Category Archives: time

No radiation escapes to us.

When Les Murray died, some obituaries made reference to him “vanishing into the future.” This poem contains the source of that phrase, and makes me think of kairos, or “eternal time,” and the Kingdom of God, which is always a stretch of the mind, because our relationship to this time that we swim in is so mysterious.

I appreciate Murray’s exploration of the subject, which humbles me with the reminder of all that we don’t know, and the foolishness of getting caught up in our “projections.” I am comforted by the last lines bringing us back to Christ, and us together with Him, in the “future,” which, if we could see with the eyes of faith, is also Now. He not only “told us that evil would come,” but He said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.”

Fr. Stephen Freeman writes about time, history, and the Kingdom in “What’s With the Kingdom of God?” and in “Mystery as Reality,” asking, “…if the Kingdom of God is already complete and we are already able to participate in it and we await the day of its full manifestation, then what is the place of history and the events associated with our salvation that have occurred in space and time?”

I’ll leave the broader questions for now and hope that after all that rambling you can still enjoy this more focused poem for itself. The reference to yarrow stalks in the poem is in regard to their use in reading the I Ching.

THE FUTURE

There is nothing about it. Much science fiction is set there
but it is not about it. Prophecy is not about it.
It sways no yarrow stalks. And crystal is a mirror.
Even the man we nailed on a tree for a lookout
said little about it; he told us evil would come.
We see, by convention, a small living distance into it
but even that’s a projection. And all our projections
fail to curve where it curves.

It is the black hole
out of which no radiation escapes to us.
The commonplace and magnificent roads of our lives
go on some way through cityscape and landscape
or steeply sloping, or scree, into that sheer fall
where everything will be that we have ever sent there,
compacted, spinning – except perhaps us, to see it.
It is said we see the start.

But, from here, there’s a blindness.
The side-heaped chasm that will swallow all our present
blinds us to the normal sun that may be imagined
in their ordinary day. A day to which all our portraits,
ideals, revolutions, denim and dishabille
are quaintly heartrending. To see those people is impossible,
to greet them, mawkish. Nonetheless, I begin:
‘When I was alive –’

and I am turned around
to find myself looking at a cheerful picnic party,
the women decently legless, in muslin and gloves,
the men in beards and weskits, with the long
cheroots and duck trousers of the better sort,
relaxing on a stone verandah. Ceylon, or Sydney.

And as I look, I know they are utterly gone,
each one on his day, with pillow, small bottles, mist,
with all the futures they dreamed or dealt in, going
down to that engulfment everything approaches;
with the man on the tree, they have vanished into the Future.

-Les Murray

It’s a mistake to rush through this cake.

My friend Timothy told me yesterday that the only people he knows who can truly multi-task are mothers of young children. It’s true, when you are a mother, you often are solving their problems, teaching them, or nurturing their souls more generally even while sweeping the floor or cooking, etc.

But if like me you are often alone and can fully focus on one thing at a time, that is best. One of my favorite quotes on this subject has long been from St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Whatever you do, do it gently and unhurriedly, because virtue is not a pear to be eaten in one bite.” And this morning I read on Lisa’s blog this good word from Fr. Jacques Philippe:

“To live today well we also should remember that God only asks for one thing at a time, never two. It doesn’t matter whether the job we have in hand is sweeping the kitchen floor or giving a speech to forty thousand people. We must put our hearts into it, simply and calmly, and not try to solve more than one problem at a time. Even when what we’re doing is genuinely trifling, it’s a mistake to rush through it as though we felt we were wasting our time. If something, no matter how ordinary, needs to be done and is part of our lives, it’s worth doing for its own sake, and worth putting our hearts into.”

When I read that, I had just finished eating a piece of the most delectable cake — while reading at the computer. Everyone knows that is a bad thing for an overeater to do! But the other unfortunate thing is, I missed the full experience of this cake, which I don’t exactly want to put my heart into, but which I do want to receive “gently and unhurriedly,” in a way that promotes the greatest thankfulness and encourages virtue.

I’d been wanting to try this cake to make use of my fig harvest; I think of it as an autumn cake because it is now that the figs really come in. The recipe is from Martha Stewart, but I combined the figs with dried apricots instead of fresh plums, because I had just bought the wonderfully rich Blenheim apricots from Trader Joe’s, and did not have plums on hand. The apricots were both more flavorful and colorful than plums would have been. Also I cut down on the sugar.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more buttery cake, but the flavor of butter was even lovelier — is that possible? — by being in combination with the almonds and fruit. As it turns out, the fruit and nuts and eggs are all products of California farms or gardens, and perhaps the butter as well? So mine is a California Cake, but yours might be otherwise.

You start with a cookie-like crust that gets pre-baked, an eggy almond-flour paste spread on top, then the fruit over all, before it goes in the oven again for a long time. I added a little water to the fruit to make up for the apricots being dried. I definitely had to give the whole process my full attention.

AUTUMN FIG CAKE

Trying to warm the butter a bit.

2 sticks unsalted butter, cool room temperature, cut into pieces, plus more for pan
1 pound fresh figs, halved or quartered
6 oz dried apricots, preferably Blenheim variety, sliced
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
Almost 1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup finely ground almond flour
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan; line with 2 wide pieces of parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Butter parchment. Toss fruit with 1/3 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. If you are using dried fruit add the 1/4 cup water; set aside and stir occasionally.

