Before and after…the question

The south facade of Notre Dame before the fire…


(South exterior of Notre Dame Cathedral / Paris, France / Julie Cook / 2011)

Now the upper portion of the same facade, after the fire…


(Associated Press)

Despite the brilliant blue sky, the delightfully warm late afternoon sun,
a heaviness continued to linger…

I dumped a portion of the hardwood chunks of charcoal into the grill then used the
lighter to ignite the charcoal.

When the soft yellow-orange glow began, I closed the lid, cracking open the vents while I
proceeded to wait.

Soon enough, I opened the lid as the flames rose while the burning wood chips popped
and crackled.

I stared down into the grill, filled with those yellow-orange licking flames,
while I purposely and intently listened to the sounds of both fire and wood.

My thoughts seemed to have gotten stuck on an unseen replay button…
replaying the scenes from yesterday’s images of both Notre Dame and of the fire.

I thought of each trip, over the past decades of my life,
that I have walked into that cavernous and overwhelmingly
historic and spiritual “house” of worship.

The sounds of my own footsteps echoing off the soaring stone walls and massive pillars
as my steps reverberated against the barrel vault high above my head.

Awe stopped me in my tracks as my eyes adjusted to the dim lighting
while the hints of pungent incense lingered in my nostrils.

I grappled with the magnitude of the historical and the physical while my mind
wrapped around the Spiritual impetus for this seemingly gargantuan whale that
had suddenly swallowed me whole.

The rising flames in the grill jerked me back to the present and my need
to get about my grilling supper…

I would say that this historic and catastrophic fire is proving devastating
on a great many levels.

The world is painfully mourning an iconic cultural loss.
Paris is mourning a devastating loss of an iconic piece of her home’s heart.
As we the world mourn both an artistic and architectural loss.

The proverbial bucket list destination for tourists and one of the spiritual
pilgrimage destinations on the lists of the faithful is now forever changed…
just as much of humankind is now changed.

But what I think is even more important, the fire has shaken loose a deeply hidden
sense of loss found in most of Western Civilization…it is a loss on a subconscious level
that we’ve never been able to put our finger on…
a loss that has long existed…one we have subconsciously known
was there but yet we didn’t know.

It is the loss of our Christian Spirituality…
our Spirituality that we have allowed to slip from, not merely our
hands, but from our very psyches and souls.

Yesterday I offered a response to a friend’s comment on my day’s post regarding
the fire and that comment has now lingered in my thoughts…

“someone I was listening to last night posed the question—– and I’ll paraphrase-
‘With so much of Europe becoming so secularized—–we’re seeing these massive ancient bastions
of Christian faith becoming more and more like museums rather than houses of worship.
With everyone now clamoring to rebuild…
the question we must be asking ourselves is what are we rebuilding?

Are we rebuilding a museum that lost so much art, etc…art that can never be replaced…
or are we rebuilding a church, a house of worship?…

I find that to be the very key question for our very postmodern Christian selves”

It is not lost on me that we are in the midst of the most Holiest of weeks within
all of Christendom while in the midsts of an ever-shrinking Christian faith
in our culture.

This fire is yet another visceral image of our own human tragedy and the fall of man.

It shakes loose our hidden sense of grief and loss over our flailing and fragile faith.

Christ descended into the depths of a raging fire of our very sin…
and on the third day, He rose from those ashes…

May we now use this sense of loss and grief, allowing our faith to be rekindled as we too rise
upward out of the ashes of what has become such a sinful loss…

Loss no more..but only gain…as the spire rises again…

“So you’re giving up?
That’s it?
Okay, okay. We’ll leave you alone, Quasimodo.
We just thought, maybe you’re made up of something much stronger.”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame

ignorance is bliss…

“Whatever the cost of our liberties, the price is cheap
compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

Walter Cronkite

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(a sandpiper busy looking for breakfast / Santa Rosa Beach, FL / Julie Cook / 2016)

There’s something afoot…
I can feel it…

Something perhaps in the air…

And no,
it’s not a change in season…
It’s not an approaching weather front…

It’s simply more of a feeling…
An odd unsettling feeling…

You know…
it’s like that feeling or sense that animals seem to get just before some
impending natural disaster…such as an earthquake or some other epic trauma.

