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

alas, life is now a living satire

Dennis: Come and see the violence inherent in the system.
Help! Help! I’m being repressed!
King Arthur: Bloody peasant!
Dennis: Oh, what a giveaway!
Did you hear that?
Did you hear that, eh?
That’s what I’m on about!
Did you see him repressing me?
You saw him, didn’t you?
(lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail)


(Monty Python and the Holy Grail / the killer rabbit scene)

Way back in 1975 I can remember going to the theater to see a rather bizarre movie.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

At the time I was not up on my British comedies and was unfamiliar with Monty Python
let alone their often avant garde and most irreverent humor

As a young girl, I was always more serious than silly so the often blatant silly
comedic humor was lost on me as I found it just too…well, silly.

Having a keen interest in history…
which first started out with a love of history of heritage…
of which took me back to roots found buried deep in the soil of the British
and Irish Isles, coupled with my often vivid imagination…
well, I could envision myself mucking about with a metal detector trying to locate Excalibur, believing Arthur to have been once a living breathing king, I would then
be claiming that mythical sword in the name of some long lost relative.

So when I first watched Monty Python’s take on Arthur and the quest of the Holy Grail..
well I wasn’t sure how I felt about it or what to make of it.

But one thing was certain, I did develop a life long enjoyment from watching
John Cleese in action.

Yet what brought Monty Python to the forefront of thought today was not some fun or
amusing sketch I glanced while perusing the web but rather it came from the latest blog offering by the Scottish Pastor David Robertson.

Perhaps an odd coupling….

His most recent posting is actually an article written for Premiere Christianity
and is written in response to an article about a troubling incident where a church school there in the UK has deemed a Christian organization of being, well, too Christian to be
permitted in a church school.

And so here is where we que the insulting French knight who sadly is not showing up.

As in here is where the overt satire of the likes of Monty Python deviates to reality…
A sort of surrealism that just happens to be real….
In such that one just can’t make this kind of stuff up….
as in it is just so over the top and so so sad and so so troubling and ridiculous
all rolled into one, that one is left standing mouth agape.

A Christian group has been banned from a Church school because a few parents have complained that Christian teaching is extremist. Premier Christianity asked me to write a response – you can get the original here – (some of the comments afterwards from people who profess to be Christian are quite chilling – not least the two professing Christians arguing that to ask for a Christian group to be able to speak at a Christian school is intolerant, discriminatory and against the teaching of Jesus!)

As a retired educator this story certainly had my attention.
Now whereas I spent my career in the often anemic sector of public education that
basks in its secularization and the separation of church and state–
so much so that there are districts who have told their educators that they may not
have a Bible in the classroom but an Islamic prayer rug is ok….
if that makes any sense….
so I understand the raised eyebrows over religious groups coming in
to address the students….
But when an actual church school claims a Christian organization is just too Christian..
well we’ve got bigger troubles then I ever imagined…

3) There is a patronising and dangerous ideology that is being used to teach our children.

Education used to be about teaching children how to think. Now it is about teaching them what to think. And nothing must be allowed to deviate from that. Instead of education our schools are being turned into centres of social engineering where the secular Brave New World is indoctrinated into our children. Our children are being taught that marriage has nothing to do with gender. And now they are being taught Queer theory; that gender either doesn’t exist, or has nothing to do with biology, or is ‘fluid’. Now there’s a really harmful and dangerous ideology!

And the good Pastor goes on to then offer the following points…
(you’ll have to click the link below in order to read the commentary for
each of the points)

4) Those of us who warned that the introduction of Same Sex Marriage would quickly move from being a permissive to being a prohibitive decree have been proven right.

5) The Church only has itself to blame –

Jesus wept.

Christ wept over Jerusalem.
We must weep at the insanity that is gripping the UK, *[and might I add the US]
of which this incident is only the tip of the iceberg.
Christ’s sternest warning was for those who would harm any of “these little ones”.
Maybe its time for the Church to reflect the priorities of the Christ who said
“let the little children come to me,
and do not forbid them”?
Maybe for the sake of the children we should come out of our own comfort
zones and challenge the new State-imposed fundamentalist doctrines that
cause so much harm. If we are to be accused of extremism,
then let’s make sure that it is the kind of extreme and courageous love
that Jesus showed.
Whatever the cost.

