looking for saints in all kinds of places

This is the very perfection of a man,
to find out his own imperfections.

St. Augustine


(St. Augustine of Hippo painting by Philippe de Champaigne, 1650)

Great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise;
your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning.
And so we humans, who are a due part of your creation, long to praise you –
we who carry our mortality about with us,
carry the evidence of our sin and with it the proof that you thwart the proud.
Yet these humans, due part of your creation as they are, still do long to
praise you.
You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy,
because you have made us and drawn us to yourself,
and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.

The passage above appears to have been written by a person who was painfully aware
of his own mortality and sins yet yearns, nay longs,
to be in the arms of the Beloved Creator.

And so perhaps it might be hard for those of us reading these long ago penned words
to imagine that this person was not always so deeply attuned to
living life worshiping the Triune God.

For the past couple of days, my posts have veered toward the idea of saints.
No particular reason really…and when there seems to be no real rhyme nor reason for my
ramblings, that usually just means the Holy Spirit is at work and not so much
me.

Yesterday’s post offered two quotes summing up the notion of sainthood quite nicely…
yet it was especially the Kierkegaard quote which serves to remind us that God’s mastery
of creation is one thing, but to be able to make saints from sinners…
well, that’s something else altogether.

Augustine of Hippo…
a giant when it comes to thought and theory has been studied down through the ages by
all sorts of students—from theologians and philosophers to literates and historians…
many of whom have been Believers and many who have not.

Yet Augustine was not always one of Christendom’s most learned and revered theologian
turned saint.

According to Wikipedia,
“His first insight into the nature of sin occurred when he and a number of friends stole
fruit they did not want from a neighborhood garden.
He tells this story in his autobiography, The Confessions.
He remembers that he did not steal the fruit because he was hungry,
but because “it was not permitted.”
His very nature, he says, was flawed.
‘It was foul, and I loved it.
I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself.”
From this incident, he concluded the human person is naturally inclined to sin
and in need of the grace of Christ.”

Augustine went on to have a long-lasting affair with a woman who bore him an
illegitimate son.
He later broke off that relationship in order to marry a 10-year-old heiress but had to wait
two years until she was of legal marrying age.
During his wait, he took up with another concubine.

Yet the time came in which Augustine abandoned all concubines and fiancees alike
lamenting“that he was not a lover of wedlock so much as a slave of lust”

Eventually, at the age of 31, Augustine broke off all his relationships with these
various women because he, like many before and after him, had his Road to Damascus moment.
He was struck from his lofty, self-absorbed, carnal way of living by the
One True Omnipotent God who literally called out to him..

As Augustine later shared
“his conversion was prompted by a childlike voice he heard telling him to
“take up and read” (Latin: tolle, lege), which he took as a divine command to open the Bible
and read the first thing he saw.

Augustine read from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans –
the “Transformation of Believers” section, consisting of chapters 12 to 15 –
wherein Paul outlines how the Gospel transforms believers,
and the believers’ resulting behaviour.
The specific part to which Augustine opened his Bible was Romans chapter 13,
verses 13 and 14, to wit:

“Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness,
not in strife and envying,
but put on the Lord Jesus Christ,
and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”

It was at this moment that his life turned.

Augustine eventually penned an autobiography of sorts which many of us,
trained in the classics were at some point, required to read— Confessions.

It is from the pages of his Confessions that we read these beautiful and deeply
haunting words:

Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou wast with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispel my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.

And thus what we have learned is that many of those who are known to us today as saints
seem to have, at some point or other figured things out.

Namely, that life isn’t all about them.

But life, rather, is a yearning…and that yearning is the created’s longing to be
one with the Creator.

Some seem to understand this better than others.

Many have been rogues and scallywags.
Some have been liars and drunkards.
Some have been rich and arrogant.
Some started out as cowards and turncoats yet became brave and true.
And some will simply be known only to God and God alone.

And so with all this talk about saints and sinners, I am struck by a current circus of sorts.

Brett Kavanaugh, the latest Supreme Court nominee, has been in the center of a maelstrom.

I don’t know much about him, but from what legal experts and judges on ‘both sides of the
aisle’ have said, he is a stellar wealth of legal prowess.
A fair and just man who is deeply knowledgeable with regards to right and wrong.

