Friday, August 21, 2015

on applesauce, and Instagram, and the creation of the world

I write from the land of nap time, rumpled couch in the still living room in the rainy small town on a Friday afternoon. Once upon a time I used to record all five senses each Friday. Once upon a time I was not juggling work that requires computer time with efforts to raise a low-tech child.

Today I am processing 17 pounds of apples. I have another 17 to go on Sunday afternoon or Tuesday next week. Today I have made applesauce, and as I type a pot slowly bubbles and murmurs on the stove, thickening and browning into apple butter. Every so often I must get up to stir the pot with my decade-old wooden spoon, scraping the bottom, letting it know I have not forgotten it. I will measure out cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, perhaps a dash of ginger in a little while. I will funnel this spicy brown goodness into small jars, and lower them into their bath of boiling water, and set the timer. I will hope for a good seal, although a bad seal means we're obligated to consume the failed jar right away, which isn't such a terrible form of obligation. 

I have been sharing photos of this process on social media today, multiple photos in a row, participating in a practice colloquially known as "overgramming." And I have been drawn to contemplate what drives this photographing, this sharing, and thinking about criticisms of a generation that shares pictures of each restaurant meal, each outfit, commentary on each minor revelation or frustration. Here's the thing, and I'm sure I'm not the first to say this: there is of course an unhealthy penchant for oversharing, for building a public self up out of just the pretty images of life, or inflating drama to establish one's social importance. But there is also, I think, a very holy and human impulse to document small moments of beauty, to carve out a space in the monotony or the frantic pace of life or the very real and present sorrows in this world in order to recognize a bit of goodness. There is an impulse to connect around these moments, to inspire and to be inspired by common practices and attention to similar sparks of light. 

Now: heaven forbid that these bits of beauty be all that we allow ourselves to see. But isn't it important for us to stop and recognize them in our own lives, and to affirm them in other people's? 

I have also been thinking about Wendell Berry's many thoughts on maintaining a household, and Kathleen Norris's beautiful writing on the dignity and poetry of repetitive housekeeping. I have been thinking about seasons, cycles of birth and life and death and renewal. I have been feeling a little off-kilter, canning apples in summer, when I hail from a place in the world where apples are picked in proper autumn, not August. And so I have been thinking about home, and what home is. 

Home is also vivid in my mind because I have been musing all week on Psalm 84, one of this week's texts in the Revised Common Lectionary. How have I not been struck by Psalm 84 before? I have heard its first few lines in songs and liturgies time and again, but verses three and four? 

Even the sparrow has found a home,
    and the swallow a nest for herself,
    where she may have her young—
a place near your altar,
    Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
    they are ever praising you.[c]

How beautiful to imagine the Creator of the universe as One Who welcomes all into one holy house, not just people but all the created world, including the little sparrows and swallows. How wonderful to picture God as One Who cares for the vulnerable, the fluttering heart of a feathered mother. How glorious to think of joining our songs together in praise for such a One, and calling that place and that music home

And the question follows: what does it mean to live into this little life, this sprawling brown brick house of mine, this canning pot and sack of small apples, so that it manifests, just a tiny bit, that holy space of welcome? 

A coda: I stood at the sink washing a second round of jars today as M finished her leisurely lunch, mostly hummus spooned directly into her mouth with little use for the carrots and cucumbers, and also chia-seed chocolate pudding. She had been fussing at having to come in out of the rain, but she soon settled. I was lost in thought (see above). Out of her chatter rose a recitation: "In very beginning, God's love bubbled over when there was nothing else--no trees, no birds, no animals, no sky, no sea--only darkness. Out of that love, God spoke: Let there be light. 

"And there was day. And there was night. 

"And when the first day was done, God smiled, and knew that it was good."

She went on, skipping around the text of the Desmond Tutu/Nancy Tillman creation story collaboration Let There Be Light. She jumbled the order of things, naming and chuckling at the various created things ("Elephants and giraffes!" "Bees and bugs!"). But again and again, she repeated that it was good

I stood with my back to her, my hands in hot, soapy water, and cried at the goodness of it, this life, this world. 

My point here is not to impress you will my precocious toddler's book memorization, nor is it to make a point about biblical literalism (how can anyone insist on six literal, twenty-four-hour days when the mechanisms by which we understand such time to be measured were not even set in motion at the outset of the biblical story? how can we presume to imagine the Most High constrained by our human understanding of time?).

What I learn from this moment is the beauty of a 22-month-old praising the Creator in poetry, delighted in this earth-home on which she finds herself, calling out its goodness, recognizing that we are made and that this world is in some very real sense good, even in its tedium and tragedy and injustice, and that in some wonderfully real sense we are home

When I turned around again, M was covered in hummus and chocolate chia pudding. It took three rinse-and-wring-outs of the washcloth to clean her up to passable, and I'm not sure I'll ever get the stain out of her sweater. But if you give me a moment, I suspect I'll might catch a glimpse of the holy, even in that. 

Amen and amen. 


  1. Thank you so much for this, Cindy. I love applesauce & M & Tutu & everything else you write about so vividly! Maybe you will enjoy this poem-animation that a friend introduced me to today: the holy movements of the soul finding meaning as it throws its filaments into the world.

  2. M has taught me to love hummus like never before and now reminds me to praise our Creator for bringing light and life into existence... and for home.
    She's a good teacher, like her mama. :)