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!

Going back and starting with Joy

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Some of my recent posts have been good to articulate (see Waiting, Walking and Working 1 & 2, and Ambivalent Consumer), but they took precedence over that which should have come before. They are desperate and true and difficult and so need tempering. Sometimes they end in a good place, but, perhaps, with a better beginning, the journey home may not be so hard. I want to return to a framework of joy so that I can work out the issues of embodiment, eating and clothing in a good place, in the right frame. In God’s story of good Creation and full Redemption. In Christ.

In his book, For the Life of the World, Schmemann insists that “from it’s very beginning Christianity has been the proclamation of joy” (24). In the night, in our fragile, expectant state Luke calls out voicing a strong truth, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (Luke 2:10). It needs to be my theme verse! Maybe it needs to be yours too! At the other end of his biography of Jesus we see His disciples, beginning to grasp the meaning of that good news “worship[ing] Him and return[ing] to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52).

I think that Schmemann is right. It seems imperative we “recover the meaning of this great joy. We must if possible partake of it, before we discuss anything else – programs and missions, projects and techniques” (24-25). In other words, before we ‘do’ our praxis (or even try and figure out what our practical-lived-out-Christian life might be), we need to know, get, do joy. Maybe it will involve something like the Sons of Korah call us to in Psalm 46:10-11. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress”. The Lord is indeed with us, John affirms, He came and dwelt with us (1:14), loving us before we loved Him (1 John 4:10).

I suspect my natural tendency is always going to be to skip joy and get to the to-do list. I was so relieved to be told this morning reading Schmemann that I was getting it wrong, putting the cart before the horse, so to speak! The cart goes behind the horse because left in front it will not get anywhere and, by extension, will end up no good to anyone. I need the joy that comes from operating out of a right understanding of reality. That there is One who knows all, made all and loves all that He has made. That I am known and loved by Him, the One who brings real fullness of Life. That He is working good and His plans for cosmic wholeness will come to pass.

The list comes later. It is good and beautiful in its time, but only because these illuminating truths come first and inform it.

So, joy first. Even perhaps, little joys that remind me how to do Big Joy. Flowers that “unsettle the room” (thanks Kirk Patston) bringing grace and beauty. Making things. Talking to friends. All these things are deeply sacred, gifts from the Good Giver. Turning to thank Him for them a chance to be caught up into His Truth again, “the only possible joy on earth” (24), as Schmemann says.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:4-8)

Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963.

Ambivalent Consumer

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Sometimes I feel it when I am talking with a sensitive friend, sometimes when I am having a fragile moment myself. The uneasy recognition that each one of us, as complex physical, emotional and spiritual beings, exists in time and space. That by nature of our existence we use up time (as well as other resources) and take up space. In one of my favourite musicals, Sussical, the Who’s from Whoville sing out “We are here, we are here, we are here” to let the creatures in the large world know that they are real. For some of us the tension between this necessary cry of existence and deep reticence in acknowledging our very stuff-ness (and therefore stuff-dependance) can begin to break us.

There is a reconciliation I find myself fighting for on several fronts.

In moments of fear and mis-placed disgust, I long to be smaller, to take up less space, to find more room in my clothes. In corresponding moments of dogged self-talk I begin my schpeil; my body houses my bones, muscles and organs – growth and maintenance is heavily dependant on my genetic code. Isolated, no particular section of me is wildly photogenic or smooth or blemish free. But together, I am a human being, a creature, a body-and-soul matrix with real biological systems that process real organic molecules, animated by solar energy and the very breath of God. Discussions about fasting aside, regular food is necessary for my ongoing survival. Fats, carbohydrates and proteins – all necessary to keep me enlivened, alive. Sometimes I do wish that the whole could be smaller, that there was less of me, that I took up less room. I know that there is much that could be said on the topic. But, in truth, I do not want to be a small person or live a small life. All that remains is to live out of the body I’ve been given; thankful and ready to use it for joy.

Not only do I take up space myself (more than I would like when pressed for the uncomfortable truth), but my stuff does too. My very physicality (yours too) demands food (fairly regularly, ask my husband just how civilised I can be prior to dinner), water, air, clothes, some place safe to rest in, to live in, tools to do my work, toys to share in play. The list goes on. For most of us, where these things can be enhanced with beauty, they seem to answer our needs even more truly. The somewhat obvious and, at times disconcerting reality, is that providing for these very real and tangible cries requires considerable time and money.