Yet his experience, his record, his knowledge, his examples don’t seem to matter to
this pack of hearing committee members who are foaming at the mouth,
as they rip into this man for the simple reason that they hate the man who nominated him.

Desperate Democrats are grasping at ugly straws to do their darndest to stop this nominee’s
chance of confirmation…even resorting to highschool hearsay.

And in so doing…these very politicians who so vehemently cling to the separation of
Church and State and find themselves cringing over the notion that their precious
Roe v Wade would be overturned… these worshipers of all things cultural and secular
now seem to be seeking a saint…a saint who doesn’t exist.
As all of this is just one more example of the irony of man standing at odds with
his blinding self-serving pride.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Micha 6:8

Practicing the presence of God

“I must first have the sense of God’s possession of me
before I can have the sense of His presence with me.”

Watchman Nee

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(remains of St Kevin’s Monastery, Glendalough National Park, County Wicklow, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

A.W. Tozer tells us that to the convinced Christian, “the practice of the presence of God” consists not of projecting an imaginary object from within his own mind and then seeking to realize its presence; it is rather to recognize the real presence of the One whom all sound theology declare to be already there, an objective entity, existing apart from any apprehension of Him on the part of His creatures.
The resultant experience is not visionary but real.

The world would have us all believe otherwise…

It is however our faith, our belief, our experience, our relationship that teaches us, tells us, assures us that His presence is indeed real…without doubt….
yet…we are left with a nagging…
what then…?

The question begs….
What then are we do with and in this realness that is a distinct part of our God?
What of the intimacy of the relationship?
The going deeper?
The nurturing?
The growth?
The sharing?

Is merely accepting, believing and moving forward enough?
Is that all there is or all there should be…
to believe in, pray to, to worship…
the Great I AM, Elohim, YHVH, Jehovah, Yahweh..
The name that truly, we the created, are not worthy, not equal to, not “friends” with…to utter.

To approach with reverence and awe
To be silent and still
To empty ourselves of everything…
of the distractions
the preoccupations
the materialism
the worry
the fear
the fretting
the lamenting
the sorrowfulness

To become wholly empty…
making a space within a space that is open and vast
Hungry and yearning
Desiring, wanting, needing…
Needing so desperately that it hurts…
Just as a wound would cause pain…then ache…so does the empty heart…

Oh to be filled with the only thing that can soothe, refresh, renew and heal
The One who yearns to fill that space
Yet will not reveal Himself, unless we come before Him, in total submisson.
No bravado, no ego, no toughness, no holier than thou, no anger, no resentment,
no bitterness, no pride, no self….
Only humble emptiness…longing to be filled by the One who longs for communion
with the created….


And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Hebrews 11:6

Homesick

“I felt a pang — a strange and inexplicable pang that I had never felt before.
It was homesickness.
Now, even more than I had earlier when I’d first glimpsed it, I longed to be transported into that quiet little landscape, to walk up the path, to take a key from my pocket and open the cottage door, to sit down by the fireplace, to wrap my arms around myself, and to stay there forever and ever.”

Alan Bradley

“Give me the waters of Lethe that numb the heart,
if they exist,
I will still not have the power to forget you.”

Ovid

God is at home, it’s we who have gone out for a walk.

Meister Eckhart

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(sheep on a teaching farm / County Kerry, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

A fitful night…
dreams seemingly more real than not…
To wake…
On and off, over and over…
as the dream simply picks up where it left off.
A continuous movie playing out inside my head, all night long…

Trying desperately hard to find you, to call you…
Yet I can’t reach you.
I am there, not here…
but I am lost…
I need for you to come find me…
for it is only you who can help me….

Yet why is that?
Why do I seek you and your help?
Are there not others…?
Others even more capable…
Those who are more near and not so far away…?

Waking….
Perplexed, exhausted, wondering…
What ever does it mean…
or not mean…?
As the thought,
the memory,
the utter physical uneasiness…
hangs heavy over the day.

Homesick, yet here at home.
Missing and longing…
Aching for something else…
someplace else…
something more…
Yet what could it be…and why…?

