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Honor your mother… Earth

earth day“Honor your father and mother,” is the first part of the Fifth Commandment. In our hasty recollections, we might find ourselves forgetting the second part: “So that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”

This past Sunday was Earth Day, and I couldn’t help but wonder, “How well am I honoring and loving my other mother, Mother Earth?”

I was a Bergen County, New Jersey, Girl Scout in 1970 when the first Earth Day was held. I still have the patch: “Eco Action,” it says, with a very hip, Peter Max style design. It was exciting to be part of a national effort to impact our natural world. And it was overdue: The preceding decade had cast light on the indifference we had been showing to our land and waterways and all the species and systems that comprised them.

At that time, you couldn’t swim in the nearby Hudson or Delaware Rivers. The prior year the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland had caught fire. Many of the Great Lakes were dumping grounds for industrial and other waste. Cities all over the country were struggling with smog. Entire mountaintops were being removed in the Appalachians. The poisoned environments of Love Canal and other toxic waste sites had made the headlines, as had pesticides like DDT, which had thinned raptor eggshells to the point of endangering eagles, falcons and brown pelicans.

What a list, and it barely scratches the surface of what led up to that day in 1970! Small wonder that activists mobilized to raise our consciousness as a nation to act to protect the environment. In the decades that followed, tremendous successes were achieved, but there were also huge setbacks.

To love one’s mother, the woman who raised each of us, is one thing. Mine is approaching 80, and I certainly cherish her more and more as we both age. But loving Mother Earth is a different kind of challenge altogether, particularly to someone like me who loves her conveniences.

Recently, a young man who is like my son pointed out to me the environmental impact of drinking straws. It turns out that we use 500 million of them every day (that’s enough straws to circle the earth 2.5 times). And it takes up to 200 years for a plastic straw to decompose. Yikes.

My husband has had a thing about plastic bottles for a long time. We buy 50 billion bottles of water in the U.S. Each year. Yes. B. Billion. That’s not counting all the other individually portioned plastic bottles we buy. Seventeen million gallons of oil are used to produce the bottles used for water and 80 percent end up in a landfill.

My daughter is concerned about the environmental impact of meat production, and even though she is literally the biggest steak lover I know, she recently became a vegetarian. According to the Worldwatch Institute, 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from animal agriculture, not to mention the massive amounts of land, energy and water that are used.

Hey, I admit it, I’m still eating hamburgers. And though I’ve carried around a straw in my car for a while to honor Steve’s concern, I have been seen grabbing soda at fast-food windows. I’m not perfect. But I am, truly, purposing to do better.

That includes cutting down a bit on our family’s meat consumption. Remembering to bring my water bottle. Handing back the straw or even paying for a soda but using my old cup. Making sure I’m thorough about recycling, including helping my spouse collect plastic bags for the recycling dispenser at Cub. Picking up trash when I do my lake walks. Forgoing a weed free lawn in favor of a cleaner aquifer.

I’m called to do these things by my faith. Pope Francis, who I greatly admire, wrote his first papal encyclical, Laudato Sí, about the environment. In it, he urgently appealed “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affects us all.”

We need to treat the symptoms, like care for our parks, lakes and rivers, but also look carefully at the root of what produces harm. Being stewards of creation, aware of the common good, calls us to these actions. Together.

Let’s keep celebrating Earth Day. But not just on April 22. Let’s let our love for our Mother Earth be expressed every day, so that we — our families and friends, not to mention the entire human family and all that relies upon this beautiful planet for sustenance — “may live long and that it may go well [for us] in the land the Lord [our] God” has given us.

The Rev. Trish Sullivan Vanni is the pastoral director of Charis Ecumenical Catholic Community in Eden Prairie. She shares this space with Bernard E. Johnson, Beryl Schewe, Rod Anderson, Timothy A. Johnson and Nanette Missaghi. “Spiritually Speaking” appears weekly.

Inspiration, Uncategorized

“Love has come again, like wheat arising green.” A reflection for Easter

wheat crop sprouting“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”
“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”

The great Episcopal preacher Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “Resurrection is always announced with Easter lilies, the sound of trumpets, bright streaming light.  But,” she insists, “it did not happen that way.  If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air…New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark”

This is the truth of the resurrection story we hear today, the story of Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, the women who come to the tomb. Throughout the gospel of Mark, the friends and followers of Jesus have a hard time catching on to who he is. And now, after his execution as a criminal, we can imagine that the men, filled with fear for their lives, are in hiding, and the women – the faithful women – are coming forward to do their duty as good Jews to care for his body.

