put a fork in it!

“Unless you have been very, very lucky, you have undoubtedly experienced
events in your life that have made you cry.
So unless you have been very, very lucky, you know that a good,
long session of weeping can often make you feel better,
even if your circumstances have not changed one bit.”

Lemony Snicket, Horseradish


(a festive butter turkey / Julie Cook / 2020)

I trust everyone had a nice Thanksgiving yesterday…
no matter what it may have looked like.

Ours was odd and quiet.

Over the past two weeks, my husband and I have had our fair share of tests that were
both positive and negative.
And since we really didn’t know which way was really up or down, we opted to forego the
annual family adventure to Savannah with both the Mayor and Sherrif.

And so I mourned for a good full day…
stewing in my self-indulgence of pity for not being able to be a family together…

And then, just like that, I picked myself up from wallowing and rolled up my sleeves and started cooking.

I must remember that there are so many who have lost loved ones this year, who have
lost jobs, who have lost a sense of peace and well-being… pandemic or not…
emptiness seems to be spreading itself far and wide.

So when in doubt, cook.

Cooking Thanksgiving for two is comprised of all the same components, just on a
somewhat smaller scale.
Being busy in the kitchen is cathartic…it always has been.

As for picking up this peculiar virus despite all attempts of being careful, has us baffled.
But such is the life for us all during a time of pandemic.
My husband was never really “sick”.
I had a sinus infection, but I can have those with or without a pandemic…
so go figure.

Either way, I knew/know that the Mayor and Sherrif were /are where I want to be…
because anywhere they are, I definitely want to be.

In fact, I bought that butter turkey for the Mayor.
She’s like her grandmother in that she can pick up a ball of butter and
be quite content.

I was looking forward to wandering those Spanish moss-lined streets holding
a little hand or two.
I had actually done some research and had located my great, great, great
grandfather’s house in Savannah.

It still stands and, like many houses in this most historic city, it has been
refurbished and is currently a private residence.
I had wanted us to all go find it together.

Instead, we are here in the midst of an arduous process of packing up house.
Seems there will be a move in our future come mid-January.

Ever since my husband retired, for the past two years, we’ve talked about moving.
“Downsizing” we brilliantly announced to no one but the cats.
We have no family here but the two of us, four if you count the cats, so it seemed
to make sense.

And so I blame our son.
He laid these seeds a few months back when he had us go look at houses.
They want to eventually move…of which I hope they can get out of Atlanta…
I just don’t think he figured we’d go on first…
but what we explained is that time is not so much on our side as it is on his.
So we’d blaze the trail and they could follow suit.

And yet here it is during a pandemic as I now find myself waking up each morning
wondering what in the heck was I thinking!?

Let me just cut my arm open and pour in the salt —as that seems to be pretty much
on par with this self-induced burden.

Aren’t we all seeking security and comfort during these trying times and yet
I’m packing up my world and taking it on the road?

Oh well.

Time to be rolling up my sleeves, again.

Many of us are ready to say good-bye and good ridence to this year of 2020…
but one thing I’ve learned in life…do not be so quick to wish your life away.
Do not assume that 2021 will be better.
We hope it will, we pray it will, but we simply don’t know.

So we must learn to be content with each day as it comes.
We are not guaranteed tomorrow and yesterday has come and gone.
It is simply the here and now that is ours.
And it is up to us how we deal with it.

May we deal well.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:34

freedom or security or maybe both

“Anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Grand Inquisitor

That unmistakable musty smell of old books and papers is still lingering in my nose
despite the needed shower in order to purge my skin of the accumulated dust and debris
from a previous life now clinging to my now older self.
The allergies are revving up as I sneeze, I mean type.

We’ve spent the last three days in our attic emptying it of its hoard of boxes and stuff…
most of which has been sitting in the same spot where it was deposited some 20 years ago
when we packed everything up from our first house before departing and moving
to where we are now.

Being the parent to an only child is both blessing and curse.
The curse is found in the saving of each and every little shred of his existence.
What that only child wore, played with, made or accomplished in school.

Treasures of the heart, but way too much stuff.

Throw in the boxes that have cradled mom’s china-head dolls, her tea set from childhood,
three generations of toys and stuffed animals, photographs upon photos,
outdated electronic this and that…add in those boxes of the well-read and dearly loved
books both from those who have called this house home as well as those who have not—

And so we have had a real mess!

I did, however, manage to rescue a few books left over from college.

You see that book sitting on top of my lap?…that Dostoevsky book?
And yes it does smell.

