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Soul Desire

by Gayle Madison

 

 

Soul Desire will be reflections on love and the sacred nature of ordinary experience. I present a collection of writings from past and present that include contributions to church newsletters, a travel blog, professional magazines, poetry, sermons, and heart-full reflections. Most contributions are filtered through yoga stretches, long walks, vigorous swimming, birds in my back yard, select women clergy, a creative witch, and my loving husband who is a publisher.

Monday
Mar272017

Dining and Deals in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong it’s all about making deals and eating food. So on our trip there we decided to make a deal for blue and white antique ginger jars and eat our way through Hong Kong Island and Aberdeen.

We found a shop we liked on Hollywood Street in the historic Sheung Wan area and since my husband considers himself a reasonable negotiator in the “market place” he began to barter with the shop owner for two beautiful medium sized jars.

The men were bantering back and forth about their kids and the the price of the jars in what seemed a prolonged process when my husband said, “If I pay your price I won’t have enough money to buy food for my family.”  The shop keeper shot back, “By the look of you, you could do with a little less food.” They both broke out laughing and agreed upon the price.” We paid and left feeling good about the experience and our purchase, deal or not.

But haggling made us hungry so we headed for a Dim Sum restaurant. Think of bamboo steamer baskets riding along on small stainless steel carts delivering delicacies like Gao Zi, translucent rice flour dumplings filled with beef, pork, tofu or pickled cabbage. Think of Nor Mar Gai, chicken and sticky rice wrapped in a lotus leaf. Think of…NO STOP. Take a deep breath and open your mind because while you may have had Dim Sum you haven’t fully experienced the essential nature of it until you have experienced a Hong Kong Dim Sum palace.

Yes, palace. Modern Dim Sum restaurants in Hong Kong can be three stories tall seating 400 diners on each floor.  Originally Dim Sum was served at drop-in style tea houses along the road side for travelers in the south of China. It has evolved over many centuries into a reasonably priced loud and happy dining experience. 

At the moderate sized restaurant we found we walked up 40 carpeted steps to a large upstairs foyer containing 40 chairs in rows for the large families and groups who wait to be seated on weekends and other popular Dim Sum days. We proceeded into a dining room with 50 round tables covered in pink table cloths encircled with 8 chairs each, bigger than the biggest conference room. While not filled with diners the room was buzzing with 20 Dim Sum trolleys being pushed by 20 no-nonsense servers who understand how to feed 400 people at a time all day long, sometimes starting at 5:30 a.m. Their no-nonsense service seemed a little rude, but never mind, these servers looked tired and had serious Dim Sum ground to cover. Our meal was amazing and we left a tip.

So if you’re going to Hong Kong please go to Dim Sum and start pointing at the trolleys that whiz by. I’d recommend pointing at delicious cha sui bao (steamed barbecue pork-stuffed buns) and not pointing at fungi zao (fried steamed chicken feet). Then relax and just keep pointing and eating. ENJOY and when it’s time to go you too might look like one who could do with a little less food…but hey, what a deal!

Copyright © 2017 Gayle Madison

Tuesday
Mar212017

Country English Cream Tea

There simply aren’t words to express my love for English tea. The thought of it brings ebullient gratitude bubbling up from my heart and sometimes bubbling heartburn. For me tea time describes not a cup of something or a meal or a time of day, no, it describes nothing less than a cultural institution that includes a lot of whipped cream (English clotted cream) and jam at venues from Buckingham Palace to the quaintest farm.

Those of us who live in countries that do not enjoy English tea time are bereft of a culinary and social passion enjoyed alone by Britons and Anglophiles. Seriously, on rainy days when I feel like crying the romantic side of my nature desires nothing more than to be buried at the feet of George Frideric Handel (an English composer despite what you might think) with a scone and a cup of tea tucked in beside me. 

In my tea time fantasies I do not pine for an effete linen cloth, my pinky finger curled daintily above the delicate curve of a perfectly painted china cup filled with a fragrant brew of Assam. Nor do I long for the village tea shop with violet blossoms on gingham curtains and fluted plates. No, my passion is for the Shropshire country-side tea advertised on hand painted sandwich boards at the end of a farmer’s drive advertising “CREAM TEA” .

Once I finally got back to England it was necessary to journey to the country-side for my long awaited tea party. When I got to my favorite spot I steered the car onto the muddy, rutted track and headed for the big old barn that needed paint. Parking nearby I heard 13 noisy suckling pigs rooting and snorting on their enormous momma sow. There was a barnyard stink that dissipated as I headed for the clothes line where the day’s laundry was flapping in the breeze near a rustic picnic table with a view of the duck pond. I sat to enjoy the gentle English sun on my back.