In a weak moment we despair at the grocery bill, regret the rent, mourn the price of a new skirt – no matter how thoughtfully the shopping list was put together, how economically our decisions about where to live were made or how careful the purchase of an attractive, up-cycled charity-shop outfit for work was. In this frame of mind, justifying the occasional ‘this-is-beautiful-and-I-really-love-it-purchase’ can be even more difficult. Add to these daily reminders of your reliance on stuff, physical things, the double ups that come from moving to a new place – having left old things behind because moving ‘stuff’ costs. Packing stuff in and out of moving boxes and suitcases has become a recent but reoccurring theme of my life. While previously my stable geography meant that my collection of stuff moved only small distances and made itself less known, now no longer.  As the distances became longer and the cost higher, moving stuff became a more difficult issue for me. Deciding what to take and what to leave when moving away is difficult enough without adding the now-near-existential-regret-come-fear of mine – if I leave it behind I’ll need to buy a new one when I get there!

This summer ‘stuff’ weighed me down; an overseas move, study of Creation care and environmental brokeness followed with further international travel meant (a lot of) real luggage toting. It also meant grappling with my unwieldy emotional baggage. I do not in anyway find myself facing Fall all the ends tied up neat and tidy, but I have had to try and lay the issue down for a spell. It was getting too heavy for me.

We took this course together, Asher and I, in the summer. A course about ‘stuff’. Natural ‘stuff’ and human-made ‘stuff’. Creation in its outstanding diversity and the complex labyrinth of human production, technology and objects. We wondered how to negotiate the two realms, we read scripture and other wise writers. We worried about human failings in ecology. We rowed boats and explored marine environments. We sang and prayed together. We shared bread and wine and remembered the One who’s body was broken because of our destruction. And I think that is where the answers begin.

Our God made and loves this physical world. He made the ‘stuff’! The epitome of a good designer, He made the world both useful and beautiful. He made us as part of His creation to love and appreciate it, to use and work within it, and, as Schmeman would say, to offer it back to Him in praise and worship. God is not only just okay with a real, physical creation, He wanted it that way. He even sent His Son to become part of it. Incredible. God made flesh, bone, body. He knows what it feels to live in skin. His death and (bodily) resurrection answers so many questions, articulated and otherwise, but for my purposes here today, it at least says that our messy, uncomfortable, physical lives, our stuff, our home planet, all matter to Him deeply. He took on the great joy and incredible brokenness of life under the sun – and then some – because He loves His creation. His double affirmation of the ‘stuff’ of this world comes in the way He asks us to remember why He came, bread and wine are to be our mnemonics. We remember God dwelling among us as we eat a meal, a meal that speaks of sacrifice, life given for life and welcome.  Grapes, yeast, wheat, water. The very ‘stuff of life’ tells us the story of heaven meeting earth and welcoming her home, over and over, as often as we drink it.

This is not a full discussion of the spiritual importance of ‘stuff’, but for me, weary from the compromise of trying to do right within a broken system, arms heavy from carrying my ‘stuff’, I’m glad to sit down at the table. Eyes forced to the Head, praise and thankfulness the only right response to the Giver of all good gifts. Will you sit by me?

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:4-8

Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963.

Happy Birthday Jonno Round 2: or another cake

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an honest picture of all the trimming and extra ingredients

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Turning twenty one seems like a good enough reason to have two birthday cakes. After celebrating on the day with Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolate (but the vanilla version), Jonno’s 21st party seemed a good reason to pull out the faithful white chocolate mud cake recipe that we’ve used and adapted from the Women’s Weekly Wicked Desserts Recipe book for several 21st-and-special-occasion-cakes. We made the 8x recipe (yep, you heard right, 8x the original recipe!) and this did for a large rectangular cake and two trays of small cup cakes (plus off-cuts). Enough to feed to a smallish sort of party gathered in celebration. I say ‘we’ because in our family, birthday cake baking has long been considered a team sport. When we were tiny, it was our grandparents who would come and help mum and dad pull off amazing feats of icing and butter cake inspired by the infamous Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday cake books. While it is no longer “Minnie and Brown* and the eleventh hour [the night before the party]”, we still like to make something special to mark milestones and I have more or less stepped into the role of Birthday cake project manager. A project-manager-come-baker who ropes in all the helpful apprentices I can get; mum, Asher, dad, even my talented-baker-friend Kate if she’s around. I love cooking but I am definitely not a solo flyer in the kitchen – perhaps too many cooks do intensify the kitchen experience, but I think that mostly you get more done and stay more sane if you cook in community.