You are there and I am here.
A melancholy heaviness clouds my thoughts.
It was all but a mere brief crossing of paths.
Yet with a lasting effect.
There was a change.
Deep and profound…
And I am the better for it…
Yet there remains a yearning, a hunger, an aching…
for more…

So very much more.
For hearing,
for seeing,
for feeling,
for learning.

Yet frustration is found in the simple being…
of so very far away…

My soul yearns for you in the night;
in the morning my spirit longs for you.
When your judgments come upon the earth,
the people of the world learn righteousness.

Isaiah 26:9

Just when you thought you had it all figured out…

Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.”
Augustine of Hippo

“Life is like arriving late for a movie, having to figure out what was going on without bothering everybody with a lot of questions, and then being unexpectedly called away before you find out how it ends”
Joseph Campbell

DSCN1383
(Tyreaware minions, Kilcolgan, County Galway, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Just when you thought you had your life all figured out…
Knowing who you were, where you were going and what you wanted out of life…
WHHHHAAAAMMMAM
Upside the head it hits you.
It’s like out of no where…the inevitable curve ball comes flying your way, skewing all that nice neat order you had worked so hard setting up.

You were cruising along, having jumped through all the necessary good life hoops…
You’d gotten everything, those proverbial stars of yours, aligned and you were set…
Good to go.
Life was good…
You were happy…
Your little corner of the world was rocking along quite nicely.
You weren’t really worried about anything…
You had The education, The job, The car, The clothes, The spouse, The kids, The friends, The house, The pets, The vacations …

You even had your “religious” time all neatly organized and in a pretty little box set up on the self–you’d take it down, dusting it off, those days you weren’t playing golf, or having to watch the kids, or when you had to take the family to church because of Easter…

Yep…
Yessiree, life seemed golden.

But one day, a day like any other day, there was a tilt in the axis.
Neatness and perfection shifted.
Trouble was brewing and you…well you were like a deer in headlights.
Standing there with that kind of dumb “what just happened here” look all over your face.

It caught you by surprise.
It rocked your whole world…
Everything you thought you knew and believed…
Well it was now standing upside down.
All because of what you thought you knew and believed wasn’t really the real deal.

Either you had read the words, listened to the words, were told the words, witnessed the words…oh it doesn’t really matter how, because the words, the thought, the idea, the notion…it all hit you…like a ton of bricks…and now that is all that matters.

“We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put the urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit.”
(A.W.Tozer)

The words now reverberate in your entire being.

…He first put the urge within us…”

It’s like an alarm clock just went off inside your head.
The urge, the gnawing yearning, put there at your very conception, finally pushed its way forward and you finally took notice.

It’s about time…

And today, everything is now different.
Neat no longer cuts it.
Conviction has come calling my friend,
And you, thankfully, will never be the same.

That thin veil that once hung over your tidy little world, gently covering the real work at hand, has been lifted and for the first time in your lifetime…you can actually see…clearly, thankfully, beautifully see…
and finally you truly know what exactly it is that you are to be about…

For God has come calling my friend…and joyfully, life, your life, and the lives of those you touch, will never be the same…

“Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire.
Deuteronomy 4:36

Consuming flame

“There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke.”
― Vincent van Gogh

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

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(December sunset / Julie Cook / 2014)

RSCN8680
(moon rising behind the trees / Julie Cook / 2014 )

A fire rages within my soul, burning sweetly Love’s tender reeds.
What of this earth can quench the inferno I long to quell?
A deep gnawing burns and aches in the center of my heart causing me to thrash about as if in grave pain.
I cry out to you yet my longing only grows more intense.

Where can I go to find relief?
If I climb to the highest peak or cross the widest desert, there is no end to the painful longing.
As a child who cries out in the dark to a parent to come offer comfort, I cry out unto you.
The never-ending emptiness in my heart grows daily as my tears and desire mingle as one.

I am consumed by the endless thirst and need I have for you, which is for you and you alone.
I long for your embrace,
your touch,
your voice calling out my name.
Do you hear me?
Do you see me?
I long to know.

