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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Chiarello’

The temptation to be performatively meditative and thoughtful about Advent will run strong this year, I’m guessing.

It’s natural. 2020 has been a strange year for everyone and a hard year for many. Tragic, even.

Not surprising then, that as the calendar year draws to a close and Advent begins, it seems a proper moment for stock-taking and pondering. What do all of these disruptions, changes and challenges mean? What is this new world and how do we live in it?

Well, when I read through this Sunday’s readings, I was struck, most of all by the old news, once again, that all this disruption, change and challenge is not new at all.

For most of human history, most people, even the wealthy, have lived on the edge of earthly existence, with very little sense of control. Life was precarious. High maternal mortality, high childhood mortality, high mortality, period. Populations subject to the vagaries of climate and natural disaster, without benefit of satellite or radar to know what’s coming. Famine, floods and pestilence always on the horizon of possibility, which meant, not that you’d have to put off a trip to the store and consider a week or month-long disruption of the supply chain, but that you, your children and maybe your whole village would  starve.  Brutal rulers, punishments and restrictions, pogroms and genocide.

And you don’t even have to reach back to the Middle Ages to find it.

In such a context, it is not difficult to remember that you yourself are not God, or even a god, that you don’t create your own destiny. With that understanding, it’s not so much of a challenge to live in the knowledge that any joy or contentment you can grab from life on earth will not – and cannot – be tied to material prosperity and peak physical health, for neither of those things will probably ever come to you at all.

For most of human history, it hasn’t been the full, satisfied college degree holder looking to scratch a vague itch of existential despair who’s been hearing the Good News. It’s been the peasant nursing constantly aching teeth, squinting to see through weakened eyes, middle-aged at thirty, working hard from dawn to dusk, remember dead children, hearing rumors of war, studying the skies, waiting and praying for rain, subject to the whims of human authorities.

If they could see us, reeling from our present-day troubles, they might well ask us, “Well…what did you expect?”

Listen to today’s first reading, from Isaiah. Better yet, read the entire context – Isaiah 63-64. It’s an astonishing outcry of a people in exile, a wild mix of all that every person feels in time of loss and crisis: What did we do to do deserve this? Why are we suffering so? Have we done wrong? Are we suffering consequences of that wrong? God is so harsh with us! God seems to be silent, hidden and absent? But….you know what? He’s our Father. We trust him. He’s like a potter, we’re clay. Go ahead, Shape us.

The voices come to us from 2700 years ago – 2700 years – questioning, railing and ultimately trusting – and it’s as if they could be speaking today

Well, they are.

Same human race, same struggle, same veil we yearn to lift, same ache in our hearts for peace, wholeness, life and love.

Same cry for a savior.


I’ve attached this poem to another Advent post in the past, but it seemed fitting here. Written at the end of World War II, the poet says of it:

This poem, ‘Expectans Expectavi’, which is the title of a psalm, “I waited patiently for the Lord”, is about waiting, written at the end of the last war when the whole world, really, seemed to be holding its breath for the return of ordinary life, and all the soldiers from overseas, and I thought of it in the wintertime, at Christmas, with the carols and the children’s faces, recalling the refugees of the time. The poem happened to be chosen to be posted up on the underground, so although I never saw it myself, several of my friends have been surprised by it in the middle of a crowd of people standing up in the tube train.

Expectans Expectavi

The candid freezing season again:
Candle and cracker, needles of fir and frost;
Carols that through the night air pass, piercing
The glassy husk of heart and heaven;
Children’s faces white in the pane, bright in the tree-light.

And the waiting season again,
That begs a crust and suffers joy vicariously:
In bodily starvation now, in the spirit’s exile always.
O might the hilarious reign of love begin, let in
Like carols from the cold
The lost who crowd the pane, numb outcasts into welcome.

Advent is a reset, yes, but if we listen carefully to God’s Word and the lives of others beyond our own bubble of time and space, it can be a reset that anchors us more deeply in communion with the reality of the ebb, flow and crashing and burning of human experience, an experience that our privileged houses of sand manage to hide from us – those houses of sand Jesus warned us about for just that reason: they trick us, the rich man of the Gospel, into thinking we don’t need God.

That we don’t need a savior.

And so we listen to the Scriptures proclaimed at Mass and in the Church’s prayer, we listen to the saints whose words are given to us during this season, and we’re reminded that none of this is about hoping and dreaming that someday life will get “back to normal” or that this particular type of suffering and difficulty will end and then peace on earth will reign right now, in its fullness.

It’s about acknowledging the mess – the mess that’s now and the mess that came before the present mess – and lifting up that mess to God, trusting that he will take it and somehow make good come out of it, a type of rescue, if you will. It doesn’t diminish a bit of our current suffering. It simply situates it and puts us into communion with others who have suffered – which is everyone.

