Out of the darkness, has come a great Light

“…the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”

Matthew 4:16

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(entrence to the 9/11 memorial in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

The sound is almost overwhelming as the sickening thud of felled trees, one right after another, causes the entire earth to shake beneath my feet. The maddening buzz of saws fills the air as progress marches sadly forward on the property across the street. Once beautiful woods are now giving way to a muddy stubby mess as blue sky abruptly punctuates what was once a shadowy lush green canopy, all the while as worrisome thoughts of what is soon to be hangs heavy in the air.

Disconcerted and rattled with each crashing tree, my thoughts thankfully drift away, thousands of miles away across an expansive ocean, to a very different forest of trees.

Perched high on a hill overlooking the serene harbor of Kinsale, a colorful fishing town found on the southeastern coast of County Cork, Ireland, is an unassuming park. This park isn’t the sort of destination topping the list of must see places for those visiting Kinsale. Far from the shops, restaurants and fishing piers that make Kinsale a favorite stopping point for those visiting Ireland, rests a serene respite I was fortunate to visit.

We had spent the day driving around much of County Cork. We had visited the seaport town of Cobh which is steeped in history. It was in the city of Cobh which was most often the last piece of Ireland that many an Irish immigrant savored before setting sail for America during the infamous Irish potato famine. It is also in Cobh that the few remaining survivors, as well as the recovered bodies from the ill fated Lusitania, the passenger ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1915, were received following the sinking of the ship. Cobh is also the town in which the Titanic set sail on its tragic maiden voyage.

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(a memorial to the victims of the Lusitania rests in the city center of Cobh, County Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Having spent the day stepping in and out of history as we enjoyed the idyllic coastal fishing villages around Ireland’s south easterly coast, we were ready to head on back to our hotel in Kinsale, to dinner and to calling it one more day rich in sights and wonders. But our driver and friend Paul had one more stop this day that he knew we needed to see and experience–this stop was to be much more current and personal in our lives as Americans then the sad exodus of immigrants or the tragic losses at sea.

Kathleen Cait Murphy was a local girl from Kinsale who spent forty years of her life living in New York working as a nurse. It was from her time working in New York that she both admired and befriended many a New York firefighter.

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(remembrance to Kathleen Cait Murphy/ Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Kathleen was a personal friend of firefighter chaplain Father Mychal Judge, who along with 343 fellow firefighters, lost his life on that fateful 11th day of September 2001.

Before her death in 2011, Kathleen envisioned a memorial to not only her friend Father Judge but to all the firefighters who made the ultimate sacrifice that ill-fated beautiful blue sky September day in 2001.

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(a small view of Kathleen’s memorial park / Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland /Julie Cook/ 2015)

Kathleen, with the help of family and friends, planted 343 trees, one for each fallen firefighter. The trees have now grown creating a forest of gratitude and love.
Each tree has a small marker with the name of a firefighter, his fire house and rank as well as an individual American Flag.

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I stood in silence overwhelmed, as tears flowed freely down my cheeks, amazed and humbled by the image of the 343 American flags gently waving in the Irish breeze underneath a tiny forest of beautiful trees.

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So often, as a traveler, I am on guard as I know that Americans are not alway looked upon favorably by others. Even our own Government has us feeling almost ashamed as to who we are as a Nation. Yet here on “foreign soil” as I stood awestruck, I was a tiny spectator of a poignant tribute to the very Country I call home as well as a tribute to a portion of her very brave and selfless sons and daughters who made the ultimate sacrifice. I imagine those who visit Normandy feel very much the same, albeit on a grander scale than this, but humbling none the less.

It is because of such a tribute and memorial that we are allowed to turn our hearts…as we are gently reminded that we mustn’t hold on to the anger and hate, the rage and righteous indignation which so often fills our minds and hearts as we recall such a fateful day. Rather it must be to the hope and to the light cast from the sacred bond we share as human beings—It is because of these very humanistic qualities which make us more alike than different–those shared emotions of both joy and sorrow which bind us, unconditionally in love and to the shared respect we have for one another as human beings.

No, we will never forget that tragic September day which remains still very fresh in our minds and hearts, yet it is to the selflessness and compassion of Kathleen Cait Murphy that we may recall such sadness with a ray of hope, the bond of kindred spirits and a wellspring of gratitude that others share not only in our grief but in our hope as well…
Thank you Paul…

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The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
Isaiah 9:2

Do you know your roots?

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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(the emerging roots of root bound paperwhite bulbs / Julie Cook / 2015)

My dad and his family can trace their roots to 13th century Scotland–that being on his dad’s side. His mother’s side documents their early start back to England and that fateful Mayflower couple Pricilla Mullins and John Alden—th wonderful stuff of legends and lore which makes for great stories.

It is however rather forlornly that I often find myself staring at the large copy xeroxed of this giant map-like family tree based on my dad’s family’s journey—always feeling a bit hesitant to claim my tiny branch. Being adopted I often think that there is another tree out there somewhere, in the black hole of my life, missing a tiny limb. . .that being me.

