the small gift of the holidays— or when a cousin comes to visit

“It’s an universal law–
intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education.
An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience,
whereas truly profound education breeds humility.”

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn


(the cousins on the couch resting after the big meal / Julie Cook / 2017)

With the arrival of this almost two month long “holiday” season–that time
prior to Thanksgiving, of which usually is now ushered in just following Halloween,
with the big lead up to feasting and fellowshipping—
all the way to just after New Years, with its big exhale and let down…
many of us will experience the comings and goings of family and friends
those who come home to roost or those who are simply passing through.

Perhaps it’s us who are the ones doing the visiting…
making those often precarious trips here, there and yon

Either way…all sorts of folks are coming and going.

College students return home.
Schools shut down for the holidays
Work schedules become erratic.
Vacations begin…
Things just become topsy turvy… for what was once just a couple of weeks
to something now which has morphed into almost a 2 month celebration.

As a kid, do you remember having family come visit for the holidays…
or maybe you were the one traveling with family to do the visiting?

Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, cousins…. folks you wouldn’t have seen but
maybe once or twice a year,
but folks who your parents would read you the riot act over….
Strongly reminding you as to what it means to being kind, patient, polite
and not to grouse when having to share your toys, your room, your time,
your space–or to, in turn, tolerate having to be the recipient of perhaps
the not so most hospitable relative.

Older great aunts who would pinch your cheeks, kissed your face with bright red lipstick
as their extra strong perfume lingered cloyingly in your nostrils….
Or of that very loud and very obnoxious uncle who just made for awkward conversation…
yet would always slip you a dollar when no one was watching.

You could see your dad biting his tongue, your mom “playing nice” and you’d figure
if they could handle it, you could handle the little cousin who constantly
followed you around the house while your older cousin hid your favorite stuffed animal while having to sit by that aunt who insisted on your trying her best pickled ham casserole.

Family…friends…visiting—it’s what the holidays bring.

And therein lies the hidden gift of the holidays…

I thought about all of this today when I finally sat down,
exhausted from the days of lead up cooking and the few hours of cleaning
for what amounts to about a 20 minute meal…
when looking at our son and daughter-n-law’s dog, Alice the grand-dog, who had jumped
up on one the end of the couch, making herself at home,
home on the end that one of our cats, Peaches, stakes out as her own.

Disgusted, she left the room.

Percy however was not to be displaced.
He loves his mother and doesn’t want to share her with his usurper cousin….
so he jumped up and settled in right by my side—

17 pounds of cat verses 85 pounds of black lab….both wanting, needing, to be
by the one they look to for food, comfort and security.
Yet not particularly caring for one another.

And so they tolerate one another…they share their space, albeit it precariously.
They “play nice” to coexist in close proximity because they are “family”—
like it or not.

Alice is here until Monday.
Percy is here for the duration.
Yet they will make the best of this not so favorable situation of time
because this time of year, these holidays just bring out the better, the kinder,
the more generous in us all.

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting
to get anything back.
Then your reward will be great,
and you will be children of the Most High,
because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:35-36

Really???

Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot,
and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?

George Carlin


(as seen while I was driving to the grocery store / Julie Cook / 2017)

People crack me up…
well….
let me correct that….
I admit… I’ve actually been known to also crack myself up…

But today it wasn’t me, it was people…as in the random people out on the road.

If you’re anything like me,
especially now during the start of this season known more for
its madness than for anything truly Holy, religious, spiritual or even grateful….
you’re in your car a lot—driving.

Driving to visit, driving to work, driving to shop—
driving wherever it is you drive.
As in you just seem to be driving more than perhaps you normally would…
In part because during “this” season it’s when we seem to need to go more places,
do more things and see more sights than we normally would or do…
it’s just what we do.

So early this morning as I made a dash to the store, I was stopped at a red light,
behind the car whose image is inserted above.

I usually enjoy reading the stickers folks put on their cars.
Entertaining mindlessness as one sits held captive.

Of course if the stickers are foul or profane,
of which I have seen plenty of stickers that are offensive in one way or another….
I’m none too amused…
and actually if the truth be told,
offended by the thoughtlessness of the more selfish among us….

Yet generally speaking, the stickers provide a bit of cheap entertainment, idle mind filler, thought-provoking wonderment, contemplation or even an audible “amen” …
this as I waste the 4 to 5 minutes of life sitting at red lights or hours stuck
in stop and go traffic.

