“in suffering, God gives strength’

It is extremely liberating to know that God never demands more of us that we can give him.
He is always content when we do what we can.
The only important thing is that we never give up,
that with a holy stubbornness we do what we can.

Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen
from The Holy Spirit, Fire of Divine Love


(our little pecan trees are bearing their fruits / nuts slowly / Julie Cook / 2019)

“There is another reason also why the soul has traveled safely in this obscurity;
it has suffered:
for the way of suffering is safer, and also more profitable, than that of rejoicing and of action.
In suffering God gives strength, but in action and in joy the soul does but show its own
weakness and imperfections.
And in suffering, the soul practices and acquires virtue, and becomes pure, wiser, and more cautious.”

St. John of the Cross, p. 149
An Excerpt From
Dark Night of the Soul

Walking hand in hand with the Spirit

“O my God, fill my soul with holy joy, courage and strength to serve You.
Enkindle Your love in me and then walk with me along the next stretch of road before me.”

St. Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)

(detail of Christ Enthroned from The Book of Kells along with the image of a Celtic goose—
seen in the upper corners. The Celts often depicted the Holy Spirit as a wild goose /
Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland)

“The Spirit of God is a spirit of peace, and he speaks and acts in peace
and gentleness, never in tumult and agitation.
What’s more, the motions of the Spirit are delicate touches that don’t make a
great noise and can penetrate our spiritual consciousness only if we have
within ourselves a sort of calm zone of silence and peace.
If our inner world is noisy and agitated, the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit
will find it very difficult to be heard.
If we want to recognize and follow the Spirit’s motions,
it is of the greatest importance to maintain a peaceful heart in all circumstances.”

Fr. Jacques Philippe, p. 37
An Excerpt from
In the School of the Holy Spirit

my eyes have seen Your salvation…


(The Scene of Christ in the Temple by Fra Bartolommeo / 1516 / Kunsthistorisches Museum
/ Vienna, Austria)

“My eyes have seen Your salvation…”
your revelation, your glory, your grace, you name it, the eyes have now beheld it…”
So says Simeon in the Temple on the day Mary and Joseph have taken their young son,
as all good Jewish couples do at the time, for his presentation,
for the ceremony of Purification.
Luke 2:30

The honoring of the Law and of God’s Word.

I would suspect most Christians are rather unfamiliar with what this day of Presentation
was/is actually all about—
We just know it is known as the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord
at the Temple, or more commonly known as Candlemas.

According to an old Jewish custom, a woman who gives birth to a child will be
unclean and homebound for a certain number of days after the birth.
The days for this custom differ for the birth of a boy and a birth of a girl.
If a boy child is born, the woman is unclean for seven days and then she remains
at home for an additional thirty-three days for a total of 40 days.
If a girl child is born, the woman is unclean for 14 days and then she remains
at home for an additional sixty-six days for a total of 80 days.
During these time periods, the woman touches nothing holy.

February 2nd is exactly 40 days after the birth of Jesus Christ and it is on
this day that Mother Mary along with Joseph brought forth their newborn son,
Jesus, to the Temple. Mother Mary was cleansed on this day.
Jesus was presented to the Lord in the Temple on this day.

(Holidays Calendar)

Imagine a woman today having given birth and remaining at home, being considered
“unclean” despite having bathed or showered and being cleaned up first at the Hospital
then later at home…
Only to then be isolated for upwards of 80 days…

That would be almost 12 weeks.
Most maternity leave here in the US is between 6 to 8 weeks, then it’s back to work.

During maternity leave, the majority of women certainly don’t remain isolated—
as getting up, moving and going seems foremost and paramount to both
healing and simply living life in these modern days.

There’s a home to manage, a child, perhaps even more than one, that all need tending to…
there are groceries to buy, doctors to visit, workouts to attend, meals and bottles
to prepare and strollers to push…
who has time for “isolation” let alone “The Law”… and what in the world is this
about not touching things “holy”??