And then there is my mom’s family and their story, all of which is a bit more sketchy. She was of direct Scotch / Irish blood but that’s about all we know. We surmise both families made their way to the United States on the heels of the devastating An Gorta Mór, better known as the Irish potato famine of the mid 1800’s or even further back to the Bliain an Áir, the year of Slaughter which saw an equally devastating demise of the Irish population, due primarily to starvation, in the mid 1700’s.

Mother’s Irish mother, born at the start of new century in 1902, married her Scottish father in 1924. At some point he sadly took to drink and gambling, losing recklessly everything the couple had on that fateful day in 1929 when all the world simply seemed to crash. Eventually locked away to the confines of a TB sanatorium, he died sick, lost and alone in 1941. My grandmother, to my recollection, never spoke of him again. She was left to raise two young girls at the onset of both a global world war and devastating depression.

My grandmother, who forged seemingly emotionless ahead with her two daughters in tow, built both a successful business and comfortable life for her small family. She was never the warm and fuzzy type of grandmother but rather much more matter of fact, frugal and no nonsense. Given her circumstance, it isn’t surprising. Being both weary and cautious became two common threads woven into her fabric.

For whatever reason, she was very leery, or weary, of the Catholic Church as she was convinced that if John F. Kennedy became president, we were all in going to hell in the proverbial hand basket, as God forbid, a Catholic should be president. A bit irrational to say the least and as to where such irrationality originated, I haven’t a clue.

Yet I find it rather ironic, that to this day, there are many a Christian, even in the midst of this modern 21st century of ours, who are indeed equally weary or leery of both the Catholic as well as the Eastern Orthodox Churches. Maybe it is because there are many Christians who are actually unfamiliar with the history, our history, of the one true “Church.” Maybe it’s because many Christians fail to remember that there was once but one single body, unlike the multitude of branches we see today splitting off from the once sturdy main trunk, much like a giant family tree.

A quick google search yields staggering numbers in regard to a concise listing of total Christian denominations. . .upwards of 35,000–give or take a couple of hundred depending on the source.
Rather amazing that in roughly 2000 years, approximately 35,000 branches have sprouted from one main trunk—but given the divisive nature of human beings, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised.

When we say in our creed, or declaration of faith, that. . .”We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. . .” we are not saying that we believe in the Catholic church in Rome, as so many of the faithful erroneously believe, but rather we are declaring a belief in a global family–a global family tree containing many branches. The word catholic, with a little “c” is a latin word, catholicus, which comes from the Greek adjective καθολικός katholikos, meaning universal. So therefore in our creed we claim to believe in the one holy “universal” and apostolic church, not a church, faith, or denomination based in Rome, Italy.

The Great Schism of 1054 resulted in the one single trunk of Christianity splitting into two branches, each of the same faith–the Latin Church of the West and the Orthodox Church of the East. The splitting hasn’t appeared to slow down all these many years and branches later but to the contrary it seems to be spiraling, splitting and multiplying almost out of control.

Yet it is not my intent today to examine the divisions and differences of opinions within our Christian faith but rather I am merely making an observation about roots and branches as it were, and as to where one may find oneself on a proverbial family tree–be it the tree of one’s genealogy or of one’s spiritual family tree. And since I am adopted, which seems to throw a small monkey wrench into which branch and to which tree I am actually meant to belong, I am sweetly reminded that we are all adopted sons and daughters of Grace–so perhaps that means we are all members of the family tree of Grace and Salvation—which is actually a very welcoming and comforting thought indeed.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith
Galatians 3:26

Scurvy, Limeys, Victorian Stockings and St. Nicholas

“A man ought to carry himself in the world as an orange tree would if it could walk up and down in the garden, swinging perfume from every little censer it holds up to the air.”
Henry Ward Beecher

“The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic
His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.”

― St. Nicholas of Myra

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(bowls of both whole and sliced Calomondians and Kumquats being readied for a cranberry relish / Julie Cook / 2014)

“Shiver me timbers boys.
Looks like the scurvy’s hit the ship”

Scurvy you ask?
A devastating Vitamin C deficiency which was a very common occurrence for sailors, as well as pirates, of the 1600 and 1700’s. Cases have actually been documented as far back as ancient Egypt.

Months aboard a ship, with very little fresh water and food, let alone the luxuries of fresh fruits such as oranges, lemons or limes, rendered sailors deathly sick. It was an abnormality of sailing that left captains and doctors scratching their heads.
Sailor’s gums would swell and hurt. Their teeth would begin to fall out, their legs would swell, turning purple– a condition, which left untreated, would eventually lead to death.

It wasn’t until the 1747 when British doctor James Lind, intrigued by the mysterious ailment afflicting British Sailors, as well as renegade sailors such as pirates, conducted several experiments determining that the sailor’s bodies were depleted of Vitamin C.
Therefore all British sailors were originally issued lemons and lemon juice as part of their sea rations. However, lemons not always being as plentiful as limes, a substitution was hence made. It seems that the acid content of limes is less than lemons, almost by 50%, so the sailors would have to consume larger quantities of limes, earning them the moniker of Limeys.

