Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Meditation on Donne and poetry

BATTER my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due, 5
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearely'I love you,'and would be loved faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemie: 10
Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe;
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

Today is the feast day of John Donne, priest. I have always felt an affinity to Donne. For him, belief is a turbulent, violent maelstrom. Whether tumbling into lustful union with his mistress, or wrestling with his faith, his is, as he puts it, a "holy discontent."

The first poem I remember reading of Donne is his "Song"--

GOE, and catche a falling starre,
Get with child a mandrake roote,
Tell me, where all past yeares are,
Or who cleft the Divels foot,
Teach me to heare Mermaides singing, 5
Or to keep off envies stinging,
And finde
What winde
Serves to advance an honest minde.

If thou beest borne to strange sights, 10
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand daies and nights,
Till age snow white haires on thee,
Thou, when thou retorn'st, wilt tell mee
All strange wonders that befell thee, 15
And sweare
No where
Lives a woman true, and faire.

If thou findst one, let mee know,
Such a Pilgrimage were sweet; 20
Yet doe not, I would not goe,
Though at next doore wee might meet,
Though shee were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet shee 25
Will bee
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

The magic of the strange orthography, the world-weariness of the adynaton, the fantastical mandrake root, whose screams as it is pulled from the ground induces madness--all of this was heady stuff for a girl given to the romantic, who desperately wished for "strange sights, things invisible to see."

I bought a second-hand copy of The Complete Poems and committed several to memory, including The Message, with its lyrical,
SEND home my long strayd eyes to mee,
Which (Oh) too long have dwelt on thee;
and another Song :

SWEETEST love, I do not goe,
For wearinesse of thee,
Nor in hope the world can show
A fitter Love for mee;
But since that I
Must dye at last, 'tis best,
To use my selfe in jest
Thus by fain'd deaths to dye;

Yesternight the Sunne went hence,
And yet is here to day, 10
He hath no desire nor sense,
Nor halfe so short a way:
Then feare not mee,
But beleeve that I shall make
Speedier journeyes, since I take 15
More wings and spurres then hee.

Donne led me then to Andrew Marvell, to Richard Lovelace, and to Robert Herrick. Alas, in English class, we read too little of these and too much of what I term the Gift of Watermelon Pickle ilk, free verse and worse: no meter, no rhyme, and (at least to me) no reason. I agree with Robert Frost that writing free verse is like "playing tennis without a net": it's pretty pointless.

Recently I queried my university students as to how many of them knew a poem by heart. Not songs, but
poems. Out of a class of fifty, only three hands went up. The text-message generation has no time for memorization, no desire--no need, with Google so close to hand. Rote memorization is a task archaic and useless.

But a poem memorized travels with you. I learned by heart Frost's
Stopping by woods on a snowy evening in third grade for a Christmas pageant. I still can recite every word, decades hence. Last winter when a small group of us gathered over a cup of Christmas cheer, we decided to offer a spontaneous recitation--each one performed a poem standing before the mantelpiece of a roaring fire. (It was really good Christmas cheer!)

I haven't memorized any poetry lately So my goal this year is to memorize a poem a week to memory. I think I will pick some old favorites that I haven't yet memorized, and some that are new--well not really new, because for me modern poetry "does not thrill. It produces absolutely no vibrations." By a year's time, I will have 52 poems committed to memory. I would enjoy learning what poems you have memorized and what poems you recommend.

It's a Donne deal.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Mission of Love and Cookies

This past weekend, four young men from All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena made the long drive to Fresno, California on a mission of love. Oh, yes, and cookies.

Their goal: to visit St. James Cathedral on Sunday, meet the parishioners, and "be an example of how we understand God's message."

Kevin explains: "The trip was kind of a reaction to a sermon from our rector, Ed Bacon, about love. Love being active and the difficult part in showing love to those who are not nice to you ... So, we wanted to go to one of the churches that was pulling away from TEC [The Episcopal Church] and was not welcoming to gay people. It is easier to not like someone that you have never met or don't know. It is easier to not like someone that you have no personal connection. Maybe, just maybe, we can help push that to a little less of an extreme."

So, Kevin, Andy, David and Nelson piled into their car and drove over two hundred miles to do just that, with a basket of chocolate chip cookies, done up in little cellophane bags with messages of hope and inclusion .

But first, before they went to St. James for the 10:30 service, they visited Holy Family for our eight-o'clock service. Afterwards, at Coffee Hour, we talked about how important it is to make connections; that bigotry can only thrive when it is faceless and impersonal. Once you find out that gay cookies are good cookies, in fact, that they are no different from "straight" cookies, perhaps the barriers of accepting those cookies will collapse, and we'll have a cookie jar filled with all kinds of cookies of all shapes and sizes.

