what the world perceives of them is
peeled away, they along with their messages, are but one in the same.

And I for one delight in that.

In my distraction with the snow and writing about such…there has been so much
that has actually taken place that needs not only my attention but yours as well….

Jerusalem is being recognized by the US, at long last, as the capital of Israel…
much to the chagrin of most of the world as well as by many actually in the US
itself.

The Pope, much like our US President, has boldly and perhaps blindly, ventured
to where he may not should have trod, by declaring that the Lords’ Prayer
needs an overhaul….see the perspiration beads forming at my brow….

Sexual harassment continues to prevail in our headlines as it appears to have crept
into the fold….

And my friend who I made mention of the other day…
the one whose family business my family had frequented for the past 25 years or so,
lost her earthly battle early Friday morning.
During the last time we had a chance to chat, which was just a couple of weeks ago,
I noticed that my friend was rather sad and weepy.
I asked what was troubling her….and this 78 year old friend looks me in the eye
and tells me “I miss my momma”—- as I look back at her,
telling her how I understand because I miss mine as well—of which she knew….
So I am uplifted in knowing that both her son and daughter were by her side
when she gave up the earthly ghost and headed on home to be with her mom…

All of this, along with all the other tit for tat that has been happening in what seems
to be my snow encrusted writing absence, will each be addressed in due time…..

But first I wanted to return our focus to Advent.

Because isn’t that what our focus should currently be about?
Advent.
As in The Coming….

I spent some time this morning listening to the 2nd Sunday in Advent’s homily
offered by Bishop Gavin Ashenden…I was a day late and a dollar short,
but none the less, blessed.
12 delightful minutes of good meat and potatoes for the soul.

The good bishop reminds us that Advent is a time for making space in our hearts,
more space for Jesus.

He tells us that this is the time that we are to be about repentance…
in order to make sacred space available.

Bishop Ashenden focused on the reading of the day which was taken from the Gospel of
St Mark (Mark 1:1-8) in which there is a good description of John the Baptizer…
a man wearing simple garments and who is sustained by eating wild honey and locust.

The good Bishop admits to having always been a bit perplexed as the why
the locust eating would be so important as to be included in the text….
but a Greek friend noted that the true translation in Greek, as only Greeks would understand it to be, was not that of an insect but rather actually a type of flower—
of which seemed to make much more sense.

So we get the complete picture of John…that he was a simple man,
living off and being sustained by the land.
Not the crazy loner off in the desert howling by the moon at night as he
has often been portrayed—perhaps more mad than wise.

And so as we note–John was very simple—
in turn bound by no worldly trappings what so ever ….

John both proclaimed as well as accused those of his day of having
lives way too full—
and that the time had come to make the choice…

The choice being between holding on to that which gets in the way of God or
to choose to move out and get rid of that which gets in the way…
getting rid of that which is separating ourselves from God and God alone.

Very much what we see society and our culture forcing upon us today—
Especially and particularly this time of year!

Our lives, particularly during Christmas, are so chocked full that we are
practically to our breaking point.

We are so full and overwhelmed with all that must be done to
make the “holidays” just so special, magical and wonderful…
on top of already busy lives with school and work….
that we are actually crowding out Jesus.

Crowding Him out from the very time He is to actually be at the center of
our focus.

Bishop Ashenden notes that John’s message of Metanoia, or that of our total change
and or transformation, is so important because it calls us to a new way of examining
things….

Yet at the same time the good Bishop admonishes us that…dare we say,
there is a spirit of evil actually at work, at this very moment, particularly now…
during this time of year that we are being called…called by God.
It is all so totally opposite of the call of the Holy Spirit.

For there is a force working to counter that call…
countering with the distractions and demands we actually throw upon ourselves
particularly at this time of year.

Shopping, church pageants, visits to Santa, picture taking, card writing and sending,
choir practice, school plays, sporting events, making costumes, wrapping gifts,
sorting, cooking, parties, cleaning, traveling…
all of this on top of the already endless demands of both work and school—
All of this becomes the priority while the true essence of Christ is pushed further
aside.

We fight to pretend and convince ourselves otherwise—
we rationalize that we are doing what we are doing because IT IS Christmas…
yet none of it has one single thing to do truly with Christmas—
or Christ Mass…

None of this is to be about lifestyle and clutter but about having the presence
of God at our forefront…as Bishop Ashenden pointedly asks…
“how much time then do you allot for prayer, the reading of scripture,
and loving the Lord?”…especially now during this chaotic time?

I found that I had to really look at what he was saying…
I had to look closely at what gets pushed aside…looking at what is then
actually pushing its way into being the priority….a false priortiy.
The priorities that society makes of us during this season…

Our culture clamors that we are to be all inclusive…and non discriminatory—
but should we not be exclusive and discriminatory over that which is demanding
to be the forefront of our focus—-all of which is not the true essence of Christ
nor of Christ Himself….

sanctification of time

“My soul is like a house, small for you to enter,
but I pray you to enlarge it.
It is in ruins, but I ask you to remake it.
It contains much that you will not be pleased to see:
this I know and do not hide.
But who is to rid it of these things?
There is no one but you.”

