Thursday 29 November 2012

First Response

No sooner had Andrew found Jesus than he ran off and found his brother to tell him (John 1: 40 - 43). Andrew is the epitome of that first human response to news. Everyone else heard, they saw, they observed. Andrew gave the first response: tell someone else; tell everyone, follow him. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, has his feast at the very end of the year, or at the very beginning - depending on how the Advent falls. He ties up the ends, and begins the journey anew. Preaching. That's what he does. 

Sometimes I get asked why I bother with religion. It seems such a hassle sometimes. My answer is very simple. I bother with religion because I am interested in what is true about the world, and I am interested in talking to others about what I find, what they find, and what can be found. Andrew is the Patron of all that. He found someone True, and he followed, and he called others to follow. 

This year Andrew is the last of the Feasts of friends of mine who, way back at the beginning of the year, chose patrons from a random saint generator. For this reason, he has been among the saints whose intercession I have called upon to look after those I love.

Thinking about truth and those I love brings me to an odd juxtaposition of thoughts. Ernest Hemingway once said that to be happy as a writer: 'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.'  

My friend, who drew the Patron of Saint Andrew, I know best only through the quality of his preaching. I know he loves words and language because I have heard it, and listened. It is only fair and just then, that I share some things I have recognised as true in his voice when he speaks the Gospel. My prayer would be that he continues to preach as he always has, in the light of God's complete love for His creation, his love for people, and in his love for the Word.

Raimond Gaita, the Australian philosopher, argues that we only see someone as they really are when we see them in the light of those who love them. The same is true of all things, we only really appreciate their value when we see for ourselves the passion they can excite in others. Timothy Radcliffe OP associates truthfulness with language that helps people to flourish, develop and grow; falsehood with words that belittle, denigrate and undermine. Truthfulness is speaking in the light of love, desiring the good of another. That is right. True sentences give something of oneself, and they appreciate the goodness of another. Language is not an individual phenomenon, it belongs to the community, and not to the individual. Herbert McCabe OP said that. People are born into language, they have to learn to use it, and continue learning its nuances all their life.  The words we use depend upon our relationships with those to whom we speak. 

The truest sentence known would have to be spoken in the light of love. That is why I admire Andrew so much. He found the Truth, and he spoke it. He shared his news in the light of love. He built community from the truth he found. That is the task of all who follow in the footsteps of Andrew, in the footsteps of Christ.

I made Andrew a ginger cake once, and that was tasty. This time round though, I think that I will make him something new. I have a glut of lemons, following a round of Limoncello preparation for Christmas.

Lemon Drizzle Cake

6oz unsalted butter, plus extra to grease the tin
6oz caster sugar
4 medium eggs, lightly beaten
3 lemons
4oz self raising flour
2oz ground almonds
3oz sugar cubes

Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and caster sugar until it is pale and fluffy - about 5 mins of electric whisking. Gradually beat in the eggs, followed by the finely grated zest of 2 lemons and the juice of 1/2 a lemon. Fold the flour and ground almonds into the butter mixture, then spoon into the prepared mixture into the tin. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into the tin comes out clean. Cool in the tin for ten minutes, then invert the cake onto a cooling rack, and leave it until warm to the touch. Meanwhile, put the juice of 1 and 1/2 lemons and the pared zest of 1 lemon into a bowl with the sugar cubes. Use the back of the spoon to roughly crush the mix. Spoon this over the warm cake and leave it to cool.

At the moment, I have a glut of lemons. So, yesterday, I made lemon curd. You could be adventurous and spoon lemon curd into the middle of the cake mixture, along the length of the loaf tin, when you are half way through pouring the mixture into the tin. This will mean you end up with a lemon drizzle cake with a gloopy lemon curd centre. It is yummy, but not for those who do not like to get sticky! First response? Pass a napkin!

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Dream about an object

Gemma, my twin, would be proud of me. I had a dream about an object. Gemma loves objects - she works at a museum. Better still, the object I dreamt about belongs to her. I hope she still has it.

Around our childhood home, and more recently, in Gemma's untidy room there has been a precious, simple glass ball. It is crafted by hand: a thick blown glass ball. It is an Irish fisherman's float, used, before it became an object of aesthetic appreciation, to mark the place where Lobster Men let down their cages. They were traditionally bound by macrame knots to the woven basket cages into which unseen bounty from the depths would crawl, and later be consumed with great gusto! I do not know where our family found it, I seem to recall my Da talking about my Granddad coming across it years ago, on walk along a beach near Dublin. My Granddad died in 1966, so that would have been a long time before I was born. Today is the anniversary of his death.

Of course,  in the world of dreams nothing is quite like it is in reality. In this dream, which began on Sunday night and has persisted, the glass ball is, or contains, all that I am - my life source, my soul, everything I am meant to be. It shines and sparkles. Someone, unseen, protects me, and covers me over with a warm white blanket. I am treasured. 

Then comes a moment of choice. I can stay where I am, or go into the hands of someone else. The person who appears in the dream is a friend, perhaps in his late sixties, that I have not seen in a while, someone I trust completely and knew well in my teenage years. I go to him.  Acting in character, he takes this shining ball of light and throws it as high as he can into the air, and then waits to catch it. Again and again he repeats this process, and I laugh and am happy. Then, as is inevitable, he throws the ball too high, the sunlight catches his eye, and the fisherman's float falls to the floor and smashes into smithereens.

I disappear from the dream. My friend, the old wise and trusted sage, is devastated. He picks up the shards and places them on a tea tray. He carries them indoors, a familiar, homely building - a place where I grew. Then, with great dedication, and working through the night, he sets about gluing together, with superglue, the shards of the orb. The work is a work of sorrow, but also of hope. Eventually, he holds up the fruit of his labour. It is a clumsy object, surrounded by the fat, gloopy lines of white glue, delicate to touch, but hardening fast. Through the small window panels I can see a crouched diminished figure - me - sitting on the floor, hugging my knees, waiting.  My friend looks at me with compassionate pity, and he places his hands over the delicate, handmade orb. Tremendous heat comes from his hands, and through his love, the glass is heated, and the glue melts. The Fisherman's float transforms into a glistening bubble, and begins to float up, up, up.

My friend catches my attention, and calls me to reach out of the bubble. I do so without breaking the surface. I hold his hand and look back. He draws the orb towards me, and places it in my hands. I marvel at the shape, texture and weight of the ball - it is heavy, it should not float - and then, like my friend before me, I throw it into the air and laugh. I am happy. It floats. The first words of the dream happen now, my thoughts: I cannot hold you long enough, and so this is where I should be now - days and nights falling by me. I know of a dream I should be holding. This is where I should be now. Strange how my heart beats.

I do not know a lot about dreams, but I like this one, and I thought it worth recording. I have had it before, I think - when I was 19 years old. I wonder if it has meaning, and I wonder why it has returned to me now.

I should put a recipe here. If you have read this far, you have earned it. Perhaps you could really treat yourself and go and eat lobster. I think that was the first thing a niece of mine ever ate - it was just what the fishermen brought in on their boats. I am going to ask Gemma if she still has that Fisherman's float. I love that object. It sparks such strange dreams, even though it is years since I have seen it.

Friday 16 November 2012