Saturday, December 30, 2017

A Gastronomic Commonplace

Floris van Dyck - Still-Life
I've been fascinated with references to food, medicine and health (especially off-hand ones) in classic literature, so I decided to keep a log of all the interesting bits I find. Since these are not the type of notes that invite deep contemplation or spiritual enrichment, I decided to skip the hand written commonplace book for these and simply compile them online, (such as convenient copy-pastes from

"I have so often heard Mr. Woodhouse recommend a baked apple. I believe it is the only way that Mr. Woodhouse thinks the fruit thoroughly wholesome....only we do not have them baked more than twice, and Mr. Woodhouse made us promise to have them done three times—but Miss Woodhouse will be so good as not to mention it." - Miss Bates, Austen, Emma 

" He loved to have the cloth laid, because it had been the fashion of his youth, but his conviction of suppers being very unwholesome made him rather sorry to see any thing put on it; and while his hospitality would have welcomed his visitors to every thing, his care for their health made him grieve that they would eat. Such another small basin of thin gruel as his own was all that he could, with thorough self-approbation, recommend" - Mr. Woodhouse, Austen, Emma

"A husky-voiced gentleman with a rough face, who had been eating out of a sandwich-box nearly all the way, except when he had been drinking out of a bottle, said I was like a boa constrictor who took enough at one meal to last him a long time; after which, he actually brought a rash out upon himself with boiled beef." - Dickens, David Copperfield

"Another day's tramp over a muddy trail, and a night camp on another roaring stream, Red Creek; our supplies quite exhausted, we boiled some onions and ate them with the last of our honey. I felt as if I were eating diphtheria medicine. Next morning we breakfasted on a turkey buzzard shot by Coonskin, and that afternoon my jaded caravan crossed the summit of the plateau, and descended into the beautiful Strawberry Valley in the glow of a gorgeous sunset." - Woodward, On the Hurricane Deck of a Donkey ...Gorgeous scenery is not always accompanied with fine fare!

"If Stubb even, who is but a peg higher than Flask, happens to have but a small appetite, and soon shows symptoms of concluding his repast, then Flask must bestir himself, he will not get more than three mouthfuls that day; for it is against holy usage for Stubb to precede Flask to the deck. Therefore it was that Flask once admitted in private, that ever since he had arisen to the dignity of an officer, from that moment he had never known what it was to be otherwise than hungry, more or less. For what he ate did not so much relieve his hunger, as keep it immortal in him. Peace and satisfaction, thought Flask, have for ever departed from my stomach. I am an officer; but, how I wish I could fish a bit of old-fashioned beef in the forecastle, as I used to when I was before the mast. There’s the fruits of promotion now; there’s the vanity of glory: there’s the insanity of life!" - Melville, Moby Dick 

“Clam or Cod?” she repeated.
“A clam for supper? a cold clam; is that what you mean, Mrs. Hussey?” says I, “but that’s a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain’t it, Mrs. Hussey?”
But being in a great hurry to resume scolding the man in the purple Shirt, who was waiting for it in the entry, and seeming to hear nothing but the word “clam,” Mrs. Hussey hurried towards an open door leading to the kitchen, and bawling out “clam for two,” disappeared.
“Queequeg,” said I, “do you think that we can make out a supper for us both on one clam?”
However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! hearken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favourite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we despatched it with great expedition: when leaning back a moment and bethinking me of Mrs. Hussey’s clam and cod announcement, I thought I would try a little experiment. Stepping to the kitchen door, I uttered the word “cod” with great emphasis, and resumed my seat. In a few moments the savoury steam came forth again, but with a different flavor, and in good time a fine cod-chowder was placed before us.
We resumed business; and while plying our spoons in the bowl, thinks I to myself, I wonder now if this here has any effect on the head? What’s that stultifying saying about chowder-headed people? “But look, Queequeg, ain’t that a live eel in your bowl? Where’s your harpoon?”
Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which well deserved its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders. Chowder for breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes. The area before the house was paved with clam-shells. Mrs. Hussey wore a polished necklace of codfish vertebra; and Hosea Hussey had his account books bound in superior old shark-skin. There was a fishy flavor to the milk, too, which I could not at all account for, till one morning happening to take a stroll along the beach among some fishermen’s boats, I saw Hosea’s brindled cow feeding on fish remnants, and marching along the sand with each foot in a cod’s decapitated head, looking very slip-shod, I assure ye." - Ibid

