Sometimes you just need a nap.
Which is apparently what I needed last weekend. After a long week and a late-night campus event on Friday, Dan and I had planned an unhurried Saturday breakfast, the slow sort of breakfast that we rarely make time for (although no one’s complaining about our usual toast or granola), a breakfast both savory and sweet, half eggs and bacon, half pancakes and syrup. I imagined a sunny Saturday, spacious and easy. No plans, except for breakfast. A day of rest and relief, a day of joy and peace.
Well, we made the breakfast—these heavenly, soft-scrambled eggs (watch the video; you won’t regret it), a strip of bacon apiece (all we had!), and banana chocolate chip pancakes, and then the day started to bear down on me. We proposed a few ways to spend the rest of our day, but I couldn’t handle them. Every idea seemed terrible, not what I wanted. They were perfectly reasonable ways to spend a Saturday, but I couldn’t manage to imagine them into my day. I cried. I was incapable of movement, decision, maturity. Everything was impossible.
I told Dan I was going back to bed. Maybe I could restart my day. I didn’t really believe it would work, but what else could I do? Sit at the table while my sweet husband cleaned up the kitchen and tolerated weepy me? Drag myself into some Saturday project that would almost certainly end worse than it began, which was already bad enough? Take a shower? Not yet—I wanted to go for a run first, though I hadn’t the energy.
So back to bed I went. Back to our new bed, I should add, a thick, pillowy, dreamy affair whose mere existence beckons. It’s hard to stay out of.
Swaddled in down, I tried reading for a while. I’m midway through Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk in preparation for her visit to Holland in March. Much of the book has resonated with me, but on Saturday, my eyes themselves glum, I found it hard to concentrate. I closed the book, rolled over, and let sleep carry me.
A hour or two later, I woke again. The sun was brilliant, filling the room with clean, happy light. Believing I should be refreshed, but feeling as listless as ever, I lay there. I couldn’t make myself move. I started to wonder—not worry, just wonder–if I was showing signs of depression: wanting to cocoon myself in bed, being unable to summon energy though the day itself was bright and sunny, feeling battered by merely the possibility of activity.
Kathleen Norris speaks of something like this feeling in The Cloister Walk. The feeling of interminable, insufferable days, the weight of malaise, the paralysis of mind and body. Following the monastic tradition, she calls it the noonday demon. It appears at midday, in that harsh, direct light, and oppresses with lethargy. Acedia.
I turned over the possibility of acedia in my mind. Could it be? It wasn’t depression exactly. I hadn’t felt a full six weeks of low spirits, the measurement offered by the anti-depressant commercials on TV. But that one day! It was heavy, too heavy to endure. And it was long, too long to bear. It was noon, and the demon had come.
I rolled back over to sleep.
A while later and I woke for a third time on that single day. The room, though bright, was too cold for me to leave the bed yet. I burrowed deeper into the covers. I still didn’t have much energy to read, though I tried. I coasted—that word that my grandma uses for the half-hearted drifting, the in and out from wake and sleep.
Somewhere in that swelling and ebbing, the thought may have come to me that though the noonday demon is real and powerful, it should not be coddled. I might not have the resolve to banish it entirely, but I didn’t want to welcome it, either. It was within my power to ask it to step aside. I thought I should probably go for a run. Running wasn’t what I wanted to do at the moment, but I knew that it would help push the demon from the living room to the entryway, and maybe eventually out the door. So I rolled, this time, out of bed, slipped into running clothes, and padded downstairs.
Dan, reading on the couch, greeted me. His voice had kindness in it, something I didn’t expect from someone whose wife had spent the morning grumpy and the afternoon asleep. I told him I was going for a run. He agreed that was a good thing. I tied my shoes and left the house.
The run didn’t need to be long to work its magic. A few blocks in, and the demon was on its way out. Maybe it was the physical movement, maybe it was the Romans 12 I recited as I ran, maybe it was nothing more than the fresh air.