This is not the Gospel of Luke with its heavenly beings, or the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus appears and speaks, or the Gospel of John with its triumphant language and body that is properly prepared placed in a new tomb, thanks to Joseph of Arimathea. This is Mark. It’s a far simpler story. Three women and a young man, sometimes called a gardener, and a stone that is rolled away.

It’s stark depiction of Easter morning, where Jesus is nowhere to be found.

“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”
“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”

I would argue that this is, because it is so stark and so bleak, the most powerful depiction of the resurrection. In it we see Mary and the women plunged into the very familiar, very human reality of death. This is our reality; this is our experience. We are bereft. We are fearful.

Writer Tim Phillips notes that the worst thing about death in all its forms may be that it robs us of the energy to imagine anything else.

“Addiction” he says, “robs us of the energy to imagine healing. Violence robs us of the energy to imagine peace. Sickness robs us of the energy to imagine [some kind of wholeness]. The burdens of life rob us of energy for a sense of humor that might put things in perspective. Death robs us of the energy to imagine that anything has power great enough to outlive deaths hold on us.”  I have had experiences of this. Perhaps you have too.

But we also have the capacity to awaken our imaginations, to trust and believe just as the women at the tomb did as the young man told them, “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

Easter is our invitation, as the poet Wendell Berry says, to “practice resurrection.”  Practicing resurrection is learning to walk in the darkest night. Practicing resurrection is believing that in the midst of it all, wrapped in mystery, is a life-giving grace that exceeds anything we can imagine. Practicing resurrection is affirming that God is with us; that the very creation, in its cycles of death and new birth, pulses with resurrection power.

And that we, too, beloved of God, the sisters and brothers of the Jesus who trusted, have resurrection power, as well.

“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”
“Now the green blade rises, from the buried grain…”

We know how this story plays out. The Gospel says that the women didn’t say anything, but it appears that someone eventually broke down and shared what had happened with the others. (Probably the woman who was the oldest, over-responsible sister in her family!)  And we also know that somehow, starting on this Easter morning, the darkness of their grief was transformed, and the people knew that Jesus lived for them.

And with their recognition that he lived, (and what that looked like is a mystery of our faith), the first disciples, men and women once crushed by grief and huddled in fear, broke free – resurrected – and welcomed the new creation that Jesus had unleashed; the disciples of Jesus made one in the breaking of the bread,  God’s beloved community, right now, right here, on earth as it is in heaven.

In every age humankind has been given reasons to stop trusting this, to not believe as the words of the ancient prayer affirms, that “death could not contain him.” We have chosen to be fearful. To hate. To judge. To be cynical. To embrace resignation and apathy.

On Easter, the Jesus that the tomb could not contain, our resurrected Christ, invites us to reject all that and embrace the life that he offers, long ago on an Easter morning, now again this day and every day. Life abundant. Unsurpassed love. The freedom of the Children of God.

Every time two or more of us gather, or act in his name, he is with us. Where compassion is, he is there, where love is, he is there. Where the fight for those who are the least takes place, he is there.

“He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

“He is going before you to the State Capitol; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

“He is going before you to your school; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

“He is going before you to your place of work; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

“He is going before you to every place you enter; there you will see him, as he told you.'”

And when we see him, he will be our reminder of who we are. He will be our sign to break our silence and unleash our love. To be like the three faithful women at the tomb, to tell others who have not seen what we have seen. To proclaim that in a world where things die, there is also resurrection.

“Love lives again, that with the dead has been: Love is come again, like wheat arising green!”

Uncategorized

Prayer and Fasting — and Us.

prayer and fasting.png

Spiritually Speaking  from the Eden Prairie News

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These are the themes of the holy season of Lent, the 40  days in which Christians prepare for the great feast of Easter, the holiest day of the church calendar year. But these practices are not exclusive to Christians.

Fasting can be found in just about every great faith tradition, including Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism. Since ancient times, fasting has been used as a source of spiritual purification. Not unlike the practices of “cleansing” that are currently in vogue.

If you ask anyone about fasting as a contemporary practice, perhaps the first people who come to mind are our Muslim neighbors, who spend the month of Ramadan abstaining from food and drink in the daylight hours. Theirs is an act of solidarity with the poor, with all who do not on any given day have sufficient food.

