Gifts given

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“… What do you have that you did not receive? … ” (1 Corinthians 4:7b)

Not much really! I have been musing about the idea of sacrament, ceremony and celebration recently. Thinking about the way that God made a good world, full of good things that should remind us to turn our gaze to Him in gratitude. About formalising our thanks in ceremony. About expressing and sharing our thanks in celebration.

I have been thinking about creation and Eucharist, about feasting and joy, about thankfulness. About a good world, about bread. About cake and friends to share it with. About delight and welcome. These are the threads I am beginning to trace as I learn God’s word. I am beginning to see the story about a world made in love, about good gifts given. About a King and a feast, about coming home to dinner. About fullness of life, about joy, not fear. Oh, I want to be able to tell that story. I want to tell it with loaves of bread baked in precious new pots. I want to tell it with Funfetti cake topped with butter cream frosting and sprinkles.  I want to tell it slowly and carefully and with great joy.

The psalmist tells us that “He withholds no good thing …” Psalm 84:11 and I know it to be true. Sometimes the gifts are extra special though. This last week I was given a beautiful blue le Creuset pot, heavy with the hope of bread to break and dinners to share. Newly arrived in Vancouver, only few months ago, I had also been given an preloved Kitchenaid mixer and then, last week, the bowl finally arrived. Talk about stuff being sacred – my heart and my kitchen are full! So I baked in thanks. I baked basic-bread and a party-cake. The stuff of life and the stuff of celebration. I think we need both. We need the reminder that our earthy bodies are nourished both by the earth, and by the One who offers us Himself, the true Bread of Life. And once we have remembered, we need to gather and celebrate His Goodness and His abundant welcome.

Piece of cake, anyone?!

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Waiting, Walking, Working

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There is a logic to Psalm 33 that I enjoyed reflecting on a few months ago and sharing with my mum. She said some lovely encouraging things and, perhaps my head got big, but I thought I would share a little of what I was thinking then and what I am thinking now. Somehow sharing something often makes me try and articulate it better for myself anyway. So that’s my excuse. The psalmist begins, insistent that we should sing to the Lord because His word is right and true, and because He is a powerful creator. Because His word is right and true and He is a powerful creator, we are right to fear and revere Him. Because He is a powerful creator He has control over the nations, and over history. Because He has control over history, the nation whose God is the Lord is blessed. If we are blessed to have the ever-loving, ever faithful God of justice and righteousness as our God, then it is right that we wait for Him. As we wait, we are called to sing joyfully to the Lord, and as we sing, we both seek and receive His unfailing love.

It seems so sensible doesn’t it?! But sometimes we don’t feel it. Sometimes I don’t feel it. These deep truths about who God is and just how good it is to be counted among His people are transformative, if, and only if, we still ourselves and give them a chance to soak down into the soil of our lives, to whet us on the inside. Asher and I are waiting at the moment. Waiting for work, waiting for the garden to grow, waiting to start study, waiting to settle. Waiting is not always particularly comfortable. I have never been very good at sitting still, but elsewhere in the Psalms comes the call to “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exulted among the nations, I will be exulted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).

I am beginning to think that perhaps, “Be still …” might just be the flavour of my month, or year. Or perhaps even life! Asher and I just did a summer school course at Regent Bible College called Technology, Wilderness and Creation. It is an immersion course that involves living with your fellow students and lecturers, with whom you go on a rowing and camping expedition, all the while exploring the issues of Christians and Creation. We asked questions like, what does it mean for us to be God’s image bearers looking after and caring for His creation? What does it mean for us to have a good relationship with creation, even ‘wilderness’ areas? Does God meet us in the wilderness (like He did Hagar)? Is creation care important to Him and our Christian calling? How are we as a human race going with that? Does creation care offer a regenerative connection to the land? How can technology be used in a way that encourages human flourishing and does not diminish it? As we talked, the idea of knowing came up regularly. There seemed to be a sense that knowing who God is rightly (His creative power, His wide ranging and intimate knowledge of all of His creation (see Job 38-42 as an example!) is key to knowing who we are and what we were made to do. Psalm 8 begins to catch the sweep of it: He’s big and majestic and cosmically able – we are far smaller but called to greatness under Him. Called to care for His creation. In his book For the Beauty of the Earth, Steven Boumer-Prediger says that to care about something, you have to love it, to love it, you have to know it and to know it you must first experience it. Paying attention to God’s creation, from the minnows, to the minerals, to the mountains, helps us to know it, love it and to care for it.