When I arrived back at the house, I was eager to let Saturday be what it would. It may have been 4:00pm, but I was ready to start the day. In the exact opposite mood from the morning, I kissed Dan, showered and dressed, and then suggested we take cribbage to Lemonjello’s.
Strangely light, we practically floated there, ordered our drinks (free with our full punchcards!), spotted a table, and set up shop. After one hand of cribbage, our friend Ben came over and kept us company, entertaining us with his wit and running commentary. (We love you, Ben.)
We ended the day with stuffed shells, an episode of the West Wing, and the first half of Risk, a game whose length would’ve horrifying me 12 hours earlier but now excited me. I hadn’t played since fourth grade.
I want to say something profound about Saturday. I want to say it signaled a deep darkness in me that needed to be exposed and addressed. I want to say I overcame the demon. I want to make meaning from it.
But I honestly have no idea. I have no idea what Saturday was. It was odd and disconcerting, but also hopeful. There was a demon, but it didn’t linger. Maybe I did just need a nap. Maybe winter has been too long and blinding stark. Maybe our bed has mystical powers. Who knows.
I do know that Dan deserves a thousand thank-yous for his grace and patience, and that demons aren’t exorcised by the strength of the person they inhabit but by the power of community—in my case, unwitting Kathleen, Dan who promises to love and to cherish, and hilarious Ben. We have one body but many members, and not all the members serve the same function. So we, who are many, are one body in Christ and individually are members one of another. Thank you, members.
A week from Sunday, Dan and I will be ordained as Ministers of Word and Sacrament.
The prospect unnerves me a little, as many things do lately. These days, I am a small, injured creature, scared and sad, burrowing into my den to curl into myself. The winter days, which I do my best to celebrate, are unrelenting. It snows everyday. We shovel, but there’s nowhere to put it. In some places, we are literally up to our ears in snow. When the clouds broke a few days ago, I spent the whole afternoon gulping down its azure nectar. The next morning, dawn stretched its peach fingers over the house, giving me brief hope, and then was swallowed up in grey. How much longer can I hold on?
My bones are winter-brittle, making it difficult to summon any kind of resolve or to look on things with hope. Ordination seems wildly impossible, the way a marriage does to one who knows human nature. Who can make these kind of promises? Who can say, “Yes, truly, with all my heart”? Aren’t we Christians well acquainted with divided hearts? We know its fickleness, the way it tries to deceive everyone within earshot, including itself. We know its indiscriminate affections.
I feel the difficulty of that sort of wholehearted, lifelong promise especially because I’m absolutely nearsighted when it comes to life plans. I rarely set goals, not so much because I’m lazy but because I want to leave room for the unexpected. I’m not a go-getter; I’m not a reach-for-the-stars kind of person. My posture is one of reception: accepting what lands in my arms or on my path and folding it in. Ordination, though, demands that I commit myself to something decades down my line of sight. For heaven’s sake, I’m only twenty-five! Who knows what comes between now and death?
I’m laughing now, reading those paragraphs over, because I could as easily have written them about marriage. We are fickle. Our hearts are not pure. We recoil from commitment. Which is precisely why we make these absurd promises. If Dan and I hadn’t, we’d never have encountered the beauty and the blessedness that follows. Vows—marriage, ordination, baptismal—usher us into a space we couldn’t have entered any other way. They preserve that space, work to protect it from the unholy intrusions of the underbelly of the heart, the impulse to flee at the first hiccup, the sloth we receivers are prone to.
Recently I read (can’t remember where) that we don’t keep our vows so much as are kept by them. Vows keep us. Of course we can’t keep them on our own strength! That’s gospel truth.
Which is why, I think, we don’t put the burden of the call on the ordinand. No one’s fool enough to believe that seminary graduates have the wisdom, foresight, and purity of heart to call themselves to ministry. God does the calling, and he does so by way of his church. The ordination liturgy asks, “Do you believe in your heart that you are called by Christ’s church, and therefore by God, to this ministry of Word and sacrament?”