So as we see, there was a great deal more to this notion of Presentation than meets
the eye. And in Simeon’s words, we hear not only proclamation but we hear of a peace—
a blessed peace full of both joy and contentment.

During this particular visit to the Temple for this observed requirement of both Jewish
custom and law, Joseph and Mary encounter two individuals who, to the average observer,
would be nondescript–meaning they’d really not have been noticed nor
considered of much consequence.
They were more or less, figures in the shadows.

Both Simeon and Anna were old.

They ‘hung out’ at the Temple spending their time in constant prayer.
By society’s standards, they served no real practical purpose.
Their usefulness having long come and gone…and yet here they are at the Temple
giving themselves over to constant prayer and communion with God–
I wonder who has the better notion of service, practicalness, and usefulness…

Society or Simeon and Anna?

Today we hear, Bishop Ashenden pointing out in his homily regarding the
Feast Day of the Presentation, that The Law of the day was being upheld in
Mary and Joseph’s bringing Jesus to the Temple for The Presentation—
just as we see the Holy Spirit at work in and through both Simeon and Anna.

We also see, in the then infant Jesus…that He was then, just as he always is
now, the one who is expressing and exposing what is in the heart of the human spirit.

Bishop Ashenden reminds us of the words of the Russian saint and mystic St Seraphim…
“The most important thing is to acquire the Holy Spirit”

Acquiring the Spirit of God is the true aim of our Christian life, while prayer,
fasting, almsgiving and other good works done for Christ’s sake are merely means
for acquiring the Spirit of God.”

“What do you mean by acquiring?” I asked St. Seraphim. “Somehow I don’t understand that.”

“Acquiring is the same as obtaining,” he replied.
“Do you understand, what acquiring money means?
Acquiring the Spirit of God is exactly the same.
You know very well enough what it means to acquire in a worldly sense, your Godliness.
The aim of ordinary worldly people is to acquire or make money;
and for the nobility, it is in addition to receive honors,
distinctions and other rewards for their services to the government.
The acquisition of God’s Spirit is also capital, but grace-giving and eternal,
and it is obtained in very similar ways,
almost the same ways as monetary, social and temporal capital.

“God the Word, the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ,
compares our life with the market, and the work of our life on earth He calls trading.
He says to us all:
“Trade till I come” (Lk. 19:13),
“buying up every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).
In other words, make the most of your time getting heavenly blessings through earthly goods.
Earthly goods are good works done for Christ’s sake that confer the grace of the All-Holy Spirit,
on us.”…..
“At last the Holy Spirit foretold to St. Simeon, who was then in his 65th year,
the mystery of the virginal conception and birth of Christ from the most pure
Ever-Virgin Mary.
Afterwards, having lived by the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God for three
hundred years, in the 365th year of his life, he said openly in the
temple of the Lord that he knew for certain
through the gift of the Holy Spirit that this was that very Christ,
the Savior of the world, Whose supernatural conception, and birth from
the Holy Spirit had been foretold to him by an Angel three hundred years previously.

And there was also St. Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel,
who from her widowhood had served the Lord God in the temple of God for eighty years,
and who was known to be a righteous widow, a chaste servant of God,
from the special gifts of grace which she had received.
She too announced that He was actually the Messiah Who had been promised to the world,
the true Christ, God and Man, the King of Israel,
Who had come to save Adam and mankind.

(excerpt from Saint Seraphim of Sarov /On Acquisition of the Holy Spirit)

And so here in the Temple, we don’t have to wait until Pentecost to see the presence and
work of the Holy Spirit as we hear His words through the words, just as we see
His work through the actions, of both Simeon and Anna—
two individuals who had acquired the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

Just as we later see that John the Baptist knew, by the discernment of the Spirit,
that Jesus was God’s own son.
And as we see, the Spirit has always been, despite not having been officially introduced…
not as He was at Pentecost…He has dwealt among us…the Holy Signpost pointing
always back to God the Father and Christ the Son…

Bishop Ashenden poignantly explains that “God slips into the skin of humanity as through
Jesus and He comes to us just as He comes to us by way of the Holy Spirit as He continues
guiding us through our days…”

And in this age of power struggles, gender identification and the rise of all
things feminist, it is revealed to the faithful that the real power comes
from our having the Holy Spirit.

