Bitterness

Between the uprightness of my conscience and the hardness of my lot,
I know not how either to show respect to my feelings or to the times.
The bitterness of my mind urges me at all hazards to speak what I think,
whereas the necessity of the times prompts me, however unbecomingly,
to keep silence.
Good God!
Which way shall I turn myself?

Thomas Becket


(5 o’clock somewhere / Julie Cook / 2020)

Way back in the early ’80s, I was but a young naive, early twenty-something art teacher.

As an art educator, I thought it was my duty, meaning I had the bright idea,
that I should create a European adventure in order to take my students upon—
one that would focus on the great art capitals of Europe.

Ahhhhh…

Note to self…when you are mid-twenties…don’t take teens on a trip…
especially out of the country.

And don’t do it when terrorism was actually becoming a thing
and there was no such things as cell phones.

That will be another story for another day.

However, for now, I want to share one little story.

At that time, as a young art teacher, who had recently been a young student myself,
I had a deep love and fascination with all things Italian.

I had minored in Art History with a focus on the Italian Renaissance.
Italy was, to me, the mecca of the art world.
And to truly appreciate such, I had immersed myself in all things Italian.

As a kid, I always loved Italian food, albeit 1960’s Americana Italian.
As an adopted kid, I just knew my true roots were Italian.

Was I not the secret love child of Sophia Loren???

Yet sadly that all actually proved to be a Scotch / Irish and English background,
but I digress.

So when our little adventure finally brought us to Italian soil, I had the
bright idea that I would, by gosh, treat myself to a quintessential Italian drink…
Campari.

That glistening brilliant red Italian liqueur.
I had seen all the famous advertisement posters… Campari was THE
Italian drink…

I remember marching up to a bar at a disco we had taken to kids to enjoy
and boldly telling the bartender I would like a Campari on the rocks.

Oh I felt so Sophia Lorenesque—-waiting on Dean Martin to come croon me a sweet Italian
love song.

I was so excited, so full of expectation…that was all until I brought that glass to my
expectant lips and took a big swallow.

There are no words for the nano-moments following.

It was a swallow followed by a quick spitting out what remained in my mouth.

Oh my great heavens above, I had just ingested kerosene!!!

A fire was now coursing down my throat as the bitter taste of poison cloyingly
coated my mouth.

If not some sublime red delightful liquid, what in the heck was Campari!!!?????

Oh, what my naivete and immature taste did not understand of aperitifs and digestifs
and more importantly bitters.

A story I now recall fondly as I’ve actually acquired quite the taste for Campari–
albeit mixed with a bit of lime and prosecco.
In more of a spritz verses that of a hardcore sipper.

And all this talk of bitters brings me full circle to our lives today.

For we are living during some bitter days.

A shadowy Spector seems to be waiting on each of us with some sort of sadistic
bated breath.

We are finding ourselves isolated, dislocated and as if living in some strange foreign land.

Our world has been literally turned upside down.

And how ironic that we should find ourselves in the midst of one of the holiest times
in all of Christendom—the week leading to Good Friday…and eventually Easter.

A time of jubilation followed by humility, betrayal, torture, and eventually death…

It is a bitter time.
A time of gall and bile.
A time of blood and vomit.

Not a pretty picture.
Not a picture of sweet little bunnies and precious little lambs.

This is a time of reality.

A time of life, lies, deceit, and death.

And how odd that our world now is actually walking the same sacred
walk we Christians have walked now for nearly 2000 years…
the Via Dolorosa…

A painful and difficult journey.

Yet what we followers of Christ already know…
the ending is not nearly as tragic as the world would have us believe.

Victory, in the end, is truly ours.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning,
nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

it’s all in the translation–mi vida di por ti

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only
but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 2:2


(Christ Crucified, VELÁZQUEZ, DIEGO RODRÍGUEZ DE SILVA Y/ 1632/ Museo Del Prado)

There is an Evangelical Hispanic Chruch that I pass by on almost a daily basis.
There has been a sign in front of the church with the same lettering, sentence, for the better
part of a year.

Now you should know, I love church signs—
they are the quick little lessons I glean during my travels.
Some or cute.
Some are funny.
Some are thought-provoking.
And it matters not the denomination or size of the church—
for God has certainly spoken to me over the years via the signs I’ve passed.

