a vision of Lent

“Contrary to what might be expected,
I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful,
with particular satisfaction.
Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in
my seventy-five years in this world,
everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence,
has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained…
This, of course, is what the Cross signifies.
And it is the Cross, more than anything else,
that has called me inexorably to Christ.”
Malcolm Muggeridge

dscn2555
(Bonaventure Cemetery /Savannah, Ga / Julie Cook 2016)

Lent…
giving up
sacrificing
doing without
fasting
denial
hard
difficult
arduous
abstinence…

But what is it about this Lent…this entering into the desert…
this time of isolation and self denial….
What brings us here?
Why are we here at this cross roads…
Where is it that we are now bound…
What will be the point of this…
longing,
introspection
and intent of focus…

As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs.
We see his blood as he dies.
We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection.
He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were,
in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you.
His whole body is displayed for your redemption.
Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind:
as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you,
so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul.

St. Augustine

img_0373
(detail/ painting by Julie Cook)

altars

“Nothing teaches us about the preciousness of the Creator
as much as when we learn the emptiness of everything else.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

“You never go away from us, yet we have difficulty in returning to You.
Come, Lord, stir us up and call us back. Kindle and seize us.
Be our fire and our sweetness. Let us love. Let us run.”

Augustine of Hippo

dscn0509
(altar tomb in the Rock of Cashel, the Cathedral of St Patrick / Co Tipperary, Ireland/
Julie Cook / 2015)

A thick blanket of smoke hangs heavy in the air.
It’s not the result of burning effigies or burning communities
but rather from the woods of North Carolina and northern Georgia which are on fire…
and the winds have shifted…

The sinking grey smoke is a somber reminder that there is a dangerously severe drought…
and the parched land is now beyond thirsty…

Yet there is more to this current drought than simply a lack of rain…
for there is more that is dry than mere vegetation and brush…
And there is more to this endless thirst than a need for water….

Vehemence and anger are filling the air, accented by vile and profane sentiment.
As the mobs march toward the altars of self indulgence and guile.
Immaturity laced with ignorance stokes the fires of rage as the hate filled
smoke fills the nostrils of a nation.

Self absorption and egocentric worshipers have taken to the streets.
They have taken to their computers and to their phones…their current altars of choice.
All the while they shout vile rhetoric as they stomp their spoiled bored feet.

If you must…
Protest against atrocities,
demonstrate against hunger,
fight against killing…
but not because you’ve simply forgotten, or have never known, how to lose.

Young dismayed parents now publicly lament how are they to console their
confused children who cry in fear from the big bad what ifs of hysteria…
simply because democracy has been at work–once again…

Nay, answer with truth…
the truth that one person lost while another person won…
For that is how this game is played…one person wins while one person loses…

Yet ours is a culture currently obsessed with the win win…
because we’ve grown moralistically soft while deciding everyone should be a winner…
We cannot live with the sad notion of losing…
Never mind old adages of always trying again…

There are those who are falling at the altar of womanly feminism…
which is currently shored up by gender neutrality, resentment and anger.
Marching not for policy or real equality but rather for the notion that
the wrong sex was the victor…as the votes which were cast are ignored….

Tears are being shed not because freedom has been lost
or because lives have been lost,
nor because a nation has lost all hope…
No…
rather tears are flowing because an election was lost…

And now we no longer want to play…
Because reality is simply no longer considered fun.
While we have found ourselves kneeling before all the wrong altars…

Ours are the empty altars of hero worship and of self…
the altars of gadgetry, boredom, appeasement and ignorance.
Altars of fear, anger, hostility, emptiness and divisiveness…

For what or whom has become our idol, our god?
Who or what are those hungry deities which have left us empty, sad,
frustrated, angry and resentful…
as we turn upon one another in the feeding frenzy of resentment?

We have gathered before all the wrong altars for far too long…
These altars have left us shallow and empty while also full of loathing and contempt…
We continue to march without leadership and direction…
lost and wandering…all the while lashing out at those we assume to be our enemy…
never realizing that we are all actually one.
One people…one nation…

And all the while hidden deep within the suffocating smoke of our thirst
lies the only One true proven path in which we need march…

Yet we have decided it’s far easier to wander angrily in the parched darkness
while hiding behind the vitriol sputum which oozes forth from our mouths…
spewing out upon our fellow human beings…

As it seems we’d rather choose…
paranoia to Grace
greed to Offering
ignorane to Enlightenment
darkness to Light
death to Salvation
egregiousness to Gentleness
hate to Love…

May we all fall at the foot of the one true altar,
the cross of Resurrection, Salvation, Hope and Life.

