Wednesday, December 9, 2009


"The Christian mysteries are an indivisible whole. If we become immersed in one, we are led to all the others" ~Edith Stein

We can find rest in mystery. The place of mystery is somewhere real that we can live, if only we let our hearts truly settle down into mystery as reality and escape the need for explanation. Interestingly, this a truth I have discovered mainly through women writers. Men want to explain things. Think of Lewis, of Chesterton--delightful men of mighty faith who are perhaps best known for their apologetics.

And though their clever explanations have proved helpful to many (including myself), Christmas is not the time of year for them. It is too miraculous. We cannot explain God becoming a man and, furthermore, being born--of a virgin. We cannot explain the Creator having a mother, angels appearing to shepherds, or the compulsion of a few scholars to follow one lone star such a distance.

At Christmas, accept a miracle. In the words of a woman who seems to understand mystery (even if that is an oxymoron)--"Don't try to explain the Incarnation to me! It is further from being explainable than the furthest star in the furthest galaxy" ~Madeleine L'Engle.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"Capable of being truly shocked"

"What if, instead of doing something, we were to be something special? Be a womb. Be a dwelling for God. Be surprised." ~Loretta Ross

Today I will meditate on two readings, one from Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest was imprisoned in a Nazi prison and eventually hung for his opposition to Hitler. The other, from Loretta Ross, a minister in the Presbyterian church, and founder of the Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer. Although on the surface these two writers seem quite different, their Advent message is much the same--which can be summarized, as Delp says, "It is time for a waking up to begin somewhere." And so, we celebrate this coming year after year, we fallen humans needing a constant reminder--or "waking up" to--of reality, that is, the message of the gospel.

But do we even allow ourselves to wake up? Perhaps we drown out the message of Advent--and even blessings from God--by busying ourselves with the season. Our assumption is that celebration and grandeur go hand in hand, and so we put up lights, bake dozens of cookies for people we hardly see all year, bring out the wreaths, and empty our bank accounts. We celebrate Advent by preparing--not our hearts, but our homes. How can Christ possibly break in through the tinsel and mistletoe?

Delp says that "Advent is a time when we ought to be shaken and brought to a realization of ourselves." The realization is that we need God's love. We need Christmas, the arrival of our Savior. Ross points out that we might miss this arrival as we hurry around fulfilling Christmas traditions. But, more importantly, Christ comes anyway.

The challenge from these readings is to examine not only how we celebrate, but what. Ross challenges us saying that "God asks us to give everything of ourselves." Mary, after all, gave her womb (and also her willingness, her belief).

What does all this mean? I confess, I don't plan on giving up Christmas traditions. I probably won't give up any of them (even that silly pickle ornament). But I hope--I pray--my focus will be right. That I will not be thinking about all the things that go into this season, but my own poverty, and how desperately my heart needs to dwell in this special arrival.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The darkness shall not overcome it...

Today's reading, by Isaac Penington, is a meditation on one of the Christian ideas that I most resonate with--Christ as light in the darkness. I've always loved this imagery, but I first realized its power when studying Asian literature in college, and read about Surya, the Hindu sun god, or god of light. Reading poetry on him, I was struck by how meaningful the image of light would be to any person, no matter their race or culture. The God of Light is universal.

And Christ claims this truth. He is the light--a substance so infinitely attractive.

Penington muses, "But of what nature is this light which shineth in man in his dark state? It is of a living nature; it is light which flows from life." And so in Jesus, true life is found. When we receive his light, we receive life.

Penington points out that this light is life-giving, opposed to just knowledge-giving. We usually associate illumination with the acquisition of some new information or even wisdom. But as Paul points out in 1 Corinthians,

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?...Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishess of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength. (1:20,24-25)

This is the light of God. I have always thought of the light in the darkness primarily in aesthetic terms, but also as a sort-of guide. But Christ's light is more than that. It is beyond this world.

And so, he who came into this world will give us life beyond it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Divine Dawning by Karl Rahner

Today's reading takes the form of a prayer, as Rahner rambles at length to God on the topic of Advent. It seems that Rahner covers all the bases, including, what seems to me, doubt, as here:

"Are you the eternal Advent? Are you he who is always still to come, but never arrives in such a way as to fulfill our expectations? Are you the infinitely distant One who can never be reached?"

