a needed day in the woods–following the traces–the lowest, not the highest

“I ask you to consider that our Lord Jesus Christ is your true head and that
you are a member of his body.
He belongs to you as the head belongs to the body.
All that is his is yours: breath, heart, body, soul and all his faculties.
All of these you must use as if they belonged to you,
so that in serving him you may give him praise, love and glory.”

St. John Eudes


(fungi continue to sprout /Julie Cook / 2020)

“Since Jesus has gone to Heaven now,
I can only follow the traces He has left behind.
But how bright these traces are! How fragrant and divine!
I have only to glance at the Gospels;
at once this fragrance from the life of Jesus reaches me,
and I know which way to run:
to the lowest, not the highest place!”

St. Therese of Lisieux, p. 153-4
An Excerpt From
Story of a Soul

When in the woods, especially this time of year with falling leaves and treasures hidden underfoot,
I have learned to look for the lowest secrets rather than those of the highest and most soaring wonders.
I give thanks for being able to spend time in God’s creation!

Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!

Psalm 33:8

without measure

“The true measure of loving God is to love Him without measure.”
St. Bernard of Clairvaux


(a spent mushroom in the depths of the woods / Julie Cook / 2020)

“The Spirit of God teaches us how we can live our faith with great generosity of spirit.
There is a vertical dimension to our faith (praising and worshiping God),
but there is also a horizontal dimension to our faith in which we show our love to
our sisters and brothers, God’s beloved children.”

Rev. Jude Winkler, p. 8
An Excerpt From
Daily Meditations Holy Spirit

To the place where God is hidden

“Faith and love are like the blind man’s guides.
They will lead you along a path unknown to you,
to the place where God is hidden.”

St. John of the Cross


(mushrooms found along my walk in the woods / Julie Cook / 2020)

The point is simply that without God’s grace we cannot be good.
Without love, justice turns to cruelty.
Without hope, courage turns to blind despair.
Without faith, this-worldly wisdom is foolishness to God.
The two levels, natural and supernatural, hang together.

Peter Kreeft
from Back to Virtue

‘patches of Godlight’

“Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could
never get from reading books on astronomy.
These pure and spontaneous pleasures are ‘patches of Godlight’
in the woods of our experience.”

C.S. Lewis


(shelf fungus oddly existing on the dry red dirt of Georgia / Julie Cook / 2020)

I think we need to go to the woods.
Why?
Because we need a diversion from ourselves.

I am oh so weary from the vitriol and hatred that is eclipsing our senses.

We need to be reminded that we are truly small and that there is a world out there that is
actually much greater than ourselves.

We actually need to be put back in the food chain in order to grasp
the bigger picture—-
however sadly, we tend to run in the realm of human predation…so what can I say.

Let’s get out of our cities, our lockdowns, our narrowmindedness.
Let’s get out from under the bickering and hatred racing around our lives.
Let’s go to the woods…

But before we actually get into the woods, we’ve got to park the truck.
We’ve got to start walking…
and here’s what we see before we even get into the woods…

We see a lone downy turkey feather covered in the morning dew…


(turkey feather covered in dew / Julie Cook / 2020)


(detail of turkey feather covered in dew / Julie Cook / 2020)

Before we venture much further, before we leave the rutted red dusty path and diverge
into the thick stand of trees and vines, we see a carpet of dew-covered netted webs…


(a spider web covered in the dew / Julie Cook / 2020)


(detail of dew covering a spider web/ Julie Cook / 2020)

More tomorrow when we finally venture readily and willingly deep into another world…

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

ask

“When one has nothing more to lose, the heart is inaccessible to fear.”
St. Théodore Guérin


(an odd place for a road sign / Julie Cook / 20202)

We were out walking a property line over the weekend, in the middle of the woods
in the middle of nowhere.

We found an old logging road so we headed down the clearing rather than creeping
our way through the thick bramble and new growth woods.

The logging road bordered an old-growth forest and a clear cut on the opposite side.
We walked down the road a bit further before being stopped abruptly by a deep flowing creek.
There was no bridge but we could see that the old road continued on the other side.

However, it was obvious there was no way to cross.
Not unless we opted to slip down a wet muddy slope while attempting to ford a deep flowing creek
then pull ourselves up on the other slippery slope—
needless to say, we opted to turn around…

And that’s when I saw it.

There in the middle of these woods, in the middle of nowhere, was a sign.
To be fair, there was a posted sign tacked to a tree,
but it was the road sign that had me most intrigued.

It was a beat-up old road sign propped up against a tree.
A curve in the road sign.
A skewed curve sign, but a curve sign none the less.
A warning to drivers that a curve was up ahead.

