Reflections, thoughts and books


(one of the bronze dancing cherubs at the city cemetery Mackinac Island / Julie Cook / 2017)

Recently, over on a fellow blogger’s site, I read a most wonderful post written
about our dear friend Dietrich Bonhoeffer…
The following passage jumped right off the page,
right at me as it spoke to me about faith and as it challenged me to consider
what type of faith do I actually possess….
inward or outward….

Faith does not look upon itself but takes hold of that which is outside
itself, Christ.
Bonhoeffer draws on a Latin phrase from an early period of Protestant dogmatics,
actus directus,
as distinguished from actus reflexus,
to characterize the nature of true faith.

The difference here is between a faith that attends to God,
entrusting itself to God to be watched over and kept,
versus a faith that is constantly concerned to oversee itself,
ensuring its own vitality.

For Bonhoeffer, this is a way finally of avoiding faith –
for like Peter in the sea of Galilee,
it takes its eyes off of the living Christ who is the source of our life.

This emphasis upon the outward direction of faith that lays hold of Christ
in pure intentionality,
in a kind of passive reception where the self is kept out,
structures much of Bonhoeffer’s later reflections on ethics.
While we do not see him returning to this phrase,
the concept remains operative.

excerpt from the blog post Freedom in Orthodoxy
http://freedominorthodoxy.blogspot.com/2017/07/bonhoeffer-and-role-of-moral-reflection.html

“A faith that attends to God…”

I looked up various synonyms for the word attend and found the word dwell
which I like here as it fits in perfectly…
it fits in such a way that it reminds us that our faith should be such that
we are to dwell in to God….to be a cohabitant within….

Verses a faith that attends to self….
and if we are to use the same word of “dwell” here,
then we are saying that it is a faith that dwells within self…
and somehow that does not sound like faith at all but mostly a self
centered inclination…something much along the lines of today’s culture of the
religion of self.

Bonhoeffer is reminding us that we must constantly work to strive to reach out of
self, out of ourselves…out to the living God…so that we may then, in turn,
dwell within Him and within Him alone…..

Then next, on the same day of perusing, I read another great post by our good
friend the Scottish Pastor David Robertson.
This time he was offering a two part reflection regarding a book that he
most recently read…a review of sorts that due to his often verbose ways, he
opted to review over a period of time.

The book is entitled The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray.

From all outward appearances Douglas Murray and David Robertson are probably polar
opposites of sorts and not exactly on the same page in life…
as Mr. Murray is an openly avowed homosexual as well as ardent Atheist and we know that Pastor David Robertson often writes about both topics…
as to why homosexuality and or atheism, from the Christian perspective,
are both wrong and sinful.

Yet Pastor Robertson read, enjoyed and whole heartedly agreed with Mr. Murray’s
observations regarding Europe and her mad dash to committing a ‘political suicide’
of sorts as she has forgotten,
or better yet recklessly thrown away with ardent abandon,
her Christian roots….

Replacing those long standing roots with a new religion…
that being the religion of humanism, materialism and human rights.
Because isn’t that what this has all become…
that for the majority part of the West, it is the religion of Human Rights…

In all the current melee, Europe is now lost as to what to do with the massive
Islamic influx that is currently and literally sweeping in with the tide….

One passage that Pastor Robertson highlights as brilliant on Murray’s part is the following observation:

in order to incorporate as large and wide number of people as possible it is
necessary to come up with a definition of inclusion that is as wide and
unobjectionable as possible.
If Europe is going to become a home for the world it must search for a
definition of itself that is wide enough to encompass the world.
This means that in the period before this aspiration collapses our values become
so wide as to become meaninglessly shallow.
So whereas European identity in the past could be attributed to highly specific,
not to mention philosophically and historically deep foundations
(the rule of law, the ethics derived from the continent’s history and philosophy),
today the ethics and belief of Europe—
indeed the identity and ideology of Europe–
have become about ‘respect’, ‘tolerance’ and
(most self abrogating of all) ‘diversity’.
Such shallow self definitions may get us through a few more years,
they have no chance at all being able to call on the deeper loyalties that
societies must be able to reach if they are going to survive for long.”
P.7

And I for one see that his observation is not merely a European problem
but rather an American dilemma as well as we are also striving to “redefine” who
and what America actually is and means…
trading our true foundation and founding principles for something vastly
other than…
something humanistic, materialistic and oh so smugly human rights oriented…
As one reviewer wrote about having read Mr Murray’s book and of the dismal
position the West seems to have taken over the current identity crisis…
as in it has no real answers or position because
“modern culture has little to offer a person other than entertainment.”