Rahner is wondering what the Advent of God really means. What does it mean that we wait, and what does it mean that God himself--he who has no beginning and end--has an arrival? Surely God can't just show up on the scene--he's been here all along.

Rahner's understanding--or faith--seems to grow as he prays, eventually saying,

"It is said that you will come again, and this is true. But the word again is misleading. It won't really be 'another' coming, because you have never really gone away. In the human existence that you made your own for all eternity, you have never left us."

Why then, do we celebrate Advent, why do we celebrate Christmas? Perhaps it is more about us drawing close to God. It is our arrival in relationship with him. He is already here.

Monday, November 30, 2009


Last year, I discovered a little book on the shelves in my family's study, called Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas. This book is a compilation of writings by various authors, one for each day of Advent. Glancing through the table of contents, I saw names like Henri Nouwen, Madeleine L'Engle, Gerard Manly Hopkins, C.S. Lewis, and even Sylvia Plath. I thought that this must be the best anthology in the world, and couldn't wait to dive in!

Sadly, I discovered it on Christmas Day.

So, this year, when Advent came around, I was ready. And I am still so excited to read what so many wonderful poets and thinkers before have had to say, and to contemplate what they mean in my thinking on the "arrival" of the Christ.

Today's reading was from a dearly beloved author, Kathleen Norris, an essay called, Annunciation. Norris begins talking about the importance of mystery, for isn't that what the Annunciation (or God's "announcement" to Mary) is?

Sometimes, Norris explains, Christians try to explain away all the mystery, all the unknown. In the name of apologetics, we want answers.

There doesn't always have to be an answer.

When we get rid of the mystery, Norris says that it, "reflects an idolatry of ourselves, that is, the notion that the measure of what we can understand, what is readily comprehensible and acceptable to us, is also the measure of God." Our minds do not and cannot reflect the measure of God. So perhaps we should rest in the unknown, knowing only that our ignorance is ok.

For Norris, she found this rest in poetry long before she found it in the Christian faith. Poets have a different view of reality than the rest of the world, and I, too, find it resonates with me. For some time I have felt that "metaphor is my reality," a sentiment Norris feels when she writes, "I am glad that many artists and poets are still willing to explore the metaphor (and by that I mean the truth) of the Virgin Birth." What else is a metaphor than the assertion of truth from a different angle? When Billy Collins says in his poem "Snow Day":

Today we woke up to a revolution of snow,
its white flag waving over everything,

we realize he is using a metaphor, equating the snow to a flag. But isn't snow a flag? That seems like a kind of truth to me.

At the risk of rambling, I'll continue, because Norris touches on another important facet of the Annunciation--virginity, though not in its traditional sense. She writes, "It is only when we stop idolizing the illusion of our control over the events of life and recognize our poverty that we become virgin..."

This makes sense to me--thinking of virginity as a giving up of control. I realize this is counter-intuitive--we usually think of self-control as the means through which we practice sexual abstinence, and therefore, remain virgin. But this is both a limiting view of virginity as well as untrue--in fact, if I really believed that I was in control of my own life, chastity would not be my sexual habit of choice.

Virginity, ironically, is a giving of ourselves, first to God, and incidentally, to others. In her book The Cloister Walk, Norris talks to celibate monks and nuns, who explain that the fruit of their virginity is hospitality. They have said "yes" to God, and so they say "yes" to others.

In meditation on the Annunciation, we remember Mary's virginity, and the miracle of the virgin birth. Her virginity is seen just as much in her willingness, her "yes" to God, as in her sexual state.

And what of the Christ? When remembering the Annunciation, we should remember that Jesus is a virgin, too. His was the ultimate virginity. He experience ultimate poverty--the lowering of God to man--and gave ultimately of himself upon the cross.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent Begins

You may be wondering what this Twilight poster has to do with Advent. At church today, my pastor quoted an author using the term "Vampire Christianity," as he talked about the fact that Christians often leave out a big part of what Christ does for us. We remember that he has offered salvation--forgiving all our sins in the past and our eternal life in the future, but we forget that he wants to sanctify us now. In other words, we just want some of Jesus' blood to cover us, but that's all. We don't let his Spirit in to make us more like him. It's a gritty thought, but it makes sense, and is a good reminder.

