Lenctening Days

No, that’s not a typo.

Recently I learned that the word “Lent” {today–Ash Wednesday–is the first day of Lent} comes from the Old English ‘lencten,’ which sounds a lot like “lengthen” and, not incidentally, was the Old English word for Spring–that time when the days, well, lengthen.

Despite the admiration I’ve always had for traditional Lenten disciplines, this time of year–when I forget to start dinner on time because the growing evening light tricks me, when I’m drawn from sleep by the unexpected brightness of the morning sun–this time of year tends to make me a bit giddy. Meditating on dust returning to dust seems opposite to how I feel when Spring is, well, lenctening. Springing.

But maybe that’s reasonable. Lent is the season where deadness springs to life: snowdrops, crocuses, and daffodils cautiously raise their green and brilliant heads, stoic strawberry leaves unfold and tentatively sent out runners, tired, swollen goats bend to release their burdens in bringing forth light-footed young.

At this time everything in nature seems to be stretching and yawning awake after a long sleep, lively after months of sluggish drowsing.

Maybe Lent serves as a counterpoint to all this; a reminder that even as the grass “flourishes and is renewed” in the morning, “in the evening it fades and withers.” That God alone is everlasting.

It’s a sobering thought, but somehow, a joyful one. And so I hope this Lent not to curtail or cut back but to lencten: to take joy and satisfaction in God and in God’s gift of each lengthening, springing, light-filled moment.

Overly cute bunny gnawing a strawberry leaf. I can't help myself.

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
   so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
   and for as many years as we have seen evil.
{…}
Let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us,
   and prosper for us the work of our hands.

Psalm 90, NRSV

These are a Few of Life’s Crappiest Things! (Reading Ecclesiastes)

Did you know that this blog got its name more-or-less straight out of a Bible verse?

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t catch that; it comes from Ecclesiastes, which, being a frequently-neglected book of the Bible, is, naturally, one of my favorite books. (I enjoy rooting for underdogs.)

While some writers and preachers like to say that Ecclesiastes is all about how bleak life is without Jesus, it seems to me that the little book pretty well sums up many of the crappiest things about life:

1. Where there ought to be justice and righteousness, there’s injustice and wickedness.

2. Even if you’re strong, beautiful, brave, ambitious, and rich, you’re going to get painfully feeble and old, and, eventually, you’ll die. And, by the way, you can’t take all your stuff and money with you.

3. Everything people do can, much of the time, be chalked up to pride and competitiveness.

4. Rich people just can’t ever get enough money. They always want more.

5. It’s not the most deserving, or strongest, or wisest, or most knowledgeable people that get the recognition. Time and chance have everything to do with that.

6. More knowledge is usually a depressing thing.

So, yeah. Any of these could’ve come from a blog post or op-ed written, well, yesterday, but they’re from this funny little Ancient Near Eastern book that’s part of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scripture.

By now you’re wondering what all this has to do with the title of this blog. Well, there’s this refrain (of sorts) throughout Ecclesiastes that goes something like this:

There is nothing better for a person than that she should eat and drink and find enjoyment in her work. This is from the hand of God,  for apart from God, who can eat or have enjoyment?

Because here’s the thing about eating: obviously it’s not the most important thing in the world–aren’t things like doing justice, working hard, loving God, loving neighbor, taking care of your family much more important?

Well yes. And no. Because if you don’t eat, you can’t really do anything else. It’s easy to miss this in an overfed culture, but “give us this day our daily bread” is talking about the literal stuff that keeps you alive & kickin’.

Yes, life is marked with death and sadness and injustice and unfairness and depression and general crappitude.

Yet. Yet–

This world is still a beautiful place; there “lives the dearest freshness deep down [in] things.” There is love, there is laughter, there is community, communion, companions–there is the joyful, jovial fellowship around the table and thousands of things to delight our senses.

And food is one of them, a delightful necessity. A chance to nourish others, to be nourished ourselves, and to taste just a hint of God’s goodness.

So, yes. Death and greed and decrepitude and turpitude and all manner of crappiness. And still the ancient Preacher says:

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart.”

Yes. Life is more than food. But in this life where little makes sense, food and wine are a spot of grace and goodness—

God’s love made edible. And delicious.

Moment by moment, sustaining us by grace.

Some Thoughts on Abundance & Materialism

In Wednesday’s post, I attempted to echo Ellen’s post in saying that a fleshed-out Christmas–one with decorations! and presents! and lights! and music! and cookies!–is one good and fitting response to a holiday celebrating God’s Incarnation as a flesh-and-blood man in this smelly, fragrant, musical, discordant, delicious and disgusting world. Special gifts, special music, special food, special decorations are good things.

Sure, they can be overdone. I remember taking a run (back when I used to run) around a suburb I was visiting the day after Christmas. I was stunned by the size of the trash piles in front of almost every house: boxes and wrapping and discarded, old things, thrown out, ostensibly, to make room for the new things. But maybe holiday excess results not so much from being too materialistic, but from not being ‘materialistic’ enough. As Margaret Kim Peterson writes in Keeping House:

“Many things in life, whether food or household objects, are truly good. They are to be treated with appreciation and respect, and sometimes this means saying no to too much. This does not mean being ‘less materialistic.’ In a way, it means being more materialistic. It means taking material things seriously enough to be willing to get rid of them or to decline to acquire them in the first place.”