It is a paperback book of the Notes from the Underground and The Grand Inquisitor?
Well, you should know that that single little musty dog-eared book got me in a bad spot
during my sophomore year in college.

I’ve mentioned this tale before but I think given our current day and time, a revisit
just might be warranted.

But first a bit of background regarding the tale of the book…

According to Britanica.com

Dostoevsky’s novel The Brother’s Karamazov is most famous for three chapters that
may be ranked among the greatest pages of Western literature.

Brothers Dmitry, Ivan, Alyosha and the illegitimate Smerdyakov.
Within the story, there is another story…a poem written by Ivan…
that being The Grand Inquisitor.

In “Rebellion,” Ivan indicts God the Father for creating a world in which children suffer.
Ivan has also written a “poem,” “The Grand Inquisitor,” which represents his response to
God the Son.
It tells the story of Christ’s brief return to earth during the Spanish Inquisition.
Recognizing him, the Inquisitor arrests him as “the worst of heretics” because,
the Inquisitor explains, the church has rejected Christ.
For Christ came to make people free, but, the Inquisitor insists,
people do not want to be free, no matter what they say.
They want security and certainty rather than free choice, which leads them to error and guilt.
And so, to ensure happiness, the church has created a society based on “miracle, mystery,
and authority.”
The Inquisitor is evidently meant to stand not only for medieval Roman Catholicism but
also for contemporary socialism.
“Rebellion” and “The Grand Inquisitor” contain what many have considered
the strongest arguments ever formulated against God, which Dostoyevsky includes so that,
in refuting them, he can truly defend Christianity.
It is one of the greatest paradoxes of Dostoyevsky’s work that his deeply Christian
novel more than gives the Devil his due.

Here is another look behind this troublemaker of mine…
a quick tutorial thanks to Sparknotes.

I didn’t have Sparknotes back in my day.

If I had, then maybe I would have tempered my more impulsive and defiant self
by having perused the gist of the story before meeting it cold turkey and in turn, going
rogue on a most liberal atheistic professor who pretty much thought he “got me” and my head on a platter.

The story is based on the notion that Christ has come back to earth.
He came to Seville, Spain where he performed miracles and was embraced by the people.
But the head of the Spanish Inquisition comes to town and has Christ immediately arrested.
The story then proceeds with the Inquisitor leading the majority of dialogue of the tale.

The Grand Inquisitor tells Christ that he cannot allow him to do his work on Earth,
because his work is at odds with the work of the Church.
The Inquisitor reminds Christ of the time, recorded in the Bible,
when the Devil presented him with three temptations, each of which he rejected.
The Grand Inquisitor says that by rejecting these three temptations,
he guaranteed that human beings would have free will.
Free will, he says, is a devastating, impossible burden for mankind.
Christ gave humanity the freedom to choose whether or not to follow him,
but almost no one is strong enough to be faithful, and those who are not will be damned forever.
The Grand Inquisitor says that Christ should have given people no choice,
and instead taken power and given people security instead of freedom.
That way, the same people who were too weak to follow Christ, to begin with,
would still be damned, but at least they could have happiness and security on Earth,
rather than the impossible burden of moral freedom.
The Grand Inquisitor says that the Church has now undertaken to correct Christ’s mistake.
The Church is taking away freedom of choice and replacing it with security.
Thus, the Grand Inquisitor must keep Christ in prison,
because if Christ were allowed to go free,
he might undermine the Church’s work to lift the burden of free will from mankind.

The Grand Inquisitor tells Christ that it was Satan, and not Christ, who was in the right during this exchange.
He says that ever since the Church took over the Roman Empire,
it has been secretly performing the work of Satan, not because it is evil,
but because it seeks the best and most secure order for mankind.

Our professor was young, probably 30 if that, teaching a room filled full of late teens and early
20 somethings.
He came to class barefoot.

This was the height of the preppy fashion trend…of which I embraced.
A barefoot instructor was a throwback to about 10 years prior add
my being a conservative Reaganite and I did not have a settled
sense of anything good.

He sat cross-legged, Indian style, on the classroom’s generic desk.
Some day’s he’d take us outside to sit in the grass.

He’d wax and wane over the advanced literature we were to read and discuss.

He rarely gave grades but when he did, what I received were A’s and B’s.
Of which was pretty good for me and I was most pleased.
We were reading challenging tales…some of which captivated me.
If it hadn’t been such…I would have lost interest quickly and then struggled.

He announced on day 1 that he was raised Catholic but was now an ardent Atheist.

“Great”— I felt my eyes roll within my head.

