Cooking for the Bishop

When I became a Catholic in 1971 after being raised in the Evangelical Church, my idea of priests & bishops was one of admiration but also included a bit of fear as well. Now after being in the Church for over forty years, there still remains some trace of that anxiety in me. The realization of this became evident when one morning following a weekday Mass, our dear priest approached me with a smile and a request. Since he made a habit of not asking, but inspiring his parishioners to volunteer, he caught me off guard.                                                                                                                                                   He needed someone to cook for the Bishop and other priests when they spent the day at our church for Confirmation. He said it would be a tiring day for the Bishop and Father wanted to have a relaxing dinner in the rectory before he and his assistant returned home.

The Bishop? Me cook? I listed our pastor’s other options to no avail. He told me he had eaten at my house and I was a good cook and just needed to believe it. He was right, I didn’t believe it. He told me to think it over and let him know soon because the time was short. I did think about it, for a day and also thought, what an opportunity. Truthfully my pride paid a role in accepting the offer–the honor of actually cooking for the Bishop. I had no idea what I and my husband who was pulled into service last minute, were in for.

To be continued…

 

Russian Christmas Eve: January Sixth

Growing up in a rural area of N -E Pennsylvania my family celebrated twice, once on Dec. 25th and a second on January 7th, the latter we called Russian Christmas the heritage from my father. My parents came from different backgrounds; Mom’s parents were German protestants born in the USA and Dad’s family immigrants from Russia and Orthodox Christians .

My fondest memories were of Russian Christmas Eve when we went to our grandparents for a traditional supper. A table was set for all the family with a cloth spread over hay making for a lumpy surface for our table settings. They placed a blessed candle in a jar of rice that served two purposes, the second came at the evenings departure. There was a small bowl of raw garlic which I sometimes tasted while others devoured several cloves and the aroma pervaded the room. We stood around the table and the head of the house prayed in Russian; many years later we learned the mysterious prayer was The Lord’s Prayer. No meat, fish, eggs, or dairy were present as the fasting lasted until after midnight.

Seven courses were served, one at a time with plenty of Grandma’s homemade bread baked on a large cabbage leaf. The meal included: 1) butter beans, 2)peas, and 3)mushrooms each cooked in a light sweet tomato sauce, 4) peirogies with onions in butter sauce, 5)mashed potatoes, 6)oatmeal gravy (not my favorite), and 7)fried cabbage. We walked around the table three times putting the silverware under the cloth. I never knew why except nothing was washed until after Christmas Day.

Entertainment included being together with our cousins and Uncle Paul would draw us pictures. Later the choir from the church came and stood around in a circle in the kitchen singing hymns and also some comical songs. Some of them were dressed in traditional Russian outfits and did tricks and acted silly. They had usually been imbibing of spirits in each home they visited. I can picture the group of twenty or more in Grandma’s kitchen.

After midnight with the fast over we all received candy. Presents were given to our aunts & uncles, just small practical gifts like nylon stockings & socks which my mother stopped to buy on the way there where clothing and shoes could be purchased in sizes from infant to adult. We lovingly called it the Jew store and another up the street for toys. That was the only time my mother ever drank an alcoholic beverage not wanting to insult the husband & wife by refusing a small glass of Manichevitz wine. The last thing was blowing out the candle held by the oldest person and we all lined up to see if the smoke went out the door or straight up or into the house which according to custom meant a family member would move out or stay.

The Russian Christmas Eve supper continued at my parents home after our grandmother passed on. The choir no longer came and it was just my siblings and a few close relatives  less hay under the tablecloth but otherwise the same and each of us blew out the candle.

Last year was the first year I made the supper for our family and tomorrow night we’ll continue the tradition. Dad and Mom have passed on but somehow they seem present and approve of our carrying on as usual. And we’ll all be blowing out the candle. 

 

 

 

 

Shekina Glory

Excerpt from Daybreak:

When we left the temple, great crowds of pilgrims stayed on the Mount waiting for the sunset and darkness before lighting their torches. My thoughts raced thinking of Judas Maccabeus and his men attacking on this very spot hundreds of years ago. They finally defeated the troops of Antiochus Epiphanes and tore down the statue of Zeus.

I thought of the miracle of the oil that kept burning for eight days while Judas, so-called the Hammer, led his troops in cleansing the Temple. The question for us now was would Israel experience another miracle. Could we defeat the Romans and reclaim our freedom? It seemed impossible but we were Jews and believed in miracles.

***

We began our short journey home on the road out of Jerusalem leading in the direction of Gaza, the last stop in Israel for those traveling to Egypt. We would arrive at our dwelling after only a few miles, just when the sky turned to a sea of darkness, illuminated by millions of heavenly lights like ships in the heavens above or souls on their way to meet the Lord of Lords. When I doubted my faith, I only had to look up on a clear night, and doubts vanished in the wonder of the heavens above.

Father was quiet as usual on the trip home. I saw him gaze up at the sky now and then. I thought he was waiting to see the first evening star. When we saw the lights of our home in the dstance, the heavenly bodies began to be visible. We both noticed one unusual star as we turned to look at the eastern sky. Its rays were extensive and seemed to reach the earth itself, an awesome sight. We stopped walking and looked at the vision above.

Finally, my father said, “Shekina Glory! This is the night of lights and the light of God’s presence is shining on us. The City of David lies to the east. It is written in Sacred Scripture the Messiah will come from Bethlehem, the City of David.”

“What are you saying, Father? I don’t understand.”

