Winter Issue 7
Of Plums and Coons
By Kirsten Tarves
When the last rays of golden light were faded and the Big Market at last lay quiet beneath the hillside, out came Blenkinsop. He stretched and scratched himself behind his left ear, and lumped down the hill, right onto the beaten grass tracks by the stalls in the Big Market.
The Big Market was a very exciting place, even more so when there were no people about. As you know, when one is all by oneself in a place where there are usually a great number of people, it is somehow very mysterious and exciting. Blenkinsop wandered absentmindedly among the tents, eating a discarded donut, admiring the prize vegetables, and sampling the early apples and pears (there was a good deal of consternation among the townspeople the next morning when they discovered their prize fruits with little bites taken out of them).
Blenkinsop meandered through the fair without much thought of anything beyond following his nose when a poignantly sweet, warm smell tickled it. What could this be? He trundled after it. It led him to a series of little trees right in the heart of the Market, a little green space that sometimes doubled as an informal town square. Blenkinsop scrambled up one of the trees. Its lower branches were picked clean by the town children, but the upper branches still wore their summer’s bounty of soft, purple-frosted fruits of exquisitely sweet scent. Blenkinsop ate one experimentally. Aha! These were Plums! There was no mistaking them. He ate another. And then another after that, and another after that. And then he napped, and woke up and ate more. He had all but forgotten Aubrey and that he was supposed to be bringing Plums back, and thought only of fitting more Plums into his mouth than any coon ever had before, and napping a little when he thought his coon stomach could temporarily hold no more.
The grey early morning came, and Blenkinsop was still among the Plums in the tree. “It’s no matter, the Market will not be peopled for hours yet,” he thought, and nibbled another Plum slowly. He was beginning to feel a bit sick.
This assumption was a mistake. Blenkinsop was reckoning without children. While grown-ups are too sensible to wake before they must, children are not, and this way see many peculiar early-morning things that grown-ups do not. The grown-ups, having forgotten they too were once children, usually scold their offspring (or other people’s) for this, saying that children ought not to get up so early, and that what they see in the chilly lonely dawn hours is not true. They call it Imagination, or even sometimes Lies, if they are a particularly grown up grown-up. It is at times dreadfully unfair to be a child.
There was at the time a rather large number of children in that town, especially now during the week of the Big Market. They were all awake very early, having many new friends to play with before the week was out and everyone returned to their own villages and towns. A small part of this group of children (but still numbering twenty-five at least) arrived from all directions in the town square nearly all at once. Of course they spotted Blenkinsop in the Plum tree right away. They gathered round the tree, talking to one another excitedly.
Blenkinsop, suddenly finding himself surrounded by children and no time to climb higher, immediately pretended to be dead. What exactly he hoped to gain from this he was not sure. He only hoped that dead coons were not interesting to children, and that they would go away. This proved he knew very little about children.
Their voices were shrill in the morning air, and Blenkinsop thought anxiously of grown-ups with broomsticks, or worse, pitchforks. He thought perhaps he was not playing dead well enough, and so he began to drool. He wondered if that is what dead coons did. At any rate he was very frightened. It is one thing to chase off a nasty grubby little boy on a hillside, and another to climb down from a tree in the middle of a Big Market surrounded by children.
It was true that the noise did draw the attention of one grown-up. Out of a little brown house, nestled not far from the shopfronts in the square, came a little white-haired old lady with a rather trollish face.
“Run away, children,” she said, seeing Blenkinsop’s plump, limp self hanging lifelessly from the branch. A smile seemed to be twitching at the corners of her mouth. “Run away and leave Mr Coon alone.”
The children straggled away, looking back ruefully. But they all went. They were all a little afraid of the old lady, because she was old. That of course is a terrible reason to be afraid of anybody, but you will find that many people, children or otherwise, actually are very frightened of old ladies. This is a shame, since many old ladies are quite nice. They have also had many years’ practice in making tea and cookies; a pragmatic reason to visit them, if you need one.
“Come down at once, you greedy coon,” said the old lady to Blenkinsop. Blenkinsop meekly obliged. “The town is already half-awake. You will have to come back to my house with me for now,” she added. Blenkinsop, still feeling foolish, also thought that he had not much choice at that point, and went.
I Am Satisfied with my Prayer Life
By Tim Kuhn
Of course I am not. I only wrote that title to grab your attention. But since you are here, and it seems that you are interested in prayer, let me introduce Taizé to you. Besides being a place in France, it is the name of a combination of music and prayer. It was developed in this small French village, where a Christian monastery was founded in 1940. The pioneer was Brother Roger, who was raised in a Protestant family. The initial focus of the community was on helping refugees from World War II, regardless of their faith. Later on, they also began to serve other people damaged by the war: orphans and prisoners. Catholic brothers were admitted as well.
