Friday, March 23, 2012

Corned beef and Colcannon

When Irish???? eyes are smiling
My hope to blog every week got away from me last week…so as the Benedictines are wont to say, “Always we begin again.” So I begin again with thanksgiving that last weekend was the feast day of St. Patrick, a day that has often been a joyful celebration with family and friends. This year was no different. Despite no great assurance of any real Irish heritage, this "Irish wannabe" loves to recognize and celebrate with those who are truly Irish and the gifts that come to us from the Emerald Isle.

My first trip abroad  in 1977 was with a first generation colleen who still had relatives living on the “auld sod.” Even though she aspired to stop at every crumbling castle and all the ancient cathedrals and churches, I did my best to convince her of a certain value of visiting a few pubs, partaking of pub grub and sampling Guinness and Harp. We made some good compromises which is a key to getting along with travel companions. The memories of watching Waterford crystal being blown and cut, of kissing the Blarney Stone, of feeling the wind blow off the Atlantic on the Cliffs of Moher and teasing my Roman Catholic friend about St. Patrick’s, Dublin being an Anglican Cathedral are indelible memories—the stuff that builds a foundation for dreaming about another big trip.  Slainte!!! I am so glad that my travel companion (who is now in her 90's) and Mother, who has often joined us in our celebrations, and I  were able once again to celebrate St. Paddy's Day together.
St. Patrick’s Day always comes during Lent, but I have it on good authority that it is permissible to set aside (at least a little) some of the Lenten disciplines for a real celebration. Our menu this year included smoked trout and Kerry Gold Irish cheddar for appetizers; a main course of Corned Beef with cabbage, rutabagas and carrots; Colcannon and Soda Bread. For dessert we had Chocolate Irish Whiskey Cake and Irish coffee. There was the mandatory singing of My Wild Irish Rose, Peg of my Heart and McNamara’s Band (our family always sings loudly and proudly on the verses concerning Uncle Yulius who came from Sweden (Yea!!!) to play the big, bass drum.

But after St. Patrick's Day, it is still Lent. And so we begin again. This season has been a time for me to grow in compassion toward myself, as well as in gratefulness for all things. Several things have been helpful in that regard. Each night before dropping off to sleep I spend some intentional time thinking about the moments when I felt most alive (joyful, happy, aware, in touch) as well as the times when I felt that was being sucked dry. I consider what I was most grateful for and what I was least grateful for. What contributed to feeling happy and when did I feel sad?
Playing with knives cuts away cares and stress

Honoring ways of playing and relaxing, letting go of stress and tension has made me aware just how much I enjoy cooking, planning a dinner, arranging the table and most especially the catharsis of sharpening my knives and slicing, dicing and chopping. Cares drop off like leaves in autumn.

A portion of a sermon by Br. David Vryhof of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist has provided a daily source of meditation which has been very helpful to me. I quote it below.

“Whether you are a success in the world’s eyes or a failure, you belong to God.
Whether you achieve all you hope for in life or few of your dreams come true, you belong to God.
Whether you were born into a happy home or a troubled one, whether you’ve had a comfortable life or you’ve struggled all the way, whether you’ve been much loved or largely ignored, you belong to God.
And God has said that you are precious in his eyes and he loves you, that nothing in heaven or on earth or under the earth can ever separate you from the love with which God now holds you.
You need not regret the past or fear the future. You belong to God.
You need not conform yourself to the opinions of others or struggle to win their approval. You belong to God.
You need not grasp for riches or fame or success or power in order to find meaning and purpose for your life. You belong to God.
You need not be afraid of failing or falling or fumbling in life. You belong to God.
Your name is carved in the palm of his hand. God will never forget you, never abandon you, never leave you. You belong to God.
‘What is your only comfort in life and death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.’”

1 pound of kale or cabbage
1 pound of potatoes, peeled
2 small leeks or a bunch of green onions
1 cup milk (or better, cream)
½ cup butter
Salt, pepper and mace (a pinch)

Boil the potatoes in salted water, until done enough to mash.
While potatoes are cooking, finely chop the kale/cabbage and slice onions/leeks and simmer them together in the cream for five minutes.
Drain the potatoes and beat them well. Then add the cabbage and leeks to the potatoes, beating them until it is a pale green fluff, adding the salt, pepper and mace. Do this over low heat.
Pile the mixture into a deep warmed dish. Make a well in the center and pour in enough melted butter to fill the cavity.
This can all be done ahead, (except for the melted butter) and warmed in the microwave just prior to serving.

Life, like Colcannon, is a mixture of the ordinary handled with care and served with love. Even the moments of being “beat” helps to produce something good and fulsome, helping us to remember to whom we belong.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

From Sand to Soup

Baptismal Font at St. Matthew's Cathedral, Lent 2012
This year for Lent our focus is on "Water for a thirsty world." We have transformed some visible places in the Cathedral as mini-deserts; most notably the baptismal font which is filled with rough rocks and weed stalks and dry grasses. Practically, we are collecting donations for the drilling of a well in another part of the world through the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. The congregation has been encouraged during the highly creative "Minute for Mission" to make contributions for each glass of water consumed, each bath/shower enjoyed, each flush of the toilet, etc. After just 2 weeks we have reach nearly 20% of our goal.