“It will be made known, my son. But now we have arrived at home and it is a joyous night.”

“You’re right, Father. I hear laughter. Our relatives must be here and the aroma of Mother’s cooking reminds me of how famished I am.”

A Christmas Story

  Some years ago on Christmas Eve, by chance, but I believe by design of Providence, I alone visited my dear uncle in the nursing home where he resided for a great number of years after my mother cared for him at least seven years and reluctantly had to place him there. My  husband and I offered to visit him on the way to our home in New Jersey after our traditional Russian Christmas Eve supper with most of my siblings and their families. It was a beautiful tradition and the one time we were always together in the house where we grew up.                                                                                  

My mom & dad went every evening and made sure he ate supper, but they were both exhausted that night. My husband had a cold and stayed in the car. I was his only visitor that day and he was still in bed with unopened presents under his small lighted tree. The holidays are often sad in nursing homes, especially Christmas.  But his face lit up when He saw me and with the help of an aid we had him sit up. I opened the presents for him and he was pleased with each one. I could have cried when he told me the same jokes I’d heard on every visit, but I laughed instead. Before leaving I asked if he would like to be wheeled down to the nurses’ station and he agreed. He said hello to some of those sitting there and the nurses all smiled at him. It was difficult leaving him.

The ride took about an hour and a half through the Poconos and into New Jersey. I shed some tears at first, then felt glad for the time I had with him. Shortly after returning home the phone rang past midnight and my mother told me he had passed on. She felt bad not seeing him that one night she missed visiting her brother. I must tell you at his funeral a few days later a great many tears were shed by those who cared for him over his years in the facility.

During the time of mourning someone said “to die on Christmas meant you would immediately go to heaven” and I believe he did. And God must be  listening to those old jokes forever. My uncle had a gift, a great gift, that no one ever saw him without smiling while he sat in his wheel chair and touched so many lives.

Christmas is the story of a child, the Son of God, being born into the world in a way that it was said not even the angels could have imagined beforehand. Now every Christmas I think of my Uncle Harry and smile for he and his gift are still alive.  

Looking back: Finding Treasures

Advent is a season of hope, beauty, and joyful anticipation, as well as,  lingering sadness and longing for past celebrations to be relived. Very often this desire to bring back the past is impossible. However,  what we are able to recapture is hopefulness. The Bible admonition to …seek and you shall find… can be applied to seeking hope from past events, looking back at sadness yet discovering hope in the midst of  sorrow. 

This was written on Christmas 2014 but was a reminiscence from Christmas 1998.

Lights

Blue lights on the windowsill
White lights on the tree
As if this Holy Holiday is like the rest.
Someone missing, separated
Distant both in miles and mindfulness
Beyond our reach.

Now there upon the branch of birch
Appeared a bird of blue, the color of the sky
Orange breasted, feathered, round and regal
A light, a prayer, a reason to believe
All is possible, all is well
Blue lights on the window sill
White lights on the tree.

 

This poem was written on this date, December 5th, in 2016.

First Snow

The first snow came in silence like a thief
Yet did not take from us but gave
A spectacle of white
The miracle that transforms everything is felt
Through the senses and the heart

Evidence of what lies beyond
The barren dreariness of winter
Beauty we cannot possibly imagine
Except at the sight of the first snow. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue Birds on Thanksgiving

Bluebirds

Turkey-day, Holiday, day of thanks giving
Missing day, solemn day, day of remembering
Ending day, beginning day, another gone ahead.
A mother not present and a father before
Questions of the mystery of death and beyond.

Now three generations, that would not exist
Had it not been for those two and their love.
We gather together to feast and to mourn
The loss of our parents from whom we were born

Faith tells the story, they now live anew
But we seek the bodies, the persons we knew
We long to see, that we could believe
As we peer out the window two bluebirds fly by
They land on a branch of a tree and we see

The flight of two souls now closer to God
The beauteous blue points to where they reside
Tiny hearts beating in the winged beings
Two souls flitting like sparks or like birds.

Birds of a Feather

On this past Sunday morning I was inspired to write two poems. The first composed in the chilly November air on my modest deck facing east as the sun was just about to rise. The second, written from my warm and cozy computer room as I looked out the window. The first profound, I would venture to say, but the second, on the lighter side. Both having in common my belief that they were signs from the Big Guy in the Sky, a phrase I heard from my cardiologist.

One Solitary Bird Sings

In my distress, I dread to say despair
But yes, it hovers round me like a black vulture
Preparing to devour its prey
Yet, the pilgrim soul I am, still seeking
With one bedraggled wing of hope
I open a door to find some sign outside
And there it is, in the stillness of the autumn air
The lonely song of a solitary bird
One I’ve never heard before
His very own song God knows him by
Like unto the sparrow falling to the ground
Not alone, not unknown Indeed, loved by the the One who knows
Each and every song He gave to the lonely bird and me
One lonely soul amid the music of the choir He conducts
Yet allowing freedom to improvise, unlike the bird I heard today
The song He gave to only us, to me  A sign of love, a gift of God.

                                 Three Wanderers

Oh I, the genius muse I am what gift the Lord has given
That on this first hour of the morn I could write such lines of woe and hope
As I had opened a door, I now pull back the drape and seek a second sign
Alas, one I’ve never seen before there in my peppled drive
Three wandering birds red feathered, topped with redder combs
Chickens lost not far from home
Our neighbors source of breakfast eggs
Oh, wondrous muse, an even better gift of God
A smile – a sign of joy!  How glad that I was born!