“It is part of the discipline of God to make His loved ones perfect through trial and suffering.
Only by carrying the Cross can one reach the Resurrection.”
Archbishop Fulton Sheen
(flowers in a stall in Zurich, Switzerland / Julie Cook / 2018)
“In the old days, people demanded ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,’
and to repay evil for evil.
Patience was not yet on the earth,
because faith was not on the earth either.
Of course, impatience made full use of the opportunities the Law gave it.
That was easy when the Lord and Master of patience was not here.
But now that he has come and put the grace of faith together with patience,
we are no longer allowed to attack someone even with a word—-
not even to call someone a fool without facing the danger of judgment.
The Law found more than it lost when Christ said,
‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven’ (Matthew 5:44-45).
This most important commandment summarizes in a word the universal discipline of patience,
since it does not allow us to do evil even to people who deserve it.”
Tertullian, p. 104
An Excerpt from
A Year with Church Fathers
(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.
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.
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,
“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
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!”
“Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble.”
― Samuel Johnson
(an absurd looking jellyfish washed up on the beach / Santa Rosa Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)
The other afternoon as I was on my way home from Dad’s, finding myself traveling happily lickity split on the highway, as I thankfully worked my way out and away from the madness of the city…I was winging my way home in the fast moving far left lane…
People with lead feet usually prefer the far left lane…
All of a sudden, the car in front on me slams on its brakes, as if a goose had wandered in front of it on this tangled conglomeration of highway and cars…
My reflexes kick in and I feel myself bracing for impact….
The real issue here however was not an errant wandering goose, but rather that this driver had decided that she needed to exit…as in immediately. As in crossing 5 lanes of rapidly moving traffic, over to the exit at the far right, that was soon to be just a mere blur of a memory by everyone driving lickity split…was perfectly alright.
Makes perfect sense right???????
And by what can only be credited to the Grace of God… no one was killed or rear ended…the idiot car made it to the exit.
You’ve got to love those who are in the far left lanes and decide instantaneously that the exit in the far right lane is where they want to be…as in now.
Stupid, unnerving, maddening, dangerous, idiotic, potentially deadly and mostly absurd!!
So as I regained my composure, continuing lickity spilt in my now nervous left lane, I began to ponder the often infuriating wealth of life’s absurdities.
With one truly glaring facet…
That of the Truth.
You know that little thing we were all taught early on to always tell.
As in your nose will grow long if you don’t,
As it’s always stranger than fiction…
and that it will truly set you free…
Yet it dawned on me that the Truth, in this bizarre and surreal world of the overt PC police, the Truth is not politically correct.
Of course it’s not!
To be politically correct one has to bend both Heaven and Earth to fit square pegs into round holes..and of course we don’t like to use the word Heaven as it may be too offensive for some and then square pegs and round holes may be considered too demeaning to others…
perhaps you can see how this is all coming into play…
The Truth–as in the word and law of God, just doesn’t fit into today’s round holes.
And praise the Lord it doesn’t.
Thank God that God is not politically correct.
And yet this grossly politically correct world of ours has decided to just cut Him, His Law, His Word totally out of the picture because they just can’t seem to get any of part of Him to fit in their round holes.
Oh they’ve tried…
They’ve tried to bend what He said, what was written…
God isn’t God…
Jesus isn’t Jesus
Praying to God offends…oh, but Mohammed is ok…
The Ten Commandants aren’t really real laws
and for heavens’ sake, don’t display them because they are offensive…
Forget what He said about same sex unions
Forget what He said about what happens when you opt for the sinful side of life….
And forget about anything being said about too much of a good thing really being a bad thing—
because to heck with that kind of thinking, cause we’re going to party likes it’s….
I think I’ve written about that one before….
So as I continued to lickity split down this one particular highway of my life….
I came to the happy conclusion that the Truth is indeed NOT politically correct…
and the truth of the matter is that I think I very much like that little realization…
So here’s to a being a rebel with all things politically correct…
And remember…it is never wise to exit right when you are in the far left lane…
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
No one comes to the Father except through me.