Back when I first read the Psalm and started thinking about it I was struck by the way that our ‘waiting’ on the Lord somehow needed also to encompass the ideas of working and walking. Ultimately we are waiting (with creation, none the less) “for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). For the day when “all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of His death, His blood that poured down from the cross” (Colossians 1:20 MSG). But as we wait we are called to walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV) in His ways (held mercifully by His grace), working for Him (Ephesians 2:10) (in our small ways towards His final and complete redemption).

Sometimes the waiting overwhelms us, I find myself railing against the stillness I am called to,  just wanting to do something. Sometimes the work overwhelms us, we look at the world and its needs and feel so infinitesimally small that to do anything seems to be as doing nothing.
Sometimes the walking overwhelms us, the path is unclear, our feet are heavy and God’s hand seems to be slipping from ours (in my case, this is probably because I am pulling away, getting frustrated with His leading!).

It can be agony waiting on the Lord, but at the same time the Boat course was a reminder that the work that needs doing in our world is so huge, so all encompassing, that we long to cry out “Come Lord Jesus, come” (Revelation 22:20). However, that in a sense is the only right thing to do because, ultimately, it is He who has done and will do the work. He alone is powerful and capable, able to untangle wrong, bring Life, breathe Spirit with His words. We can only ever make baby steps in the right direction, lead by Him. We are like Isaiah, after experiencing Who God is, presents himself to God saying ’send me!’ … but we’ve got to get the order right; Isaiah knew who God was and who he was, and after his ‘unclean lips’ had been atoned for, could ‘go’ for God.

When, by His goodness and enabling, we begin to try and balance the waiting, working and walking, holding lightly to our own strength and ideas and leaning more heavily on His shoulder, that is perhaps the beginning of what life should be. We can and must do each because of Who He is. Each, in a sense is too much for us, bringing us to the edge of ourselves and our capacity, showing us again who He is, that He is beyond us and before us. We must do each and yet we can’t do them well enough to save ourselves or the world.

Thank God that He steps in where we aren’t able. Every time.

Do you have the wisdom to count the clouds (Job 38:37)? He does. So we will sing.

The Flour Chronicles : 2

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“Sourdough is the original, truly natural bread. We are talking biblical stuff here …” Jamie Oliver, Happy Days with the Naked Chef (p256)

Perhaps Jamie isn’t aware just how right he is, but for me, a long love of good bread, an appreciation of the benefits of traditional baking methods and a growing theological appreciation for bread’s role as symbol and metaphor were enough motivations to undergo a weeklong experiment. A week and a two loaves after my last post, I thought I would fill you in on my third, almost-beginning-to-be-considered-successful attempt at baking sourdough bread.

Monday – I mixed the 500g of rye flour through some water, enough to make a soft, but still moldable, dough. The dough enjoyed a spot of afternoon sunshine outside to soak up some natural yeasts.

Tuesday – it hadn’t started to bubble (it was meant to) so rather than leave it alone (I was mean to), I added some more water to moisten the dough. Rather than the pliable texture of Monday’s dough, it more closely resembled sticky, greyish mud.

Wednesday – as I had not used organic flour (I was meant to do that too!) I began to worry I might have put the whole dough in jeopardy, but to my great surprise and delight, I discovered bubbles in my dough on Wednesday!