Sure, it's a metaphor. But I happen to think it's a pretty good one.

Kevin reports that the people at St. James were very pleasant, and seemed to like the cookies, and read the messages.

Our visitors also came bearing a message of consolation for Holy Family, whose congregation, wishing to remain in the Episcopal Church, has felt isolated in a Diocese intending to break away.

In an e-mail after the visit, Kevin put it very eloquently:
"While we recognize we don’t have a full understanding of what you have been going through, we have a much deeper appreciation for what an island of hope, peace and inclusion the community has created at Holy Family and the blessed people that are there.

We want to extend our thanks for the warm welcome we received from everyone at Holy Family. I know it is an experience that will be with us for a long time. We also want to thank you for your support – as a church and individuals making a stand for a fully inclusive message of God’s love."

Their parish, All Saints, is a thriving one, with an average Sunday attendance of about 1,000 in two services. I hope that some day soon we can make the trip down and pay a visit there. And bring some cookies.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I stand corrected.

MadPriest, in his usual charitable and gentle way, helpfully informs me that my "Irish Seven-Course Meal (for a Saturday Night)" is, in his words,
"uninformed nonsense and completely wrong!"

Mind you, this is the first time Himself has deigned to leave a comment at my humble blog. . .

He continues: "It's a six pack of Guinness and a whiskey chaser. No Irishman would waste his money on a potato on a Saturday night."

Now, who better to extol the virtues of the liquid diet than our beloved Mad Priest? I am convinced. All I can say is, that it better be Jameson's. None of that Bushmill's codswallop.

Thank you, sir, may I have another?

Welcome, Cecilia!

Cecilia has a heart-breakingly eloquent blog here. I hope you will drop by and say hello, and keep her in your prayers.

Cecilia, you're breaking my heart
You're shaking my confidence daily
Oh, Cecilia, I'm down on my knees,
I'm begging you please to come home, come on home...

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Irish Seven-Course Meal (for a Saturday Night)


1 potato
1 six-pack of Guinness.


The Great Moral Issue of our Time

Child Abuse?

Nope, it's your genitals. Surprised? read this essay by David Michael Green and you'll see the light. (By the way, it's your genitals that are the problem, not mine, thank you very much. )

This comes by way of Ellie, who has a lovely blog (with cats!) at Child of Illusion. Drop in and say hi!

An exercise in courage


Conversion of St. Paul, 2007

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

As you are no doubt aware, our church finds itself in a turbulent, confusing, and painful time. Many issues are involved in our current struggles: authority, hermeneutics, ethical and theological visions and convictions, and the complex relationships of gender, power, and patriarchy. Though the “presenting issue” is the place of LGBTT folk in the Body of Christ, the roots of our conflict go much deeper.

As a priest in the midst of this struggle, it has become clear to me after much prayer and soul-searching, that my spiritual conscience can no longer abide by the laws which I am required to uphold in regard to the blessing of same-sex unions and marriages. It is my conviction that our current ban on such practices is theologically problematic and fundamentally unjust. Upholding such a position (even unwillingly) forces me to bend severely (if not break) my priestly vows, my baptismal covenant, and the Word of God inscribed within my heart. I therefore publicly declare that I will, when requested, officiate at same-sex marriages and offer blessing upon committed same sex unions. I will no longer discriminate against homosexual people when it comes to the exercise of my priestly duties.

I am aware, of course, that the stance I am taking will likely lead to serious consequences, and I am prepared to face these consequences openly and publicly. It may be helpful to consider my action a form of ecclesiastical civil disobedience. With conflict and rhetoric rising in the worldwide communion, too many queer brothers and sisters are being further marginalized and excluded. In some parts of the world, this takes the form of outright violence: as I write, the coordinator of Changing Attitude (a sister organization of Integrity) in Nigeria is living under a death threat from his “fellow Christians”. Here at home, it is often a more subtle form of oppression: exclusion rendered invisible. As a priest and leader in the church, my complicity in upholding our current law makes me at least partially responsible for the ongoing suffering of LGBTT Christians, and I can no longer take part in that. If my current action helps render visible that which has been made invisible, then I will be happy to bear the consequences. I too will stand “outside the gate”, where so many other queer Christians have been sent.

To be clear, there are three main reasons for my choice of taking this stance. On one level, this is a clear issue of justice, solidarity, and human rights. On another level, this is an issue of evangelism: our church’s continuing discrimination against LGBTT people is a scandal which keeps many of my peers from being able to hear the good news of Jesus. And finally, this is an issue of personal integrity: I can no longer, in good conscience, uphold a law which I consider unjust, as well as theologically deficient.

