guarding faith from assault

“When we attend to the needs of those in want,
we give them what is theirs, not ours.
More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”

Pope Saint Gregory the Great


(shelf fungus / Julie Cook / 2019)

Some people who think themselves naturally gifted don’t want to touch either
philosophy or logic.
They don’t even want to learn natural science.
They demand bare faith alone—as if they wanted to harvest grapes right away without putting
any work into the vine.
We must prune, dig, trellis, and do all the other work.
I think you’ll agree the pruning knife, the pickaxe, and the farmer’s tools are necessary
for growing grapevines, so that they will produce edible fruit.
And as in farming, so in medicine: the one who has learned something is the one who has
practiced the various lessons, so that he can cultivate or heal.
And here, too, I say you’re truly educated if you bring everything to bear on the truth.
Taking what’s useful from geometry, music, grammar, and philosophy itself,
you guard the Faith from assault.”

St. Clement of Alexandria, p. 13
An Excerpt From
A Year with the Church Fathers

redeemed from paradox

“Without the Way, there is no going,
Without the Truth, there is no knowing,
Without the Life, there is no living.

Thomas à Kempis


(a persistent strangler of fall hangs on / Julie Cook / 2017)

“But he never said to people, ‘Come as you are and stay as you are.’
His promise was always that all were welcome –
but that they would be radically changed.
All need to be reborn.
Jesus does not affirm us in our lifestyles.
He redeems us from them.”

David Robertson

There is really so much to say.

Too much really…about so very much.

About all of this really.

As in…there is so very much that needs sorting, weeding out and pruning…

Such as those overt ‘he said, she said’ issues taking place daily….

The egregious name calling of those we do not see eye to eye with….
nor actually even see…yet everyone feels free and safe to use all manner
of vile ugliness, rather gleefully and clandestinely, behind these screens of ours
as we joyously lash out…..

There is tolerance of the intolerant and intolerance of the tolerant.

One no longer knows which one is best to be…tolerant or intolerant…
perhaps just both.

Why is it that at “this time of year” we hear about a spike in crime…
often violent crime.

Why is it that at “this time of year” we hear of what seems to be an escalation
in the sorrowful and tragic…that of accidents, death, fights, wrecks,
abuse, overdoses, fires…etc

Yet why is it that “at this time of year” we actually can witness a softer,
kinder, more generous and giving world….

A paradox found in the juxtaposition of man.

All the while there is some sort of misnomer running around out there that if
you don’t open your arms to embrace everyone and everything….
then there is something terribly wrong with you and you are made
to wear the Scarlet letter P….

P because you are phobic… homophobic…or maybe transphobic.

P because you’re just paranoid…you think that the Right and Left are
collectively out to get you…and maybe they are….

P because you’re just proud…a little too proud…as a good many of the
proud and arrogant have suddenly tumbled from their thrones.

P because you’re just pissed off,
mad as hell at all the fake news, lies, angry rhetoric, news outlets turned
tabloid junkies, anarchists burning down the towns…
mad at the progressive left who want nothing more than to destroy you and
your little corner of the world….
so no, you’re not going to take it any longer…

And right when someone hears or reads that you’ve just said as much,
you are now brandished as an extremist who should be locked up…

Maybe you should be locked up because you cracked and own a gun…
never mind all the uncracked folks out there who own guns….

Maybe you want to celebrate Christmas but since it is Christmas, you can’t call it
Christmas….
Yet you are repeatedly told to buy, buy, buy….for Christmas.
The same Christmas you’re not allowed to call Christmas.

Maybe you want to celebrate Hanukah because you’re Jewish…but a lot of folks
out there blame Jews for everything so maybe it’s best not to light the candles.

So now it is P because it is all so precarious…
especially since our vision is no longer clear.

It’s difficult crossing the narrow log spanning the deep chasm when
one’s vision is clouded…clouded by the upside down lies being offered
as what is true.

Yet how is one to know truth verse lie…
Or do we simply believe the loudest voice?

Across the chasm on the far side, across the narrow log, a tiny lone light
is lit…
And you know deep down that it is a light offering clarity to the obscured….

For from out of all of our darkness, a great Light has shone…

All that was, all that you have known, will be no more…
You cannot exist in the paradox and juxtaposition…
caught in the cycle of in and out, yes and no, left and right, up and down…
nor can you abide in the acceptance of what you know to be false yet
are constantly told that this false is absolutley true.

As all the little truths are merely by-products of the fickleness of the times…

Yet the question is asked of you….
Will you be able to ford the chasm on the narrow log, pressing ahead
toward the lone light offering clear vision or do you prefer to remain where
you are in a world turned upside down and mad upon itself?

Are you happy with what you are hearing and seeing day in and day out
as everything you once knew and thought is now turned inside out?

We are living a paradox and conundrum yet yearn for the clarity and light…

And I don’t see why the choice needs to be so difficult.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made;
without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and though the world was made through him,
the world did not recognize him.
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.
Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God—
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband’s will,
but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:1-5, 9:14)

To prune or to be pruned. . .

