work done while sleeping….

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long.
If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.”

― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

(tiny prayer box / Julie Cook / 2018)

The above image is that of a tiny, badly tarnished silver, prayer box.
This particular little box, along with others like it, was very popular in the late
80’s early 90’s.
This is the one that I had at the time.

Just inside the tiny box, you can see a bit of blue paper.
And might I add, that is a very tiny piece of blue paper with an equally tiny
written prayer.
But we might note that the prayer was anything but tiny.

Below is an image of another prayer box.
This particular box was discovered buried along a street in the old City of David sandwiched between some tile during construction taking place in a car lot.
This tiny box, made of some sort of animal bone, dates from either the 5th or
6th century AD and is considered to be a Byzantine prayer box.

Rather than a tiny piece of paper with a tiny scrawled prayer resting inside the tiny box, there is actually a small and very worn Icon, or painted image, of what is thought to be Mary.
Such a prayer box was intended to be carried in a pocket or pouch and acted as a
tiny traveling church, as one could open the box and pray before a holy image…
taking one’s prayers directly to the source.

The Byzantine time period from which this little box dates was a very tumultuous time
for the Middle East along with the whole Mediterranean region.

The Roman Empire had fallen to the Visigoths and Carthage had fallen to the Vandals…
add in the push from Attila’s Huns and it was a very dangerous time to be either
Jewish or Christain.

I can only imagine the prayers offered before this ancient little box…
as I am left to wonder whose box it was and how did it come to rest buried
in a parking lot in Jerusalem.

Right before Christmas a longtime blogging friend emailed me that she wanted me to
look into something she had just purchased.
This friend has since moved on from the blogging world, as she is a working mom
with young children whose time has not been her own.
She is an extremely devout Christian with a deep Jewish heritage.

She is very familiar with the idea of prayer, particularly those that are written and
placed before God.

It is a tradition that at the Wailing wall in Jesurelum, prayers are written down and placed in the crevices of the wall, as the wall is considered Holy by Jews as well as many Christians.

Often seen rocking slightly back and forth as their heads gently touch the wall, Jews will stand for long periods of time before the Wall, hands resting outward with palms facing upward or either with hands reverently folded…they will be immersed in deep meditative prayer.
Others, be they tourists or locals, merely push tiny bits of paper into the cracks as they lay their written prayers before what it thought the Divine Presence of
God Himself.

The Wall is considered Divine because it is a remnant of the actual Temple.

Human beings seem to have a very deep need for the tangible when it comes to their relationship with the Divine Presence of God…to be able to touch, to write to physically connect is of the utmost importance to many of the faithful.

Be it prayer beads, a knotted prayer rope, icons or even a prayer box–the
tangible and physical connection between penitent and God is a deeply profound
yearning as well as a mystery.

What my friend wanted me to look into was what is known as a sleeping Joseph.

Now that might sound odd and even appear odd but the story behind the small figurine is anything but strange and is actually rather full of gentleness and a gracious sense of comfort.

We know very little about Jesus’ earthly father Joseph.
He is only mentioned early on in the Gospels of both Matthew and Luke and later in the books of Mark and John
It is in Matthew (1:1-18) that we read of his lineage harkening back to

It is also when we read of the importance of dreams regarding Joseph as God came to Joseph at the most key moments in his life as a husband and father during his sleep. First Joseph is reassured that Mary is indeed telling the truth regarding her pregnancy and that he is to follow through with marrying her.
Secondly, Joseph is warned to take his young family to Egypt in order to flee Herod’s wrath and the killing of the Innocents.

I can remember my Godpoppa, the Episcopal priest, giving a sermon one Father’s day
about Joseph.

And he noted what we already know, that historically, we know very little regarding Joseph as he seems to simply “disappear” from scripture once Jesus begins
his earthly ministry.
He is not mentioned throughout the three years of ministry as being present and is not by Mary’s side at the crucifixion.

And so we simply and sadly assume he died at some point during Jesus’ growing up.

As we are left to wonder about this earthly father of Jesus.

Thinking about Jesus’ earthly father actually brought tears to my Godpoppa’s eyes as he had lost his own father when he was only 16. His was a heartfelt observation about what a life Joseph must have lived.