This same idea underpins the Lenten fasts of Christians. By giving up whole meals, or by abstaining from butter, sugar or meat, a household might save money that could be passed on to those in need. If you enter churches built in prior centuries, it’s not uncommon to find a “poor box” in the narthex, the entrance foyer.

My introduction to fast and abstinence came as a child. As Catholics, we were encouraged to “give something up for Lent” by our priests and teachers. For kids, that choice was often candy, ice cream or soda pop. My mom would always make meatless dinners on Fridays, usually macaroni and cheese or ziti parmigiana.

But what did I learn, really, if I’m honest? We were almost never given soda to drink (maybe a birthday party!) and certainly didn’t have access to candy or ice cream. And those casseroles (I grew up on the East Coast; here we would call them hotdish!) were absolute favorites of ours! No sacrifice there, whatsoever!

For my parent’s generation, the focus on the fast — the means — had in many ways displaced the “ends” — sharing more generously. Unlike my immigrant grandparents, who fasted for every day of Lent, the “new rules” introduced in the 1960s were more flexible and in some ways more compassionate (for example, elders and young children were no longer expected to fast). While the bishops emphasized fasting and its critical connection to almsgiving and prayer, people focused more on the changes in the “rules” rather than the continuity of meaning.

So I’ve been wondering: How should we relate to fasting and abstinence now? Somehow, serving my family a sumptuous fish dinner seems to miss the mark.

I’ve been thinking, certainly, of how our household might be more financially generous. Maybe the extra giving can come from places I indulge myself — like grabbing a sandwich out when I might have packed a lunch. Or popping into Caribou rather than filling my travel mug.

I know that PROP Food Shelf, our local powerhouse for feeding those in need, will welcome my contribution, however modest it might be.

This Lent, the fasting I’ve been thinking about most rigorously, though, is not food-centered. I’ve been thinking about fasting from behaviors that keep me from being the loving and peaceful presence my God and my community ask me to be.

So words are involved. Fasting from the Facebook rant. Fasting from the quick retort or caustic dig. Fasting from gossip and criticism. Fasting from nagging and complaining.

It’s much harder for me to abstain from carping at my children than it is to give up having dessert. It’s much harder to release fear of the future and the particular anxieties that accrue to it than to watch the evening news and yell at the television. (Yes, sad but true.)

So this Lent, my fast focuses a bit more on what comes out of my mouth than into it. But I believe that both practices — giving up forms of spending so I can give more generously to those in need, and giving up behaviors so those around me experience less stress and more peace — fulfill the purpose to which Lent calls me. Which is moving away from self-centeredness and focusing myself on others and my God.

 

The Rev. Trish Sullivan Vanni is the pastoral director of Charis Ecumenical Catholic Community in Eden Prairie. She shares this space with Bernard E. Johnson, Beryl Schewe, Rod Anderson, Timothy A. Johnson and Nanette Missaghi. “Spiritually Speaking” appears weekly.

Inspiration

Being Light and Seeing Light: A Winter Solstice Reflection

Effigy solstice
Each year, our neighbor Dave constructs an effigy to represent the darkness. Then, on the Winter Solstice, he burns it in a bonfire (of truly epic scope!). Many ancient cultures tended fires through the night to keep the darkness at bay.

Thursday, December 21, 2017   

Tonight is the Winter Solstice – the moment that the Northern hemisphere is tilted farthest from the sun, producing the longest night of the year. It’s not surprising that many festivals of light – Advent, Hannukah, Kwanzaa – are celebrated at the time of year in which we are plunged into the deepest darkness.

Some kids are afraid of the dark, but from the time I was a little girl, I have loved it. I loved pulling my blankets over my head and fussing around with them until the polyester fibers started emitting little sparks. I loved walking the road of Camp Glen Spey, electricity-less in the Delaware Water Gap, staring at the breadth and beauty of the night sky. I loved those rare occasions when we could plead my father into lighting the living room fireplace, and we’d turn out the lights and watch the flames. And I really, really loved power outages. Candles everywhere!