Augustine of Hippo


(purple salvia / Julie Cook / 2017)

The act of faith that gives the time and space to such contemplation says that
no time is wasted in which God is served.
The service of God is the sanctification of time.
No time is sanctified more than when it is a pure gift, given in faith with no other
expectation than to “be” in the presence of God.

Gregory Stack
Archbishop of Cardiff
Excerpt from the book In God’s Hands

I’ve got this

It is no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’
You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.

Winston Churchill

It was character that got us out of bed, commitment that moved us into action,
and discipline that enabled us to follow through.

Zig Ziglar

DSCN4276
(a great black wasp feeds on the sedum / Julie Cook / 2016)

I am often heard to quip…
“I’ve got this”

As in…
“don’t worry”
“not to fret”
“I’ve got it all figured out…”
“and totally under control”

Which, depending on the situation and the occasion, may or may not always be true…

However despite all events to the contrary,
I’ll defiantly say it anyway…

“I’ve got this”

Regardless of…
and despite of…
the situation or circumstance…
I’ve got this…

For it is my seemingly in-control demeanor that will assuredly reassure
whomever I’m having to reassure…
“not to fret,
“not to worry…”
“I’ve got this”

All of which, as of late, has been Dad.

Every question, every worry, every skepticism ladened protest is
immediately met with my reassuring…
“Dad, I’ve got this….”

And with the utterance of that one simple sentence,
he usually calms down, settles down and quiets his fretful angst.

It matters not whether he knows that maybe, just maybe, I really don’t
“have it” under control…
or whether he knows if I really do know where it is I’m going or
what it is exactly that I’m doing…

Just hearing me say those three simple words… puts his worried mind at ease…

Yet despite my pretense of assurance and false offering of security…
I know that there is One who actually does truly know…
That there is One who actually does have it all totally under control.
One who actually does have it all figured out…
One who actually knows the only real Way…
One who actually knows the real Truth…

No fudging
No bravado
No stretching of the facts…
No false offerings while merely hoping for the best…

For it is found in His words,
in His reassurance,
His constant state of being in control…
That is where it is that I find my comfort, my hope and my salvation…

For When the Lord God says, “I’ve got this”
I know that without a doubt He does indeed,
truly have this…..

“There is no one like the God of Jeshurun,
who rides across the heavens to help you
and on the clouds in his majesty.
The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
He will drive out your enemies before you…”

Deuteronomy 33:26-27

Not alone

God is not in heaven: he is hanging on the cross.
Love is not an otherworldly, intruding, self-asserting power—
and to meditate on the cross can mean to take leave of that dream

Dorothee Sölle
On This Gallows

RSCN2923
(blooming wild shrubs / Julie Cook / 2016)

There is a sobering reaccounting of a tale by Elie Wiesel, a survivor of Auschwitz turned author and activist, taken from his book Night.

The tale is found within Dorothee Sölle’s reflection On This Gallows and is here, paraphrased…

Mr. Wiesel recounts one of many tragic episodes…of how several SS guards rounded up the camp’s prisoners and hung three of their members in front of them…for no apparent reason but that they could.
Two of the victims were grown men and the third was but a boy.

Mr Wiesel notes how quickly the two men died but not so for the young boy.
He struggled and suffered for nearly thirty minutes before succumbing to the slow torturous strangulation.
As Mr Wiesel stood, witnessing this numbing atrocity in a long line of atrocities, he hears a voice from behind him coming from the assembled crowd…
“Where is God? Where is he?”
As the boy struggles, he hears again…
“Where is God now!”

Mr Wiesel and the other prisoners were gathered to witness another round of senseless deaths.
But this time it all seems so much more barbaric, completely incomprehensible.
A boy slowly and horrifically dies…
A single vocalized lamentation, representing the silent question screaming in the hearts of all those gathered…how, why, where…. is offered up to the empty void of hopelessness…
As the single answer is heard echoing within Mr Wiesel’s head…

“Here he is—He is hanging here on this gallows…”

And so He is…
He is here now…just as He was then…

God is indeed in the midst of each and every horror and atrocity.

He is present in each and every lonely pain filled moment of agony and emptiness.
He is every bit a part of our struggles as we are ourselves…

He is not watching coldly from some remote vantage point as so many imagine.
Not as some maniacal puppeteer who finds sick and twisted pleasure watching the suffering of those so far removed.
He is not far removed…

Quite the contrary…

He is in the unimaginable
the unspeakable
the horrific
the sorrow
the agony…

He was given up…
to suffer
to share alongside us in our suffering
to hang on a cross
to die along side each one of us…

As we in turn, are now allowed to rise with Him…
In His final vanquishing of death…

I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

Psalm 118:17

Practicing the presence of God

“I must first have the sense of God’s possession of me
before I can have the sense of His presence with me.”

Watchman Nee

DSCN0335
(remains of St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

A.W. Tozer tells us that to the convinced Christian, “the practice of the presence of God” consists not of projecting an imaginary object from within his own mind and then seeking to realize its presence; it is rather to recognize the real presence of the One whom all sound theology declare to be already there, an objective entity, existing apart from any apprehension of Him on the part of His creatures.
The resultant experience is not visionary but real.

