Rhythms: Salad Dressing and Surrender; Care of the INFJ Soul

On 4th Sundays of each month, I explore the rhythms, practices, and sacred patterns that nurture my soul.

By Myers-Briggs type, I am an INFJ (bordering on INFP). Like most folk of this type, I’m an idealist. I walk through the world with eyes wide open. Grocery shopping is hell.

As an INFJ, the salad dressing aisle makes me cry. This is why I don’t walk down the aisles in the store if I can help it. This is why I mostly shop at an organic co-op and farmers market, why I make my own salad dressing, why I get most of my food from a CSA in order to avoid the store altogether.

For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, allow me to explain: For those who can run into the grocery store on your way home and pick up a bottle of Ranch dressing, bless you. May you cultivate gratitude for simplicity. For me to step onto the dressing aisle, my mind instantly takes in the visual data and filters it through a matrix in which each bottle of dressing is scrutinized:

Plastic bottles: Recycled or not? What’s the plastic number on the bottom? Is the lid too small to qualify for recycling? What chemicals are leaching into the oils of the dressing? 

Corporations: What mother company owns the brand on the label? What are working conditions in their supply chain? What is my money going to support?

Ingredients: How was this produced? What impact does it have on the earth, on the workers along the way, on my body? What manufactured chemical flavors and preservatives might be cleverly disguised in the ingredient list?

Marketing: How am I being compelled by the supermarket-pastoral narratives on the labeling? How is the nutrition facts panel shaping the way that I understand my relationship to life sustaining food?

Knowledge: What knowledge have I lost that I must rely on companies to make salad dressings for me? Can’t I do this for myself? Why don’t I have my great grandmother’s recipes for this sort of thing?

Health: Should I be eating salad dressing? What kind of oils are used in these–are they old and rancid and I just don’t know they’re delivering horrible oxidants to my body because the flavor is masked with chemicals?

Energy: How much energy was used to make the bottle? How far did it travel? What part of the globe was robbed of this food in order to ship it to me? How much acreage of the planet am I staring at in these hundreds of bottles in front of me?

Economics: Am I entitled to someone else’s food? If I don’t buy it, will a small business that’s employing people go under and the market just keep drifting toward uglier giant salad dressing hawking corporations?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, there’s significantly more there that’s much tougher to articulate. In fact, it’s important to note that I don’t actually cognitively think these questions, I FEEL THEM. I can literally stand in the salad dressing aisle for 5, 10, 30 minutes, basket on the floor, mouth hanging open, tears welling in my eyes. I am overwhelmed with all that is sacred and profane about each bottle before me.

Utter INFJ-salad-dressing-option hell.

I have friends who know this; people who ask me if I’ll eat meat if they order it on a pizza, who check in before offering me store-bought baked goods. I am grateful for their kind awareness. And I’ve also found that to care for my soul–hell, to stay sane–I have to learn to surrender.

For me it is a spiritual practice to let go–to imagine the plastic package of pre-cooked, chopped chicken provided at a work function was really lovingly prepared; that it came from a healthy chicken that was treated well, was slaughtered, cooked, and sold by people who were treated justly and paid fairly; that there aren’t a slew of chemicals being poured on every step of the way; that I won’t be “eating and drinking death” unto myself by eating the meal sitting in front of me and just being grateful for how it satiates my hungry stomach (oh yeah, idealistic self, I’m hungry and have to eat!).

It is important that I surrender–not my idealism, but the hold it has over me–so that I can eat some food to care for my body and actually let myself be present with the people I am eating with. This is no easy thing. It requires practice–requires extending grace, not so much to the horrifying food system we deal with, but to myself; allowing myself to relax, eat when I’m hungry, and live to care so-damn-much another day.

So if you see me standing in the salad dressing aisle, feel free to take me by the elbow and steer me away–or just grab a dressing off the shelf (preferably a local, organic, glass-bottled, co-op kind), drop it in my basket, and tell me to move along. And if you have me over for dinner, know that I’m certainly not judging you in my high idealism, I probably just need a kind smile as you offer me a plate of whatever it is that you are serving.

