Slicing off the crusts.

My grandfather enjoyed baking bread when he was in his 80’s and living alone in an apartment in town. His favorite recipe was full of whole grains and turned out a hearty and heavy product. He liked to give a loaf to his two lady friends, and he chuckled as he told me several times over the years about how they loved the heels best of all, and would immediately slice off both ends to eat fresh. “You know, that is the fastest way to dry out the loaf!”

This image came to mind tonight because soon after my bread came out of the oven I did that very thing, and I think it was the first time. Maybe it is a stage of my growth, or devolution, into an irresponsible old lady. I was feeling in need of some homey comfort, and saw no reason not to indulge myself. When in this state of mind that demands, “Slow down, quiet yourself,” I also think of reading poems. And I wondered, Is there a good poem around, about bread?

After looking online a bit, I find that I don’t have patience for a bread poem. Bread is so basic and fundamental, so physical and experiential, I just want to bake it, give it, eat it. I don’t want to philosophize about it, though I do thank God for it! I did locate, however, a few laudatory one-line quotes that probably qualify as short poems. I offer this one, which also seems perfect at close of day:

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
-Robert Browning

Love stands weakly at the border.

It is said by some that God has no boundaries regarding us, that He is God and may do with us (and to us) whatever He wills. This, of course, is true in an abstract sense. However, it is not true of God as He has made Himself known in Christ. Christ is a God who “asks.” He is the God who allows a freedom so great that it can kill Him. 
-Fr. Stephen Freeman in “Love and Freedom.”

I had just returned from a talk on the Holy Trinity when I read Fr. Stephen’s article quoted above. Our lecturer told us that the Cappadocian fathers of the 4th century, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, and St. Gregory of Nyssa, developed the Trinitarian theology of the church from their answers to questions raised by their knowledge of Greek and Hebrew ideas of God. One idea, from the Greeks, was that God is forced by overflowing love to create man, and they did not believe that God is forced to do anything.IMG_0083

So why did He? Because He wanted to give humans the opportunity, the freedom to respond to His love, and by communion with the Holy Spirit to be transformed into true persons .

In another article Fr. Stephen wrote: The knowledge that comes through communion is not a fact to be considered, rather, it is a knowledge that in the very act of knowing becomes part of you. The knower and the known share some manner of common existence.

A last snippet from Love and Freedom: When I have written that Pascha is at the heart of everything (and I believe this faithfully represents the teaching of the Church) this weakness born of love is its consequence. It is the love of God that surrounds us and calls us to be His friends. It seeks us, face to face, even searching for us when we hide. But it is a love that stands weakly at the border of our freedom, and waits for our invitation.

Fire, smoke and ashes.

That wonky redwood is the “Dr Suess Tree” as we call it, on the other side of my backyard fence, that towers above my garden from my neighbor’s place. I took the picture from down the street, quickly before the sun set.

We are seeing the setting sun through smoke. It’s been like this since last Thursday, when shortly after wildfires began to destroy the town of Paradise in Butte County, ashes and cinders from that destruction floated three hundred miles to the south, here and beyond here, at least to San Jose. Students and teachers in our schools are on the fifth day of their weekend, what with Veteran’s Day and smoke days.

It’s gloomy. My friend Myriah may have lost her house, though she was mercifully stuck in Texas when the chaos began. Or, her house might still stand, one of the few that weren’t destroyed by the blazes. The prospect of being a householder on an outpost in the middle of a burned-out town, “in the middle of an ash heap,” as Myriah puts it, is bleak. Whatever the condition of her house, her home is gone.

Lately in Liturgy the litany has included prayers for those suffering as a result of shootings, and this week “fires” was added to the phrase, along with the extra remembrance of soldiers slain in wars. Our parish was also commemorating the repose of a beloved priest, and we met at the cemetery Sunday afternoon for a prayer service in his memory. Several parishioners wore masks against the bad air.

It was a sweet gathering and memorial, for a man who was in many ways the heart of our parish — and still is. After the prayers and hymns and aromatic censing of the graves, we sang “Memory Eternal,” and the service ended. A little table had been set up on the grass next to the grave, with a candle and a icon on it, and our priest poured the melted wax from the candle on to the grave marker in the shape of a cross. Then he emptied the charcoal from his censer and remaining bits of incense on top of that.

A couple of the children crouched down to ask what he was doing, and I didn’t hear his answer, but I did hear him say, “I need to you blow on that, gently.” He wanted the incense to go on smoking for a while, so the kids got to provide the supporting wind.

A lawsuit has been filed against the utility company that supplies electricity to Butte County, claiming negligence on their part; it may have been sparks from their wires that started the fires. They had previously talked about the possibility of shutting off power to several counties because of extreme fire danger, and wanting to avoid all possibility of sparks or downed power lines instigating a disaster. I can see how they would at the same time like to avoid depriving their customers of what is a means of life support for many, especially in that mountain community where many retired people are now missing the comfort of winter coats that are turned to ashes.

I have no thesis around which to organize my ramblings, only sightings and impressions and feelings. Myriah is collecting clothing and supplies that match the actual needs of specific people in her hometown, and she will stop by here to get a few things on her way there. That is the most concrete and encouraging thing I have to write today; as was the case last year when the inferno was right here, the stories of sacrifice and true community are heartening.

One friend at church wrote on a chalkboard by his front door, “The love in the air is thicker than the smoke, and depression is a close second.”

Like children at this spectacle.

NOVEMBER

It is an old drama
this disappearance of the leaves,
this seeming death

of the landscape.
In a later scene,
or earlier,
the trees like gnarled magicians
produce handkerchiefs
of leaves
out of empty branches.

And we watch.
We are like children
at this spectacle
of leaves,
as if one day we too
will open the wooden doors
of our coffins
and come out smiling
and bowing
all over again.

~ Linda Pastan, born 1932, American poet