a magnitude of grace

“To use this life well is the pathway through death to everlasting life.”
St. John Almond


(Methodist Chruch, Cades Cove /The Great Smokey Mt.s National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

“Even if you do not confess, God is not ignorant of the deed,
since he knew it before it was committed.
Why then do you not speak of it?
Does the transgression become heavier by the confession?
No, it becomes lighter and less troublesome.
And this is why he wants you to confess:
not that you should be punished, but that you should be forgiven;
not that he may learn your sin—how could that be, since he has seen it?—
but that you may learn what favor he bestows.
He wishes you to learn the greatness of his grace,
so that you may praise him perfectly, that you may be slower to sin,
that you may be quicker to virtue.
And if you do not confess the greatness of the need,
you will not understand the enormous magnitude of his grace.”

St. John Chrysostom, p. 255
An Excerpt From
A Year with Church Fathers

Each man is good in His sight

I am a red man.
If the Great Spirit had desired me to be a white man he would have
made me so in the first place.
He put in your heart certain wishes and plans,
in my heart he put other and different desires.
Each man is good in his sight.
It is not necessary for Eagles to be Crows.

Sitting Bull


(A crow perches in a tree in Cades Cove, Great Smokey Mts National Park / Julie Cook / 2020)

Native American Indians always believed that spirits resided in the beings of
the creatures of the earth…all the way from the mighty bison and bear
to the majestic eagle, the stealthy wolf all the way down to the lowly turtle and snake.

Each animal and creature was aforded various human-like traits.
They protected or watched over the one who claimed them as a ‘spirit guide’
Imparting power to the one they protected or looked over.

One such spirit was that of the crow or raven.
The bird was known as a trickster or prankster,
the mischievous one.

Years ago we took our son, who was about 9 at the time, on a vacation that had us
heading west.
West to places like New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and then up towards
Montana and South Dakota.

Places that a Georgia born native son needed to see and experience.

We stopped at places like the Painted desert, the Badlands, Yellowstone,
the Grand Canyon—we went to cities and towns such as Taos, Sante Fe, Cody,
Salt Lake City, Logan, Cheyenne, Jackson Hole…
while visiting various Pueblos, Reservations, monuments, churches, museums
and national parks…

And yet in all that mighty and grand greatness, there was one small thing that caught
both our eyes.

It was something vastly different from the beautiful landscapes found around this
great nation of ours.

We were each drawn to something that was small yet skillful.
Tiny yet intriguing.

As the art teacher, I was drawn like a magnet to the inticracy…
As a young boy, my son was drawn, as most young boys would be, to all
things of imagination and of cowboys and indians.

The draw you ask…???
They were small tiny stone carvings by Zuni indians known as a fetish.

Tiny carvings of animals created in stone, fossils and shells.
Each held in the palm of one’s hand.

According to the Black Arrow Gallery:
Fetishes, charms, amulets, or simply good luck pieces, call them whatever you would like,
but virtually every culture has them. Fetishes are small carvings made from various materials
by many different Native American Tribes.
These carvings serve a ceremonial purpose for their creators and depict animals and icons
integral to their culture.
As a form of contemporary Native American Art they are sold with non-religious
intentions to collectors worldwide.

Origianal fetishes are no longer available for purchase as they are considered
museum worthy.
Yet there are some very well known tribal artists who continue to create these tiny
artistic treasures to sell.
And the better known artists and their art carvings fetch high prices.

During our trip, as a rememberance from this particular vacation,
my son and I each bought a few affordable carvings.
We were told that the fetish would choose the buyer.
Each fetish supposedly possessed certain characteristics and traits
which would draw the buyer.

Well, I was drawn to several.
A bear, a beaver and yes, a crow.

Crows and Ravens are birds of a feather…with ravens being of the larger feather.
So my crow was most likely a raven…but it was still a small marble black bird
with two turquoise eyes.

