demanding

“He didn’t ask “Where will you spend eternity?”
as religious the-end-is-near picketers did but rather,
“With what, in this modern democracy,
will you meet the demands of your soul?”

Saul Bellow


(the ripening little peaches / Julie Cook / 2017)

God’s love is a demanding love…
this much we know….

And unfortunately we, as in you and me and all of us, are not very good with “demanding.”
We don’t listen nor we do we do what we’ve often been told to do…
this since the dawn of time.

An example you ask…?
Well we just have to look to the Israelites…

Folks just don’t wander around in a desert for 40 years because they’re
doing everything they’d been told to do…
wandering while looking and hoping to find one’s way usually means a wrong
turn was taken somewhere along the way and the recalculating voice has yet to reset….

For it just seems that in our heart of hearts we, me, you…simply aren’t up to the
demands of answering the call of this demanding Love.
We simply don’t, or perhaps it’s more apt to say we can’t, do “demanding” very well.
There’s just something about that rebellious nature of ours….

And since we’ve basically spent the history of time stumbling about lost to ourselves
while totally avoiding demanding Love…of which means we’ve not been very good at
offering said love outward….
well, it all sounds really quite hopeless actually….

And yet…

Yeshua, the Son of the Omnipotent Creator…
the very Creator of this very demanding Love,
came to this earth in order to live the very example of the oh so demanding Love…
demonstrating that it is hard, that it can be painful and that it is extremely costly but…
it can be done and when it is done…it is actually the gift of everlasting Love….

And he did all of this for you and for me and for all of us who are lost in our
rebellious ways….

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—–
though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
Since, therefore, we are now justified by his blood,
much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son,
much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have now received our reconciliation.

Romans 5:6-11

comfort

“For myself, I find I become less cynical rather than more–
remembering my own sins and follies;
and realize that men’s hearts are not often as bad as their acts,
and very seldom as bad as their words.”

J.R.R. Tolkien


(the beach is calling at The Pearl Hotel / Rosemary Beach / Julie Cook / 2017)

Anyone who has ever been to the beach and mixed…
wet bathing suits + sticky salty ocean water + greasy lotions + red burning skin +
lots and lots of sand…
all know first hand that the idea of comfort is a relative concept.

Add into the mix sitting in a wet sagging canvas “lounge” chair and the thought
of running naked through the surf becomes somewhat appealing….

Now don’t get me wrong—I love the whole notion of all of the above, as it is
part and parcel of a true “beach” experience…
as we throw in the sound of shrieking children bouncing in the surf,
alcohol induced howling conversations,
beach volleyball, football, bocce ball aficionados showing off the not so sculpted bodies,
music that is not a part of your personal iTunes…
and the whole concept of peaceful and soothing also becomes relative.

And yet there is comfort in the moment.

Comfort found in being elsewhere and other than.

As we are all creatures who truly love their comfort…
Both physical comfort as well as emotional…
We don’t much care for the idea of being deprived of anything in our neat little
comfortable worlds.

I suppose it would be well observed and easily noted that we humans may be known as
creatures who live for our comfort…
as well as for those things which make us such….

But the thing is….we were never promised comfort…
God made no promises in the area of all things comfortable.
And if truth be told, He had actually provided for such in the very beginning,
but there was that little issue over that apple and just as quickly,
any continuing promise of comfort vanished….

So it seems as if we, as in we human beings, have been in pursuit of all things
of comfort ever since that fateful day.

But now we see a little rub within said pursuit…

Enter one named Yeshua…

I prefer using the Aramaic translation of the latin name, Jesus,
as in it is more inline with what Jesus himself was familiar in hearing—
as in his name is what it is…and that is Yeshua ben Yosef…but I digress….

So Yeshua was asked where it was he stayed,
as those asking wanted to follow him.

But his response was not one of comfort.

For there was not a warm welcoming abode in which he resided.
There was no rest for the weary where He was concerned.
No creature comforts were to be offered, waiting nor ever to be found…
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests,
but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

And again He offers anything but comfort in His admonition to his followers…

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it,
but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world,
yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels,
and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before
they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

And even later it was Paul who reminded those wishing to follow that
“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”

So as Christians, a word which actually means little Christ…
the notion of comfort and a life that is comfortable,
is at the opposite end of the spectrum.

