Wednesday, 21 March 2012

As far as the east is from the west....

Yesterday, as we finally reached the Spring Equinox, I noticed that at last it is light when I leave the house in the morning at 6am, and light when I start my drive home, often between 5 and 6pm. Thanks be to God: everything is so much easier in the light. Just waking up is easier when you know that the sun will be creeping above the horizon before too long, it gives me the energy to contemplate the day ahead.

This evening, as I drove home along the M40, the full red sunshine setting in the West was beautiful. There is a dip in the land as you approach Oxfordshire, and the landscape drops away on the left-hand side, revealing a wide and stunning view across the fields, framed beneath the open sky. I was stunned. I have rarely noticed the loveliness of this prospect which unfolds before me everyday. Perhaps I have never looked. Perhaps it has always been shaded in the night. This evening though, it set my thoughts on an unstoppable train: 
For as the heavens are high above the earth, 
so great is His steadfast love toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far from us does he remove our transgressions. 
As a father has compassion on his children, the Lord's compassion is on those who fear him.              (Psalm 103)
How far is the East from the West anyway? Can you show me? I have been teaching Free Will and Determinism in Religious Ethics recently, and Boethius' understanding of God's omniscience in Philosophy of Religion. Sometimes, when my students get grappling with problems such as, 'if God knows everything, how is it that we have free will?', I get grappling too. These questions never go away.

There have been times in my life when I have been desperately concerned to make the right decision about big moves: choosing a career, changing jobs, moving countries. I have struggled and struggled to make the right choices. Only once have I ever thought, in the moment I made the choice, that I had got it wrong. Luckily for me, it was not too late and I  changed my mind. It disappointed a good few people, but it wasn't a total disaster. Here's the thing - what if I hadn't changed my mind?

There is a temptation to think about God's one great plan for each of us, the one plan which we have to live in order to 'get it right'. Maybe there is some truth in that, but the more I think about it the more it offers a limited view. It puts the pressure on, doesn't it? Your eternal salvation depends on a series of big once in a lifetime choices? That makes God sound like he is playing a rather weighted gambling game with the souls of humanity. It doesn't sound very fair. However, by choosing to make big choices in faith, with the guidance of prayer and the advice of the best relevant people, this psalm seems to suggest that you can't accidentally stumble into an abyss beyond the reach of God's love. It just doesn't work like that.

The way I see it, or the way came to see it in the car today, is that when you try to make big life choices in faith, the decision you finally make will be one used by God to bring you to salvation. Everything does not depend on us, it depends on God, on the expanse of his love. Fortunately for us, His love is infinite. It turns out there is only one big choice, and that is the choice to have faith, look continuously for the will of Him, pray for the courage and keep going. It is only in the light of faith that you get to glimpse the long view, God's vista of everything.

Of course, none of this makes the process of agonising over the right thing to do any easier really, but as usual in Philosophy, the exercise of thinking it through was worth it. Tomorrow I am thinking of explaining these thoughts to my Sixth Form, for today though I am going to try and figure out if they are logical, reasonable and correct. Do let me know what you think, I'm curious.

In other news, I am hungry. I always tell my students that theology and philosophy are impossible without chocolate. This recipe is a repeat, inspired by thinking about my great teacher heros: Sts. Thomas Aquinas, John Bosco and Angela Merici

Raspberry and Amaretti Chocolate Brownies

250g finest chocolate (go Green and Black's or Divine, 70% min.)
300g golden caster sugar
250g butter
3 eggs, plus one extra egg yolk
60g plain flour
60g finest quality cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
about 5 or 6 Amaretti biscuits
two big handfuls of fresh raspberries

You need a baking tin, about 23cm square. I lined mine with greaseproof paper, and buttered it well before I started anything else.

Preheat the oven at 180C. In a big bowl mix together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk. You need to get it light and fluffy, so keep going until it changes to a nice light colour slightly, and becomes soft and creamy. Meanwhile, break 200g of the chocolate into a small bowl, and suspending it over a bowl of water, gradually melt it over a low heat. Alternatively use a microwave - very modern. Chop the remaining 50g of chocolate into small gravel sized pieces, and leave them to one side. Crush the Amaretti biscuits to about the same size too.

Break the 3 eggs into a bowl, and add the extra yolk. Mix them together a little. Add them slowly, bit by bit to the butter and sugar mixture. Whisk well. Sift together the flour and cocoa mixture, add the baking powder and pinch of salt. Once all the eggs are added and well mixed in, fold in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Do this with a large spoon, slowly, keeping the air in the mixture. Finally, add the small chocolate pieces, the fresh raspberries and Amaretti biscuits.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin, smooth the top, and bake in the oven for about 30 mins. The brownies will rise slightly, but will look soft in the middle. To test to see if the are done, pierce with a fork, if it comes out sticky, but not with raw mixture attached it is done. If there is still raw mixture, pop it back into the oven for a few more mins. The brownies will solidify as they cool, and this is worth thinking about as you do the test. Once completely cool, slice the brownies into 12 equal slices. Serve with ice cream, or cream or both!

You can make a cheats raspberry sauce to show off. Get a good quality raspberry jam, and in a little cup add a teaspoon of hot water to a tablespoon of the jam. Mix together until a decent dripping consistency and then make artistic designs on white plates before placing the brownies onto them! :)

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