Yes, in fact, I do. Over and over during our years in Holland, we have heard clearly the voices of our congregations, our friends, our mentors—calling us to this life work. So we’re not in this alone. The church has called us. The vows will keep us. The Spirit will sustain us.
The word ordain includes the meaning “to set (something) that will continue in a certain order.” By making these vows, we have been set onto a path. A path that has presented itself, a path that we can’t see the end of. But a path that promises grace we wouldn’t otherwise encounter.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Lord, sweep us into the broad plain of ordination, and let us see you.
Cold December, snug December, dark and bright and gold December.
Month of calm and month of flurry, month to wait and month to hurry.
Days that narrow, wane, and taper, until they swing around and start to grow.
Month of hearty, month of stew, meals to sate and warm and soothe.
Now it’s over, now it’s done, now on to January: here we come!
It took me several reads to notice that this poem ends in desolation. It doesn’t resolve.
But I live more Sabbaths like this than I care to admit, days that begin and end in turmoil for a hundred wicked reasons. Who among us is good at Sabbath-keeping? Even the Sabbath is touched by depravity’s fingers.
As I’ve been preparing a sermon on Genesis 1 and our care of the creation, as well as on God’s establishment of Sabbath rest, I’ve kept company with Norman Wirzba and Ellen Davis. They drive me back to good Sabbath practices, making me want to rest, for my sake and for the sake of my fellow creatures. So why do I so often fail?
I offer this poem to you as consolation if days like this pass as frequently in your household as they do in mine. And I offer it as one more reason to long for the coming of our Lord and not to give up at work and rest in the rhythm he has set for us. The spinning stars will thank us with their song.
Sabbath Poem V, 1980
Six days of work are spent
To make a Sunday quiet
That Sabbath may return.
It comes in unconcern;
We cannot earn or buy it.
Suppose rest is not sent
Or comes and goes unknown,
The light, unseen, unshown.
Suppose the day begins
In wrath at circumstance,
Or anger at one’s friends
In vain self-innocence
False to the very light,
Breaking the sun in half,
Or anger at oneself
Whose controverting will
Would have the sun stand still.
The world is lost in loss
Of patience; the old curse
Returns, and is made worse
As newly justified.
In hopeless fret and fuss,
In rage at worldly plight
Creation is defied,
All order is unpropped,
All light and singing stopped.
(This post is the final one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)
The snow has been the primary light source in our apartment this past week. It reflects clean, cool light into the room, curbing my impulse to switch on all the lamps. All morning, I work in its diffuse glow, paying no attention to the flagging sunlight as the day wears on, continuing to read as the room dims and greys.
The snowlight is deceptive. Radiance is the wrong word for it—too warm, too firelike. Instead, it’s a thin grey-blue light, like a standoffish cat. Like the moon. It brightens but doesn’t blaze. Winterlight.
Generally, I resent my inability to persevere, to rally my weary spirits, to carry an extra measure of cheer. Why must I rely on the sun? I should be able to summon joy! vigor! I should be tough! I shouldn’t be so pitifully dependent.
Except maybe it makes me more aware of my dependence on the Light from True Light. I need light. I’m not independent, not able to rally, summon, toughen up. I am utterly dependent on the light. I cling to the light to live.
(This post is one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)
Tamar Adler has to say about beets what I have to say about preaching the Word, more or less:
“Sprinkle the cut beets with a little red wine vinegar and some salt. Vinegar seems to bring out the very essence of the beet. It doesn’t make theoretical sense that they’d taste more like themselves after being dressed with vinegar, but this is not theoretical.”
As I’ve thought about what preaching is and what it ought to do, I keep returning to food preparation as a metaphor.
The Word is our bread, our drink. It alone feeds us, nourishes us, makes us live.
Yet this thing called preaching has been extended to us as a way of receiving that food. And it’s the preacher’s job to prepare that food as well as she can.
