Sunday, November 29, 2009

All's well that ends well

Tonight I am writing after packing clothes, souvenirs, cookbooks, new cooking utensils, and the assorted "stuff" which I brought from Laramie for this extended time away or that I acquired in the last three months. It is a bitter sweet time for me on this last night of my sabbatical. In numerous ways I have enjoyed the relaxed change of pace, the opportunities of new learning, and the time to read, reflect and write without the pressures of time constraints. It has been a time of unexpected grace and blessing to have had so much time in Rawlins, renewing friendships with life time friends, entertaining family and friends for suppers created of new recipes, taking long leisurely walks with the dogs and finding that I can actually enjoy a walk long after dawn has come and gone.

My time here could not have been more timely; thus I stayed here in the home I grew up in for considerably longer than I had originally planned. My parent's health is increasingly fragile, so it was so good that I could be here to help them when Daddy had to be hospitalized with pneumonia. Mom hasn't gone up or down stairs or driven in 5 1/2 years, so I was in a position to really pick up the slack for them. Lots of cleaning, laundry, shopping, cooking, defrosting freezers, going to doctor's appointments, etc., but more importantly just having unhurried times to talk with them about all sorts of things. Daddy had recently been contacted by a man in the Netherlands doing research about the glider operations in WWII and the liberation of Holland. So as I helped him to respond--taking dictation and sending email--I heard stories I'd never heard before about his military service as a glider pilot. I am constantly amazed at the love Mother and Daddy share as continue in the married life of over 62 years now. Certainly I see the goodness of the Lord in that! Mother and I spent one delightful afternoon as she taught me the secrets for our favorite fruit cake. Another day, Mother and Daddy supervised my oldest nephew, John, and me in making a Swedish Potates Korv--a kind of sausage that Mother once described (when new to the family) as nothing but "hash in a gut." It is a family tradition that needed to be passed on. John and I learned all about it as we made and stuffed 40 pounds of Korv. Certainly I can taste the goodness of the Lord in these "delicacies."

All of this, plus all the other time on sabbatical, have been wonderfully restorative in many ways. I like feeling this rested and relaxed. I am gratefully aware of how the people of St. Matthew's picked up the pace and took on bigger roles in leadership and management in order for me to have the grace of this sabbatical. While in some ways it may be hard to go back to the day to day stuff of ministry, I am hopeful I will be able to incorporate some of the sabbatical disciplines into that part of my life as I move into the beginning of Advent with the celebration of my 20 years as a priest and my intentions for some more great years in this ministry entrusted to me by God.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Little Dab'll Do Ya