The Father willed that his blessed and glorious Son,
whom he gave to us and who was born for us,
should through his own blood offer himself as a sacrificial victim on the altar of the cross.
This was to be done not for himself through whom all things were made,
but for our sins.

Francis of Assisi

Do not…compromise

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–
the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings,
without milestones, without signposts,…
Your affectionate uncle,
Screwtape.”

― C.S. Lewis,
The Screwtape Letters

Right is right even if no one is doing it;
wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.

St Augustine of Hippo

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile–
hoping it will eat him last.

Sir Winston Churchill

enhanced-buzz-3255-1345922156-1
(a youthful Winston Churchill in his WWI uniform)

Give and take…you were taught since being a child
Bend a little,
give a little…
Give more,
take less.

Compromise…

Yet in that unabashed revelry of our growing concession and settling…
we have deemed that everything and all, even the vast Creator himself…
should now bow down to each petty whim and want…

Never mind that the God of both Heaven and earth laid down precepts
that are to be fully obeyed.
(Psalm 119:4)

Never mind that the time has come when people no longer
live with sound teachings and doctrine…

Instead, to suit their own desires,
they gather around them great numbers of teachers who will say what their
itching ears long to hear.
They will turn their ears away from the Truth, turning rather to the side of all falsehood.

However we must remember to keep our head about us in all situations…
We will endure hardships…
but we must strive to do the work of the One who teaches the Truth
(2 Timothy 4:3-5)

For many deceivers have gone out into the world,
those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh.
Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.
Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for,
but may win a full reward.
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ,
does not have God.
Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching,
do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting,
for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.

2 John 1:7-11

Rest

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord,
and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Augustine of Hippo

IMG_2218
(phlox / Julie Cook / 2016)

In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 4:8

I marvel in the simple

“There are many going afar to marvel at the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the long courses of great rivers, the vastness of the ocean, the movements of the stars, yet they leave themselves unnoticed!”
Augustine of Hippo

DSCN3244
(small mushroom after the rain / Julie Cook / 2016)

All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word:
freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.

Winston Churchill

Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory

Psalm 24:10

Can love come in a box…along with the wisdom gleaned from the road

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
St. Augustine of Hippo

DSCN2603
(Meet Namar Nich, the latest member of the family / Julie Cook / 2016)

To quickly answer the question posed in today’s title…
…in a nutshell…
“no”
Love cannot come in a box….

DSCN2598

Yet what exactly might come in a box you ask…??

Well…

Comfort can come in a box.
A little excitement can come in a box.
Sustenance can come in a box.
A brief moment of happiness or even a little joy can come in a box.
A small respite can come in a box.
A dose of fun can come in a box.
A bit of a diversion can come in a box.
Something new, old, borrowed or blue can come in a box….

And in our case, a little needed levity can come in a box…

Meet Gloria the Dammit doll’s new friends….they came, in a box, from China via LA
(yeah I was a little bummed discovering this crew is not a “Made in America” friendly clan)

DSCN2599

However, sad as it may be, only one friend out of this foreign lot is going to be staying…
The others have places to go and people to see…
As in anxiously expectant homes already in need and waiting desperately for some comfort, joy, new, excitement, diversion, happiness, fun and levity to arrive…

Meet Namar Nich

DSCN2600

Handsome little devil isn’t he?
Puffed out chest, beautiful mop of hair…
and those eyes….absolutely dreamy….

Gloria can hardly contain herself…you can see it in her face….

DSCN2602

Notice that coy little smile of hers and see how her eyes just dance at the first sight of Namar…

What kind of name is Namar you ask…
Well if you must know…
My dad graduated from Emory University in Atlanta in the early 50’s, where he was a member of the
SAE fraternity. Upon completion of his degree from Emory, he then moseyed on over to GA Tech and earned another degree…this coming from a man who really didn’t like school…
but do you want to know what Dad did like?
He liked beer.
As I suppose most college boys, as well as most fraternity boys, do…they indeed like beer…
And in Dad’s case, it was an obscure Philadelphia brew of the day, Namar Beer.
And if I could guess, it was an inexpensive beer as we must remember dad is cheap a most frugal individual.
His college stein, that now sits proudly on a table at my son’s home, has the lovely seal of Emory University on the front and the name “Namar” elegantly printed on the back.