She ought to know the character of the food so she can treat it properly, dress it appropriately, present it winsomely.
The food is both wholesome and toothsome on its own, but a good glug of olive oil, a long roast in the oven, or a flourish of salt can call forth the food’s own essence. Beets, as Adler says in An Everlasting Meal, taste more like themselves when dressed with vinegar. A light touch is sufficient. Pasta is always boiled in well-salted water. And I’ve never met a roasted squash I didn’t like. These are the trustworthy ways of the masters.
Artificial flavorings and sweeteners should be avoided. They’re deceptive and lead nowhere good.
But a pot of water and a dash of salt, a knife in the hand of a capable chef, a hot oven and a clean platter—these things go a long way in moving a meal from the earth to the kitchen to the table to the belly. (And the belly is where a good meal is headed.) They do not lie; they tell the truth. They preserve the food’s integrity and bring out its spirit.
So preach like these beets.
inspired by Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal
all the beets you have
red wine vinegar
Turn your oven to 400ºF.
Chop the greens off your beets. Rinse the beets, but not meticulously; the peels will take the dirt with them later. Cozy them together in a pan, make a little puddle of water in a corner, and drizzle them with olive oil. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and slide it into the oven.
Check on the beets periodically after 40 minutes, lifting a corner of the foil and poking them with a knife. The knife should slice without force. I like Tamar’s advice: “If you’re not sure if they’re done, they’re not.”
When they are done, remove the foil and leave them out to cool. Once you can bear to touch them, work half with your fingers and half with a knife to slip them out of their skins. Cut out tough parts as you encounter them.
If you’re done for the day, leave the beets in the refrigerator for as long as a generous week (mine are closing in on 10 days and I think they’re doing fine), and then, when you’re ready to eat them, set them on the counter to come back to room temperature.
Here is the part where you get to slosh them with a little red wine vinegar and a few pinches of salt. Leave the dish alone so the vinegar can do its summoning work. When it’s time to eat, toss the whole thing with olive oil.
Taste the essence.
(This post is one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)
It’s late, we’re watching old episodes of the West Wing and distracting ourselves with this amusing app, but it’s the final push of NaBloPoMo, and I’m determined, so here goes:
Forgive me. I know you are one of the most beloved food bloggers of all time. You’ve won awards, your pictures kill me with their gorgeous perfection, everyone loves you and your creativity with ingredients.
But I can’t do it.
I can’t keep making your recipes.
(We don’t like them.)
Is it me? Am I bad a replicating them? Do I not season enough? (Answer: probably not.)
Is it you? Do you have superhumanly-sensitive taste buds that pick up the most delicate hints of the most delicate flavors? Are you a magician in the kitchen?
Whatever the reason, we’ve mostly given up. We’ve had to come to grips with the fact that our renditions of your light-bathed photographs turn out bland or worse. I’ve begun to turn elsewhere for inspiration. (Although your desserts? Spot-on.)
But when two of my new favorites, Molly at Remedial Eating and Hannah at Inherit the Spoon, both suggested your pumpkin soup recipe and spoke glowingly about you, I decided to give you another shot. Can we rekindle our former love?
. . . And the jury’s out. The soup itself? So-so. Maybe I should’ve listened to Hannah and stuck to water rather than broth.
But the lemon rosemary ginger brown butter sauce knocked me dead. Made the soup something. Made me slurp its nectar off everything it touched: soup, spoon, serving spoon, bowl, pan.
You may not be entirely out of our good graces, Heidi.
(Any of these versions—Heidi’s, Molly’s, Hannah’s—would make a good soup, as long as you don’t skip the brown butter. Promise? Follow their leads. Links above. And if you want to see the rest of the posts for NaBloPoMo, you can find them here.)
Snow falls, and the craft bug bites.
I have visions of linocut Christmas ornaments for everyone on my list, a runner for the table, pillows for the sofa. While I create, I’ll turn on twinkling music and let the roasting squash fill the house with sweet warmth. I’ll make a little den here under the snow, a cheery, snow-lit den.