I was a 20-year-old who, despite living that hard balance of lose and large in college,
I was also a conservative and an ardent Christian,
.
For when it came to push or shove, I knew what was my Truth.

When it came to the end of the quarter, we read Dostoyevsky’s book.

Our illustrious professor took on the role of Inquisitor, of course, in the open class discussion
as I embraced that of Christ.

For each dig he offered to the class, I spoke up a counter thought.
For I took on the role of defense attorney for a man who truly needed no defending
but I wasn’t about to let this flippant professor spew falsehoods to a captured
audience.

The final exam was based on the story.
I wrote feverishly for the allotted 3 hours examination time.
I turned in the infamous blue book, walked out, got in my car, and in turn drove home
for the summer.

When the grades were mailed out, as they were back then since these were the days before computers,
my report noted that I had received a D in my Lit class.

WHAT!!!!!!????

I immediately called the University and eventually made my way to the English Department where I was told
that my professor had resigned his post and left to teach in Arizona…taking all of his records with
him.

That was that.

No recourse.
No petition.
No action news interviews.
No legal action as we see so often today.
No “one call, that’s all.”

My GPA dropped and I was crestfallen because it wasn’t that great, to begin with.
My mother knew I had been cheated and therefore did not say a word about the “D”
And I had been cheated for one reason and one reason only, my faith.

I know now that this was to be the beginning of what we currently see today—
that being a staggering indoctrination and persecution of the Christian faith
on college campuses.

And that single frustrating event came flooding back today when I opened that musty old box
full of books.

And so I flipped through the book.
There was underlining and pen scrawled notes in the section dedicated to Notes From the Underground…
“Pope [Alexander] says that if you want to see how to run a society, look at an anthill”
Hummmmm…

As I went back and looked over the premise of the story, I was struck by what the Inquisitor tells
Christ….that the Chruch is seeking “the best and most secure order for mankind”
and I find that exceedingly telling.

Just look at the Episcopal Chruch and the Chruch of England—both desperately trying to appease
man while turning a blind eye to God’s word.
Other denominations now follow suit.

“Satan was right,” the Inquisitor tells Christ—who only politely listens while remaining silent.

With our having been given free will…of which the Inquisitor sees as an inherently impossible burden
for mankind, he ignorantly believes that it is his sole responsibility to thwart what God, and in turn Christ,
afforded man. He does so in the name of the Chruch.
The Bride fighting the Bridegroom for dominance.

Hummmmm…

We see that it is the Inquisitor who knows what is best for humankind, not so much God nor His Son.

Historians agree that Dostoevsky is noted for having a canny understanding of the psychology of man.
In part because of his life and upbringing.
He is also oddly prophetic regarding the future of Russia and her undoing Revolution–
a theme that runs throughout much of his work as he often foretells of a great fall and of man’s ultimate
demise as there is always the struggle between free will and what is perceived as security…
as in what does man really want for his life and living?

I for one find Dostoevsky works most telling for our own day and time.
So much so that I need to reread this “poem”
Because it seems we are currently living the life of the Inquisitor as we prefer a sense of security,
a guarantee of living life in the 21st century rather than that of choice.
The choice of eternal life or eternal death.

In the end, Christ rises to kiss the Inquisitor as He takes His leave.

May He not take His leave of us.

If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not,
let your peace return to you.
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words,
leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment
than for that town.

Matthew 10:13-15

To all those who won’t be making it home this Christmas

Christmas is a time when you get homesick —
even when you’re home.

Carol Nelson

I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round, as a good time;
a kind, forgiving, charitable time; the only time I know of,
in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open
their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were
fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

Charles Dickens


(an odd site here at home / Julie Cook / 2018

Driving home yesterday after visiting the dentist, I was cutting through an area of town
full of some of our communities older homes, when I found myself driving behind a
vintage WWII Army ambulance.

An odd sight but suddenly I felt strangely transported to a different time and era.

The vehicle, the homes, the time of year.

If you didn’t happen to notice the small security company sign out front of this house,
you might just think it was 1943.

My thoughts drifted across time and space to places that were far away from
my own current little corner here in Georgia.

Despite there being such a heightened sense of urgency wafting through the air
this time of year…
What with the odd increase in mid-day traffic and the massive number of folks hustling
here and there…along with that unseen force that was moving the masses of folks
to go out and buy, buy, buy with a frantic frenzy…

And despite the current pull I was personally feeling to race from the dentist to some
local den of commercialism, seeking out those last minute items to fill in the blanks…
I felt a tinge of warming nostalgia instead.

