Mist and Mountain Views

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“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

The Blue Mountains, the Moresby Ranges and now the Coast Mountains in Vancouver – each of my homes has had a ‘mountain’ view. As the pattern began to reoccur I remembered these verses from Psalm 121, and I often think of them now as I look out the window, sitting at my desk in the lounge room, still in awe of the privilege of being so close to Canada’s snow covered majesties.

But the thing about Vancouver in winter is, sometimes you can’t see the mountains. The rain clouds or fog descends, and when you look up the view has gone. There have been times in this season when that seems to ring true both climatically and emotionally. Sometimes when we look up to the hills, needing their strength, needing them to direct our gaze to the God who made heaven and earth – all we see is a fog, clouds blocking the horizon. Indefinite, transient, they softly (but firmly) block the view, taking with it our perspective and wonder.

In that moment it is hard to remember that which is beyond our vision – it is hard to have “assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Behind what we can see, beyond the limits of our vision, there are still mountains. On these cloudy days it takes faith just to believe in them, let alone believe we can move them … but they are there. Solid, foundational, just like the One who promises that we can look to them and seek His help. We turn and wrestle to remember His past faithfulnesses.

And then, one day, the cloud lifts. The sun (Son?) shines and we are again overwhelmed with their glory, reminded of their testimony, given renewed hope. Sometimes we can even carve out time for mountain top experiences. We leave town, take a day and immerse ourselves in their heights and glories. We are restored to the truth of the mountains, their beauty helps to make us whole again as they witness to the One who makes both them and us. Although they outstrip our tiny frames completely – they enlargen us, telling the bigness of a God who makes wide, spacious places and calls us to into them, to dwell, to rest.

It seems that this is the season for lifting my eyes and trying to live in the spacious places. A season for wondering at the view.

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Photo credit: Asher Graieg-Morrison

On Apple Tea Cake, art making and embodiment

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I made this pretty cake a week or so ago for the lovely couple who couriered my electric scales from Sydney to Vancouver. It is an old recipe from a church community cookbook that my mum has had in our family collection since I was tiny. Simple but pretty with the cinnamon crusted apple slice topping, it has graced many an Election Day school cake stall. I doubled it – the original recipe fits one of those tiny 50s style cake tins you may recall from older Home Economics classrooms – and added the alternative apple stripe pattern. I also swapped milk for milk powder – otherwise it remains true to the version Margaret Lack shared with the St Mattew’s Anglican church community in my childhood. I was glad mum could find the recipe for me and imagine that it will be making a few more appearances in the next little while.

One of my classes at the moment is called ‘Christian Imagination’ – it is the first of the Arts courses at Regent. We have been reflecting on the Ash Wednesday call to ‘Remember that you are dust’ – considering the nature of our dusty-‘flesh’-clothed humanity. We are makers of art, collectors of ideas, broadcasters of beauty, fixers and joiners of ‘stuff’ – because first and foremost we ourselves are ‘stuff’. Embodied, we ‘do life’ in this world, interacting and engaging with other bodies, other things, other stuff. Food is just one aspect of our everyday-walking-around-lives, and this recipe is just one example of gratuitous* human creation … but I hope that you’ll try it and that it will bring you (and those you share it with!) nourishment and delight in all senses of the words! .

Ingredients:
2 cups plain or all-purpose flour (300g)
4 tsp baking powder
1 cup castor or fine granulated sugar (240g)
4 tablespoons of milk (80ml)
50g butter
2/3 cup water (170ml)
2 eggs
1 green apple (granny smith)
1 red apple (try and choose a variety similar in size to the green)

For Finishing:
20g butter
1 1/2 tbs castor or fine granulated sugar
1 1/2 tbs cinnamon

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180oC (350F).
2. Combine the flour, baking powder and sugar.
3. Melt the butter, and once cooled slightly, combine with milk, water and egg. Whisk to combine.
4. Gently mix the wet ingredients though the dry.
5. Grease (and line if that is your preference) a 23cm (9 inch) round cake tin. Pour the batter in.
6. Slice the apple very thinly (I quartered mine then sliced the quarters so they were still fine wedges but each slice was of a similar width). Arrange the slices on top of the cake alternating red and green slices.
7. Bake for 50-60 minutes or till golden and ‘done’ when tested.
8. Melt extra butter and paint over the surface of the cooked cake while it is still warm.
9. Combine the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the cake.

*things that are non-necessary, we do them ‘just because’

 

Mundane miracle

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I write with good news of great joy! Not only did ‘the season’ see us celebrate a Saviour, but it also marked my first sourdough success! Partially irreverent* comments aside, in the last few weeks I have baked four loaves of bread based on a starter a friend at college gave me (confession: a batch bakes two). Edible, toastable, very-passable bread – it kind of does seem to me a sort of mundane miracle! The starter managed to survive last semester sans close loving attention and now, having sourced my electric scales from home, it has been rendered productive! Eddie gave me the starter and a very prescriptive (gram measurement inclusive) recipe and, following every line, I can bake sourdough bread! I’m both delighted and grateful and wanted to share!