I have found that church signs tend to be found in smaller towns or more rural areas.
Growing up in Atlanta, the churches didn’t really have signs that made statements
or offered tidbits of wisdom…they were more or less signs with simply the name
of the church.

So the signs in these smaller towns and more rural areas really speak in greater ways
than what their congregations may even realize.

The sentence that I’ve passed by now for so very long reads:

mi vida di por ti

So with my limited understanding of foreign languages, I was pretty certain I
was reading it, every day to and fro, with the correct meaning.

I had known enough ‘spanglish’ to get by with my students when I was still teaching,
so I figured I had this.

But those of you who know me or read this site know that I struggle enough with my own
native tongue—throw in another tongue and there’s no telling how that will go.

And to think, I had had French in school from the 4th grade all the way to my sophomore year
in high school–
Yet I think I’m still good with merely ‘Je ne sais pas’—as in ‘I don’t know’–
as in, I really don’t know.

So while driving past this sign, with my infinite wisdom intact, I deduced that ‘por ti’ must mean
door, as in portal.
So I was convinced that the sign read, ‘I am the door’.
Made sense to me.

Yet given my lack of depth with language, I knew it was best to doubt myself.

So I made a mental note to look it up when I got home.

And to say that I was wrong is an understatement.

‘Mi vida di por ti’ translates to ‘I gave my life for you’

Now a well understood and powerful daily reminder that puts a smile on my face each day
I pass this church…
No wonder they’ve left it up so long as that pretty much says it all…

“A dead Christ I must do everything for;
a living Christ does everything for me.”

Andrew Murray, Jesus Himself

graces

“Three things are necessary to everyone:
truth of faith which brings understanding,
love of Christ which brings compassion,
and endurance of hope which brings perseverance.”

St. Bonaventure


(a gull prances in the surf / Julie Cook / 2019)

My Heart overflows with great mercy for souls, and especially for poor sinners.
If only they could understand that I am the best of Fathers to them and that
it is for them that the Blood and Water flowed from My Heart as from a fount overflowing with mercy.
For them I dwell in the tabernacle as King of Mercy.
I desire to bestow My graces upon souls, but they do not want to accept them.
You, at least, come to Me as often as possible and take these graces they do not want to accept.
In this way you will console My Heart.
Oh, how indifferent are souls to so much goodness, to so many proofs of love!
My Heart drinks only of the ingratitude and forgetfulness of souls living in the world.
They have time for everything, but they have no time to come to Me for graces.”

St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, p. 367
An Excerpt From
Diary of St. Faustina

understanding

“I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe,
but rather, I believe in order that I may understand.”

St. Anselm of Canterbury


(Galileo surveys the night sky of Florence / Florence, Italy / Julie Cook / 2018)

“So when we pray, we must stand in His presence, on His level.
We must see His suffering in the same way that we see His greatness,
and as we picture His compassion.
But we must also remember that that suffering,
that greatness and that compassion will one day judge us.
We shall be weighed in the balance by them; and if we are found wanting in any way,
we shall hear the words:
‘Depart from me…’
‘Go elsewhere; go to those who refused to be my friends.'”

Dom Augustin Guillerand, p. 53
An Excerpt From
The Prayer of the Presence of God

a little more empty during a tough year…

“Every man has his secret sorrows which the world knows not;
and often times we call a man cold when he is only sad.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


(The Very Rev. and Mrs David B. Collins–David and Virginia “Ginny” /
Julie N.Cook / 1981)

In this grainy old photo you see two people who were very much in love—

…and those two people were two individuals who I loved very much as well.

He had been a Naval Officer during WWII and she a staring actress in the original
production of Carousel on Broadway—and yet they somehow met, fell in love, married
and loved one another well into their 90’s….

And they had each loved me.

The year of the photograph was 1981 and it was taken during an evening
a group of us had met up at our favorite British Pub in Atlanta.
The Churchill Arms.
One could have walked into this pub and felt magically transported across the
proverbial pond to a different place and time.

I think both young and old in our group that night wished we were all in England–
during a different time.