I heard Bing Crosby’s crooning…his rich melodious voice echoing deep in my head.

A small smile spread across my face for no one in particular to see.

A simpler time, yet a precarious time.
A warmer time of humanity, yet a violent time for our world.

No matter that it was an ominous time,
we knew what our collective civilization was fighting for.
We were a united civilization standing against a giant monster of tyranny and an invasive evil.

There was a decisive and determined collective willingness to sacrifice.
Rations, victory gardens, sharing and giving when there wasn’t ever much to give nor share.

There was a joint desire for unity.
A shared experience of apprehension blanketed by a blessed sense of thankfulness.

I found myself gently humming a familiar yet comforting tune.

My gift to you today…

“In 1943, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” joined “White Christmas” to become one of
America’s most popular homegrown holiday songs.
Recorded in a rich baritone by Bing Crosby,
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” shot to the top ten of the record charts
(as “White Christmas” had for Crosby the previous year)
and became a holiday musical tradition in the United States.”
Library of Congress

breadcrumbs to home…


(mom’s magnolia tree is in full summer to be regalia / Julie Cook / 2018)

Few things are more indicative of life in the South than the large white billowy blooms
of the Magnolia.

Well, maybe a few other things such as mosquitoes, heat, and humidity might also come to mind…
but if the truth be told, the Magnolia is by far, the best of the bunch.

The large majestic blooms are hailed as the state flower for both Louisiana and Mississippi.

These are not dainty, delicate nor demure flowers by any means…
words which are often associated and used to describe life here down South…

Rather these beauties are large, tenacious, enduring and oh so sweetly fragrant.
Words I prefer to use when I think of those native Southerners.
Words such as tenacious…think fire ant.

I’ve spent the better part of the week up in Atlanta babysitting and I am happy to report
that Mother’s magnolia tree is in full bloom.

While the grass was still damp with the morning dew and the air thick and heavy with the
lingering damp humidity from the day’s prior thundershowers,
I walked out into the backyard while holding my tiny yet curious granddaughter.

I know that this little girl will never meet nor ever know either of my parents…
yet their presence permeates her small world like the lingering smoke circling the
air from a smoldering brick hearth.

I was greeted this misty morning with a deep sense of satisfaction and great comfort
being able to point out to this wee one of mine those long lasting and enduring
breadcrumbs that had been originally and randomly scattered long ago by my own mom…

Breadcrumbs that were, at the time unbeknownst to Mother, being left as trail markers…

And after all these many years, these inconspicuous directional markers remain to this day,
firmly in place.

Be it the tiny tea rose bush Mother never knew would live let alone thrive now decades later…
to a stand of currently runaway and run amuck monkey grass…
to this now stately and massive magnolia tree…
A tree I vividly remember planting with my mom and my grandmother when I was
just a little girl.

A tree whose blooms will, for this new generation, act as a polestar as to how to
recall finding one’s way back to “home.”

And whereas we all have that place we hold in our mind’s eye as to what constitutes the notion
of home, be it a fond treasured memory or rather a memory preferred to be long forgotten,
we each have that place.

Yet what many of us never truly realize is that that place of which we all oddly
so long for despite often already thinking we are there, is not to be found here
among the trees or buildings, fields or roads…

Home, that most sacred place we often seem to ache for despite often being physically
in the place, we think we call home, is not to be found here on this earth…

And so as we are left to navigate our way to this place where we will know
without doubt that we are indeed truly Home, we remain continually seeking those
often overlooked breadcrumbs left to us by the One who has come, gone and will come again…
breadcrumbs of hope and salvation, of which will rightfully lead us to that place
where we finally can claim that we are Home.


(the four stages of a magnolia bloom / Julie Cook / 2018)

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed,
we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.
Meanwhile, we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling,
because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked.
For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened,
because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our
heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God,
who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home
in the body we are away from the Lord.For we live by faith, not by sight.
We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home
with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him,
whether we are at home in the body or away from it.
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body,
whether good or bad.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

safety

Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct.
Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates.

Alexander Hamilton


(a squadron of brown pelicans skirt the surf / Rosemary Beach / Julie Cook / 2017)

As the birds of similar feathers tend to flock together…
dare we assume that the perception of safety is therefore found in numbers?

Venturing even a bit further…
it appears we often equate this said numerical safety with a perceived
sense of security.

As we gather likeminded, following blindly,
snuggled warm within the bosom of both kith and kin…
we surge en masse, with a liberating notion of freedom,
found only in the security of our assumptions.