Years back, when I was much younger, I had taken dad’s mug out of his curio cabinet for further inspection.
I was really impressed with the whole college seal but as I flipped it around, reading the name on the back, I was greatly intrigued.
Assuming “Namar” was some deep dark secret ritual name from his time spent at college, I can remember asking him with stately reverence what it stood for.
With eyes sparkling wide, I anxiously readied myself for some marvelous tale as to the meaning of “Namar” when he causally replied…
“oh that was the name of my favorite beer…guess I drank a good bit of it as my friends nicknamed me Namar Nich…”

REALLY?

namar-premium-bm-197-02-f
(a can of Philly’s best, Namar Beer…looks more like a can of motor oil…)

Needless to say one more tiny bubble burst in a long line of bursting bubbles as one more notch to Dad’s pedestal was knocked out from under the once loftier height….He’s now somewhere below sea level…but I digress…

And now you must remember that Gloria the Dammit doll had told me several weeks ago that she was tired. She has been working her fingers to the bones as life at Dad’s has been harrowing at best.
Gloria, my stepmother,….oh yeah, isn’t that the craziest thing, she and Gloria the Dammit doll both have the same name…anywhooo…Gloria, the stepmother, has been…well…not good….and when Gloria isn’t good and Dad isn’t good, which is how life has been as of late, Gloria the Dammit Doll is busy.

So I had promised to find Gloria a friend.
A helpmate who would help share in the load of balancing both the lives of my dad and stepmother….

DSCN2601

So off to Atlanta the three of us went…

The journey was the typical harrowing adventure when traversing the Atlanta interstate system.
Pot holes litter the highway which provide drivers with the same sense of riding a roller coaster just at a speed of 75 mph or greater depending on one’s foot and the need to keep up with the traffic flow.
Bouncing up and down, thankful to be buckled in and praying not to pop a tire…

Yet there was a bit of enlightenment during today’s journey.

The first happened along by way of a homemade roadside placard that was situated on a power line just to the right side of the interstate.
A large painted wooden board announced to one and all:
“Jesus is coming…Be Patient”

I couldn’t help but chuckle out loud.

I mused to myself…that yes, He is indeed coming back…
and with the way things are going in this broken down world of ours,
I know that I for one have been more than a bit anxious as to His ETA…or estimated time of arrival!

There’s a lot of wisdom in that sign…
He’s coming…it isn’t a question of yea or nay…He’s definitely coming…
Rather the concern is all in the timing…as to when exactly He’s coming…
and I can assure you that it won’t be in my preferred time frame that’s for certain—

Timing is God’s and God’s alone…and I am behooved to be mindful of such.
God’s got this…I don’t…which is often far too obvious…
I just have to trust knowing it’s all in His hands.
Not an easy task, especially with my current life in Atlanta,
but it’s not in my hands…it’s all in His….

And as I continued driving over to my life in Atlanta that is totally out of control and certainly out of my control, I am sweetly reminded that God’s got this….suddenly a wonderful sense of comfort washed over me… as I continued racing toward my destination with both Gloria and Namar in tow.

The second little life lesson gleaned happened one interstate over while I was driving past a tanker truck.
Glaring for all to behold, printed in bold black letters on the back of the tanker was the sign “if you’re getting passed on the right, you’re probably in the wrong lane”
Luckily for me I was to this guy’s left.

And here we have life in a nutshell…life by way of the world’s standards…
“hurry up or get over because the world is ready to pass you by…”

Both moments dealt with time…
One being God’s time,..or better yet, God’s timing…
while the other focused on the time of this world.
Both of which play into the craziness I call this life of mine…
with the single important factor being….
which of these two times will I abide by…??

I think I prefer the former of the two….

More to follow on life with the new couple, Namar and Gloria….
and of course the older couple…Mr Mole and Mrs. Loon

“For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.”
Habakkuk 2:3