And then, as the weeks of Advent pass, we listen to the cries and questions asked and answered over centuries past in the context of Word, prayer, song and art – it becomes clearer and clearer: Yesterday and today, the human family speaks from the same broken, suffering heart – and yes, He hears us. And look right here in the mess, just look: here he is.

Others have found him. Keep looking. So can you.

Korean nativity
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Bunch of links this week. First – check out my posts on gender issues from earlier this week. To be continued either today or over the weekend. (Just click backwards on the post links above.)

Also – I have a bunch of mostly book-centered posts over at Medium. 

I was in Living Faith on Wednesday. Read that devotional here. 

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Preparing dinner at a local shelter Monday night.

— 2 —

My hilarious and brilliant friend Dorian is blogging again – it’s a trend! Blogging is back!

—3–

Another friend, Villanova prof Chris Barnett has refashioned his blog – Theology + Culture. 

–4–

Good piece on the “Unfulwilled Promise of the Synod on Young People.”  I’d be more cynical than the author, but all that means is that he’s more charitable, and therefore a better person.

–5 —

Did you know that there’s been a spate of serious church vandalism incidents in France? Yup. 

–6–

Our Cathedral rector with an excellent post on “morbid introspection” as a spiritual danger. Spot.  On. 

A classic paradigm for prayer is ACTS — adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, supplication. Where does morbid introspection fit into this? It doesn’t. Adoration centers mostly around praise. Contrition involves introspection, but turned back to God for his mercy and healing. Thanksgiving perhaps also involves introspection, as we thank God for the ills from which he has already delivered us and for all the other blessings he has given. Indeed, thanksgiving often involves praise. And supplication may involve some introspection as we ask for what we need — but praying for ourselves should usually be secondary to praying for others and the world, lest we end up becoming too self-involved.

If you struggle with a tendency to grow sad by focusing on your problems/difficulties, the advice that Fr. Kirby gives is right on, and I’ll paraphrase: cut it out, and praise God instead.

I’m reminded of some passages from St. Jane de Chantal that I’ve highlighted in the past:

Pray what does it matter whether you are dense and stolid or over-sensitive ? Any one can see that all this is simply self-love seeking its satisfaction. For the love of God let me hear no more of it: love your own insignificance and the most holy will of God which has allotted it to you, then whether you are liked or disliked, reserved or ready-tongued, it should be one and the same thing to you. Do not pose as an ignorant person, but try to speak to each one as being in the presence of God and in the way He inspires you. If you are content with what you have said your self-love will be satisfied, if not content, then you have an opportunity of practising holy humility. In a word aim at indifference and cut short absolutely this introspection and all these reflections you make on yourself. This I have told you over and over again.

–7–

Septuagesima Sunday! Check out this post!

"amy welborn"

I’ve created a Lent page here.

And don’t forget – .99 for my short story The Absence of War  – here. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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  • Had a GREAT morning with the faculty of Montgomery Catholic schools yesterday. Thanks to Tom Riello for inviting me.
  • My topic was inspired partly by the occasion (teacher in-service), partly by some of my usual hobbyhorses and partly by Sunday’s Scripture readings. Basically: How to keep going and stay focused? Let Christ fill you and lead you. Well, how do we do that? By first starting with the prayer of the Church – the prayers and devotional life that have evolved over the Church’s history and the Eucharist. (Translation: Words We Pray). 
  • The Scripture passages I highlighted were:

Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.  (2 Tim 1:8)

This was from the 2nd reading on Sunday, and was the over all theme of the talk. Life is hard. Teaching is hard. We are here with what we’ve been created with (nature) and know that God promises us strength to fulfill his will (grace). How do we do that? How do we bear our share of the hardship for the gospel and where do we find God’s grace?

Abram went as the LORD directed him. (Gn. 12:4)

From the first reading from Sunday. Called by God, Abram did as the Lord directed him. This is our paradigm, as well. But how do we know in what way the Lord is directing us? We first trust that he has not left us alone to figure that out – he has left us the Church, which we believe is the Body of Christ, and the prayers, practices, spirituality and theology of which is what Jesus promised, guided by the Holy Spirit.

So we begin with prayer. The prayer of the Church – both popular traditional prayers and, of course, the Liturgy of the Hours. Paul writes that we do not know how to pray as we ought. That means, in part, that we are like Job standing in the whirlwind, understanding at last how little we understand. When our prayer begins with the prayer of the Church, we are allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit, and humbly entering into the space where we can be taught how to pray and what to pray for. We also find that we are not alone, as we join our prayers to millions who have joined their hearts to these words over the centuries.