Yet here, deep in the woods, where there was no road per se, no curve, there was indeed a sign.

Obviously, for good or bad, there had been others here long before we showed up.

“In the spiritual life there are two great principles which should never be forgotten:
Without grace we can do nothing; with it we can do all things.
Sometimes it anticipates our desires; ordinarily, God waits till we ask for it.
This is a general law thus expressed by Our Lord: ‘Ask, and it shall be given to you.’
Prayer is, therefore, not only a precept, it is a necessity.
God places the treasure of His graces at our disposal, and its key is prayer.
You desire more faith, more hope, more love; ‘ask, and it shall be given to you.’
Your good resolutions remain sterile, resulting always in the same failures:
‘ask, and it shall be given to you’.
Precepts are numerous, virtue painful, temptation seductive, the enemy ruthless,
the will weak: ‘ask, and it shall be given to you.'”

Rev. Dom Vitalis Lehodey p. xv
An Excerpt From
The Ways of Mental Prayer

wonder upon wonder

“If you become Christ’s you will stumble upon wonder upon wonder,
and every one of them true.”

St. Brendan of Birr


(the vegatation on the forest floor / Julie Cook / 2020)

“Undertake courageously great tasks for God’s glory,
to the extent that he’ll give you power and grace for this purpose.
Even though you can do nothing on your own, you can do all things in him.
His help will never fail you if you have confidence in his goodness.
Place your entire physical and spiritual welfare in his hands.
Abandon to the fatherly concern of his divine providence every care for your health,
reputation, property, and business; for those near to you; for your past sins;
for your soul’s progress in virtue and love of him; for your life, death,
and especially your salvation and eternity—in a word, all your cares.
Rest in the assurance that in his pure goodness,
he’ll watch with particular tenderness over all your responsibilities and cares,
arranging all things for the greatest good.”

St. John Eudes, p. 363
An Excerpt From
A Year with the Saints

senses put in order

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed,
and to have my senses put in order.”

John Burroughs


(shelf fungus / Julie Cook / 2019)

That quote by John Burroughs is so true is it not?
After any walk outside, out in nature…be it in the woods, through a meadow,
a ragged shoreline or a challenging mountain top…I always find myself at peace…
All worry and fret subsides…as that which is so much bigger, so much grander
than my mere self, has an enormous way of healing that which currently ailes my soul.

God is good like that.
Offering me the vast glory of His creation…

So it is no surprise that I love wandering in the woods especially this time of year…
It’s a time when I am not bothered by such things as spiders, snakes, or ticks.

No fears, no immediate worry as I can walk unimpeded—not fretting about where
I put my foot, as long as I avoid any and all stump holes—
those rotted out places in the ground, holes left gaping which are the remains of a dead tree…
such holes can be readily covered by the freshly fallen leaves and not immediately detected
by a mere glance downward.

Many a sprained ankle or even a break can happen when falling into such a hole.
I should know…thankful nothing ever broken…just usually sore and bruised.

And so I can hunt for those small wonders that still wait to be uncovered…
wonders that are not hibernating or buried deep within the ground waiting for Spring.

Shelf fungus and mushrooms are always a favorite to find as their shape, size, and colors
are usually most eye-catching.

Here are just a few from the other day…


(mildewed shelf fungus / Julie Cook / 2019)


(shelf fungus / Julie Cook / 2019)


(shelf fungus / Julie Cook / 2019)


(mushrooms, mushrooming out from under the crevis of a wooden bridge/ Julie Cook / 2019)

Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully,
he can learn more than what is in books,
for they speak with the voice of God.

George Washington Carver

reflecting on love and beauty

Love does not make unnecessary the fulfillment of God’s commandments,
but is their deepest form of fulfillment.
The commandments are not external prescriptions,
which promise reward to those who fulfill them and threaten punishment to those who
fail to observe them.
Instead, they are the revelation of God’s salvific design,
indicating to us the way of his love.

Gerhard Cardinal Müller
from The Power of Truth


(a late November reflection offered by a creek—doesn’t it look as if the trees are
upsdie down reflected by the deep blue sky? / Julie Cook/ 2019)

Only a few colorful leaves remain dangling in the trees,
the majority of the multitudes have turned brown, or more aptly turned
loose, providing a freshly muted carpet covering the forest floor.

There is a vast quietness once the leaves fall and are damp underfoot.
No rustling of the wind through the trees and no crinkling underfoot.