Indeed: sometimes we have to ‘make room’ so we can truly enjoy the goodness of material things. We only have so much room in our stomachs, in our homes, and in our days. Sometimes, a background of simplicity makes room for even better celebration: Christmas cookies aren’t nearly so special when you eat them every day, every week or every month.

No: their proper time and place is only at Christmastime.

There’s something good in that, I think.

A Mouthwatering Work of Culinary Genius

So between my birthday (last month) and Tim’s (yesterday) and the book contract, we had the opportunity to do some serious celebrating.

Not far from us is one of the very finest restaurants on the East End. We’ve eaten there twice before (well, three times if you count the time we went only for dessert) but only during ‘Restaurant Week,’ during which they feature a different menu with smaller portions.

Each time was nonetheless thrilling–to put it in the form of an analogy:

GREAT HOME COOKING : NORTH FORK TABLE’S FOOD ::

is as:

is to:

The food at the North Fork Table is kind of in a different category from other food. There are a lot of reasons why that’s so, but all I can say for sure is that when I eat it, I’m thinking, “this is so good that it can hardly be for real.”

And this time–with the fuller menu–it was, if possible, even better. It’s almost embarrassing to admit how enjoyable this is because I think our culture doesn’t allow us to speak lyrically about food without branding us ‘foodies’ or ‘snobs.’ Improbable though it may seem, the atmosphere and presentation is unfussy. It’s just really good food.

And without further ado:

the atmosphere is beautiful...the champagne is beautiful...even the menu is beautiful!

tuna tartare for tim
house-cured charcuterie for a between-course treat
a second course of squab on butternut squash for tim
and a second course of locally caught striped bass atop brussells sprouts and parsnip puree for me
long island duck for tim
and humanely raised veal for me
I forgot to take a picture of the dessert before I decimated it...
and they sent us home with house-made mallomars.

One of the things I love about going there is how serious, yet joyful, everyone is about their work. They’re artists, and creating things of beauty–even if those things are edible and consumable and fleeting–consumes them. I love that. I’m grateful for them. I’m grateful for the bounty of where we live.

I’m grateful to the Giver of All Things.

Speaking Out, Part Two

{I’m away this week. In addition to the delights of being with family & friends, I had the opportunity to speak to a MOPS group in New Jersey. I’m going to share some of the talk with you here. If I get my tech stuff together, I might even go all fancy and post it as a podcast so you can hear my squeaky little voice. Here’s the second of three parts.}

I have to condense the story here, but I want to tell you two things that helped me get to the place I am now, which, admittedly is not perfect, but which is undoubtedly a much, much happier place, a place where I can have the occasional chocolate croissant with a cup of coffee with cream and not feel “dirty” or like I need to go run 6 miles to “get rid of it.”

OK, first thing. First thing, I started reading the Bible with an eye toward what it said about food. Not in the, you know, Ezekiel Bread kind of way, as in, “And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and emmer,  and put them into a single vessel and make your bread from them. During the number of days that you lie on your side, 390 days, you shall eat it.” I love it that you can find, you know, Ezekiel 4:9 bread in the health food store, but the lying on your side for a year plus one month? So weird, and no one is going to build any kind of health practice on that!

But, in seriousness, I began to see how food in the Bible is this powerful symbol of God’s love and care and provision for people.

God sets up the garden of Eden with great food ripe for the picking.

God feeds the Israelites in the desert without their having to work for it.

God’s word, God’s love, is described again and again like sweet, rich food–like milk, like honey

Jesus actually feeds people–think of the five loaves and two fish. Think of the wedding at Cana.

Jesus says He is the Bread of Life.
The end of all things: the vision of God’s renewed, restored, perfect world is a party with great food.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live.”

This was not a God that wanted to punish me for enjoying food. This was a God who wanted me to taste and see that His gifts are good. That enjoying them, and giving thanks for them was NOT unspiritual. That eating and enjoying food might actually be a way of connecting with God. This was something to think about.
The second “thing” that happened, after that, was that my son was born. And in the process of being pregnant with him and nursing him (and realizing that in feeding myself, I was actually feeding HIM) I came to realize that what I ate influenced more people than just me. And somewhere I read some article that really scared me, about how mothers with disordered thoughts and behaviors around food and eating were likely to pass that on to their kids.
(And, by the way, some studies estimate that 3 out of 4 American women are disordered in their eating behaviors.)
I came to realize how much I wanted to protect my son from that sadness and struggle. I wanted him to enjoy his food and love his body in that carefree way that children do. In that carefree way that I once did.
Like I said, I’m not perfect. And there is no one single path to finding peace with food, peace with your body, peace with God. This has been my path. Yours is probably somewhat different. But I will say this: I’m really certain that eating together–as families, as friends, as women–and enjoying food–is powerful, powerful stuff.

The last part of the talk will appear tomorrow.