Friday, 30 June 2006

Little sermonette - to remind my readers I'm still here!:)

It happens to all of us, I suppose - one waits for something interesting to write, and weeks pass. I'm aching to include some wit or insight, but none seems to be at hand. So, just in case anyone is looking for a bit of a 'sermon' to divert them, I thought I'd share a few thoughts. I had prepared this summary about some lectionary readings for an upcoming Sunday, but since the site did not need it in this form, perhaps some of you will find it useful. Fear not - this does not indicate there are sermons ahead on this blog!

9 July 2006
Ezekiel 2:1-5 – Mark 6:1-6 – II Corinthians 12:2-10

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”

One eternal truth which is common to our lessons today is that divine revelation is not likely to find a ready ear in the congregation – whether its messenger is a visionary prophet, an apostle witnessing to the Risen Saviour, or the Incarnate Word Himself. Often, this is not for a lack of initial enthusiasm. People clamour for the exotic quality of the ‘mystical’ or miraculous, and indeed may be self-congratulatory (only in the interests of sharing the good news, of course) for having an association with those who manifest such gifts.

Mark, not being one for angels or Magi, makes clear at the outset that Jesus’ own earthly vocation was to proclaim the kingdom by preaching repentance. (In earlier chapters, we see Jesus exercise authority over various human ills, demons, and even death – but we shall see in chapter 7 that the apostles he commissioned, despite their glorying in the delegated authority, did not grasp his message much better than the hometown boys whispering about the carpenter’s kid.) Ezekiel was God’s voice to those, caught in the power and tumult of the Babylonian empire, who had descended into pagan ways, and needed to be turned back to trust in God and to worship. Paul, whose own demonstrations of charisma were assuredly beyond the amateur class, was addressing ardent Christians who were a pastoral nightmare. The word of the prophet is always a summons to repentance – that is, to constant transformation. Indeed weakness is the strength, for it is only in being stripped of self-deception and recognising the limitations of one’s own vision that one may respond to grace.

The Corinthians provide pastors of any era with a capsule course in idolatry, gnosticism, false mysticism, iniquity, and internal discord. They were an impossible lot – and, judging from Clement of Rome’s epistle a generation later, so they would remain. In his delightfully insightful Paul: A Critical Life, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor notes that “Virtually every statement (Paul) made took root in their minds in a slightly distorted form, and from this defective seed flowered bizarre approaches to … the Christian life.”

II Corinthians is a combination of two epistles. The total number of Paul’s letters to Corinth, allowing for those to which he refers for which we do not have extant texts, was five. The bane of Paul’s existence were the ‘spirit people,’ a group whose members believed that their superior wisdom made them perfect. The preoccupation with wisdom had led them to theism, and Paul needed to remind them of the importance of Christ. Their belief in the irrelevance of the physical (hardly a viewpoint in accord with the Incarnation), led them to shrug off such small matters as incest or eating meat which was sacrificed to idols. The wealthy clique were feasting, leaving only the bread and wine for those less fortunate. It appears that they saw growth in the spiritual life as a matter of achievement and power rather than metanoia. The Corinthians had seen ample manifestations of healing, prophecy and the like in Paul’s own ministry – indeed, one has the sense in this chapter that he is being rather ironic about those who stole his thunder – yet these had become distractions for them rather than leading them to worship of the Author of the gifts.

Idols come in many forms – and one may not worship at the altar of the true God if one is offering homage to one’s false self. It is unlikely that many of us are building temples to Ba’al, but our own idols are the more dangerous, perhaps, in being less easily recognised. One affliction of the devout is that we can come to see our weaknesses or sins as virtues, our distractions as evidence of unusual commitment.

