From George MacDonald’s year-long Diary, a few stanzas from the section “September”:
4. In the low mood, the mere man acts alone,
Moved by impulses which, if from within,
Yet far outside the centre man begin;
But in the grand mood, every softest tone
Comes from the living God at very heart—
From thee who infinite core of being art,
Thee who didst call our names ere ever we could sin.
8. Poor am I, God knows, poor as withered leaf;
Poorer or richer than, I dare not ask.
To love aright, for me were hopeless task,
Eternities too high to comprehend.
But shall I tear my heart in hopeless grief,
Or rise and climb, and run and kneel, and bend,
And drink the primal love—so love in chief?
25. Lord, loosen in me the hold of visible things;
Help me to walk by faith and not by sight;
I would, through thickest veils and coverings,
See into the chambers of the living light.
Lord, in the land of things that swell and seem,
Help me to walk by the other light supreme,
Which shows thy facts behind man’s vaguely hinting dream.
-George MacDonald, from A Book of Strife in the Form of The Diary of an Old Soul
I was a gardener long before I had a blog — still, it’s surprising I didn’t tell my magic bean story here before. [Hmm… well, I did tell it, as the “related article” boxes below just revealed to me!] It started with friend Elsie… A Long Long Time Ago she and I used to share garden lore and harvest, and mysteries. The biggest mystery was how the special bean ever came to be growing in her vegetable plot.
It must have been in 2006 at her house that she led me to a bed of earth next to a fence, to show me runner beans with big pods and pretty flowers. “Maybe you can tell me what this bean is,” she hoped. She always thought I might have the answers to any garden question. She hadn’t planted it, and her neighbors had no garden. I was clueless, but I went home and tried to find its picture online. It didn’t take long, even though at the time you could not easily find the seeds to buy. I read that only one runner bean has a bicolor flower, and this definitely matched the pictures of that variety called “Painted Lady.” Baker Creek Seeds in 2018 has this to say about it:
Traditional English bi-color grown since 1596! The name had mention to Queen Elizabeth I, ‘who was heavily made up with rouge and white chalk.’ The gorgeous flowers of red and white are among the most beautiful of flowering beans. The large beans are also good as snaps, freshly shelled or as dry beans, which are chocolate and tan mottled in color.
Just today I read on Wikipedia that this is a cultivar of the plain old Scarlet Runner Bean. They are all perennial, which is a great boon for someone like me who takes forever to get around to planting in the spring. The beans are pretty large, not the sort of seed you would imagine a bird dropping into the soil… Its appearance in our neighborhood and these other special features of the plant made it seem magic indeed, admittedly in a different way from those in the story “Jack and the Beanstalk;” but Elsie gave me seeds that fall, I planted them the following spring, and in a few months I had lots to give to friends in these packets I made, with an error in the name of the associated queen. Oops.
It’s been many years since these beans have been given a spot in my garden, but I found a handful of seeds of uncertain age to try training along with the butternut squash on my sturdy trellis — and they sprouted!
Nearby, the green beans named Blue Lake and Spanish Musica are reaching for the sky. I was lying in bed last night letting the poetry of bean names evoke images of Spanish ladies swimming in blue lakes, and composing a blog post about my wealth of beans. I had already made three pickings of the Spanish Musica, and Soldier came by to eat them with me — after I’d taken a picture of the last bunch, one of which was 11 inches long! They were very good eating, and their being stringless made them quick to prepare for the pot.
This morning at church the Gospel was the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Father James’s homily ranged over the whole Bible and the goodness of God to feed us: The manna in the wilderness was a type of Christ, as He explained to His disciples at the Last Supper when they said,
Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.
Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world.
Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that comes to me shall never hunger; and he that believes on me shall never thirst….Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believes on me has everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
Now we have the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist week by week, imparting Christ the Bread of Life to us. Our homilist reminded us of the prayers that many people pray at meals, including those going back many millennia such as Jewish prayers like “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth,” and “Blessed art Thou, O Lord, who feeds the world.”
When the theme of bread was added to the swirl in my head, a song popped up (naturally, because of Musica!) and joined in, one that our family used to sing as a grace before meals, part of Johnny Appleseed’s song adapted to the theme of dinner:
The Lord is good to me
and so I thank the Lord
for giving me the things I need:
the bread and the milk
and the bowl of beans;
the Lord is good to me!