And it is here where the good pastor leaves us until he comes back for part 2
of his review.

In the meantime, I’ve put the book on my order list.

Here’s a link to Robertson’s full review post…

Douglas Murray – The Strange Death of Europe – Part One – Meaningless Shallowness

So I will leave us today with these various interesting thoughts—
thoughts on faith–inward and outward…
and thoughts on the West’s seemingly mad dash to Western Civilization’s demise…

a conflicting conundrum indeed….

Do not love the world or anything in the world.
If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.
For everything in the world—-the lust of the flesh,
the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—-
comes not from the Father but from the world.
The world and its desires pass away,
but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John:15-17

“and when my life is over….”

“Where there is love there is life.”
Mahatma Gandhi


(coconut palms at The Breakers, Palm Beach / Julie Cook / 2017)

There are days when suddenly, for no apparent reason…
a song, a thought, a memory
pops into the forefront of consciousness.

While we are often left wondering why…from whence, from where and for what?

Sometimes… the whys are not to be understood.

My life is currently a herky jerky roller coaster full of emotions…
The days are punctuated by smiles and accented by endless tears.
Wandering about mostly lost.

And then a song from the recesses of time percolates to the current..
bridging a time that was to the time which is now…
That a random tune from a different season
triggers a memory, a feeling, a thought…
existing now to help assuage the current moment….

“A Song For You”

I’ve been so many places in my life and time
I’ve sung a lot of songs, I’ve made some bad rhymes
I’ve acted out my love on stages
With 10,000 people watching
But we’re alone now and I’m singing this song to you

I know your image of me is what I hope to be
I treated you unkindly, but darling can’t you see
There’s no one more important to me
Darling can’t you please see through me
‘Cause we’re alone now and I’m singing this song to you

You taught me precious secrets
Of the truth, withholding nothing
You came out in front and I was hiding
But now, I’m so much better
And if my words don’t come together
Listen to the melody, ’cause my love’s in there hiding

I love you in a place where there’s no space and time
I love you for my life, you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song to you

But I love you in a place where there’s no space and time
I love you for my life, you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you
We were alone and I was singing this song for you
We were alone and I was singing my song
Singing this song for you

the sippy spoons

“I have learned that if you must leave a place that you have lived in
and loved and where all your yesteryears are buried deep,
leave it any way except a slow way, leave it the fastest way you can.
Never turn back and never believe that an hour you remember is a better
hour because it is dead.
Passed years seem safe ones, vanquished ones,
while the future lives in a cloud, formidable from a distance.”

Beryl Markham


(my grandmother’s silver sippy spoons / Julie Cook /2017)

Our trip to West Palm Beach was long, short, sad and wrenching.
653 miles spent driving down on a Friday…
only to then turn around and drive it all back again on a Monday.

It took about 10 hours, with only one quick stop for gas.
Coupled by a constant flow of bumper to bumper traffic hurling itself,
as if lemmings on some odd unknown mission, to an unforeseen southward destination.

We drove and we drove to what seemed to be the ends of the earth…
but that would have been Key West and that would have required more time with
more stops than our backsides would allow.

The color of the sky changes when one is traveling so far south—
It goes from the more familiar north Georgia’s typical hazy blue sky,
to a faint veiled gauzy cloudy azure blue…
Maybe it’s because the land lays so flat, punctuated only by pencil thin palms
as the soil is more white sand than dirt…
and with the sun so intense, light easily reflects back upon itself.

The heat of day does not dissipate with the waning of a day as it does at home.
It doesn’t back off when the sun finally sets, providing that long awaited
respite of comfort.
There is actually a tremendous heaviness that engulfs one’s whole being…
this being due to the overtly high humidity which makes breathing nearly
impossible.
And I thought our humidity was bad.

Moving from air conditioned buildings, which is essential to survival,
out to the oppressive heat and unrelenting sun leaves glasses fogged over
and skin and clothing feeling sticky and oddly wet even before one has had
proper chance to sufficiently break a true sweat.

This is the place Martha called home for the past 30 years.
A far cry from the years spent in Alexandria, Virginia during the early years of
her marriage.

