Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Convert to hope

St Paul. Sometimes I love him, he is so eloquent and beautiful. Sometimes he is so hard as to be a little more than challenging to a 21st Century woman. He dedicated himself to coping with the human condition and writing about it. Romans 7:35 shows this struggle was real: I have desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do - this no,  but the evil I do not want to do, I keep on doing.

There is an example of what it is like to live the moral life. Saul-Paul does not present the model of the Christian who converts to lead a perfect life. If he did perhaps I would not love him as I do. What he does present is the struggle of being in a continual relationship with Christ. And, what a start that relationship had. You all know the story. He fell off his horse. He was following the voice of religious authority at the time, carrying letters authorising him to arrest and bring back practising Christians to Jerusalem for punishment. How sure of himself he was (Acts 9: 1 - 19). Christ knocks him off his horse, blinds him and forces him to see the kindness of others. He recognises the truth of the situation through the love of anothers' touch, someone willing to give him another chance despite the stories he had heard - Ananias, servant of the Lord. Some might argue that this must be where the phrase, 'the school of hard knocks' comes from. Thereafter, of course, we know what happens. Paul becomes a servant of the Gospel. He has the courage and the confidence to go where no one might have dared to go before. He has a hard time of it, but he trusts enough to walk and talk in darkness, because he carries in his heart the great light, the light of Christ. None of this makes him act perfectly, of course, he is still impossible at times. He does however, have the courage to hope and never give up. That, ultimately, is his conversion. That is his gift.

Rosemary Focaccia, my little suggestion for today, is chosen for its ingredients really: Bread for life, rosemary for remembrance and protection, olives for hope, salt for grace, oil for abundance. Drink it with wine for joy. Ingredients to celebrate conversion.

St. Paul, pray for us.

Rosemary focaccia

To make this loaf even yummier, add a scattering of black olives and some finely sliced and sautéed onion. Makes one loaf.

500g strong white bread flour
10g fine sea salt
5g dried or fast-action yeast
2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
To finish
Rapeseed or olive oil
Flaky sea salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves picked and roughly chopped

Mix together the flour and salt in a large bowl. If using ordinary dried yeast, dissolve it in 350ml warm water and add to the flour mix; if using fast-action yeast, add it straight to the flour, then add 350ml warm water. Mix to a very rough, soft dough, add the oil and squish in.

Scrape the dough on to a lightly floured work surface and, with lightly floured hands, knead until smooth and silky – it'll take between five and 15 minutes. It's a very sticky dough, so keep dusting your hands with flour; it will become less sticky as you knead. Shape the dough into a round, put it in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with lightly oiled clingfilm or a clean tea towel and leave until it has doubled in size; this will take about an hour. Knock back the dough and, if you have time, leave to rise again. Meanwhile, lightly oil a shallow baking tin about 25cm x 35cm.

On a floured surface, press the dough out into a rough rectangle, lift into the tin and press right into the corners. Cover with oiled clingfilm or a clean tea towel and leave to rise for about half an hour. Once risen, use your fingertips to poke rows of deep dimples over the top. Trickle generously with oil, then sprinkle with salt and rosemary. Bake in an oven heated to its highest setting (at least 230C/450F/gas mark 8) for 15-20 minutes, turning it down after 10 minutes if it browns too fast, Serve just warm, or let it cool.

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