My sensing deeply is not a curse. It’s a part of what makes me a great writer, thinker, and friend. It allows me to appreciate nuanced beauty of shifting light; flavors of food; emotional experiences of other people.

In a technologically connected world in which we are assaulted with information about things far beyond our control, it is easy to find myself overwhelmed and so, I have to learn to turn that sensing toward myself and ask what my own body is telling me about my nature, my human finitude, my need to settle myself into particularity of place and a limited number of relationships in which I can surrender to the goodness of a community that will value my gifts and feed me (or push me out of the dressing aisle) when I am overwhelmed.

Reading back through these words, it occurs to me that perhaps I am talking about care. As an INFJ I care about (love?), almost indiscriminately; nearly everything. Yet in order to function, to live, and to thrive, I must care for myself–or rather, surrender to the care provided to me by others–the earth and my family of friends. I have to let go, learn to receive my tears for myself (which come so less frequently than my tears for others, for music, art, film, poetry, and salad dressings), and receive care from those who care about me.

This kind of letting go is difficult–it feels too easy, like I should have to work hard to bring about something as good as acceptance; belonging. What would it be like to surrender and really believe? The difficult thing is that it’s not the kind of thing that I internally sense myself into believing. I have to experience it. I have to accept it as a gift from others.

Theory: Nutrition Facts

“Well, my answer to that is probably a little more esoteric than you usually get.” Says me, with strained breath as I lay, planking, on the gym floor.

This, in answer to a question from scruffy trainer man who tells me I have 30 seconds to go before switching to my right side. Talking, to distract myself from new-found awareness of muscles near my ribcage that I hadn’t known existed, I continue: “Well, I’m a theologian, and I think that to ask questions about how we understand ourselves and God and how the world works, we have to start with our bodies as our primary means of knowing–so, I’m here because I want to be more grounded in my body.”

Let’s back up: We are in the season of Lent. I’m not very motivated to run in the rain. I got a $10 groupon for 6 weeks at a gym–with a personal trainer.

So far, Mr. Scruffy and I are having some interesting conversations.

——

“What time do you get up in the morning?”

Without hesitation, “6:32 am.”

Startled chuckle.

“On weekends, I usually try to go back to sleep after that.”

——

“What do you do for fun? A girlfriend?”

“Well, no. Actually, I’m gay. But no boyfriend right now either.”

“Well no offense or anything, but I could tell when I first met you. Do one more set of that and then you can take a break.”

——

Pointing to frighteningly muscled dude doing some sort of shruggy shoulder lift of about a kazillion pounds, he says, “That could be you.”

“No–I have other things to do with my life.”

——

I hope Mr. Scruffy is as wryly amused by me as I am by him in these conversations.

And then we start talking nutrition. Fitting, given he’s a personal trainer, I’m at a gym, and my church’s liturgical emphasis during Lent is nourishment.

“How many calories do you eat for breakfast?. . . How much protein?. . . What time do you eat dinner? . . . You should take some supplements; antioxidants, amino acids, a multivitamin.”

And I start to wonder–those old, nagging questions:

How many antioxidants are in the no-sugar-added Oregon grape and blackberry jam that I put up this summer and ate some of this morning on my local, unpasteurized yogurt?

Do I need more amino acids when I’m eating whole grain rye, quinoa, wheat berry, and lentil curry 3 days this week? What is the difference in vitamins between the orange carrots and the purple carrots I just got from my CSA?

Where do pill supplements come from? If they’re, like, extracted from massive quantities of vegetables, I’m not sure I’m entitled to that much earth, and if they’re from chemicals in a lab–eww, no thanks.

How come the cheap organic eggs from Trader Joe’s and the expensive pastured eggs from the farmers’ market or PCC show the exact same nutrition facts for eggs that look and taste qualitatively different?

Does Mr. Scruffy know that I cook almost all my food at home, rarely eat anything that’s been more processed than being dried, and that when I said I eat out about once a week I was referring to roasted root vegetables at the co-op deli counter?

——

Sometimes I annoy myself.

It’s true.

——

I tune back in to hear Mr. Scruffy is telling me in the most non-coercive way what I should be doing, “Decide for yourself, but what I do is have a protein shake in the morning. . . amino acids supplement . . . soy powder. . . multivitamin. . .”