Family history and philosophy of kitchen comradery aside, with this particular cake, you cook it very long and slow with the cake tin wrapped up in newspaper to ensure it cooks as evenly as possible. It is so large that you really don’t want to start cooking this baby too late at night – you may well be waiting up till the wee small hours if you do (don’t worry, its been done!). Attempting a cake this large is less of a risk if you trust your oven. This particular cake was the first one to be cooked in the new oven at home and possibly one of the last – the oven proved itself rather unpredictable and, although we managed fine in the end, the larger cake could have safely been labelled a caramel mud cake while the smaller cup cakes turned out more successfully – tiny white mud cup-cakes as expected. In the end, it is really all about how you sell a thing isn’t it?! Once the cake had (finally) cooked, I then set to work stressing over the decorating. Jonno is a keen muso so we had decided to create an edible version of his Nord synthesiser. With some cutting, puzzle work, ganache spreading, a bit of nifty fondant icing work and some chocolate and lollies – I managed to pull it off with a tonne of support from Mum and Asher (in particular).

Ingredients:
2 kg butter
1.2kg white chocolate melts
3.52kg caster sugar
2 lts milk
2.4kg plain flour
8 tsp baking powder
8 tsp vanilla essence
16 eggs
8 tbsp malted milk extract (or powder)

Decorations:
red fondant icing
chocolates of various sizes and shapes (for keys and buttons)
white icing in a tube for the piano key divisions

Ganache Ratio:
1 cup white chocolate
1/3 cup cream
cocoa to taste (for the brown icing on the cup cakes)

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 160oC.
2. Grease and line the large rectangular cake pan with baking paper. Wrap the outside of the tin in a thick layer of news paper to protect the cake while it cooks. The cup cakes were baked in free standing cardboard cup cake wrappers which were laid out on a baking tray.
3. Heat the butter, white chocolate and sugar milk together in a very large saucepan  (or two medium sized ones) till the butter, sugar and chocolate melt into a shiny, slightly thickened liquid.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder and malted milk powder over the cooled butter mixture and mix to combine. Continue to mix till the flour has been distributed evenly throughout the mixture and any lumps have been smoothed out.
5. Beat the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl to combine, add these to the mixture, ensuring the residual heat from the melting is not high enough to ‘cook’ the eggs on contact with the mixture.
6. Pour mixture into the large cake tin and bake for several hours until done all the way through. The small cup cakes took much less time to cook – more like 20-30 minutes. The time taken for each will vary with the oven used.
7. Make the ganache by slowly melting the chocolate and cream together in a saucepan (if you have an induction stove top, if you have a regular one, try a glass bowl over the saucepan – French name ‘bain marie’ – so the chocolate doesn’t cook). Refrigerate till it reaches spreading consistency.
8. The large rectangular cake was then trimmed (the hard crust is removed) and the pieces cut to construct a longer thinner rectangle. This was then iced with white chocolate ganache and the red fondant icing, rolled out to resemble the red sections of the Nord.
9. The keys (KITKAT chocolate bars cut to size), buttons, dials and knobs were added using a variety of different chocolate pieces and icing as cement. Bought ‘white fudge icing’ in a tube was used to define the keys (a pre-prepared food compromise I was so willing to make at about 10am on the morning of Jonno’s 2pm-start-time-party!)
10. The crotchet cup cakes were iced with the remaining white chocolate ganache turned brown with cocoa. Peppermint sticks were used as the stem.
11. Finally we sang, celebrated and shared this symbol of Jonno, his musicality and his birthday.

*[pet names for my grandparents]

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Storied food

I’ve been pondering one of the reasons that I think food is so important recently, it has been bubbling away in the back of my mind while I continue my studies at uni and my teaching (and my cooking at home!). The last few weeks at uni have been on the way that food and religion intersect. As I have mentioned before, I have been completely fascinated by the readings we have been given that link religion and food, finding a recent one from Ken Albala in his Food in Early modern Europe really enlightening. What he was able to do was discuss the evolution of the food habits associated with the practice of Christianity, relating these to historical events and social changes. Below are a few points he made that I have commended on.