I am consumed by the burning flame of your heart which thankfully yet painfully burns deeply into my own.
What is it that separates us?
What is it that keeps me from you?
I need to be joined to you.
Break down the barriers oh Lord and knit me to you as I long to tie myself to you and quench
this burning desire of my soul.

to wander far from home

“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”
― Charles Dickens

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(photograph: Bruges, Belgium/ Julie Cook/ 2011)

Isn’t this a lovely place? A beautifully inviting home…neat,cheery, pretty, and very welcoming. Just looking at this courtyard home makes me want to call it my own. Never having seen it before nor having ever visited here before, something about this place immediately makes me feel “at home”.

The idea of home means many different things to many different people. It may be a certain place, a particular building or city— it may be the people associated with what forms the idea of home. I think we all have a deep perception of what forms the foundation, the concept, of home–as that is basically formed from childhood. Those early formative days were hopefully, for most, days of feelings of security and belonging. Sadly I do know that not all children experience that sense of security and belonging. However,despite the good or bad initial formative years, we all have some innate desire for, or longing for, regardless of childhood, …. Home.

Have you ever been at home and yet—feel that home is actually somewhere else? It’s as if some other place “out there” is calling out to you but you just don’t know where….have you ever traveled being so excited about the start of a new adventure and yet equally excited about finally returning to “home”?
Happy going and happy coming…and yet there still remains an underlying yearning….

I have always known that yearning. Maybe it goes back to the adoption…maybe not. How can a person have so much fulfillment and still think there is more you ask? When I was in High School I read the book Something More by Catherine Marshall.

I’ve written about Mrs. Marshall before. She became a rather famous Christian author during the 6o’s and 70’s. One of her early books Christy , a story based on her mother’s experience as a teacher in the backwoods of the Appalachian Mountains, was the basis for the 1994 television show of the same name, staring Kelly Martin. The story of a young woman who leaves behind her comfortable life with her prestigious family in Asheville, North Carolina, during the early 20th century, in turn venturing into the foreboding Appalachian Mountains, as a young single teacher, wanting to work with some of this country’s most impoverished and superstitious people.

Those families who called the remote mountains home were predominantly settlers from Scotland having arrived in this country at varying times–some coming early during the times of the Revolutionary war in the late 18th century as others were products of the mass emigration days of the turn of the 20th century. The Appalachian Mountains were reminiscent to their ancestral homes in Scotland from whence these families originally hailed—allowing them to keep to the very private and traditional ways of life of extreme territorial family clans. The story of the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s is but a small example of this bitter family clan history in this mountain region albeit, for them , based in Kentucky

Mrs. Marshall had been married to Peter Marshall, a well known and widely popular young charismatic Presbyterian minister who had served as Chaplin to the US Senate. Sadly Peter Marshall died from a heart attack at a very early age—leaving Mrs. Marshall, a young widow, to care for the couple’s young son. It was during this time when she wrote her first book, A Man Called Peter, a story based on her husband’s life and rising career through the ministry.

She eventually remarried, continued raising a growing family and continued writing. The first book I read of Mrs. Marshall’s, back in 1977, was her book Something More. Her books had a profound effect on me as a high school kid who was truly on a quest for that very thing…something more. It was however one of her later books, The Helper, that opened a new look into an area of Christianity, which even Christians find mysterious and are not fully confident to discuss —that being the role of The Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

To many Christians the Holy Spirit is an enigma. A member of the Trinity given to us, after the Resurrection, to remain as a sort of guide post, marking the way on a spiritual journey. A concept difficult to sometimes wrap our thoughts around. It is said that we are only able to pray because of the deep seeded piece of the Spirit that resides deep within our souls urging us, calling to us, willing us to communicate with our Father……..

So it has been during this life of mine that I have learned truly one thing…that being when the Holy Spirit touches your heart, you are never the same. You will always be restless. There will always be yearnings because a hole has been seared into the core of the heart. Life becomes a quest to quench that yearning. Sometimes the quest is intentional, sometimes it’s that emptiness that just seems to be driving us deeper into what appears to be the unknown–not understanding why we are feeling “empty” or lost, but just knowing something just isn’t quite right.

It is apparent to me that I need to delve further into the role the Spirit is playing in my life. But I am comforted by this particular verse…..

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:15 NIV)

Here is to seeking and soothing the unknown yearnings of our deepest interior. Here is to finding our true “home”….