I do not doubt that this regime would give me nutrients. I have noticed that it seems to be working out alright for Mr. Scruffy, if I do say so myself. I’m just not entirely sure that this is the same thing as nourishment.

—–

I talk with my sister on the phone and we discuss the pleasure of standing over the pan stirring while clarifying butter.

Clarity; what is opaque, becoming clear.

I am going to the gym to avoid running in the rain learn to listen more closely to my body–yes you, ribcage muscles, who wake me with aching when I roll over two nights later.

What is it I am telling me?

—–

A friend, at church, points out that nourish comes from nursing. I think of attachment; the relationally grounding trust that can be established when one body feeds another; the gradual learning that we can rupture and repair; the growing identity that leads toward interdependence and differentiated relationship.

And I grow sad.

Supplementing nutrients for nourishment seems so native to me. So intrinsic to our culture, our families, our schools, our neighborhoods, our souls. My body does not lie. It aches for nutrients–an ache that unveils the vacuum of nourishment needed for healthy repair. And I wonder if instead of supplements, what I need are nutrient appetizers, to whet my desire for what is truly needed.

I am talking about food: Vitamins. Amino acids. Protein powder.

Nutrition Facts: Except that I am talking about more than food.

Art and Chai

There is, of course, no question that cooking is itself an art.

If you question this, I’d rather not hear about it–or rather, you’d rather I didn’t hear about it.

In fact, there are those who argue that some cooking–namely baking–is in fact a science. I frequently overhear conversations that go like this:

“Did you bake this?”

“Oh, no. I cook, but baking is too hard. It’s such an exact science.”

“I know what you mean. You have to follow the recipe just exactly and if it isn’t just so, things don’t turn out.”

Exchange of meaningful nods while nom-nom-nomming on store bought baked goods.

—————–

Now before I go any further, I know that I am about to sound quite the pretensions ass. Perhaps I wouldn’t make the claims I am about to make if I regularly had to bake without the benefits of gluten or eggs. But, for a moment, put up with my jackassery, because I’m making a solid point here (convincing nod).

—————–

While they nom-nom-nom, I say to myself:

Puhleeeeeeeze people. Get a grip (note that I’m saying this to myself. On the outside I’m nodding and quietly smiling while, internally, I wonder about the long-dead, GMO, processed ingredients in which I am about to partake because I believe in community that much).

I grew up making biscuits and cornbread without recipes. I worked for a couple of years in the pastry kitchen of a bakery. I baked bread for a solid year and half before producing a truly edible loaf.

I am as convinced of this next statement as my grandmother is convinced that our current president couldn’t possibly be a U.S. citizen:

Baking is no science–it’s an art.

(ducking the wildly flung, scientifically produced baked goods)

——————–

Mainly I think that the above statement is a ridiculous dichotomy based on a crucial misunderstanding of the connections between art and science, both of which I would classify as technique–thus I’ll save that debate for a 1st Friday: Techne post.

——————–

What I mean to say is: Have you kneaded any dough lately? Do you know what it feels like (through the vibrations up the wooden spoon into your hand–actually you need to know it with both hands, cause you’ll need to switch when you get tired) when warm dough goes from crumbly, to shaggy, to smooth?

Have you chewed a piece of dough slowly, letting the starches dissolve until the gummy gluten is left, letting you feel with your jaws what it’s like for these chains of protein to develop? Did you translate that feeling to your fingers and forearms as you leaned into the motion of the knead? Do you know the silkiness that oil adds? The stickiness of water? The texture of extra flour, dusty and dry until it rests its way into hydration?

I never follow a recipe while baking–though I generally read at least five in order to have a sense of what to look for in the texture, taste, and rhythm of the ingredients as they emerge into whatever culinary name has been applied to this particular combination of ground up grains and other pulverized bodies from the earth.

It’s about the feel. Allowing me to be led into my body by these dead things which will give my body life (and in some cases, I’m joined by about a bazillion living lifeforms that work with me to transform it into a swollen, sour bundle full of air).

And now the turn.

