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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tongues of Flame

Our barbecue went very well. Even considering that it was mother's day, we still had a good turn out, 28 people including us. Our priest pointed out that Church feasts took precedence over national or common holidays, and that if we wanted to focus on Mother's Day as well, we would do well to remember Mary, the Mother of the Church.

I made a pot of stuffed grape leaves (waraq 'ounab), about 80 of them. We barbecued a chipotle rubbed flank steak, chicken breasts marinated in lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper, polish dogs, bratwurst, cheese bratwurst, and two legs of lamb, which I butterflied in five seconds with the knives our butchers use to slice up the carcasses of meat in the shop, rubbed with a paste I make of garlic, salt, fresh rosemary, oregano, thyme, mint, chives, and parsley. I had marinated another flank steak in a bourbon and brown sugar marinade that I got from the new issue of Fine Cooking, but we were all so full, that we just saved that to grill for last night's dinner. We didn't have any shrimp or fish this year, but we also had a smaller turn out than normal.

People brought coleslaw, baked beans, carrot sticks, the bratwursts, cakes, cookies, and we had sodas, coffee and the fancy pants wine we bought over Easter break. A friend also brought a sweet German white wine. Except for the buns, we didn't have bread this time around, and not much in the way of chips or other side dishes, but we still really enjoyed the food. We were all pretty much in need of a post-food nap, and the children all ran around outside and worked off their lunches/dinners.

I mentioned before how Rich is a serious meat eater. This was a perfect meal for him. It makes his dedication to the biweekly meat fasts so much more admirable. It's not much of a sacrifice for me, and I make a conscious deliberation to focus on Judas' betrayal and Christ's crucifixion, as well as trying to make personal penance on those days. I follow the Church's teaching on dietary rules in obedience, and also because I do like meat, so it is something I would normally eat during the day, even if not for every meal. Rich, though, I think spends much of his penance on not eating meat. He works right next door to the airport restaurant, and they are invariably grilling burgers or cooking up prime rib while he's at work on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the wind blows all the smells toward his office. It takes quite a bit of fortitude on his part to abstain from meat on those days. The hardest part for me is being near a teriyaki place every Friday and smelling their food. It's really the only time I am challenged in my determination to eat meatless. Since Sundays are always little feast days, remembrances of Pascha, we can eat as we wish on those days. Having a major feast on a Sunday is a great treat, especially for Rich who sacrifices so cheerfully something that is so difficult for him during the week, and even more so during Lent. The man lives for Bright Week and the 12 days of Christmas, in which there is absolutely no fasting permitted.

One of the things we love about the Church's liturgical cycles is how it makes the events of our faith something we live out daily and weekly and monthly and annually. It is a good way to help our children understand the faith, as well as making the holy days and events tangible and not just something we've read about. Jessica Snell writes about this in her blog, how as a homemaker and mother, she is able to live the church year in her home and with her family. She wrote a great article in Touchstone about living the church year at home and the blessings and graces that are available as a mother and wife practicing at home with her family.

This life provides a backbone and rhythm to our faith life which then defines the structure and pattern of our life as a whole. It is cyclical, as we observe the same seasons, events and holidays each year, but each year it is a reinforcement and an opportunity to delve deeper into the life of faith and into the mind of God. Contrary to many people's assumption that it is rote and meaningless, it is rote the way that knowing one's name is, the way that knowing that 2 plus 2 is 4 helps you understand other math problems. The cycles, feasts, fasts, physical prayers like the Sign of the Cross, genuflecting for the Presence, or bowing to the cross, the daily lectionary and prayers, do not make God more remote, but instead imbue one with a foundation of faith and a consciousness of God in daily life. Doctors have studied alzheimer's and senile dementia in many populations, but some of the more interesting studies to me have been in closed populations such as convents. These women often forget everything about their lives and what they know, but in the depths of their minds, out of the foundation of their souls, the words that come out are the Lord's Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be. I've talked to people and read about elderly men and women who cannot remember who their family is, but can still recite the Nicene Creed. This is their base, this is what they know without having to think about it.

I shudder to think what would come from my mouth, if I could not control it. Rich and I have talked about how to develop a heart and mind that will produce the creeds and the prayers rather than abusive language and angry expostulations. Living the life of the Church is part of how we do that. It is part of the foundation we are laying in our children. We do not want to be bitter old people, we do not want to meet our maker with only rottenness and anger in our hearts. We want to go out of this world with the words of Christ and the Church in our minds, on our lips and in our hearts.

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You may (or may not) recall that my grandfather-in-law suffered for many years from Alzheimer's disease. One very striking thing to me was that even when he no longer recognized anyone in the family, and was no longer able to walk, and did not remember how to use a fork, or that food was supposed to be put into one's mouth - even when all of that was gone, and he could no longer string together meaningful sentences in any of the four languages in which he was once fluent - even THEN - when he was wheeled to the Shabbat dinner table, and he saw the challah and the candles, he would recite the blessings in perfect Hebrew.
Thanks for the mention!

I like your idea about trying to become the sort of old person who would be praising the Lord, even after dementia had robbed you of your self-control. I hadn't ever thought of it that way, but it reminds me of the verse, "out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." Thank you for sharing that idea.

I read that article in Touchstone and I really liked it too.

Glad to hear the BBQ went well. Sure wish we could have been there, but the time will come.
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