Making All Things Beautiful

Doll's Wedding Cake

I have a friend who makes all things beautiful. She made this cake, for a "wedding" between the dolls— well, between a stuffed animal named Red Dog and his beloved doll. My children were in attendance. What a blessing.

Sometimes, when keeping house, when working with children and the ordinary stuff of life, I neglect to make all things beautiful. But I am inspired by these words of Margaret Kim Peterson's, from her book Keeping House...

... we want everything to be quick and easy, or we think we do. But there is something in the human soul that longs for beauty beyond necessity. Of course it is easier not to make the bed. But there is a substantive difference between turning down a neatly made bed in the evening and lying down in a mess of sheets left from the night before. (p.28)

Judging by the spirit of Peterson's whole book, I do not take this to mean that I must always feel compelled to make the bed, or put fresh strawberries on a homemade cake, or host a little wedding ceremony for the dolls and invite the neighborhood children. On the other hand, I do feel a sense of wanting my life to have an overall rhythm, a weight in the direction of beauty-making as sweet and fresh as new whipped cream just now being sliced with a silver knife.

Red Dog's Wedding Cake photo, by Sara. Used with permission.

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What's Your Meal Story?

Chinese Potatoes

Isolation. Grab it quick. Skip it. Make it fast. Gulp it down. Pull it from a box. Panic. Too often, these are the familiar words of our meal stories.

Says Margaret Kim Peterson, in her book Keeping House, "In the modern American culture, in which 'busyness' can seem simultaneously like the badge of a good life and like a curse that is impossible to escape, finding time to eat or to feed others can become a challenge. People eat on the run; they feed their children in the car; they skip breakfast, eat lunch at their desks, and panic when it is dinnertime. Magazine headlines in the grocery store checkout aisle ('From Desperation to Dinner in 15 Minutes!') suggest that in too many households, the need of people for an evening meal has become a perpetual emergency." (p.107)

What to do?

This week I was inspired to rethink my own meal stories by Mark Galli's book Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. As you may suspect, Galli's book is not about cooking, not about food preparation, not really about eating at all. And yet.

Galli classifies the divisions of liturgical Sunday services as such: gathering, word, sacrament, dismissal. Gathering, he says, is "more than an efficient way to get things started." It begins with hymns and acclamation, signaling that "we are gathering as one people, not as a collection of individuals." It points to the way God plans to gather us, as prophesied in Isaiah...

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

This is followed by a journey into the Word, where the "biblical story unfolds week by week". Then comes the Sacrament, in which by "sharing this meal, we remember the whole sweep of our story." Finally, the Dismissal "sends us out to participate in the great gathering work."

He concludes, "By participating in the liturgy, we're doing more than 'attending a service.' We are entering a story— a story in which we also play a role. We are the people who have indeed been gathered. We are the people who share in God's very life. We are the people sent forth to proclaim God's story and to invite people into the grand story."

Reading Galli's words, the centrality of both food and community struck me. I was taken back to Peterson's assertion that "The simple act of eating together is perhaps the most fundamental of all the ways in which food can express and foster the community that God desires should exist among people and between humans and God." (p.123)

Even as I cycled back to Peterson, I turned a curve and landed in Galli's court again. I began to think. Perhaps our humble mealtimes are a small opportunity to bring the power of Liturgy home. I began to question. How do I gather my family, what are the words of our mealtime story, what is embodied in our brief time together, how do we leave the table and go out into the world?

I like some of the answers I already have to these questions. We set the table together, we [generally] say grace, I have begun to read poetry to my children after I finish eating and they are still munching, I try to serve good food (if not "rich" like God in Isaiah) to nourish both body and soul, we clear the table together.

But I also see room for changes. Perhaps I could invite my children to prepare dinner with me more frequently. Maybe we could read scripture or the Book of Common Prayer during the meal sometimes. Or we could do what one of my friends does: discuss our favorite and least favorite parts of the day. Would it be out of place to occasionally sing some hymns and take communion? Inviting others just a little more often could also be a worthy goal (particularly because weeknight meals mean we are without "daddy" at the table). Or we could even just make more to give away.