Again, according to the Black Arrow Gallery:
The raven is not a traditional fetish but he is carved often, and beautifully,
by a number of artists.
Some artisans will put a stone in the raven’s mouth.
He is generally carved of jet or black marble though he can appear in virtually
any stone of the artist’s choosing.
While considered somewhat of a prankster, he doesn’t have the negative characteristics
associated with the coyote.
The raven can help us work through failure and short-comings by reminding
us that anything we have the courage to face, we have the power to transform.

I imagine that the reason crows / ravens were afforded a place at the tribal table was
in part due the fact that these birds are actually very intelligent.

Those who study crows and ravens know that these birds have a language of calls all their own.
They can actually communicate with one another.
They also have keen memories and have been known to bring “gifts’– various sparkly
found objects to humans who interact with them.

I have had a long love-hate relationship with crows.

I find them irritating when they gang attack a hawk who flies
into their territory.
I’m not a fan of gang activity.
However, I imagine that there is some sort of perceived threat
when a bird of prey intercepts one’s private airspace…I digress.

And yet I love throwing out stale bread for the crows to come gather.
They will often wake me at dawn with their loud raucous caws as
they swoop into a tree outside our bedroom window where the
bread still sits from the prior evening.

So reading the wisdom of Sitting Bull in today’s quote, I am reminded of
that song sung in many a child’s church chapel…Jesus Loves the Little Children

Written by C. Herbert Woolston and George F. Root.

According to hymntime.com
Words: C. Her­bert Wool­ston (1856–1927).
Wool­ston was one of George Root’s fa­vo­rite lyr­i­cists.
Child­ren oft­en sing just the re­frain, which is a song all to itself!

Music: George F. Root, 1864, Root orig­in­al­ly wrote this tune for the Am­er­i­can ci­vil
war song Tramp, Tramp, Tramp.

Jesus calls the children dear,
Come to Me and never fear,
For I love the little children of the world;
I will take you by the hand,
Lead you to the better land,
For I love the little children of the world.

Refrain

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red and yellow, black and white,
All are precious in His sight,

All lives matter…both living and yet born.
All lives matter… each man, woman and child…no matter their color or race.
For all are not only good, but rather are most
precious to our God, our Father and Great Creator.

It just takes a crow to remind us of such.


(a camera friendly crow / Cades Cove, The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2020)

even when you’re down, look up

“A people who do not honor the deeds of their worthy dead
will do nothing worthy of being honored by their descendants.”

Macalay


(a weathered tombstone, Myers Cemetery, Townsend, TN / Julie Cook / 2020)

It was hot, nearing 90, as the sun beat down on our backs.
The bugs certainly weren’t bothered by the heat as they swarmed around our faces.
My husband kept slapping at his legs to fend off the ravenous bites.

On this particular July 4th, 2020 we found ourselves wandering around the oldest cemetery
in this particular part of Tennessee—
Myers Cemetery in the small sleepy town of Townsend, Tennessee.

Townsend boasts being the quiet side of the Smokies…
a far cry from nearby Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg.

We like quiet.

Townsend is one of the gateways to The Great Smokey Mountains National Park…
in particular the gateway to Cades Cove—
One of the first mountain settlements by white European immigrants in what was
originally a part of the Cherokee Nation.

Myers cemetery dates back to 1795, if not even years before.
There are approximately 300 graves, many unknown, and even many unmarked.
Out of the approximate 300 marked graves,
75 graves belong to children under the age of 12.

There was the bittersweet double tombstone of twins born in 1805—
each living 4 and 5 days respectively.

Sheep and lambs that rest atop tombstones, denote the graves of children.

Even the small etched hand, held within a larger hand.

But many of the oldest graves simply have a single stone or piece of slate marking one’s place.

And so when I saw the worn weathered marker of a hand with a finger pointing upward, I couldn’t
help but see the significance that even in death, we are reminded our hope and help
comes from above.