While we see those wrapped within their holy writ…
brandishing a label oft worn so comfortably and smugly…
with that label acting as a false badge of complacency.

Remember ye oh so comfortable ones,
you who move to the sounds of contrived safety…
The command was to go…
Venturing forth boldly in the freedom found only in the one pure Truth…

To offer….
To speak
To share
To spread
To rejoice
To revel
To embrace
To Love

When and where there is no guarantee of welcome…
nor of acceptance
or of security
or of safety
or of success

Not going to the confines of the people and places where that which is safe and secure..
Not to where open arms are found holding tightly to the covey of likeminded numbers…
Not to the places that are necessarily across treacherous seas nor over impassable mountains…
but rather going to those places merely across the street or even across the room.

Go, and go most oft alone,
where there is neither promise of complacent security nor safety…
Go where there may not be found a warm embrace or a welcomed chair…
But rather go to Him and Him alone….

For it is only in Him that your true rest will be finally found…
Only in Him will there be eternal safety and security…
No falsehoods,
no breeches in the walls,
no holes in the nets….

For in Him, and Him alone, is your portion and your all.
Found only in the number of One…

“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,
but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”

Mark 16:15-16

Palm Sunday and the Copts

“In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt,
and a pillar to the LORD at its border.

Isaiah 19:19


(a Coptic Cross…it reads, Jesus Christ, the son of God)

While Christians gathered around the world to pray, worship and celebrate the
beginning of the most revered and holiest season’s of the Church’s calendar,
two Coptic Churches and their members in Egypt were attacked.

Despite being outfitted with metal detectors, two suicide bombers joined the Palm Sunday
worshipers detonating their explosive packs near the altars of the two crowded churches.
In their wake two holy and sacred places were transformed into grisly crime scenes comprised
of splintered woods, crumbled stone, blood and body parts while lives and families were
transformed forever.

Coptic Christianity is regarded as the oldest sect of the Christian Church.
It is a church that was established by the apostle and evangelist St Mark in Egypt during the
reign of the Roman emperor Nero in the 1st century.

Egypt and the Coptic Church is also home to the inception of Christian monasticism.
History notes that it was in Egypt that both the Desert Fathers and later, the Desert Mothers,
sought the solitude of the desert to pray and in turn build monasteries that have been
in continuous operation for the past 1900 years.

And since 2010, the Islamic State has made the life of Coptic Christians a
living nightmare.

The latest two murderous attacks taking place yesterday during Palm Sunday.
Egypt’s Copts, who have suffered repeated deadly jihadist attacks,
say they feel abandoned and discriminated against by the authorities in the
predominantly Muslim country.

But despite their fears, the Christians of Tanta said they are determined to defend
their faith.

“We’re Christian and we will stay Christian,” one woman said in a defiant tone.
AFP News

As we solemnly enter this holiest of weeks of our Christian faith,
may those of us who are privileged to worship openly and free,
be mindful of our brothers and sisters across the globe who continue to worship
under the black cloud of persecution and terrorism.

Let us pray for the victims, the wounded and the collective Christian families of these two
Egyptian churches.
Knowing that what we take for granted, that of our freedom to worship in relative
safety and security, is not the standard for many worshipers around this fractured world.
May we stand in solidarity as the family of Believers as we continue to
proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Risen Lord…

Alleluia….

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1-3

security

The horror of these times would be unendurable unless we kept being cheered and set
upright again by the promises that are spoken.
The angels of annunciation speaking their message of blessing into the midst of anguish,
scattering their seed of blessing that will one day spring up amid the night,
call us to hope.

Alfred Delp

2569817-2569815-charlie_brown_and_linus-jpg

Security.

Picture Linus and his blanket.

Or better yet…

Picture your computer, your phone, your car or even your home…
They are all the sorts of things in your life that are most likely well protected
with some sort of security system in place.

Even your very self…
you protect, or so you try, yourself from harm, crime or even accident.

Yet we are currently living in a time when security is at a constant risk.
Many individuals are feeling that even their very
security of self has been threatened…
as in it has or will be somehow taken, hacked or even stolen.
Much like identify theft, but not.

It’s not because our country has been invaded…
despite the cries of
“the Russians are coming,
the Russians are coming…”

It’s not because we have each been kidnapped or abducted by aliens.