Maybe it’s high time we venture from the safety of our comfort zones…

For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
2 Timothy 1:7

the hustle and bustle of the 4th Sunday in Advent

Just a hurried line…to tell a story which puts the contrast between our feast of the Nativity and all this ghastly “Xmas” racket at its lowest. My brother heard a woman on a bus say, as the bus passed a church with a Crib outside it, “Oh Lor’! They bring religion into everything. Look – they’re dragging it even into Christmas now!”
~ C.S. Lewis, Letters to an American Lady, Dec. 29, 1958, p80

DSCN0263
(St Patrick’s Cathedral / Dublin, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

As Christmas day draws nigh…
As you busy yourself with all that must be done…
As you hurry here and there…
Checking off your list each item one by one…
As you travel… drive, fly, rail, sail and wander your way to there and yon
As you wonder what will fill your day come Friday…
Who will you see, what will you do, where will you be….
Make certain that you stop, standing very still at some point along the way…
Being ever mindful, taking hold of what is at the very heart, the epicenter of this season of merry and bright, waiting and watching…
What it is that makes this season as exciting as it is…
Not the visit from Santa
Not the gifts all wrapped up under a tree
Not the lights nor all the decorations
Not the visits from family and friends..
but rather the something, or more exactly the someone, who makes this all exactly what it is…and that being…
Yeshua ben Yosef…
The Christ…

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
from ancient times.

(Micha 5:2)

Pardonne-moi

God’s mercy is a holy mercy, which knows how to pardon sin, not to protect it; it is a sanctuary for the penitent, not for the presumptuous.
Reported in Josiah Hotchkiss Gilbert,
Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers 1895

Where there is injury let me sow pardon.
Francis of Assisi

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(a great blue heron that found roosting atop a pine tree rather awkward / Julie Cook / 2015)

Je suis désole
Mi dispiace
I’m sorry. . .

No matter the language, traveling or at home,
I have learned first hand that a sincere apology can often
build a strong bridge to one’s fellow man.

It should be noted however that this is not the empty sort of quibbling little apology offered so flippantly by the arrogant. . .those ego pride wrapped individuals who have felt stepped upon, insulted or who have incorrectly felt a perceived insult where none was intended. This is not for those feeling inadvertently and off handedly offended. . .those who initially offend, while grievously failing to recognize the affront which they had actually caused. This is not a gushing or fawning sort of apology or the empty sorry of the rushed and self absorbed.
This is not the coerced apology contrived in order to save one’s hide.

This is a short, to the point, sincere gift from the heart–offered from one human being to another.

And yet, I admit, there are times and places where perhaps no apology is necessary at all.
Such are those times when something usually big, grand, and important goes a rye—a time in the spotlight or public eye when it is better to merely shrug off the moment with grace and style, never missing a step as if nothing ever happened. . .no apology, no admission of unplanned disaster or hapless guilt, just a “keep going while never looking back” sort of moment.

Julia Child, who we all know is one of my personal heroes, once offered a bit of advice along the same vein with regard to apologies.
Who among us, when cooking for family, friends or some seemingly important guest hasn’t experienced a disaster or two in the kitchen?

Something didn’t set, something burnt, something undercooked, something was seasoned entirely wrong, something was far too spicy or salty, something was cold when it was to be hot, something literally fell woefully flat. . .Shades of the young bride’s first Thanksgiving dinner. . .

Julia instructed, ”Never apologize. “She considered it unseemly for a cook to twist herself into knots of excuses and explanations. Such admissions “only make a bad situation worse, “she said, by drawing attention to one’s shortcomings (or self-perceived shortcomings) and prompting your guest to think: Yes, you’re right, this really is an awful meal. “The cook must simply grin and bear it,” Julia said firmly.
excerpt taken from an article in the NY Times written by Alex Prud’homme–Julia’s great nephew