Presently the farmer’s wife came out of the 18th century farmhouse in a soft apron with a bib. “Cream tea for one please,” I ask cheerily as I noticed her hands looked terribly rough and red and I imagined she served tea and sold piglets to raise enough money to paint the barn. “Ah yes,” she said, “That’ll be homemade strawberry jam and clotted cream ’n scones for you then?” 

After she retreated I shifted my gaze to the water and noticed an efficient looking barnyard duck quacking at her ducklings who were swimming all over the pond. They began to leave the water and scurry up the embankment on their tiny webbed feet and one by one dove under her breast for nap time. Before my tea arrived the mother was sitting on a yellow pile of fluff six inches off the ground and I learned she was the broody mom for a dead-beat duck who ditched her clutch.

Ahhhh! My tea tray arrived and was a visual feast of Old Country Roses by Royal Albert, a full steaming pot, a heaping bowl of clotted cream, a small saucer of fresh strawberry jam and a plate of four homemade scones. I tucked in and finished everything off.

Deeply satisfied back in the car I popped in my CD of “Music for the Royal Fireworks” by Handel, belched and headed back to town.

Copyright © 1027 Gayle Madison 

Tuesday
Mar072017

Brazilian Barbecue

A big surprise in Brazil was churrasco or Brazilian barbecue. The churrascaria we went to had a poured concrete floor set with long tables and chairs, a corrugated metal roof and no walls so it had the feeling of a picnic pavilion. The food was served rodizio style which means it was one price for all we could  eat and the featured meats of the day were brought to the table where they were sliced into slabs and plated in front of our eyes! 

Believe me this was no sissy dining experience. Rather than just piling off a bus with 40 other shuffling tourists from 10 different countries it was if we had just dismounted our cowboy ponies after a long morning of South American style wrangling. We sprinkled ourselves around the pavilion tables in groups of two or three and waited for the tour guide to tell us what to expect.

After a short wait the Passadores or meat waiters appeared looking muscled and like they had chaps under their smokey barbecue aprons. They brought whole legs of pork, beef and lamb seasoned only with salt and skewered on 3.5 foot rods hot off the churrasco grill. With a flourish they cheerfully hefted the speared meat and wielded carving knives like television heroes from the American wild west slicing up gaucho sized portions for every plate. There were fewer white meats like chicken and turkey breast which are traditionally marinated in garlic, salt and lime juice so my eyes began to wander around the open air dining room that was wafting with the aromas of charcoal fires and grilling meats.

I noticed the decor included some leather horse saddles, spurs and old blankets. I hadn't realized at the time but feeling like I was part of a trail ride made sense. Churrasco has evolved from the cooking styles of South American cowboys called gauchos who wrangled cattle in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, the Pampas Region, in the south of Brazil for generations during the 18th and 19th centuries. They are thought to have been noble, brave and generous but unruly fellas…and they ate a lot of meat.

Not a completely enthusiastic carnivore myself I checked out the buffet that had promised salads, vegetables and other hot dishes. There I found the traditional churrasco side dishes of potato salad, and chayote salad made with tomatoes, hearts of palm and onion. On the steam table there were fried potatoes, fried bananas, collard greens, black beans and rice. This was comfort food for a one-meal-a-day working man, not pudgy tourists, but I did my part.

Churrasco is a celebration meal in Brazil and has evolved into an elaborate and enjoyable way to eat outdoors. After our hearty celebration the buckeroo, erm, tour guide hollered, “Round em up and head em out” or something like that and we knew it was time to go.  I wondered how to sing, “Happy Trails to You” in Portuguese as we waved goodbye and waddled onto the bus.

Copyright © 2017 Gayle Madison

Tuesday
Feb212017

It’s The Paprika Darling!

For years my time in the kitchen was about creating big pots of food that I could feed a hungry family. Casseroles with a cheese lid were what the kids wanted when they got home from soccer practice so I dished up what they loved and we never argued about cleaning your plate at our house!

During those years Italian seasoning and garlic powder in my spice cupboard  got a work out while caraway seeds and paprika got stale. Spices were much too gourmet for our children’s palates so I ignored almost everything except cinnamon, which they put on toast with sugar…I’m just saying.

Then the kids grew up and started eating somewhere else and my husband and I took a trip to Budapest. It was during the 2007 financial crisis in Hungary so we did our best to stimulate the economy by eating in the best restaurants and I weep to remember those dining experiences.

My favorite cozy upstairs dining room was hung with tapestries and filled with carved brown 19th century furniture. It smelled of fruity red wine and many slow-cooked dishes I couldn’t wait to sample. It was warm up there  as if the heat from the kitchen rose with the aromas just to remove the damp cold of an Eastern European October. 

We were seated in a private alcove at a table with a starched white linen tablecloth and napkins and I was trembling with a chill when a violinist appeared at the top of the stairs. He started to move among the tables playing Cimbalom, romantic gypsy folk tunes, and I  succumbed  to quintessential Hungary. Our first course arrived and while eating goulash soup the room melted and I merged with the warmth, the music, the wine and the blue pools of my husband’s eyes. There wasn’t a cheese lid or a kid in sight and I wanted to swoon and sway to the music.

