Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Advent Abundance

Dear Friends,

It's beginning to feel like Advent. A cold December chill permeates the house. The ground outside still wet from recent rains. Trees and plants washed of the urban soot and dust are once again bright and colorful. I step outside and the cold air penetrates the nostrils with a sharp crispness. The rising sun paints the clouds with a brilliant orange. I pray the Advent prayer prayed by the ancient church, “Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus Come!”

The change of seasons means something different to each one of us. When the Winter chill signals the start of this new season, I think of soup. Sam’s Club has a three pound bag of Broccoli, Carrots and Cauliflower. Perfect. On a Saturday afternoon, a cube and a half of unsalted butter is melted in a ten quart soup pot. Sweet Onions are diced and sauteed. Garlic Cloves are squeezed directly into the buttery Onions and immediately release their flavors. The Flour is whisked in and cooked for just a minute. Then three quarts of Organic Chicken Broth  are slowly whisked into the Flour until there are no more lumps. A cup and a half of White Wine is stirred in and now full heat is applied to bring the liquid to a boil. I stir it occasionally while I inspect the bag of veggies. Everything is fresh so nothing needs to be trimmed or discarded. The whole bag is dumped in. A tablespoon of Celery Salt, or instead, a tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning is added and the soup is brought back up to a slow boil. The flame is now reduced to its lowest setting and the soup gently simmers until the veggies are soft but not mushy. Now it’s time to get out my industrial-sized immersion blender and the five quarts of soup are blended until it becomes thick and creamy. This will now feed your hungry family of fifteen people at dinner or feed two people for a week.

Many of us today know bread only as the device that’s used to convey the bacon cheese burger from the plate to the mouth, but for much of human history, bread was the staple in our diets. In the beginning there was bread. Genesis 3:19 In ancient biblical times, meat was reserved for feasts, bread was the primary food in their day-to-day lives and all other foods were the “side dishes.” Bread was considered a gift from God, by whose blessing the grain grows and it was used as an offering at Pentecost. Leviticus 23:16-17 Bread was baked on an iron or ceramic plate in a “tannur”-an earthenware oven. I use a ceramic plate in a Frigidaire oven but many thousands of years later it’s the same recipe: flour, yeast, salt and water.

That Sunday morning, I prepare bread dough seasoned with Italian herbs. After the first rise, it's folded and put in the refrigerator to develop the flavors. That afternoon, the  dough is taken out and patted down to about an inch thick. Sitting on the counter in the warmth of the afternoon sun, the yeast does its magic and it rises again. The dough is dimpled, coated with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and slid onto a pizza stone in a 550̊ oven. The soup has also been developing more flavor overnight in the refrigerator and it's now being reheated. The scent of the baking bread is overwhelming and when the golden brown loaf comes out of the oven, the soup is now steaming hot. There is no finer gourmet meal on a chilly Advent Sunday afternoon.

Then I come across this painting by Henry Tanner called THE THANKFUL POOR and I’m captivated by it. An older white-haired man with strong work-hardened forearms and hands. His teenaged grandson. A table set for two. Only one chair in the house; the boy sits on a stool.  What happened to his parents? His grandmother? A clean but well-worn tablecloth. Empty plates. A small loaf of bread between them and little else. Both heads bowed. Eyes closed. In my mind I can hear them thanking God for His blessings and an abundant life in Christ Jesus. 

I research the artist and find that Henry Tanner is considered the greatest African-American artist of all time. His mother had grown up as a child-slave and his father was a minister. I discover that Tanner is known for his biblical paintings and religious art. THE THANKFUL POOR was painted in 1894 and poignantly captures the deep faith that allowed families to experience an abundant life in Jesus in the midst of their poverty.

This painting discomforts me. I look around my house and see too many things. Cupboards of dishes never used. A walk-in pantry with shelves to the ceiling filled with food ingredients. When I sit down to eat, my plate is filled with food. This Advent my thoughts are drawn to others so much more needful than I have ever been. I look again at the grandfather and the young boy and see that, despite their impoverishment, their faith has filled them with the wealth of God’s abundance and wonder if perhaps they are richer than I will ever be. I think about this as I eat my simple but abundant meal of bread and soup...Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus Come!

(My Advent Soup and Bread Recipes are HERE)

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