We are also focused on the ways we thirst in this Lenten desert: fame, fortune, relationships, accumulations of all sorts. We have been encouraged to get in touch with what we desire and long for, the places of emptiness, doubt and disappointment. As the choir begins its silent procession, we hear the words of the Psalmist, "As the deer panteth for the waters, so my soul longeth after thee." (Psalm 42) and the words of St. Augustine, “You called, you cried, you shattered my deafness. You sparkled, you blazed, you drove away my blindness. You shed your fragrance, and I drew in my breath and I pant for you. I tasted and now I hunger and thirst. You touched me and now I burn for longing for your peace.”

In the remaining weeks of Lent we will consider how the mini-deserts will be transformed by the waters of the Triduum and Paschal Feast: waters used for foot washing, the tears of the penitent, the water that flows with blood from the Savior's side, the waters of creation/flood/Red Sea/whale's belly/free-for-all-waters and the waters of the baptism. How will our dry souls and spirits be revived as we come to the oasis of Easter for the new life we are called to live?

A shelf of seasonings at Catacurian Cooking School, El Maroij, Spain
Last week I came across another quote that is perfect for a “foodie” of sorts and a devotee of good liturgy. “Liturgy is to life as consomm√© is to broth.” The pure, rich, dark and multi-layered taste of broth or stock that has been reduced, then purified with the addition of frothy egg whites which draw the bits of meat, herbs, vegetables like a magnet; then strained through towel or cheese cloth; then finished with a touch of Madeira or sherry. Our liturgy is like that: a pure, intense, multi-layered taste (complete with Port) of the sacred, the holiness of God who deigns to touch us, be with us and among us as one of us. For an hour or so we marinate in this "God-soup" so that we can go forth to bring the flavor of God to every task, every meal, every relationship. Together we discern where God is calling us to add the special intense flavor of faith, justice, love, mercy, hope.

Perhaps that is exactly the nourishing, thirst-quenching thing that is needed for everyone everywhere to move on together through the desert of Lent and life.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Birds and Books

Canada Geese on the North Fork of the Shoshone River

Early one morning this week I was struck by the sight of a large black crow precariously balanced on the very tip of the tallest spruce tree in the neighborhood.  His loud, "Caw, caw, caw, caw, caw" reminded me of the early morning call to prayer that comes from the top of a minaret in a Muslim country.  In just a few moments the sparrows, juncos and doves from various trees, shrubs and perches joined the crow in this avian prayer to welcome the dawn.

One of my favorite passages from The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin tells how Chauntecleer the Rooster crowed.  He had crows for every occasion that expressed grief, joy, accusation or warning.  And then there were the canonical crows which "told all the world--at least that section over which he was Lord--what time it was, and they blessed the moment in the ears of the hearer. . . By making the day, and that moment of the day, familiar; by giving it direction and meaning and a proper soul. . . At dawn, he crowed a fresh, green crow which sounded like chilly water and which awakened the Hens on the spot. . . But the seventh was the kindest crow of all.  This was as quiet as nightfall. This crow was the night at peace upon her nest.  This was settle, and rest, and 'You are safe,' and amen, and 'Go, now, to sleep.' For 'Done,' when it is well done, is a very good word."

Similarly, in her wonderful book, Dawn Light:  Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day, Diane Ackerman describes the troubadours of dawn.  She writes, "It's funny hearing birds trying out parts of their song as they wake, or perhaps to wake.  I love this warm-up, wake-up, speaking tongues at sunrise, when creatures discover they've survived another night on this sun-and-storm, human-battered planet and, not knowing what to say about it, or needing to say anything, just babble for a while.  Birds babble.  Baby birds before they learn their songs, and sleepy adult birds before they've cranked up the old tunes.  They all babble as we do while stumbling around in mental fog."

So as I wander the neighborhood babbling prayers from memory from the Morning Office, humming bits and snatches of show tunes, rock and roll, and folk songs as they come to mind, I find my direction, meaning and proper soul.  Thinking of the two beloved passages quoted above, I found myself giving thanks for the ability to read and for the availability of books I've enjoyed all my life.  Thanks, too, for those who read to me:  Mother--Grimm's Fairy Tales, the Adventures of Cubby in Wonderland, Mrs Piggle-Wiggle, and the Teeny Weenies;  Grandma--Bible stories and Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories;  Mrs. Schoen in 2nd grade delighting us with the adventures of Robinson Crusoe and Miss Stanley in 5th grade reading in perfect dialect Huckleberry Finn and Uncle Tom's Cabin.  And those who encouraged reading:  the country librarians, like Bess Sheller who heard oral book reports so that we could earn a summer reading award; and Miss McFadden who opened our eyes to travel and adventure and mission in choosing books for our "free reading."  Certainly, there were the numerous faculty members who help me gain skills in critical reading.  I often give thanks for Dr. Francis whose class on Southern Lit was one of my all time favorites.

Sitting in my home study, surrounded by literally hundreds of books that I've read, studied and used for teaching, preaching, research  and used to travel to distant places for unusual adventures, as well as to get a glimpse of what unites, delights, divides and tries our common humanity, I am thankful for all the writers, publishers, printers, librarians and bookstore owner/workers. 

Before I'm off to preside at Evensong and the annual Vestry Retreat, there is still sufficient time to fly away with one of six or seven books beside my bed.  From a convent in Erie to Wall Street, from Paris in the 1920's to the mind of a dog, I've got a great choice.  Oh what a day!
Bald Eagle over Brooklyn Lake in the Snowy Range