An out of sorts sort of uncomfortable feeling…

It’s like taking your hand and running it along the grain of a plank of raw wood.
Although the wood is not sanded nor smoothed, along the grain one’s hand
may run the course of the plank without fear of cuts or splinters.
But the minute you decide to run your hand back in the opposite direction,
you are stopped immediately with the bristling of the wood repelling your touch.

That’s how things feel…
as if I’m running my hand against the grain..
there is oddly no smoothness to the flow…
rather a herky jerky uncomfortableness.

Of course you will tell me that life has been doling out its fair share
of uncomfortableness in my little corner of the world…
between dad, changes, legal matters, deaths, moves, discs and nerves…
that’s got to be it… right?

To which I say no to all of that…

I will confess that I’ve stopped watching any national news….
with local news now on a very limited basis…

Sick of it all quite frankly.

Pretty much sick of watching anything about us as a nation these days…
For a weary pall has been cast.

It’s now hard to even watch any sporting events
as they too have taken to marching in the latest political fracas…

We’ve made it hard, you and I and this nation of ours…

Not just because of anthems,
or debates,
or the raging news,
or the media firestorms,
or the never ending three ring circuses,
nor even an impending election…

and I’m thinking that I won’t even bother to vote..
the first time I’ve ever considered such…
but there’s not much point now is there?

But the signs…
they’ve been all about us.
They’ve been there for quite some time…
Yet we’ve refused to pay them any mind.

We’ve all heard and seen the warnings…
but yet we’ve refused to acknowledge any of it…
any of it for what it is…
Because to acknowledge is to admit that we’ve been wrong…
and we don’t like to do that…
we don’t like being wrong.

We are a cake and eat it too type of nation.
Land of opportunity…
because doesn’t opportunity mean having cake and getting to eat it?

We accept every and any sort of choice and lifestyle and decision
because that’s what we’re all about…freedom
for the land of opportunity and freedom means it’s all good because we’re all free…
free to choose and free to decide….

Forget that there are grave responsibilities that come with freedom,
as well as with…
choice,
and opportunity,
and cake,
and even eating…

We’ve even made it pretty darn clear that we don’t like having a God who is just that,
God.
We’ve decided we want our God to be a feel good god…
one who is all accepting, all tolerable and certainly for all choices…
and don’t forget about loving,
because of course he, she or even it must be loving…

Because we’ve decided that that’s what a God should be,
someone who is all about loving and acceptance and only good things…
Because we like good things…always happy, always bliss…

We want nothing to do with the business of
warnings,
harbingers,
rules (aka commandments)
covenants,
death,
dying,
pain,
suffering,
responsibility,
obedience…

So yes…
I keep sensing something unsettling,
something uncomfortable,
maybe even something foreboding…

“Ignore it” you say …
because remember,
ignorance is indeed bliss…
and we all want bliss….

When the Lord God decides to do something,
he will first tell his servants, the prophets.
When a lion roars, people are frightened.
When the Lord God speaks, a prophet must prophesy.

Go to the high towers in Ashdod and in Egypt and announce this message from the Lord:
“Come together on the mountains of Samaria.
See the great confusion there because the people don’t know how to live right.
See how cruel they are to others. They take things from people to hide
in their high towers.
Their treasuries are filled with the things they have taken in war.”

So the Lord God says, “An enemy will surround your land.
They will break down your strong walls and take the things
you have hidden in your high towers.”

The Lord says,
“A lion might attack a lamb,
and a shepherd might try to save the lamb.
But the shepherd will save
only a part of that lamb.
He might pull two legs
or a part of an ear from the lion’s mouth.
In the same way, most of the people of Israel will not be saved.
Those who live in Samaria will save only a corner from a bed,
or a piece of cloth from a couch.”

This is what the Lord God All-Powerful says:
“Warn the family of Jacob about these things.
Israel sinned, and I will punish them for their sins.
And when I do, I will also destroy the altars at Bethel.
The horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground.
I will destroy the winter house with the summer house.
The houses of ivory will be destroyed.
Many houses will be destroyed.”
This is what the Lord said.

Amos 3: 7-15

Pick it up…or not

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 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?
Matthew 16:24-26

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(painting of Christ carrying the cross located in the Rock of Cahsel rectory / County Tipperary, Ireland / Julie Cook / 2015)

Picking up your cross…
What does it mean…?

There is without a doubt a heaviness,
A weight and heft to the raw wood.
Roughly hewn, it immediately scratches and rips the smooth skin of palms and tender fingers
It’d be easier to drop it then to continue on.

