Friday, 1 November 2013

Seven Rays of Hope

The feast of All Saints really is one of my favourites. It is something about the time of year, as well as the significance of the feast. The smell of a damp, late Autumn - leaves scattered wet over the wet ground, wood smoke in the air, darkened evenings. Everything about this time of year breathes life into me, which is kind of ironic considering many things in nature are dying off, and the feasts of the Church are turning our attention to the life hereafter. 

Last weekend I was in Yorkshire. Weather wise it was a typical few days: dark, damp and windy. But, the sunshine was also battling through. Over the course of my stay I glimpsed seven rainbows arcing through the sky. Seven! A personal record! I was delighted.

Rainbows, of course, always fill me with joy and hope. They have even been known to make me grin from ear to ear and giggle. Rainbows are full of promise for the future, the reassurance that 'all shall be well', the symbol of God's protective and caring presence 'in all things'. Julian of Norwich and Ignatius of Loyola aside, rainbows remind me of the joy to be found in the pilgrim journey. In parts of France a rainbow is named Porte de Sant Jacques, whilst the Milky Way is named chemin de Sant Jacques. Legend has it that the rainbow is the arc of heavenly light that shines down on earth when Peter opens heavens' gate to a new saint. Those who follow in the footsteps of the saints, The Way, find themselves welcomed into heaven at the end of the journey. Perhaps this legend is also responsible for identifying rainbows with bridges, paths the saints followed: bridge of St. Bernard, St. Martin or St. Peter are common, the idea being that the saints are company on the way to heavens' gate. Basque Pilgrims have named rainbows the puenta de Roma; I've also heard them called the pont du St. Espirit and croix de St. Denis. In Italy the name arcu de Santa Marina is relatively familiar. All these colloquial names are just little reminders that God promises to be present on the journey, but he does not promise everything will be easy, the lives of the saints are testament to that.

Now, based on my assumption that seven very good and holy people did not pass from this life to the next in close proximity to South Yorkshire last weekend, I am pretty certain the rainbows I saw were the complicated outcome of a combination of rain and sunshine. That does not stop me thinking more romantically about them. I was delighted to see them. They filled me with hope and happiness for the future. Today, All Saints, reminds me that we never have to do anything alone. We not do even have to learn to be good alone, or live a life of faith alone, or pray alone. We do all these things with those we love, with friends, family, loved ones. Hurrah for that! Seeing all those rainbows in the sky over such a short period reminded me of all the very special people I share my life with and the journey we make together. That made me smile. What made me smile more was that there needed to be even more rainbows. I'm putting in an order for more.

A recipe for All Saints? How about some soul sustaining bread to share with a simple supper, tucked up next to the fire.

Any Apple Bread
This is a cakey, soda like wholemeal loaf. Good with lashings of butter and honey. Excellent with lashings of butter and jam. Did I mention lashings of butter and soup? Very good with lashings of butter and cheese. Serves 6 - 8.

150g plain flour
200g wholemeal flour
1/2 tsp salt
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 large or two small apples, grated coarsely
50g of butter melted, plus butter for greasing
2 tbsp honey
1 egg whisked
250ml apple juice
a few handfuls of chopped nuts or dried fruit (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180C

Brush a 1ltr non stick loaf tin (approx 20x10) with butter. Coat with a dusting of flour - the old fashioned way to prevent it from sticking.

Combine the dry ingredients. Fold in the grated apples (leave the skin on). Top with wet ingredients and nuts and/or dried fruit. Save some nuts to scatter on the top.

Gently fold all the ingredients together (remember to whisk your egg first). Be careful not to over mix.

Spoon the mixture into the tin. Sprinkle the reserved nuts over the top.

Bake for 30 mins, or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean. Let it cool for 10 - 15 mins before removing from the tin and serving.

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