So as we find ourselves currently gripped by all sorts of angst, sorrow, fear and the unknown on this earth, it is here in a quiet mountain cemetery , walking amongst the long dead, that I am pointedly reminded that even in death,
we are to always look up…

“We must pray literally without ceasing— without ceasing—
in every occurrence and employment of our lives…
that prayer of the heart which is independent of place or situation,
or which is rather a habit of lifting up the heart to God as in a constant
communication with Him.”

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.

Psalm 121

sanity remains despite insanity’s fight for dominance

For at present we all tend to one mistake; we tend to make politics too important.
We tend to forget how huge a part of a man’s life is the same under a Sultan and a Senate,
under Nero or St. Louis.
Daybreak is a never-ending glory,
getting out of bed is a never-ending nuisance;
food and friends will be welcomed;
work and strangers must be accepted and endured;
birds will go bedwards and children won’t,
to the end of the last evening.

—G.K. Chesterton
from the essay What’s Right with the World,
found in In Defense of Sanity

Two things…well maybe even more but two things first.

First…I saw this shelf fungus, or full blown mushroom, growing directly out of the side
of a tree…and at first glance, I asked my husband…
“is that thing real???”
with his woodsy savvy response, “of course it’s real”

“Huh….who knew?!” is all I could muster in reply.


(a fungus among us / The Great Smokey Mts National Park / Julie Cook / 2018

Secondly…what about G.K.???

Is Mr. Chesterton not hitting the proverbial nail on the head with his very current
words???

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Chesterton…Gilbert Keith to be exact,
Mr. Chesterton came into this world in 1874 in London and died in 1936 at his home
in Buckinghamshire, England.

He was a prolific writer, being considered by many, the greatest writer of the 20th century.
He never attended college however but rather opted to attend art school,
earning a degree in illustration.
Yet it was after being asked to contribute an essay on art criticism to a magazine that
his lifelong passion for writing and his career as a writer, would not stop until
his death at age of 62…
and yet it never really has stopped as his words live on most enthusiastically
to this day.

And it is due to his prolific writing that Mr. Chesterton remains as current and
as relevant as he did at the turn of the century…that being the turn of the 19th
to the 20th century.

It was actually from the writings of Chesterton that lead a young atheist by the name
of C.S. Lewis to conversion to Christianity…
but Chesterton first would have to come to conversion himself.

Born of Unitarian parents, as a young man Chesterton and his brother veered toward a
fascination with the occult and that of Qujia Boards…as this was a time of a cultural
interest in such…a time when seances were all the rage and much in vogue with most of
cultured society.

Intellectualism and science were both coming into their own as Christianity was
being seen as the stuff of fables and fairy tales as well as too stringent for
those seeking to dabble in all things ‘other than’…
for this was an age of enlightenment.

Chesterton credits his wife Frances, who he married in 1901, with actually leading
him back to the fold of believers.
They became members of the Anglican Church…yet Chesterton would refer to
Anglicanism as a “pale imitation” and eventually joined the Catholic Church in 1922.

It was at this point that Chesterton became what many consider to be one of the
staunchest of all times apologists for the Christian Faith.

Chesterton was equally blessed with the gift of gab and debated the likes of
H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell and Clarence Darrow and not only
lived to tell about it but was considered to be the victor of each debate leading
George Bernard Shaw to proclaim that “the world is not thankful enough for Chesterton.”

And so as I read today’s quote, I found it amazingly instep and even quite timely.

In fact, reading the quote and not knowing it was from Chesterton,
I would have thought any ardent
Christian living today might have said such.

And so it was on our recent trip to the mountains–Cades Cove to be exact, that we
found ourselves wandering into an old creaking white clappered church…
This small mountain Methodist church’s original log hewn structure, built in 1820,
is long gone …leaving in its place the current surviving structure which dates to 1902.