We are not inspired by our culture to make our meal stories thick with love, community, liturgy. But we can rethink, revise our meal stories, aspiring to mirror God himself. As Peterson says, "There is a sense in which...scripture can be seen as an account of God's efforts to get humans back at the table with each other and himself."

Maybe we could begin with the simple act of coming to the table at home. With a story worth living, eating.

Quotes from Galli's book are taken from pp. 14-18. Chinese Potatoes photo, by L.L. Barkat.

Chinese Potatoes

Cut in chunks and saute until tender...

• about 4 potatoes (or more, depending on desired quantity)

Toss in and saute until warmed...

• 1/2 - 1 cup cooked red beans
• small handful of scallions or chives, chopped
• 1 garlic, minced

Pour on...

• soy or tamari sauce to taste
• about 1 tsp regular dark or spicy sesame oil

Serve on bed of lettuce, topped with chopped tomatoes and "castle" of rice garnished with soy sauce, regular sesame oil and chopped cilantro.

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Cooking is a Jesus Thing

African Chickpea Stew

As far as keeping house goes, I generally welcome cooking as one of my happier tasks. Maybe because I like to eat. Maybe because it feels like art— the colors, the textures, the fragrances blending into edible loveliness.

In Keeping House, Margaret Kim Peterson says that the "'homely' character of redemption is...one of the overarching themes of scripture." Among other things, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God as a banquet and he describes conversion as God and Christ coming to make their home with us. Indeed, Jesus says, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked is to do the work of the kingdom (Matthew 25:40); when we do this, it's as if we did it for Christ himself. (p.16)

How blessed to think that when I chop, crush, spice and simmer, I am engaging in spiritual as well as physical art. It inspires me to share another recipe with you.

African Chickpea Stew

Saute until lightly browned...

• 1 small onion, chopped

Add and saute briefly...

• 2 garlic, minced
• 1/2 tsp oregano
• 1/2 tsp ground cumin
• 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
• 1/2 tsp paprika

Add and simmer about 10 minutes...

• 2 cups Muir Glen tomato and basil puree
• 2 cans (or equivalent dry and cooked) chickpeas
• 1 green bell pepper, chopped chunky (can add later if you like them a little greener and firmer)
• 1/2-1 tsp salt
• pepper to taste

Put on top and cook covered until "sunny"...

• 6-8 eggs


• a few pours olive oil

Serve with rice or crusty bread, salad and green beans.

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Longing for Home


Every so once in a while, I read a book that changes my life. Maybe the book wields its power because my life has been drifting towards just this change. Maybe it persuades because it simply makes so much sense and communicates that sense gently and convincingly enough.

This weekend, I think I found such a book. I had come off a week of enforced bloglessness. I had recommitted to Sabbaths without technology. I was feeling both raw and ready for affirmation about the simple life I live... feeding others, cleaning, directing, teaching, moving mostly in a small space that is my home.

A friend had lent me Keeping House. I don't know that I expected much from a book with a title like that. Honestly, "keeping house" has never been one of my strong points.

But it spoke to me. And I will take time, over time, to speak of it here. For today, let it just be this quote, which is a good place to begin...

If we are feeling the ill effects of being spread half an inch thick and going a million miles an hour, the solution is not to go ever faster and be spread ever thinner. The solution is to take a deep breath, identify what really matters, and do more of that and less of other things.

So what really matters? Well, housework, among other things. It is not the only thing that matters, but it does matter. It matters that people have somewhere to come home to and that there be beds and meals and space and order available there. Whether we do a lot of housework or a little of it, whether we keep house only for ourselves or for other people as well, housework forms a part of the basic patterning of our lives, a pattern we might identify as a kind of 'litany of everyday life.'

I read that and it touched me deeply. To keep a house is to provide a home. And we all long for a home. Today, I changed the sheets before I ordinarily would (a good thing, I promise you). I did the dishes and the laundry and tidied and cooked. I did not enjoy all these tasks, particularly the laundry. But I felt a new sense of the importance of these litanies, for both my own life and the life of my family.

It seemed I had, in some small way, come home.

Swing photo by Sara B. Used with permission.

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