Benedict of Nursia:

“If we are eager to be raised to that heavenly height, to which we can climb only through humility during our present life, then let us make for ourselves a ladder like the one Jacob saw in his dream. On that ladder angels of God were shown to him going up and down in a constant exchange between heaven and earth. (There is) this difference for us: our proud attempts at upward climbing will really bring us down, whereas to step downwards in humility is the way to lift our spirit up towards God. Paradoxically, to climb upwards will take us down to earth, but stepping down will lift us towards heaven. The steps themselves, then, mark the decisions we are called to make in the exercise of humility and self-discipline.”

In II Corinthians 6:16, Paul had written, “Can there be a compact between the temple of God and idols? And the temple of the living God is what we are.” Grace is a share in the divine life itself. We, the Church, are the temple – before the transcendent God emphasised in Ezekiel and the Incarnate Saviour who assumed and deified our humanity. Our offering is repentance – the disposition to hearing the truth which smashes the idols we create and leads us to the loving response which is transformation. Our sacrifice is to make our lives a Eucharist – a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

Paul, who had been privileged with contemplation, had a glimpse of the divine, transcendent glory, to which the natural accompaniment is an awareness of the limitations of one’s vision. Always a devout Jew, a Pharisee who saw Israel (and, later, the new Israel where all nations worshipped the true God) as a priestly people, he knew as well that even what is good in itself (such as the Law, or the charismatic gifts of the spirit) could become an idol.

His ‘thorn’ well may have been knowing, as pastor, that he was powerless to stop the factions in his community – or perhaps, as one whose zeal could exceed his prudence, that he had contributed. Paul knew that mystic consolations can become a distraction – and, since perhaps no other local church had seen more manifestations of charismatic gifts, the Corinthians were proof enough that these are no guarantee of virtue. He would not found his apostolic mission on calls to ‘the third heaven,’ but only on witness to the resurrection.

The temptation shall ever endure to build ‘altars’ to our own honour and glory, in memory of God. The idol can be, as at Corinth, a sense of superiority which excludes love, an attraction for the magical rather than the ‘banal’ actions of gratitude and worship, or a false idea of the life in Christ as ‘achievement.’ It is only in repentance, thanksgiving, and praise that we can assume our vocation as a priestly people – our calling to be the Temple. Humility, that is, truth, unvarnished by the distractions of the false self, must dispose us to see our ‘weakness’ and embrace the divine life of which we are offered a share.

Karl Rahner – “Current Problems in Christology,” 1954, Theological Investigations

"Ultimately, an individual human recognition of truth only makes sense as a beginning, a promise, of the recognition of God – and this latter, whether in the beatific vision or elsewhere, can only be genuine and a source of blessing when it is recognised at the point where the act of apprehension and the act of limitation specifying the thing known surpass themselves and move into what cannot be grasped and is unlimited. All the more does any truth about the self-revealing God open us up into what cannot be beheld: it is the beginning of what is limitless. The clearest and most lucid formulation, the holiest formula, the classical concentration of the Church’s centuries of work in prayer, thought, and struggle about the mysteries of God – these draw life, then, from the fact that they are beginning and not end, means and not goal, one truth that makes freedom for the – ever greater – Truth."

Monday, 26 June 2006

Our Father, Our Mother, which art in heaven

Anyone who is turning up the heat under the oil to burn me probably will be dissatisfied with what follows. I am no more a 'gender feminist' than I ever was, and I'm one of the last people on earth who would be looking for controversy. However, when I heard from someone who was irate that the newly elected Presiding Bishop of the ECUSA had referred to Jesus our mother, I thought I'd save my readers time by providing a link to selections from Julian of Norwich's writings on that topic.

Since Julian's book was focussed on, and derived from, visions she had of Jesus in his Passion, and her words related to the Trinity express relationships of a family, there hardly could be more of a treatment of Jesus in his humanity (very common in the Middle Ages, and, I must add, to this day sometimes an excess for Franciscans, which Julian was not.) But Julian was a mystic, and those who are know well that becoming totally immersed in divine love involves being stripped of attachments. One attachment which ultimately must be sacrificed for the mystic is any pre-conceived notion of God.