1 John 14:6
“I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives.”
“He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension preternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.”
Edgar Allen Poe
(an ancient wall to St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)
“We live in dangerous times…”
And yet what individual, throughout the course of humankind, has not waxed the same morose sentiment?
Has not our history on this planet been steeped in danger…albeit it primarily of our own making?
Today is no different than of perilous ages past.
Having read several articles in recent weeks, with the latest being today while perusing the BBC, as well as The Guardian, I have noted with rising alarm the palpable fear amongst many French Jews, most recently of those living in the southern port city of Marseille—France’s 2nd largest city that has the second largest French Jewish population after Paris.
In recent years many of France’s cities have seen a wave of rising violence, with many of the incidents directed toward French Jews. Marseille is the latest city in a long list of cities to witness attacks directed at her Jewish population with the most recent being carried out by a machete wielding 15 year old Kurdish Muslim boy against a male Jewish teacher. The boy, who succeeded in slashing the man’s back and arms, when apprehended lamented his shame in having failed at killing the teacher but was proud of his attempt. A student with good grades and a stable family who had come to France 5 years ago with his family from Turkey proclaimed that he had acted in the name of Allah and IS.
Such recent attacks have prompted French Jewish leaders to issue warnings to those men who choose to wear the traditional kippa, otherwise known as a skullcap. A telltale distinct indication of a more devout Jew.
France lives with the painful memory of the dark days of WWII when a compliant French government agreed to the Nazi “request” of rounding up and deporting her Jewish population–who were to be “interred” at “detention centers” (aka death camps) in Germany and Poland. More than 75,000 Jews were shipped out of France.
Victims of Hitler’s final solution.
It is with both troubled hearts and minds that leading Rabbis are making the request of the hiding of one’s identity as a means of safety and actual survival… as such warnings bring back the traumatic memories of events from those terribly troubling days of the Holocaust.
With insanity seemingly having returned, as once again Jews must hide being jewish.
I don’t know whether to be mad and angry or simply resigned and sad.
I know that at times, throughout some of my travels within this world of ours, I have found myself dropping the cross that I wear around my neck, never one to take it off, down into my shirt as to discreetly conceal the fact that I am a Christian as the area I may be finding myself is known for being “hostile” towards Christians.
Yet I question myself as to why do I find it necessary to hide the fact that I am a Christian.
Just as the Marseille Jews now believe it is a matter of safety and survival to hide the fact that they are indeed Jews.
Do I want to live in a world where I have to hide those small things of my faith that speak to my devotion…?
Be it a necklace, a head covering, a skullcap, a prayer rope…
I find it a bit ironic that Muslim women, who by French Law have been banned from wearing the burqa, the full head and face covering, are currently being defiant by wearing them anyway.
When in Paris just shortly after this law went into effect, I can remember almost coming unglued passing Muslim women on the street who were defying the law by blatantly wearing the full covering. Being a stickler for the law, I was mad at the blatant show of defiance and disrespect for the law, as well as the country of France, with the thought that if you want to live by Muslim law, live in a Muslim country.
It should be noted that the law is indeed a safety issue as terrorists, even males, have been known to hide underneath the cloak hiding suicide bombs.
In our western society we are accustomed to seeing the faces of those people who we pass on the street, sit alongside on the tram as well as conduct daily business with. Those who hide their entire face could be hiding so much more than simply adhering to strict Muslim law by not being visible in public.
Muslim women may still cover their heads and bodies, all but their faces.
Yet many continue to take a defiant stance to the law, with oddly little to no repercussions.
Muslim defiance verses Jewish and Christian fear….hummmmm
As a Christian I am keenly aware of my historical relationship to the Jewish people.
My Savior just so happens to have been a very devout Jew who some historians even believe to have been of the more Orthodox branch, a Hasidic Jew.
I for one have never blamed Jews, as some throughout history erroneously have, for having been complicit in Jesus’s death. I find that to be a ridiculous thought as such is clearly steeped in ignorance of the history and time period.
I am also very aware of God’s special bond with the Jewish people. The Jews are indeed God’s chosen as is the land of Israel.