And thus that is to be our quest, our life’s goal—to seek out the Holy Spirit.
Because when we possess the Spirit within—
it is the Spirit who will lead and guide us through this journey of life.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Luke 11:13

God’s work

The spirit and the soul are two totally different organs:
one belongs to God, while the other belongs to man.
By whatever names one may call them,
they are completely distinct in substance.
The peril of the believer is to confuse the spirit for the soul and the soul
for the spirit,
and so be deceived into accepting the counterfeit of evil spirits
to the unsettling of God’s work.

Watchman Nee
March 8, 1933


(Gulf fritillary butterfly / Julie Cook / 2017)

God’s work…
that is what this is all about is it not?
That being this thing we call life….

Watchman Nee (1903-1972) was an ardent Chinese Christian Church leader.
He was also a profuse author.
I was first introduced to Watchman Nee and his books when I was in college
by a friend who was a bit older and had lived and weathered more of life than
I had up to that point.

Nee is not easy to read, for me at least,
In part because of the sheer depth of his faith.
as well as because much of his work spans the course of a century
that was full of great change.
It is as if one is reading the words of a mystic.
Deeply spiritual, deeply profound.

I have ebbed and flowed over the years with Nee.

Nee’s words have resurfaced recently in my life…
at a time when such words have not only been needed but most certainly
welcomed.

My road as of late has been difficult as I’ve watched my already small family
shrink even smaller. Losing the shoring piers to a heart that is being
battered and tested.

I remain consumed by what all it is taking to get dad’s life, post dad,
to a place of management.
The legal and financial aspect is simply daunting.

Add to the loss of dad, coupled by this organization and bureaucratic nightmare,
the untimely death of my aunt…a death seemingly so sudden.
Granted we knew she had been gravely ill,
despite the doctors saying “not to worry” give the meds time…”
As her body could simply no longer hang on.

My husband and I will be driving the 10 hour journey southward at the
end of the week in order to attend the memorial service.
We will remain for a few days sorting through what made Martha’s life her own.

On top of all the sorrow and frustration we are dealing with the early news of
becoming grandparents…as we worry over our son and daughter-n-law as they are
in the midst of job changes, long commutes and a bit of uncertainty.

So there is certainly a great deal of emotional overload…both up and down…
both good and bad.

That is why the words of those such a Nee are ever so important.

A wise friend of mine…
as I am fortunate in that I have many friends who are indeed wise,
recently shared with me his thoughts on my latest stand of sorrow and worry.
He told me that…
“Only when we realise that we can not do it all [alone]
(whatever the it might be in our lives)
we then cry out…
I believe God is so close to you at this time because you are crying out to him…”

I too believe that when we cry out, God draws ever closer despite our feelings
of isolation…
for it is in the isolation of loneliness…
when we are stripped bare of all distraction and false protection.

In 1949 when China became a Communist Nation, Nee was imprisoned—
He had refused to stop preaching, speaking, writing and sharing the Word of God.
A practice counter to all things communist.
An underlying theme in Communism is that it is important, if not essential,
to create false accusations in order to arrest, impression or even execute
those who speak Truth against the atheistic beliefs of the Communist state.

This was not an exception in the case of Nee.
He was falsely accused of crimes he never committed, arrested and sentenced to
spend what would be the last 20 years of his life in a forced hard labor camp.

His final words where found scribbled on a sheet of paper that had been tucked
beneath his prison cell pillow…

“Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and
resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe.
I die because of my belief in Christ.”