I must make this clear: the images of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit which so enrich our prayer and are extensive in the liturgy are extremely important. Jesus' referring to God as Father (a topic I'll treat in more detail some time, I'm sure), and to our status as adopted children, is one I would never care to see minimised. Those who are in mystic union, nonetheless, are beyond images. They realise how limited is our vision in recognising the transcendent God. Jesus of Nazareth, of course, was a male - and Julian was not at all questioning that.

I am sorry to sound a bit silly today. Yet I did wish to take the opportunity to perhaps introduce some of you to Julian's writings on Jesus our Mother. The intimacy and unity they express are often a balm for my own weary soul.

Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Musical minims make me crotchety

Dreadful pun containing a misused word, I know - but this post was inevitable, so bear with me once more. I am a trained musician, skilled as an operatic singer, holding a Master's degree in musicology and Bachelor's in voice. During the 1970s, much of my concentration was on liturgical music, and my MA thesis was on that topic. With the liturgical changes in full force - and, in theory, they were very promising, even if we've all lived to see that they can be quite different in practise - it seemed an exciting time. I was involved with associations of church musicians, a budding institute of liturgical music, a hymnal commission, and other efforts, all involving highly competent musicians, which gave promise of a renaissance for Roman Catholic worship.

I still cannot say precisely what happened which brought about the later conditions, which were dismal. Yet I know very well that, when I had to leave the Religious life, the situations had changed greatly. There are exceptions (and I'll get to that in a moment), but, overall, soloists were regarded with a contempt normally reserved to those who poison popes. Choirs were relegated to being only there to 'support' congregational singing. Anyone sitting in the congregation who was any good at singing was expected to quietly croon, lest those nearby hear a decent voice and not sing. Funerals (as I first saw when attending one for a priest friend in 1986) meant song leaders and congregational singing of the worst sort.

I personally believe that Westminster Cathedral has one of the best choirs in the world, and their music programme, even at the packed daily services of Vespers and the Eucharist, is outstanding. According to the viewpoints which led to the demise of any musical vision for parishes, the cathedral does everything wrong. It should be empty! The marvellous choir performing classical pieces is 'supposed' to be a travesty. Accomplished organists who do not merely play softly in the background are 'performing' rather than supporting the worshipping community. People cannot 'relate' to wonderful music, and will run away crying if there is any piece in which they do not participate (participation being narrowly defined as 'everyone must sing everything'), since that means it is not 'their' liturgy. (Following that line of reasoning, no one should feel part of a liturgy at which s/he is not celebrant, lector, et al combined, but I don't want to go off on too many tangents today.)

Why, then, is every service so well attended? Pews are filled with people of all ages and backgrounds. Many join in chants, most in hymns - and there are no song leaders (though, at Vespers, there is the rare presence of a genuine Cantor.)

I realise, of course, that most parishes would not have the resources to present music as splendid as that at the cathedral. My point is far simpler. Church music, which had such promise thirty years ago, was killed not by serious musicians but by those who actually had an animosity towards music. Oh, indeed those influential in parishes often wanted hymns and more hymns, none of which could be more than 5 years old, all of which had to be within the range of those tone deaf. In an unwitting insult to the intelligence of the congregation, it was assumed that no one could 'relate' to anything above the dismal.

This would not lead to empty pews, of course. Roman Catholics, I would say more than those of any other sister church, are quite likely to attend weekly Mass because it is an 'obligation.' An obedient lot by comparison with others, they also will not disobey the regulation about attending Mass in one's 'own' parish (defined by post code.) Nor would people be likely to complain - those who did would be treated in a condescending fashion, as if they had not sufficiently participated in the 'educative process for the people,' or could not accept what was outside their 'comfort zone.'

Recently, I attended an Anglican Eucharist where two young men were seated very near me. I was singing full voice, knowing that, on this territory, that did not place me in danger of excommunication - and the fellows, who obviously were trained musicians as well, joined in the rather intricate tenor and bass parts. I found it very uplifting - I really felt wrapped in prayer and praise. Had it been a Catholic service, at best we'd have been censured for destroying 'community.'