I am merely a child by adoption and Grace.
I am also an ardent believer that God has stated that He will show no favor to those who do not honor his children or the land of their ancestors.
All who rage against you
will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
those who oppose you
will be as nothing and perish.
Though you search for your enemies,
you will not find them.
Those who wage war against you
will be as nothing at all.
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.
I am therefore torn with this whole idea of being bold in one’s faith as opposed to being safe by hiding any visible signs or identification…
Should not my life be a reflection and witness to that very faith?
Wearing a cross around my neck, small and not large and gaudy as has become sadly the fashion trend in the hiphop culture, but rather a small tangible bond, as well as a symbol, of being marked as Christ’s…
Yet I can understand parents worries as they send their children off to school or simply out in public wondering whether or not they will be targeted for wearing the kippa or a cross? Will they be victimized for praying the rosary or reading a bible?
Here in the States there has been the occasional story of the business or governmental agencies that have banned all employees from wearing any religious symbols…a cross or star of David…
Sadly as this country of mine wrestles with itself over separating itself from any reminder of faith…
Where is the honoring in that I wonder…..
Yes, we are sadly living in troubling times and those of us who wish to profess or save our faith are indeed in a bit of a conundrum….
“The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded.”
(Photograph: Callaway Gardens Chapel/ Pine Mt., Ga/ Julie Cook/2013)
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
The above photo is of an altar located in the beautifuly quaint and very tiny chapel located within the botanical enclave known as Callaway Gardens. The chapel is located in the middle of a beautiful nature park situated in middle west Georgia, surounded by endless virgin woods, rhododenrens, a gently cascading waterfall, and a lovely small lake—representing the epitome of solitude.
The bible that was resting on the rock slab altar was open to the book of Psalms—one of my most favorite books of the Bible–as I so often relate to the angusih, the lamentations, the cries, the shouts, the triumphs, the joys—the wealth of emotions that make up these poetic songs. So naturally I thought I should mirror what was in the picture—Psalm number 1
And perhaps the whole two path thing was most appropriate for the location—I had come upon this tiny chapel, tucked away in the middle of a forest, by way of a wooded path. There was another path that lead away from the chapel, out around the tranquil lake whose still waters beautifuly refelcted this delightful respite from the world.
This was the kind of place that I could live—isolated, quiet, peaceful, tranquil…nothing but the sounds of the gentle waterfall, the croaking of the bullfrogs, the buz of the cicadias…..the gentle breeze brushing against my skin. But alas, it is not where I live—it’s not where many of us live. When I often find such a spot and wistfully mention that I could live in such a spot, my husband always quips “you’d get tired of it and bored”……would I? Hummmmm…maybe I’d like to give it a test try to see if that would be the case….
I had brought friends here who were visiting from England–she from Germany, he from Finland. I hope they too found the setting and the moment most rewarding and tranquil. Somehow I doubted it compared with anything in Finland, or any place in Barvaria…but to me, this little Georgia girl, this was beauty par excellence—-
Today’s Psalm reminds us that life is all about choices—in this case the choice being the walking on one path or that of another path. One path is about following the Law, which in this case is the Law of God. The other path remains to those who chose not to follow God’s Law. The idea of dried up chaff, just blowing away in the wind, only to become dried up dust is not very appealing. I like the idea of being planted by lovely streams of water—something like where this chapel sits.
God is gracious and a gentleman—always yeilding to our whims and desires. He’s not pushy, never wishing to force anything on anyone–it’s all a matter of choice—a simple choice. It does all seem so simple doesn’t it?—path A or path B—and yet this world is in such a terrible mess—which leads me to think the latter path is quite full—I want to follow on the former path—the first path, the one where I’m not walking in the counsel of the sinnful and wicked.
In order to do so, once again, I’ve got some choices—God’s choices for me and my life, or the world’s choices. When put this way, it all seems so simple—then why in the heck do we, do I, make it so hard and difficult?! It shall be my goal to focus on my choice of the right path—it’s a life long work but I tend to believe, most worth it………..