The command by Jesus to repeat the “taking of bread and wine” as He did at the Last Supper saw the belief of transubstantiation emerge – as it was perceived that “the[er was the] real presence of Christ in the bead and wine” consumed. “By consuming the body of Christ, it was believed that the communicant would gain merit and would be infused with grace …” (Albala 2003, 194).
As a Protestant Christian, I love some of these ideas but don’t understand them the same way that perhaps my Catholic friends would. Jesus gave us these physical symbols as reminders that He is (and will remain) present with us and that we can be filled and satisfied with His grace. We don’t need to gain His favour, His arms stretched wide on the cross were enough to prove that He loves us despite of our significant lack of merit!

He speaks of “other sacraments, or holy rituals, which signaled passages in life from one state of being to another. Baptism initiated the infant into the community of believers … Marriage officially recognised passage from single status to that of inseparably bonded …  [even to] extreme unction, the last rites of the dead. Surrounding each of these important life events, there was naturally a celebratory feast” (Albala 2003, 194).
I continue to wonder about celebrations. Do we celebrate specifically and regularly with deep reverence and thankfulness for different life stages – all gifts from a good God who can bring glories in the beautiful and fragile? How would our mindsets need to change so we could do this?

With the reference to the precursor to holidays – ‘holi-days’ (Albala 2003, 194) … I ponder what it means to set aside, appropriately recognise and celebrate regular (weekly, monthly, even annually) days that are set apart, sacred, special. To offer these times especially to God, while also sharing them with our family and communities. What discussions need to happen so that we celebrate well, marking the days, the seasons and the years? Historically, the church has marked these with both fasting and feasting; Lent and Advent, Easter and Christmas … what stories could our eating tell as we gather to remember?

Albala also notices the split between the Catholic and Protestant behaviours to do with food; the Catholic tradition seemed a little prone to extremes – on one hand valuing good food and wine, while other believers lived lives of extreme asceticism. The Reformers’ ideas about food mirrored their theology in other areas; “the gospel gives us complete freedom in everything” so just as the “early Christian’s had no food prohibitions at all”, personal spiritual exercises to do with fasting and feasting were up to the discretion of the believer (Albala 2003, 200). At sometimes, the diligence of a saved life has made for a bland existence, and unfortunately the so-called ‘Protestant work ethic’ has even worked its way into our eating habits. This article from the Guardian online shows the way a Catholic heritage that reveled in the goodness of food has is benefits!

“In the US the dominant conception of food is nutritional,” Fischler explains. “Feeding oneself is above all a matter of making rational decisions to satisfy bodily needs. In contrast the French have a culinary conception of food, putting the emphasis on flavour and pleasure. In our surveys we asked French and American people to say what they associated with various words. When we suggested ‘chocolate cake’, the Americans thought of ‘guilt’, the French, ‘birthdays’.” (Chemin, 2004)

… and here in Australia, we tend to be more like our friends in the States than those in France – we have lost our ability to revel in gratitude and without greed, one thing I look forward to in Eternity – feasting without the dark side that so often accompanies our eating now. The misplaced hunger, the worry about weight, kilojules, scales, empty stomachs in other areas, the ethics of the production of the food, the echoing emptiness that follows a meal which whispers of a deeper need.

And finally, Albala, like so many other authors, insists that “eating the bread [at the Lord’s table] is still an important ritual” (2003, 201) but that, for Protestants, it is nuanced differentently than the Eucharist celebrated by their Catholic cousins. Oh man, it so is still important. Somehow the bread calls ‘deep unto deep’ and it makes me long to grow into a deeper longing for communion in every way that the Lord’s Supper offers; with my God, with my faith community, with the historical church. I long to practice it with big, nourishing pieces of bread and big nourishing bits of theology that fill me and help me to look ‘onwards and upwards’ to where this meal leads.

Anyhow. A few thoughts about the way that religious practice and food practices have been woven together to tell stories at different times through the ages. We are still telling these stories, some we are repeating, others we have developed, and there is still room to tell new stories, or old ones in new ways.

