Sep 26 2018

Ordinary World

My students are reading Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. A delightful, restful book, she ties the daily activities of waking up and making beds and brushing teeth to the wider liturgical patterns that mark our lives as disciples. The simplicity of her prose and the grace she approaches our foibles is like a summer rain on a thirsty garden. I find myself looking anew at all the practices of my life, ways that I’ve always looked, but forgotten in the rush and busyness of long days and yeses to too many tasks. We need reminders. We need voices that invite us to slow down and pay attention.

Annie Dillard’s quote, found many times in these blog pages in the past 10 years, has jumped out at me repeatedly this past week: from Tish’s book, websites, other articles, lectures I’m giving, and my own journal:

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

The Contemplative Cottage represents the way I hope to spend my days and, ultimately, my life. It is more than a house, but a way to pay attention to the ordinary things of life and see their beauty and experience them as means of grace.

But even in a life that is filled with teaching theology and reading and pondering how to make space for God, the very teaching and reading and pondering can fill that space. The performance aspect of teaching and productive drive toward scholarly work make the focus on daily life in the Cottage, well…quite ordinary. And I have found myself asking, is it enough? Are just simple reflections on attending deeply to life enough?


Because it is in the ordinary, the daily, the little practices, beauties, and simple joys that a life is lived. The mystics call us to “follow the savor,” so sharing these moments in the Cottage allows me to savor, and invite you to attend deeply to your own life.

The air has that slight touch of chill now as October approaches, the leaves are curling, flowers fading, and the Harvest Moon hangs brightly. What could be more ordinary and more wonderful than a healing autumn soup? My friend introduced me to this recipe, which I made and then promptly made again with some adaptations. The tastes meld together–not too spicy, just enough to warm one on a cold, blustery day. The colors celebrate the brilliant yellows and reds this season brings, with a touch of dark green as summer leaves give way to autumn gold. The garlic is an excellent remedy to chills and colds, and the spicy heat will gently clear sinuses. May it nourish your body and, in the making of it, help you to celebrate ordinary beauty.

Coconut Red Curry Soup with Butternut Squash and Chard

  • 4 teaspoons of oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, pressed (or more if you like!)
  • 1 tablespoon, fresh grated ginger
  • 1 small to medium butternut squash, no skin, small chunks (about 3 cups)
  • 1 medium or 2 small limes, zested and juiced
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons of Thai Red Curry Paste
  • 1 quart of either chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 tub of silken tofu (silken is important); you could use chicken, already diced and cooked.
  • 5 small chard leaves, chopped (small is about 10 inches)
  • 1-14 ounce can coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup of chopped cilantro or flat leaf parsley

Cut squash in long halves, clean out seeds, then microwave for 10 minutes, or until the skin is easily removed. Let cool and then cut into small chunks.

Sauté onion, garlic and ginger for 5-7 minutes. Add lime zest, turmeric, salt, and curry paste, and stir. Stop and savor the smell as the different ingredients come together.

Pour in stock, stir. Add squash and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Stir in loosely diced silken tofu (I dice it in the tub–it will fall apart anyway), chopped chard leaves, and coconut milk. Warm through, about 5 minutes. Add cilantro (or flat leaf parsley), and lime juice (very important!). Stir and let mingle for about 10 minutes.



Painting by Carl Vilhelm Halsoe (1863-1935)

Mar 24 2011

Living in the Peaceable Kingdom

Each Thursday during Lent, I offer a vegan recipe as I learn to cook and like vegetables, and as I contemplate what it means to live non-violently.

In my heart, I’m a shieldmaiden of Rohan.

In the third Lord of the Rings movie, when Eowyn confronts the Witch King in battle, standing between the beast and her father, my heart pounds.

The Witch King taunts her, “You fool. No man can kill me. Die now.”

Eowyn pulls off her helmet and cries, “I am no man!” stabbing the the creature that has rained down death and destruction upon so many.

When I first saw the scene on opening night, a loud cry escaped my lips. (I don’t tend to make noise in movie theaters.)  But I wasn’t alone. The entire theater erupted in whoops and shouts and applause.

I’ve seen it countless times now, but it never fails to stir up a sense of power and fierceness and rightness in me that I rarely experience in daily life.  And I wish I could experience it more often.

My response to this scene has been one of the main reasons I’ve never considered myself a pacifist.

Of course, one could say that the Witch King, as evil incarnate, is the proper recipient of Eowyn’s battle rage.