Thomas Day's "Why Catholics Can't Sing" is a worthwhile book, but it needs a companion volume. Day deals only with congregational singing, not with the valuable role which can be played by accomplished musicians. Of course, RC parishes often can learn much about music from the C of E, but might be misled by seeing that the latter's attendance is lower.

The Roman Catholic Church has as rich a heritage of the aesthetic as any other institution. Perhaps one day this will be reclaimed... but I have no hopes that this will be in my lifetime. Too many of those who became very influential in parishes had no background in music, theology, or liturgy, but in the religious education of children. They were locked in a mindset where everyone was just beginning to read and had trouble singing "London Bridge is Falling Down" without falling into three keys in the process. (In class, that is. Kids can sing anything on the playground.)

For once, I shall quote a lyric from a musical composition which is not outstanding by any standard - Don McLean's "American Pie." "I knew that I was out of luck the day the music died."

Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Let us not search for the Golden Age

I've mentioned in the past how it is often incredibly tempting to picture the early Church as a time of unparalleled peace, love, and harmony. As those who read my blog well know, I have spent much of the past two years studying worship, ministry, and sacraments in the very early Church - a bit of a disappiontment (syllabus was revised) for one who had been hoping to get all the more deeply into the patristic era, when the three concepts were far more developed. With exams past, as usual, the areas which I studied are becoming more vivid for me. The discipline of the course and the papers to write is superb, and I would not care to miss this - the more because, were it not mandatory, I would not have read the excellent works of those with whom I disagree. :) Yet with the stress of accountability removed for the moment, my recognition is heightened.

I was privileged to read the works of many great scholars, and, though even a cursory reading of Paul of Tarsus would make even a romantic like myself wary of the lovey-dovey image of the early Church, I began to see just how much the early days of the Church were on shaky ground. It is amazing how much things have changed even during my lifetime. The 20th century was a time of great discovery, and of huge strides in scripture scholarship. (The Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered only a short time before I was born, and scripture scholarship was widely seen as a threat until well into the second part of the century.)

In my childhood (and by no means only for the young!), it was easy to have an image of Jesus' having appeared in the upper room and saying, "Happy Easter. I'm the second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Now, for the next 50 days, the lot of you are going to have a capsule course in theology and rubrics." We had the impression that the gospel of Luke had all the details of Jesus' infancy because he'd been a friend of Mary's. I cannot recall in which film this appeared, but there was one 'scriptural epic' in which the apostle Matthew was shown already making notes for his gospel... dramatic licence, to be sure, but it did not enter any of our minds that Matthew not only would not have had post-resurrection understanding but would hardly have been writing the gospel for a church which did not exist. It was popularly believed that, on the night of the Last Supper, the apostles arose from the table knowing they'd been ordained priests for a new Church.

By the time I was a young adult (all of us well primed with the Holy Spirit, who had been so powerful during the Vatican Council that plenty of individual inspiration was leftover to be distributed to all of us humble creatures), the adulation for the early Church was at an all time high. Anyone who thinks there was no penance in the 1960s and 70s never sat through interminable choruses of "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love." (I comforted myself with the thought that things could be worse - on any night when it was not "Kumbaya.") Though I myself never participated, I knew some young Christians who had glowing ideas about living in Christian communes - and some indeed did so. There was an underlying idea that, if we could strip away everything that happened since and get back to that pure Christianity, we'd all live up to our calling to be the love generation.

(Don't shake your head at my bit of sarcasm! One can criticise groups broadly provided one was a member of same. There was a period during the late 1970s when I nearly thought I could raise the dead, and everyone else in my prayer group thought they could cure the blind at the least.)

Admittedly, I do wonder how the Christian movement became so popular. (I'm giving the Holy Spirit his due, but could ponder what drew the many Jews, Gentile God-fearers, and eventually pagans.)It certainly was not peace and harmony. James, Peter, and Paul had conflicts about the Gentile mission to work out at Antioch. The Corinthians were making all sorts of messes with their newfound Christianity, and the Letter of Clement of Rome shows that, a generation later, they were no better behaved than in Paul's time.