Maybe I was so entranced by the darkness because of my Celtic roots. Multiple Irish myths and celebrations honor the darkness that the winter Solstice brings. One practice was to light a good fire, sweep the house, unbar the door, and place the white, red or green coinneal mor na Nollag, the Christmas candle, on the table to welcome the stranger. In my grandmother Sullivan’s county, Limerick, the doors of houses were left open, and every cottage window featured a lit white candle. Children were walked up into the hills outside the village to wonder at the beauty of the fire twinkling in every home.

Recently, a friend from college commented to me that we’re living in dark times. He was very down, very frustrated. I noted to him that I think the Dark Ages and the Black Plaque had our times beat, but he wasn’t so sure. I was struck by the depth of his resignation and frustration. And I’ve been noticing that regardless of wherever people are on the spectrum of social, political and religious belief, there seems to be a dark anxiety afoot. What do we do?

In the Christian tradition in which I’m grounded, we proclaim the words of the Prophet Isaiah as we prepare ourselves to welcome the birth of Jesus at Christmas: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.” The light of our Advent wreaths builds with each passing week, reminding us that the one we proclaim the “light of the world” comes among us once again. The practices and prayers of this season invite us to be people of light – in our homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods and schools.

But this path is not exclusive to the Christian community. The Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist traditions all speak of Divine light and our connection to it.  There is a story told about the death of Buddha. His distraught disciples asked him, “Blessed One: Who will be our teacher now?”  The Buddha’s last words were, “Be your own light.”   The holy Quran speaks of human hearts that are “clear like a shining lamp.” The Hindu Rig Vedas remind believers that, “The human body is the temple of God. One who kindles the light of awareness within gets true light.”

As we gather holly, yew and evergreens into our home, as we welcome the darkest day of the year, we might consider embracing ancient practices that pierce the darkness and make it not a source of fright but a source of wonder. What if we lit a fire in the hearth or the wick of a candle, a gesture of warmth and welcome to those who need our embrace? What if we took a moment as our Minnesota nights get chillier and clearer, to marvel at the night sky, and the vast universe that surrounds us, only visible because the sun has dipped beyond our horizon? What if we embraced some of the silence and peace that darkness often brings, either by opening ourselves to the stillness or by spending time alongside someone we care about, candles lighting our dinner or our livingroom? What if we spent time with the spiritual teachings of our own traditions, learning more about how they call us to light?

Tonight, the white coinneal mor na Nollag will grace the front window of the Vanni home. It will remind me in this longest night that we each can be light for, and see light in, one another.

Inspiration

Be Watchful! Stay Awake!

In my social justice work, I’ve noticed people using a word in a way that wasn’t part of my vocabulary. Some communities refer to people who seem to actually “get” the challenge that’s present and the action that needs to be taken as “woke.” As in, that person is “woke”; he/she realizes what’s happening; what really matters in this moment; the action that needs to be taken.

I’m working to be more woke in the weeks ahead. For me, a woman of way too many words, that means shutting up and listening, particularly when my dominant culture mind wants to take over and share my “point of view,” something I’ve come to see as, sadly, most often simply a lifetime of programming that privileges my perspective. A perspective that’s too often blindly derived from my race, education, cultures, and social location.

It’s not that having a point of view is bad. It’s just that I’ve come to believe that it often doesn’t forward the action. It can even set it back.

The readings for the first week of Advent, which starts this Sunday with a new liturgical year, exhort us to “stay awake.” On the surface, that challenge doesn’t seem so hard. Digging deeper, it is daunting. It can challenge us to interrogate the places where we are still drowsy, sleeping, and even snoring. This past year brought powerful exposure of racism, sexism, and more. Am I nodding off now, because I’ve heard it before, or because I am overwhelmed? Am I inclined to snooze through this one, a victim of privilege and compassion fatigue? These and other questions push me.

My answer to them is “yes.” You will have your own answer, of course. But I commit, as this holy season begins, to stay awake and watch. And to work to stay woke, come what will.

“Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!‘”

Inspiration

“Love your neighbor…” Says just about everybody.

DSC00726

Almost every religion and ethical system on this beautiful shared planet of ours has love for one’s neighbor as a centerpiece. 

The great sage of the Talmud, Rabbi Hillel, was approached by a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. The man explained that he would accept Judaism only if the Rabbi could teach him the entire Torah while he, the convert, stood on one foot.  After pausing to think, the humble Hillel replied, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and study it!”