(a pic of the church I took several years back during the fall of the year / Cades Cove /
Julie Cook)

I find that there is something not only peaceful about this long empty church but
actually inviting…

The setting which surrounds this bastion of faith beckons to my soul.


(a view looking back to the right of the Chruch / Julie Cook / 2018)

As we walked inside this glimpse of days gone by, breathing in the stale dusty old air,
feeling the ancient wooden planks gently give and squeak underfoot,
I immediately saw the same simple altar with the same simple wooden cross
hung on the wall…of which was still standing after 25 years when I first took a picture
of our son standing at that very same altar as he once thought seminary was in his future,
I felt an immediate sense of coming home.

Yet on this particular visit, splayed open in reverent fashion on the ancient plain
wooden altar, sat a Bible.
A worn open Bible…
And whenever I find a lonely open Bible,
I am always intrigued as to where might this bible be opened…
what passage did a previous visitor find important to leave for
those who followed after…

The Bible was opened to the Book of Lamentations…
with one section of verse shining like a blinding light…
Lamentations 3:20-24

My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.

This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope.

It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

So given Mr. Chesterton’s words regarding our tendency to take politics
(and our current state of events) way too seriously,
of which is oh so easy to do with one click of a button, it is a deep comfort
to see those long-standing words still there, still consistant, still constant…
a reminder that despite our dire current state of affairs,
the Lord remains my portion as my hope rests only in Him…

to eat

“Eat without scruple whatever God has prepared for you at the common table…
whatever God provides for you, take that with simplicity of heart from his hand”

St. Philip Neri


(wile turkey gobbler / Cades Cove, TN / The Great Smokey Mt National Park / Julie Cook / 2018)

“For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks
my blood abides in me, and I in him…this is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.

John 6:55-56,58

Somebody needs to eat them….

“Nature alone is antique,
and the oldest art a mushroom.”

Thomas Carlyle

Toadstools and mushrooms…the prevalent fungus among us…
With all those fungi surely someone out there has to be a beneficiary…
as this squirrel is doing his best to make the most of a free meal…

One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak,
eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt
the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does,
for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant?
To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand,
for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Romans 14:2-4

berries, cherries and bears, oh my

“Haven’t you ever thought of living
unconsciously like bears, sniffing the earth,
close to pears and the mossy dark,
far from human voices and fire?

Nâzım Hikmet Ran


(a mama bear and her cub perch high in the wild cherry trees / Julie Cook / Cades Cove, TN / 2018)

Some folks would say it’s the sign of an impending cold winter…
What with the numbers of bears we’ve seen in just a two-day span, gorging themselves
on berries and apparently the prolific wild cherries that grow plentiful in the
Smokey Mountains.

Twelve bears and counting.

An amazing feat really given that we’ve been coming to this area on and off now for 35
years and have seen maybe a total of 5 bears over the course of that time—
and those were just at a glance here or there.

Today we ran into 5 more bears with one almost literally running into me.
We were actually walking through a field along the woodline, walking away from one of
the few remaining original cabins in Cades Cove when my husband turned to say something to me
yet he could only muster that single word again, BEAR!!

I turned just in time to see a small black bear right behind me before he kindly bolted
into the woods.

Next, as we were exiting out of the cove we saw a mom and cub perched high in the wild
cherry trees enjoying a late brunch.

Then later in the evening, on one final drive through the cove,
we came upon another young bear eating fast and furiously…


(all bears seen in Cades Cove / Julie Cook / 2018)

Not knowing when I’ll make it back this way, as it’s been about 5 years since our last trip,
I savor these moments.
Breathing in deeply, holding it as long as possible before slowly exhaling.

These snippets, these glimpses of things that are truly greater than our hurly-burly
hectic ant-like lives…
lives spent hurrying here and there as we always seem oh so preoccupied and
tremendously busy…I consider these moments, these gifts of time, one of the
greatest privileges offered.