I’ve always said you could tell almost everything about a driver
from the stickers on their car—-

Whether or not they are young or old,
male or female,
Southern or not,
a fan of a particular college,
a veteran,
a republican,
a democrat,
a member of the green party,
a member of PETA,
a music fan,
a former POW,
a Purple Heart recipient,
a school supporter,
a proud parent or grandparent,
a Christian,
an Atheist,
a Gay,
a dog lover,
a cat lover,
an adopting parent,
a Humane Society supporter,
a relative of or an actual cancer survivor…
whether or not they are athletic,
whether they are into sports,
whether they love electrical linemen,
whether they live on a farm,
whether they drink beer–and usually which brand….
whether they love adventure,
love to hike,
love to bike,
simply love,
simply hate,
whether they are a doctor,
a nurse,
a teacher,
a boy scout,
a girl scout,
an Eagle scout,
a Starwars fan,
and even a guess as to their name as their initials are actually monogramed on
their car’s window—-kind of like a throwback sweater but not.

It gives a good bit of insight into who it is driving the nearly 4000 pound vehicle
in front of you….a friend or foe sort of vibe.

So imagine my curiosity when I actually focused and read the sticker on the car
in front of me this morning.

Now I’ve seen stickers that warn that ‘in case of rapture this car will be driving
dangerously and erratically, all by itself,
so everyone left in their cars need to watch out’—
or what about those stickers that state that God is the driver’s co-pilot…
I think I’d rather prefer that to read, ‘God is the pilot,
I’m just along for the ride’….

But Zombie Response Squad??? Really???

Was I to assume that there was an actual zombie rescue person in the car
in front of me?
What exactly does that mean their responsibility will be in case of an attack?
Was I to find some sort of comfort in knowing that little fact of their
expertise in all things zombie?

This as I remember there’s actually a truck here in town, riding around with
some sort of machine gun, real or not I do not know,
mounted in the bed of the truck with signs posted on either side of the truck–
“Zombie Assault Vehicle”.
As I begin to wonder what sort of town do I actually live in……

Nervously I look up and down the road…left then right…
They eat brains right???

As in do people really think Zombies are going to attack?
That Zombies are actually real?
That Senoia, Georgia’s claim to fame…The Walking Dead are actually alive and…ummm…dead and questionably well down in that small southern town?

Is that why we hear tales of preppers?
Is that why we hear tales of those militia who are hiding out in the mountains
and woods?

Is there something going on that I don’t know about during this season of
all things mad and crazy??
Maybe that’s why it’s called “black Friday”…
it’s a Government coverup because it’s really about some sort of Zombie apocalypse…

This as I just read another story that someone out there is certain the whole moon
landing was faked….

Well, it tis the season…. or so they say…
and remember…I think I read that Zombies like fruit cake…
So best to leave those ubiquitous seasonal goodies now hitting the grocery store shelves
out on the lawn….just to be on the safe side….

May you and your family have a joyful, grateful and even a bit of the humorous
Thanksgiving eve—- 🙂

You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
2 Corinthians 9:11

when the sacred becomes the forgotten

Those who love desire to share with the beloved.
They want to be one with the beloved, and Sacred Scripture shows us the great
love story of God for his people which
culminated in Jesus Christ.

Pope Benedict XVI

Pray always for all the learned, the oblique, the delicate.
Let them not be quite forgotten at the throne of God when the simple
come into their kingdom.

Evelyn Waugh


(detail of the face of an antique french crucifix I bought several years ago at
an antique show / Julie Cook / 2017)

The other day when I was listening to the latest segment of Anglican Unscripted
featuring my favorite man of the cloth and rebel with a Cause, Bishop Gavin Ashenden,
I was struck by something the good bishop said—
yet it wasn’t something you would have thought would have or should have
made any sort of profound impact on me or on anyone else for that matter—
but it did.

I would bet that it wasn’t even something that the good bishop would probably
have thought anyone really even noticed he had said.

Bishop Ashenden was offering a bit of an aside about a recent trip to Normandy…
just idle chatter really with the host—
as it seems Normandy is a place where he and his wife often enjoy visiting
as it seems they have a “retreat” there in Northern France.
And it just so happens to be a place where they seem to enjoy visiting various
antique / flea markets…

The good bishop made mention that during such shopping adventures,
he’s always on the hunt for all things nautical.
A nod to his father who had severed in the Royal Navy during the war and had taken his young son on many a sailing adventures.

But it wasn’t to sailing or to all things nautical that caught my attention but rather
the single one line he offered just following his explanation of his antique quests…
and that being “and to rescue crucifixes”

Seems the good bishop also keeps an eye out for the antique and vintage crucifix.

Funny….I do too.

And I have for most of my life.

When I was maybe 11 or maybe 12, my dad took us on a “vacation” as we drove
from Atlanta to Lake Charles, Louisiana to attend the wedding of my oldest cousin.