He most likely taught Jesus the skills of carpentry.
How to be a craftsman using both his mind and his hands.
He taught Jesus what it meant to be reverent and prayerful
He taught Jesus the demonstrative nature of what Jesus intuitively knew,
how to worship His actual Father…no doubt a precarious balance and a heavy burden
for the earthly father.
He also taught the young boy respect.

There was a humble yet focused obedience that Jesus learned from Joseph.

And he learned about the importance of prayer…

The small figurine my friend shared with me is a prayer box of sorts.
The idea being that as you ready for sleep you place your concerns, worries, prayers
written down while placing them under the sleeping Joseph.

How often is your sleep disrupted by the heaviness of concern and worry?
Your thoughts, including your subconscious, consumed by the weight of whatever it is
that is eating at you. Your family, your friends, your work, your health, the health of those you love…there is a quickening of need that plays out even while you attempt to sleep—you pray as you drift off only to toss and turn…

The Joseph “prayer box” asks that you write down these concerns and or petitions,
laying them beneath Joseph—a man who was accustomed to Godly encounters during his sleep through his dreams, as you literally give your concerns over to God.

Trusting that He will, as He does, see, hear and know…

This is not a discussion on the topic of Saints nor of the notion of their interventions or of denominational differences, infighting, and angst…
it is rather a reminder of the human need and desire for a tangible and or physical connection as we literally acknowledge the weight of our concerns, worries and thoughts along with the very real need to literally give them over to God.

For God does speak—now one way, now another—
though no one perceives it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
when deep sleep falls on people
as they slumber in their beds,

Job 33:14-15

A bucket list, the Wailing Wall and the question of the Jews

The Sages prophesied that even after the Temple’s destruction, the Divine Presence would never leave the Western Wall, and that the Wall will never be destroyed. The Wall is endowed with everlasting sanctity, as the Talmud says: “And I will make your sanctuaries desolate” (Leviticus 26:31) – this means that the sanctuaries retain their sanctity even when they are desolate.
excerpt taken from ‘Six Reasons why the Wall is Holy’

“Dispersed as the Jews are, they still form one nation, foreign to the land they live in.”
Thomas Jefferson

“It is obvious that the war which Hitler and his accomplices waged was a war not only against Jewish men, women, and children, but also against Jewish religion, Jewish culture, Jewish tradition, therefore Jewish memory.”
― Elie Wiesel, Night

(woodblock print “Shalom” / Julie Cook, 1981)

I suppose everyone has a bucket list, or perhaps for some, it is simply known as a “wish list”.
It is a list of the things one would like to do or of the places one would like to see before kicking the proverbial bucket.

Most people might list wanting to climb some famous mountain, or running in a grueling marathon or competing in an arduous triathlon. Others may yearn to travel to foreign lands seeing such things as the Pyramids, the Taj Mahal or diving in the ocean to see the Great Barrier Reef. Some may wish to meet famous and influential people, witness a monumental sporting event or attempt some death defying feat. . .no matter what, where or who. . .there is no doubt, for all of us, some sort of check list stored in the recesses of our minds.

Most of the items on the list remain just that, an item on an unseen and non-tangible sheet of paper perched in ones inner being–wistful thoughts of fancy that come and go as quickly as one cares to daydream.

Most of my thoughts are not the typical items on a do or die list, as I’ve never been very typical. I have always wanted to travel to the southern end of the Sinai Peninsula, traveling to the ancient monastery of St Catherine’s, in order to view the world’s oldest Icons. Within the collection at this monastery, which is almost as old as the Christian religion, are some of the earliest known “painted” images (or as the Orthodox explain, “written” images) of Jesus.

Sadly given the tensions and unrest in Egypt, travel to the Sinai is highly discouraged for Americans, particularly Christian and Jewish Americans.

I’d also like to learn Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic as these ancient languages are lynch pins to clearly understanding the inception of and growth of Christianity. Yet, sadly, learning languages does not come easy to this brain of mine.

I would also like to visit the Wailing Wall. As in Israel, as in Jerusalem.
As in WHAT you say?!”
Yes you read correctly, the Wailing Wall.

Now why would a nice southern girl, who was raised under the hand of the Church of England as my father use to liken the Episcopal church to, want to travel to a tumultuous area of the world in order to see a crumbling holy Jewish site? Wishing, no doubt, to shove some little folded piece of paper into one of the myriad of nooks along the ancient Temple wall.