I have learned more about art from cooking than from all the lessons, classes, books, and museums I have ravenously gorged in my pursuit of creating beauty, truth, and goodness.

I have been led by spices, gluten, and heat to understand that I am always led by the thing. The beauty I create will spoil given enough light, oxygen, and the course of our planet being so damn habitable, despite our best efforts to destroy that capacity. The impermanence of my creations make them no less essential. If I do not cook well, do not listen to what the ingredients demand of me, it will still be food. It will still, more or less, allow me to survive.

If I surrender to the sensuous–in the sacredness of bodies: plant, animal, mineral, my own; I cup transcendence and immanence together like two hands on either side of a great bowl, and enter into the heartbreak of letting myself love that which will disappear.

This is my best understanding of art. This is also why love is essential in great food–that is, great food, through the love of one who listens with their body, brings to the mouth the transfigured essence of the bodies of its ingredients (food and sex, baby; art, food, and sex).

—————–

My Chai Recipe

Ingredients:

Liquid of your choosing

I go with almost straight whole milk. If you can afford and acquire some version of organic, raw, unhomogenized, grassfed, fresh, I recommend this, as the difference will astound you. If you can’t do dairy, I recommend a nut-milk, something like almond which will complement and carry the flavors of the spices. You can also substitute in as much water as you want, depending on how thick, smooth, and sharp you like your chai–thick and smooth are on the more milk side; sharp, crisp spice flavors show up on the higher water side. The amount you use should be reflective of the size of your pot and/or the amount you and any others will drink within 4 days.

Spices of your choosing

I go with whole cinnamon sticks broken into pieces and a little grated if I’m feeling need for more cinnamon. Cardamom; whole pods are best, just the seeds work too. I like to use star anise, though anise works too and in a pinch–or if you prefer it’s less licorice flavor–fennel works too. Black pepper, cayenne, curry powder, chipotle, and ginger can all be added [a little at a time] to bring up the kick. Ginger added early offers more subtle notes, added at the end lends more spicy kick. Vanilla at the end is great for those who like a sweet and mellow chai. You can do pieces of whole bean, if you save the outer part from where you scraped the seeds out for another recipe, this is perfect to use for chai–you can use extract if you need to. In similar flavor pallet as vanilla, you can try adding toasted almonds for a round, nutty flavor. Garam Masala in small amounts adds nice complexity. I also like coriander, which adds a great aroma. Cloves and allspice, though not really traditional, lend familiar warm notes to mix and blend well with the other flavors.

Tea of your choosing

I usually go with nice black loose leaf tea (you can use a smoked black tea if you want a smoky flavor–I’ve seen some folks who swear by stirring chai on a campfire with a charred stick, saying the smoky flavor is quite favorable), if you go with black, add it in the last 15 minutes before serving as it can sometimes get too bitter with long steeping. For a caffeine free option and a different flavor I like rooibos (when using rooibos loose, you’ll need a very fine strainer–you can also put it in a linen bag or paper tea bag [tie the tea bag, don’t just fold it, as it has to stand up to stirring]). If you use rooibos I say add it at the beginning with the bolder spices to give it time to develop flavor. I confess I’ve never made it with green. I tend to find green tea too astringent for my taste (unless iced or paired with lots of honey). Truly, you could even leave the tea out and have a perfectly delicious drink.

Methods:

Pick a day when you will be at home. I recommend simmering on lowest heat for at least 4 hours. If you happen to have a glass pot that you inherited from a grandma or a ceramic pot, that’s best. In lieu of either of those, go with stainless steel. The reason for this is that metals can impact the flavor of the spices. For this reason, use a wooden spoon as well–metal impacts flavor and heated plastic in food gives me the hives. Start by filling your pot with your liquid and slowly raise the heat (over medium heat) until it starts steaming, occasionally stirring.  Now lower the heat, you don’t want to scald the milk. While you’re heating, add in roughly equal amounts of your favorites of the stronger spices (coriander, anise, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, allspice). Of these, pick your top 3 and add those in equal parts–start with something like a tablespoon of whole or crushed of each spice per half gallon of liquid. Adjust liberally each time you make it until you find what you like. Add any of the other stronger spices that you like at half to 1/4 the amount you used for the top 3 (I’ll say here that cloves, allspice, and coriander should be added in more cautious doses. You’ll taste the chai after about 2 hours and can add more then, but it’s nigh on impossible to take the spice out).