“What is this soup?” my tastebuds were singing arias! It was rich and beefy with aromatic overtones of the divine. I didn’t know then the flavor I loved was created by the Hungarian style sweet paprika which I only used to decorate deviled eggs. It was pungent, savory paprika made from red pepper fruits first imported to the Old World from the New World in the 16th Century through Spain. And even though it didn’t make it’s way to Hungary until the late 19th Century when it arrived the Hungarians took possession with a flourish and started putting their culinary signature on the way they grew and produced it. 

Later in the restaurant gift shop downstairs I bought a large souvenir tin of Hungarian paprika displayed prominently and stacked in tall red pyramids. The display was beautiful and promised the contents were important and valuable but I had no idea what I was buying. At home that winter I made my first pot of goulash soup using the paprika from my souvenir tin and a Hungarian cookbook. The moment I tasted Hungarian style “beef stew” I knew why goulash gave me paroxysms of gustatory pleasure. Scooping a spoonful out of the pot before dinner my husband asked, “Why does this stew taste so amazing?” and I answered, “It’s the paprika darling.” We both heard violin music as he took me in his arms… and we danced.

Copyright © 2017 Gayle Madison

Monday
Sep082014

Thank Your Chickens: The Attitude of Gratitude

Jesus was thankful for the bread and wine at the Passover Last Supper. He gathered at that table as he gathered with the disciples for every meal they ate. The first thing he did was give thanks to God. It jumps off the page.

“Then he took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in memory of me.”

These are a simple few words contained in a powerful passage at the very heart of our faith. These simple few words are called the words of institution repeated every time we have communion. These are the words that consecrate the bread and the wine and make them holy in the ritual of communion. We learn  in seminary that without saying these words with integrity, which can be said only by an ordained person, the bread and wine is not consecrated and communion has not happened. Now there is certainly room for theological conversation, discussion and disagreement about this in the free church, but nevertheless, we have a pretty consistent agreement that these guidelines are the container for our understanding of communion.

So these words are loaded with ritual and meaning and I want to pry them away from communion for a moment and just look at these simple words. “He took a piece of bread and gave thanks to God.” Look at this simple action, “He took a piece of bread and he gave thanks to God.”

In communion as in so many of the teachings of Jesus we learn to be grateful to God. I think Christians are especially good at being grateful and sometimes get teased about it. Remember in the Monty Python movie, The Life of Brian, which is the life of baby Brian born in the stable next to Jesus on Christmas Day. He is always being confused with Jesus and the movie is a irreverent romp through the scriptures making fun of everything. It’s my favorite movie. At the very end when Jesus and Brian are hanging on the crosses suffering and there are characters at the foot of the cross doing a soft-shoe routine singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

Another character who gets thrown under the bus of cynicism is Pollyanna, a child in a novel by the same name written in 1913 who overcame diversity by playing the “Glad Game.” Whatever bad thing befell her she found something in it to be grateful about. I guess this deserves a little fun poked at it because it is sentimental and a bit sappy, and yet, it is about the gratitude attitude.

But this brings up a good point, that the gratitude Jesus taught is not sentimental or fake. So the scriptures do teach us about right minded gratitude. Hear the words of this parable:

Luke 18: 9-14

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

Jesus also told this parable to people who were sure of their own goodness and despised everybody else. Once there were two men who went up to the Temple to pray: one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee stood apart by himself and prayed, “I thank you God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or an adulterer, like everybody else. I thank you that I am not like the tax collector over there. I fast two days a week, and i give you one tenth of my income.”  But the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even raise his face to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God have pity on me, a sinner!” I tell you said Jesus, ‘the tax collector and not the Pharisee, was in the right with God when he went home. For everyone who makes himself great will be humbled , and everyone who humbles himself will be made great.

Have you ever watched the Jerry Springer show? Often referred to as T.V’s lowest life-form or T.V.’s trash talk show.He interviews people who are in a dispute over something difficult and outrageous usually including the most sensitive types of dysfunction in families. It is prurient, foul and exploitive. It is a social phenomenon sharply criticized by some who think he is among the 100 people in our country doing the most to degrade and disempower us. His show is a lightening rod and when I once watched a few moments of it I was expressing my gratitude in a prayer to God, “God thank you that I am not like the idiots and fools on the Jerry Springer Show.” It was instantaneous…that is where my thoughts went.