It should be noted that to have faith and to believe in something that is not tangible is never easy.
To have faith and to believe in an unseen God and of His unseen Son and of His unseen Spirit, is not for the faint of heart. Such faith often yields to the gnashing of teeth and in deed to true wailing. So often we want so desperately to have some sort of sign or acknowledgement that the things we claim, proclaim and praise are rock solid REAL.

We all have pieces of the doubting apostle Thomas running about in our minds and hearts:
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
After eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”

So yes, I confess, I have a yearning to reach out in order to hold and be held. Who hasn’t ever imagined the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob reaching out for us, to envelope us in His arms. Who has never imagined themselves as that woman who, in the crowd, reached out to touch merely the hem of Jesus’ tunic–falling at His feet and clinging to his legs as a lost child!?

How many people in the midst of anguish and tearful prayers have not wanted to see the Lord their God running down the walkway in order to take them in His arms, soothing and comforting the pain, suffering and sorrow?

Somehow I feel as if standing before the Wall, stretching my arms out as possibly wide as I could, while leaning my forehead against the rough stone would be a kin to hugging God. As the Wall is considered to be Holy–as in Holy that within the walls of the Temple once rested the Holy of Holies. Other than the burning bush, other than the tomb, other than Golgotha, how more tangible is there on this earth?

Which brings me to my last posed question or thought—that being the question of the Jews.
Christianity has wrestled with this question since the day of the Crucifixion.
There has been a love hate relationship between God’s chosen people and the followers of Christ for over 2000 years.
So much alike and yet so very different.
We have blamed one another and yet defended one another.
One is the child by Divine Proclamation—while the other one is the child by adopted Grace

I for one have never had a difficult time sorting out our relationship—that between Jew and Christian.
I do not feel as if I am better than, wiser than, holier than my Jewish brethren because I made the conscious decision of following Jesus. To believe in His divinity as God’s Son–the resurrected Messiah, has made me an adopted Child by Grace.
I am not Jewish yet my Savior lived for 33 years as a very devout Jew. I have a deep respect for that very fact and for Jews to this day.

I do not blame the Jews, as unfortunately many Christians have throughout the history of Christianity, for the death of Christ. We, humankind, Jew and non Jew, all had a hand at that fateful day—just as we still do on a continuing day in and day out basis of sin. And yet, it is to the very death and Resurrection that we, humankind, are offered true life.

The life the followers of Christ are promised is not of this world—as this world, with its sorrow, difficulties, anguish, pain, suffering, unfairness, injustice, so forth and so on, is not our true home. All of us, Jew and non Jew, are freely offered this life, yet it comes down to merely a matter of choice.
To follow, or not to follow.

The price of following is our very life–as we must surrender the life of self, picking up our cross and following the Commandants of the Almighty God and the teachings of His Son.
The offer remains open to all humankind.
Those who choose to follow are no better than any of the others to whom this “gift” is offered, they are saved but no better than–as we all fall short.

No, I do not find blame in the Jews.
I do not profess to be a theologian nor Biblical scholar. I do not claim to have the nuance of a deeply studied knowledge. I do not claim to have had the opportunity of lofty study nor have I dissected ancient text or had miraculous visions.
Mine is a simple faith and a simple following.

I will leave you today with the wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The young German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was murdered by hanging on direct order of Adolf Hitler at Flossenbürg Concentration Camp April 9, 1945:

The Open Question Of Christ
God’s yes and God’s no to history, as they are known in the incarnation and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, bring into every historical moment an eternal, unrelenting tension. History does not become the transitory bearer of eternal values. It is instead through the life and death of Jesus Christ that history first becomes temporal. It is precisely in its temporality that history is affirmed by God. The quest for a historical heritage is thus not the timeless quest for the eternally valid values of the past. Rather human beings placed in history are themselves accountable here for the present, as it is accepted by God in Christ. . . .The Historical Jesus is the continuity of our history. But because Jesus Christ was the promised messiah of the Israelite-Jewish people, the line of our ancestors goes back beyond the appearance of Jesus Christ and into the people of Israel. Western history is, in accordance with God’s will, indissolubly bound to the people of Israel, not only genetically but in genuine, constant encounter. The Jew Keeps the Christ question open. . . .An expulsion of the Jews from the West must bring with it the expulsion of Christ, for Jesus Christ was a Jew.

Taken form the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Barcelona, Berlin, Amerika 1928-1927