Saturday, March 31, 2018

Easter Grace, 2018

Easter Grace, 2018

We incline our ear toward you
and hear the cries of your people;
the ache of your earth, our home;
the complex symphony of seasons.

We incline our deepest joy toward you
and we celebrate relationship;
the bubble of laughter that breaks surface;
the counter-weight that steadies.

We incline our love toward you
and we give thanks for your fidelity,
your always and everywhere,
and “until the end.”

We incline our desire toward you:
to be an Easter people;
To proclaim Good News;
And one day, to rise, to rise, to rise.

And we ask your blessing
upon this meal,
upon the company we keep,
so that by both we are nourished
and this may all be so.


Sunday, March 25, 2018

On Praying...and Poaching Chicken

“All I was did was flip a potato pancake into the stove, and then I put it back into the pan, and I said: Well, if you're all alone in the kitchen, nobody will know.”

—Julia Child in a 1989 interview for Fresh Air with Terry Gross—

Exactly.  This is why I often sort out a new recipe when I am the only one who will be eating it.  Chances are I will be able to eat whatever the result is, unless something drastic happens.  And, if it works out well, voila…a recipe to add to the pool of what I can make and serve in community.

I love this kind of creative alone time.  I have a playlist labeled “Cooking” that is music with soulful groove best appreciated at an elevated volume and with space enough for the occasional dance move.  It is time to learn at my own pace; time to indulge the senses; time to marvel at chemistry and simplicity. 

It is also a time of prayerful, grounding, concentration.  Attending to the precision of my knife work is soothing to me…it helps ground me, gather me back from wherever my mind and spirit might be wandering.  Finding the sweet spot of flavor balance also calls for a contemplative attention that focuses my senses and asks that they be clear and open.    And in general, the more grounded and gathered and “transparent of senses”  I am, the more open I feel to awe, to wonder, to creativity, to Spirit, to God.

The recipes that are most appealing to me do not involve complex steps or rarified ingredients.  They are guidelines that teach me more about the possibilities of food’s potential to nourish, to satisfy, to delight. They involve paying attention, caring, learning, applying what I already know, and they invite me to enjoy the act of creating something pleasurable for the senses.

In some ways, this is not so far removed from my approach to prayer… Simple.  Find what is appealing and learn from it.  What allows me to pay attention?  What leads me to greater compassionate awareness about the world around me and opens me to God’s presence in it?  How do I delight in God? What does it feel like to my senses when I am in that centered, grounded, holy place with God? 

I can’t help but believe that the same organic desire that draws me to the kitchen is what draws me to prayer as well.  There is a hunger, a longing, that can only be met in that space.  Sometimes the net result is poached chicken with layered flavors of white wine and thyme; sometimes it is a deep abiding feeling of being Loved and of Loving….in the difficult complexity of what that sometimes means.

Is it like this every time I enter the kitchen or sit to pray?  Definitely not.  Sometimes in both cases, the result, however well intentioned, is serviceable and no more.  And with cooking and praying both, I can tell and so can others. 

Working at both is something that benefits me and all of those around me.  While I might be alone in the kitchen or alone in the morning with my coffee and the readings, the nourishment is meant for those around me too.

I cook alone to work out the recipe/technique—and then I share it.  I pray…and then the day begins and I share the fruit of that prayer in how I make my way through the day, how I interact with others.

Time alone in creativity and contemplation... for the sake of God’s people.  (Note to self: remember to leave room for the dance moves.)


You’ll find the dish that inspired this post here—

It was the white wine-onion-and herbs recipe.

While doing the chicken on top of the stove, I was roasting quartered golf ball sized potatoes in the oven.  When all was done, I put one chicken breast on my plate along with a scoop of the potatoes and spooned sauce over the lot.  Delicious.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Gravity, uncluttered

From my notebook, composed at the Halifax Farmers' Market this morning, around 7 AM.

~You can feel all kinds of gravity wherever you are everyday in different ways. And often, through human contact, you find your best gravity.~  poet Naomi Shihab Nye

While I do not yet know of its surrounding context which could hint at how the poet understood what she wrote, this quotation has nonetheless been inviting me to lengthen my mental stride into a steady strong lope of personal consideration these last days.

I’m quite taken with this expression of something I seem to know intuitively…. The beginning point for me was to think about gravity itself.  First, there’s the basic physics of 9.8 m/s2 , an undeniable earthly truth. That’s one kind of gravity.  Then, it feels like there is a sort of gravity that has to do with presence, with being grounded; a spacious gravity of invitation that draws together my sometimes disparate self.