It happened again this past week when I performed the graveside burial for my friend of 35 years who died recently of pancreatic cancer. I was with her family up on the hill at Mountain View Cemetery in Piedmont which has the most incredible view of the Bay Area I have ever seen. I sat in a wobbly chair on the grass next to the lovely pink ceramic urn of her cremated remains set upon an astro turf covered box.  I was looking out over the vista of downtown Oakland, the San Francisco Bay with the San Francisco skyline in the distant background. Just as the sun broke through the morning fog and the vista ignited with clarity and sparkle I felt tears well up in my heart and heard my inner voice, “Thank you God that I am not dead like Ellen.”

Argh, it’s like an automatic reflex to compare myself  favorably to others. To use an opportunity for gratitude as a comparison is the way my ego grabs at faithfulness like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable. It may seem a subtle difference but because of this scripture I often have to correct the trajectory of my gratitude to gratitude. So I shifted my focus and gave thanks for Ellen’s incredible life, and I filled with gratitude for my life and for my health and for an opportunity to experience more days.

We know this is not really gratitude because it is not something we can ever share with someone. Imagine visiting a friend in the hospital and saying, “I’m so grateful to God that I’m not the one lying in that bed,” or to a grieving friend, “I’m so sorry your dad died and I’m so glad it isn’t my father who died.”

This isn’t real gratitude because real gratitude changes lives.

I’ve been astonished in the literature about gratitude to learn about the positive impact it has on people. We have pioneer researchers in gratitude right up the road at UC Davis. (Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough). They have done studies in which they have a group of adults write a gratitude list every day. They were instructed to write down 5 things a day for which they were grateful for ten weeks. Another group was instructed to list 5 hassles a day every day for ten weeks. At the end of the study they found the gratitude group was 25% happier with more life satisfaction than the hassle group.

So they did an experiment with children for two weeks. They had the kids write 5 gratitudes in a gratitude journal three days a week for the two weeks. As with the adults they also had another group write 5 hassles in a hassle journal  three days a week for the two weeks. Astonishingly, that was all it took to find a measurable difference between the two groups with the gratitude kids having more life satisfaction and a better outlook on school.

In studying people who express gratitude studies find they have:

  • better health
  • sounder sleep
  • less anxiety and depression
  • more long-term satisfaction with life
  • less likely to be aggressive when provoked
  • more optimistic about the present and future
  • more likely to be helpful to others
  • increased sense of self worth
  • enhanced empathy for others
  • Attitude of gratitude builds psychological resilience
  • generally happier with life

SIGN ME UP!!!

We might be tempted to think that there is a set point for happiness or that people can only be as happy as their parents because it is genetically determined. Research suggests that we can move the set point of happiness and life satisfaction enough to have a measurable and positive effect on both outlook and health.

I was moved by an article in the Christian Century (Terra Brockman, “Chicken Keepers” May 28, 2014) by a woman who visited her grandmother on a farm in central Illinois when she was a child. She loved going to the henhouse to collect the eggs and her grandmother insisted that every time she picked up an egg she thanked the hen. She described how that simple act of thanking the chickens over and over again informed her entire life with an attitude of gratitude. I want always to remember to thank my chickens.

I want to thank God first every time I take up food whether I’m alone or with family and friends…the way Jesus has taught me to. I want to do this as an expression of my faithfulness and also because it is good for me and everyone around me to do so. Even Albert Einstein suggested that feeling gratitude helps one begin to see everything around you as a miracle.

“Gratitude is like a flashlight. It lights up what is already there. You don’t necessarily have anything more or different but suddenly you can actually see what is. And because you can see, you no longer take it for granted.” (M.J. Ryan, Attitudes of Gratitude.) Practicing gratitude saves me from focusing on what I don’t have and it keeps me in the present, protecting me from wasting time in regret about the past.

Many of us have been stricken with the sad news about the suicide death of Robin Williams. The media has been filled with articles about depression and drug and alcohol dependence, from which he evidently suffered. Because I had a hard week myself with the internment of my friend, Robin’s death has caused me to reflect on how hard life can be and how all of us take turns in what my friend calls , being in the barrel. We can all use a bit of a lift and a reminder and some support about being grateful.

Back to the Passover where Jesus took a piece of bread, gave thanks to God, broke it and gave it to them. In the Passover meal celebrated by Jews today gratitude continues to be a central theme. They recall their hard times before God released the Jews from bondage in Egypt by eating parsley dipped in salt water to represent their tears. They eat horseradish, a bitter herb, to remember the bitterness of that time. They eat matzah crackers to remember they did not have enough time for the bread to rise before fleeing Pharaoh’s army. Then they sing the Dayenu song. Dayenu is a Hebrew word meaning “It would have been enough” and they name 15 things God did for them and after each one they sing, i”t would have been enough”. “It would have been enough that God gave us freedom from slavery but then God gave us the miracles in the desert” and they go on for 15 verses.

So, much like an altar call I invite you forward during the hymn to light a candle if you want to re-commit yourself to daily gratitude…to

 

Copyright © 2014 Gayle Madison