The heaviness is foreign…out of the ordinary of lifting, nearly impossible to pick up…
Muscles stretch beyond capacity, burning, aching…
A back nearly breaks…
The realization is that lifting it is one thing…
carrying it from start to finish is overwhelming…

Many have opted to drop theirs, deciding to go on without it…
Free and weightless,…
no worries…
But where does one go without it?

What then matters?

Nothing…
Nothing else ever matters…


Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

John 23-25

How a David met a Goliath and made a tiny difference

“But so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine.”
― Malcolm Gladwell

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(a wooden cross made from the wood taken form one the many wrecked ships attempting to ferry refugees from Northern Africa to Lampedusa, Italy. It stands as a solitary reminder in the British Museum that ours is a living history of struggle and hope, death and life…Image courtesy of the BBC)

What would you do if you lived in the crosshairs of one of the greatest humanitarian crisis since World War II?
What if you found yourself sitting at the epicenter, the starting point of a massively overwhelming crisis and never ending tragedy…standing as David facing a Goliath?

What if you were a curator to one of England’s largest and most important museums… you had found yourself reading and watching the news, like everyone else, feeling overwhelmed and helpless watching the thousands of refugees desperately trying to reach the shores of Italy’s Lampedusa eventually making their why to the safety of asylum scattered throughout the European Union?
You were nothing but a mere David staring at a distant Goliath….

Lampedusa is the largest of the Italian Pelegia Islands.
It sits closer to Africa than it does Sicily.
Think Key West, in proximity to Cuba verses the US, and you get picture.

And very much like the Cuban refugees who once flooded onto makeshift rafts and dinghies in order to flee the oppressive poverty as a result of Castro’s iron fisted communism, hoping almost beyond hope to make the precarious journey to US controlled waters, refugees by the thousands have left Africa’s northern shores hoping against hope to make their harrowing journey to the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa…and eventually to freedom throughout Europe.

The problem is finding and funding passage from the coast of Northern Africa to the almost 8 square mile Island of Lampedusa and eventually to the continental shores of Europe.
The ferryman are scrupulous.
The ships painfully overcrowded, dangerous and there are not enough life jackets.
The ocean is treacherous and very unforgiving.

Many ships do not make it.
Many “passengers” drown.
Many are small children and infants.

What do you do if you are one of the Italian residents of this overtly tiny island who has made a simple living as a carpenter, yet you see almost daily the sadness of the bodies washing ashore.
You see the survivors who anguish over their drowned loved ones…the children who did not survive.
You see the beaches littered by the wood from the ships which broke apart mid journey…

You find yourself one Sunday at Mass, attended by many of the same refugees who seem lost, alone, afraid—as you each pray to the same God…you search the static image of the Crucified Christ hanging before you for answers….

You decide to quit your furniture business and you head off to the beach.
You gather as much of the broken bits of wood from the shipwrecked refugee boats that you can and you set out to carve and fashion together crosses.
Crosses which are a symbol of both sacrifice and death as well as salvation and hope.

You fashion a large altar cross for your parish church.
Your priest proudly places it on the altar as a reminder to all who worship that there is a massive crises in a very fluid state just outside the church’s door.
Soon word spreads and more church’s want the crosses.
Pope Francis receives a cross.

The BBC runs the story about the crosses and soon a curator to the British Museum sees your story and she too wants a cross…not for herself but for the museum…as a solemn reminder of the current overwhelming moment of human history currently taking place in the world.
The greatest mass exodus of human beings since World War II with the numbers even eclipsing that time.
How better could a museum, visited by thousands from across the world, share in the story of our currently hurting world.

Just how a small David could meet a giant Goliath and could manage to make a meaningful difference.

Here’s the link to the full story…

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35360682

No matter how we feel about the refugees—as I now wonder how can Europe ever absorb so many individuals,
wondering how can we keep ourselves safe as we offer safe haven.
I worry about the terrorists who use this crisis to their own advantage as a means of mixing and blending and disappearing until later, much later.
I worry about how so many people can be housed, fed, cared for—60 million people and growing daily….
I worry about this world.
I don’t know any answers…
but I do know we need to try to do something

For the love of wood

No better way is there to learn to love Nature than to understand Art. It dignifies every flower of the field. And, the boy who sees the thing of beauty which a bird on the wing becomes when transferred to wood or canvas will probably not throw the customary stone.
Oscar Wilde

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(fresh strawberries on a walnut trivet / Julie Cook / 2015)

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(a walnut trivet topped with a couple of fried squash / Julie Cook / 2015)

When I first started this little blog of mine, or as my husband lovingly (cough cough) references as that “blob”, I was truly wet behind the ears not having a clue as to what I was doing.
I’d never “blogged” before nor was I any sort of computer guru, “thecie” or wizened journalist.
I was just a newly retired teacher who still had some “teach” left in me.