A student of the law came to Jesus, and asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

A Bedouin came to the prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, and grabbing the stirrup of the camel said: “O the messenger of God! Teach me something to go to heaven with.” The Prophet, peace be upon him, replied: “As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them. Now let the stirrup go!”

The great Sanskrit epic, the Hindu Mahabharata teaches, “One should never do that to another which one regards as injurious to one’s own self. This, in brief, is the rule of dharma.“  And the Buddha, not surprisingly, says very simply: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”

Our teachings remind us that our religious laws mean nothing if they are not anchored in human kindness, in goodness.  Our teachings call literally billions of us, the entire human family, into a spirit of love, a spirit of acceptance, a spirit of care for each other.

At it’s very best, that’s what we celebrate in this national holiday of Thanksgiving. We’ll gather this week with family and friends to express our gratitude for each other and our lives. We’ll use many languages and be grounded in many different religious traditions.  Our tables will groan with turkey and pumpkin pie, biryani and custard trifle, cranberry apple kugel, sweet potato marshmallow casserole,  sabaayad and, at my house, Irish soda bread.

This fellowship and abundance reminds us that while we honor our differences, we also embrace commonly held visions.  It can call us into action, inviting us to continue the complicated and rich journey of becoming more loving, more embracing neighbors. It offers each of us a moment to commit ourselves to seeing those in our midst who still feel frightened or threatened or unwelcome.

When we embrace this day as a mutual recommitment to love and neighborliness, we not only move ourselves forward, but actively contribute in redeeming a holiday that is, tragically, a source of great pain for our indigenous people.

And so with deepest respect for the Lakota people, who lived on this portion of land long before many of our people arrived, I offer this prayer from their tradition as part of our call to gratitude and acceptance this Thanksgiving.

Mitakuye Oyasin, All are Related

“You are all my relations, my relatives, without whom I would not live. We are in the circle of life together, co-existing, co-dependent, co-creating our destiny. One, not more important than the other. One nation evolving from the other and yet each dependent upon the one above and the one below. All of us a part of the Great Mystery.  Thank you for this Life.”

May their prayer be ours.

Trish Sullivan Vanni

Interfaith Circle Annual Celebration of Thanksgiving, November  2017

 

Inspiration

Who’s My Neighbor?

This Sunday (which happens to be the day that the U.S. will commemorate the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation) we’ll hear Jesus challenged, yet again, by the Pharisees. “What’s the greatest commandment?” they ask. He responds echoing the words of the great Rabbi Hillel: There are two great commandments. Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.*

This week, someone tweeted a photo of a banner that appeared to be hanging on the pedestrian footbridge in Eden Prairie’s Miller Park. It was a demand that immigration be stopped, and it proclaimed Identity Evropa as its source. This white supremacist group is making inroads in Minnesota, including protesting at our state capitol.

As the granddaughter of immigrants, I am agog at the free reign that these haters now feel. They are emboldened by a national discourse that coarsens more with each passing day, and by political rhetoric that barely veils hate of the “other.” There is no hesitation now to spout these ugly messages publicly.  Reminds me of a story my Grandma Sullivan told about the landladies who turned her away as she looked for an apartment in the Bronx, my uncle Charlie and my father in tow in their baby carriage. “No dirty Irish,” they said as they slammed the door in her face.

Jesus reminds us this week that our Christian faith is not private. It’s about a public demonstration of who we are as his followers. It engages others, and is seen and affirmed only in the light of the love we show them.

When I was kid in Hackensack, NJ we regularly sang, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I could probably still play it on the guitar.  That’s my prayer this week. That’s the theme that I hope will underpin my actions in the days ahead as I work to reassure my immigrant and refugee friends and neighbors that they are wanted, that they matter, that they are cherished by my household and by the vast majority of people — people of genuine good will — in our City of Eden Prairie.

One of the verses of that old familiar song said, “And we pray that all unity will one day be restored.” We are closer than ever to restoration of Christian unity as we celebrate the anniversary of Martin Luther O.S.A.’s brave posting of 95 theses that opposed the Roman Catholic Church’s abuse of indulgences. My hope is that we can join as one voice now to oppose the abuses we see in our churches and all across our nation — including the demonizing of those who came here by choice, not birth. Let’s make sure that we can be seen as Christians not only for our love of God but our deep commitment to love our neighbors as ourselves. “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.”

 

*Hillel was asked to recite the Torah while only standing on one foot. Loosely paraphrased, he responded, “Love God with all your mind, your heart, and your soul. And love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else is commentary.”