Dad thought he’d be smart and kill two birds with a couple of stones by
turning our having to attend a wedding into a family vacation—
as well as marking his and mom’s anniversary which was to take place while
on the road.

We stopped in Mobile on the way out and toured a submarine.
We went to Vicksburg and Natchez to visit old stately plantations and now silent battlefields.
We visited with cousins and family in both Lake Charles and Monroe as I even found
a first young love in our cousin’s neighbor—a boy about my age.

On our return home, we stopped in the Big Easy to get a youthful education on
the more profane side of life…
Bourbon Street, to a preteen and her 6 year old brother, was truly an eye opening
life lesson.

While in New Orleans, we visited The Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Louis, King of France,
otherwise known to most folks as St Louis Cathedral.
It was in the bookstore that dad bought a small marble replica of Michelangelo’s
Pieta. He also bought something for me…a small black wood and silver crucifix.

That crucifix sat by my bedside, resting on the bedside table for the remainder
of my growing up…a symbolic and tangible link to the words
spoken in Matthew–“Lo, I am with you always, until the end of time…”
this was the hand reaching out to literally hold my hand–
especially over the years when I would find myself scared, sad or upset…
He was always there.
It even went with me to college as well as beyond.

And it seems that I’ve had an affinity for such ever since.

Now this is not a post to defend or deny the image of a crucifix,
I’ve done that.
Nor is this a post to defend or deny the Christian’s undeniable link to the image
of the cross,
I’ve done that.
Nor is this a post about the notion of the cross becoming a trendy fashion object
rather than a sacred religious symbol,
I’ve done that one as well.

But I do want to look a little further into this notion of “rescuing crucifixes.”

I’ve obviously been doing just that since as long as I can remember—
Often times in my purchasing history, these crosses have started out as new.
Yet as I grew and aged, finding myself visiting various flea markets and
antique shops, first with my mother then later with my aunt and friends,
I found myself unconsciously gravitating to antique Christian religious items.

My gathering has not been relegated only to crosses but there are small figurines
of the saints, Orthodox Icons, very old ‘finger’ bibles or the Book of Common Prayer
and even very old rosaries….

With the largest rescue being about a 3 foot tall, badly damaged,
very old, antique French plaster crucifix.
A crucifix that I would imagine to have once been a part of a local parish
church somewhere in France.

I’ve written about this cross before…and it is an interesting post about the
cross and its known history…a tale that, now having finished The Book Thieves,
makes me even more keenly aware of European religious items and books that have
been long lost, destroyed and or misplaced…all the victims of two world wars.

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2014/06/26/the-relic-the-mystery-and-theres-just-something-about-those-eyes/

But it wasn’t until I heard Bishop Ashenden actually verbalize the notion of
‘rescuing crucifixes’ that the thought dawned on me—

Why are we having to rescue them?

Why have they come up so randomly and obviously missing in the first place?

These items that someone once held dear and precious–
items instrumental to ones spiritual life and growth that are now simply sitting
forgotten on some dusty old random shelf of some shop or tucked away in some
booth at some sort of flea market…has me actually more sad then vexed.

And so I wonder, when was it exactly, when did we allow the sacred to become the
forgotten…

And in so doing…are we allowing our very faith to fade….

“Then they will know that I am the LORD their God because I made them go
into exile among the nations, and then gathered them again to their own land;
and I will leave none of them there any longer.

Ezekiel 39:28

comings and goings

You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
Deuteronomy 28:6


(the road leading Tremont Great Smokey Mt Institute, The Great Smokey Mountains National Park / Julie Cook / 2015)

During this season of holiday travel may we all remain safe during the
journey to and from our various destinations….

“The love and affection of the angels be to you,

The love and affection of the saints be to you,

The love and affection of heaven be to you,

To guard and to cherish you.

May God shield you on every step,

May He aid you on every path,

And may He hold you safe on every slope,

On every hill and on every plain;

On earth and on sea until you are home again.”
Irish Blessing

A bookstore, a war and a reunion….

“Be swift as a gazelle and strong as a lion to do the will of God in Heaven.”
(as seen on the ex libris of a book looted by the Nazi’s, a reference to
a line form the Mishnah, the Jewish redaction of oral traditions:
Andres Rydell The Book Thieves)


(the interior of a book store in Padova, Italy (Padua) / Julie Cook / 2007)

Today’s tale began many years ago, when my aunt and I found ourselves wandering
and weaving up and down the snake-like alley streets twisting through the old historic district of Padua, Italy…
better known to the Italians as Padova.