Once you’ve added the initial spices (and rooibos if that’s your tea), give it a good stir, make sure you’re on the lowest heat setting, and then cover it and walk away. You’ll check on it plenty as time goes on, because you’ll keep smelling it and coming back as it calls you. At about 2 hours in, start sipping spoonfuls to check the flavor and decide if you need to balance the spices (note that the chai will form a skin on top. You can either stir that in, lift it off and discard it, or if you’re strangely adventurous, you can just eat it). You can tinker with it as much or little as you want. This simmering period can last as long as you’d like for it to–again I recommend about 4 hours.

When you’re down to about an hour left on your simmer, add the gentler spices (vanilla, toasted almonds, a pinch of garam masala). At 30 minutes left, add black tea and the sweetener of your choice–I use honey, agave, or raw sugar. You could also add molasses or sorghum if you like a dark, complex brown sugar flavor, but I’d only do this for complex and spicy chais using black tea–I’d stick with golden, crisp sweeteners for mild, sweet, and subtle chais.

This is also when you add in your spicy kicks (any of the peppers, curry powder, and ginger). All of these are stronger if you crush them. The ginger gets milder the longer it’s in, where all the others get stronger the longer they are in.

———-

Taste throughout the hours it’s simmering. Add what you feel like it needs. Listen to the ingredients. Enjoy whatever this particular chai is and is developing into. Don’t try to remember the exact measures you used. Remember what flavors you like. After you’ve made it 15 times, you’ll know just what to do to make the chai that you need for each particular time that you make it.

———-

Simmer with the tea, sweetener, and peppery spices for a final 15-30 minutes, then serve (strained). Again, the chai will form a skin as it cools in the cup, so smaller cups and frequent refills work best.

You can store it in the fridge for 3-4 days and drink it iced or heated back up. I’d strain it before storing it, since the longer the pepper is in it the hotter it will get.

This is a perfect drink for long rainy (Seattle) days when you are inside–preferably being led by your materials to create some kind of art.

What I’m Reading at the Start of the Year 2013

On the second Wednesday of each month I will be offering lists, commentary, and noise about various texts that I’m reading or interested in. The category of “texts” will include all-things-words-minus-poetry.

To start with, I thought I’d give account of what I’ve been reading so far this year:

Books:

West with the Night

West With the Night by Beryl Markham: This is an interesting bio/memoir that I’m reading. Markham was one of the first female pilots in Eastern Africa. My sister loaned me this one when I was visiting in Tennessee (I promise I’ll send it back soon).

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: Like Kingsolver’s other novels, it’s well written and clever. I always appreciate her ability to treat unlikable characters with generosity.

Wounded Prophet

Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen by Michael Andrew Ford: I pulled this one off the shelf at the library because one of the reading groups in the Theology Class is reading through The Return of The Prodigal Son and I thought it would be interesting to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge about Nouwen. I appreciate being able to understand a bit more of the human complexity of Nouwen and recommend this to anyone who has found themselves impacted by Nouwen’s work.

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen: This is the Nouwen book I have read the most. It’s as delightful and impacting now as it was in my Sophomore year in college, the first time that I read it. It’s Nouwen’s spiritual meditations on the parable and the Rembrandt painting pictured on the cover.

Incidentally, when I first read the book I went to an art store and bought a large poster print of the painting which I then stashed at my parents house. There’s this weird thing, where unframed art was always kept behind the clothes in my parents’ closet in order to keep it from getting damaged, so this is apparently where I put it years ago. This past summer, while visiting my parents (and the day before I came out to them !), my mother pulls the poster print of The Return of the Prodigal Son out of the closet (irony not lost on me) and asks, “do you know what this is?” –Do I ever, Mom. Do I ever.