The Church was in its infancy, and indeed it was a time when revelation and response was at a peak which only divine inspiration can explain. But, apart from Christology, there was ecclesiology with which to contend. James questioned if the Gentile mission should have equal footing with the Jerusalem Church, or if the Gentile Christians would have a different status, as did the uncircumcised who worshipped at the temple. (Of course, we all know what soon happened to the temple.) Paul and the others worshipped in the synagogues, but Paul himself must have been totally maddening to get into all the scrapes he reports.

What was the definition of 'apostle,' prevalent in Paul, absent in John? How did God speak through his Church? I had a strong sense, reading the Johannine epistles, Paul's letters, and the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, that it was very possible that the 'false teachers' who were leading everyone astray may well have been, for example, the Johannine Christians who were side by side with the Pauline mission in Ephesus. And, though Paul never mentions the elders, Acts does give the impression that he spent a good deal of time instructing them.

The conflicts varied, sometimes because of human weakness (as in Corinth), but often because of legitimate theological matters, or sociological factors which were quite crucial. Indeed, God is Truth, and inspires His Church (I'm not about to define how, because one needs a few centuries of hindsight, at least, to see when that happens.) However much we may be dedicated to prayer, to knowledge, to worship, we shall always have to deal with the limitations of our own vision.

We cannot recapture a golden age - it never existed. Remembering that conflict is as old as the Church at least reminds us that we need the humility to admit that we never know how the Spirit is working.

Sunday, 18 June 2006

Time travel

I shall caution my readers that this is likely to be a post filled with loose associations. I have fallen behind in my writing, and decided that, were I to wait until I had something interesting to say, it may well be the judgement day. I keep intending to write about the wonderful feasts (can one top Corpus Christi?), but I cannot help feeling sad. When I was a young woman, I was a gifted lecturer - I still am, but with no place to take it. Preparing such comments makes me sad, now and then, for knowing that I myself have had enough of soup kitchens, yet churches which would welcome talks from one with theological knowledge would have no interest in a 'nobody.'

I have always had a weakness for literature in the 'time travel' genre. It ranges from the profound to the silly (actually, the only one who did it reasonably was Dickens - and notice that Ebenezer was able to change the outcome), but the common threads always are there. One cannot change what has happened, or how what happened in the past affects conditions today or in the interim.

I have never desired to, for example, live in the Middle Ages, to be sure - yet I sometimes wish, when I think of incidents in history, of how I'd love to have a monitor to peek at how it really was. Documents are wonderful, but tell us so little compared to the totality. Here is a simple, perhaps trivial, matter of which I was telling someone this week. She had asked me about certain circumstances in the religious life a quarter century ago. I was saying how I know many things from the hundreds of Sisters and varied communities with which I had contact, as well as from my own experience. Yet things, however pertinent, are long forgotten or cannot be mentioned. One needs to use references in writing, and past conversations, 'workshops,' articles in obscure publications, or letters do not have that 'validity.' (Unless, of course, one was important enough to have influenced the outcome and have such things documented.)

The 'time travel' theme often includes having the visitor from the later period wish to warn those in the past of a negative outcome. It cannot happen, of course - one cannot change the past. Yet I can only imagine being transported in a time machine! "You'll all be slaughtered in that battle... This will split the Church in pieces... You'll be poisoned if you go there... The effects of the radiation and the blast will be utterly devastating... You are going to hit an iceberg!... Throw the money changers out of the temple and that will be a last straw - you'll be crucified."

I find studying various periods totally fascinating. As I have grown older, I have found, for example, that the patristic period in theology beckons even more to me than it did in the past. It is more difficult for me than the mediaeval and renaissance periods, not only because I know those so well but because many of the matters of conflict which existed in 1500 still are alive today. I need to focus very strongly to go back to the early centuries of the Church - Rome and France pagan, North Africa strongly Christian - empire booming theb crumbling, etc..

