Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Yorkshire Parkin Cake

It was the Tuesday after Easter and Mother and Alfred were enjoying a mid-morning cup of St. Helene coffee, and a wee bit of Parkin; that moist, dark, Yorkshire cake, made of ginger, oatmeal, and black treacle molasses.

“Ah, Mother,” said Alfred, “What a treat! Did you know that Parkin is made with Lyle’s Golden Syrup, and Lyle’s Black Treacle Molasses? I have always been fascinated by the Lyles motto, “Out of the strong came sweetness.”

“That’s such an odd saying, Alfred,” said Mother. “Where does it come from?”

“Mother, I had wondered about the same thing. After a little research I discovered that it comes from the Book of Judges where Samson kills a lion and bees build a nest in the carcass. Samson comes by later and scoops out some honey from the carcass, then poses a riddle, “Out of the strong came something sweet.”          

            “How odd,” said Mother, taking a bite of her Yorkshire Parkin Cake. “My, that’s a strong flavor.”

            “Yes, indeed, Mother, one of many strong flavors,” said Alfred. “With joy, it is only one of many strong flavors.”

            “Yes! Quite! Alfred,” said Mother. “And do you know what has been another strong flavor for me? Easter! Alfred. “Easter!”

            “Yes! Quite! Mother,” said Alfred.”

            “What I hadn’t expected, Alfred,” said Mother, “was that the presence of Jesus would be so real, so very real. It’s like that prayer from the Book of Common Prayer,”

            “What prayer is that, Mother,” asked Alfred?

            “Just a moment,” said Mother, leaving the room and returning a moment later with her Book of Common Prayer. She ruffled through the pages and finally read,

Be present, be present, O Jesus, our great High Priest, as you
were present with your disciples, and be known to us in the
breaking of bread; who live and reign with the Father and
the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

            “It was just like that for me, Alfred,” said Mother. “When I talked with Abbot Wigbert in the garden last week I told him everything that had happened. He gave me Absolution, and I knew, I absolutely knew that I was forgiven. I have been floating ever since. But when I knelt at the Altar Rail on Easter Sunday I felt the Presence of Jesus in a way so strongly that I stand amazed.”

            Alfred bowed his head in gratitude. “Mother,” he said, I know what you mean. Last year at Easter when we were singing that beautiful Palestrina hymn, ‘When the Strife is O’er, the Battle Done,” I was undone. When we came to the fourth verse, ‘He closed the yawning gates of hell, the bars from heaven’s high portals fell,’ I knew in my heart of hearts that he had died for me.  Mother, that was when I surrendered my life to Him.”

            Mother smiled, “I’m sorry I gave you such a hard time last year, but I really felt so bereft, so very alone, and I knew you had discovered something precious that I thought I could never have.”

            “Mother,” said Alfred, “Don’t worry about it. Goodness knows that coming to faith wasn’t easy for me either.”

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your soul” [1 Peter 1:8-9].

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In The Garden

In the garden where I love to go
There are lilies standing in a row,
All their faces shining bright,
Oh, what a wond’rous beauteous sight.
                   ~ Alfred Montrose

           “There sits Mother,” commented Alfred to himself, “and Abbot Wigbert beneath the blue wisteria, chair by chair, Mother with her Prayer Book upon her knee, and seraphic Abbot Wigbert with a gentle smile upon his face.”

            Half an hour previously Alfred had stepped out of the solarium onto the garden path with a tray bearing afternoon tea. The Brown Betty teapot with Scottish Blend tea, three Royal Standard Fine Bone China Floral cups and saucers, and a dainty dish of McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits. What a fine repast for a springtime afternoon.

            Abbot Wigbert had caught Alfred’s eye and with an almost imperceptible nod and had warned him away. It was Mother’s time and she had serious business to do with God, with Abbot Wigbert, and with her troubled conscience.