We were actually en route from Milan to Florence and opted to stop over for 3 days
in order to explore this deeply rich historical city.
And it just so happened that during our stay, during this particular mid June,
it was the height of the city’s yearly commemoration of Saint Anthony.

Padua is home to the Basilica Pontificia di Sant’Antonio di Padova, or the Pontifical Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua—a massive and beautiful church built to honor the Portuguese born saint who settled in Italy, making Padua his adopted home.
The building of the basilica was begun  in 1232, a year following Saint Anthony’s
death, and was finally completed in 1310—with modifications taking place in both
the 14th and 15th centuries.

It was a wonderful experience being a part of such a festive atmosphere, as
thousands of Catholics worldwide flock to this small Northern Italian town for
the June 13th feast day—
The city goes all out to make a colorfully vibrant yet equally respectfully spiritual
time for the thousands of pilgrims and tourists who flock to this city just south of Venice.

There are parades where the various ancient guilds are dressed in period costume as children, nuns, priests, monks and lay people march solemnly through the
narrow ancient streets all carrying flags as residents drape banners from their windows.

Yet Padua is more than just a spiritual hub, it is also very much of an intellectual
hub as it is home to the University of Padua, one of Europe’s oldest universities,
having been founded in 1222.
It is here where Galileo Galilei spent 18 years, of what he has described as being
the happiest years of his life, while he was the head of the Mathematics Department…
teaching, studying, lecturing and writing.

Italy, so rich in history, also happens to have a wonderful history with
paper making as well as bookmaking.
And Padua has its fair share of both fascinating and beautifully rich paper
as well as book shops–shops selling books, antique lithographs and rare prints.

It is said that after Spain, Italy is where paper making actually had its start.
It was most likely introduced to southern Italy by the Arabs who had in turn first
learned the craft from the Chinese.
Arab influence, particularly in architecture, can still be seen in and around the
Veneto region.

So it was during our visit, as we were wandering about one evening following supper,
that we saw the book store I’ve included in today’s post. The store was closed for the night and as we were going to have to be at the train station bright and early the following morning, I knew I would only get to visit this store by pressing my nose
to the window.

All these many years later, I still think about that store.

It had a wealth of what I surmised to be rare antique and ancient books.
Books, despite the language barrier, beckoned for my further investigation.
I would have easily considered giving up my train ticket to Florence just to be able
to wander in, dig and explore….
but it would take years for me to actually understand the draw as to what I would
be digging and looking for….
And as Life so often has her way, time has simply afforded for my wistful musing of
what might have been.

Having finally finished reading The Book Thieves by Anders Rydell,
the image of that book store in Padua has drawn me back time and time again
as I made my way through Rydell’s book. There is a very strong pull to go back
to look, to seek and to wonder.

There are not words nor adjectives enough for me to do justice to the meticulous story
Rydell lays out as he recounts the Nazi’s scrupulous, maniacal and highly
calculated quest to en masse the books of the all of Europe and Russia with
a keen penchant for those of the Jews.
Not only did they attempt to eradicate an entire race of people, they wanted
to hold, own and control the entire literary word of man—
particularly that of religion, science and history.
As they saw themselves as the new keepers of the history of humankind.

Millions and millions of books, both precious and random were taken…as myriads
are now lost or destroyed for all of time.

The Nazis had a detailed system for categorizing the stolen books.
And many of the books that are now scattered across the globe…
be they in large University libraries or small college collections,
to the random bookshop or second hand store—
many of those books still bare the labels of the Nazi’s numerical filing system.

The long arduous journey of Rydell’s very sad, horrific and overwhelming tale ends
in England with his actually reuniting a granddaughter, Christine Ellse, with a lone
little random book that had belonged to her grandfather–
a man she had never known personally but knew he had died in Auschwitz.
There were never any photographs, no sounds, no memories of a the man
this now grown woman so longed to know.

“Although I’m a Christian I have always felt very Jewish.
I’ve never been able to talk about the Holocaust without crying.
I feel so connected to all of this,” says Ellse,
opening the book and turning the pages for a while before she goes on.

“I’m very grateful for this book, because…I know my English grandparents
on my mother’s side.
They lived and then they died.
It was normal, not having any grandparents on your father’s side.
Many people didn’t, but there was something abnormal about this.
I didn’t even have a photograph of them.
There was a hole there, an emotional vacuum, if you see what I mean.
There was always something hanging midair, something unexpressed,”
Ellse says, squeezing the book.

