Friday 24 May 2013

The Holy Trio

 It is that time of year again: the feast days of three saints that occupy pivotal importance to the lives of good friends of mine occur this week. Friends who have freely given their lives for what they believe in.

So, what do St. Dominic, St Madeleine Sophie and St. Philip have in common? The congregations they  have founded and inspired have markedly different and beautiful charisms. Born in the 12th, 16th and 18th Centuries, they are spread across history. What strikes me is that each of them are born, live and die with symbols of fire surrounding them.

The earliest sources recording St Dominic's arrival into the world are from Jordan of Saxony. His parents are not named, but his mother made pilgrimage to Silos in Spain and dreamt that a dog with a flaming torch in his mouth leapt from her womb and 'seemed to set the world on fire'. That is exactly what he went on to do with his life, example and preaching.

Madeleine Sophie is born on the night of the 12th December 1779 in the midst of a raging fire in Joigny, France. The terror of the blaze sent her mother into labour. She founded a congregation that battled for love in the midst of a France caught up in the hateful fires of the revolution.

St Philip Neri was born in Florence, but he died in Rome having experienced a Pentecost of his own. In 1544 he had a vision in which he saw globe of fire descend from heaven and penetrate his heart. He continued to live out his priestly life sensing the burning love of God within his heart. An examination after is death revealed that his heart was indeed abnormally large, so much so that it had forced two of his ribs apart to accommodate it.

Three saints, three visions and experiences of fire, three feasts after Pentecost. Perhaps the message here is passion. Each of these saints lived passionately, uncompromisingly dedicated to love. They were not afraid and we should not be afraid either. 

This weekend I am not sure what the weather will do, but I know what I will do. I am going to cook, walk, chat and be with those I love. And, for those I love I cannot be with, I am going to hold them in my heart. I am going to use my rest time from school to think about how to live in love through my work. I adore teaching and there are exciting syllabus developments ahead. This week my adorable Sixth Form bought me chocolates, champagne, flowers and a framed quote from Aristotle as they bid adieu before their examination leave. I shall be thinking of them, and their journey towards examinations and the future beyond. I will be praying that whatever they do in the future they will choose to do something they have a fiery passion for, and that they will do it with all the love they have. So far as I know that is the only way to spread the Gospel.

This might seem odd, but I am going to make a different take on burgers.....

Pork Burgers with Thyme and Mozzarella

Serves 3 - 4

4 Spring Onions (Scallions) 
2 Cloves Garlic
25g Butter
50g Cubed Pancetta
A good handful of Thyme
750g Minced Pork
The grated zest of a Lemon
One ball of Mozzarella

Finely chop the spring onions and cloves of garlic and fry them gently in the butter, allowing them to colour slightly. Add the pancetta. Strip the thyme leaves from their stalks, finely chop them and add them to the pan, letting the mixture cook a little. Leave the pan off the heat and cool for a while.

Mix the pork into the onions, add the grated lemon zest and season it generously with black pepper and a little salt. Cut the mozzarella into small cubes and stir these through the mixture. Shape into pork burgers about the size of a digestive biscuit and leave to settle for half an hour. Fry in a non-stick pan, browning on each side, and cooking through for 8 - 10 minutes.

Serve with fresh swiss chard, spinach or asparagus, sauteed new potatoes and your favourite mustard concoction. 

I am planning something beautiful for dessert. I think it might be based around lemon, but my flatmate might cook something beautiful with apricots. Oh, of course, I'll be testing the champagne and the chocolates!

Thursday 23 May 2013

Preventable Regret

I read a good article in The Guardian today. It reminded me of what it means to live fully as a human. We need each other. We only learn to be fully ourselves until we lean on each other and find out that loving friends, family, partners, husbands, wives means sharing our time, love and emotions day after day, night after night, week after week, year after year. It means being there. A thought struck me as I read through this article. It was this: 'These aren't only the regrets of the dying. They are the regrets of the living too'. We have to struggle to escape the trappings of the modern hustle and bustle, the drive to do 'what people expect' and the frustration of being 'too busy'. God help us all.

I copy some of the article below.

A palliative nurse has recorded the top five regrets of the dying. 

There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. 

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

"This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.