 

 

Celebrating Seasons

I’m currently studying a subject for my food and anthropology focused Masters course on the way that people celebrate with food. I wanted to share a little of the readings that were for this week in a few blog posts because the information they covered were really fascinating. What follows is a series of quotes and my reflections on the connections between Native American Indian religious beliefs and their environmental landscape. The exerpts are from Linda Murray Berzok’s book American Indian Food, 2005.

“Land, religion and life were one; agriculture was sacred and hunting holy” (p143)
“Agriculture became a holy labour, capable of bringing the people into profound contact with the powers of life” (p144)
“The act of gathering plants and roots was considered a sacred ritual and celebrated with ceremonies, both when the women first set out … and when they returned to prepare their gleanings” (p151)
As a Christian who believes in a God who made a land for His people to enjoy, tend to and be blessed by, I wonder if recognition of the holiness the land and obtaining nourishment from it would change our gratitude for life and food in important ways.

“Sustenance crops, particularly maize, beans and squash, were considered gifts from sacred beings” (p144)
With amazing and hugely advanced technology it is easy for our food to be something we produced, we become ‘self made’ people and loose our gratitude. We quickly forget the miracle of species, seeds, shoots and seasons that really we only have a small amount of control over …

“sought the blessings of the spirits for this endeavour, oversaw planting at the right time, recited prayers when planting seeds, conducted ceremonies that linked the life cycle of maize and sacrificed sacred foods at the beginning of each year’s harvest.” (p144)
They also had deep convictions about cycles of time; that if they did not uphold “rituals [that] revolved around the cyclical processes that sustained life – hunting, gathering, fishing, planting, growing and harvesting” (p147), “the world would die” (p147).
In our efforts to feed more, grow more and earn more, we have lost our sence of seasonality, the blessing of the (perhaps somewhat inefficient, thankyou Kirk Patston) cycles built into our world that provide for us.

“‘For a people so intensely agrarian for so many centuries of their existence, all of life does result from happenings within the earth, from the union of earth, water and sun.'” (p144)
In many ways this remains true today. Our actions indicate that we, perhaps, just don’t believe it!

They have a “belief that we are what we eat” (p150) which expressed itself a little differently to our understanding of this concept, they thought those eating meat of an animal took on qualities of the animal whose meat was consumed. However, this did engender a respect for the environment and for life given for life that we would do well to better emulate!

Feasting and celebration marked both events in the human life cycle and events in the yearly agricultural cycle; “observing the appearance of the first fruits in the season” (p152). “The … Iquoquois Confederacy – Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca – held five feasts in a year; at the time of making maple syrup after planting when they gave thanks for the season and learned from the chiefs how to ensure a good harvest, the Green Corn Feast, the harvest thanksgiving, and at year’s end at the time of the Old Moon around the end of January” (p154).
This made me wonder how and what we celebrate … life in all its stages or only the attractive parts? The birth of babies and 18th Birthdays, engagement and anniversaries but do we really celebrate growing older? Lost of fertility? In some societies these occasions are marked! And then, do we even bother to think beyond occasions that pertain to us and our lives and on to the (now unseen) events that bring us food and sustenance – the beginning of the strawberry harvest? The bringing in of the wheat? These matter to our lives but we live as though they don’t because of our wealth and the increasing distance between the modern western life and the land that sustains it. Those new, autumn mandarins in my fridge definitely deserve celebration I think!

When first food ceremonies were held, these were “ritual preparation for the [harvest] … The food’s spiritual and physical necessity was acknowledged, and forgiveness asked from the spirits assuring them that the food had not been taken wantonly” (p154).
And what if we were constantly aware of not taking food wantonly … would our shopping lists grow shorter? Or involve different shops (perhaps independent stores and local green grocers) or products (perhaps fairtrade or sustainably and compassionately farmed items)? Would we grow more ourselves so we realised just how much work was involved? I don’t have all the answers but I think that they deserve pondering!

Interestingly the author, Linda Murray suggested that the Native American Indian “spiritual beliefs evolved from the need to ensure the food supply” (p143). As a Christian, I see the world a little differently. I see a God who has lovingly created a good, fertile world that was the perfect environment for human flourishing. A place where people ruled under Him, trying to bless the environment He had made for them – to follow Him was not to coerce food from Him but to live full lives as people part of His story.

“He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate– bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.” Psalm 104: 14-15

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