* my little input

So just when we thought the likes of Monty Python to be just a mere comedic group
of both stage and theater, we see that they are actually becoming quite real…
quite real indeed….

Now teaching Christian doctrine at a church school is ‘extremist’. Move over Monty Python.

You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!…
You are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful,
but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

Matt. 23:24, 27

Reasoning of the what ifs

“And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human
history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—
the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God
which will make him happy.”

C.S. Lewis


(a lone pigeon surveys the surf / Rosemary Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2017)

‎”Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind.
In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking.
It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen,
for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way,
this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought.
But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true?
It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself
will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking,
of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism,
and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else.
Unless I believe in God, I cannot believe in thought:
so I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”

C.S. Lewis

In determining relationships we must begin somewhere.
There must be somewhere a fixed center against which everything else is measured,
where the law of relativity does not enter and we can say “IS” and make no allowances.
Such a center is God. When God would make His Name known to mankind He could find
no better word than “I AM.”
When He speaks in the first person He says,
“I AM”; when we speak of Him we say, “He is”;
when we speak to Him we say, “Thou art.”
Everyone and everything else measures from that fixed point.
“I am that I am,” says God,
“I change not.”

As the sailor locates his position on the sea by “shooting” the sun,
so we may get our moral bearings by looking at God. We must begin with God.
We are right when and only when we stand in a right position relative to God,
and we are wrong so far and so long as we stand in any other position.

A. W. Towzer

diluted

“The holy hour for Germans will be at hand when the symbol of their reawakening–
the flag with the swastika—
has become the only true confession of faith in the Reich.”

Alfred Rosenberg


(a sanderling drips water from his bill / Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

Always with the passing of time, words and thoughts that once had been pointed, hard, difficult and even monstrous…take on a softening, a smoothing and even entirely
different meanings then their original intent.

That is not necessarily a good thing but rather a result of time….
because time has a way of diluting truth and clouding the mind.

We see a lot of this sort of thing happening today in our own current time.
We hear words that once meant one thing now meaning something else entirely as
new generations decode a past into something else totally other than what was an
original intent.

We hear a lot of folks today throwing around words such as fascism, Nazi, swastika, tolerant, intolerant, socialist, ideology…to name but a few now oddly shapened words.
And chances are most of the folks throwing around these odd words aren’t old enough to
remember the time in which such words first came into being.

So with the passage of time these previous words, now oddly shapened, have become diluted…their meanings today are entirely different to a new generation who has added them to their current caustic vocabulary.

Our current history lessons, having grossly failed the original context of each word,
as well as the generations of the up and coming who are grasping blindly
and wildly at said words, risk being rewritten forever if those of us who know better and who know the Truth fail to tell it.

Ignorance has mingled with ego and bravado creating a toxic ill informed cocktail.
As sadly these current times do not seem to notice their mirrored image to that
of an equally caustic, angry and bravado laced time…

In his book The Book Thieves, Anders Rydell does an excellent job of laying out the historical facts more succinctly than any current US High School history book that
covers the rise of the NSDAP, or what is commonly
referred to as the Nazi party, in Germany pre WWII.

His numerical facts, while overwhelming and staggering, are painfully precise.
His timeline of events is pinpoint accurate.
Such precision, as is found in his tale, is both a wonder and a stalk reminder of the darkest days of the twentieth century yet is purely a tale recounting the
plundering of books.

With the very word plundered / plundering being far from today’s current vocabulary.

For in our current minds, it is hard to phantom the complete wiping out of
libraries or collections of books when we have grown accustomed to cheap paperback
romance novels being picked up at the corner drug store to the more recent vanguard of electronic books….

To our modern minds, books are basically an endless commodity…
for they are as far as the internet may reach.
Meaning that to this current generation, the notion of an entire book collection
being wiped from the planet, rendering various texts more or less extinct, is incomprehensible.

Because surely you can find it on the internet right?

Yet there was a time when books were investments, sacred, and treasured.
Numbers of various writings limited.
There was no endless supply.

It is difficult for our modern minds to comprehend authorities entering into our homes while carrying away our books.
Important papers, valuables…yes…but our books? No.

