Friday, February 28, 2014

A Recipe for Gratitude

Today I was blessed to spend several hours with some good friends that I first met in seminary.  We have now known each other ten years.  Their presence in my life has been a profound gift.   When we come together we share our stories of success and trial, of where we think we are seeing God and where we think we are walking with Christ, and we air out those dark spots where the way is not so clear.  Others, who live in various parts of the country, will join us later in the year.   It is impossible for me to think of going to seminary and then just walking away without further contact with these friends. They help me breathe. 
This morning I baked some Irish Seedy Bread.  Soda breads come together quickly, and I really love the moment when the bread has been kneaded and it has rested for a few minutes on the the wooden board.  It is then the loaf is marked with a cross and then place it in a hot oven.  I have tried to skip the resting part, but then the cross becomes difficult (indeed). The bread just does not want to give.  I have learned to wait.  This bread actually makes a very good communion bread. It is rustic, slightly sweet, and the caraway and raisin are always surprising.  Communion should at least periodically catch us off guard.  God seldom sets a predictable, bland table before us, but at times we forget that.     
As the rains came and went, we sat and talked, laughed much, cried a little, paused, prayed, and shared a simple meal of soup and bread. If you are thinking that sounds like Communion, I do agree.    
I have promised to send the recipe for Seedy Bread, so here it is.  The recipe is adapted from Nick Malgieri's book, How To Bake (Harper Collins 1995).  His recipe calls for baking the bread at 450 degrees.  I have found this to be too hot, so I bake at 425.  In my oven 450 results in a bread with burnt pellets of raisins.       
3 1/2 cups flour 
3 tablespoons sugar 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
3 to 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 cup raisins 

1 1/2 cup buttermilk 
Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Stir well to mix.  With your fingertips quickly rub the butter into your dough.  It is easier if the butter is at room temperature.
Add the caraway seeds. 

Add the raisins. 
Add the buttermilk (or milk with vinegar added) and stir gently with a rubber spatula - it will form a slightly sticky dough. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for about 5 minutes.  I did find myself wondering this morning what would happen if the dough was not covered, but I did not experiment.  I confess I find covering bread dough comforting.   Cooking is a science, but it is also more.         
Remove the dough from the bowl to a lightly floured work surface and gently knead it for about a minute or so - until it looks somewhat cohesive.  
Form into a round loaf and place on a cookie sheet or baking sheet covered in parchment or buttered foil.  
Let the dough rest again for 10 minutes or so.  Then give thanks (my suggestion) and mark it with a fairly substantial cross, or an X if that makes you feel more comfortable (do not skip this step or your bread may end up looking like a volcano).  Place it in a 425 degree oven for about 45 minutes until it is risen, is deep brown in color, and an inserted toothpick or skewer comes out clean.  Do pay more attention to your bread than the timer.  Today, mine was fully baked in 35 minutes.   

 Place on a rack to cool.    
This bread does not keep well, so enjoy with others, and give thanks (yes, again).  We learned today that it goes well with not only a homemade soup, but also with a nice crisp Fuji apple.  Followed by snicker doodles.       
Thank you, Nick Malgieri.  I take full responsibility for the side notes.        

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Dresser Top

Yesterday, I arrived at a home dedicated to the care of Alzheimer's patients a little early. One by one,  I greeted the gentle people who had been gathered, including one woman whom I did not remember meeting.   She was quite cordial and said, "It is so nice to see you again. It has been far too long. I have your picture on my dresser."  With sincerity, I replied what an honor that was for me.
I am always grateful when a person with Alzheimer's is able to keep their spirit of hospitality and grace.  Not everyone can, and not everyone even had such a spirit before the advance of the disease.  I really do try not to romanticize neither about being an elder, nor the disease that is Alzheimer's.  Yet, as I move through the various homes, there are moments, such as this one, of poignancy and grace.  I am not only touched, I am changed.      
My picture, of course, does not sit on the top of Betsy's dresser. However, there must be, or was at one time, a picture of someone that mattered to her.  As I sit here in the early morning light, I see my candles, chalice, and cross that are on my mantel.  I think of Jesus and I realize Betsy and I have something in common.   We may not know exactly who is in the picture, but what we are seeing gives us hope and goodwill, and we are able to carry those with us, at least most of the time.

I must give thanks.  Not for disease or for the suffering, but that we do not go into either alone. 

They are like trees 
planted by streams of water, 
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither. 
In all that the do, they prosper. 
                                                 Psalm 1:3

Thursday, February 6, 2014

I Remember

This week I visited a care community dedicated to Alzheimer's patients to discuss an upcoming event with the staff.  I used to serve this community regularly, but another SpiritCare chaplain now serves this home.  I was able to visit at the same time that the SpiritCare service was scheduled.  When I walked in, I immediately looked for Rae.  Truthfully, I really did not expect to see her.  After all, it had been a couple of years since I last saw her.  However, despite my initial happiness at seeing her in the activity room, I was saddened to see her hunched over, tracing unseen circles on the table with her finger.  My first thought was that she might have lost the ability to communicate directly.  I said hello, and then sat down beside her.  As we began to sing, she became more alert, and by the third verse of the first hymn, she and I were chatting and giggling (my apologies to my colleague). She was soon close to how I remembered her:  singing, and commenting after every song, "I love this.  Isn't this beautiful?"   I, of course, agreed.  Could I always understand her?  Well, no.  Could she always understand me?  Unlikely.  But the warmth from that experience is still with me.  And for Rae, and because of Rae, I will do my best to remember.         
My thanks to the good pastor who shared Psalm 42 with us that day.   
These things I remember, 
as I pour out my soul; 
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession 
to the house of God, 
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.     (Psalm 42:4)  

Come join us when you can.   There are so many Rae's out there, yearning for a tangible circle that only community, and love can provide.