up, down or through

“I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth
and be an atheist,
but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say
there is no God.”

Abraham Lincoln

What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me.
Helen Keller

I try to avoid looking forward or backward, and try to keep looking upward.
Charlotte Bronte


(view looking up a hollow tree that has a small hole on the way up / Julie Cook /2017)


(looking down the opening to a different hollow tree / Julie Cook / 2017)


(looking through a third hollow tree / Julie Cook / 2017)

God looks down…
We look up…
He sees through…

Some writers use the word charity to describe not only Christian love
between human beings, but also God’s love for man and man’s love for God….
On the whole,
God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him.
Nobody can always have devout feelings:
and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about.
Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will.
If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment,
‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’
He will give us feelings of love if He pleases.
We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right.
But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference;
and, therefore,
it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins,
at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 132-133.

seeking and hiding

“In moments of exaltation one expressed sentiments that outstripped
one’s spiritual capabilities by a vast span; and she knew well that
unless God is sought for Himself alone, with a selflessness
of which she was at present incapable,
He is not to be found.”

― Elizabeth Goudge


(wild blackberries are ripening deep in the Georgia woods / Julie Cook / 2017)


(the ripening blueberries bushes out back in the yard / Julie Cook / 2017)

I go to great lengths when it comes to seeking out, and subsequently picking,
those glistening seasonal black and blue ripening gems…
those succulent orbs and globes of juicy blueberries and now
the incoming crop of wild blackberries.

I have been known to go to near daredevil feats in order to fill a basket, bowl or bag
with these precious little beauties.
I have braved chiggers, ticks, snakes…as well as bleeding to death due to digging deep
into the proverbial briar patch.

This obsessiveness over berry picking worries my husband.

He seems to believe that I do not possess the gift of lithe or grace when it comes to say,
walking…let alone standing on my head while reaching deep into a thicket of the unknown
in search of the elusive black or blue jewel.

I think it comes down to the fact that he’s going to hold that broken ankle business
against me for the rest of my non broken life.
It wasn’t my fault I fell in a drain hole while putting out the pine straw that spring…
a hole he’d dug out just days prior and failed to fill back in before I stepped in it.

So when I must balance on a narrow brick wall,
while leaning over as far as I can with one foot planted on the ledge while
the other leg is sticking straight out behind me in some sort of yoga like pose…
all the while as I’m reaching as far as I can
without face planting into a mass jumble of branches,
fruit and leaves…
well, I don’t know what the fuss and worry is all about.

I mean, I watch for the snakes, bees and ants.
I try my best not to fall, really I do.
I can’t help that I’ll be covered with red whelps the following day that will itch like
nobody’s business…
I can’t help that I scream the word “STOP!!” when we’re happily and quietly driving down
a road in the middle of nowhere when I suddenly spot a lovely ripening bramble bush
along the side of said deserted road… beckoning to be picked.
He likes the pies and cobblers…so what’s all the the big worry???

So naturally while I was reaching and digging deep buried up to my elbows in stickers,
all during the throws of my berry seeking session yesterday,
oh so busy about the task of finding and picking…
I was stuck by a startlingly similarity between my hyper focused quest in seeking
the elusive hiding fruits—the object of an almost obsessive determination, and
the lengths to which I know God goes when He wants, nay yearns, to seek out and
eventually find….us….

As we have the tendency to hide, always painstakingly out of arms reach…and
yet a loving God painstakingly seeks his own…
for He will go to even much greater and even more daring lengths in His quest for us
than dare say I do over a mere berry….

And boy how grateful I am that He does!

I will seek that which was lost,
and bring again that which was driven away,
and will bind up that which was broken,
and will strengthen that which was sick:
but I will destroy the fat and the strong;
I will feed them with judgment.

Ezekiel 34:16

why are any of us here…

“The fact of God is necessary for the fact of man.
Think God away and man has no ground of existence.”

A.W. Tozer

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(Sandpiper in the surf / Grayton Beach State Park / Julie Cook / 2016)

I doubt that there has ever been a single person who,
at some point or another during the course of a life time,
has not pondered the reason for their existence.

Most likely for much of their lives, there are countless numbers of forlorn souls
who have grappled, nay continue to grapple, with this quandary…
…with the very profound depth of such a nagging question…
Longing for some semblance of direction…

Seeking and craving to know what it is that is to be done…
how shall they, how shall any of us, make their mark?
Yearning to know purpose and course…

For some the question and elusive answer is but a fleeting passing of slight discomfort…

However for others, it is a lifetime quest…

To make a difference.
To change the world.
To find one’s place
One’s calling
One’s destiny…

Yet imagine finding yourself in a hopeless situation…
In the midst of misery and death…as life is slowing and agonizingly ebbing away…
Imagine feeling defeated while knowing your very existence is in grave jeopardy.
You are plagued by torment, illness and and evil beyond comprehension…

Do you now shrug your shoulders and concede that all is lost?
As a sickening realization settles over you
that this is simply the destitute lot for which you now reside …

or…

Do you know without doubt or question that no matter the bleakest, darkest circumstance…
there still remains both purpose and reason…

But as the rest of the world grew stranger, one thing became increasingly clear.