Some might say that my actions sidestep the legitimate process of discernment underway in the church. I understand that concern, and I have wrestled long and hard over what to do, working within our established canons and structures to the best of my ability. However, I also see my current course of action as being part of the wider church’s discernment. We have heard many arguments about the cost of blessing same-sex marriages and ordaining unclosetted queer folk; we also need to recognize that there is a cost as well to not moving in this direction. The cost is a huge amount of suffering for LGBTT Christians who are pressured to remain silent. The cost is that some of us, straight and gay, will no longer be able to abide the status quo, and we will simply cease to obey an unjust law. The cost is that others will quietly leave. That reality needs to be part of our church’s discernment. In this, I am not leaving the church, nor relinquishing my orders. Instead, I offer my current action, with all its consequences, for the ongoing discernment of the Body.

Yours in the unquiet peace of Christ,

The Rev. Shawn Sanford Beck

Let's keep Father Beck in our prayers, and continue to pray for guidance and grace for all our clergy. --Aghaveagh

Friday, March 9, 2007

Aghaveagh's Bubble and Squeak

Another great potato and cabbage dish. The name comes from the sound of the frying.

4 potatoes, unpeeled* (well scrubbed)
1/2 onion, diced
1/4 head or so of cabbage, coarsely chopped
olive oil
salt/pepper to taste

Grate the potatoes.(Turn them while grating and you won't end up with a big flap of peel at the end)
Dunk the potatoes in a bowl of cold water to rinse and squeeze them out. (If you're worried about the vitamins, use the potato rinse water in your bread recipe). Mix in the onions.

Heat a large pan (no stick is good; cast iron is better) and add olive oil to coat. Add potato/onion mixture and reduce heat to low. Cook until crispy on the bottom. Turn over. Add cabbage to the top of the potato mixture and cover. (The steam will cook the cabbage)

When the bottom is crispy again, raise the heat and mix together the cabbage and potatoes to the desired crispiness.

Dish up (serve 2 for dinner, 4 as side dish).

If you are a ketchup person, add some. (Don't worry, I won't tell.)

If you are feeling bold, a bit of crumbled Stilton is grand.

*now, why would you want to peel the praties for, anyway? It's too much work and the goodness is in the peel!

Rev. Jim Strader Writes a Letter to the Presiding Bishop

Eloquent and to the point:
Read it here.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

My Name

"Aghaveagh, whose name I can't even pronounce, has a lovely blog." said Padre Mickey.

Thank you very much!

And Grandmère Mimi, who says,
"My dear, your name is hard to spell. I had to try three times," suggests a diminuitive of "Agha."

My name comes from the Irish Achadh-beithe, meaning "birch-tree field." It's not so hard to pronounce if you remember that the gh combination is silent, and that the diphthong ea is like the "a" in pan. So my name is pronounced something like "Ah-va" with the accent on the first syllable.

Just in case you were wondering...

Potatoes and Point

A simple little recipe.

Cook up the last of the potatoes in a pot. Check to see if there are any onions. No? 'tis a shame. Do without. Any milk left? No? Ah, well. The butter's gone? Well, there's still some salt. Mash up the potatoes and put them in a bowl.

Sit at the table and point to where the last of the bacon used to be weeks ago. Praise God for the food and eat.

The Rainbow Connection

"Who said that every wish would be heard and answered
when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that
and someone believed it,
and look what it's done so far.What's so amazing that keeps us stargazing?
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers and me."

Something to think about for Easter:

Rainbow Presence

"We affirm the presence in the church of our lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender sisters and brothers who preceded us, giving of themselves and their gifts while remaining invisible as lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people.

Therefore, on Easter Sunday we (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender and all allies) will be present in our churches and make ourselves visibly known to our fellow parishioners, clergy, bishops, and leadership through the wearing of rainbow sashes, stoles, hats, buttons, and other articles of clothing and accessories."

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

St. Perpetua and her companions

Today is the feast-day of St. Perpetua and her companions, martyrs at Carthage, 203.
I have always been fascinated by the beast that was chosen as the instrument of the women's martyrdom. The Latin is ferocissima vacca: "a very fierce cow" or as other translations have it, "a mad heifer" or "a most savage cow."

You might say she was another victim of Mad Cow Disease...

