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Are You Stuffed?

“If you have stuffed yourself with worldly satisfactions, then it is no wonder that you have no taste for spiritual delights.” (De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, p. 414)

We don’t much like to deny ourselves. We live in a time when we can do or have just about anything we want at any time of day. And quiet? What is that? How many of us seek out a quiet place for a time each day, where we can actually pray, think, meditate, contemplate, and breathe?

Advent invites us into a time of darkness, waiting, expectation, and even penance. It is not Christmas yet. It is not time to stuff ourselves “with worldly satisfactions” (despite what society encourages).

No, it is a time of refraining, holding back, discovering our patience, and exploring our weaknesses and brokenness so that we may more clearly discern our need for Christ—the light who is coming.

Just as we cannot taste the subtle natural sweetness of a ripe peach if it is immersed in syrup, neither can we taste spiritual delights when we are stuffed from banqueting on the world: entertainment, technology, media, politics, materialism.

Let us retreat. Let us find quiet. Let us sacrifice some of our fullness and comfort so that when Christmas comes, we are prepared to feast on what is truly nourishing.

Honey Nut Squash Soup

Even better than Butternut Squash, their petite cousin, the Honey Nut Squash, available now in many supermarkets and farmers’ markets, are sweeter and create a smooth soup you will enjoy throughtout the fall and winter.

I know fall has arrived when Honey Nut Squash appear in baskets at the supermarket and at my local farmers’ markets. Related to the Butternut Squash, they are smaller and the flesh is more intensely orange and sweeter than that of their larger cousins. A couple of pointers. First, you do not need to peel the squash. Yes, it’s true. Thank you, Jamie Oliver, for teaching me this time-saving tip years ago. As the soup simmers, the skin becomes tender and blends beautifully into the resulting puree.

Second, because this soup requires so few ingredients, use whatever vegetable broth you like best. Some recipes suggest chicken broth, but I think it’s too strong (“chickeny”) here. Vegetable broth allows the sweet-savory flavor of squash, onions, and spices to sing more harmoniously, plus our vegan and vegetarian friends will be happy. I happen to like Better Than Bouillon concentrate, but I have also used cubes from Knorr and Edward & Sons. Of course, boxed shelf-stable vegetable broth can also work; just make sure you are happy with the flavor before using it here.

Finally, this soup is delicious on its own, but consider using it as a base for other ingredients to round out your meal. Adorn it with a dollop of creme fraiche and roasted pepitas. Stir in a handful of arugula drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Or add pieces of veggie burgers, sliced sweet cherry tomatoes, and rubbed kale to create a warm salad of sorts. However you enjoy this soup, I hope it becomes a nourishing staple of your fall and winter kitchen as it has mine.

Makes about 5 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion

Sea salt

Ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

3 small to medium Butternut Squash, trimmed, seeded, and chopped

Water

1 heaping teaspoon bouillon concentrate

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, season with a generous pinch of salt, and saute until softened and light golden.

Season with a generous grinding of pepper and stir in the spices. Add the squash, add enough water just to cover, stir in the bouillon, and bring to an active simmer.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover partially, and simmer until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes.

Transfer the soup to a blender and puree until smooth, adding more water if necessary and seasoning with additional salt and pepper and bouillon as needed.

Serve immediately, or store in glass jars in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Called to Meekness and Gentleness

God responds to us with meekness and gentleness….We are called to be more like Him….Therefore, meekness and gentleness are expressions of mercy, which is the way He responds to us as opposed to anger….Why be gentle? Because God’s been gentle with you and don’t worry; other people have too….Because guess what? You are not the center of the universe….That’s God. And your emotions and passions are set to register ACTUAL REALITY and not your conception of your own play that you’re overdramatizing.–Father Bonaventure Chapman

Where is God? Look and See.

On this Good Friday, faithful Christians are participating in the Triduum and the remembrance of Christ’s passion. Many others, though, despite their religious upbringing or affiliation, are not. Their reasons are many and most have been offered for millennia.

One of the most common questions posed by nonbelievers, as well as those of us who periodically wrestle with our faith is, “Where is God? I can’t see Him, so he must not exist.”

Fair enough. Especially saturated as we are in a culture of materialism and scientism, we are shaped to think anything unproven to the eye is silly at best and downright dangerous at worst. And just to reaffirm that we’re not alone in our uncertainty, it’s helpful to remember that even one of Jesus’s disciples doubted His resurrection until it was proved to him.