Watchman Nee

So what we must come to understand, as hard as it often is, that this life
that we claim as our own, is not for our benefit and glory but rather for
that of God’s…it is for His work, and His alone…
as we learn that we both live and die because of Christ Jesus….

“The greatest advantage in knowing the difference between spirit and soul is in
perceiving the latent power of the soul and in understanding its falsification
of the power of the Holy Spirit.

Just last night I was reading what F. B. Meyer once said in a meeting shortly before
his earthly departure. Here is a section of it:
‘This is an amazing fact that never has there been so much spiritualism outside
the church of Christ as is found today…
Is it not factual that in the lower part of our human nature the stimulation of
the soul is quite prevailing?
Nowadays the atmosphere is so charged with the commotion of all kinds of counterfeit that the Lord seems to be calling the church to come to a higher ground.’
Today’s situation is perilous.
May we ‘prove all things; hold fast that which is good’ (1 Thess. 5:.21)
Amen”

Watchman Nee
March 8, 1933
(forward from The Latent Power of the Soul)

Yes is yes and no is no….and the wisdom of an apologist

“[T]he mystery of the Trinity is the mystery of Holiness:
the Glory and the Power of the Trinity is the Glory and Power of God who makes us holy.
There is God dwelling in light inaccessibly, a consuming fire of Holy Love,
destroying all that resists, glorifying into its own purity all that yields.
There is the Son, casting Himself into that consuming fire,
whether in its eternal blessedness in heaven,
or its angry wrath on earth, a willing sacrifice, to be its food and its satisfaction,
as well as the revelation of its power to destroy and to save.
And there is the Spirit of Holiness, the flames of that mighty fire spreading on every side,
convicting and judging as the Spirit of Burning,
and then transforming into its own brightness and holiness all that it can reach.
All the relations of the Three Persons to each other and
to us have their root and their meaning in the revelation of God as the Holy One.
As we know and partake of Him, we shall know and partake of Holiness.”

Andrew Murray

rscn4564
(a cluster of acorns / Julie Cook / 2016)

Bear always in mind that this is the rule of faith which I profess;
by it I testify that the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are inseparable from each other,
and so will you know in what sense this is said. Now, observe,
my assertion is that the Father is one, and the Son one, and the Spirit one,
and that They are distinct from Each Other.
This statement is taken in a wrong sense by every uneducated
as well as every perversely disposed person,
as if it predicated a diversity, in such a sense as to imply a separation among the Father,
and the Son, and the Spirit.

I am, moreover, obliged to say this, when (extolling the Monarchy at the expense of the Economy)
they contend for the identity of the Father and Son and Spirit,
that it is not by way of diversity that the Son differs from the Father,
but by distribution: it is not by division that He is different, but by distinction;
because the Father is not the same as the Son,
since they differ one from the other in the mode of their being.
For the Father is the entire substance, but the Son is a derivation and portion of the whole,
as He Himself acknowledges: “My Father is greater than I.”
In the Psalm His inferiority is described as being “a little lower than the angels.”
Thus the Father is distinct from the Son, being greater than the Son,
inasmuch as He who begets is one, and He who is begotten is another;
He, too, who sends is one, and He who is sent is another; and He, again,
who makes is one, and He through whom the thing is made is another.

Happily the Lord Himself employs this expression of the person of the Paraclete (Holy Spirit),
so as to signify not a division or severance, but a disposition (of mutual relations in the Godhead);
for He says, “I will pray the Father, and He shall send you another Comforter…
even the Spirit of truth,” thus making the Paraclete distinct from Himself,
even as we say that the Son is also distinct from the Father;
so that He showed a third degree in the Paraclete,
as we believe the second degree is in the Son, by reason of the order observed in the Economy.
Besides, does not the very fact that they have the distinct names of Father and Son amount to a declaration that they are distinct in personality?
For, of course, all things will be what their names represent them to be;
and what they are and ever will be, that will they be called;
and the distinction indicated by the names does not at all admit of any confusion,
because there is none in the things which they designate. “Yes is yes, and no is no;
for what is more than these, cometh of evil.”