And that was the reason the two of us were here.

Why others should suffer we were not shown.

As for us, from morning until lights-out, whenever we were not in ranks for roll call,
our Bible was the center of an ever-widening circle of help and hope.
Like waifs clustered around a blazing fire,
we gathered about it, holding out our hearts to its warmth and light.

The blacker the night around us grew, the brighter and truer and more beautiful burned
the word of God.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”

Corrie Ten Boom reflecting on her time in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp as
was written in her book The Hiding Place.

Truth

We shall advance when we have learned humility;
when we have learned to seek truth, to reveal it and publish it;
when we care more for that than for the privilege of arguing about ideas in a fog of uncertainty.

Walter Lippmann, c.1917

We do not err because truth is difficult to see.
It is visible at a glance.
We err because this is more comfortable.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

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(Rock of Cashel, the Rock of St Patrick / Co Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

What is truth?

It is man’s most eternal quest…

We have often wondered if it was buried somewhere in the mix of stone and mortar,
those tangible breadcrumbs to man’s exhausting pursuit at leaving his mark.

Yet stone and mortar, as now wire and cable, each with time, are eventually left to erode and rust.

Truth is not found in the rusting or rotting of decay.

We have wondered if it is found in the intellect of thought and speech.
The defiance and defense of man’s existence…

Yet there is no truth to be found in fighting and fretting.

However for a certain percentage of humankind, those oft looked upon as foolhardy souls,
those who have openly accepted a fateful day as the hallmark of Truth,
Truth is found beyond the building blocks of civilizations,
beyond the liables and legalities…
and far from the might and power of man.

Truth, rather, is found in a most odd place…
A place no one had thought to look…

For Truth is found not in the vibrancy of life and in the yearnings of mere mortals….
but rather in the loss and darkness of the seemingly emptiness of death.

Albeit so sad and empty as this quest may all but seem,
This is not just any death in which Truth plays hide and seek…

For this Truth, this elusive wisp of shadows, is not found in our death…not yours and mine…
but rather in just one single death…

A single death experienced only once…not at all repeatedly…
Only singularly experienced for all of mankind.

“Our old man was crucified with him,
that the body of sin right be done away,
that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin”
(Romans 6:6)
That is not an exhortation to struggle.
That is history: our history, written in Christ before we were born.
Do you believe this?
It is true!

For the secret of deliverance from sin is not to do something but to rest on what God has done.
When you cease doing, then God will begin

Watchman Nee

So truth, it seems, is found in a single deed on a single day…
long ago and seemingly far away.

Yet is it really that far away….

“God is waiting for your store of strength to be utterly exhausted before He can deliver you.
Once you have ceased to struggle so hard, he will do everything.
God is waiting for you to despair.
He has done it all.”

Watchman Nee

Get what you need…

No, you can’t always get what you want,
You can’t always get what you want,
You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometime, you find,
You get what you need

(Lyrics by Mick Jagger)

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(flowering hawthorn / Julie Cook / 2016)

Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined,
and a house divided against itself will fall.
If Satan is divided against himself,
how can his kingdom stand?

Luke 11:17-18

Looking left
Looking right
Running around in circles…
Looking endlessly,
Yearning voraciously
Wanting impatiently

Never seemingly satisfied.

Children out of control
Teens out of control
Parents out of control
Athletes out of control
Politicians out of control
Entertainers out of control
Musicians out of control
News folks out of control
Clergy out of control
Average folks out of control

Frustration
Dissatisfaction
Fragmented
And now fractured beyond repair

That is us
And it is now

Divided and divisive
Spiraling out of control
Crashing and burning
A world set adrift and endlessly burning

One need
One want
One remedy

One Hope
One Savior
One God

“The world is in flames.
Are you compelled to put them out?
Look at the cross.
From the open heart gushes the blood of the Savior
This extinguishes the flames of hell.”

Edith Stein
Thy Will Be Done
Bread and Wine
Readings for Lent and Easter

Are you happy with what you seek

“There are only three types of people; those who have found God and serve him; those who have not found God and seek him, and those who live not seeking, or finding him. The first are rational and happy; the second unhappy and rational, and the third foolish and unhappy.”
Blaise Pascal

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(St Kevin’s Monastery, Gleandalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Where is it that you go always looking to and fro?
Is your life filled with too much noise and a quest for grander toys?
Is it all simply too distracting, time consuming and soul extracting?
Are your days spent wasted while your heart lays empty,
As you whittle away your life with that which is small and petty?

Listen now my friends to the wisdom offered long ago….