Back then, back when I was young, at that pub on Thursday nights,
the Atlanta Bagpipes and Drums would hold court and practice.
There were the nightly dart competitions.
And on Friday and Saturday nights, a dear older lady would play the piano
as everyone would gather around to sing rousing renditions of Waltzing Matilda,
Keep the Home Fires Burning, Over There, etc….
all the while enjoying a pint of Whitbread, Guinness or New Castle….

Funny thing thinking about a bunch of late 70’s college kids singing Waltzing Matilda
and actually knowing not only the words but what the song was about and when it had actually been popular….

I think the pub is still there…where it was back in my youth…
But it’s now a modern trendy sort of place sans all the typical Anglophile
paraphernalia.
No longer does it harken back to a better place and time.
As it beckons to the cutting edge millennial…with it’s more otherworldly
bar atmosphere of the 21st century.

It was probably an odd place for a group of college kids to gather along with their
parish priest, the current Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St Philip…along
with this vicar’s wife…..but the church was no small parish,
he was no small church vicar and we were no average lot of kids.

There was very much a homey feel here, there was a fire place, lots of wood—
a place we, a bedraggled little extended “family,”
could all gather to enjoy one another’s company.
A place we could chat, catching everyone up on life at our various colleges and
hear what we had missed at Church.

The drinking age at the time was 18 so we were all good and by the time this
picture was taken, I was well into my early 20’s.

I’ve written about both of them before.
For various reasons…be it because of my adoption, my faith, my family, my life…
as they each had had a prominent role in my small corner of the world.

They each taught me a great deal about life, love, living, dying, fighting,
believing…. as well as lessons about Faith, God, hopefulness, healing and Grace.

They each saved me, more times than I care to recall, from myself.

They each knew of the failings and egregious actions of my life yet
loved me none the less.
As I certainly worked hard at testing that love many a time.

I am who I am to this day because of them.
Better because of who they were.

They actually laid hands upon my head, several times, as they prayed for healing.

Not for a physical healing but for a more profound and more important healing.
A deep spiritual healing.

He was adopted, just like I was.
We shared that—just as she shared us.
She knew the importance of deep healing.
And she knew how important such healing was for both of us and to our pasts—-
to the two people she loved.

They had 4 children of their own…
and then there was me—the surrogate 5th.
They claimed to be my Godparents…by proxy really…for when I was baptized
as an infant, our paths had not yet crossed.

The relationship was set in motion in 1966 when they first moved to Atlanta
in order for him to take the over the position of dean at the Nation’s largest
Episcopal Cathedral.

They are not my parents yet my own parents knew of the great importance and role
this couple played in my life…and where there was jealously there was also
a knowledge that the relationship was necessary for all of us….
Just as their children knew that they were sharing their parents with me
and yet they often spoke in terms of me being “the truly good child”.

Over time, I learned, as I grew and matured, that they needed me just as much
as I had needed them…
life has a way of teaching us such things.

The end of the year will mark a year since he’s been gone.
Her passing was on Tuesday….
And now they are Home, together.
This I know.

Yet that doesn’t make me less sad.
Doesn’t make me feel less lonely.
Doesn’t stop from reminding me that all my parents are now gone…
along with an aunt and uncle, a brother and cousin along with all grandparents.
That all are gone…but me.

Odd how that makes one feel.
Even at almost 60 years of age.
Good-byes are never easy.

There was a time when I could not have weathered this tremendous amount
of loss I’ve experienced this past year…
but I now have a deep knowledge and understanding of Grace.
I am saved by that Grace.
They taught me that…and then some…

apples are apples… yet sometimes they just might be an orange….

Keep me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of thy wings,
from the wicked who despoil me,
my deadly enemies who surround me.

Psalm 17:8-9


(one of our two little apples on our four apple trees…Julie Cook / 2017)

Whereas an apple a day supposedly keeps the doctor away, historically apples have often
fallen in and out of favor….both literally and figuratively.
in part due to a loss of translation or simple miscommunication.

A member of the rose family, apples were most likely the first trees to be cultivated
by man.
Historical records have even credited Alexander the Great with most likely
discovering a dwarf variety of apples that he later brought to Macedonia from Kazakhstan.

And it was the early European settlers who are credited with having first introduced
cultivated varieties of apples to North America as the crab apple was the only native
“apple” species on the continent.

Thus having originated in central Asia, it is often speculated as to whether apples were
even known to exist as an actual fruit or tree in ancient biblical times.

