Every real thing is a joy…

[Eating together is a central part of community life at SSU. Here are some thoughts from a master at combining theology and cooking:]

There is a habit that plagues many so-called spiritual minds: they imagine that matter and spirit are somehow at odds with each other and that the right course for human life is to escape from the world of matter into some finer and purer (and undoubtedly duller) realm. To me, that is a crashing mistake – and it is, above all, a theological mistake. Because, in fact, it was God who invented dirt, onions and turnip greens; God who invented human beings, with their strange compulsion to cook their food; God, who, at the end of each day of creation, pronounced a resounding “Good!” over his own concoctions….

Food and cooking, therefore, are not low subjects. In fact there are no low subjects anywhere in the physical universe. Every real thing is a joy, if only you have eyes and ears to relish it, a nose and a tongue to taste it. But more than that, food and cooking are among the richest subjects in the world. Every day of our lives, they preoccupy, delight and refresh us. Food is not just some fuel we need to get us going toward higher things. Cooking is not a drudgery we put up with in order to get the fuel delivered. Rather, each is a heart’s astonishment. Both stop us dead in our tracks with wonder. Even more, they sit us down evening after evening, and in the company that forms around our dinner tables, they actually create our humanity.          – Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

A couple of interesting stories about monks chanting…

[Here’s a story from a Benedictine monastery worth pondering:]

…chanting was curtailed in the mid-1960s as part of the modernisation efforts associated with the Second Vatican Council. The results could not have been more disastrous. The monks had been able to thrive on only about four hours sleep per night, provided they  were allowed to chant. Now they found themselves listless and exhausted, easily irritated, and susceptible to disease. Several doctors were called in, but none was able to alleviate the distress of the monastic community. Relief came finally, but only when Alfred Tomatis convinced the Abbot to reinstate chanting. As he recalled: ‘I was called in by the Abbot in February, and I found that 70 of the 90 monks were slumping in their cells like wet dishrags… I reintroduced chanting immediately. By November, almost all of them had gone back to their normal activities, that is their prayers, their few hours of sleep, and the legendary Benedictine work schedule.’ The decisive factor, it seems, had been a simple matter of sound.

– Ted Gioia, Healing Songs (2006), quoted in I. McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

[and this reminded me of a recent interview with actors from the French movie Of Gods and Men about how they were affected by the many hours of singing as they rehearsed for the film:]

…the actors were progressively transformed by the words and the musical tonality of these songs. Above all, they started to become a community. During the press conference in Cannes, Lambert Wilson expressed it clearly: “Through songs that elevate and unite us, we became brothers”.

The singing scenes also helped give rhythm to the story. They first allow us to see and hear the monastic community during its most frequent and regular activity: the seven daily offices, in other words, four hours of singing a day. “To chant psalms”, confides actor Olivier Rabourdin “is to breathe together, to share the Breath of Life”.

– Henry Quinson, “Monastic Songs”

Around the table on Thanksgiving

[Thoughts from Parker Palmer that might make for a more pleasant time around the Thanksgiving table…]

How do we move from “the place where we are right” to a place where we can connect with each other across our lines of difference? Here’s one way: (1) Stop throwing our values, beliefs and opinions at each other as if they were weapons in a war of words. (2) When we come to a place of deep division, invite people to talk about the life experience behind their beliefs to help us understand our differences. (3) Remember that the more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to distrust or dislike that person. (4) Value having relationships over being right, and the result will be more that’s right. (5) Mutual understanding always trumps winning a verbal food-fight: it’s the grown-up way to go!

A Morning Prayer

[One of the primary purposes for this online prayer book is the maintenance and extension of a sense of community beyond the geographical bounds of St. Stephen. While we may rightly be suspicious of virtual community that substitutes for face-to-face, lived-out community, our goal is to provide nudges and reminders of a real, spiritual connection that can nourish and even subtly transform our everyday relationships wherever we are. In the midst of a society we often experience as rootless and fragmented, we hope the readings that are added weekly (some from the printed prayer book and some ‘new’) re-connect us to the breadth and depth of a faith that is both traditional and creative.

Please consider adding to the community element of this project by adding comments, by suggesting readings or links (email them to [email protected]), or by sharing posts that you find meaningful. Now – enough chat (don’t worry, I won’t disturb the readings with my rambling very often). Here’s a morning prayer written by Joel Mason that Carol and  I often start our day with]:

The sun is rising
the son has risen
the day is dawning
the day of the Lord is at hand

I will come
in my innermost self
to the courts of my God
and show myself to Him again

You dwell within me
and within the heart of my community
You dwell even in the pain
of my lack of community

wherever there is land, the solidness of rock or the comfort of grass
wherever there is water, the calm of lake or the tumult of sea
wherever there is sky, the empty expanse or the canvas filled with cloud and sun
wherever there is time, the endless waiting or the passing moment
wherever there are people, the connection of belonging or the isolation of fear
You are there
You have never left me to face life alone

be persuaded, timid soul,
that He has loved you too much to cease loving you now.

(Lectionary Scripture or reading for the day)

As I see the day stretched out before me
in all of its mystery and predictability
I give it to You
and ask that You would walk with me
through the minutes and hours
keeping me awake and available
to You and to each one that will cross my path

as the day dawns
and the sun rises
I rest in the shadow of your wings.
I rest
knowing that you are God
and that I am somehow Your friend and helper

in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

More on the everyday

Richard Rollheiser shares this insight about the everyday nature of prayer:

“Eating has a natural rhythm: banquets and quick snacks, rich meals and
simple sandwiches, high times with linen serviettes and low times with paper
napkins, meals which take a whole evening and meals which you eat on the
run. And the two depend upon each other: You can only have high season if
you mostly have ordinary time; prayer is the same.”