Considered from just about every angle, however, this position of refusing to believe unless we see evidence is insufficient. There are lots of things we cannot see but we know exist. Love is one good example. What about faith or goodness? We know they exist even if we can’t see or touch them. How do we know? We witness their imprint and manifestation in beings and actions around us. We actually “see” the effects of these virtues at work in the world.

Seeing the Divine in nature is just the same. Aquinas teaches us it is through reason that we come to have faith—to believe in and see God. For Aquinas, the truth of God’s existence is literally visible everywhere, and he begins with nature—with the world around us. It is here that we repeatedly witness God’s hand and reflection. Nature and everything in it participates in God’s vision. As Richard Rohr explains, we live in a “Christ-soaked universe.”

On this Good Friday, as we wrestle yet again with how suffering leads to redemption; how death leads to rebirth; and how, even during our Dark Nights we may yearn and reach for the light, let us choose to seek God everywhere.

Ultimately, the question, isn’t simply, Where is God? The question is, Are we looking for and truly seeing Him in all things?

What Does It Mean?

Paraphrasing Pope Saint John Paul II, he explained that the reason for suffering is to return us to the foot of the cross. Does this resonate with you?

In other words, when life is good and going our way, it is easy to lose sight of God. We feel self-assured and content with our ability to control our experiences and outcomes. “I don’t need faith,” we might say. “I’m in charge. I’m fine on my own. I trust that I know what is right and wrong.” This might feel true for a time. But will this confidence last? And what happens when life becomes complicated, and we find the distinctions between right and wrong demand greater discernment and clarity?

Suffering has a way of redirecting us. Sometimes we just get tossed around and confused for a while. Sometimes it strips us of all self-confidence. Whatever the case, however, it is meant to remind us that we are not in complete control; that God’s love and plan for our lives are much greater than we could ever imagine; and that if we are willing to go to the foot of the cross, where His mother grieved as she beheld her only Son, so might we also be strengthened.

So today or tomorrow, when disappointment, pain, or suffering call us to discern greater meaning and clarity, may we remember that it’s at the foot of the cross where we will discover our most profound insights. It is in the surrendering to the discomfort of breaking open that we invite God to sit in our hearts. It is here that we allow understanding and growth and flourishing.

When life is easy, we don’t think we need anyone or anything. But when it’s challenging, we are called to more faithfully depend on and trust in God.

This is not weakness. This is Salvation.

Ash Wednesday: “A Good Lenten Start”

Heavenly Father, grant us a fervent spirit of love for your Son Jesus as we begin these days of Lent. Give to our hearts especially a desire for prayer” (The Magnificat Lenten Companion, 2022, p. 12).

As we begin our Lenten journey, so many obligations and concerns come to mind, such as abstinence, fasting, and repentance. All of these are important, but let’s not forget the significance of prayer.

Quite simply, prayer is our opportunity to talk with God. It is a time, hopefully repeated throughout each day, that we focus our attention on Him and share our concerns, joys, and gratitude.

We acknowledge that the heart is the seat of the soul, the center of our being. And so when we ask, “Give to our hearts especially a desire for prayer,” we are affirming that it is the very core of who we are, created by God, known to Him before we were born, that when rightly ordered, yearns to speak to Our Creator, Being itself.

By talking with Him, either out loud or silently, we are affirming that which He has already spoken into being: our relationship with and love for the Lord. The words themselves, expressed from the heart, are inspired and enlivened, reflecting the awesome power of the very Logos with whom we are humbly communicating.

May we take the time, everyday in our Lenten journey, to open our hearts and more profoundly experience the wondrous gift of prayer.

Girls Who Ride Horses

The girls with their horses.

Girls who ride horses

Never complain about rain.

They pay no mind to tangled wet hair

Or muddy boots.

The ring may be spotted with large puddles

But they canter through them

Laughing as the spatter spits at their horses’ legs.

Girls who ride horses

Long to be outdoors

Among the trees

In the fresh air

Perfumed with autumn leaves

Cut grass

And stacked bales of hay.

Girls who ride horses

Know how to communicate without speaking

Set intentions

And realize their visions.

Their rooms are bedecked with show ribbons

And equestrian books.

They leave the barn late

And return early in the morning

Because they must—

Because their love and commitment are true and steadfast.

Girls who ride horses

Are responsible, dedicated, strong, and free.

One day I hope to be like

Girls who ride horses.