It’s not because we have all lost or out grown our blankets or our teddy bears…

However it could be because those very things into which we have poured our feelings…
those places, things or persons into which we have assigned our sense of security…
has turned out not to be what we thought…

With many still foolishly reeling from post election trauma,
to those who are merely finding themselves lost in the midst of
“this time of year” overload,
the sense of safe, secure, content is anything but…

It is at such times when we find ourselves reaching for those things that provide us with
a sense of comfort, a sense of well being, that long sought sense of contentment…
most often with those hoped for things, places and people fading and fleeting
or simply falling flat.

Enter Advent.

The Jesuit priest Alfred Delp reminds us form his Nazi prison cell that…
For all its earnestness, Advent is a time of inner security,
because it has received a message.
Oh, if it ever happens that we forget the message and the promises;
if all we know is the four walls and the prison windows of our grey days;
if we can no longer hear the gentle step of the announcing angels;
if our soul no longer is at once shaken and exalted by
their whispered word—
then it will be all over with us.
We are living wasted time and are dead before they do us any harm.

So might this heightened sense of loss and fretfulness be rooted in something
greater and deeper than mere misplaced security?

Have we forgotten the message, as well as the promise, of long ago
as we languish in the emptiness of the grey days of our lives?

Have we forgotten that single announcement, proclamation, revelation?

That there is One, and only one, who was to come,
nay, has come,
to offer us everlasting security…
Security that will neither waiver nor fail…
as He offers the dearest thing He has…in order that we may finally
feel secure…

notbad

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

Psalm 91:1-2

sanctuary

Sanctuary, on a personal level,
is where we perform the job of taking care of our soul.”

Christopher Forrest McDowell

DSC00494
(interior of the Cathedral of Notre Dame / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

The first time I was made aware of the concept of sanctuary
as in the meaning of the word as a verb of action verses a noun of place,
was when, as a little girl, I watched the 1939 movie the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
It didn’t matter that it was an old black and white movie made 20 years before I was born…
it was and still remains, just as the original story itself, a classic.

This 1939 classic starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara, based on the Victor Hugo novel of the same name, left a powerful and lasting impression on my youthful mind.
That being…
a church, The Church, can protect anyone asking it to…

Maureen O’Hara played the role of Esmeralda, the beautiful gypsy girl, falsely accused of practicing witchcraft as well as murder.
Charles Laughton played the deformed bell keeper, Quasimodo, who had fallen in love with the beautiful Esmeralda.

One of the pivotal and overtly theatrical moments in the film is when Esmeralda, whose hands are bound as a rope hangs around her neck, is being led to the gallows on a horse drawn cart as she is about to be publicly hung for the crimes of witchcraft and murder.
A huge procession marches forth from the church as choirs sing and bells toll…for the people of Paris have gathered to witness the public hanging of this poor young girl.

Quasimodo, who is perched high aloft along the ledge of the bell tower, looks down at the proceedings and grabs hold of a rope…
Miraculously to the astonished crowd, Quasimodo swings down, just in the nick of time, grabbing Esmeralda from the clutches of the gallows master. He then swings back up to the safety of both bell tower and Church where, holding a now limp Esmeralda who has fainted…he lifts her high over his head for all the crowd to see while crying out “Sanctuary, Sanctuary…”
Letting all those gathered below know that the girl in now safe within the arms of the church because those who enter a church, seeking sanctuary, are protected from the masses and the authorities outside the walls of her building’s structure.

The concept of a church, the physical structure, offering safety to those at risk… resonated deeply in my thoughts….
As it seems that for centuries the collective body of The Church has been a place of protection and safety to not only our spiritual beings, but to our physical being as well.

Yesterday, when reading a recent news article about the growing security worries now facing our churches and places of worship, I imagined that moment long ago of Quasimodo yelling “Sanctuary

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/08/08/churches-take-new-security-measures-in-face-terror-threats.html

Back in April, it seems that during a daily worship service at an Orthodox Church in Riverside, California, several young mothers had excused themselves from the service as they carried their crying infants outside as not to disturb the remainder of the service.
As the women stood outside the church chatting, while holding their babies, a car appears out of the blue pulling up close to the sidewalk where the women stood.
The windows of the car are rolled down as several men with bullhorns hang out from the windows and are heard to shout Allauh Akbar…
The startled women stare in disbelief while holding their children tightly to their chests…
all the while as a feeling of dread washes over them.
And yet just as quickly as the car appeared, it drives off leaving the women shaken.

Since this incident in April, numerous houses of worship, churches and synagogues around the globe have had similar unsettling incidents to occur—
Most notably being the recent attack on Father Jaques Hamel.
The attack took place in a quiet catholic church on the outskirts of Rouen, when two young men interrupted the service grabbing Fr Hamel and slashing his throat in front of horrified parishioners.

