Saturday, December 17, 2016


For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy
Hebrews 10:14

It's been six months. The world has been on fire with hatred and violence accelerating at new rates thanks to the internet, which also allows us to find like minded crazy people, set up camp, and anonymously troll everyone who might challenge our way of thinking. Lies are paraded as truth, and no one cares as long as it helps them win. Bullying is now an acceptable and applauded form of public discourse, and mobs (both physical and cyber) mete out judgment in a frenzied effort to string up any sane voice. I don't know that I've ever wanted out of this circus more than I do right now. What more is there to say when people scour the internet for self-justification rather than truth, filing up their itching ears with whomever screams the loudest? 

And so I have been quiet. I spent the summer painting the inside of my house, attending to details and willing myself to slow down, to be thorough and attentive. It was a spiritual exercise as much as a practical one. Somewhere in the frenetic pace of life as a single mom, I've lost the ability to be still. The hours of my past that were spent meditating or reading seem more like memories stolen from another person, and I am too long a stranger to my own self.  So I have embarked on a journey of intentional activity. Since I can't escape doing, I am choosing to do those things which require my attention and practice, focusing me on perfecting the simple.

So today: puff pastry. It will probably take years to produce anything truly remarkable, particularly at my pace. Unlike so much of my cooking, puff paste requires my full attention as it is most unforgiving. A very complex process is built on the simple foundations of flour and butter.  So I found myself kneading butter in bowl of ice cold water today, which is something I never knew people did.
The purpose of this kneading is to insure that the butter will stretch properly under the pressure of rolling and not simply crumble and break. Butter as it comes from the store has the characteristics of a casting: It is coarse-grained and easily broken. Butter which is to be used for puff paste, however, needs the qualities of a forged substance: elasticity and tensile strength. Hence the kneading underwater.
Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection 

Heretofore, I had never pondered the tensile properties of butter, but I was surprised to find how satisfying it is to simply snap a stick of butter in half. Really, you should go try it right now. Because it feels like it should be as difficult as, say, ripping a phone book in half, but it is surprisingly easy, and therefore quite satisfying. Massaging it into an elastic lump under freezing cold water, though, may have given me early arthritis. I thought there were only eight corners on a stick of butter, but it turns out that there are about 57. You can feel their rigid edges in the lump of butter like stubborn little tumors, nearly impossible to squash into submission. And then suddenly you either find yourself holding a smooth billet of butter or your hands have gone completely numb, and you can't feel the lumps anymore. Either way, you happily move on to the next step.

Somewhere between the painful loss of feeling in my fingers and the odd experience of massaging butter underwater, I returned to one of my favorite verses in Hebrews, quoted above. Although I have often recited this verse to myself, I didn't have a good metaphor to understand what was happening. How could I be made perfect already but not yet be holy? That tension is the source of so much of my grief, and yet I found my metaphor in the butter. Like the butter, I have been cast in Christ's image, covered by his blood, clothed in his righteousness, but I also am coarse-grained and easily broken. What has been cast must now be forged. And that is what the Lord is doing, squashing all my impossible edges into submission, growing my elasticity and tensile strength.

And the result is peace and discontent, joy and sorrow, fullness and hunger. A whole stockpile of paradoxes on which it is possible to navigate this modern chaos with hope, to bear the world's agonies with the strength of the cross, and to cultivate true hunger in the face of deceitful affluence.
In this vale of sorrows, we should be careful about allowing abundance to con us out of hunger. It is not only the best sauce; it is also the choicest daily reminder the the agony of the world is by no means over. As long as the passion goes on, we are called to share it as we can - especially if, by the mere luck of the draw, we have escaped the worst pains of it. Do all you can to help of course; but don't, for all that, forget that you are also called simply to bear. In the end the agony lies too deep for any cure except the cross. Fast, therefore, until His Passion brings the world home free. He works through any crosses He can find. In a time of affluence, fasting may well be the simplest of all.
Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection  

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