To anyone who thinks that this bovine baddie is pretty small beer, I recall a most fiercesome cow I encountered as my companions and I hiked the Dingle Trail some years ago. We had gotten off course and decided to make our way across a field. Two placid cows stood, quietly chewing their cud, as we trudged through the gate. Midway across the field, we watched with horror as one of the cows suddenly charged towards us. We slogged as fast as we could through the soggy, pie-laden pasture, narrowly making through the opposite gate before the cow caught up. . .a narrow escape from that hellacious heifer.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Pretty Decent Potato Soup

"What I say is that, if a fellow really likes potatoes, he must be a pretty decent sort of fellow."
A. A. Milne

8 potatoes, unpeeled, cut into large pieces
2 quarts water or stock
3 onions, sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped celery stalks and leaves
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 T butter or olive oil
1/4 c. chopped parsley stems and leaves

Scrub potatoes well. Cut into pieces and rinse. Place into soup pot and add water and onions. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes then add celery, cook until potatoes are just tender. Use hand masher or immersion blender to blend soup until it is smooth. (Leave chunks if you like texture in your soup). Add milk, salt and pepper. Heat until simmering.

Ladle into bowls and top with butter and chopped parsley. Serve with fresh crusty bread. It's also good with a bit of fresh rosemary on top, finely chopped. (Use olive oil instead of butter if you are serving this cold.)

(recipe adapted from Twelve Months of Monastery Soups by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette)

This is also good topped with green onions.

You're on notice...

Sunday, March 4, 2007


"Well did you ever make colcannon, made with lovely thickened cream
With the greens & scallions mingled like a picture in a dream
Did you ever make a hole on top to hold the melting flake
Of the creamy flavoured butter that your mother used to make

Oh you did, so you did, so did he and so did I
And the more I think about it sure the nearer I'm to cry
Oh weren't they the happy days when troubles we knew not
And our mother made colcannon in the little skillet pot

"Colcannon" (trad.) sung by the Black Brothers

"…I wish we could oftener see among our people here what they are so fond of in Ireland, that is, cabbage and potatoes boiled together, with a little bacon or pork fat, or suet or dripping, with salt and pepper. You nearly all know how good colcannon is; and why you do not eat it here, I cannot think."
-- Emily Bowles, St Martha's home; or, Work for women, p. 65

Basic Colcannon Recipe

3 lbs potatoes (floury, older potatoes works best)
1 lb cabbage or kale, very coarsely chopped (remove ribs from kale)
1/2 cup milk or cream
as much butter as you dare
3 green onions (scallions), sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Quarter the potatoes (do not peel) and cook in salted water until just tender. Drain and let the steam come off until they are rather dry.

Cook cabbage or kale in water until tender. Do not overcook. Drain and toss in a little butter.

Add milk or cream to the potatoes and mash by hand. (Lumps are good!) Add the cabbage and green onions, mix and add salt and pepper to taste.

Dish into bowls and serve with plenty of butter on top.

This very simple recipe can be altered as desired; try the following variants:

-Brown diced bacon and
sauté the cabbage or kale in it before adding to the potatoes
sautéed yellow onions or shallots instead of green onions
-top with grated cheese or even a fried egg.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Cogito ergo spud

"Potatoes are not for clever… Potatoes are for world peace, potatoes are for understanding, potatoes are for self-realization. Potatoes really are the connection to why we’re really here."

--Jeff Leff

So, it's two weeks to Saint Patrick's Day...or if you're the Guinness Folk on the telly, you call it "The Saint Patrick's Day Season". . .

In honor of the Spud That Saved Western Civilization, The Moon By Night will offer a fortnight of recipes celebrating the humble yet tasty Solanum tuberosum.

Friday, March 2, 2007

St. Ceada (St. Chad) A.D. 673 Bishop of Lichfield

There is a well of St. Chad near Battle-Bridge which is said to have curative properties.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

St. David's Day (Patron Saint of Wales)

“If your majesties is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which, your majesty know, to this hour is an honourable badge of the service; and I do believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon St. Tavy’s Day.”

Henry V., iv. 7.

St. David was known for his ascetism, eating only bread and drinking only water. Hence his nickname, "Dewi Ddyfrwr," "David the Water Drinker."

Nonetheless, you might want to eat this tasy soup with a tankard of ale...

Welsh Leek Soup
(Cawn Cennin)
(serves 6-8)

  • 4 slices of raw bacon
  • 6 thick leeks, trimmed of the roots and dark green, then chopped
  • 10 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Garnish: Crumbled crisp bacon and a few circles of sliced leek per bowl
  1. In a large soup pot, sautè the bacon over medium heat until crisp-then remove it from the pan, drain on paper towels, and reserve it for the garnish.
  2. In the soup pot, reheat the bacon grease over medium heat and stir in the leeks, turning to coat them, and sautèing for several minutes, until they take on a little golden color.
  3. Pour in the stock, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Purèe, solids first, then pour back into the pot. Season to taste.
  4. When ready to serve, reheat the soup over medium high heat, then ladle it into bowls and top with crumbled bacon and fresh circles of leek.
recipe from