I started posting some pictures I’d taken, some words I’d written, some recipes I’d cooked and little by little I had some folks stopping in for a “visit”— eventually some of the visitors decided they liked what they saw, or read, or both, and wanted to hang around a while. . .

One of those early visitors happened to be a man named Michael.
Michael, who is also retired, lives in the neighboring state of South Carolina. Michael loves to cook, garden and enjoys living on “the mountain” as he lovingly refers to his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It seems that Michael has channeled those retired energies into his wood shop—as in he makes things.
All sorts of beautiful wooden things.

As a former art teacher, I greatly appreciate the gift of talent when I see it.
Michael has the gift—the gift of “eye” and talent in that he can see in a piece of lumber something beautiful.

His creations are not sculptures or decorative pieces of art but rather functional and utilitarian natural pieces of wonder.

Perusing his blog, where he shares his talent, I was amazed by what I saw. And lucky for me, for us, he sells these pieces of functional beauty.

https://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com

A couple of Christmases back, I wrote a post about Michael’s work–espousing the difference between what makes art art verses the functionality of utilitarian objects—as well as how we may have the rare opportunity of finding both in one object.

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/functional-or-decorative-or-both/

Over the past couple of years, I have been blessed to call Michael my friend.
I am also fortunate in that I have several of Michael’s cutting boards gracing my kitchen, a beautiful hand turned step stool, an ice-cream paddle and a handful of hand cut honey wands—I have given Michael’s pieces as both Christmas and wedding gifts.

There is just something very special about the tactile quality, coupled by the visual beauty, of a piece of wood that through both the vision and talent of a human being can take on a life of its own.
Michael is that gifted.

I want to share a few shots of an absolutely beautiful piece of burl wood that Michael has cut, sanded, finished and crafted into a cutting board like no other. Sadly a computer image cannot do justice to the tactile relationship we have with wood. To feel its weight, the smooth sanded core coupled by the rough bark exterior. . .to see the rich warm colors brought out by the lightly oiled surface is certainly best experienced in person. . . however these few pictures will simply have to do—not unless you too decide to wander on over to Michael’s blog where you might want to just try this all out first hand with your own board, birdhouse, honey wand, ice cream paddle or chopping block. . .

Thank you Michael!

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(16 x 10 at widest burl cutting board / Julie Cook / 2015)

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Along with the cutting board, I received yesterday two walnut trivets / coasters which will match my soon to be table chargers—of which I can’t wait for them to arrive as they will accent my kitchen so beautifully

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Change is in the air

Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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(these “wood” eaters seem to enjoy nectar as well / Julie Cook / 2014)

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(a seasonal carpenter bee has returned for “spring work” / Julie Cook / 2015)

They’reeeeee baaaaacckkkk. . .
Those pesky seasonal hungry wood rats, I mean carpenter bees, those true harbingers, I mean heralders of Spring.
I caught this one in mid bore, hanging upside down on a post out on the back deck.
They eat right into the wood of decks, porches, siding, eves. . .anything wooden that’s a part of a house. . .be it painted or not, stained or not. . .they eat, chew, drill, bore. . .
creating nesting sites.

They can sting but usually don’t as they prefer the art of intimidation. They will “buzz” toward anyone who enters their “space” or territory, usually hovering in place until you swat at them, only to quickly return to bother you some more. It is the males who tend to be a bit more aggressive then the females with regard to the whole dance of intimidation. You can recognize them by the yellow dot on their head—right between the eyes.

The only way I know that they sting is when my cat finds it fun and adventuresome to jump on the hovering pests, grabbing said bee up in his mouth while attempting to run inside with his “catch” in order to “gift” me with his latest accomplishment. Most of the time he won’t make it inside as the bee will have stung the inside of his mouth, forcing him to open and drop as he begins swatting frantically at his mouth. One would think that one experience, maybe two, with the bees would be incentive enough to leave them alone—sadly the idea of a prize seems greater than the pain. . .