I have yet another challenge now, which makes the early Church nearly contemporary in my mind by comparison. I have just begun a thorough study of the Hebrew Scriptures. One of the hardest parts for me, as it indeed was for the Fathers, is not to 'read in' the Christian element. I must not read the first chapter of Genesis and immediately 'hear' the first of the Gospel of John. :)

Last week, when I went to the library to begin some of my reading, the Jewish division was closed. Naturally, 90% of my reading will be in that library, but, not to lose a day, off I went to Humanities. I read some very inventive words about Genesis, to say the least. They were not even Christian, but were 'literary criticism rather than history or theology,' aimed at making Eve a feminist hero. In one book (probably someone's dissertation - all dissertations, including mine, are farfetched and boring by definition), God seems far more helpless and confused than the might Eve.

Well, I'll get to the Jewish scholars this week and begin to find out what Genesis really means. But the treatment of Eve, so slanted by having to show that misogyny was based on her being misunderstood (a nice change, I suppose, since most of the time it is the big, bad males' interpretation of either Mary or Mary Magdalene which is responsible for all evils afflicting womankind), was rather too imaginative...

Lord have mercy, if I only could quote all of what I heard in my Religious days! One cannot climb into the time machine and, by changing, let us say, perceptions of Eve, Mary, or Mary Magdalene, make centuries of misogyny disappear. But neither can one 'make up for' the past. We only can work with what we have now. Attempts to make up for past injustice are doomed to fail, because there is unintentional but inherent dishonesty.

Many nuns suffered at the hands of superiors or other Sisters - in the 1970s, that had to be shelved, because all had to be blamed on the men. A false image, as if 'you' could know exactly how 'I' feel merely because we are of the same sex, meant a boycott of the men from whom we could have learnt a great deal, and women being automatically qualified for anything by virtue of their sex. (I must make this plain! Many women were highly competent, and I'll include myself in that number! I am referring to cases where, for example, suddenly just being female made one qualified as a spiritual director.)

The lie is that, whenever one tries to make up for the past, whomever was the 'loser' in the past becomes a victim. History can become distorted, as if the 'victims' were blameless or perfect. Whomever oppressed them becomes the enemy - and, if those oppressors are long dead, the guilt has to carry to the innocent of much later generations.

I'd best not go on about this, because I just don't have the wits about me at the moment to express myself clearly enough. I'll just ask my readers to say a prayer for me. I cannot go into even a small scale time machine and recapture the talent and zeal I had in youth. :) The intervening years cannot be cancelled. Pray for me, not only that I develop enough gratitude that the past (and my present pain) not distract me, but that I somehow find ways to use these gifts today rather than feeling my past failures make that impossible.

Sunday, 11 June 2006

Put that in 'frid'

I am totally hopeless recently, and ignoring that this undoubtedly means that my prayer life is out of joint. Wonderful feasts have dotted the calendar these past few weeks - the Easter season, Ascension, Pentecost, and now Trinity Sunday. It does not get better than that, I'm sure. Yet I have not written a blog entry on a one of them... so off to a bit of trivia, just not to get completely stale.

If you are with me this far, by now you are wondering who or what is 'frid.' My dad, a grocer descended from a long line of farmers, had a love for fruits and vegetables which bordered on (or perhaps was) reverence. He would not just eat an apple, for example. First, he would hold it up to be admired, turning it so its beauty and symmetry might be appreciated (not that Sam had any taste for the aesthetic, as his musician daughter here knew well). Second, he would be sure to let anyone present know not only of its quality but, depending on whether the item was bought or home grown, either what a wonderful price he paid or how much benefit there was from whatever new compost he was compiling. Lest my readers picture vast acreage, I shall note that Sam's garden was about the size of a small sitting room, but that, had all the earth he owned fit into a teacup, he'd have planted a tomato there. Unlike me, a dreadful gardener but one who loves wild-looking, multi-coloured flower beds, Sam would have considered it a total waste to plant anything one could not eat.