There have also been reported acts of vandalism, break-ins and incidents where churches have received anonymous written threats of violence.

But attacks on Churches and Synagogues is sadly nothing new.

Our houses of worship, although representing something much larger and greater than mere man himself, can fall victim to acts of evil intent just as easily as the average person.

In times past, just as in this present time, there have been fire bombings on buildings, desecrations of buildings, attacks and sadly murders on both clergy and parishioners…
As it is becoming much more alarming and worrisome that these sorts of incidents are on the rise…
No longer seemingly the random act of evil and madness, but now more and more the deliberate growing act of hatred.

Whereas there was a time when the Church as a whole was revered and respected, a place in which the lost, the sorrowful and the frightened could find refuge….
that simply is no longer the expected given.

Yet whereas the building and the bodies of believers themselves may come under attack—we are not without hope—for the blood of the Lamb remains our refuge and sanctuary no matter what may befall a physical building or our physical body…

SANCTUARY indeed!!!!

‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.’
Ezekiel 11:16

Dear Parents. . .

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:13

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(presents under the tree / Julie Cook / 2014)

When asked, I suppose most, if not all of us, could tell anyone asking what the best gift was we ever received. Maybe it was a shiny new bike, a much sought after doll, maybe it was a new baby brother or sister, maybe a pair of skates, maybe a car, a smartphone, a precious and greatly anticipated birth of a child, maybe it was a hot meal, a worn but loved coat, maybe it was shelter from a cold and icy night, maybe it was the returning of a loved one who had been gone far too long. . . .

As we find ourselves, at this particular time of the year, with time running out and patience running short. . .
As we dash about here and there in search of the “perfect” gift for those special someones in our lives. . .
As we find ourselves up to our elbows in wrapping paper, ribbons, tape and bows. . .
As we spend entirely too much time and money searching and buying things that folks could most likely do and live without. . .

I was deeply touched by something I read this morning.
It was a letter written to a set of parents. . .

Dear Parents. . .I don’t need to tell you how much I long for freedom and for you all. But over the decades you have provided for us such incomparably beautiful Christmases that my thankful remembrance of them is strong enough to light up one dark Christmas.
Only such times can really reveal what it means to have a past and an inner heritage that is independent of chance and the changing of the times. The awareness of a spiritual tradition that reaches through the centuries gives one a certain feeling of security in the face of all transitory difficulties. I believe that those who know they possess such reserves of strength do not need to be ashamed even of softer feelings—which in my opinion are still among the better and nobler feelings of humankind–when remembrance of a good and rich past calls them forth. Such feelings will not overwhelm those who hold fast to the values that no one can take from them.

These words and this message is not only timely but most current as this letter could be written by anyone who may be finding themselves far away from those dearly loved and cherished individuals of one’s life, especially during this time of year. As it always seems to be during the holidays, the certain times of the year which pulls at our hearts more so than any other time of year, when being away and “missing” intensifies to a near maddening unstoppable pain, our thoughts inevitably seem to return to matters of the heart and of cherished memories of times long and not so long past.

The letter was written just before Christmas in 1944 from a Gestapo prison in Berlin. It was written by the young Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was soon to be transferred to the notorious Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He spent two Christmases interred by the Nazis before ultimately being hanged two weeks before the Allies liberated the Nazi death camps.

The greatest gift Bonhoeffer’s parents had given him was not a toy or a ball. . .for their gift was not something tangible or of material merit, but rather their gift was a gift of great intrinsic value.

Their greatest gift was actually somewhat multilayered.

Firstly the gift consisted of the deep and abiding love his parents first held for one another and then for each of their children–of which created and fostered a deep sense of security in each child.

A second layer of the gift consisted of time—of both time and energy of which his parents extended to the entire family making certain that each Christmas and holiday season was indeed special for their eight children—Not by showering the children with extravagant gifts and presents, as buying such for 8 children would have been nearly impossible, but by providing their family with the knowledge of the importance of the true meaning of Christmas—the enduring message of Hope and Grace–of doing undo others as they would hope would be done for them, and ultimately the gift and knowledge of Salvation. A gift that would weave its way throughout the year and not merely just at Christmas—for this was a gift which would be carried in each of their children throughout a lifetime which witnessed not only contentment and happiness but that of hardship, sorrow and suffering topped off with the ultimate ending of Joy.

It was to this gift given long ago by his parents which would help to sustain Bonhoeffer during his lowest and darkest days as a Nazi prisoner. Isolated and never knowing if each new day would bring freedom or death, Bonhoeffer lived out the last two years of his relatively young life in a small cell very much alone.