Being able to see animals in their natural habitat, in a place that is stopped in time,
doing what they do best…simply living and being the wild animals that they are…
is a gift…a gift offered by the Creator to one of the created…

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him
and for him.

Colossians 1:16

live to see another day

God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well.
Voltaire


(a young bear scales the tip top of the trees in Cades Cove / Julie Cook / 2018)

We’ve come up to Tennessee, to Cades Cove for a couple of days.
It is by far one of my most favorite places on earth…as I have seen some mighty grand and
lovely places on this planet. But Cades Cove is special.

I’ve written about Cades Cove before so I won’t go into all of that all over again
but just know that it remains a small remnant of who and what settled this great
land of ours.

Today in the Cove (an 11-mile one-way loop around what was once an early 19th-century
mountain valley settlement and centuries-old Indian territory)
we actually came upon two bears climbing like nimble footed acrobats
to the tip-top branches of the trees…
there were berries.

Cars had stopped as everyone got out, careening necks upward while staring in amazement,
watching these two big black bears acting more like squirrels.

As the day waned, we made our way back to the cabin where we were staying and
decided to go hike some of the nearby trails.
We had been told upon check-in that there was a bear on the property so just be
vigilant when out and about.

Making our way up a narrow trail, my husband leading the way with his long spider stick
waving precariously in front of him like some sort of crazy conductor’s baton
(a stick or twig used to knock down all the webs that are prolific this time of year)
all the while as I lagged slightly behind with my camera snapping pictures of the various
mushrooms and toadstools and yes, spider webs…

Suddenly my husband stops dead in his tracks and urgently announces BEAR.

I freeze.

About 20 feet in front of us, at the bend in the trail, lumbers a very large mother
black bear with two tiny cubs in tow.

I threw my camera up as fast as I thought I had life left to do so in order to snap a shot,
a shot I didn’t even have time to focus, when mom and babies nonchalantly kept
walking around the curve in the path….
all the while as we prayed she wouldn’t turn and charge at us.

We just stood there as she rounded the turn and disappeared.
Then boldly, or brazenly I’m not sure which, we opted to take a few steps forward just
to see which way they were headed when suddenly one of the cubs pops back around
the corner to take a gander at us before he circles back to mom.

At which point we turned and took another trail.

Once back down to the main road we spied a maintenance worker who we decided should
hear our report of seeing a mama bear with cubs on the retreat’s property.

He casually replies “yeah…they’ve been around awhile, best to keep your distance
but that’s nothing…
two weeks ago I was standing right over there when a mountain lion came
out of nowhere and crossed the path right in front of me…
but these darn spiders…now they’re what really bothers me”

We opted to leave him our spider stick for protection.

The wild animals honor me,
the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,

Isaiah 43:20

comings and goings

You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
Deuteronomy 28:6


(the road leading Tremont Great Smokey Mt Institute, The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

During this season of holiday travel may we all remain safe during the
journey to and from our various destinations….

“The love and affection of the angels be to you,

The love and affection of the saints be to you,

The love and affection of heaven be to you,

To guard and to cherish you.

May God shield you on every step,

May He aid you on every path,

And may He hold you safe on every slope,

On every hill and on every plain;

On earth and on sea until you are home again.”
Irish Blessing

a gentle reminder

“The measure of love is to love without measure.”
St. Francis de Sales

dscn2191
(wild turkey Cades Cove, The Great Smokies National Park, Tennessee /Julie Coo / 2015)

Late one afternoon last week, I had a doctor’s appointment.
It was one of those late in the day appointments that kind of puts a kink
in the entire day…. as in you have to be dressed and ready to go all while making
certain that you aren’t doing anything else that causes you to overrun the appointed time.

You know how doctor’s offices can be…

Either they scold you for running late… as in the receptionist will either
actually say something about how you’ve messed up everyone else by being late,
or rather she will just give you that stare of annoyment while curtly
asking for your insurance information.
Or even worse…they’ll fine you for missing the appointment because
they canceled it when you weren’t there on the dot.