What if the books by your bedside table were suddenly gone, considered
contraband against the State?
Your family Bible being considered dangerous or even insubordinate against the State.
Impossible you say…but there was a time when that was more fact than fiction.
As it would behoove us to remember it is continuing to this very day…

“Until 1939 the Nazis had devoted themselves to fighting their internal enemies,
such as German Jews, socialists, Communists, liberal, Freemasons and Catholics.
This ideological war was now to fan out across Europe in the wake of the Wehrmacht’s
victorious armies.”

(p.104)

So we see that Nazi Germany was two things.

It was a military force as well as an ideological force.
There were generals and soldiers who fought with guns, plans and tanks
and there were those who fought with thoughts and ideas…

“The Nazis waged their war on two levels: first, by conventional means, with their
armies pitched against other in military conflict, and second, by war against the ideological opposition.
The latter was not a conflict that took place on the battlefield;
it was rather a silent war of disappearances, terror, torture, murder and
deportation, whose frontline soldiers were the Gestapo, the SD, and other parts of
the regime’s terror machine.
It was a war in which the intention was not to vanquish but to liquidate.”

(P 104)

“To form the generation that would lead the Third Reich into the future, the
traditional school system was not enough.
In order to create a fundamentally new human being, a new kind of school would be required.”

(p. 88)

“Under the Nazis, the classroom became a microcosm of the totalitarian state.”
(p. 88)

As I read Rydell’s meticulous tale I understood that the Nazi war machine was more than
Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler, Heinrich Himmler or Herman Goering and their insatiable appetites for apparently world domination, but rather there was a even a more sinister
individual involved.

One may even speculate that Alfred Rosenberg was just as instrumental in the
rise of the Nazi’s mania machine as much as Adolph Hiter.
Rosenberg was the father of the ideology and philosophy behind the National Socialist movement, whereas Hitler was the outward visionary.
It was Rosenberg who laid the structural foundation.
Yet with each man being equally as deranged in their desires for a new Germany.

However we of the modern world scratch our heads as we wonder as to how a Nation that
was considered to be the most culturally developed and brilliant of nations could
succumb to the grandiose vision of madmen.

“When the Nazis came to power, the German school and university system
was considered the best in the world.
No other school system had produced more Nobel Prize winners.
By 1933 Germany had won thirty three Nobel Prizes, while the United States had won
only eight”

(p.86)

I am reminded of the words of The Reverend Gavin Ashenden when he was recently
asked about the rising issue of transgenderism now seen taking place
in primary schools across Great Britain.
He noted that many people ask what is the big deal.
So what if a girl of 8 decides she shall be a boy…?
What is the big deal if a 6 year old boy decides he wants to be a girl?

Rev Ashenden quickly warns us that the big deal is when the human imagination
begins to be distorted.
When we create a world based on our narcissism and idolatry of self
we challenge what God has given us…challenging the Godly as being utterly wrong.
We are telling the God of all creation that what He created was a mistake and wrong.

So as we are left balancing the chasm of time,
keeping one foot in the past with one foot in the future,
wondering what the past has to do with the now, Rydell reminds us that
those who wish to dominate do so by convincing others what it is they are to
both think and believe to be truth….

But we must always remember from whence comes our Truth….

“The danger of taking a one-sided perspective on the Nazi’s relationship to
knowledge is that it risks obscuring something even more dangerous:
The desire of totalitarian ideology to rule not only over people but also their
thoughts.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory,
are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 3:18

the written word

“What is more frightening a totalitarian regime’s destruction of
knowledge or its hankering for it?”

Anders Rydell


(sunset over the Gulf, Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

I’ve come across a most intriguing story.
It is a tale of war, ideologies, plundering, destroying, recovering…
with an eventual attempt to reunite as it were.
And very much a true story.

It is a tale as told in Andres Rydell’s book The Book Thieves
The Nazi Looting of Europe’s Libraries And the Race to Return A literary Inheritance

Rydell offers in the forward the idea that “In our time, the book has remained
a symbolic value that is almost spiritual.
Discarding books is still considered sacrilegious.
The burning of books is one of the strongest symbolic actions there is,
correlating with cultural destruction.
While mainly identified with the Nazi book pyres of 1933,
the symbolic destruction of literature is as old as the book itself.