*NB: They are only partially irreverent because after a lecture on Luther the other week – I can affirm that it is right we celebrate our ‘calling’ to everyday life (bread baking included). I was delighted to be reminded again to do a way with dualistic secular/sacred thinking whenever it tries to creep into our lives, worlds and values. Christians are called, not like monks to a life away and set aside, but to serve God where they are – in their families, in their jobs, in civic life. God uses our work in these places as a means of blessing the world, which in turn dignifies our ‘ordinary’ work and gives meaning to our everyday lives. So sourdough is worth celebrating … while recognizing just how vitally good the news was in those dark fields that first Christmas night too!

Of much worth

A friend (kindly) remarked today that she found my previous post encouraging. To be honest, it was a timely comment. I need the same truth I wrote about a few week ago just as much today as I did then. I think I am a slow learner – sometimes it takes a long time for the truth to sink in. But maybe we all need to hear these truths more than once, repeatedly even. Thankfully this Truth stays the same, yesterday, today and forever! Over and over, day after day, the same reminder that we are so loved, that He has done it all well. That we can breath easy in the wide open spaces of His grace. I gear up, face my to-do list, and struggle through it … till I am reminded to look up. Reminded of words I have said, truths I have known for such a long time. No matter, I still need to hear them over and over, I still need to be reminded less me, more  Him, less fear, more joy. So here I am writing again. Mostly for me, but maybe these words will encourage you too!

Advent : the season of waiting.

In the Northern Hemisphere the images of waiting for light in a dark season ring true. This year, having been transplanted from the Southern Hemisphere into the North, I have been thinking about what we wait for in our warm Australian Christmas season. Rest comes to mind, as the busyness of another school year winds up in a whirlwind. Refreshment, as the waves and sunshine of the beach calls us tired students and workers toward the summer holidays. Maybe even shade and shelter, from the fiery southern sun! Despite the differences that geography makes to our theology, some of our deeper longings may draw us together instead.

 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

Even though we stand in a long line of those who have not valued God for who He is and what He does, the story of Christmas is the story of ‘Immanuel’, literally the story of ‘God-with-us’ in the Hebrew. The story of Christmas is, as Eugene Petterson puts it in the Message, the story of God “move[ing] right into the neighborhood”. We may not have listened to His prophets, we may not have understood His plans and purposes, we may not have even wanted too, but that did not deter Him. This is a God who loves the fragile, stubborn, dusty earthlings He has made with a “never-stopping-never-giving-up-always-and-forever-love” (with thanks to John Mustol and Sally Lloyd Jones). Perhaps you have been avoiding His voice and call, are struggling to hear it over the loud, demanding voices of the world or don’t feel you are worthy of it, painfully aware as you are of your brokenness. Whichever is closest to your story, John tells us that the Word itself, Himself, God-in-Action, came near that first Christmas.

You don’t come near if you don’t care.
You don’t come near if you are indifferent.
You come near when you can’t help yourself any longer.
You come near when being far away a moment more will break you.

The first Christmas marked the beginning of a life that was not glamorous or guarded. He did not hold Himself back, He was not disengaged.  He moved right into our mess because He cared. He wanted us to know that we were worth more than the mess, worth the more than the brokenness, worth coming near. Worth knowing, worth loving and worth saving. He let coming near break Him, His life and death showing, beyond a sceric of a doubt, that He thought we were worth it, worth it all. The whole glorious complex creation, now-broken-but-waiting-breath-bated project was and is still worthwhile to Him.

It is worth knowing then, that while we do wait in eager expectation to see His final (re-)creative handiwork in the full renewal of His creation project, we do not have to wait to know what He thinks of us. Jesus came near, reached out, held hands, partied, mourned, ate and drank with people just like us. Each one “precious and honored” Isaiah 43:4, and of much worth in His sight. So when a dark moment or mood unmoors you, remember Immanuel. Remember that Christmas is the story of God drawing near, of Him moving into the neighbourhood (even when it was not a very ‘nice’ one). Of God giving us “His son, His only Son, whom He loved” (my rewording of Genesis 22:2), showing us how much we are worth to Him.

Fear not

“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” Luke 2:10

Over and against the dark, anxiety, problems too big to carry and crumbling hopes, perhaps this is the call of Christmas. The first Christmas was not a moment for the faint of heart, there were visions, angels, social scandal and political upheaval. The wounds of dashed familial dreams were rubbed with salt – Elizabeth long barren and Mary an unwed mother. The national and geographical skies of Israel were heavy with unrest; God’s special people felt forgotten and abused. The stakes were high and there was much to be afraid of.  It should perhaps be unsurprising then that early in the story Zechariah (Luke 1:13), Mary (Luke 1:30) and Joseph (Matt 1:20) are each called to put away fear.