Grapes in El Priorat, Spain
Images on my mind: a raisin, a plate of appetizers, Sabbath, as I write on this unseasonably warm fall day, enjoying the sunshine after a great walk with Fargo and Rebel.
First, a raisin. Several months ago, I listened to Jon Kabat-Zinn speak about mindfulness, being in touch as much as possible with the moment, the surroundings, with self, right then and there. He spoke of a workshop in which participants were given a raisin, a single raisin; not a handful, not a boxful, just one raisin. For the next ten minutes they were to be mindful of the raisin, without eating it. They observed its wrinkled texture, the color, the feel, the smell. One guy put his in his ear. Finally, after appreciating all they could in those ways, they could put their raisin into their mouths--feeling it on tongue and cheek, then teeth as they bit it. POW, it was an explosion of flavor. It was as if they were tasting raisin for the very first time. They were mindful of the raisin and so experienced a raisin.
Kabat-Zinn continues about how in our normal eating we are apt to be jamming another handful/forkful into our mouths while still chewing the first bite. Mindful not of the first bite, nor of the succeeding texture, aroma, taste. I know this can be true for me, even when I'm not at a fast food place.
With that experience in mind (I used an almond, rather than a raisin), I have tried to be increasingly mindful of food and beverages, as well as other experiences, on this sabbatical time. I think it has helped me slow down to see, hear and experience even familiar things, people and places in new ways.
Certainly this mindfulness has enhanced my appreciation of the presentation of food in several restaurants in which the plates were as pleasing to the eye as they were to the mouth. Last Saturday I had a unique dining experience that went right along with my "taste and see" theme. The historic Elk Mountain Hotel in Elk Mountain, Wyoming hosted a gourmet dinner of all wild meats. Far from elk steaks roasted on an open fire, (thought there is nothing wrong with that), this multi-course dinner was as formally and pictorially presented as any I have ever had. The European-trained South African chef delights in using local foods, but with European flair (her words). Just as with the French cuisine I enjoyed a month ago, each course was composed of small portions, sensuously seasoned and delightful to savor visually and orally. We took three and a half hours to enjoy the food, the ambiance, the fellowship.
(For the foodies among the gentle readers, the menu included a starter of salmon pate, appetizers of wild boar, duck pate, venison and cranberry sausage; butternut bisque, fresh salad greens with sugared pecans and a delicate citrus vinaigrette; pheasant breast, seasoned with white wine and juniper berries, and polenta cake; fillet of venison with tiny green beans and sweet potato gratin with chipotle; pavola with a mix of berries; chocolate truffles and coffee with Kahlua layered with whipped cream)
These experiences challenge my thinking about abundance. So often I think of abundance in terms of large amounts, great numbers, big sizes. I sensed abundance when I saw countless clusters with grapes beyond number. Seeing one hallway of an underground wine cellar with one million (yes, truly, one million) bottles of Cava seems like abundance to me. BUT, what is it to truly taste one--just one--perfectly ripened Syrah grape, picked yourself from the vine? That is an amazing taste of abundant proportion.
This thinking is further supported by Allesandrao Scorsone, the events manager at government headquarters in Palazzo Chigi, who offers this word of advice for those wishing to enter the world of wine, "You need to drink less, but drink better. A good glass is all you need, just one. However, it must be the right one."
Even as I am formally away from church responsibilities, I am considering how these thoughts may play out for me as an individual and for the church at large. Could it mean living as simply as possible (plain food, simpler clothes, fewer activities, less responsibility, more restfulness) for six days and then using the resultant savings and energy for celebrations that may not be quantitatively larger, but qualitatively distinct where abundance is celebrated on a different scale? The POW taste of a single raisin, the grace-filled offering of one sip of really fine wine and service rendered with careful preparation and care; with appreciation of a small choir whose presentation is savored by those who sing and those who hear; where the space of silence is valued as much as the sounds of prayer, music, preaching. Could it mean a different preparation on Saturday (getting all the chores done on Saturday) so that the whole of Sunday--from sunset until sunset might be experienced with a greater sense of the gift it is--time to rest, reflect, feast with God, family and friends, letting God be in control, etc. Could it mean feasting on one carefully and lovingly prepared dish rather than a feast of huge abundant proportions?
That is enough for this moment and perhaps the answers will surface as I enjoy eating this one, single raisin.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Home in Rawlins


I've been in Rawlins for the last week staying with Mother and Daddy. This may well be the longest time I've been "at home" since my college days. This has been a relaxing time for me with ample opportunities to practice some of the techniques and recipes I learned on the European "taste and see tour." Many of the recipes had tomatoes and onions as key ingredients and with the current emphasis on eating foods locally grown, it is great that Daddy is a great tomato and onion grower. I have had plenty of both for my cooking, as well as carrots and cabbage for other more American meals. Fortunately the folks have been eager to experience the new recipes and to invite friends and family in for some fun dinner parties. It has been fun for me to come up with menus that are representative of the different countries. I think that overall the food has been good; or as my dear brother used to tell me, "We'll know it's good if it stays down." That was a high compliment from him. (I think)
Being in Rawlins for this extended time has given me the chance to see some old friends. Last Sunday I was so aware that I naturally gravitated to the pew where our family always sat. Just a couple of rows behind me was my 2nd grade Sunday school teacher; there were other folks present that I have known all my life. Even a trip to the grocery or hardware store is an occasion to see former classmates and long time family friends and even family members. Throughout the week my nephews and their families have stopped by to visit or to share a meal. Our roots in this town go really deep and no doubt have formed us all in various ways.

As I put that together with some of the reading I've done during the last several months about terroir which has been defined as the flavor or odor of certain locales that are given to its products, particularly with wine, I am so aware how we grew up eating locally, even before it was the latest fad. My grandparents and parents always had gardens. My family hunted elk, deer, birds. We bought lamb and beef from local ranchers. Daddy's garden provided lots of produce to many of their friends through the years.

Mark Davis is quoted in Amy Trubek's book, The Taste of Place, saying,"Terroir is character. it is the triumph of diversity over homogeneity." While there is no formula for determining this taste of place, there is a sense that the relationship that exists between the land and the folks who farm it, live on it, make their home on it, is somehow incarnated in their values, hopes and dreams. I know that somehow my need for independence, bucking up when the going gets tough and using humor to diffuse a crises is tied into the self-sustaining gardening, hunting and family meals of my family. I realize that the deep roots of lifetime friends which my parents continue to enjoy, even as the obits in the daily paper are more frequently of their friends, is something which amazes me. Perhaps going away and coming home again make me even more appreciative of the foundation which has supported me in what I have become and done. Perhaps that is why in the next couple of weeks I will spend some time in the kitchen with Mother, learning some of the family recipes which up until now have not been part of my repertoire.