Books by Trish

The 12 Steps Meet the Gospels

So proud to have worked with my dear friend Dick Rice to generate a book that intersects our 12 Step spirituality with our faith in Jesus Christ!

“Church basements have long been the home of twelve-step recovery groups, where people who have felt hopeless and alone find new hope and healing in the midst of a supportive community of witnesses who have been there and know that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. Sharing coffee and conversation, real recovery begins.

“This is much the same witness the early church made when disciples went out forming communities where the gospel was shared and bread was broken. This book, a remarkably fresh and unique take on the Scriptures, shows what could happen if that deeply spiritual sharing moved upstairs, into the body of the church.

“The authors, both in recovery themselves, bring their experience, strength, and hope to their reflections on Scripture. Organized loosely around the seasons of the liturgical year, their interpretations shed fresh light and power on stories we ve heard many, many times. Their distinctive viewpoint will strike responsive chords not just with those in recovery, but with anyone who has ever felt out of place, out of step, or somehow set adrift in today s world. Filled with wisdom, compassion, and humor, The Twelve Steps Meet the Gospel is a testament to the hope and joy that Scripture reveals, cast in human terms that speak to us all.”

 

Read a sample here.

Buy it here.

Inspiration

The Soda Bread Wars

I come from a very ethnic Irish American family. A few years ago, I posted the recipe for soda bread that my grandmother, Hanorah Hayes Sullivan, taught me as a youngster. It is the one that they made in her village, Murroe, in Limerick. (She was a servant girl in the house of the Lord who once owned Glenstal Abbey, but that’s a story for another telling.)

The Hanley cousins, descended from my grandmother Margaret Doherty of Longford and John Hanley of Cavan, immediately flew into competitive action. I include my cousin Brian’s narrative for your amusement. Grandma Hanley would give a blank stare at “turbinado” but Brian, who is upright and honest as well as smart and handsome, admits such.

In the interest of familial peace and in rememberance of two very faithful, loving grandmothers, I offer both on my patron’s day. St. Patrick evangelized the Irish and is said to have driven out the snakes. May you, today, find a moment in which you can share your faith, and may the current serpents of doubt and fear be driven far from your table as you celebrate this feast!

Grandma Sullivan’s Irish Soda Bread

Start by turning on the oven and heating until really hot, around 425˚.

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Mix all these dry ingredients together.

1 stick very soft butter

With your hands, cut the butter into the flour until it is very fine and “mealy” feeling.

2 cups raisins

Add the raisins and mix in. (Aunt Mae Keane’s family also puts in caraway seeds but Sullivans reject this practice roundly. Your call.)

3/4 quart buttermilk

Pour in buttermilk. You then want to mix this up until it is a moist but not saturated dough – sticky, but not mushy. Yikes. How do I explain this? Then, take the wet dough and put it on a pile of flour on the counter. Turn it a bit without major kneading, just to shape it into a round loaf and get a smooth exterior.

Put it in a cast iron skillet. (This is pretty essential; it mimics the bottom of a hearth, and also helps the bread keep its form.) Take a knife and cut a + across the center, about a quarter inch deep. Put it in the hot oven, and let it begin baking. It will rise and get very light brown. Then, lower the oven to 350˚. Bake until golden brown and a knife comes out fairly clean. A cooked looking crumb on the knife is okay, but o’gloop is not. By the way, o’gloop is the gaelic word for sticky mess, just so you know. 😉

Grandma Hanley’s Recipe
“So here is the real deal, despite what you may see out and about on the Internets. This is the best Soda Bread from here to the Emerald Isle!!!4 Cups Flour
1 Cup Sugar
4 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tsp Baking Soda
1 Tsp Salt
4 oz Butter (Softened)
1 Egg
1 cup Golden Raisins
8 oz Sour Cream
1.5 Cups Buttermilk
Combine all ingredients, mix by hand (I am serious).Place dough in a buttered cast iron skillet.

Sprinkle some sugar (We use Turbanado) on the top to really make the crust happen (The addition of sugar to the top is a generational “add-on”. Not that we can improve Grandma’s masterpiece, but it is a nice crunchy addition).

Inspiration

Irish Blessing for St. Patrick’s Day

Beannacht / Blessing
by John O’DonahueOn the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.

And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.

When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.

May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.

And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.