Monday, December 3, 2012

Keeping the Feast

I remember purchasing Robert Farrar Capon’s The Supper of the Lamb while in seminary. Subtitled A Culinary Reflection, I thought it would provide an interesting way to look at the Eucharistic meal through the preparation of the Easter Dinner for which he provides recipes.
I never got through it. Put bluntly, I found it way too long on details about the shape of an onion and the proper way to determine if a corkscrew is any good. By the time he got to a recipe, I was long gone. In my cook’s (not chef’s) imagination, I always thought I could do better in reflecting on how food and communion provide so many metaphors for the Christian life. Well, maybe not better than theologian and storyteller Capon, but perhaps more accessible to those who did not want to wade through a couple hundred pages.
I never wrote that book. However, Milton Brasher Cunningham did. It’s titled Keeping the Feast. Instead of long explanations, he provides short meditations on various subjects and ties them to a recipe. The book is short, just ten chapters, each of which is about ten pages long, including a piece of poetry to begin and a recipe at the end. Most are thoughtful, and the recipes are certainly interesting. The Strawberry Shortcake with basil as an ingredient stands out.
Skip the chapter on baseball (unless, of course, you really like baseball). It seems oddly out of place, and the recipe that goes with it is strangely disconnected even from the chapter, much less the rest of the book. The other meditations are great and could be read out of sequence, though be sure to get to the two page afterward which closes out the book.
You will be treated to images of family suppers, community meals, funeral repasts, and the ways in which community comes forth through shared food. Most importantly, Brasher Cunningham ties our more common meals always to their reflection of the sacred meal we share in church. You may never look at dinner the same way again.

Water from an Ancient Well

Much has been written about Celtic Spirituality. I have books of liturgies, prayers, and meditations on my shelf. I love the language, the imagery the idea of entering into a different cultural context than my own in order to try and understand who Christ is.
That’s a great starting place for someone who has been to seminary and work in ministry for over 25 years. If I were just starting out, most of those books would be useless to me. Either they are too different from the Christianity I know, or they have so much churchy language as to be unintelligible. I’m still working on my doctrine(s?) of atonement, for example.
So enter, Water from an Ancient Well: Celtic Spirituality for Modern Life by Kenneth McIntyre. Drawing on the practices of pre and post Christian Celts, McIntyre gently explains several concepts of Christian faith to the reader, and offers ways to explore major tenets of the faith. Scripture, the Cross, creation, evil are all explored in both everyday language and in reflection on how the Celts wrestled with these concerns. All the people and things one comes to expect from books on the ancient Celtic life are here—Patrick, Brigid, druids, thin places, etc.
This is not a book to read straight through, and not quickly. Start with the introduction and first chapter, but from there choose a chapter that interests you and spend some time with it. You may even read it a few times, pray the prayers located within it, and put the book aside while you ingest the ideas for a few days before choosing your next section to read.
Readers should be aware that they will find things to wrestle with here. For example, one chapter explores the concept of panentheism. Don’t know what panentheism is? Don’t worry; he gives a good explanation before showing how Celtic thought fits in nicely with it. However, you may decide you don’t agree with the concept even after reading. That’s okay too. You will still be exploring what you do believe.
That caution aside, the book is worth your time. If you ever wanted a clear way into Celtic spirituality, this is a good one. A good book for Advent or Lent, I would say—or any time you want to go a little deeper in your spirituality life.