The strong relationship between humans and books relates to the role of the written word in the dissemination of knowledge, feeling, and experience over
thousands of years.
Gradually the written word replaced the oral tradition. We could preserve more
and look further back in time.
We could satisfy our never quite satisfied hunger for more.
…Our simultaneously emotional and spiritual relationship to the book is
about how the book “speaks to us.”
It is a medium connection us to other people both living and dead.

A year before my godfather died, he had me come over in order to help him sort through
his belongings.
He and his wife were soon to move to a much smaller place as the issue of
each ones health, both physical and cognitive, was rapidly failing,
and he was under the clock to purge a lifetime of work and living.

To me this aging man was more than a symbolic godfather.
He had been a priest for over 50 years so he was actually more spiritual father than anything else.

While I was sitting sprawled out on the floor of his study, sorting through files,
DVDs and a mountain of papers, he offered me any of the books that I could carry
from his myriad of covered shelves.

Here was once a widely renowned man in his profession.
A long sought after lecturer and author.
His collection of books was both wide and diverse.
Yet it was to a small copy of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol that drew my eye.
“Jules, if you want it, take it” he nonchalantly told me.
I opened the book and inside the cover was written in fine fountain pen lettering
the follwing inscription:
“To David B. Collins
From Aunt Emma
Dec 25th 1930”

“But,” I stammered…. only for him to reassure me, “take it.”

The book is an illustrated version of the Dickens classic with this particular
edition being published in 1927.
And it had obviously been a Christmas gift to a nephew of 8 from a loving aunt.

Once home, I thumbed through the book.
There was a card, what I first thought was a yellowed notecard, placed between pages
222 and 223, the point in the story when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come had taken Scrooge to the churchyard in order to see his own grave marker.

The card was however an altar card from the chapel of The University of the South,
Sewanee, TN—the school that Dean Collins had attended for seminary as well as where he
served as rector.

I imagine the card marked material once used in a sermon.

I share this little story with you because it is just one small fragmented
tale illustrating the importance of not just a story in a book but rather of the book itself… and of the line of people the little book has traversed—
It is really the story a continuum…the continuum from once a loving aunt to
her 8 year old little nephew…and later from aging old man to his equally aging
spiritual God daughter….

But the giving will not have stopped with me…that’s how it is with books.
It’s merely resting for a while before, at some point in the future,
it travels once again,
For we come to understand that books often have a life of their own…

And so what the world witnessed with the Nazis and their fervor to rid themselves
of a certain group of people, with their ultimate hope being to actually rid
the entire world of these people—it was not enough to merely take their belongings, especially their books, and to destroy them or hide them away.

Nor was it enough that they take these very people and burn them, hiding them away…
But the key rather for the Nazis was to take the very essence of these
‘loathsome people’—with that essence being these people’s actual written word.

And if the Nazis could erase their words, then these people would in turn,
cease to exist— or better yet in the minds of the Nazis, cease to have ever
existed at all…..as in a total wiping clean of the slate of the very existence.

Because as Rydell points out “whoever owns the word has the power to not only
interpret it, but also to write history.”

Rydell’s story is rich in history as he gives an in-depth look into how Germany, a highly educated and culturally rich people, came to find themselves being lead blindly by
a madman.

Rydell’s story is a convoluted tale of madness, death, destruction leading to one of
hope and reuniting…linking a past with a future.

For there is a great lesson in his story for us today–especially now.
A lesson it would behoove our society to heed.

And a lesson I will be sharing in the next day or so….

For the word of God is alive and active.
Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit,
joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

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)

After the fact

“…[W]hen death comes to a man, the mortal part of him dies,
but the immortal part retires at the approach of death and escapes unharmed and indestructible…
[I]t is as certain as anything can be…
that soul is immortal and imperishable, and that our souls will
really exist in the next world.”

Socrates


(sunset at Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

It is now after the fact…
The storm has come and gone…
the winds are minimal at best…and the seas are calm….
And it appears that our friend Socrates is on to something….

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;
no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father,
who has given them to me, is greater than all;
no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

John 10:28-30