Up now, slight man! Flee for a little while, thy occupations; hide thyself, for a time from thy disturbing thoughts. Cast aside now thy burdensome cares, and put away thy toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of thy mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid thee in seeking him; close thy door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! speak now to God, saying, I seek thy face; thy face, Lord, will I seek (Psalms 27:8). And come thou now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek thee, where and how it may find thee.
St Anslem

May your days be many and your troubles be few. May all God’s blessings descend upon you. May peace be within you may your heart be strong. May you find what you’re seeking wherever you roam.”
Irish Blessings

STOP!!!! There’s another sheep. . .

“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
wisdom and power are his.
He changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what lies in darkness,
and light dwells with him.
I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power,
you have made known to me what we asked of you,
you have made known to us the dream of the king.”

Daniel 2:21-23

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(a sheep farm on the road to Killarney / Julie Cook / 2015)

STOP THE VAN!!!!
“I can’t get a good shot while we’re moving. . .the sheep isn’t budging, you’re going to hit it!!!!!. ..”

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(a sheep sits contently on the road somewhere in County Donegal, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

And so was the almost daily drill of the journey.
Stoping and going— for here was a sheep, there was a sheep and everywhere was a sheep sheep. . .

It is the poignant reminder that throughout each of our lives we will, inevitably, find ourselves on our very own and personal road to Damascus.
Wether we are believers or not.

And depending on our own perspective, it is either joyfully or frustratingly that most of us will end up on that same road over and over again, throughout our lives, as it often seems to take more than one chance encounter for things to truly sink in.

It is a road that we ourselves have each personally carved. A road that initially appears to be leading us in the direction of our thoughts, dreams and sights. . .a course that we perhaps set long ago, affording the opportunity of venturing forth, moving forward, as we seek our supposed heart’s desire…

Yet, if the truth be told, it is a road of destiny complete with the blinding encounter so often necessary to realign a misguided path. It’s just that for some of us, we need a constant stream of “encounters” before we finally “get it” and allow things to finally sink in…

Be it mere happenstance or Divine Intervention, we are struck, knocked upside the head and thrown to the ground, blinded and overwhelmed by whatever it is that is necessary in order to get our attention, change our course, wake us up, turn us around while eventually leading us to our true and proper path.

And so this journey was not really different from any other…

Setting off I had hoped, anticipated and even expected… something—but as to what that something was, it was not clear. . .

There were the sheep…

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Those symbolic, innocent yet oddly mentally challenged creatures that have always spoken to my heart.
Gazing out the window, with my head resting on the glass, I stare mindlessly at the myriad sea of gently grazing animals as familiar words whispered through my thoughts…

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”
Luke 15: 1-7

Yet this idyllic gentle image, laced with with its warm sense of safety, peace and security, was suddenly jarred apart by the blinding image of sacrifice and suffering that punctuated the seemingly pastoral image of serenity with the mysterious utterance of a long ago vision which poured itself out upon my thoughts like the deeply crimson colored blood oozing from a fresh cut. . .

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,

nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Isaish 53: 7-9

At some point there was a wistful private reflection spoken aloud by simple habit as we all gazed upon a mysterious landscape… “how could any of this be seen as the mere happenstance of the collision of random particles…”

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(Lady’s View over the Ring of Kerry, County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(Somewhere along the Dingle peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(somewhere along the road in County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

I came seeking the wisdom buried deep in the past of what was as I strained to hear the ancient voices that lay hidden below my feet. . .

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(an unknown grave marker / Julie Cook / 2015)

Delightful to me to be on an island hill, on the crest of a rock,
that I might often watch the quiet sea;

That I might watch the heavy waves above the bright water,
as they chant music to their Father everlastingly.

That I might watch its smooth, bright-bordered shore, no
gloomy pastime, that I might hear the cry of the strange birds,
a pleasing sound;

That I might hear the murmur of the long waves against the
rocks, that I might hear the sound of the sea, like mourning
beside a grave;

That I might watch the splendid flocks of birds over the well-
watered sea, that I might see its mighty whales, the greatest wonder.

That I might watch its ebb and flood in their course,
that my name should be–it is a secret that I tell–“he
who turned his back upon Ireland;”

That I might have a contrite heart as I watch,
that I might repent my many sins, hard to tell;

That I might bless the Lord who rules all things,
heaven with its splendid host, earth, ebb, and flood…

Poem attributed to St Columcille (521-597 AD)

Yet it was late, when it was all almost over, with so much having been said and done, seen and savored…
Three spoken words resonated more deeply than any other morsel offered previously to my weary and worn five senses. . .

Be at Peace. . .”

And so, having fallen from my horse, stuck blind and confused—the clarity of something and someone so much more than myself has come clearly into focus—the scales having been removed from my eyes– and for the first time in what has been a lifetime, I can see…

And so it is…

“Be At Peace”

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(a sheep gazes out over the Atlantic among the cliffs of County Donegal / Julie Cook / 2015)