Archive for January, 2012

Rocky, Part One

Not exactly how it happened

Surely it must have been a hot, bright day: it is hard to imagine it being cloudy and drizzly.  From the sound of the story, it was just the twelve of them and Him.  They had been travelling through the hills north of Capernaum and were now coming “into the district of Caesarea Phillipi,” which all good Jews had recognized as a nest of idolatry since it had been a center of Baal worship in the Northern Kingdom and which now had taken up the cult of the god Pan.

So, on one hand, it was not the most propitious place to ask The Question.  As Matthew recounts it, Jesus begins by asking, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  It’s clear from the answers that he is in effect asking them, “who do the people of Israel think is going to be sent by God to rescue them from their distress?”  The answers turn out to be one of the prophets, come back again to—maybe this time—actually get the people of Israel to listen to him and restore them to their glory.

Then came The Question:  “Who do you say that I am?”

What Peter said, according to Mark’s account, was what all the apostles wanted to say.  So Peter said it for them, filling in that awkward, shuffling pause, in which everyone waits for someone else to say what they want to say, but can’t make their lips say.  And what Peter said he not only says for the apostles who were there, he says for us.  That is also our confession being said by the Galilean fisherman.

When we celebrate the Confession of St. Peter, we don’t celebrate or remember Peter’s life—we have his own feast day on which to do that—but the words he spoke.  More importantly, we celebrate again He who asked The Question, and who is the Answer.

In the church year, it’s very appropriate that we celebrate the Confession of St. Peter at this point, in the season of Epiphany.  We have all sorts of questions, to most of which we want to provide our own answers.  In Jesus we find a Lord who ia both Question and Answer at one and the same time.

Rock on!

This is one of those heady, doctrinal feast days of the church that does not seem to have attracted much in the way of bodily feasting—perhaps because it was the Anglicans who first celebrated it after the Middle Ages had passed.  Lest we make this some sort of heady, nerdy, intellectualoid commemoration, let us attach food to it. Given its Anglican origins, and that Simon (“Sandy”) is for his confession rechristened Peter (“Rocky”), it seems very appropriate to whip up a batch of English rock cakes.  Enjoy them with tea, conversation, and perhaps some confession.

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La Befana

It made no sense really.

Three strange men, well-dressed, well-spoken, two shy of handsome and one savagely beautiful at my door.

I live in the middle of nowhere in the house of my parents, my inheritance and holder of my memories. Each memory is enclosed in a part of the house or in a thing given to me, like an insect in amber, preserved in the slowly hardening leak of sticky time, polished to a high luster, preserved though the life is long dead.

I invited them in of course though the floor had just been scrubbed and there was camel dung on their shoes. The laws of hospitality are clear even if I was in the middle of washing the walls of the never-occupied spare room.

Still, it was nice to have someone to eat my baking.  So often I make something, wishing to share the yeasty knowledge and love I received through my mother’s bread and cakes, but there is no one to eat these offerings but me. So they mold or harden, growing stale and inedible; life yet again wasted.

They were travelers with such a strange end.  Not business as I first thought or marriage or even politics, but a star.  “Had I not seen it?” the youngest asked with youth’s unwitting condescension.  Are there not hundreds of stars in the sky?  Who has the time to study them all when there is churning to be done? Of course, a wealthy young man like he would have many servants; a luxury denied me.

(And does he not know the terror of starting at those stars and realizing how small and alone one is in the face of a vast universe? I cannot look at the stars; far better to tend to the things controlled, the fire on the hearth, the mending in the basket.)

The old one smiled at youth, “It is not the star that we seek, but he whom the star serves.”

How can a star serve anyone? It cannot make beds or the pluck the chickens.  “Who is that? “I asked politely. Hospitality is clear: we must humor the insane.

“A King!” cried the youth.

“A Sacrifice, “ said the old.

“Love, “ said the dark. As I bustled toward the kitchen (surely that was the pot boiling over.) he caught my cracked, calloused hand in his long-fingered, soft one, “Come with us.”

“For love? “ I said stupidly, an old woman whom love has long passed by.

“For love.”

My heart moved.

Then the pot boiled over.

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A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.
And the camels galled, sore-footed,refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times when we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wineskins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
                    -TS Eliot


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Twelfth Night

And now for our traditional posting of  the thoughts of our Christmastide chronicler, Mr. R. Herrick,  on Twelfth Night.  What’s that you say?  We’ve never posted Mr. Herrick’s thoughts  on Twelfth Night before?  What a gap there is between the mind and the fingers!  That must be why, much to my amazement, all the excellent posts I  thought of over Christmas have not magically appeared here.

Ah well no regrets: Mr. Herrick would not approve.  May you all find a bean or a pea in your plum cakes and be free from offense in this glad new year!

The Bean King and Other Revelers in David Teniers the Younger's "On Twelfth Night"

Twelfth Night: Or, King and Queen

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean’s the king of the sport here ;
Beside we must know,
The pea also
Must revel, as queen, in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here,
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelfth-day queen for the night here.

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake ;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurg’d will not drink
To the base from the brink
A health to the king and queen here.

Next crown a bowl full
With gentle lamb’s wool :
Add sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale too ;
And thus ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen wassailing :
And though with ale ye be whet here,
Yet part from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

Robert Herrick

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