Thursday – now I was about a day behind, I did the Wednesday ‘step’ on Thursday, ‘better late than never!’. I fed and watered the starter, adding a couple of handfuls of wheat flour and enough water to return the dough to the consistency of it’s remedied-Tuesday-texture.

Friday – I feared that disaster had struck when I found slightly frosted, cloudy bubbles on the top of the starter. I imagined these indicated an undesirable mouldy growth. Closer examination revealed that the surface had just dried out. I mixed the ‘crust’ through and the bubbles kept forming. Due to my lack of foresight, the poor starter had to survive a trip to Brisbane in my hand luggage, sealed in a glass container with a plastic lid. It survived nicely and continued to give contended signs of life.

Saturday – my dough happily adjusted to the warm Brisbane temperatures, I went ahead with the next step of kneading in 1kg of wheat flour and enough water to ensure a smooth, elastic dough. At this point I was meant to rest the bread for 14 hours before baking. Several issues became apparent. Namely, my lack of careful reading and addition skills. 14 hours from 1pm was 3am … not an ideal time to bake. I had hastily added the flour (and the salt, meant to be added after some of the dough was removed and reserved to become the starter for the next loaf, grrr), concerned to ensure the bread would have time to rise and bake before my 6pm Sunday flight. My joint fear of airport tardiness and difficulty in slowing down to do the maths both conspired against my need for sleep. However, it was not a concern in the end because the bread rose much faster than expected. In fact, only a few hours later I decided I had better punch the dough down and make two loaves. Even so, by the time we left in the evening for dinner (4 – 4 1/2 hours later), the bread seemed to have exhausted it’s rising power. The structure had begun to collapse. Our tickets to Wicked prevented us from attempting any sort of dough resuscitation at that point and when we returned much, much later the dough had slumped down into the loaf pan. Similarly fatigued, I left it alone till morning.

Sunday – the next morning I reshaped my worn out dough into two small loaves; one in a tin and one on a tray. Although I did give them one last chance to rise again, their efforts the day before had sapped their strength and both remained quite small. After the promising start and long journey (both physical and metaphorical!), it seemed a pity not to bake-and-see. After an hour in the oven at 190oC the loaves were golden and very acceptably bread-shaped. No sooner was it out of the oven and photographed than the bread knife emerged and slices were toasted, buttered and taste tested. Dense and chewy, the sour flavour was present but not unappealing. Ideally my loaves would have been home to a few more air bubbles but this batch was my best and most edible success to date!

Final notes:
– Jamie Oliver is writing from an English context and I imagine his raising times would be based on English ambient temperatures, not northern Australian ones … an important consideration for future loaves.
– the sour dough starter returned with me from Brisbane, it still has a few bubbles, not as many as last week, but I did add that salt too early so what can you do? I’ll just keep an eye on it and see how it grows. Maybe I’ll give it another afternoon of fresh air and sunshine and see what happens!

 

Growing Things

This is our vegetable garden. I married a gardener. Not that I knew it then, but finding out this year has been a happy turn of events for everyone involved, especially my dad, who has always been happy in the garden. He came and gave some expert advice … and it is looking pretty green out there! It has brought much joy, this shortening of the distance between us and the earth. It seems right that we, its stewards, should get our fingers dirty, just like our creator did in making us. Asher is really enjoying this aspect of imaging his creator, and the green tomato chutney in our fridge is evidence of the fact that the land does bring forth food in season!

“Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up (except those old palms and the big weed in the corner), for … there was no one to work thre ground …” Genesis 2:5)

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“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” Genesis 2:15

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Bringing order out of chaos …

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Some of the herbs and tomates had a head start … the seedlings and seeds were new the weekend Dad visited.

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And a few weeks later … now we are getting somewhere!

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“These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” Psalm 104: 27-28

Covered

 

Sashiko inspired, I have finally made a cover for my ‘new’ bible (I bought it early last year I think!). I would love to do some more research and practice looking into using stitches in this way, almost quilting layers of fabric together without batting. Even the simplest patterns look really interesting and I really like the texture created. Thought I would share!

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