One of the most distinctive aspects of this community is what they call meditative singing. With very short lyrics, usually a Bible verse or a prayer, their songs are composed in a way that uses repetition of these little basic realities of faith. Changing the melody, the instruments and the voices, but retaining the core message being proclaimed, the purpose is to slowly make that element of truth penetrate into the heart of the worshipper, allowing a deeper level of listening to God. Like the Eastern “Prayer of the Heart,” then, the songs remain in the inner world of the Christian, even when not doing anything specifically religious.
During a Taizé service, silence is also an important resource. It is not uncommon to have five minutes of silence after the reading of the Gospel. For contemporary minds such as ours, this may seem difficult. Suddenly, I may have to face all the turmoil of my inner thoughts, without someone preaching and allowing me the opportunity to shun what is happening in my own heart. However, perhaps that is exactly what we need.
Besides listening, Taizé services also foster talking to God. Because of the simplicity of the liturgy, the mind does not spend a great amount of energy following a detailed procedure. It is a kind of soft multitasking. Perhaps what happens is that the left side of the brain focuses on the easy task at hand (singing the song), while the right side is liberated to contemplate the vastness of God.
Since the beginning, the Taizé community has sought to emphasize reconciliation and God's love. Maybe this is what you need at this moment of your spiritual journey, or maybe not just for a moment. If that is the case, or if you acknowledge the need to surrender your anxiety to God, come and join us in this time of music, meditation, Scripture, and prayer.
When? Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, 7-8pm
Where? Regent College Chapel
Learn more about Taizé: www.taize.fr/en
An Ode to the Pear
By Lorna Taylor
Editorial note: In honour of International Women’s Month, I thought it fitting to share with you Lorna’s delectable meditation on the pear. (If the correlation is not apparent to you, all shall become clear in time.) For full citations, please consult Lorna. I’ve merely put the author and title in parentheses in lieu of footnotes. She begins by substituting the pear for Capon’s onion in a block quotation from The Supper of the Lamb, which I’ve omitted for the sake of space.
Consider for a moment that at the start of this little venture, pears did not feature as teilnehmer meines Repertoires des koestlichen Orbsts, quite the contrary really—an object of avoidance. And so, it is by no means a small feat that I am persuaded to consider her at all and greater still that I have grown to consider her in many ways superior to the apple. Ah, please do not misunderstand me, this is a matter of opinion, for both are fruit, equally created, equally gift. And, “since the apple has so many stories attached to it, the pear surely deserves at least one [more]” (Toussaint-Samat, History of Food). As you will see, my relationship with the pear is something that resembles a “community of truth” —lover-woman-fruit. I am “to meet it on its own terms”—only then can I glean that which is intended for me—a deeper understanding of lover and His gifts (Capon, Robert, The Supper of the Lamb; Jay, Alison, The Twelve Days of Christmas). And perhaps, at the end of this story, you too will be persuaded of the immeasurable value of my pear.
Let us observe my pear. For our purposes, let us look at the Bartlett; it is after all the most common, at least in the West (Rizza, Robert A. et al, Encyclopedia of Foods). It is bulb shaped with a large, fleshy, rounded posterior that sits on a brown-black conglomeration of flower remnants and tapers out toward the anterior, where the stalk protrudes and attaches to the tree that sustains it (Rizza). It is a yellowy, greeny-brown, perhaps with a flush of red-pink across its freckled skin. Its texture when unripe is hard, unyielding, slightly bitter to taste and lacking in scent. But mine, nearing perfect maturity, has transformed into something quite different. At first it is quite vulnerable, its skin thin and easily penetrable, flesh soft and dense and yet embedded in this sweet juicy mass, where esters combine to create its distinct scent, are traces of grit, stone cells, evenly distributed and barely noticeable (Rizza). In a number of days, for this is all we get, the skin will become even more fragile and the grit will increase exponentially, while the rot beginning at its core works its way outward (Rizza).