I now understood why…for despite the apparently tropical beauty,
Martha would always protest…
“no no, let me just come up there”…
And because of that one fact, of her always wanting to come to us as she
would always prefer to venture north,
this was our first visit to West Palm Beach.

Martha would drive or fly up several times during the
year, staying for a couple of weeks at a time,
back to state she still considered home…
or more specifically near the city of her birth and raising….
Atlanta.

I can’t really say all that I should or would like to at this point
about all of this…not yet.
Having lost three of the most important people in my life in the past six months
has simply taken its toll…
As processing the emotions, memories and feelings of such emptiness
will take some time.

One by one… the supports and shorings are now gone…
Those that helped to hold up the life I had always known…
This is part of the transition where I become the shoring to others…
a transition that denotes change, loss, growth and new…
all rolled uncomfortably into one.

My cousin, Martha’s adopted daughter,
had asked that I come to the house the day following the funeral
to see what if anything I would like to carry back home with me.

Martha was an avid antique collector…
and her collections were eclectic at best…
old antique Papier-mâché halloween decorations with a proclivity for pumpkins.
North Carolina’s famous family of folk art pottery, the Meader’s ugly jugs,
along with the primitive pottery of Georgia’s Marie Rogers.
The Ohio Longaberger baskets numbering in the hundreds…
to early vintage RCA radio dogs..
all the way down to antique turkeys of every size and shape.

I was really overwhelmed when we walked into the house and actually saw
the level to which some of the “collecting” had spiraled.
Her house not equipped for the excessive spillover.

My cousin immediately asked if I would like Martha’s sterling silver
flatware set.

Once was a time, long long ago, when every young bride
looked to building her proper entertaining set of silverware.
Receiving the coveted wedding gifts of silver pieces was as common
as the throwing of rice…
That being a particular pattern of sterling silver complete with
utensils and serving pieces.
Everything from teaspoons to seafood forks to butter knives….
As that now all seems to be for a time that was more civilized than
our own today.

But already having my mother’s and great aunt’s sets…and truth be told,
as my world shrinks, entertaining and cooking is now not nearly what it once was,
I tried to instill the importance of her keeping the monogramed set for both her
and her own daughter.

But when she opened the dusty old silver chest, my eyes locked immediately on the
well tarnished bundle of silver drink spoons / straws…
or what we had always referred to as sippy straws or spoons, depending on who
was using them.

While growing up, whenever we visited my grandmother,
we were always served a tall glass of icy cold
Coca Cola complete with a silver sippy straw.

Coke never tasted so good as when sipped through an elegant silver straw.
It provided a seemingly civilized air of savoring verses gulping and quaffing.
Probably Mimi’s way of getting us to slow down, enjoying and not wasting…
as she was a woman who lived during a time when waste was indeed considered sinful.

The straws were always kept in a certain drawer in my grandmother’s kitchen…
inside the 1920s small Atlanta Buckhead home.
A pale wooden light green kitchen cabinet, I can still see clearly in my mind’s eye,
was where the straws, always shiny and polished to perfection, were stored.

In 1989, when my grandmother passed away, Martha and I were the only two left to
the task of sorting and emptying the house for market.
She got the straws.
I had always wanted just one…
just one to remember.

Over the years I’d see other straws at various antique markets and silver stores,
always thinking I’d buy myself just one,
but in the end deciding it just wouldn’t be the same…

It wouldn’t be one of the straws I’d gleefully
retrieve out of the pale green drawer, delightfully anticipating plunging
it into my frosty glass of brown fizzy liquid…
as I’d gently clench the straw between my front teeth,
feeling the cold drawn liquid being pulled up into a parched waiting mouth…
So refreshing because Mimi’s house, back in those days, was not air conditioned…
an icy cold Coke, on a hot Georgia summer’s afternoon,
seemed like the greatest treat a child could have been given…

I asked my cousin if I could have the straws.

She was 10 years younger than I was and did not have the same fond memories
from time spent with our grandmother.
Being so much younger and living so far away, never afforded her much time to
bond with the long widowed woman with the poodles there in Atlanta as I had.

I had been the only grandchild for many years and we only lived 10 minutes away.
Plus Mimi was not a warm and fuzzy grandmother like others and what warmness
there was, faded with her mind as the dementia grew more and more.

My grandmother had lived a hard life.
A life that she had forged alone for herself and her two daughters during
a depression and a World War as a widowed woman…
long before it was common for women to own a business and work outside of
the home.
Both of which she did very successfully for most of her adult life.