And timely, at the beginning of Advent, as we wait to celebrate Christ's nativity. Because the Christian faith is not only about Jesus' death, but also about his life. And our lives.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Simple Pleasures

I had a couple apples on hand that I didn't think I would eat--typically, I don't enjoy red delicious as plain hand fruit. But I knew a way I would eat them--as apple chips.

I made these by slicing apples super thin, spreading them in a single layer on a pan lined with parchment paper, and letting them sit for an hour. I preheated the oven to only 200, sprinkled the apples with sugar, then let them dry in the oven for ~80 minutes. Yum.

My second pleasure was inspired by David Tanis, in his cookbook, a platter of figs. If you are at all interested in food or stories, please--check it out. David divides his book into section based on season, and gives each season six exquisite menus, such as "Supper of the Lamb", "Too Darned Hot, Alors", "Another Early Autumn", and "North African Comfort Food".

But his book isn't just about recipes and menus. David includes delightful stories at the beginning of each menu about various food/travel/entertaining experiences, such as when he attempted to buy the most expensive seats in the house for a ballet when he was in Spain...but ended up in the balcony.

It's from the introduction for "The Bean Soup Lunch" that tonight's inspiration came. David spends six whole paragraphs explaining the proper way to make garlic toast. So, I thought, I will make some. Now, I didn't light a fire outdoors and grill my toast over open coals the way David suggests. But I did use good bread cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. And after toasting, I brushed with olive oil, and then--this is the part David says is really important--cut a clove of garlic in half, and gently rubbed the cut side against the toast. Then sprinkled with sea salt.

It. was. divine. Perfectly garlic-ed. The very essence of garlic, and not at all overpowering.

An extra challenge

This weekend, my 16-year-old cousin came to stay with me because his dad was in the hospital. For the purposes of this blog, that meant two dinners and one breakfast that had to be somewhat company worthy, and not too weird. I was planning on eating butternut squash this weekend, but didn't think a teenage boy would look kindly on that as a full meal.


Friday night I served rice and beans with tortillas. The tortillas were homemade, which pushed the meal into the special-enough-for-a-guest sphere, and even though I didn't have any meat, I figure beans have protein.

I had a little meat sauce for pasta leftover from another evening, so I figured that would be a good call for Saturday dinner, but I didn't have quite enough to make it a full meal. So rosemary focaccia was the add-on. As I was putting the dough together, I realized how much flour I've been using lately, so I substituted half a cup of flour with cornmeal--very pleased with the results!

This whole weekend I was tempted to go out and buy something. My mom said she would reimburse me for any food I bought since this was a special circumstance. I kept thinking how much better it would be to just buy some cheese and make a full-blown pizza instead of plain foccacia. Or just some ground meat to make chili. Whatever. But I decided not to. I see "hospitality on a budget" as part of the challenge.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Last night I had a (male) friend for dinner, someone whom I know appreciates meat. But I also knew I couldn't go out and buy any. Thankfully, I had a roast in the freezer. And there are few things I love more than beef braised in red wine and tomato. Served with mashed potatoes and carrots. So delish. And so fun to offer a nice meal to a friend.

After dinner, we went to Evensong at St. Stephen's, which is so peaceful and precious. Many of the songs we sang just reminded me how I can rely on God. I hope he shows me this more and more.

And tonight has been low-key. I've been pretty tired--fell asleep after work--so although I haven't felt cooking much (plus, I have so many leftovers lying around!), I needed something comforting. Bok choy with sauteed with chile does it for me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Pictured above are two of the food items I consumed yesterday. Fried green tomatoes with crumbled blue cheese for dinner and then I also made some sundried tomato spread for toast and sandwiches etc.

But I have to confess--yesterday, I ate A LOT. I'm not even going to list everything here, but I may have gained 5 pounds. See, I found that, instead of thinking about food less, I was thinking about it more. Much more. This is not supposed to be the point of my challenge. The point is to know what it's like not to have things anytime I want them. The point is to think about food less.