            Alfred nodded to the Abbot, turned about face, headed quietly back to the kitchen, and put the tray back down on the kitchen counter. He looked out the window briefly at Mother and Abbot Wigbert, then averted his eyes and stood in awe, amazed at the grace of God. Who would have thought that Mother would actually make a confession to God in the presence of the Abbot? Will wonders never cease?

            Alfred poured himself a cup of tea, picked up three McVitie’s biscuits, and headed to the study with Pippa the frou-frou dog trailing behind him. As he sat at his mahogany 19th Century Partner's Library Desk he briefly bowed his head and said a prayer for Mother. Truth be told Alfred was quite pleased. He loved Mother dearly and he knew that she wasn’t quite easy in her mind over that business with Paolo Vizzini years ago.

            Alfred had never felt the need for a formal confession. Goodness knows that he had spent many hours pouring his heart out to God in his own private prayers, and what few things  that still nagged him he had shared with his good friend Horace Whittington. It was wonderful to have a trustworthy friend.

            In their own ways both Mother and Alfred had truly discovered that it is good not to be alone with their sins, and the pains, of the past.

 “Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God’s commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven. And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.

And if, in your preparation, you need help and counsel, then go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith” [The Exhortation in the Book of Common Prayer, p. 317].

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Abbot

            Abbot Wigbert had been with Mother and Alfred for two days and the household had fallen into a new routine. Mother and Alfred were sitting out under the pergola in the back garden, and it was mid-afternoon.

            “I don’t quite know what I expected Mother,” said Alfred, “but it certainly wasn’t this fusion of solemnity and joy.”

“You know Alfred,” said Mother, “”I asked him how we should address him. He said, ‘Just call me Wiggy. Wiggy at home and Abbot Wigbert in the parish.

“Wiggy!” snorted Alfred, taking a sip of his Lapsang Souchong Tea. “Wiggy!”

“He prays four times a day,” said Mother, “and he has invited us to pray with him; Morning Prayer, Noonday Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline at night. It’s a bit much, but it really does add a sense of orderliness and peace to the day.”

“Mother,” said Alfred, “He also gets up to pray the Office of Vigil at sunrise.”

“I know,” said Mother, “he asked if I would lay out the makings for coffee in the morning so he could make himself a mug before Vigil.”

“A mug?” said Alfred. “I didn’t know we had any mugs.”

“A mug” replied Mother!

            Alfred took another sip of Lapsang Soochong, then asked, “Out of curiosity, Mother, what mug did you give him?”

            “The one that Jeremy left the last time that he and Winifred visited,” said Mother. “You know, the one that says ‘Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil.”

            Alfred laughed, “You gave a Monk a mug with three Monkeys on it? What did he say?”

            Mother replied, “He actually said, ‘Monkey see. Monkey do.’ Then he added that “Hear no evil. See no evil. Speak no evil,” was sound advice for Monks as well as Monkeys, and probably wouldn’t do the rest of the Church any harm either.”

            “Wiggy is a remarkable man,” said Alfred. “It’s not just his sense of humor. I found him out in the garden yesterday afternoon pulling weeds. Do you know what he said Mother? He said, ‘It’s all about balance. If I have not worked I cannot pray, and if I have not prayed, I cannot work.’”

            “That would explain why he insisted on doing the dishes after breakfast,” said Mother. “He the easiest house guest I’ve ever had. He also asked if I would mind if he cooked us dinner on Friday. “I think he doesn’t eat meat on Friday. He says that he wants to cook us Grey Havens Fish Stew. It’s sounds delicious.”

            “Hmm,” said Alfred, looking at the recipe that Mother had handed him, “that looks like a wonderful way to fast.’

St. Benedict’s Instruction to Abbots: “He must show forethought and consideration in his orders, and whether the task he assigns concerns God or the world, he should be discerning and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said: If I drive my flocks too hard, they will all die in a single day (Gen 33:13). Therefore, drawing on this and other examples of discretion, the mother of virtues, he must so arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from” [The Rule, Chapter 64].