The River Why, Twentieth-Anniversary Edition

The River Why by David James Duncan: Speaking of prodigality and parents, I just finished this gem, which was a Christmas gift from a dear friend. It’s a lovely book and I enjoy Duncan’s purposeful meandering, decidedly clever riffs on fishing and the Bible, and insight into human relationships and spirituality that lean heavily on a Meister Eckhart mysticism. A delicious quick read for my plane rides to and from Tennessee.

The Brothers K by David James Duncan: I’ve actually been reading this one since before Christmas and I’m told it’s even better than The River Why (told this by the same friend who gave me this one and The River Why, and I tend to think of as a bit of a Duncan proselytizer–you know who you are). So far I’m enjoying it. Again, the writing is great and Duncan has a way of creating beautifully engaging tight riffs on random subjects that seamlessly fit within his broader plot structure and which illuminate his characters so well. I’m looking forward to finishing this one.

Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment: A Developmental Strategy to Liberate Everyone

Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment: A Developmental Strategy to Liberate Everyone by Leticia Nieto (with 4 co-authors): I’ve truly been reading this for more than 4 months. It is a textbook and an excellent resource for developing anti-oppression frameworks and skill sets. I appreciate the authors’ use of a psychological developmental approach to understanding how all persons engage with systems of oppression, whichever side of privilege they may be on. This book has advanced my own thinking and work around understanding how oppression works withing U.S.American culture and where I find myself developmentally across various categories of privilege and oppression. The book is not comprehensive, but it offers a helpful framework that can be applied to work beyond what is covered within the book. I highly recommend it.

God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage by Bishop Gene Robinson: I’m still in the process of reading this one. So far it’s great. I got to hear Robinson speak in Seattle last month and he’s delightfully generous and thoroughly Episcopal in his approach (he described being invited to come and speak at a mega-church that was one of the main proponents of prop 8 in California. His response was to say, “of course” and then before going to speak at the church in the evening, he attended their morning service in order to worship with them first. Oh, Episco-pals).

The book is largely a compilation of Robinson’s responses to questions he gets asked all the time and he stated that he wrote the book to provide a resource to folks who field these kinds of questions about the Bible and marriage frequently. I recommend this one too, and I’ll loan you my copy if you want to read it, but you have to promise to give it back, cause I got it signed.

Blogs & sites:

http://blog.joshualongbrake.com/

Beautiful photos and beautiful words from a beautiful person. I don’t have much else to say about it than that.

http://wildcrazygrace.blogspot.com/

Can’t get enough of these gorgeous munchkins and I’m constantly awash in the goodness that is this woman’s gracious parenting. So grateful she’s my sister.

http://everydayimpastoring.tumblr.com/

I am seriously addicted to this tumblr. And I’m not at all embarrassed about that. I also sometimes wonder if I know who this person is and I secretly hope that it’s one of my seminary friends. Laugh out loud delicious.

Magazines:

Issue 28

“Geez: holy mischief in an age of fast faith”

You can check this out at geezmagazine.org. I enjoy this little Canadian zine with it’s no ads and counter cultural Christian thoughtfulness. Not perfect, but not trying to be, which has its own appeal as well.

Other:

Catalog

Because it’s that time of year. And yes, I seriously read seed catalogs. Laugh now, but you’ll be glad I did when you need to know a drought resistant variety of cucumber that grows well in the Pacific Northwest.

Saint Brigid

For today’s Second Saturday: Saint, I’m highlighting St. Brigid of Kildare, whose Feast Day is celebrated February 1.

St. Brigid

Image (and much of the following info) from http://www.allsaintsbrookline.org/celtic_saints/brigid.html

It’s traditional on February 1st to make a St. Brigid’s cross to hang in your kitchen to protect against evil and fires (presumably, kitchen fires).

Brigid is one of the earliest church mothers that we have a lot of information about, and her hagiography, like many Celtic saints is intertwined with earlier Gaelic stories. What is fairly certain is that she founded multiple monasteries, most famously the one at Kildare which was a double monastery housing men and women (common in Ireland at the time). Brigid was recognized as an Abbess and some equivalence of a Bishop and is revered alongside Patrick as one of the earliest Christian leaders in Ireland. Stories about her tend to involve miracles of multiplying food, her compassion for lepers, tongues of fire that appear over her, and miraculous favor with the secular rulers of the land.