My cousin was more than happy to give me the straws and seemed almost
sad that I really didn’t want to take much more as her task is now daunting
as she figures out what to do with years of accumulated treasured stuff.

This as I still have my own years of stuff to sort through at Dad’s.
As both cousins are now left to the task of picking through,
as well as picking up, the pieces—
all of what stays and all of what goes.

My cousin tells me that she wants to sell the house, eventually moving northward
where there are actually seasons, hills and trees…
verses living where the sky meets the ocean coupled by the
oppressive heat, humidity, and an azure blue sky….

I think I’ll polish my straws and then do something I haven’t done in years…
I’ll pour myself a Coke, a real Coke…bottle only mind you,
over a tall glass of ice…and I’ll plunge a straw deep down into the glass of
cold fizzy liquid as I draw up the memories of lives once known but always loved.

what do you think about all day….

“What do you think about all day?”
Worldly things?
There is your heart.
Are you concerned about health, bodily goods?
There your heart is.
If one falls in love, all the habits of life are ruled
by that love—letters, telephone calls, whatever we do.

Dorothy Day


(flowering maple shrub / Julie Cook / 2017)

As is the case with the loss of any loved one…
life as we know it, turns upside down.
Not only is there the emotional aspect of loss, there is the
stark reality that even in death, there are responsibilities which remain.
The complications of living simply do not cease upon death.

I have been met head on with the reality of what it will now entail to
tend to dad’s worldly life, finishing up where he left off.

Lawyers, banks, accountants, the house, the car, paying for and eventually closing
accounts, the utilities, Social Security, insurance, a pension, taxes….
the list goes on and on…and it will for quite sometime.
Add in a step-mother…..

It will take weeks for the primary significant paperwork to arrive,
then there’s a visit to the court house in downtown Atlanta.
There will be new bank accounts as old accounts are closed.
And a new role as I begin the arduous and laborious process of closing one’s
existence out of our society.

I told someone today that it’s easier to be born than it is to die…
I suppose we think everything just stops when we die…but it doesn’t.

I can remember when both of my grandmothers and mother died and how Dad worked to
settle their estates…
It took years to finally put an end to things.

Needless to say…overwhelmed is now my mantra.

So when I read the sentence by Dorothy Day asking what it is that I think about all day…
and as to her follow-up remark to whatever the filling in of that blank would be…
“there is your heart”
I felt a real conviction of spirit.

Convicted because my thoughts are currently of worry.

And so there is my heart…steeped in worry.

And whereas I would suppose most anyone in my current pair of shoes would
be feeling much the same sense of overwhelming worry…
I have been thankfully jolted to refocus my sights…

“We must remember…
God is a sensitive lover.
God will not force you to choose him.
It is an insult to God to worry so about things of the world.”

Dorothy Day

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
than falling in Love in a quite absolute,
final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

Once again…

True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance.
It is far deeper than that–
it is a spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

Charles Spurgeon

DSCN3259
(broken sand dollar in the surf / Santa Rosa Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)

Once again we are called to offer our prayers, our hearts, our thoughts to God for
ambushed and murdered police officers.
Our prayers are offered upward for these officers and their families who are left wondering why.

Not that these officers were unaware or naive to the dangers of their job, their calling..
The potential that each day could be the day that they are called upon to offer their all…
Yet to be ambushed…purposefully and willfully cut down…in cold blooded murder…
is difficult to process.

We wonder, we worry, if we are now growing numb and jaded to the almost daily news of
the heinous taking of life …
Numb to the daily images of grieving families…wives now widows, children now without a parent…
As a part of our society has decided that any and all police officers are no longer worthy of living…

The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.
1 John 3:8

burdens and berries

“Just as Christian came up to the Cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders,
fell from off his back, and began to tumble down the hill,
and so it continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre.
There it fell in, and I saw it no more!”

John Bunyan

DSCN3447
(ripe blueberries / Julie Cook / 2016)

There’s something otherworldly about losing oneself in the task of picking blueberries.
I suspect it may be found elsewhere…
probably while picking other such things…
or for some, found while engaging in those other, mostly mindless, rhythmic sorts of activities like ironing, digging, mowing grass…
however….
for me, it is found in reaching and bending under burgeoning spindly branches, dangerously drooping, under their heavy load…
as I labor to lighten their said load.