Never mind that you will proceed to sit for hours waiting to finally be seen
despite your punctuality.

I arrived right on time but noticed that the office seemed rather
sparse for that time of day.
This was actually an appointment that had to be rescheduled following my nerve block
as the two coincided and they couldn’t work me in for a solid month,
so I’ve had to wait and wait….
I am happy I wasn’t in total dire straights.

The receptionist asked which doctor I was to see.
When I told her she informed me that he was actually in a different office
in another town that day.

Huh?

“What’s your birthday so I can look up your time…”

I gave it to her while I was now almost certain that for some reason,
maybe the fact that my brain no longer worked,
the appointment was actually to be the following day…
the day I was having to be Atlanta with Dad.

Sure enough it was.

Despite my having gotten the text to confirm the day and time…
despite that the date being marked on my calendar and
despite my cell phone alerting me when to go…

So since I now had to cancel the now following day’s appointment, again,
as I had to be with Dad,
the earliest available was not for another full month…
maybe I will be in dire straights by then…

Anywhoo, I exited the office now mad.
Mad at myself…
mad at my crazy life…
and mad that the doctor can’t seem to see me for months at a time…

Aggravated, I got in the elevator with my nose to my phone making certain
I was putting the new date and time in correctly.

I was so preoccupied that I didn’t notice the man coming out of the
same office I had just exited,
right behind me as he entered the elevetaor with me.

I pushed the ground floor and was taken aback a bit when I realized I wasn’t alone.
I asked the gentleman which floor he needed.
He told me the ground floor.

We all know how awkward it can be with just two strangers on an elevator together…
as in what do you say, what to you do, where do you look…I put down my phone and
asked my elevator mate if he was having a good day.

“Oh yes mam I am” he said with a distinct country accent.

Here in the south, true southerners either have a deep southern drawl
or one that is what is considered more country then southern.
Much to my mother’s disdain, when she first met my husband,
who was at the time my fiancé of their first meeting,
his accent was and still is more country than was her very genteel southern intonation.

My elevator mate was wearing a green and white checked shirt, neatly tucked into his
nicely pressed blue jeans.
He was an older black man, graying throughout his neatly cut hair.
He was rather thin yet spry and was squinting in the dimly lit elevator…
all while ginning from ear to ear.

He continued…
“I don’t have to come back for 6 more months cause I just got me a good report from the doctor.”

“That’s great!” I injected, genuinely happy for him because I know all too well
about those bad reports.

“Ever since that operation when he cut on my stomach,
I’ve quit hurting and I”ve gained 10 pounds in a month’s time!
I aint scrawny no more!!!” he proudly boasted.

I told him that that was great and now he’d be able to truly enjoy his Thanksgiving.
“Oh yes mam I plan to…”

By now we were both making our way toward the parking lot.
As we exited the building, I noticed that it was a very warm late fall afternoon.
The sun was shining yet heading deep toward the west while there was a warm breeze blowing.

“Isn’t it a beautiful day” he announced more than asked…
as I respond that that indeed it was.
I added “it certainly doesnt feel very fall like since we’ve not had any fall
or winter-like weather.

“Well that’s about to change this weekend because it’s going to be cold on Sunday.”

“Really?”

I’ve not paid much attention to the weather as of late as we are in an extremely
unseasonable spell of warm weather that is actually hot and dangerously dry.

“Yes mam, but until then, you enjoy this nice weather and you have yourself a
good Thanksgiving holiday.”

“And I hope you do too….”

And with that we went our separate ways.

Suddenly I forgot that I had been mad, aggravated or feeling frustrated that
I’d wasted the better part of the day with stupidity…

Because in that elevator I had met a spry and happy reminder to the things in our lives that truly matter….and it didn’t have anything to do with missed appointments…
or maybe…
it really did…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation,
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Philippines 4:6