Tertullian
(c.155-c.240 AD)

Please find this brief youtube clip of Dr. Nabeel Qureshi’s closing remarks during a debate on whether God is Tawhid (oneness) or Trinity… a discussion offered at Wayne State in Detroit, Michigan April 8, 2015 during a discussion between Dr. Qureshi and Dr Shabir Ally
https://www.youtube.com/shared?ci=g0U7T6pv2Gc

(prayers for Dr Nabeel Qureshi as he is currently being treated for an aggressive
form of stomach cancer)

simply too casual

Thou waitest for the spark from heaven! and we,
Light half-believers of our casual creeds,
Who never deeply felt, nor clearly will’d,
Whose insight never has borne fruit in deeds,
Whose vague resolves never have been fulfill’d;…

Matthew Arnold

A human being becomes human not through the casual convergence of certain biological conditions, but through an act of will and love on the part of other people.
Italo Calvino

IMG_1677
(Adare Manor, Adare, County Limerick, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

There once was a time when we were more stately…
We were more formal, more deliberate, more serious.
We were respectful, mindful, courteous.
We gave honor to where honor was due.
We were appreciative and we knew how to convey our gratitude.
We were respectful to those who were older, who held office, who defended our Nation.
We knew that it was ok if we didn’t always agree with someone else’s opinion, we could appreciate the differences of thought while still being polite, kind, courteous.

We dressed in our best when going to the airport, to church, temple, to school, to a play, out to eat or to the movies.
We took pride in our appearance despite our social status.
We appreciated the work done by all as we all took pride in what we did.

God was the Creator
Jesus was His risen son
and the Holy Spirit, a Divine Mystery.

We were wooed and awed by the Divinity of the Creator
He wasn’t our friend, our pal, our buddy…
But rather He was our God.

We worked hard, studied hard and revered our faith.
We marveled in the mysterious.
We knew of our place in the Universe and were humbled to be participants.

We were human and appreciated our humanness
We respected life
As we mourned the loss of life
We cheered for the good guys and we collectively rallied against the bad

We were civilized and took pride in our civility.
We appreciated orderly and clean.
We worked hard for what we had, even if it was very little, we were still proud.

Today we have grown overtly glum, smug and casual as we consider most of life passé.
We have become rude, disrespectful, self absorbed and consumed by massive consumerism.
We don’t give a damn about others or what they may think or care how they may feel—
Just take a look at our politicians, entertainers and athletes…
We want everything for nothing, as in we want it all and we want it now…
We wear entitlement like a badge and are proud for all to know it.
We don’t want to work hard for what we have, preferring to take the easy way up and out.
Clothes are optional as everything and anything goes.
Our faith has been dumbed down to a feel good prosaic.
We make excuses, demands and assumptions.
We have grown mean to one another, hateful to those who have differing opinions and distrustful to anyone who dares to cross our path.
We don’t have much time for religion as it tends to slow us down.

As the question now begs to be asked…
Are we now the better for who we’ve become?

Christians today appear to know Christ only after the flesh. They try to achieve communion with Him by divesting Him of His burning holiness and unapproachable majesty, the very attributes He veiled while on earth but assumed in fullness of glory upon His ascension the the Father’s right hand.
A.W.Tozer

Twisted

And finally I twist my heart round again, so that the bad is on the outside and the good is on the inside, and keep on trying to find a way of becoming what I would so like to be, and could be, if there weren’t any other people living in the world.
Anne Frank

DSCN2186
(one of cookie’s pumpkins / Julie Cook / 2013)

When I was still in the classroom and it was time for me to introduce our ceramic, better known as clay, unit, I’d first demonstrate how best to “wedge” the clay. Simply put, that’s the process of working out the tiny air pockets that get caught in a ball of clay. If the air bubbles are allowed to stay in the clay, as it’s being formed, there is a very good chance that the final piece being fired in the kiln would either severely crack, or worse, explode. When trapped air is heated it expands, and in the case of the clay, the expansion is obviously outward… causing catastrophic results for a pot being fired.