And as any biblical translation scholar will tell you,
Hebrew translations may or may not always have a corresponding word in
English as an equivalent…
just as we observe with the use of the word apple in Psalm 17.

Verse 8 mentions “keeping me as the apple of your eye…”
Meaning that ‘I am to be held in the center of your heart and attention
I am your pride and joy…..”

As the Hebrew translation of the psalm does not use the word apple as we
know the word apple to be today, but rather it translates as “little man of my eye”
and refers to the pupil of the eye and not an actual apple because the pupil was
thought to be a round hard ball, much like an apple.

And yet it was the eye to which early civilizations looked as being key to the essence of a person.
So keeping one as the center of the eye is to have kept them at the heart of one’s being.

The word apple is laced throughout various verses and passages in the Old Testament
with a direct Hebrew translation often referring to pupils and or actual eyeballs…

So perhaps apple is wrongly transposed from the more accurate notion
of that of an aperture, with aperture being the center of the eye…
as an aperture is a hole in which light passes through, such as in a camera lens….
which in turn equates the pupil of the eye, which is the hole allowing
ligt to pass to the back of the retina….which is in essence how we see…
thus apple is meant as aperture.

And as we read the story in Genesis regarding the exchange between Eve and the serpent:

Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made.
He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree of the garden’?”
And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden;
but God said,
‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden,
neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”But the serpent said to the woman,
“You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened,
and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food,
and that it was a delight to the eyes,
and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate;
and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.
Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked;
and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.

We see the same sort of translation issue arising in this story as
the Latin translation of the word “apple” is closely similar to the translation of “evil”
“with the Latin words mālum (an apple) and mălum (an evil),
each of which is normally written malum.
The tree of the forbidden fruit is called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”
in Genesis 2:17, and the Latin for “good and evil” is bonum et malum.”
(Wikipedia)

So we see that the end result is often that time has a way of cementing
certain words to certain meanings.
While the gist and the story remains pretty much the same and understood…
the symbols of various words take on a variety of meanings.

As in these two examples with the word apple…
In the one instance it is seen as something ominous and wrong with a sinister
and evil connotation…
while next it is meant as something special, endearing and solely important…

And it is often here, in these confusions of translations and multiple meanings,
that skeptics often point…
as skeptics love to use perceived confusion as a smoke screen of defense.
Their’s is a very loud and very vocal piece of the hysterical….
“see, that isn’t right, that isn’t what was really intended….
so how do you, how can you, claim to even know what is right or what is wrong…
maybe you’ve just been misguided all these thousands of years…”

However as we often see in these sacred stories and narratives that although there
may be multiple words that are being used in a variety of different contexts…
the meanings and lessons conveyed are still always the same as originally intended…

It’s just that we may have exchanged an apple for an orange…
Which means that sometimes the words are defined as the same thing,
and at other times they are not…
perhaps meaning or relating to a variety of different things such as
feelings, thoughts and emotions….

….such is the joy of language…

But one thing is always certain…
God’s word will always remain the same…as well as unchanged…
God’s meaning, intent and His words are never altered or changed despite man’s
often erroneous and misguided attempts of expressing such…
For His words stand the test to both time and translation….

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof,
for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete,
equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

mothers…it’s complicated

“Perhaps it takes courage to raise children..”
John Steinbeck


(a bluebird nest with two remaining eggs that never made it / Julie Cook / 2017)

Perhaps it does indeed Mr Steinbeck,
perhaps it does take courage…..

It should come as no surprise that no matter whether you’re young or old,
Republican or Democrat,
Christian or Muslim,
Jew or Baptist,
liberal or conservative,
black, white, brown, red, yellow…
alive or even dead…
the one single thing that I think is safe to assume for every last one of us,
a matter in which we may all find common ground…
and is surely a topic which we can each unite upon is…..

the single fact that we have all have had a mother!

Oh we’ve had a father too, but since today is earmarked for all things mothers…
mothers shall be the focus.

Mothers and motherhood…

It’s complicated.
Ask any mother….

And getting more and more complicated with each passing day I fear.
Because that role, that contribution, that definition is now morphing faster
than I can blink my eyes..

There was a time in history when more women died from complications with childbirth
than from anything else.