Sam's English was not the best, and his word for a refrigerator was 'frid.' With his respect for food being what it was, he constantly reminded us to 'put that in frid.'

My mother (Chip) was basically a terrible cook. (For some reason, the only thing she could make well were manicotti shells, which tended to come out thin as crepes.) I think the problem was a total lack of confidence - she would be puzzled that I was an innovative cook, or that I could make a dress in a different colour from that of the pattern illustration. As well, her fate was sealed when someone gave her a dreadful cookbook (of the 'gift for a bride who cannot boil an egg' category) as a wedding present. Chip never seasoned anything - she cooked pasta (which was her favourite food) till it was of the consistency of a damp rag. (When I fixed it for her, she'd wrinkle her nose and say, 'it's... good... al dente,' as if that were the worst of insults.) Her idea of a meat dish (which is not to say that meat dishes were ever her idea) was 'drop it in the pan and just let it cook.' Herbs, gravies, spices - were not in her vocabulary.

Whether the two are connected I would not say, but in a bizarre fashion Sam was a good match for Chip's cooking. His inherent frugality made him praise cooking which did not 'waste' (that is, add anything that was not absolutely necessary.) He'd become annoyed if I cooked, complaining that, if I added anything, I was 'wasting.' I was puzzled, considering it is not as if I fixed an item then poured it down the drain... it took me years to realise his definition of 'waste.' (Odd definitions, I suppose, are to be expected of someone who puts everything 'in frid.')

Years ago, when I saw the play The Fantasticks, I suddenly had an insight. The fathers in that play sing about 'plant a radish, get a radish, never any doubt. That's why I love vegetables, you know what you're about.' At least Sam's vegetables were predictable. A firstborn who was passionate about the aesthetic, had jars of spices in every spare inch of the cabinets and a few on the stove next to the collection of Twining's special edition teas, was mad about the English language, and had a weakness for recipes where one drops in a bit of Grand Marnier and serves the product next to truffles... well, was not in the 'plant a radish, get a radish' category.

I love to cook. (I have a sister who also loves to bake, a talent which she has in good measure and I lack. For all my enjoyment of meat pies, I always end up making stews because I cannot bother with a crust.) Trouble is, many dishes just do not work when one lives alone.

This past week, one of my recurring odd actions was inevitable. When it has been raining, chilly, or both for any period, I have to get out my crockpot and whip up one of my 'pies sans crust.' This often tends to be oxtail stew. My crustless pies are (if I must say so) actually delicious, but unusual for some reason (maybe it's obvious.) I think that, when it is well made, English food is perfectly delicious. (I'll save comments about when it is not well made for another thread.) But I always have to add an Italian fillip. My steak and Guinness version contains both garlic and basil.

Well, this week the oxtail stew simmered all day, filling the kitchen with a lovely scent. I do not like potatoes much, and prefer zucchini, eggplant, and other Italian staples to what others put in stews, so I included turnips, zucchini, carrots and more, and wonderfully succulent portabello mushrooms... port in the gravy, yum! It is only after these pots stop simmering that it strikes me (one would think I'd have caught on by now) that, unless I have four good-sized men drop over for dinner unexpectedly, I shall be eating oxtail stew with no crust for the next week. (Leeks, which I adore, were on sale this week, as were 'baby' portabello mushrooms. I'm trying to ignore it, but know with a horrible certainty that, by week's end, I may be confronted with a massive pot of chicken, leek, and mushroom... stew.)