Let us dwell on this for a moment. My pear has been selected, by me, to represent the ‘typical’ pear. It is pyriform. It is of a common variety. It has little bruising and typical colouring. Yet the irony of it is, “pears don’t conform.” No, ‘[pear shaped]’ is almost synonymous with deviation from acceptable [norm]” (Adams, John, F., Guerrilla Gardening). Moreover, the pears that are most favoured for flavour are varieties like Bosc and Seckel. Yet they dwindle in popularity because, in the case of the Bosc, “it resembles a caricature of Cyrano de Bergerac’s nose and its colour is a dull or mottled dark brown with a somewhat leathery skin;” while the Seckel is too ‘dainty’—the irony abounds (Adams). In Guerrilla Gardening, Adams goes on to map out for the home gardener the pros and cons of cultivating a number of varieties: some more finicky, some more susceptible to fire blight, some better looking, some better for cooking, and still he maintains “tasting the old, rare and unusual varieties of pears is almost like discovering a complete new species of fruit.” My sentiments here are by no means a blight on the Bartlett, innocently consistent as it is, but rather on the grower, harvester, marketer and consumer—how unadventurous and unimaginative we are.
The tree from whence my pyrus-communis comes is admired not only for the fruit she bears. She is family of the rose—rosaceae (Rizza). The “tall, slender pear tree in fullest, richest bloom” is covered completely in delicate white blossoms [. . .]. A word of warning, however: those favoured purely for their ornamental adornments, Bradford and Callery, infect the air with the stench of rotting fish, and while bearing no fruit somehow manage to populate the land that provides, denying the fruitful what is rightfully theirs (Popkin, Gabriel. The Ups and Downs of the Bradford Pear).
The pyrus communis, hails from a long line—more than 3000 years’ worth—of pyrus communi, descendant of the wild pear that is “native to the Middle East and sub-Alpine [regions] of Kashmir”(Toussaint-Samat). But what I have before me today, what I present to you, is a cultivar of carefully selected genes: chosen, isolated, grafted, farmed for their flavour, size, and yield. For wild pears are not perfect and do not naturally supply the plethora of fruit that the modern-day market demands. But rather, the traditional wild pear is sporadic and inconsistent in her bounty, offering only what blossom (which is significantly less than the modern commercial varieties) and fertilisation will provide (Toussaint-Samat). I imagine that like most fruit that are farmed in extreme climates, like western or central Asia, that there are just enough resources for the plant to actually produce fruit, yielding perhaps less and smaller fruit than those in wetter climates, yet placing enough stress on the tree for the fruit to be significantly sweeter and more nutritious. This indeed would offer, not a crop but a sweet gift, not taken for granted.
Getting to Know . . .
We thought it’d be fun to throw an eclectic set of questions to various individuals in the Regent community. This week, Maria Bitterli, Regent alumna and Assistant to the President, is our obliging interviewee.
What are you thinking about? I am currently thinking about Hope. I’m still formulating the questions, but they run along the lines of: “What promise, and therefore what hope, has God given us? There is the promise and hope of resurrection, of eternal life with God dwelling among his people. But how does this future Hope truly impact the not-yet? And what about life until then, the 80 or so years of human life before we enter eternity—what hope is given to us timed creatures for the now? I guess I am looking for a Hope that holds water in the grit of the now. “It’ll all be fine when you’re dead” just doesn’t seem sufficient.
That is by no means to diminish the resurrection. Gosh no! I suppose I am wrestling with the meaning of an ultimate hope for this penultimate time.
I wonder if after two theology degrees, I should have a set of really good answers to the above. But then again, perhaps these are questions I must walk through more than theorize about. It is a poor theologian who has no blisters on her feet.
What has inspired you recently? Creation! Did you know that octopodes are terribly smart, and that some whales are sleeping in a vertical position? There is so much out there to discover!
If you could invite anyone, living or dead, to a dinner party, who would it be? Corrie Ten Boom and the apostles Peter & Paul. All three of these people have experienced suffering and yet Paul, for example, keeps talking about this hope that truly holds and breaks into his “now.” They might have a few thoughts to offer on the topic of hope. Also, both Corrie and Peter were, well, less perfect. Corrie’s sister seemed to me much more picture-perfect in her spirituality than Corrie herself (at least as portrayed by Corrie), who struggled and wrestled more. I can relate to them much more because of their flaws.
Assuming you could breathe normally, would you rather live underwater or on the moon? Hands down underwater! I have always dreamt of being able to breathe underwater. There is an entire world down there—even forests! And you can move in any direction, including up and down. To me, that sounds amazing.
Can you share a quote that has struck you recently: This is an older one, but definitely an all-time favourite: “There’s coffee in that nebula!”~ Captain Janeway
By Jonathan Lipps
Designed to bear the burdens of the world
Straining beneath the weight
Of so much sin.
The industrial extraction
Of souls from bodies,
Of humanity from souls,
Of essence from existence.
Now, on the shallow surface of
An offending bray
In a place where only
Silence has the right to speak
Where the Silence of God
Is the loudest it has ever been.