The gift giving of citrus, particularly oranges, didn’t occur until the Victorian Era when children began receiving an orange in their stockings on Christmas Eve. In fact, the celebration of Christmas itself, much as we know it to this day—that of jolly ol St Nicholas, gift giving, card sending, a decorated tree and stockings being hung on the mantle, is greatly attributed to Victorian England and the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. The custom of placing an orange in a stocking first became popular in England and much later in the United States with the birth of the tansconinental railway system.

Oranges were considered to be an exotic novelty as they had to be shipped to England from more southern Mediterranean climates. And what more special gift could one give to weary winter senses than a tropical fruit such as an orange?! The fact that oranges and other citrus fruit helped to ward off deadly disease by offering much needed and depleted vitamins made even more sense when it came to offering them to children, especially those in disadvantaged families where fresh fruits and vegetables were considered luxuries.

Scurvy was not a disease confined only to those stuck on ships for months at a time, but it was a prevalent disease throughout Ireland during the deadly potato famine. Many soldiers as well as civilians also fell victim to the disease throughout much of Russia during the deadly Crimean war.

The custom of oranges as gifts however dates back even earlier than Victorian England–actually as far back back to 325 BC, to our original St Nicholas who was the Bishop of Myra, located in present day Turkey.

Known for his generosity to the poor and disadvantaged, legend has it that St Nicholas learned of three sisters who’s father was so terribly poor that he could not provide a dowery for his daughters–therefore the girls were to be sold into slavery. Nicholas who had come from a wealthy family took it upon himself to secretly deliver a bag of gold for each girl. It is said he tossed the gold through an open window, which in turn landed in a shoe–hence why many European children began leaving shoes out on the eve of St Nicholas day (December 19th) in order to receive a gift.
The gold, over the years, evolved into being associated with that of a gold ball and eventually an orange.
And as time would have it, St Nicholas who was the patron saint of children, also evolved– eventually becoming associated with the birth of the Christ child and one who would deliver presents to children on a certain night in December (as according to the Julian Calendar)

In the United States, oranges where given as gifts following the completion of the transcontinental railway system, when items such as citrus fruit grown primarily in California and Florida, could be transported all over the country. Oranges were especially popular during WWII as a special stocking stuffer since the rationing of so many food items had become prevalent during the war days. To receive any and all types of fresh fruits were considered a very special treat.

Which brings us back around to today and the growing prevalence of oranges, and their citrus cousins such as grapefruits, which are currently whisking their way to grocery stores shelves across the country as our “winter” fruits now make their debut. With the growing seasons of the citrus crops in both California and Florida coming to fruition, now during the Christmas season, there’s no better refreshingly bright addition to a home than either a scent infused, clove studded, pomander or the heavenly scent of citrus infused baked goods and cookies. Be it an orange, tangerine, pomelo, meyer lemon, key lime, kumquat, or grapefruit to name but a few, be sure to add a little Vitamin C to your diet and enjoy some citrus during the holidays. . .

A clover patch and God’s Blessings

May the blessing of God’s soft rain be on you,
Falling gently on your head, refreshing your soul
With the sweetness of little flowers newly blooming.
May the strength of the winds of Heaven bless you,
Carrying the rain to wash your spirit clean
Sparkling after in the sunlight.
May the blessing of God’s earth be on you,
And as you walk the roads,
May you always have a kind word
for those you meet.

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During the late 1800’s the dreaded potato famine, which was akin to the 1930’s dust bowl in magnitude of hunger and devastation to a people, saw the immigration of thousands of Irish to the United States. My great-grand parents were a part of that mass exodus (not necessarily Sylvia Kay’s but we won’t digress).

Upon arrival in the US, be it the Irish, the Italian, the Germans, the Russians, the Scandinavians, etc…all brought with them their culture’s customs, their faith, their foods— or rather melded all of the old world’s to now the new world’s. Creating the amalgamation so many of us today call our family’s traditions and heritage. Making us, this generation of today’s American, who and what we are.

As I look out over our yard, only to hear my husband’s frustration in the reoccurring clover invading his hard cultivated grass, I think of the honey bees and the clover honey that is so much a part of the South. I think of my childhood and the clover flower necklaces and head pieces we use to make on those warm summer evenings, I think of the endless summer hours spent combing the clover patch in search of that oh so elusive 4 leaf clover, which can often be found now pressed in an old bible or Nancy Drew book from my younger days….

And I can’t help but think of the Irish–not that clover has anything to do with a shamrock, but there’s that mythical and often mystical amalgamation of cultures—what kid hasn’t connected the tireless 4 leaf clover search and then spotting that awe inspiring rainbow, after a rain, with Ireland, luck, and Leprechauns?

So as I surveyed this latest patch of clover, my thoughts turned oddly to families past and families present, as well as to God and His blessings, which are to be found even in clover patches. May God richly bless you this day….