For before the harvest, as soon as the bud blossoms And the flower becomes a ripening grape, Then He will cut off the sprigs with pruning knives And remove and cut away the spreading branches.
Isaiah 18:5

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(pruning a few young shoots off the new apple trees / Julie Cook / 2015)

If the truth be told, I’m not a very good gardener.
Oh I love to dig, to pot, to re-pot, to plant, and on occasion, to weed.
But the pruning part, well, that’s another story entirely.

It’s like when we’ve planted our vegetable gardens over the past several years. . . the nice little seed packet of squash or zucchini directs one to put in 4 to 6 seeds in a little mound.
The directions further instruct the gardener that, as the tiny sprouts emerge,
one is to pull out all but 2.
Why not just plant 2 to begin with?? Why the sacrifice??
I know, I know. . .you’ve got to factor in the variables like some seeds not germinating, seeds being whisked off by opportunistic birds, or just plain ol bad seed.

Less is more, more often than not, when it comes to gardening.
If 5 squash seeds are allowed to sprout and grow, the plants will overcrowd one another as they vie for growing space. The blooms will be few. The plants will fight for nutrients, water, sun and the squash will be small, if the little plants “fruit” at all. . .
Still I just can’t bring myself to pluck away a seemingly healthy little seedling.

Same thing with my fruit trees and pecan trees.
A good looking branch to be, being cut away, will help with top growth, spreading of the canopy,
balancing the shape, ward off insect infestations, and aid in fruit production. . .
Sadly, for me, it’s just so terribly hard to look at a healthy young branch or a dependable old branch while holding a pair of pruning shears in one’s hand.
It’s as if I want to tell the tree, “it’s for your own good.” I want tell the little branch “you’ve got to take one for the team. . .” and of course, “I’m sorry” as I close my eyes preparing to cut or whack.

A good gardener knows that one has to sacrifice a little to in order get a lot. Again, “less is more” sort of thinking.

People who deal with wildlife populations refer to it as culling. They have to “thin” the herds. It’s done for the wellbeing of the entire herd. Too large of a population is more prone to devastating disease as well as destructive in-breeding.
Just knowing I could never look a Caribou or a deer in the eye and say, well, “it’s just not your lucky day. . .”

And yet these sorts of decisions have to be made by farmers, ranchers, wildlife management specialists, biologists, agriculturalists all the time. Even Vets know when it’s time to “put down” a beloved pet whose time draws nigh for whatever reason—
However I’m not going there today—Not an option. . .

And so as I made my way to the apple trees, with shears in hand, I was poignantly reminded of the pruning that I, as a child of God who is the Master Creator, must constantly undergo–as in He is constantly having to prune me, we, us.

It’s hard and not always pleasant for either Pruner and prunee.
I would imagine He must not always be fond of having to pluck, cut, whittle, pull and even re-pot as He knows that such upkeep will not be easy on us. He does so, however, with a loving eye turned to the potential of what will be. He sees ahead and knows what must be removed in order for us to receive the abundant blessings of Life as we are to, in turn, pass blessings on to those we meet along our journey of growing.

He sees how we’ve grown leggy, how we’ve spread out too much, and how we’ve grown too dense and thick. We become non productive, root bound, we become diseased, we wither and fail to thrive. . .

We are often left feeling stunted, betrayed, lost, hurt, abandoned and alone.

Yet just as a gardener must prune his plants and trees in order to yield the proverbial bumper crop, so too must God, the Creator of the Universe, prune the children He loves.
He does so, as the wise gardener He is, out of a deep and tender abiding love for you, me, we. . .

Here’s to pruning, weeding, sorting as well as sprouting, thriving and growing. . .

The planting season

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.”
― Robert Louis Stevenson

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(a newly planted petunia / Julie Cook / 2015)

Many years ago when I was a mere wide-eyed impetuous young fire cracker,
I spent a great deal of energy wishing I was 10 years further down the road.
I believed I had much to do and I was chomping at the bit to do it.
Anxious,
Anticipatory,
Impatient.

Could God not see my energy, my enthusiasm, my willingness.
I was ready.
Why was He not?

College was frustrating me.
I didn’t know how best to direct my path.
I was more than willing to chuck it all out the window, if God would just point the way.
I knew I had much to do, it’s just that I wasn’t exactly sure that I actually knew what it was,
I was to be doing.
I was in a bit of a desert, or actually stuck on some lone island–languishing and unnoticed.

I wrote countless letters to my poor godpoppa, lamenting my seemingly unproductive position.
I was the anxious kid on the bench with hand jutting up and down,
waving wildly high, “put me in coach”
I was ready, willing and more than sick and tired of waiting.
What in the heck was the hold up??!!

As I’m sure all those letters upon letters from an angst ridden college freshman, sporting rose colored lenses, whose time truly had not yet come as the body may have been willing but, in blessed hindsight, the mind was truly not yet fully developed. . .must have driven him crazy.