A beautiful example of hospitality from Greek mythology:
When the two heavenly guests crossed the humble threshold, and bowed their heads to pass under the low door, the old man placed a seat, on which Baucis, bustling and attentive, spread a cloth, and begged them to sit down...Her husband collected some pot-herbs in the garden, and she shred them from the stalks, and prepared them for the pot. He reached down with a forked stick a flitch of bacon hanging in the chimney, cut a small piece, and put it in the pot to boil with the herbs, setting away the rest for another time. A beechen bowl was filled with warm water, that their guests might wash. While all was doing, they beguiled the time with conversation.
On the bench designed for the guests was laid a cushion stuffed with sea-weed; and a cloth, only produced on great occasions, but ancient and coarse enough, was spread over that. The old lady, with her apron on, with trembling hand set the table. One leg was shorter than the rest, but a piece of slate put under restored the level. When fixed, she rubbed the table down with some sweet- smelling herbs. Upon it she set some of chaste Minerva's olives, some cornel berries preserved in vinegar, and added radishes and cheese, with eggs lightly cooked in the ashes. All were served in earthen dishes, and an earthenware pitcher, with wooden cups, stood beside them. When all was ready, the stew, smoking hot, was set on the table. Some wine, not of the oldest, was added; and for dessert, apples and wild honey; and over and above all, friendly faces, and simple but hearty welcome. - Baucis and Philemon, Bulfinch's Age of Fable

To remain under edit indefinitely...

Sunday, October 15, 2017


Our son is in the "Why?" stage of life, between 3 and 4 years old. The questioning seems almost merciless at times, pushing the bounds of infinite regression, as he pries for just one more tidbit to feed his young appetite for knowledge. "Why did you drop that cup? Why does that happen sometimes? Why do you need to use the bathroom? Why don't you want me to put my hands in my mouth? Why is that not good? Why did you do that?...." The answers I have to give him for some of these wearisome wonderings seem quite valueless to me. But sometimes the "Why's" do turn up valuable bits of information. When I begin to talk to him about Scripture truths and he asks questions like, "Why did Jesus die? Why did they kill him? Why did He let them kill him? Why does he love us?" Oh, that one is a why indeed.

Today after reading about the garden of Eden, he asked, "Why did God make a tree like that?" and "Why did the snake lie to them?" As I pondered and articulated answers, I began to realize how, unlike many of the tedious details of my daily life, the story of God offers riches of knowledge ready to supply an infinite hunger to know and be fed in heart and mind.

If I would only offer Scripture the ravenous curiosity that my child offers me each day, how much might I discover? There is a point of stopping where "The secret things belong to the Lord our God" (Deut. 29:29), but I think that just as often as we are tempted to pry where we have no business, we are tempted to neglect stores of good things in which we ought to be having a great deal of business.

When I wake with a morning text in my head, maybe a question would bring more good to me from it than the customary thoughts. His mercies are new every morning. Why are His mercies new every morning? Because His faithfulness is great. Why is His faithfulness great? Because He does not change. Why does He not change? Because that is who He is.  At this point there are no more questions, but a great deal of solid assurance.

I think that at the back, or the bottom, or the peak of all our questioning, the ultimate answer will always be the person and nature of God. Because He is who He is, this is. Let's be taking our children's questions there too. For our children it will be a refuge.

Gathering Storm Near Ry by Vilhelm Kyhn

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A Good Sparrow

The other morning, I decided I needed to go to Walmart (for the first time since we have lived in WV!)  because of the particular items on my shopping list that week. I loaded the children and paraphernalia into the car and headed out the driveway with the feeling of mild dread that comes from going to an unfamiliar and massive store which you don't really like, with toddlers. Maybe I should just stay home and make creative meals from the freezer and try to make the kid's shoes work until winter...but, no, I probably do need to go...

At a bend in our country road before the highway, I suddenly had to slow down for a sparrow landing in the road. The bird had spotted some tasty winged insect and was determined to have it, busy road and all. I watched him beating the tar out of the bug on the pavement until it submitted to being eaten and then fly off, triumphant in his petite success. God feeds the sparrows, and He will care for you. That's what seeing a sparrow so often brings to mind...And then I laughed. But sometimes they have to jump in the middle of the road to peck up the bugs, even if they are from the hand of God! 

All my reluctance to brave the badly lit Walmart aisles disappeared. The little bird had eaten from the hand of God in a most plucky fashion, and seeing him put pluck into me. I drove on with a smile and a light heart.

Did the Walmart shopping trip go beautifully? Well, apart from a certain child husking a corn cob randomly into the cart and then eating part of it raw before I bagged it, and screaming because of his hand being held for a certain section of aisle, and my barely rescuing a ripe plum from being eaten unbought...we did survive. And I found everything I needed. New toddler shoes for 4.99 and delightfully cheap prices on meat and cheese are almost as good as bug fresh off the road.