One of the greatest aspects of Brigid’s legacy is the influence she had on illuminated manuscripts. One of the greatest of all time was produced in her monastery at Kildare and was said to be unparalleled in beauty. Sadly, it disappeared sometime around the protestant reformation. In my heart, I want desperately to believe that it has been reverently guarded, passed cheerfully through the hands of Irish nuns who have cherished it in secret, knowing it’s beauty is too great for our post-enlightenment world.

My other fantasy is that it slipped from a satchel as it was being carried through a verdant stand of woods where it’s pages fluttered open and mesmerized the animals and insects–squirrel chatter silenced before the celtic knots and fair folk tucked amongst the sacred texts, until, at last the Irish moss and mist that inspired it’s creation welcomed the illuminations back into the sacred world that first fired the artists’ hearts to create.

Like later leaders of the church, Hildegard of Bingen and Julian of Norwich, Brigid was known and widely sought out for her wise counsel. Her wisdom was seen as connected to her aesthetic influence as well. She is said to have been weaving one of her crosses out of reeds (a symbol more reminiscent of the spiraling fractals of nature than the Roman instruments of death) as she tended to a dying druid ruler. Upon seeing the cross that she wove, he was deeply moved and converted to Brigid’s faith.

She was likely named after, and her legacy connected to, the older pagan goddess Brighid, who was seen as a motherly figure ensuring life and symbolized by perpetual fire representing fertility, medicine, wisdom, and metallurgy. Brigid, like other Celtic saints, bridged (you see what I did there?) these older ways of holding to the sacred and brought them into her understanding of God in the Christian faith. Her legacy holds together the sacredness of all things, and she embodies, equality, generosity, life, and spiritual companionship (the tradition of anam chara in Celtic Christianity is closely tied to Brigid and a fellow nun whom she considered her soul friend).

She is considered a patron saint of poets, dairymaids, blacksmiths, healers, cattle, fugitives, Irish nuns, midwives, and new-born babies–no wonder I like her. She’s a fierce, fiery, artist of a saint. Brigid, intercede for us, that we may know the glory of this world and offer wisdom, beauty, and compassion out of the fire of our hearts.

Poetry

I have been submitting poems for publication.

I began last summer, with the awareness that, for a while, I’m essentially going to be submitting requests for rejection letters. With that in mind, I thought I’d start big–thus my first submissions and subsequent rejections came from Poetry and Ploughshares.

It was kind of nice to get a few out of the way and save myself the indignity of first rejections coming from some no-name journal that accepts more than 2 out of every thousand-or-so submissions.

Okay, really, it’s less about indignity and more the staggering fear of failure that comes with asking someone to publish your work.

But now comes the nitty-gritty. The systematic sending out of poems that I am proud of–phrases I’ve honed and reluctantly revised at the recommendations of skillful friends.

Submit. Wait. Fret. Receive rejection email. Scour over poem, second guess all my choices, my themes, my words. Sigh. Send to the next publication on the list.

There is a kind of rhythmic quality to this kind of risk. I’m reminded of a model of addiction that I saw once, where the addict cycles around a clock face. In some sense I feel this applies–

1 o’clock: vainglory sets in and the itch to publish begins.

3 o’clock: hours are spent on the internet researching which journals accept poems in similar styles to my own.

4 o’clock: choosing poems (good poems, but not the best ones, because what if those got rejected?).

6 o’clock: editing cover letters and entering personal info into website submission systems.

7 o’clock: the point of no return (this is the point in the addiction model where no intervention will help, the addict must now carry out the cycle to its completion–anxiety’s driving up the cortisol and the brain wants its dopamine).

8 o’clock: paste poems into a document with cover letter.

10 o’clock: pour a whiskey and double check the journal’s multiple-submission policy just to be sure I can submit that sonnet I sent to another journal last week (who publishes sonnets anymore?).

11 o’clock: click submit. Close that tab in the browser. Open up netflix. Bask in that dopamine and further anesthetize anxiety with an episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

12 o’clock: go to bed and forget about the rush until the next time the clock starts ticking (usually with the next rejection email).

So it goes.

So it goes.