The Sacrament of the Ordinary Life

“It was like one of those dreams when you’re filled with some extravagant feeling you might never have in life, it doesn’t matter what it is, even guilt or dread, and you learn from it what an amazing instrument you are, so to speak, what power you have to experience beyond anything you might ever actually need. Who would have thought that the moon could dazzle and flame like that?”

                                                                                                                         Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

I begin the summer break with a sense of relief – grades turned in, semester wrapped up as seamlessly as possible, my Out of the Office reply set, because I am not teaching any summer classes. Normally, this would cause a panic, especially coupled with the fact that my husband has also just been laid off from a wonderful job that he loved. So, we are both at home at least for a few days (he’s already interviewing). It’s bittersweet. Most days we feel like our time together is so limited because of the demands and nature of our work (both of us in creative fields). Now we have time, accompanied by anxiety over the future. It’s hard to come to halt from the daily onslaught of activity, to rest, to genuinely savor this gift of time that we’ve received. 

In a matter of hours, I’ve come close to a panic attack, worrying that now without a rigorous schedule in tow, I will have an unproductive summer. Perhaps fall into one of those TV watching stupors for three months, and emerge with only a quarter of my gray matter still functioning. Confession: I am a thinker and a doer; though a free spirit and an artist, this first-child wiring in me drives me to achievement and performance. I like projects, streamlining processes, solving problems. I know what this says about me: I like to control my world, to understand it, and fashion it according to my own vision. My poet-self, which is antithetical to all of this, loves mystery and meditation, embraces rest and the present moment, searches for beauty, is inward and quiet, and therefore often relegated to the alpha personality. 

With the risk of sounding like I have a multiple personality disorder, I find my two divergent impulses to often be in conflict. And though I need the alpha self, I find that the most authentic part of me, the part that isn’t always in survival mode, is the one that seeks long stretches of silence, where words sing only on the page, where I allow for the things to work themselves out in my mind at their own pace, where I can discard all expectations, including my own. 

This leads me to the idea of sacrament. Whether you are religious, spiritual, or neither, the word sacrament most likely evokes liturgy or communion, practices most common in the Orthodox or Catholic traditions, as a way to connect with a God and in our material reality find ways to manifest that encounter. I am neither Catholic, nor Orthodox (though I appreciate the beauty of each of these traditions), however I believe that it is a basic human need to infuse our lives with a sense of the sacred. I do believe there is an inherent sacredness in being human, and that we all possess intrinsic dignity and value. 

However, as I stay connected to global events, I am saddened by the many human rights violations that point to how this deep sense has been lost.  I think most of us are overwhelmed by the degree of need in this world, and sometimes when faced with the magnitude of the issues surrounding us, it is much easier to shut down emotionally.

In response to all of this, I want to stay awakened, and not distracted or numbed. To impart joy and a sense of sacrament into my daily activities, cleaning my home, writing, caring for my niece, cooking a meal. I don’t want these things to be duties, but delights, done in a spirit of giving for others. I see how a simple meal turns into sacrament if made with a sense of awe and pleasure, if shared with someone in need. 

It’s easy to scoff at the small and the simple. To think that the act of listening when a friend is in pain doesn’t mean much in light of the collective pain of our world. But I choose to think that it does. As this summer unfolds, I’d like to try doing this differently. I’d like to pause for the perfume of a newly ripened apricot, to listen to the warbling of water outside, to learn the lightness and laughter and grief in the voices of my friends. I want to throw open a heavy gate into my private world and perhaps invite those whom I’ve shunned from a place of false intellectual superiority. I want to let myself laugh more, because I’ve grown tired of being too serious about it all.

And I am going to make more dishes like this one, where cheese, fruit, nuts, and honey flirt and play. The mellow sugariness, the bite of salt, the tart chevre. Such a perfect, glamorous, simple dish. 

Caramelized Apricots with Goat Cheese and Pistachio Recipe (makes 10 halves)

Ingredients
5 apricots, halved {not too ripe, firm to touch}
5 tsp brown sugar
5 tbsp cream cheese, room temperature
3 tbsp soft goat cheese, room temperature
2 tbsp pistachios, chopped
1 tbsp honey

Directions 

1. Turn the oven to broil {500 F}. Move the oven rack to the top shelf.

2. Wash, then cut the apricots in half and place them on a baking sheet.

3. Sprinkle the tops with 1/2 tsp of brown sugar. and broil for 10 – 15 minutes. The brown sugar should caramelize and turn light brown.

4. In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese and goat cheese, with a fork or whisk.

5. When the apricots have cooked, remove them from the oven. Place a dollop of the cheese mixture on top of each apricot, followed by a tsp of chopped pistachios, and then drizzle with honey. Serve warm.

(Adapted from Flourishing Foodie)

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