altars

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

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

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

Augustine of Hippo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Francis of Assisi

parched

I am the vessel.
The draft is God’s.
And God is the thirsty one.

Dag Hammarskjold

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(It is so dangerously dry as we have had no rain since the first of June that even the springs and creek beds, deep in the woods which are always full of flowing waters, are dry and empty / Julie Cook / 2016)

Dry and dusty are the muffled cries of the earth…
which now aches and groans.

The Creator has spoken and yet man’s ears have grown deaf
All the while the faithful are left to wonder…

Man readily dismisses any sign, any reminder of God’s sacred word..

Are the waters now dry?
Do the rocks quiver and shake?
Have the seas overtaken the land?
Are the stars falling from the sky?
Have the storms blotted out the sun…
As man turns away from his God?

May my longing and my thirst,
that only seems to increase during these waning days,
be quenched by You and You alone oh Lord…

“O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more.
I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace.
I am ashamed of my lack of desire.
O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing;
I thirst to be made more thirsty still.
Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed.
Begin in mercy a new work of love within me.
Say to my soul, ‘Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.’
Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up
from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.”

A.W. Tozer

Show me your Glory

“I caught a glimpse of Your splendor
In the corner of my eye
The most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen
And it was like a flash of lightning
Reflected off the sky
And I know I’ll never be the same”

Lyrics by Third Day
Show Me Your Glory

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of a God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word “love”, and look on things as if man were the centre of them. Man is not the centre. God does not exist for the sake of man. Man does not exist for his own sake. “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” We were made not primarily that we may love God (though we were made for that too) but that God may love us, that we may become objects in which the divine love may rest “well pleased”.”
― C.S. Lewis

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(rain droplets dangle from a blue spruce / Julie Cook / 2015)

Isn’t that what we all want. . .
We want to see and then we want to see more.
We want God to show Himself, to prove Himself, to, in turn, prove ourselves—
our existence. . .
To prove that’s it’s all been worth it—that we were right to believe all along.
We want Him to make things right, stop the badness, set the world right. . .
We want to see.
We want to know.

One day, we catch a glimpse, a momentary shining light.
We feel something.
We hear something.
We actually see something as if a dream had come to life.
A wave washes over us.
We are filled with something we can’t explain.
A peace, such as we’ve never known, engulfs us.
Time stands still.
Certainly, everything, no matter what is within this single moment of time, okay.
Instantly we suddenly know, we are certain, it is all real.
He is real.

And just as suddenly, with the mere blink of the eye, the moment passes.
We desperately try to conjure back the moment, holding on to the rapidly fading wonderment.
However our senses are back.
Sound has returned.
The noises are blaring.
The lighting is now back to normal.
Movement, all around us, is passing rapidly by.
There are people.
There is pain.
We feel reality again.

And then we wonder.
Was it really real?
Did what just happen really happen?
We doubt ourselves.
We doubt Him.
We want it back.
We long to have the moment back.

And just like that, it is gone.
We are left wondering what to do.

Mother Teresa had such a moment.
It was the time she experienced what she later referred to as the “call within a call” experience.
It was when she was still a young nun and teacher, it was 1946. . .

In 1928, 18 year old Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu had left her native Albania for Ireland, to join the order of the Sisters of Loreto.
It was there that she would eventually make her solemn vows, taking the name of Teresa after the gentle saint known as the Little Flower, Thérèse of Lisieux.
Eventually her journey would take her to India, where she worked as a teacher and later principal at the order’s Calcutta run school for the local children.

One bright morning, 20 years into her life in India, while sitting on a train as she was embarking on a brief annual retreat, she had a profound encounter with Jesus. Time stood still and she was aware of only one being, that of Jesus himself.
He called out to her to help feed His poor. He revealed the pain of His heart over those who were hungry and dying. “Feed my lambs” He implored —yet He also implored the little nun to satiate His thirst. His thirst for the world filled with the hungry and hurting souls so in need of the literal and spiritual feeding of which He yearned for her to take upon herself.

It wasn’t until several years following her death, that through her letters and conversations with her confessor, when the world actually learned of this tiny obedient nun having never experienced that vision and feeling of nearness again. Despite her longing to hear and to see Jesus again, she was filled with only silence and emptiness.
There was nothing.
The only thing that remained was the daily task, each and every day, of doing what she was told to do that fateful day in 1946. . . “Satiate my thirst”. . .
Alone within herself, Mother Teresa felt empty, frustrated, and sad.
Yet no one was the wiser. No one knew of her pain, her emptiness, her “dark night”. . .she spent the next 51 years doing as He had instructed—working to satiate His thirst and to feed and care for “His lambs.”

Some may say that it must be a sadistic God who would play hide and seek, as it were, with someone as good and as holy as a Mother Teresa. Yet we must understand that it goes well beyond such simplistic observations. To us God may seem vexing and fickled, yet that is the human mind attempting to explain the behavior of the Divine and the Omnipotent—it simply cannot be done.

As C.S. Lewis so eloquently reminds us, “God does not exist for man’s sake.” Nor do we exist for our own sake.
God does not “need” us– it is us who needs God.
The crux of the matter is simply that God wants us.
Made, created, out of Love.

The difference between our need and His want.

Oh I suppose there are those who proudly exclaim that they do not need some invisible God, some deity to serve and to worship.
Self puffs up as we become our own deity—full of failures, let downs, pride, selfishness, vain glory. . .One would think time would be our teacher, yet we continue ignoring the past as we march forward, waving our own flag and thumping our own puffed up chest. . .

It is to these few and far between glimpses, of those miraculous moments, the overwhelming senses, and unexplained experiences, time and time again, that push us forward. . .still looking, wondering, hoping. . .forward to an encounter with the Divine—yet we simply cannot “will” it to happen. It is for God, and for God alone, to reveal Himself in such intimate ways—we cannot force His hand. We cannot trick Him or persuade Him. He is the Creator and we are but the created.
Yet we were created in and for Love. . .

We know that from such moments and chance experiences that we are forever changed and forever different, no matter if we never experience such a moment ever again in our lifetime. . .just knowing it happened, we know it can happen again and we know we won’t rest until we see Him again. . .

“When I climb down the mountain
And get back to my life
I won’t settle for ordinary things
I’m gonna follow You forever
And for all of my days
I won’t rest ’til I see You again
Show me Your glory
Show me Your glory
I can’t live without You”

lyrics by Third Day

Need

“As the genuine religious impulse becomes dominant, adoration more and more takes charge. ‘I come to seek God because I need Him’, may be an adequate formula for prayer. ‘I come to adore His splendour, and fling myself and all that I have at His feet’, is the only possible formula for worship.”
― Evelyn Underhill

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(the view from a window on a misty morning / Julie Cook / 2014)

Controlling
Quelling
Crushing
Tremendous energies spent daily silencing the uncomfortable and palpable gnawing within the soul.

Running from rather than running to
Ignoring verses acknowledging
Fighting without yielding

Falling prostrate, keenly aware of all shortcomings
Drowning in a sea of sorrow
A call for mercy echoes along the walls

Hear me in my distress
Take me to your stillness
Quiet my racing thoughts

The heart of the soul is a consuming thirst which cannot be quenched,
a fire that cannot be extinguished,
a hunger that cannot be filled.

I am in need
You and you alone are the need
Hear my plea