All of this talk of bees and of this busy time of newness and growth naturally brings the whole concept of being ready, being prepared, being mindful front and center to my thought process.

Spring is a time of great transition.
Not only are things greening up, budding, blooming, buzzing, pollinating. . .
Spring becomes a time of doing. . .renovations, cleaning, planting, tiling, changing. . .
It’s time to discard the old and bring in the new. . .as in clean, fresh, bright. . .

Spring is also a time when there is literally change in the air, or more precisely, the winds.
Winter’s cold winds are pushed aside for the warming lilt of Spring. Jet streams lift and revert.
Yet it is this very pushing of winds, the time of warm meeting cold, which becomes most problematic.

Our incoming warmer days and nights can exact a heavy price producing tumultuous Springtime storms. Skies can grow angry quickly, as air masses fight for dominance. Thunderstorms with their wicked lightening strikes and spawned tornadoes make Spring one of the deadliest times of year as far as Mother Nature is concerned.

Living in the proverbial tornado alley swarth, which cuts through the mid and southern tier of our United States, dictates caution while keeping one eye directed to the sky at all times.
Joining with the rest of humanity as we transition from a wicked winter that overstayed its welcome to a feisty new tempestuous Spring, with giddy exuberance and joy, I do so not with reckless abandon but rather with a bit of cautious yet hopeful optimism.

As we journey now, a bit worse for the wear, toward the end of Lent. . .with Palm Sunday, Passover and Easter all knocking on the door—may we rejoice in this new birthing of Nature as well as the birth of renewal within our spiritual selves. May we marvel in the busyness of the bees, the jittery darting and dashing of the myriad of birds who are hurriedly toiling building their nests. May those of us who suffer grievously from seasonal allergies find relief, and may we all remain vigilant when the warming skies decide to turn ominous and dark . . .

Here’s to Spring,
Here’s to life,
Here’s to new,
Here’s to change. . .

For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.”
Zephaniah 3:9

Gifts of wood

“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.”
Erma Bombeck

“Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it.”

St John Paul II the Great

“The person born with a talent they are meant to use will find their greatest happiness in using it.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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(Percy checking out Michael’s stool or perhaps he’s looking at the peaches. . .)

I’m wondering if you were listening, or more aptly reading, back around Thanksgiving when I was extolling the talents, gifts and craftsmanship of a certain little woodworker hailing from South Carolina?
Did you fail to catch that post?

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/functional-or-decorative-or-both/

or the post at Christmas-time highlighting a few of my favorite things–as in gift giving??

https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/raindrops-on-roses-er-well-not-exactly/

Did you not take notice of the beautifully crafted cutting boards that Michael, over on Michael’s Woodcraft & Blog, has been cranking out for the discerning and not so discerning kitchen aficionado??
Because if you never had an opportunity to do so, now is indeed the right time!

http://michaelswoodcraft.wordpress.com

I simply must share a new wonderment created by the skillful hands of our friend Michael!!
A few months back Michael shared with his blog friends a project he had taken on for his wife. He had just procured some beautiful planks of gorgeous walnut which he was going to turn into a step stool for his lovely wife Debbie.

Michael carried us through the play by play of choosing just the right boards, planing the boards, creating a pattern for the stool, cutting the wood, painstakingly assembling his pieces, sanding, staining and finally lacquering the new creation. He was curious as to the hours it would take him to make such a piece so he kept a running time journal, complete with photographs of his progress and timeline.

The end result was stunning.
Not only was it functional, as in serving a purpose, it was decorative, warm and a beautiful accent to their home.

I immediately inquired if Debbie would permit him to make perhaps another stool–one I could purchase.

As luck would have it, both Michael and Debbie were more than happy to share.
That’s when my aunt got on board.
When she was up visiting during THE wedding hoopla, I had showed her Michael’s blog with the stool. I had given her one of his cutting boards at Christmas so she knew immediately how great his work was and being a lover of fine wood products, she too wanted a stool.

Here are a few shots of the stool I recently received from Michael and his workbench.
As it is absolutely beautiful I don’t know where I want to place it as it’s truly a work of art and craftsmanship.

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And as Michael is also quite the little chef, most recently posting a recipe for homemade ice-cream, I’m thinking I may just need not only to copy the ice cream recipe, but I just may need to put in an order for one of his hand turned ice-cream scoops. . .

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, the cat and peaches are not included 🙂