The world would have us all believe otherwise…

It is however our faith, our belief, our experience, our relationship that teaches us, tells us, assures us that His presence is indeed real…without doubt….
yet…we are left with a nagging…
what then…?

The question begs….
What then are we do with and in this realness that is a distinct part of our God?
What of the intimacy of the relationship?
The going deeper?
The nurturing?
The growth?
The sharing?

Is merely accepting, believing and moving forward enough?
Is that all there is or all there should be…
to believe in, pray to, to worship…
the Great I AM, Elohim, YHVH, Jehovah, Yahweh..
The name that truly, we the created, are not worthy, not equal to, not “friends” with…to utter.

To approach with reverence and awe
To be silent and still
To empty ourselves of everything…
of the distractions
the preoccupations
the materialism
the worry
the fear
the fretting
the lamenting
the sorrowfulness

To become wholly empty…
making a space within a space that is open and vast
Hungry and yearning
Desiring, wanting, needing…
Needing so desperately that it hurts…
Just as a wound would cause pain…then ache…so does the empty heart…

Oh to be filled with the only thing that can soothe, refresh, renew and heal
The One who yearns to fill that space
Yet will not reveal Himself, unless we come before Him, in total submisson.
No bravado, no ego, no toughness, no holier than thou, no anger, no resentment,
no bitterness, no pride, no self….
Only humble emptiness…longing to be filled by the One who longs for communion
with the created….


And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

Oh but to glimpse a mere wisp of your Being

“…My unassisted heart is barren clay,
Which of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,
Which quickens only where Thou say’st it may;
Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way,
No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead….”

Excerpt from Michaelangelo’s sonnet,
To the Supreme Being
as translated by William Wordsworth

DSCN1752
(looking off the shoreline cliffs of Gleann Cholm Cille out to the mighty northern Atlantic, County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015–a picture which cannot do justice to the sheer overwhelming and endless and uncontainable landscape which is this island Nation)

If we are fortunate enough, perhaps attuned enough, aware enough, enlightened enough, still enough, quiet enough, open enough, low enough, sad enough, hurting enough, joyful enough, mad enough, young enough, old enough, happy enough, skeptical enough, believe enough, doubt enough, love enough…
At some point during our lifetime we may actually find ourselves coming close within the very proximity of the sacred space of the very presence of the Divine.

“Oh rubbish” you incredulously scoff.
“For none of us are so worthy….
None of us so believe…
None of us so care…
That is stuff of mere legends and fairytales..
Gobblety gook of the weak-minded and illogical.”

Yet it happens.

Each and everyday, all over this planet, it happens.
God, The Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is felt, known, heard and or glimpsed.

And for those who have caught that rare and mystical glimpse of His Wonder, the resulting impression is palpably consuming.

To you my friend, this may all sound like mere poppycock and the stuff of mythes and fables, but to those who have bushed against such a Force, the moment was indeed very real, very overwhelming, very moving and dare we say, life changing….

Receptivity.

The idea or concept of our being open and willing to receive.

A.W. Tozer so skillfully explains this notion:
Receptivity is not a single thing; it is a compound rather, a blending of several elements within the soul. It is an affinity for, a bent toward, a sympathetic response to, a desire to have. From this it may be gathered that is can be present in degrees, that we may have little or more or less, depending upon the individual. It may be increased by exercise or destroyed by neglect. It is not a sovereign and irresistible force which comes upon us as seizure from above. It is a gift of God, indeed, but one which must be recognized and cultivated as any other gift if it is to realize the purpose for which it was given.
…Let us say it again: The Universal Presence is a fact. God is here. The whole universe is alive with His life. And He is no strange or foreign God, but the familiar Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love has for these thousands of years enfolded the sinful race of men. And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us. We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!)”

For some of the receptive mortals among us, it comes from the simple lyrics of a song.
For others it is a passage from a book, a poem, a story…
Still for others it is a view, a sound, a slight touch of the arm…

It is however, whatever it may be, that which reaches down into a place that was thought to be impenetrable.
Down into a heart sealed off long ago to such “nonsense” and idle “feelings” of weakness and imagination.

I’ve known such a passing moment.
It has stopped me dead in my tracks and breeched the thick stone wall of my heart–
the one that was sealed from unnecessary hurt, disappointment, and disillusion.
The unworthy vessel which is full of the stuff of self centeredness, loathing and rebellion.
The wounded spirit of the abandoned baby who has spent a lifetime quieting the yearning need of being unconditionally loved, held and forever healed.

And for each time I have bushed near IT’s presence, the presence of the Holy, I AM, as IT passes by my mortal being, I am consumed but for a nano second in time. Everything and everyone stands still in that moment which is less than a breath or the beat of a heart.
Yet it is known and it is real…

Excerpt lyrics from the song The Calling
by Aaron Kamin and Alex Band

If I could, then I would,
I’ll go wherever you will go
Way up high or down low, I’ll go wherever you will go

And maybe, I’ll find out
A way to make it back someday
To watch you…..

Run away with my heart
Run away with my hope
Run away with my love