We have seen that in recent months that there have been perilous moments in this delicate world of ours where Christians are finding themselves facing an accusatory finger pointed by an ever increasingly intolerant global public–
Dark words are cast forth like daggers. . .
“Backdown Christian. . .”
Don’t believe that. . .
“You can’t say that. . .”
“You fairytale worshiper you. . .”
“Your kind of Christianity is wrong. . .”
“Don’t say that in public. . .”
“You can’t pray here. . .”
“Don’t say that word. . .that Jesus word. . .”
“You and that faith of yours are not welcome here. . .”
“Renounce or be killed”

The initial reaction would be to politely apologize. . .
Oh, I’m so sorry if I’ve offended you. . .
Yet the Christian must, as Julia so eloquently states, “grin and bear it”–not backing down
from the conscious choice to believe in, to follow and to practice the words of Jesus Christ.

Ours is not a faith of apologies.
Jesus never apologized. . .
rather. . .
He spoke strong words. . .
He was clear and succinct–
“Take up your cross, follow me. . .it will not be easy.”
“There is no turning back.”
“You’re in with both feet or not at all.”
“You will lose riches, friends, family, jobs, possibly even your life,
for my name sake, but you will be with Me for all of eternity. . .”

No apologies. . .
No “I’m sorry”
No “My bad”

There will be times in life in which we all need to apologize,
offering a sincere and heartfelt “I am sorry”
Yet we must never feel obliged to apologize for being a follower of
The Nazarene,
Yeshua ben Yosef,
The Christos,
Jesus Christ,
The only begotten Son of God. . .

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.
Matthew 10: 30-38

Defining Definitions

For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath.
(Deuteronomy 4:31 NIV)

DSCN3156
(a cold puffed up Mockingbird perched in the barberry bush / Julie Cook / 2014)

Covenant: a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement

Law: a binding custom or practice of a community: a rule of conduct or action prescribed or
formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority

Ten Commandements: A covenant document

Testament: Latin for Covenant

Oath: a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of
what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says

Rebellious: showing a desire to resist authority, control, or convention.

Disobedience: refusal or failure to obey rules, laws

Willful: obstinately and often perversely self-willed, refusing to change your ideas
or opinions or to stop doing something

Obstinance: the trait of refusing to repent

Adonai / Yahweah: Lord. Used in Judaism as a spoken substitute for the ineffable
name of God.
A name of the Hebrew God, represented in Hebrew by the tetragrammaton (“four
letters”) יהוה (Yod Heh Vav Heh), transliterated into Roman script Y H W H.
Because it was considered blasphemous to utter the name of God it was only written
and never spoken. This resulted in the original pronunciation being lost. The name
may have originally been derived from the old Semitic root הוה (hawah) meaning “to
be” or “to become”.

Child: An offspring. A member of a tribe; descendant

I / Me: Metaphysics– the ego.

Grace: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification

Mercy: compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender

Savior: one that saves from danger or destruction

Deliverance: the action of being rescued or set free.

Jesus: The name “Jesus” is an Anglicized form of the Greek name Yesous found in the
New Testament, which represented the Hebrew Bible name Yeshua (“Jeshua” in
English Bibles; Ezra 2:2; Neh 7:7). Yeshua, in turn, was a shortened form of
the name Yehoshua (“Joshua” in English Bibles).

“Yehoshua”
“Yehoshua” is a compound name consisting of two elements.

(1) The prefix “Yeho–” is an abbreviation of the Tetragrammaton, God’s Four-
Letter Name: Yod-He-Vav-He or YHVH.

In the Hebrew Bible “Yeho-” is used at the beginning of certain proper names:
Jehoshaphat, Jehoiachin, Jehonathan (the “J” was pronounced as “Y” in Medieval
English). The suffix form of the Tetragrammaton is “-yah” (“-iah” in Greek,
as in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, or Halleluiah).

(2) The second element is a form of the Hebrew verb yasha which means to
deliver, save, or rescue.

Thus, linguistically, the name Yehoshua/Yeshua/Jesus conveys the idea that God (YHVH) delivers (his people).

What defines you?

What’s in a name?

If you have read any of my previous posts, you may be detecting a bit of a trend, if you will, between my name and me. Legal name, nickname, biological name, adopted name, married name…names, names, and more names!!