DSCN3451

I stood out in the sweltering afternoon heat today, thankful for the ever slight periodic breeze as I labored breathing under the oppressive humid blanket of stagnant air.
Words uttered earlier during this seemingly endless day, in what now seems to be a surreal glitch in time, came racing back to the forefront of thought as I strained to reach for the most ripened berries.

‘May we not allow our mere mortal thoughts and words to diminish the sheer magnitude of Heaven’
I ruminated over that sentence as it was uttered….
just as I do now, much later, while rummaging through the heavy ladened branches.

‘…And as we are in shock over the suddenness of this premature loss, God was and is fully aware, ready and very much waiting as nothing is sudden nor premature to Him.’
Again, another nugget of thought pushes its way to the surface of consciousness.

Such burdensome thoughts churned through my brain as I worked my way up and under a particularly heavy bush.

Filling my bowl with the black and blue jewel like orbs, my thoughts were full of the mysteries of both life and death and of the fact that there is both a burden to living as well as a burden in its guaranteed passage precipitated by death.

All of which plays out on a tiny stage within the seasons of these very bushes I now pick.
For there is a time of expectation and longing coupled with fruitfulness and waning…

Not only are we mere mortals weighted down by the burdens of life’s ebbs and flows…
those found within our immediate realm and arm’s reach…
but we must also bear up under the burdens found in the wider and greater world around us.

This as the thoughts of mass shootings,
the far reaching ramifications of tomorrow’s voting in Great Britain…
and of our own impending fall elections…
all of which now weighs heavily on each of us,
whether we care to admit it or not…

As believers we know all about this life and death paradox…yet such knowledge never makes any of it easier nor less difficult to bear.
As that is the pivotal key part of it all—
as in…
we bear it.
We bear our own burdens found in the living of life…the ups and downs, the highs and lows…
Just as we do, subsequently so, in the bearing of the reality of death.

Death is something that is impartial to both the religious and the non religious schools of thought.
It discriminates not.
Besides birth, it is the only other certainty for each living being.
It comes.
Ready or not, it comes.

Whereas there may be the exception in the expediting of death, there is, on the other hand, absolutely no avoidance…as it will come like it or not.

And whereas some deaths are seen as melancholy, while weighted by a bittersweet relief for those who have suffered…
it is, in turn, a burden to be bourn by those who remain behind—those left to carry on in life’s burden of picking up pieces and moving forward…
Albeit now with an unquenching loneliness coupled with a gaping wound within the heart.

Carrying on and moving forward is much more burdensome, much more of a hinderance and much more difficult than that of death itself.

The living are left with the burden, the heaviness, the weight, the strain, the aching and an endless sea of tears…

And today, amongst the blueberries, I am struck by the irony of this all as I realize in which lies the rub of life…that being the burden of carrying death.

Yet we are told and told again that “in a little while, we shall hurt, suffer and cry…no more…”
Death has indeed been beaten and overcome—and it is through the cross that that overcoming and victory is to be found.

Yet in our earthly bound and gravity ladened thoughts and limitations, weighted by the heaviness of our aching and longing hearts, we simply must carry on while shouldering those burdens…
the burden found in both living and the burden found in death…
that of our own and that of those we love…

All of this burden and weightiness as we are reminded that there are no surprises to the God Omnipotent…
For there is no burden, no sorrow, no pain too big, too great nor too much…
for it is in Him, and Him alone, that our burdens of both living and dying are truly lifted …

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Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything.
John 16:20-23

The absurdity of uncertainty found in the Omniscience

…I can inform thee of nothing…”
excerpt from a prayer by A. W. Tozer

DSCN0379
(a stream flows though Gleanlough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Did you read that?

I can inform Thee of nothing…”

As in absolutely zero…the absence of anything and everything…

As in….
What can be said that is not previously known?
What single thought can be pondered that has not been previously revealed?
What emotion can be felt that has not already been felt?
What “oh by the way, I meant to tell you _____”
with the blank having long been filled in eons before one even learned to speak…?

No “by the ways”
No “I meant to say”
No slipped out “my bad”….
has ever passed without a prior knowing long before it was ever first thought or uttered…

Wrapping thoughts and minds around everything ever done and all things ever said, thought or felt…
knowing that all that was and is and will be…has already been seen and is known now and always by one and only One…

No secrets
Nothing hidden
Nothing private

For the One who has always been.. is that close…to you

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

Psalm 139:1-6