In a food processor, pulse 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to combine. Add half of butter and pulse until fine crumbs form. Transfer to prepared cake pan and use floured fingers to press dough evenly into bottom of pan. (If too soft to easily press in, refrigerate 10 minutes.)

Bake until crust is light golden in color, about 20 minutes; transfer to a wire rack and let cool 15 minutes.

In food processor, pulse remaining half of butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt with baking powder until combined. Add almond flour, remaining 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, eggs, and almond extract; process until smooth.

Spread batter evenly over crust. Gently stir fruit to reincorporate sugar mixture and arrange on top of batter (cut-side up). Bake until fruit is bubbling and filling is firm, about 1 hour and 5 minutes (Mine took 10 minutes longer). Let cool in pan 15 minutes, then use parchment overhang to lift cake out of pan and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool 1 hour and serve. Cake can be stored in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Wouldn’t the base of this cake be good with just about any fruit topping? I think it would.

Whatever you make of it, when you do partake,
I hope you can do it with attentive thanksgiving. 🙂

Annus est Christus.

Much earth and earthiness, fruitfulness, and aromas from it all, here on September 1st. I have been gardening a lot, soaking up the heat, collecting seeds, and ripping out vegetables that are done in by “pests,” those other hungry creatures who enjoy my garden. In a few days, God willing, my Monarchs will emerge from their delicate green chrysalises. In the meantime, other insects have been patiently posing for me.

I keep buying plants, and sticking them in the ground or in pots. Lots of perennials that will go dormant in a few months, but then they will be beautiful in the spring. I’m planning for another year in the garden, but who knows what tomorrow might bring?

This nursery in the country that I rarely visit, I managed to drive to yesterday; they specialize in edible perennials and pollinator plants. I bought five unusual plants, which I’ll have to tell about in a separate post. One lovely thing  I saw but didn’t buy was this passion flower that has decided to grow all over the mesh ceiling of the nursery.

In my own space, Alejandro spent a couple of hours trimming the lamb’s ears back to the steel edging of the paths. If we let it, it would grow all the way across the path, living a dry existence in the bark mulch, waiting for winter rains. I like to have my helper come at a time when I also can be working in my garden, and for some reason we seem to get more than double the work done. The other day he told me that my plum trees seem very likely to bear next year, judging from all the fruit spurs on them. 🙂

That mantis praying makes me want to tell you that it’s the beginning of the church year! Why, you may ask, does it start now? Why, because of Rosh Hashanah! I had been thinking a lot about this special day in preparation for teaching 7th-10th graders this morning, and then in today’s homily we were given a heavenly vision of this church calendar year and its cycles within cycles, with Christ at the center.

One book I used to prepare my lesson is The Year of Grace of the Lord by A Monk of the Eastern Church. He says, “The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from his birth to the full stature of the perfect man. According to a medieval Latin saying, the liturgical year is Christ himself, annus est Christus.”

Our homilist taught us about how we humans, along with angels, were made to live in a created eternity, something different from the unchanging, eternal nature that characterizes the Holy Trinity. But since the fall of mankind into sin, we find ourselves in a linear, world time, a fallen time that carries death in it; we are born, grow old, and die.

But we don’t have to live there exclusively; in the Church Christ gives us Himself by many means, including the daily, weekly and yearly cycles of prayers and hymn-filled services, feasts and saints’ days. The calendar brings the heavenly realm down and puts it into fallen time, where it is possible for us to enter in and live. We often get a taste of this kind of life at Pascha, but it is happening all the time.

I love the church calendar, and have always reckoned it a great gift — that is, since I found the Orthodox Church. It was August twenty years ago that I was invited to a women’s retreat at a monastery, and the brief immersion into the daily, weekly and festal cycles of worship — eleven services! — made me feel that I’d found my true home. Here was a way to live with Christ!

It’s more helpful to think of the church calendar not as the paper type with boxes for each day, but as circles and cycles and rhythms, some following the cycles of the sun or the moon, some celebrations fixed on the linear calendar and some moving with the changes of the earthly seasons. Jesus Christ entered our linear time, where He lived through 33 years of Jewish festal seasons; through the church calendar we can follow Him through His life, death, Resurrection, and the birth of His Church, and use it all to unite ourselves to Him day by day. 

I think August and September might be my favorite months of the year. We’ve had other traditional, seasonal events, like barbecues at church – yum! Green beans from my garden slathered with pesto from my garden, and Gravenstein apples, harbingers of fall. September is the month that I love most to go to my cabin in the mountains, but this year is full in ways that prevent that. It’s really a year of preparation of my house, so that I can, if possible, live here for a long time to come, and continue to make it a hospitable place for my family and others whom the Lord brings.

“We can only see a short distance ahead,
but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
~ Alan Turing

Rolled up like a cat.

DON’T ALLOW THE LUCID MOMENT TO DISSOLVE

Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve
Let the radiant thought last in stillness
though the page is almost filled and the flame flickers
We haven’t risen yet to the level of ourselves
Knowledge grows slowly like a wisdom tooth
The stature of a man is still notched
high up on a white door
From far off, the joyful voice of a trumpet
and of a song rolled up like a cat
What passes doesn’t fall into a void
A stoker is still feeding coal into the fire
Don’t allow the lucid moment to dissolve
On a hard dry substance
you have to engrave the truth

-Adam Zagajewski
From Without End: New and Selected Poems.
Copyright © 2002

Translated by Renata Gorczynski