But as I began reflecting on my reaction to the scene and praying about how to reconcile it with the part of me that is broken-hearted by the violence and the destruction of life, God brought a question to mind:

If I lived in a world without violence, where peace was not defined by the absence of violence, but a richer, deeper experience of peaceful life that had only itself as the reference point, how different would my personality be? How different would the world be?

The Kingdom of which Jesus gives us a glimpse is our world almost unrecognizably transformed, its DNA reordered so that love and peace are not defined as opposites of hate and war, but only with reference to themselves.  Christ loves us with this kind of Love–a Love whose reference point and definition is God’s very being.

A world of Shalom, life transfigured with peace and health and wholeness.

Being a shieldmaiden of Rohan would have no meaning in such a world.

It’s truly impossible to imagine.  I can only catch it faintly out of the corner of my eye. But that’s okay. Just trying to imagine it fills me with wonder and hope and trust. It also fills me with a sense of anticipation: who Christ is forming us to be will be both the same, yet different than who we are now at some level, because how we define ourselves will change as the world is transformed.

And every time we love another as Christ has loved us, something happens that is more powerful, more fierce, more right than Eowyn’s triumph over the Witch King. The shalom of the Kingdom is near. The world is healed.

Then the heart of Éowyn changed…’I will be a shieldmaiden no longer, nor vie with the great Riders, nor take joy…in the songs of slaying. I will be a healer, and love all things that grow and are not barren.’



Few weeks go by when this soup is not on the menu at the Contemplative Cottage. Originally based on a recipe from Molly Wizenberg’s food blog, Orangette, I’ve made some changes, adding chickpeas to raise the protein content, as well as making it vegan.

Red Lentil and Chickpea Soup

4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 large yellow onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
Pinch of cayenne or more to taste
2 quarts vegetable broth
2 cups red lentils

1 14-oz can chickpeas

Juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste

In a large pot, warm the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onions and garlic and cook until golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cumin, salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook for 4 minutes longer. Add the broth, 2 cups water, the lentils, and the chickpeas. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Continue to cook until the lentils are soft, about 40 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice.

Mar 18 2011

Living in the Peaceable Kingdom


(No food photos this week, but instead, an even better example of the peaceable kingdom: a photo of my godson Ben sleeping, just after his baptism this past Sunday.)

Tofu Chili

We all know of recipes that taste even better the next day: this is one of them. It also handles reheating well without mushing together.

2 tablespoons olive oil  in a large soup pot

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1-14 oz package of extra firm silken tofu, cubed

1 1/2 cups, roasted red peppers

2-15 oz cans of your favorite beans (black and kidney were what I used)

1-28 oz can of diced tomatoes with the juice

1 tablespoon chile powder

1 teaspoon cumin, ground

1 teaspoon salt, to taste

a dash of cayenne, to taste

Sauté  onion and garlic 5 minutes on medium high heat, stirring to keep from browning. Add tofu and sauté for another 5 minutes. Add everything else and bring to a gentle boil, then reduce to medium low heat (not boiling) for 30 minutes.

For those of you who like creamy chili, and don’t mind losing its vegan character, add a (very small) dollop of greek yogurt. I don’t recommend topping it with any kind of cheese, dairy or non-dairy, or with guacamole, as the taste is already quite rich.

Another variation: top with a small spoon of chipotle or roasted red pepper salsa. Serve with or on tortilla chips.

Mar 10 2011

Living in the Peaceable Kingdom

On Thursdays of Lent, I’m going to be sharing a vegan recipe as I attempt to learn not only to cook vegetables, but enjoy eating them.  Tonight’s yummy experiment was inspired by reading four different stir-fry recipes.

One of my new loves is rainbow chard–it’s not only beautiful green with veins of red or yellow or purple, it’s flavor is rich and nutty, without the I’m-eating-grass bitterness of spinach.


Tofu Stir-fry

2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 bunch of green onion, chopped

3 large leaves of rainbow chard, chopped

1/2 package of frozen vegetable stir-fry (onions, red peppers, brocolli, mushrooms, water chestnuts)

1 cup chopped roasted red peppers

1 1/2 cups extra-firm silken tofu, cubed

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon tumeric

1 tablespoon agave nectar

1/8 cup whole bean tamari (For migraine-sufferers, this is optional. The jury is still out whether tamari will go on my list of susan-unfriendly foods, but I’m hopeful. It smells and tastes so good!)


