Monthly Archives: February 2014

RFC drinks in graces.

“It was St. Thomas, I think, who pointed out a long time ago that if God wanted to get rid of the universe, He would not have to do anything; He would have to stop doing something. Wine is — the fruit of the vine stands in act, outside of nothing — because it is His very present pleasure to have it so. The creative act is contemporary, intimate, and immediate to each part, parcel and period of the world.

“…The bloom of yeast lies upon the grapeskins year after year because He likes it; C6H12O6=2C2H5OH+CO2 is a dependable process because, every September, He says, That was nice; do it again.

“Let us pause and drink to that.”

Robert Farrar Capon knows well that there are people who will not drink to anything, because they are teetotalers. He’s writing this chapter on “Water in Excelsis,” in the book The Supper of the Lamb, about a God Who delights in his creation, and he is not sympathetic to what he sees as a mistaken attitude: “Only the ungrateful or the purblind can fail to see that sugar in the grape and yeast on the skins is a divine idea, not a human one.”

And as for what he calls The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union’s version of The Lord’s Supper, only about 100 years old and lacking completely what Holy Scripture and church tradition prescribe as the proper drink, he does not shrink back from engaging its adherents in argument, particularly the ones who think that the Greek word for wine in the Gospels meant something other than wine.

“The commentator cited, as I recall, grape juice for one meaning, and raisin paste for another. He inclined, ultimately, toward the latter.

“I suppose such people are blessed with reverent minds which prevent them from drawing irreverent conclusions. I myself, however, could never resist the temptation to read raisin paste for wine in the story of the Miracle of Cana.

“‘When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made raisin paste…he said unto the bridegroom, “Every man at the beginning doth set forth good raisin paste, and when men have well drunk [eaten? — the text is no doubt corrupt], then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good raisin paste until now.”‘ Does it not whet your appetite for the critical opera omnia of such an author, where he will freely have at the length and breadth of Scripture? Can you not see his promised land flowing with peanut butter and jelly; his apocalypse, in which the great whore Babylon is given the cup of the ginger ale of the fierceness of the wrath of God?”

Capon has a different argument with secularists, and it is over their classifying wine as an alcoholic beverage, when the author knows it as a class in itself, far removed from the hard liquor that is often used to ill effect, and which he tells us is “for strong souls after great dinners.” Capon:

“With wine at hand, the good man concerns himself, not with getting drunk, but with drinking in all the natural delectabilities of wine: taste, color, bouquet; its manifold graces; the way it complements food and enhances conversation; and its sovereign power to turn evenings into occasions, to lift eating beyond nourishment to conviviality, and to bring the race, for a few hours at least, to that happy state where men are wise and women beautiful, and even one’s children begin to look promising.”

I admit I am inspired by RFC’s eager receptivity to God’s gifts. What little appreciation I’ve had for wine as a beverage has been slow in developing, and I let my husband be in charge of that aspect of our dining. But wine in the chalice of Holy Communion has always seemed to me the obvious choice in obedience to Christ’s teaching.

This chapter contains more and expanded theologizing about the secular and the sacred, using wine and the making of wine as a demonstration of the goodness and delight of God. I am still musing on much of this and hope to ramble on here again, sharing with you the infectious loves of Robert Farrar Capon.

Other posts in this series are:
RFC is the man we need.
RFC begins with the meat.
RFC considers blood and sacrifice.
RFC makes one of nature’s marvels.
RFC drinks in graces.

A little dancing sister.


…Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshipers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved. -G.K. Chesterton

I’ve been enjoying my little sister in the garden this week. It started with a long weeding session, during which I rescued the sweet peas from a weed of which I don’t know the name. Does one of you know it?

It’s been growing taller than the peas, and even though I made some nice trellising for them, they have been confused by these weeds and are trying to climb on them instead.

The green and trailing weed is also flowering before the sweet peas bloom, and is not in any way an unpleasant weed to deal with.

How about this weed? Maybe someone can tell me its real name. We call it The Scattery Weed, because before the seeds are obviously ripe, when the plant still looks small and innocent, it waits with secret menace for the gardener to stroll by and brush it with her shoe or hand, then !!explosion!! of seeds in a several-foot radius.

I probably shouldn’t use the word menace when talking about my little sister. In this case she is only doing what is in her nature, and doing a good job of bearing many children for next year’s springtime.

I found more signs of spring while I was out there, like this oxalis blooming among the violets…

…plum blossoms decorating violets, and the violets springing up tall to decorate an irrigation head.

Above is a field of manzanita blossoms fallen from the bush to make way for berries, and hanging over them are snowdrops, truly looking like little sisters dancing in their pretty spring petticoats.

I finished my garden work just ahead of the steady rain we’ve been getting today. God is watering the earth and sending His rain “on the just and the unjust.” Thank You, Lord!

Linking up to Weekends With Chesterton.

