Transience and permanence

While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.

But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her.

But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.” (Mark 14:3-9, NRSV)

Spring Break’s over; today was Passion Sunday. It’s been a good day. I went to the 5 PM Passion Vespers, which were . . . moving and exquisite and powerful. They alternated readings by Christian writers from patristic and medieval times with hymns, prayers, and choir-sung motets. Each piece had been well-chosen and well-performed. The music at Christ Church may truly be the most beautiful church music I’ve ever heard performed; it’s a quality of music I’d feel privileged to pay to witness.

In a cathedral that seats hundreds, there were perhaps thirty or forty people in attendance, a fifth of them Yale Divinity students.

I spent a while thinking about the passage above, about the woman with the alabaster jar. Singing and cooking are both, at their heart, ephemeral arts. Hours of preparation go into something that vanishes in minutes; in the end, all those hours are simply lost, disappearing like perfumed ointment. In a world where so many go unfed and uneducated and unloved, the cost and labor of a performance like tonight’s seems exorbitant, even unjustifiable, by any calculation.

It’s a reminder that love surpasses and transfigures calculation. “Think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,” one hymn pled, “not my deserving.” Another reading wondered why God would “put on clouds instead of light,” concluding, “Sure it was love, my Lord! For love is only stronger far than death.” Christ didn’t die because He was obligated to do so; He didn’t die because it was the right thing to do. He died for pure, boundless, irrational, unfathomable, tender love.

He died for the kind of love that Kierkegaard found beyond comprehension, the kind that transcends ethics and duties, lest it be cheapened into duty itself.

That’s a love that’s easy to forget. Too often, I think, socially activist Christians tend to remember Christ’s second commandment, loving our neighbors as ourselves, instead of the first one: love God. Period. That’s the first commandment; that’s the chief end of humanity, in the words of the catechism. And if tonight’s service wasn’t a love song to God, I don’t know what is.

I spontaneously invited some of my friends over for dinner, after the service. I thawed frozen gumbo, made rice and chopped salad, and baked a poppy seed cake for dessert; we talked for hours, discussing theology and religion with the fond, teasing familiarity that seminarians seem to develop. I need days like today to remind me that all the work I do may be the means to an end, but this is the end itself: a time when all people can glorify God and enjoy God’s creations, in the world and in each other.

Today’s the day!

(click here to hear the melody for the lyrics)

Spring is here, the sky is blue,
Birds all sing as if they knew:
Today’s the day I’ll say I do
And I’ll never be nondenominational any more.
Because I’m . . .

Goin’ to the chapel and I’m
Gonna get confirmed,
Goin’ to the chapel and I’m
Gonna get confirmed!
Gee, I really love God and I’m
Gonna get confirmed.
I’m goin’ to the sacramental rite!

Bells will ring, the sun will shine.
I’ll be Episcopal and Anglican Communion’ll be mine!
Smells ‘n’ bells until the end of time,
And I’ll never be nondenominational any more.
Because I’m . . .

Goin’ to the chapel and I’m
Gonna get confirmed,
Goin’ to the chapel and I’m
Gonna get confirmed!
Gee, I really love God and I’m
Gonna get confirmed.
I’m goin’ to the sacramental rite!

Things I did tonight

  • Calculated dinner checks for 12 people from an unlabeled bill, including tax and tip, such that we had exactly the right total at the end.
  • Asked for my squid “extra spicy,” and got something that any Texan would be hesitant to even call “medium.”
  • Walked into a bar and ordered a glass of milk
  • Sipped my milk while my friends drank beer, and got intoxicated by association
  • Debated whether Christianity calls for socialism/communism in global politics, or only in our personal lives
  • Brainstormed on topics for my feminism paper, which may end up being about gender essentialism
  • Hugged two people, but not as many as I wish I’d hugged
  • Told Rachel two secrets, but not all of them

Home-popped popcorn

Home-popped popcornThis recipe is for my own sake as much as anyone else’s; I’ll go for a while without making it, and then I’ll forget how to do it, and I’ll go on the internet for instructions, and they’ll be bad instructions, and my first batch will be crap.

So. Home-popped popcorn. Infinitely cheaper (and more ecologically friendly) than the packaged microwave variety, not to mention less greasy and more delicious. This recipe looks simple, but when it’s just right, the olive oil and butter are a gentle symphony in the background of the light, crunchy popcorn.


Home-Popped Popcorn

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Not much to say.

My posts haven’t been as frequent, and I apologize; I’m doing fine, just haven’t had the urge to write in this blog. Spring break’s going well, I think.

Completely randomly, I stumbled upon this site: The Merry Life of the Beekeeper. It appears to have last been updated in late 1997, and to be entirely unconnected to any other organization or department in Yale. It’s a “guide for New Haven and Yale” from a thoroughly anti-establishment, pro-union, progressive perspective, and it’s a delightful snapshot of New Haven through those eyes, even if much of its information is outdated. I may have to try to track down its writers (or whichever subversive IT person is keeping the website from going down) and see if there’s any hope of a new edition.

Tassajara (Kneaded) Whole-Wheat Bread

Whole-wheat Tassajara BreadNo-Knead Bread is nice, but sometimes. . . well, pardon the pun, but you need to knead. Whether it’s the relaxing catharsis of kneading warm dough, or the time constraint of having forgotten to start dough rising a day early, or the desire to make something other than round white bread, making “normal” bread is still something I miss. So, yesterday, I decided to pull out my Tassajara Bread Book and make something new.

The results were very pleasing; achieving whole-wheat bread that’s light and even and fluffy can be a difficult task, thanks to the reduced gluten content of whole-wheat flour. (Gluten is the protein that gives yeast breads their fluffiness and springiness; it’s present in the highest quantities in white bread flour, and it’s developed by plenty of rising and kneading.) Tassajara recommended a technique a little more lengthy than my standard “knead, rise, shape, rise, bake” method, and it worked well.

A word of caution, though. This recipe looks long and complicated. It isn’t. (Well, it’s long, because good bread needs a long rising time, but you can do other things during that time.) What’s hard about making good bread is that it’s a genuine craft, the kind of skill that relies more on the memory of your hands than of your head. You have to know what weight and softness different doughs should have, how to guide the dough into smooth shapes that rise into perfect loaves, how to score the surface with even, shallow slashes. It’s a craft that I can’t claim to have mastered yet. I’ve tried to describe the technique I use in detail, here, but the best way to learn to make good bread is to bake it, again and again, and to watch other bakers at their craft. Enjoy the journey.

P.S. Sorry about the poor photo; I didn’t think to get a picture until the bread was mostly gone!


Tassajara Whole-Wheat Bread
adapted from the Tassajara Bread Book
makes 2 loaves of bread
total time, including rising time: 4 1/2 hours

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