"This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

"Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

"Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

Monday 13 May 2013

Unexpected gentle breezes form rocks

Treasures can be found in the unpublished archives of Roger Deakin. He died, too young, in 2006, and a friend remembers him here. In his work, although I know not his religious views, I frequently find inspiration. He wrote Waterlog, and Wildwood, and Notes from a Walnut Tree. Each work is an intimate relationship with the natural world, with Creation and everything it can teach. The words below are an extract from a poem called 'Blue wind, Blue light'.

'A wind that's already slipped
in and out of several gardens
is churning the blue light of summer
waking sparrow, swift and starling
in my roof - 'Your roof is infested
with birds and mice'
said the chartered surveyor
with no trace of pleasure
at having made
such a discovery'

It reminds me of the quiet work of Pentecost: so dramatic in Acts of the Apostles, so quiet and unobtrusive in real life. The unappreciated awakening, the blue light of dawn, churning, new life and discovery. Demanding, welcome and unwelcome. I love the idea of a 'wind that has already slipped in an out of several gardens'. The Spirit has been moving for generations. There is never a new idea, only the inspiration to carry on, keep going, breathe life into living the Gospel. I also like the idea of being a bird or a mouse awoken to build new things, slowly and gradually, nibbling away with purpose, collecting, forming. The unexpected gentle breeze has, in my experience, formed the rock on which I stand. An onlooker, the chartered surveyor in this case, may well look askance. Sometimes I think myself the onlooker, whilst the Spirit nibbles and gnaws. I am the one who looks askance.

I haven't made anything remarkable lately. I have mostly been trying to see myself through the term, and enjoying students rejoice in their exam leave and the last days of a school career. Of course, I wish upon them the spirit of knowledge, wisdom, courage, understanding and right judgement. But, most of all I wish them the spirit of Wonder and Awe and Reverence: that they may be continually amazed by the life given to us, and they we all may appreciate it.

It is May and it is Spring! Hurrah! I have noticed that the Rosemary is in full bloom, and so this week I will make Rosemary potatoes. Ye Olde stories about these ingredients should demonstrate to you why. May is the month of Mary, as well as the Spirit of Pentecost. First the recipe:

Rosemary Oven Roasted Potatoes 

Peel and chop into little 1/2 inch cubes some fresh waxy potatoes and place them into a non stick oven dish. Drizzle them liberally with olive oil and season with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Grab a good sized handful of rosemary sprigs. Taking two or three of the sprigs, hold each one upright and run your forefinger and thumb down the central twig to release the leaves. Stir these into the potatoes and tuck the remaining whole sprigs into the dish strategically. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes turning the little gems over frequently until they are golden. 

This is a great side dish, it is great at a barbeque, as an alternative to chips, as a snack served in paper cones....anytime really. 

Now, that story: 

Rosemary originated in the Mediterraean, but has now spread to most temperate climates. It holds the ancient Latin name lamiaceae, which means 'sea dew'. You may thing that this is because of the oceanic colour of its' flowers, and perhaps you are right, but there are more entertaining tales to be had about its' foliage. Rumour has it that during their flight into Egypt the Holy Family had cause to hide from some soldiers. Mary threw her cloak over a rosemary bush and knelt behind it with the child, Jesus. When she rose again, in safety, the flowers of the sweet smelling plant miraculously turned from white to blue in her honour. 

You might think that one miracle story would be enough for rosemary, but no. The plant is also said to bloom at midnight on Christmas eve (no I have never checked, don't spoil it). It apparently will only grow for 33 years, the age of Christ, and then will wither and die. 

Shakespeare's Ophelia famously says 'There's Rosemary, that is for remembrance", and indeed, it used to be common practice for mourners to throw rosemary onto the coffin from the graveside. Strangely, it has also been a traditional plant for the bride to have in her bouquet and is said to bring happiness to the couple. Often grown at the front of the house Rosemary has the reputation of being able to keep spirits, thieves and witches at bay. Medicinally it is a good cure for headaches and, the oil makes both excellent antiseptic and insect repellant. The smell is also said to inspire 'good' thoughts. 

In the spirit of Pentecost getting outdoors into the gentle breeze seems the thing to do, a time to admire the spirit brushing round nature in all it's glory. Sure, the rain might be falling, and it is certainly colder than it could be, but time outdoors is precious: too often we are cooped up indoors. The time has come to break free.