It just so happens that I made bread last week, too, part of my ongoing project of combining “artisan no-knead” technique with my sourdough starter and experience. This latest effort was very satisfying, and makes me want to get another batch going tomorrow.
I assembled the ingredients for the Swedish Sourdough Rye on Tuesday…
…and put two lumps of wet dough in the fridge in plastic bags.
On Friday I baked one as a boule in the Dutch oven, and Saturday I baked the other in a bread pan, resulting in this 2-pound loaf:
It is incredibly moist, what they call a custardy crumb, and nice and sour, with the anise and caraway and orange peel I got the idea for from Mabel last fall in Tucson. I sort of forgot to put any white flour in this batch, though it has whole wheat flour with the rye, and it is therefore dense, but it’s not doughy or heavy.
I bought the book at right but have read only a couple of pages. Before it arrived I had perused many recipes online but was too intimidated by all the details to follow any of them. After you’ve baked bread in a rather relaxed (a.k.a. sloppy) fashion for 40+ years the idea of completely starting over step-by-step was paralyzing. So I picked up some general principles and hoped that I might learn by experimentation; I’ve been keeping notes on my own trials and results. But I don’t know if I will ever have a real recipe to share with you all. I do know what is working for me currently:
1) Keep the dough wet and loose, more runny than biscuit dough.
2) Let it spend a good amount of time in the refrigerator.
3) When you take a lump out to bake it, handle it gently and don’t knead.
4) Bake it hot, at 450° or 500°F, and for longer than seems reasonable.
It’s not easy to see, but in the center of the photo below the Spanish Musicas are reaching across the space to hold hands with the trellis climbers. The poem that is being played out in my garden is too elaborate a ballad for me to follow easily (though Albert will likely jump at the chance to translate it), but tomorrow I’ll go out in the garden and try to soak up a few more lines.
Kindle in our hearts, O God, the flame of love that never ceases, that it may burn in us, giving light to others. May we shine forever in your temple, set on fire with your eternal light, even your Son Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer. Amen.
In “The Deer’s Cry,” or “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” it is the saint’s prayer that Christ would be in the heart of “everyone who thinks of me.” Amen! Dear Father Patrick, your prayer has been for me the height and depth of encouragement over the last years, as it leads me straight to Christ Who is the Source of all courage and hope and strength. Because of it and flowing from it, you are in my mind and my heart, and so is He.
I did write before about this prayer when I first started to memorize and to sing it in the form of a hymn composed by Charles Villiers Stanford, using two traditional Irish tunes. The poetry was written in 1899 by Cecil Frances Alexander and is based upon a translation of the ancient Irish by Whitley Stokes.
Thanks be to God, this saint and prayer belong to all Christians (although, interesting fact, he has never been canonized by a pope). Patrick was a witness and missionary for Christ centuries before church unity was broken. You might like to read what one Orthodox site says about him: St. Patrick the Bishop of Armagh and Enlightener of Ireland.
The lyrics as I have sung them at least a thousand times are those of the hymn known as “I Bind Unto Myself Today.” One can find on YouTube many renditions of this one sung beautifully by choirs such as the Kings College Choir, and many of them are cluttered with distracting and even, to my mind, inappropriate images. This is one of the better ones. Because the choir’s sung version is abbreviated, I am posting the entire text.
Only now do I notice two verses that I’d never seen before, and which I am glad to know Alexander included in her poem, as they are definitely part of the ancient prayer as it’s come down to us, and they round out the expression of our need for God’s help in every area of life. Though we moderns might not worry about the kind of “poisoned shaft” St. Patrick knew, that phrase and other vivid images are good metaphors for realities we do face, and for attacks from without and within.
I Bind Unto Myself Today
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan River;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;
I bind unto myself today.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the Cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour;
The service of the Seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the Prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Among the old eternal rocks.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.
Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart’s idolatry,
Against the wizard’s evil craft,
Against the death-wound and the burning,
The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till thy returning.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.
This morning I spent a little more time working on the version of this ancient and rich prayer that is my current stream of grace: Lisa Kelly singing “The Deer’s Cry”. Soon I will have learned it “by heart.” But CHRIST in ME — that is my prayer.