Kinds of Poetry – Tolkien vs. Jackson

Jackson apparently thinks the characters Tolkien gives us are too simply good to be fully believable to modern audiences, and so he feels obligated to “complicate” them, to give them internal conflicts other than the ones they actually have, in the hopes that we will better be able to relate to them.

I’m quoting from this article in the Nov/Dec 2013 Touchstone Magazine, in which Donald T. Williams explains how literature, while delighting us with its art, is more powerful than history or philosophy to nurture our moral vision, or to corrupt us with false images.

With the help of quotes from Sir Philip Sidney, who wrote Apology for Poetry in the sixteenth century, he shows how “Tolkien was very consciously and deliberately following the literary tradition that flows down to us from Sidney through Dr. Johnson and C. S. Lewis.”

Peter Jackson the filmmaker seems to be flowing in a different stream. But he is an artist, and of course will impart his own soul to his work. I wouldn’t expect him to give us The Rings, because that has already been done, and he is not J.R.R. Tolkien. But it is unfortunate that he has changed things to the degree and in the directions he has. Williams points out specific ways in which the characters who inspired us in the books disappoint us in the movies, and makes these general remarks:

By this process of negative moral transformation, in other words, we reach the place where beloved characters are unrecognizable to Tolkien’s fans, and those fans feel betrayed. And they are right to feel so, though mostly they do not understand why. It is because the difference between the books and the movies is not just one of necessary adaptation to a different medium. It is that the author consciously followed the Sidneyan tradition while the adaptor is either ignorant of it or doesn’t understand it or has rejected it.

Read the whole article here.

RFC for Butter Week

Please don’t try Roger Farrar Capon’s baklava recipe. He describes it as “french-fried,” and yes, it does involved a large quantity of oil ! which I declare a horrid perversion of the spirit of baklava. This is the first thing I have found in The Supper of the Lamb that has so disappointed and surprised me. I guess no one can be perfect.

But the perfect baklava recipe does exist, simplicity itself for method; and for taste, the divine melding of flavors, of which that of Butter is central. It is the one used in my parish to make umpteen sheet pans of baklava every year for festivals and celebratory meals, and I will eventually make it at home and share the recipe here.

As I write, we Orthodox Christians are in the midst of what is sometimes called Butter Week, the week before Lent properly begins, and the last in which we eat dairy products (but start fasting from meat). The perfect time to tell about Capon’s attitude toward butter, which I am very sympathetic to. For example, at the end of a section on sauces he shares:

One last secret. There is almost no sauce that will not be improved by having a lump of butter whisked into it the moment before it is served. In addition to what it does for the flavor, it provides the sauce itself with a patina, a sheen which delights the eye even before the palate begins to judge. It is an embellishment not lightly to be forgone. Dishes should come to the table vested, robed. Don Giovanni is marvelous any way you can get to hear it. But given a choice between seeing it performed full dress, or on a bare stage with the cast in T shirts and sneakers, no rational man would hesitate. A great sauce deserves a great finish. Whatever you do, therefore, don’t omit the final grace — the loving pat of butter.

Those last words remind me of my grandmother, who showed this kind of love in her kitchen and to those she fed, including herself, and she lived healthily and on her own past the age of 100. I can still picture her standing by the stove and tucking fat pats of butter into the slits she had made in our baked potatoes just before taking them to the dining table.

Capon considers bread and butter, or cheese, to be basic ferial (everyday) food for those meals that one is keeping simple and light, for the sake of being able to enjoy real feasting less often. I’ll write more on that principle later. In contrast to bread and butter, we have what RFC calls “the epitome of baking”: pastry. He gives a lot of time and great detail to teaching us how to make puff pastry and Danish pastry, which must be made with butter, of course. I personally am not interested in this kind of cooking at my stage of life, and am happy to eat my butter in a hundred places other than pastry. Capon explains further that butter

…is not, in any except the merely technical sense of the word, grease. It melts at the temperature of the tongue, and consequently goes down as easily as cream. (You do not like to drink cream? I am sorry. Let us agree to disagree and get on with it.) Any man who cannot tell the difference between butter and margarine has callouses on the inside of his mouth…Butter is a substance in its own right, justified by its own delectability, not by its contributory services. It is a unique and solid sauce; it is apt to more dishes than anything in the world, and it is, like all the greatest sauces, worthy of being eaten plain.

Besides pastry, there are many recipes at the back of the book that feature this blessed food, including what look to be very nice cakes and cookies. I think all of us have plenty of that kind of recipe already, and if you don’t, just look on my own Recipes and Vague Instructions page on this blog. I wholeheartedly agree with RFC that butter “glorifies almost everything it touches.”

Other posts in this series are:
RFC is the man we need.
RFC begins with the meat.
RFC considers blood and sacrifice.
RFC makes one of nature’s marvels.