Lord, it is good for us to be here. 

Of course, from Sunday’s Gospel, the narrative of the Transfiguration.

This part of the talk focused on the Eucharist as the source of our strength and I really emphasized the nature of humility here, as well in the other talk. I spoke of St. Francis – on the anniversary of the election of Pope Francis – and the role of humility in his spirituality. Many associate St. Francis with poverty, and rightly, so, but the fundamental type of poverty he spoke of was the poverty of Christ, expressed in Philippians 2. Francis nowhere encouraged all people everywhere to embrace voluntary material poverty. Instead, he said, and more importantly, lived, the truth that the poverty of Christ is centered on the emptying of the will, and allowing one to be totally led by the Father’s will. Bringing that attitude to Mass makes a difference, and impacts how much grace can build on our nature, to help us bear the hardship of the Gospel.

I ended with my dependable 7th grade text, and with Flannery:

Thousands and thousands of people upon the stage of life are adjusting themselves to their roles in this drama — this drama which is real life.  Old men are there and old women, youths and maidens, and even little children.  From all parts of the world they come and from all walks of life — kings and queens, merchants and laborers, teachers and students, bankers and beggars, religious of all orders, cardinals, bishops and parish priests, and leading them all the Vicar of Christ on earth.  All are quietly taking their places, for all re actors in the sublime mystery drama of our redemption.

We, too, have our own parts to play in this living drama.  And there is no rehearsal.  We begin now, on Septuagesima, following as faithfully as we can the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which comes to us particularly in the Mass and the sacraments.

Oh. I am sending you a rather garish looking book called A Short Breviary which I meant to get to you when you came into the Church but which has just come. I have a 1949 edition of it but this is a later one, supposed to be improved but I don’t think it is. Anyway, don’t think I am suggesting that you read the office every day. It’s just a good thing to know about, I say Prime in the morning and sometimes I say Compline at night but usually I don’t, But anyway I like parts of my prayers to stay the same and part to change. So many prayer books are so awful, but if you stick with the liturgy, you are safe.

And…this morning, I was all efficient and made some Chicken Cacciatore (Michael Chiarello’s recipe, doubled). More to come….

Oh, I didn’t sell all the books I had taken, so if you want some..go to the bookstore. Start thinking Easter, First Communion, Confirmation and Mother’s Day!

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I hesitate to post this photo because, honestly…it’s not appetizing.  And I couldn’t get the colors right. Because I still can’t do indoor photography with indoor lighting…inside. It’s beyond me.  And Picnik is disappearing into the Google Borg, and then what shall I do?

So. As we all know, the Food Network has devolved into an insane cycle of cupcake competitions, men driving around the country eating food, and men driving around the country fixing restaurants.  The only shows left worth watching are Chopped, Iron Chef when a Birmingham chef kicks Flay Tail, and yes, I watched and enjoyed The Next Iron Chef.  

If you want actual cooking shows, you’ve got to be fortunate to have the Cooking Channel, which is where reruns of Good Eats were sent and where I followed up on Michael Chiarello after the last season of Next Iron Chef.  He was pretty much hated all over the Interwebs, but I liked him, and wondered what his show was like.

I like it: Easy Entertaining.  His mannerisms in the show’s open do get on my nerves – he holds a plate of food in his left hand and flaps his right around while being forced to read lame lines about how his pals are all coming over for a Old West themed  polenta party on the beach during a lunar eclipse  in honor of Valentine’s Day or something.

But once we make it through that and he starts cooking, I’m there.  The food he crafts appeals to my tastes and always seems so doable. Which they should, of course, considering the title of the program.

Which is why I made his Northern Italian Caponata tonight. 

I know. It looks like hash.  But it’s delicious.  I will be eating on this for the next couple of days – that and another batch of my roasted tomatoes that I cooked for almost four hours this time and are like rich little oily, crusty gems.

Caponata, not surprisingly, has ..varieties.   Eggplant is the point, and it’s got a southern Italian/Sicilian provenance.   Chiarello calls this recipe “Northern Italian” and is probably considered a heretic because he throws in potatoes and there’s no tomato. Plus, the dressing is an agrodolce – a sweet and sour concoction (like a French gastrique) that has vinegar as a base, cooked down with a bit of sugar and some golden raisins.  Orange zest and red pepper flakes add to the contrasting flavors.

Please don’t think anyone else in this house is going to eat this.  That’s fine. I didn’t make it for them.

Now back to tonight’s other recipe, which they will eat  – birthday cake – a chocolate pound cake, requested by someone who will be eleven years old tomorrow.  That should be a prettier picture.  But weird Mom?  Prefers the caponata.

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