And often, through human contact, you find your best gravity.  When I am out of sorts, feeling nowhere and everywhere, it is often the simple strength of another’s presence that grounds me again.  And the idea of ‘simple strength’ feels like an important thing…uncluttered presence… that might look or feel like a touch, a mug of tea, someone listening or asking a question, or someone able to simply be in the same space and let presence be enough…

And in their own way, aren’t each of these expressions of different aspects of Love…?

This kind of gravity of human contact is as organic and beautiful as the laws of physics.  And it too serves to draw me down to my center. I know though experience that it can help my scattered thoughts, feelings, psyche, knit back together into some semblance of a whole.  In that way, this best gravity also seems connected to direction and purpose.  It is easier to get a unified self headed in a direction than it is to try and corral a body and spirit out of relationship with each other.

It occurs to me, as I sit here in the early morning light of the Farmers' Market, that human contact of this sort—simple strength, invitational, uncluttered—can both bring us home and set us free.

Huh, what an idea—that these two things might not be so far removed from one another…

Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O Lord… (Saint Augustine)

Be my gravity, O Lord…draw me homeward and set me free… And may I learn how to offer this organic force of humanity and divinity, this Love,  to others in simple, uncluttered ways.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tatting with Life and Language

I have written before about why I like carrying a book in my daily bag even if I know I might not get to read it. There is something about the company of a known written work that pleases me.  When read in different contexts or at different moments in time, the ideas, the language, create new lacework for me to explore; and yet, the thread remains familiar. There is a relationship between mind, heart, Word, and environment that is creative.  Doors open, veils drop, stone walls tumble, the boat is launched.  And with the crack of a spine or the ‘shoof’ of a page, I have entered a space that would not otherwise be available.  So, even when I don’t read the book in my bag, the possibility that it holds to lead me into these spaces, is a potential I find pleasing.

That said, there are other texts…those texts that are with me always, no matter the book in my bag.  The lines that are summoned during a wonder; the memory of a book or reference that informs a conversation; or a casual mention that has me recall—Oh yes, I remember meeting those lines, that poet, that rhythm or sound…—and I find myself mentally unfolding a piece of paper that had been saved but perhaps shuffled into a pile, or wad, of other memories/references.

That happened to me recently with a three-line Mary Oliver poem within a poem.  The lines are widely known, and in fact, known by heart by me; however, I hadn’t thought of them in a while.

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

—from the poem “Sometimes” in Redbird; Beacon Press: Boston, 2009; p. 37—

At times, these lines have helped me frame my curiosity, wonder, and passion for written expression.  Given the context of their unfolding this time around—a gathering of 42 RSCJ ranging from their 30s-70s who spent the weekend together in prayer, laughter, and sometimes challenging invitation, in listening, and in meaningful conversation—I find in them a simple statement of that to which I have given my life. 

Pay attention…to God; to the world; to the neighbor; to the mirror; to that which cries out, aches, is in need.

Be astonished… be filled with awe, be angry, weep, gnash, act, learn, love, be open, be open, be open…to what is encountered.

Tell about it… Be affected, let the world affect me, who I am and how I am; Act out of that; write out of that; proclaim out of that in word and in deed and in the life lived and the things loved and the ideals believed in (Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ).

(And the tatting begins anew…)

Which all together calls to mind paragraph 4 of our Constitutions: 

By our charism, we are consecrated/ to GLORIFYING THE HEART OF JESUS: /we answer His call/to discover and reveal His love/ letting ourselves be transformed by His Spirit/ so as to live united and conformed to Him,/ and through our love and service/ to radiate the very love of His Heart.

As well as the poem, Famous by poet Naomi Shihab Nye:


    The river is famous to the fish.

    The loud voice is famous to silence,   
    which knew it would inherit the earth   
    before anybody said so.   

    The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds   
    watching him from the birdhouse.   

    The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.   

    The idea you carry close to your bosom   
    is famous to your bosom.   

    The boot is famous to the earth,   
    more famous than the dress shoe,   
    which is famous only to floors.

    The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it   
    and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.   

    I want to be famous to shuffling men   
    who smile while crossing streets,   
    sticky children in grocery lines,   
    famous as the one who smiled back.

    I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,   
    or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,   
    but because it never forgot what it could do.

And sometimes, to remember what that is, I find it helpful to write something down…to add a few knots of life and language to the lacework that somehow draws together what is lived, how it is lived and to what end, and the call to still more…

a free-form act of Love in the world.