So it would be safe in assessing that birthing is not a piece of cake.
Then there is the raising…

Some of us are better at the whole motherhood thing than others…
Pintrest being probably the current best portal into
the realm of successful mothering and of those who are up for the current year’s awards.

Yet we each must admit….that during the course of a lifetime….that we have…
loved our mothers,
hated our mothers,
loathed our mothers,
divorced our mothers,
disowned our mothers,
liked our mothers,
acknowledged our mothers,
ignored our mothers,
not claimed our mothers,
never known our mothers,
been angry at our mothers,
been embarrassed by our mothers,
cried over our mothers,
missed our mothers……

but in the end…
we each must admit…for good or bad, we had a mother…

And petri dishes and test tubes aside…

Some of us are good at mothering and nurturing and loving….
and some of us, not so much.

Some of us want a boatload of children while…
some of us give away the only child we had.

Some of us “mother” children who we did not birth,
as some of us choose our children….
while still others are given the children they are to raise.

Some of us mothers are actually fathers who have had to take on the role of mother
for a variety of reasons…

So yes, this one simple fact of a mother, mothering, motherhood…
is complicated.

I am not a Catholic…so no one can accuse me of bias or blindness…
but there is one thing I know for certain, that being the example we have been given as to
what a tremendous job mothering can demand…
an example is found in a simple woman named Mary.

Oh we all have some notion about Mary–something akin to a fairytale really.
An image of a benign gentle face, adorned with white shroud with blue tunic,
hands tenderly folded as her unblemished face looks lovingly down upon mankind
from atop some heavenly throne as the stars dance around her head….

And that may very well be how things are for her now…in Heaven….

But I actually think of a young dark haired, olive skinned Jewish woman who’s hands
are calloused as her feet are dusty…
She is neither fair haired nor do flowers adorn her beauty.

Oh she is indeed most blessed among women, but she is also greatly burdened.

She carries in her heart a burden none of us shall ever know.
We may glimpse her burden, her pain, her hidden anguish…but we will not know
exactly her magnitude.

I see her the day she is angry at this strange yet gentle son of hers who speaks with
adult leaders as though he is one of them…

I see her when he becomes lost to her for days during a family trip.
Literally lost, as in gone.
He is young and seemingly naive to the ways of a dangerous Palestine under Roman Occupation.
Panic has taken hold of her as she and her husband desperately search.

Has your child ever been out of your sight for even just a minute or two
and for those moments of uncertainty, did you not feel that nauseating hold on time,
the feeling of drowning without being under water…?

And I see her releasing both relief and anger as she finds him comfortable and selfishly lost
in his own time with no apparent concern that perhaps his family had been anxious
during the three day search.

There were no phones, no Amber alerts, no police who would aid in the search.
And yet, he is among the elders, teaching.
In his mind, a perfectly normal place for him to be
but so frustratingly odd for her….

What does the mother of God do?
Does she yell, punish, reprimand, perhaps even ground him…
or…
does she bite her tongue as he speaks to her words that come from some place else.
As she is pondering, wondering, bearing the burden hidden in her heart.

I next see an older woman, hair greying, the lines on her face run deep.
She is no longer young or vibrant, but tired.

She stands in the middle of an angry crowd.
She is hot after standing for hours in the midst of this pulsating mob
as her nostrils burn from the heaviness of both sweat and dust mingled
sickeningly together.

The shouts from these people, some she actually knows, pains her but pales in comparison
to the sight now standing before her.

A man striped of clothing, no dignity remaining, naked, bloody and bruised
head lowered in exhaustion.
He is bound, bleeding profusely as he is the image of a man who has
been savaged.

This is her son.

The once young, gentle naive boy who spoke of things she did not quite understand.
Her mind flashes to holding him, cradling him, soothing him as she now longs to do the same…
wishing to not only kiss away the hurt but to wash his bloody and torn skin
while shielding him from the abuse—
yet she is frozen and paralyzed knowing there is nothing she can do.

A mother who bore Salvation.

So yes, mothers, motherhood and mothering is indeed complicated
as it does indeed demand courage…from every last one of us….
Mary should know…

So on this springtime Sunday in May,
may we each remember the mothers in our lives…
with love, with forgiveness and with hope…

Happy Mother’s Day….

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be spoken against,
so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.
And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Luke 2:33-35