But it really is a bug. No matter what crafting looks like in my fantasy world, where mornings unfurl before me, clean and bright, and I have an endless supply of fabric, paint, lumber, hot cocoa, and talent—in my real world, I always get started late in the day and I don’t have the tools and sewing projects run into the night when the thread tension is never right and the only product of the project is tears.
Otherwise known as Sunday.
It started off on a strong foot: muffins, sturdy if squat, and a head full of ideas. A trip to the fabric store, and then an afternoon of figuring, measuring, figuring again, cutting, checking the figures once more, pinning, adjusting the tension—that alone took nearly an hour, with a little online tutorial, and it still wasn’t right—and sewing. Finally.
I was determined, and I had a good breakfast in my belly. So I persevered. Just a few stitches left now, and I will give some homemade gifts.
adapted from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book
Lemon blueberry muffins usually make me think pillowy, sugary, delicate. These ones are anything but. They’re dense and short (try half white flour next time?), almost tart, and hardy enough to get you through a long day of crafts. You can make them with lemon juice from a jar, but you’ll be glad you went out and bought the lemons. In fact, go do yourself a favor and buy a whole bunch of lemons. Whenever a recipe calls for the juice alone, zest the lemon first and freeze the zest in a bag. Then whenever you want to add another dimension of lemon to a recipe, you’ll have tablespoons and tablespoons of zest at the ready.
1 cup blueberries, rinsed
1/4 cup spelt flour
1 cup spelt flour
1 3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup brown sugar
zest of 2 lemons
3 Tbsp. butter
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 cup lemon juice (from 2 small lemons)
sugar for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 375ºF, and grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
Rinse your blueberries and pat them dry. If they’re frozen, bring them back to room temperature in a bowl of warm water, but no need to thaw them thoroughly. Then pat them dry and toss them with the 1/4 cup of flour.
In a small bowl, combine the one cup of flour, baking powder, salt, and wheat germ.
Into a medium bowl, measure the brown sugar. Rinse two lemons, dry them, and grate their zest over the bowl. Rub the zest and sugar between your fingers to impart the lemon oils to the sugar. Cream the butter and the sugar.
Beat in the egg, add the yogurt and lemon juice, and then stir in the flour mixture. Just before it has come together completely, add the blueberries.
Spoon the batter into the muffin cups so each one is nearly full, then dust the tops with a sprinkling of sugar. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. When a toothpick comes out clean and the house smells of heaven, they’re done.
(This post is one in a November series for NaBloPoMo, National Blog Posting Month. You can find the rest here!)
We all made dinner last night. All 35 of us women.
We gathered, nervous, in the basement of the church, not sure about the evening. Only two of the five of us had ever taught anyone to cook, at least formally. And the thirty students? I’d guess about half of them don’t cook, and didn’t know each other, and weren’t entirely sure what they were in for. (Neither were we.)
But the five of us who taught the class are convinced that preparing and eating a meal together is a Christian act. God extends hospitality to us; we extend it to one another. God offers us soul-food; we take our share and pass the dish.
So we made too much, because we didn’t know how many would show, and because abundance is the way of the kingdom. We made gallons too many of the squash soup, one too many apple tarts, and just enough pesto to send some home.
Five loaves and two fish isn’t a thing of the past.
“Is this what it’s like, I thought then, and think now: a little blood here, a chomp there, and still we live, trampling the grass? Must everything whole be nibbled? Here was a new light on the intricate texture of things in the world, the actual plot of the present moment in time after the fall: the way we the living are nibbled and nibbling—not held aloft on a cloud in the air but bumbling pitted and scarred and broken through a frayed and beautiful land.”
—from “The Horns of the Altar,” in Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Dried apples and Annie Dillard—along with Wendell Berry, Ellen Davis, and Norman Wirzba—these were my companions as I prepared to preach on Romans 8 and the groaning of creation. They did me well. (But mostly the Spirit.)