I spent a good bit of time this morning pondering over Bonhoeffer’s letter to his parents and I found myself thinking about what it is to be a “gift giver” and to what constitutes the best gift we can give–especially to our children.

I pray that I may give my child, as well as those I love, the gift which will sustain them all during, not the easy times of joy and happiness, but rather a gift which will help to carry them through the darkness, sorrow, pain and isolation which most often finds all of us at some point in life when we least expect it.

Which brings us back to the initial query at hand. . .indeed, what is the greatest gift you’ve ever received. . .

Elusive

“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in an clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness. Our life is a long and arduous quest after Truth.”
Mahatma Gandhi

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(female ruby throated hummingbird / Georgia / Julie Cook / 2014)

Sitting in the oppressive 97 degree heat on the back deck, under the stifling black awning, listening, watching, waiting.
Poised and ready.
Sweat begins to bead along the temples.
Finger resting gently on the button, as the camera is already zoomed and focused.
The air is heavy.
A distant peal of thunder breaks concentration.
The reverberating rumble, ominous, teases the painfully dry ground.

Suddenly there is a rapid series of high pitched chirps immediately followed by an unseen and ever nearing deafening vibration.
It is heard long before the eye can locate and focus.

CLICK

Upon inspection, a mere blur is almost totally out of the frame.
UGH!

Again.
Situate,
Position.
Zoom in
Focus.
Listen.
Watch.
Wait.

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As I sit waiting endlessly on the tiny band of hummingbirds which call my yard home–waiting for them to stop long enough for me to capture a quick stop at the feeder, verses their usual dive-bombing ariel displays which transpire throughout the day. . . my thoughts wander, as I sit in my frustration, pondering those things in my life which remain elusive, hidden, evasive–that which is just beyond my grasp.

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We all carry within our being “things” that seem to constantly and sadistically elude our grasp.
Those things which remain hidden in the shadows, whispering seductively to us from the dark.
Only being seen as a darting image out of the corner of a weary eye.
Toying and teasing with tender raw emotions, we continue to wait, watch, hope, lament.

Perhaps it may be for that heart wrenching relationship to mend and heal.
Perhaps the much longed for sense of security and safety.
A much needed job.
A much needed better job.
The needed refreshing and life giving rains.
The ability to finally and miraculously have that long awaited baby.
The frustrating and fraught efforts for the recovery from catastrophic injury.
The soothing sense of Peace.
The satisfaction of the never-ending Truth.
The tangible realness of one’s Faith.

Always remaining just barely out of reach–despite the outstretched arm, fingers straining outward–If only we could stretch just a little farther. . .
muscles ache and cramp,
almost there, just a little more. . .
straining for just one much inch. . .
suddenly and frustratingly sadly, the resignation and finality of the elusive once again,
haughtily laughs at the limitations of self,
as “it” escapes once again.

Money cannot procure it.
Pleading will not produce it.
Agility cannot capture it
Ingenuity will never create it.
Yearning will only add torment.
Stealth will never surpass it.
This world will never claim it.

The “it”, the “thing”, the need, the want, the “elusive”. . . is not of this world and you and I
will never catch or capture it as it is more than the mere wants and needs of our hearts.
It is the insatiable thirst and hunger of the soul which no one of this earth and no one thing of this life can ever satisfy. A longing and insatiable longing to be reunited with the Creator of the Universe.

Kingdoms have risen and fallen.
Monuments and wonders have been built and destroyed.
Wars have been won and lost.
And yet we all remain
wanting,
needing,
searching,
seeking,
thirsty,
hungry of heart and soul.

And just so you know, I finally got my long awaited picture, as the ones that you are seeing are not those— as my dear hummingbirds finally lit within range.
I clicked then checked—a great shot–a perfect shot.
No shadows.
No blurs.
Focused.
Detailed.
And yet,
just as I began the process of transferring the images from the camera to computer, oddly, there is nothing there.
Nothing
No images.
NO IMAGES??!!
For what reason of which I know not, the disc suddenly failed, the past two weeks of images, gone.
Disappeared.
Erased.
UGH.
Elusive to the end.

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I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:18-19

Hear the words of Paul, a prisoner of Rome, as he so beautifully and yet simply states the real quest of all of our souls—the meeting of all our needs and desires by the one true and only God through Christ, Jesus His son.
For it is here, in Him, in which all treasures lie—
and until you and I finally figure that out, we will continue spending a lifetime in the constant pursuit, the quest, of the Elusive.