A quick word search shows that they stand in a long line of those called by God not to fear. Abraham to Revelation, the story of God’s people is the story of hearing those words; do not be afraid. And the reason, the follow up statement, the ‘why’? It begins with God Himself, His character and inclination toward them. They don’t need to be afraid because they have a God who promises to fight for His people (Deuteronomy 3:22) and deliver them (Exodus 14:13). A God who promises never to leave His people (Deuteronomy 31:6) and who promises to do good to them (Zechariah 8:15). He will be their shield and reward (Genesis 15:1). He will hear the cries of even the small and weak (Genesis 21:17). They do not need to fear great battles, great nations, doubt or discouragement because there is no other God besides their God (Isaiah 44:8) and He has determined to help them (Isaiah 41:14).

And the most incredible ‘help’ came one Holy Night in an unexpected way, a tiny baby, “a thrill of hope” in a desperate situation. The wonder of birth and new life bringing so much potential into the world. The angels herald the good news and again, call the shepherds from darkness and fear into something new that God is doing, great joy for all. At last, God among us. At last, face-to-face yet we live. At last, reconciled. At last, peace and rest.

This Christmas I am trying to let joy unseat fear. 1 John 4:18 tells us that “perfect love drives out fear” and Jesus came to demonstrate God’s perfect love for us, bringing peace for troubled hearts (John 14:27). Jesus Himself acknowledges that “in this world [we] will have trouble” but calls us to “take heart! [because] I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The One who is First and Last (Revelation 1:17) calls us to lay down our fear and rather to look to Him, the conduit of cosmic Love, Joy and Peace. Yes, Advent calls us to wait, but to wait with confidence knowing that “the hopes and fears of all the years” have indeed been met in the One who came and overcame, and “He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 ESV).

What if it is all gift?

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I love gifts. I love giving them and I love receiving them. ‘Gifts’ are one of my top ‘love languages’. Unnecessary, they are given in love to bring delight, to show favour. They are usually above and beyond what we need or deserve, given ‘just because’.

Just recently I have been thinking about the idea that God chose to create, not because He had to, but because He wanted to. He made a beautiful world, affirming its goodness over and over again. Then He made us, and gave it to us to live in, to enjoy with Him. While I do not want to overlook the pain and brokenness that entered our human existence through our collective turning from God, I think that, this side of the cross, we are perhaps even in a better position to understand our lives as gift.

The story began as gift and ends as gift, John tells us that “Out of His fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given” (John 1:16). God chose to create, He chose to call Abraham, He chose rescue Israel, He chose to send Jesus. And He chooses to work in us, inviting us into fullness of life (John 10:10). What if we lived into this? What if our lives were a place where we received “Every good and perfect gift [as] from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17 ‘is’ to ‘as’ – my editorial change)?

Sometimes there will be a painful tension here, I realise that. The brokenness of life ‘under the sun’ (a la Ecclesiastes) is real, so real in fact that God dealt with it fully and finally in Jesus. He knows and deeply feels our hurts, showing us by giving us Himself.

The problem of pain aside (while still wanting to acknowledge its weight), receiving a gift well actually forces our focus to shift. It involves humility, gratitude and it usually results in joy. Hands out, we open ourselves to the giver. Thanks on our lips, we slow down, stilling ourself to appreciate the moment. Delight bubbles up, not just in the gift, lovely as it maybe, but in the way it points us to the one who has given it. In recognition of their kindness toward us, their care for us.

If we received our times and our days like this, if I received my times and my days like this, I think, perhaps I might be on the right track. Because He is my Father and He does indeed give good gifts (Matthew 7:11). I think that there is a lightness to be found here, a joy God is calling us into. Grace upon grace, gift upon gift. Like a child eager for Christmas morning or their birthday, I want to try and live in anticipation of His readiness to gift – I do love presents, after all! What if our everyday-walking-around-lives were shaped by the joy of Love demonstrated in gifts given and received?

Coriander/Cilantro Pesto

DSC_9914I think that it may have been a bumper coriander harvest back at home in Sydney that prompted playing with this recipe. It is a riff off the Taste.com recipe, and is a zingy, fresh version of traditional pesto. We are harvesting the greens from our tiny, very-late-fall garden now, trying to make sure we do not lose the lovely leaves to the creeping cold. Once again, Asher’s coriander thrived and there was just enough to make a batch of this. We tossed it through pasta, kale, zucchini and broccoli for a quick dinner this week, topped with a touch more parmesan. Hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/3 cup (approx 55g) toasted cashew nuts
1/3 cup (approx 35g) finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup (60ml) light olive or peanut oil, plus extra as needed for desired consistency
zest and juice of a small lemon
salt to taste

Method:
1. Add the coriander, garlic, nuts and parmesan to the bowl of the food processor, blend till just combined, still a little chunky is good.
2. Add in the lemon, turn on the machine and gradually add the oil till the you reach a glossy, spoonable consistency.
3. Taste and adjust seasoning.
4. Store in a glass jar, top with oil to seal the pesto off from the air.
5. Enjoy through salad and pasta, or perhaps spread over a pizza base!