But that doesn’t mean that beauty is now hidden…quite the contrary…
her reflection waits for the lucky ones who pass by…


(a late November reflection offerd by a creek/ Julie Cook / 2019)


(a late November reflection found in a creek / Julie Cook / 2019)

Who has not heard Dostoyevsky’s oft-quoted remark: ‘Beauty will save us’?
Usually people forget to mention, however, that by redeeming beauty Dostoyevsky
means Christ. He it is whom we must learn to see.
If we cease to know him only through words but are struck by the arrow of his paradoxical beauty,
then we will truly come to know him and will no longer merely know about him secondhand.
Then we will have encountered the beauty of truth, of redeeming truth.
Nothing can bring us into contact with the beauty of Christ himself more than
the world of beauty created by faith and the light that shines upon
the faces of the saints, through which his own light becomes visible.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
from On the Way to Jesus Christ

crisis of faith or living faith…a choice

In a speech to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2011, Benedict XVI
reflected that
“The essence of the crisis of the Chruch in Europe is the crisis of faith.
If we find no answer to this…then all other reforms will remain ineffective.”

The Day is Far Spent / Cardinal Sarah


(a lone turkey feather lost in the woods / Julie Cook / 2019)

When Joseph Ratzinger speaks about a “crisis of faith”,
we should understand that he is not talking in the first place about an
intellectual or theological problem in the academic sense of the word.
He means a “living faith”, a faith that imbues and transforms life.
“If faith does not take on new life, deep conviction and real strength
from the encounter with Jesus Christ,” Benedict XVI added that day,
“then all other reforms will remain ineffective.”

This loss of the sense of faith is the deep root of the crisis of civilization
that we are experiencing.

As in the first centuries of Christianity, when the Roman Empire
was collapsing, all human institutions today sem to be on the
path of decadence.
Reflections between people, whether political, social, economic, or cultural,
are becoming difficult.
In losing the sense of God, we have undermined the foundation of all
human civilization and opened the door to totalitarian barbarity.

Human beings, separated from God, are reduced to a single dimension—
the horizontal—
and this reduction itself is one of the fundamental causes of the various forms
of totalitarianism that have had tragic consequences in the past century,
as well as the crisis of values that we see in the current situation.

By obscuring the reference to God the ethical horizon has also been obscured,
to leave room for relativism and for an ambiguous conception of
freedom which, instead of being liberating, ends by blinding
human beings to idols.

The temptation that Jesus faced in the wilderness before his public ministry
vividly symbolize which “idols” entice human beings when they do not
go beyond themselves.
Were God to lose his centrality man would lose his rightful place,
he would no longer fit into creation, into relations with others

Pope Benedict XVI
Nov 14, 2012

God cannot be confined by our narcissistic ways

Man wounded by original sin often proves to be egocentric, individualistic, and selfish.
Inspired by Christ, he serves his neighbor.
Without Christ, he knows only his own interest.

Cardinal Sarah


(shelf fungus deep in the woods / Julie Cook / 2019)

Slowly, as the time for a page or two is afforded, I continue making my
way through Cardinal Sarah’s book, The Day is Now Far Spent.

Each page is a new nugget of wisdom to be digested.

That’s another reason why this book takes so much time to read…
Each page gives its reader pause…making the reader stop, ponder, think and
inwardly digest what is being said.

I was waiting on my car to be serviced two weeks ago and was lucky to take in a few pages.
Sitting in the lobby on a rainy afternoon, I would read, highlight, re-read
and then sit and deeply reflect on what I had just read.

I felt my self lucky just to be able to take in a mere single page last night
before going to bed.

The following is what I managed to read last night…

Even if man wanted to, he would never succeed in confining God.

He must instead love, listen to, and adore God and follow Christ.

In our materialistic civilization, man thinks almost exclusively of his own narrow interests.
He sees God as the one who ought to provide him with what consumption does not give him.

God is utilized to satisfy selfish demands.
If he does not answer prayer, they abandon him.
Some even go so far as to blaspheme his holy name.
The religion that ought to connect heaven and earth then runs the risk of becoming a
purely narcissistic space.

Some Evangelical sects excel in this commerce.
They transform God into a pagan idol that is supposed to assure them of health,
happiness, and prosperity and to grant every human whim.
They command miracles, and he is supposed to shower us with then immediately.
This is how the sects ridicule God and mock the credulous persons who have neither
intelligence nor faith.

…the prayer of petition is based on trust in God’s will;
the rest will be given to us in addition.
If we love God, if we are careful to carry out his holy will joyfully,
if we first and most importantly desire his light,
that is, the law of God in the depth of our hearts so as to enlighten our paths (Ps 40:8; Heb 10:5-9),
then he will naturally help us in our difficulties.