It is obvious that a name is very important. It is important because it creates identity. It tells others who we are. It tells others a little about who we are. It tells others from where we originate in relationship to a particular location on the globe. A name is very telling.

Remember the old defiant saying we use to say as kids?…sticks and stones may break our bones but words can never hurt us. Well I’m not so sure about that. If you were ever called an ugly name, as a child, by other children, I guarantee you can still recall the name, the place it was stated, who said it –plus, I can even bet that the same sad uncomfortable pain you felt back then, can still be felt as you read this today. Name-calling creates a negative identity, one that can have a lasting effect.

As soon-to-be new parents, part of the joy and anticipation of the nine months of waiting is deciding on what to name the baby. Truth be told, many a young girl, and I bet a few boys as well, have always dreamt of what they will one day name their future child, even as that event is many years away.

Fathers-to-be usually wish to bestow a part of the family legacy on future generations by naming a son after themselves, or after their own father or grandfather—hence junior or the III. Mother’s sometimes opt for a family name as well or the name of a dear friend. The new moniker carries loves, honor, and respect. Sometimes even originality but I don’t wish to get into that debate, as the news is full of kids having names that actually force families to court to create legality or legitimacy to a particular chosen name that is, say, off the beaten path of names.

There can also be, however, the lasting negative connotation of names. Who wants to be named Judas, or Hitler? A name that was once ok and common, by the act of one individual can alter how the world views that name from that day for evermore—always casting shadows on anyone who carries such a name in a future generation.

Those of the religious communities, particularly within the Catholic and Orthodox faith, usually take on a new name upon their ordination or consecration—particularly those seeking a life in the monastic communities. The choice of name helps to create a new identity in the new chosen life. The leaving of the old self behind, a death in many ways, giving way to a renewed birth—a new life, a new identity, a new future. There is the hope of being able to live up to the new name, as it is usually the name of a Saint—big shoes to fill.

We recently witnessed the importance of names, as just last week, the world waited with bated breath, as to what name our new pope would choose. The name Francis has resounding possibilities—will he live up to the chosen name remains one of the questions we all wonder as we have placed so much strength and hope in this particular name of choice. And why is that? Is it because of one Francis who lived so long ago? One person with one name cast his stone to the waters and the ripples continue to reverberate to this day. Yes. There is power in a name.

Many of those of the Jewish Orthodox Faith will not say the word that we so often take for granted…God. Nor will they not write the name; it will appear often as G space d. It is too powerful a name for us mere mortals to utter. And so it use to be. More about this momentarily.

One of my most favorite quotes by Mother Teresa is: “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.” I used that on my school e-mail as my tag line. It was important to me that those of us, especially in Education, to be reminded of the most important part of our job—creating lasting relationships with our learners/ students.

In a time that has only created suspicion and paranoia about the adults who are entrusted to tend to and care for children I thought, and still think, it very important that those strong bonds be able to continue to be forged. And those bonds and relationships all begin with the learning of a name.

On the first day of school the roll is called and there is acknowledgment made to the called name and it is at this important moment a relationship begins…

As I think about the beginning of relationships, I think of Moses meeting God for the first time…when that most of important relationships began. It is hard for me to even imagine such an encounter. But because of that relationship, I now have a relationship with the very same God.

As Moses came upon the burning bush—a conversation began. Moses was uncertain as to whom he was speaking. From the story in Exodus (Ex 3), we all know that the voice and the presence form the burning bush is that of God, but can you imagine…you are out in a barren land (look at pictures of this area of Sinai—barren sums it up pretty well) tending to some sheep or cattle. All they have to eat is some dried brush. Jagged mountains, dust, rocks, sky is all that surrounds you. Suddenly you see what you think is a brush fire.

Upon closer inspection…it is not a brush fire per se. A voice from somewhere breaks your intent curiosity. It tells you to stop. Take off your shoes as you are on hallowed ground. Perhaps the shoes separate your being from touching the hallowed ground. There can be nothing that separates you from this Presence. Perhaps the shoes denote some sort of disrespect. You take off the shoes.