“You know, my father never spoke about this.
About the past, the war.
But my aunt talked about it endlessly, all the time.
She was the eldest of the siblings, so she was also the most ‘German’ of them.
She coped with it by talking;
my father coped with it by staying silent about it.
I knew already when I was small that something horrible had happened.
I knew my grandparents had died in the war.
Then I found out they’d been gassed, but when you’re a child you don’t
know what that means.
It’s just a story—you don’t understand it.
Then I learned they’d died at Auschwitz. Only after I grew up did I begin to understand and get a grip on it.
It was very difficult when I found out they’d been murdered just ten days
before the gas chambers were shut down.
It was agonizing.
I imagine myself sitting on that train, experiencing the cold and the hunger.
And then straight into the gas chambers.
I’ve never able to get over it.”

Historian Patricia Kennedy Grimstead, a woman with a mission to see that war plunder is eventually reunited with families, notes that “millions of trophy books–although no one can say how many there are—will remain as ‘prisoners of war,”
Today, in Russia, there is no willingness to return books to the countries or families
that were plundered. But we still have to know what books are still represented there
from Europe’s cultural inheritance, a monument to the libraries that were destroyed
and scattered as a consequence of the most terrible war in human history.”

And so my mind wanders now back to that bookstore in Padua—
what book, if any, was there that had once been someone’s personal book
before madness took it away…
a book I now wish I could have found, in order to have brought it back home
to its rightful family.

The Lord will afflict you with madness, blindness and confusion of mind.
At midday you will grope about like a blind person in the dark.
You will be unsuccessful in everything you do;
day after day you will be oppressed and robbed, with no one to rescue you….

All these curses will come on you.
They will pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed,
because you did not obey the Lord your God and observe the commands
and decrees he gave you.
They will be a sign and a wonder to you and your descendants forever.
Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly
in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst,
in nakedness and dire poverty,
you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you.
He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you.

Deuteronomy 28:28-29, 45-48

inviting and yet locked

“By confronting us with irreducible mysteries that stretch our daily vision
to include infinity, nature opens an inviting and guiding path
toward a spiritual life.”

Thomas More

As polarized as we have been,
we Americans are locked in a cultural war for the soul of our country.

Pat Buchanan


(an inviting, yet closed and obviously shuttered, secluded entrance way / Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

There is a lovely Orthodox Christian blog that I follow…
Where I often find the most beautiful wisdom presented in the simplest of fashions.
This morning was no exception.

https://thoughtsintrusive.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/what-does-charismatic-despair-mean/

When I first read this morning’s posting’s title, with words such as Charismatic and despair…words that at first glance appear to be polar opposites of one another, I wasn’t prepared to find both a sweet reminder as well as an embracing
comfort all rolled into one.

I am reminded that as we each journey through this thing we call life,
we will each inevitably encounter times of great frustration, difficulty…
even overwhelming sorrow.

We will come to those places along on our walk where we find our pathway blocked
with the doorways, those apparent entrances beckoning us to continue forward, each shuttered and locked tight. There will be no obvious alternate path allowing for us
to continue onward, proceeding freely and unhindered.

It is at such a juncture on the path, where we are met by both doubt and despair.

Choice suddenly appears limited or even nonexistent.
Knowing we can’t progress forward and that we certainly can’t turn around,
going back from whence we came…for too much time has passed for turn arounds,
we are stymied. A rushing fear washes over us as we realize that we have
no other options, no choices.

And this is where we must look not obviously outward from ourselves
seeking our answers,
but rather we must look inward…traveling deeply within ourselves.

For it is in this very moment of inward verses outward, of how we will decide
to interact with the obstacles and locked doors,
which will eventually decide how we continue forward on our journey.

And so it is here, tucked gently away in this morning’s reading of simple words
offered by a simple monk, where we are gently yet profoundly reminded that
in our apparent despair, we are driven not by the seemingly overwhelmingness
of that very despair and its accompanying frustration, but rather by the divine interventions of the Spirit…
He who urges us, without our even being aware, to seek the only One who has
the key to unlocking those shattered doors, allowing for us to continue forward
on this odd little journey of ours.

It begins with a frustration or a pain or a sorrow and it ends with
an imploring prayer…


(the wisdom of Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex from the book Remember Thy First Love)

After the fact

“…[W]hen death comes to a man, the mortal part of him dies,
but the immortal part retires at the approach of death and escapes unharmed and indestructible…
[I]t is as certain as anything can be…
that soul is immortal and imperishable, and that our souls will
really exist in the next world.”

Socrates


(sunset at Rosemary Beach, Fl / Julie Cook / 2017)

It is now after the fact…
The storm has come and gone…
the winds are minimal at best…and the seas are calm….
And it appears that our friend Socrates is on to something….

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;
no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father,
who has given them to me, is greater than all;
no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

John 10:28-30