Saute garlic in sesame oils for a two minutes at medium high heat, stirring constantly. Add frozen veggies and green onion.  Stir until veggies are thawed, about 3 minutes, then add red peppers, chard, tofu, salt, honey, and tamari.  Keep everything moving for 5 minutes or less on medium high heat. Veggies should be bright colored and still crisp.  Makes two meals.

Serve over rice.


Feb 24 2011

Living in the Peaceable Kingdom, or “It’s hard to be vegan when you don’t like vegetables.”

PeaceableKingdom John August Swanson

In the mists of my childhood, I remember a wonderfully fun day of fishing with my dad at a lake somewhere in Kentucky. It was reedy and teeming with life and tall grass and all the fun creatures that live in such places.  I had never been fishing before, though I had some idea that the fish we ate at home had lived in watery homes, free to swim, and that one could take a cool looking pole and bait a hook and entice them to bite.

At the time, Kentucky waters were not the safest (valley of the barrels was a phrase I heard often), so fishing meant catch and release, no eating.

The day was idyllic in all ways except one. The little rainbow fish I caught, laid on the rock under the water after I threw it back in, its white and colorful fins no longer moving.

It died. And I cried. A beautiful irridescent creature no longer lived. Something was lost and I didn’t understand.

Yet I did.

The Hebrew word for the soul’s breath is nephesh. The fish’s nephesh was gone.

Another Hebrew phrase comes to mind, tikkum olam, to mend the world. The world unravels in places like a fraying garment and we are called to reweave the threads.

The world unraveled a bit for me as I hoped without hope that the fish would leave the rock and swim away, shaking off its frightful moment in the world of human air.

I felt in that moment, for the first time, my impact on the world could be destructive and I wanted to reweave what I had unraveled and breath life back into the little fish.


Years passed and the fish memory faded. My interest in creation took on a more detached quality. I was in biology club throughout school, dissecting and classifying and facing the loss of nephesh with equanimity.

One science fair I had access to the full services of a medical laboratory and set out to prove to my fellow students the dangers of eating too many Pringles potato chips. This involved 12 lab mice and lots of chips.

I’m certain I’m still whispered about in the mouse kingdom as She-who-must-not-be-named.

The results were sobering, but there were no tears this time.

Yet, still, a dissonance lived quietly in the corner of my heart that held that earlier memory. As I recently volunteered for two years with a Boston animal shelter, fostering and nurturing abandoned cats, the dissonance became louder. As I daily watch the feathered and furry creatures that visit my balcony or are on the other side of my camera lens, the dissonance is deafening. As I get older, it seems more and more important to pay attention.

Feline Lectio

But how? Become a vegetarian? There have been a few years here and there when I’ve chosen that practice, but now reading more about factory farming and how dairy production is tied in with meat production, I’m not as comfortable with that choice. The other option, vegan, seems impossible to maintain.

And I must admit, I don’t much like vegetables.

At one point, I learned that the Eastern Orthodox Christians practice a vegan diet for Lent. That seemed radical yet possible: a 40-day peaceable kingdom written into the church year. So I decided to try it. Three days in, I crawled to my friend Kimberlee, weak and wan, and admitted defeat.  I had simply stopped eating, unsure what to replace animal products with.

This past Tuesday, I mentioned my Lenten vegan fantasy to her again and she, with inestimable wisdom, suggested I only do it on Wednesdays and Fridays. I’m sure she does not want a repeat of last time.

My response: “You know I simply won’t eat on those days.”

“Fine, then you’ll fast.”

But I want to do more than go without food, I want to find joy (and even yummyness) in other options that allow little lives to not grace my dinner plate. This takes intentional effort.

So today I practiced a meal. The nice thing about practicing something, like scales on a piano, is that no one, including me, expects perfection.

“Are you vegan?”

“No, I’m just living in the peaceable kingdom for lunch today.”

I created a yummy dish of warmed chard (so much better than spinach) with sesame oil, garlic, ginger, scallions, and lemon juice.  With it, I ate gnocchi filled with yams, covered in marinara and vegan mozzarella.

And I, someone who was often told “You drink so much milk, we need to buy a cow,” finished off the meal with a glass of vanilla hemp milk (actually quite good).

It’s only one meal, but it’s a beginning, in honor of that little fish, 3o years ago.

(And if you have favorite vegan recipes, please share!)


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