Moses had grown up in the court of Pharaoh. He knows all about respecting authority. He knows all about telling someone to do something and it is expected that whatever task it is will be done. He knows of rank and order. He also knows about suffering and torment.

God begins a conversation with this wayward shepherd, this lost soldier, and this lost child. As the conversation continues, Moses is told he needs to go back to the others of his “clan”, his people, the people of Israel and God’s people and “lead” them. A tall order, but Moses knows that when one is given an order by Authority, one must obey. It’s the others he’s a little worried about.

So he says to the bush (God), “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of our fathers has sent me to you’, and they ask me ‘what is his name?’ what shall I say to them? God says to Moses,” I AM WHO I AM.”

WOW, that’s pretty powerful. I Am Who I Am. No more explanation needed.

‘And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”

So now I come to the whole gist of this little lesson in names.

Our society has become, shall we say, a bit more casual of society then previous generations. We don’t possess the same sense of need to be formal which can in turn be perceived as a lack of respect. We are casual with what we call one another. Names used as a general term of recognition today, generations ago were seen as an insult, a slur, a reason to fight. I don’t like this casualness.

We take names for granted. They no longer hold the authority that they once did. Street names take on greater importance than that of a birth name. It’s as it we have multiple personalities. The birth name is one person, the nickname, street name, the stage name …is someone else entirely. I don’t know if this is a good thing.

Over the years I have read a good bit about the Eastern Orthodox Church. Our Christian cousins. They remained a mystery to me—something seen as foreign. I knew the succession from Catholicism on down the western Christian family tree to the Protestant denominations we see today, but it was the Orthodox who I didn’t quite understand. And that I feel is a shame as Western and Eastern Christians have so much to share and offer one another.

So I immersed myself in reading the history and beliefs of these “cousins”. One thing I’ve discovered is that the Orthodox have a tremendous reverence for the name of Jesus, for the very power that exists within that name. I had not quite looked at it that way before.

As this society, of which I live, takes that name, and all other names for granted– the power it holds lessens. Not so much in reality of the name of Jesus, but in today’s perception of the name.

How many times do you hear someone say “Jesus Christ” as a form of frustration or anger?—a phrase clumped into the 4 letter word category. (and don’t get me started on the whole casual use of foul language in our society. People argue, “it’s just a word”…yes, well, words have meaning and power and should not be uttered with abandon and disregard—and others will argue “they only have power if you let them”…well let’s go back to the historical lesson we have here, shall we, and see what the Bush had to say about words, names and actions…but then you’d need to believe in the Power of a bush wouldn’t you—-I do.)

I suppose I was convicted that I had/have not taken the name as reverently as I should. My generation has been inundated with the irreverent use of the word. Form “the church lady” on Saturday Night Live to those oh so Southern television evangelists, from days gone by, who would slap people on their foreheads spouting “in the name of JEESSUS, be healed”…we make fun, we laugh, we lessen the power and importance of the name and of the Person.

I realized that I had become perhaps jaded and cynical– having lost some of the respect and awe that this name, Yeshua יֵשׁוּעַ holds for me and should hold for me, as it should hold for all of us who claim to be believers. We cannot make Him small but we have tried. We have tried to bottle Him up, make Him tiny and make Him our “friend”, our feel good drug, if you will, our quick fix, our fashion statement…but He is greater and deserves to be treated as such.

And so it was with the learning of an ancient prayer that is but simple and yet very powerful. I had originally intended to write about The Jesus Prayer, but I felt to understand the importance of the name would be the issue today more so than the history of the prayer. Once I was reintroduced to this oh so Powerful of Names, I came to claim this prayer, as countless numbers of believers before me, as a powerful tool.

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on me a sinner”. It is a prayer that evokes deep feelings and yearnings. It is direct. An arrow prayer if you will. A prayer that is used to bring an inward sense of stillness and quietness for one’s very being. It is a prayer of focus and control. It is a cry in desperation. It is a soothing balm to a broken and contrite spirit.

I will write at a later date more about the prayer, its use, and its history. But for today, this Monday in the midst of Lent, I will leave you with the importance of a name and of the importance of a prayer. A prayer that calls upon the most important Name of names. May you find it as powerful as I have and may it bless you as it has blessed me.