Though pasta, salads, and other Italian staples are popular today, most people I knew when I was young (who were not of Italian background) rarely ate them. I love Italian food, if one is speaking of veal, salads and such, but loathe pasta. (The only thing funnier than pasta's being a current 'gourmet' treat, which we ate four times a week because it was so cheap, is that polenta is carried in posh restaurants. Polenta was even lower on the social scale.) I'm afraid I'm going to have to clue everyone in on a fact of life which I knew at age 2 but is ignored today, when everyone is 'eating healthy' and, I hear, gaining so much weight. The much lauded "Mediterranean diet" is terrible! It means being ravenous for at least 21 out of 23 hours... because eating starch when one is hungry is comparable to drinking salt water to ease thirst. (Ask your waiter friend why restaurants place bread on the table before meals are served. Yes, to stimulate appetite.)

The kids I knew who ate meat three times a day (and perhaps even junk food, though fast food did not yet exist in my childhood) did not have weight problems. Our 'healthy', constant hunger diet led many of us to have weight trouble, though we seldom had sweets and a can of tuna was Friday dinner for four.

Lord have mercy, I have gone on many a tangent today! Yet there is one secret to attractive meals which Chip, with her fear of seasoning, and Sam, who thought everything was a waste, would never have known. A combination of flavours can make even a poor table seem rich. Mixing in an olive here and there, a bit of goat cheese, mustards, whatever - having a little pickle on the cheddar, and odd greens on the side - can make one feel like a gourmet... even on a budget akin to, or less than, Sam's.

Without variety, everything can seem barren and boring. Which finally leads me to the point I've been trying to ignore... I need to get back to the richness of my prayer life...:)

Tuesday, 6 June 2006

That might be worth a lot of money...

I am a bit embarrassed. With both the Ascension and Pentecost having been celebrated within the past few weeks, I should like to produce a wonderful reflection of some sort. But my mind still is not in gear... I think I'm still recovering from finding that Mirielle (my cat) broke my collectible Catherine of Aragon doll.

Recently, a member of an Internet forum on which I participate had asked for suggestions from others who had moved house recently. (I did so last summer.) I am hoping that my advice was useful. First, I suggested she look through items she's been saving, and (based on their condition) either discard or donate those which she had not used in 20 years (or had never used at all.) Second, and this is more important, do not let anyone you know have any hint that you have discarded or donated anything, anywhere. The aggravation of moving is difficult enough without having everyone you know (including those who have never seen a computer) insist that anything with which you would part would be worth a lot of money if you sold it over the Internet.

What is it, in the nature of some, which thrills to make others think that they have made the wrong decisions? Oh, you know the sort. Mention anything you purchased, and this type will insist you were charged too much - 'you should have told me - I could have found you the same item at half the price.' (Note that never have they actually done so, though this line is a recurring disease.) Most people in this category begin many sentences with either "You should have" or "I would have." The Internet has opened an entire new world of possibilities. It matters not that the item in your hand is identical to one which has been in the window of a charity shop for the past 18 months, unsold though the price is tiny. The book into which you have not so much as peeked since your school days has secondhand copies on for sale beginning at a price of a penny. Your mother's pots were not worth much in the first place, and have been obsolete since around the time of V-E day. But the busybody will assure you that you could get a lot of money for it if you sold it on the Internet.

If you listen to their advice, by the way, you will find that, with moving day very close, you will end up having to pay a substantial amount for someone to cart away all the stuff for which you'd hoped to get this fortune...

As a postscript, I must add that busybodies, more than any other breed, will insist they wish to help you (1) find the new home and (2) complete the actual moving. Wrong move, I assure you. They will be sure to tell you that you are buying property in the wrong area - that, if you are buying, you would have a better deal renting (and vice versa) - that rural properties are appreciating at a higher percentage (even if your tastes run to anything other than the rural) - etc., etc. It does not matter if you are very happy with your decision. The people who use these tactics thrive on getting others to question their own judgement.

Now, why do I mention this on a site which is basically concerned with spirituality? Because, however one lives their spiritual lives, there will be many who either think the spiritual life in itself is illusion or a waste, or who have a better way for one to pursue the path. Listening to them is a distraction and therefore a waste of time.

...and I have a first edition of Newman's Grammar of Assent... I'm sure that I could get a lot for that on E-bay...