But I've realized--I am so used to being a consumer, to having whatever food I want whenever I think of it, that it's been hard for me just to know that--I can't. Don't get me wrong, I've been eating wonderful, delicious things. But, I can't eat: bacon. rigatoni. cheddar. kale. ice cream. because I don't have those things. And so I try to make do by stuffing myself with other things.

Wrong. I should--I can--make do by stuffing myself with God. Anytime I feel hungry for something I don't have (and, in some cases, anytime I feel hungry period), I should pray. I should recognize that yes, I am making a sacrifice, and that yes, God is the one who will sustain me. Not fried potatoes at 10 pm.

When I came home from school today, I didn't start the eating frenzy. I'd already prayed earlier in the day for God to sustain me. And he is.

Be on the lookout later for an exciting post about tonight's dinner!

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Little German

I'm still feeling enthusiastic about my eating plan...of course, I'm only a day into it! And I haven't stopped looking at cookbooks, so I inevitably see things I'd love to make. But I still ate quite well.


Rotelle pasta salad with olives and red onions. And butternut squash sauteed with onion and chilies. Yum! I still have three whole squashes left, so be on the lookout for some more squash concoctions coming your way!

And dinner:

The sauerkraut is homemade by my grandparents, and absolutely delicious! And then potato pancakes. One of my top ways of eating pancakes. I added some grated beet in with the potatoes so my meal wouldn't be monochromatic! With a beer, very much the German theme for dinner. Of course, it's not a true German meal as it's lacking sausages or pork of some kind...but I didn't have any on hand! That's one thing you'll notice over the next two weeks...not much meat! I think it will actually be kind of hard for me. Meat isn't my favorite thing to cook, but I do like eating it!

A Challenge

Hello again! I've decided to put an end to my blogging silence. My motivation is to keep myself accountable to something I've been thinking about a lot lately--namely, money. As a substitute teacher working unsalaried for a day-to-day rate, I can't say money is something I have a lot of, but lately my perspective on that has been changing. For the past month, the young adults in my church have met each week for Theology on Tap, and each week we hear a different speaker from organizations in Pittsburgh--Coro Center for Civic Leadership, Shepherd's Heart, Pittsburgh Project, and World Vision. These are all organizations that work with people in Pittsburgh (and in the case of World Vision, around the world) who live in poverty. Each week, I walk away very moved, and I've realized--

I have a lot.

Compared to most people on this planet, I am rich. It is easy for me to forget this living in Sewickley, where in comparison to others in my community, I am not. But my sense of what I have is changing drastically. It is easy to forget exactly how much I have because I am not confronted with people who have less. I simply don't see these people, because they are not where I live. But they are there. And I don't want to forget about them anymore.

Having said all this, I wasn't sure exactly what I could do. The need is so great. I am so little.

But maybe that's the point.

So I've decided to rely more on God. And I think the only way that can I happen is if I give a little more sacrificially. If I live a little more sacrificially. Yesterday's sermon at church was on the story of the poor widow who gave all she had. It was only two small coins, but Jesus said it was the biggest offering.

I'll be honest, I don't think I can give all I have. I don't have that much faith. But I do want to give so it hurts a little. And so I decided, that until my next paycheck (which in two weeks--Nov. 20th), I am not going to buy any food. I have enough food in my house to sustain me for two weeks. I have enough food in my house to sustain me for more than two weeks.

Maybe this shouldn't seem like a big sacrifice. I won't ever be hungry. I just went and counted--there are 12 boxes (that's 12 pounds!) of pasta alone in my cupboard. Not to mention rice, flour, butter, eggs, etc., etc. But you know me--I love food! I love to cook. I read cookbooks everyday, and I'm always making new things. Often, I need a few new ingredients to make those things--and that's where I'm limiting myself. I can make only what I have. And with the money I save, I can give to people that don't have enough to buy food.

I know it will be hard, but I'm excited! This will force me to be creative. And I hope, be more thankful for what I do have, and all God's wonderful provision in my life. So, here it goes! Check back often for updates on what I'm actually eating! Last night it was tuna fish spaghetti. Here's a picture of today's snack, buttered toast with shards of parmesan. See, I'm blessed already!