Wedging the clay is very similar to the kneading of bread. While I was in college, my ceramics instructor was a visiting professor from the University of Tennessee. This particular professor had been trained in the traditionally rich Asian ceramic school of study and he in turn taught us similar based techniques. One of those techniques was a particular way to wedge the clay— the Japanese Spiral Technique.

This particular technique allowed one to work the clay from the inside out… manipulating the clay and hands, twisting and rolling, working the clay into a spiraled ball. Pretty much guaranteeing that the air pockets were worked out of the clay. One piece of clay full of the air pockets, being fired in a loaded kiln, put everyone’s piece in jeopardy. If one piece “blew up” —it could possibly damage any piece sitting in close proximity—resulting in very unhappy students. Wedging was stressed to the utmost.

So when I read today’s quote by Anne Frank, about twisting her heart round, so that the bad is on the outside and the good on the inside, I couldn’t help but think of wedging and of the Japanese Spiral Technique. How nice it would be if it were so easy to twist our bad out from deep down, twisting it outward pulling the good inward toward our soul. Simply sloughing off the bad and being full of the good.

She speaks of trying to become the person who she would like to be, the person she could be–whether anyone else existed or not. Anne was between 13 to 15 years old when she wrote those words. She was suppose to have had a lifetime ahead of the her to work on becoming that very special person she sought to be.

I am almost 54 years old—I have been privileged to have that lifetime that was stolen from Anne. I am still not that person that I wish to be. There has always been a part of me that yearned to be like one of the Desert Fathers, or in my case, Mothers—being one who sought solitude away from society allowing myself to focus solely on my relationship to and with God. No worldly distraction.

How I so often push my time with God to the wayside as something else just seems so much more pressing….trivial things. I sadly allow the here and now to overshadow the Divine….
“I’ll get to it in a minute. I’ll read the day’s Divine Office in a minute, after I put the wash in the dryer, after I feed the cats, after I make the bed, after I take my shower, after I post the day’s blog, after I answer the phone, when I get back from the store, when I get back from Dad’s, after I start supper, after I do the dishes…once I put my head to my pillow…..tomorrow, I will do it tomorrow….”

Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws (Psalm 119:164 NIV) But I don’t do that. Why don’t I do that? We are told we should do that. Seven times a day…

To learn the perfection of prayer and worship. To go deep within to that inner sanctum where there is that piece of the Divine–so deep in my very core that I am not even aware that it is there. It is in this deep core sanctuary where the Holy Spirit resides waiting for me to go within to commune with the Divine.

And yet there is the desire to serve….service to others. To demonstrate the Divine by offering kindness, compassion, help, comfort, nourishment, shelter…a ministry of aid and compassion, of doing…

Have I done enough? No. I don’t think so. I know not. There is still so much to do. Just turn on the news—there is so much that needs to be done for this humanity of ours.

Prayers for the school’s this week who witnessed the senseless loss of life in the throws of, once again, needless violence.
Prayers for Sparks Middle School in Nevada and prayers for Danvers High School in Massachusetts.
Prayers for the teachers, the students and the families who now ask those painful questions of why.
Prayers for our Nation as our allies today now question our “friendship” and find that our trust has been broken.
Prayers for the skewed beliefs and of our extreme obsession with materialism, or our obsession over Hollywood and sensationalism media, for those who we look to as role models who cannot even lead themselves, for and what both Blessed Mother Teresa and John Paul II called our culture of Death……

No, I am not done—much twisting, wedging and woking remains of the moving out the bad to move in the good. Just like the potter, I need to work the clay of my heart. Wedging a little more until it is right.