He was a wise man.
He was a learned man.
He was a busy man.
He was an important man.
And yet, he would always take time from his most consuming day, stopping all his important things long enough to appease an unripe fruit whose mantra was over and over. . .
When
Where
Why. . .

Found within one of the loving letters written in return was a single key sentence. . .
“There is one thing you need to do, bloom where you are planted, do that one thing you don’t want to do—but do it for me.”

I can remember anxiously finding his letter sitting in my little mail box. I was so excited hurrying back to my dorm room clutching the most wonderfully official looking letter. I just knew within the envelope the key to my future was ready and waiting. His words were always truth personified in my book, if he said it, it was so.
Reading feverishly I came to that single sentence.
“Bloom where I was planted”. . .hummmmmm. . .
But as he added, “do this one thing you don’t much want to do, but do it for me”
I shrugged and resigned myself to holding tight.

And now all these many many years later. . .
an entire lifetime later, I still consider that simple little phrase. . .
Bloom where you are planted

God knows where we are.
He puts us where He wants us.
Often frustratingly to Him, we usually take it upon ourselves to move and relocate–most often prematurely.
However, no matter where we wend up, we must remember God originally planted the seed.
He planted the seed long before we were even born.
The seed has to be watered, fertilized, nurtured, and allowed to grow.
Sometimes the seedling is moved and transplanted. . .no matter, as He continues
Watching
Tending,
Pruning,
Warding off insects and disease.
Without warning and miraculously one magical day,
seemingly out of the blue, a bloom bursts forth.
Hopeful,
Beautiful,
Joyful,
Stately. . .
We are planted and we will in turn bloom—
It’s all just a matter of God’s good timing. . .

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.
1 Corinthians 7:17

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(forsythia / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(tulip magnolia blooms / Julie Cook / 2015)

To prune and to be pruned

“All gardens, even the most native and naturalistic, benefit from the hand of an artful pruner. In this season where the garden is poised for the green flood of springtime, remember that our gardens are co-creations, shared with mother earth. And like any good mother, she expects you to tidy up your room. Now get clipping!”
Tom Spencer, Soul of the Garden

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(the sweet demure bloom of the Quince / Julie Cook / 2014)

To prune a garden, shrubbery or a life takes careful thought and consideration.
It is a task not for the faint at heart nor is it a task for the weary.
It is a task for those possessing patience and for those with an eye for what may be.
It is not a task for the quick minded, the “hurry up and be done” mind.
Rather, pruning, is a task which requires time and thought.

Oh it’s easy to whack and hack here and there— cutting away willy nilly for the pure sake of cutting.
Chop off this and cut away that—be gone overgrown and growth!
Take it all off, to the ground I say–be gone eyesore and out of control!
Take this and take that, you, the unsightly nuisance of my world

And the litany of no more goes on and on. . .
No, pruning is not a chore for those whose vision is simply of the here and now. . .
. . .For pruning is a deliberate act of the future.
It is accomplished with care, concern and hope.

Even the tools of choice must be considered carefully and artfully.
Does one choose the more controlled and deliberate instruments of cutting which offer the ability to chip away slowly with precision and direction?

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Or does one, whose main objective is merely to obliterate what is perceived to be the immediate problem—that of the surface only, choose something lethally quick yet destructive? A device which says to its victim “be gone and be done”—a device which takes away everything– leaving only the bare and barren behind with the fleeting backhanded thought that things will surely come back just as before?

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A loving Creator, who looks out upon the broken landscape of our lives, surveys much which needs pruning and weeding.
No small task.
Not a task for the faint hearted or weary indeed.
For He is neither.

The pruning and weeding of our lives is skillfully accomplished by the hand of One who loves tenderly and deeply, yet also fiercely. It is a task mastered by One who is not afraid to inflict the initial pain which is a result of the initial pruning because it is He who has the eye for what will be.
He is the One who sees the possibilities for perfect growth. That which was once overgrown and out of control can be and will be tamed, trained, thinned and trimmed all by the loving hands of this Master Gardener.

There is pain in the pruning by the hand of the Creator. Whereas the pain may be physical, it is also mystical. One which burns yet is tender and sweet. . .one which seems long lasting yet is gone in the blink of an eye. For no temporal pain caused by the pruning of affliction and suffering lasts an eternity.

It is the eye of the Master who sees that which He loves, drawing it ever closer to His hands.
He tenderly trims and cuts—He staves the oozing and bleeding, gently binding the wounds.
His vision reaches beyond time, for He sees to the moments of regrowth and reemergence, as the tender new shoots, slowly at first and ever so gently, begin to curve upward.

And as He looks upon His handiwork, this Master Gardener smiles, as that which was out of control and overgrown, is now neat and tidy. The weeds which choked out the tender shoots are now dug up and gone. The tangled mess of branches and sticks are now neatly cut back. Miraculously the once hidden tiny buds, receiving the full warmth of the sun, now joyously begin to reopen in all their splendor and gratitude.

All is well, all is well. . .all is now, finally well, with my soul.