Sparrows by Alfred Brehm 

By His hand we all are fed.
Give us Lord our daily bread


Monday, July 3, 2017


After a Lord's day morning at home sick with the children and an afternoon spent with much singing, this portion from the Valley of Vision spoke perfectly to my thoughts:

Thou hast shown me
  that the sensible effusions of divine love
    in the soul are superior to and distinct from
    bodily health,
  and that oft-times spiritual comforts are
    at their highest when physical well-being is
    at its lowest.
Thou hast given me the ordinance of song
    as a means of grace;
Fit me to bear my part in that music ever new,
  which elect angels and saints made perfect
  now sing before thy throne and before the Lamb.

Even seeming dreary days can be practice for that glad unending day of praise. Thanks be to our God and Savior for common means of grace and His faithful presence with us through all our days.

The Sonata by Childe Hassam

From The Valley of Vision, "Blessings"

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

L. M. Montgomery on Living Education

I love reading L. M. Montgomery's works. They are just delicious. With any of my favorite authors, I also love, when I am nearing the point of expecting any further enjoyment from them to be in the form of re-reads, to discover a book I have never read. Finding an old green-covered copy of Jane of Lantern Hill at the big city library, next to the familiar Anne books was a treat indeed. Is it really the same Montgomery? Yes, oh yes!

As with nearly all Montgomery's heroines, Jane's domesticity, sympathy and industry inspire me. In this particular work, Jane's relationship with her father is exceptionally lovely, and I appreciated these lines on her summer education under his tutelage. (For context: Jane had grown to hate the Bible because of being forced to read the Old Testament each evening under the critical gaze of her stern grandmother and severe aunt.)
When dad had converted Jane to the Bible, he set about making history and geography come alive for her. She had told him she always found those subjects hard. But soon history no longer seemed a clutter of dates and names in some dim, cold antiquity but became a storied road of time when dad told her old tales of wonder and the pride of kings...Thebes...Babylon...Tyre...Athens...Galilee...were places where real folks lived...folks she knew. And knowing them, it was easy to be interested in everything pertaining to them. Geography, which had once meant merely a map of the world, was just as fascinating.
'Let's go to India,' dad would say...and they went...though Jane would sew buttons on dad's shirts all the way...Soon Jane knew all the fair lands far, far away as she knew Lantern Hill...or so it seemed to her after she had journeyed through them with father.
~ Jane of Lantern Hill by L. M. Montgomery
What an inspiration for a living-books based education! But more than that, a reminder that the best things I will teach my children are things that I have learned myself to love and can pass on to them wrapped in the glow of my own delight.

  Views across the Bosphorus, Constantinople by Hermann Corrodi

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What Happened to Margalo - Part 5

When Margalo woke, the dripping had stopped and bits of early morning sunlight were winking through the spruce boughs.  She noticed that the spruce tree was also very noisy. Many birds had taken refuge in the tree during the long, wet night and this morning they were all going on at once - singing, chirping, chattering and whistling. One of them was chattering rather more loudly than the others. It was a blue jay.
“Yes siree, I tell you,” he was saying, “I wasn’t a bit afraid of that fella, though he was twice my size. Were the wife and I about to let that hawk have a look at our nest and young’uns? No, sirree! We went a flying at him like all get-out, and he was mighty surprised. Yes siree, I tell you, mighty surprised. He turned that red tail right around and went back from a-whence he came!”
“And the crow,” mentioned a similar, but softer voice - the jay’s wife.
“Oh, yes, the crow,” the jay continued. “Well, he did help a little - not being our friend you know, but common enemies with the hawk - he came along and made a con-tree-bution to our chasing the hawk.”
“We couldn’t have done it without him, I think,” said the jay’s wife.
“Couldn’t have done it!” the jay exclaimed. “I won’t argue he was useful, but really now...”
Margalo shuddered. They were talking about that hawk again. She hoped she might never meet him - being less than half the size of even a blue-jay, and having no mate to help protect her. But there was nothing to do about that now - except to take care of this disgracefully matted plumage! Margolo fluffed her light brown feathers and began to preen herself discreetly, keeping near the trunk so as not to be noticed. When her feathers were once more sleek and tidy, she decided to have a look around and hopped a few inches out on the limb, turning her head and tiny bright black eyes this way and that. The birds were still chattering away.
Then, from high up in the spruce, there was a loud sound of feathers being shaken - loud, because they were LARGE, rough, rustling feathers. Margalo froze. The other birds froze. The chattering stopped. A dozen feathered heads tilted upward, and a dozen sets of small shining eyes gazed warily into the topmost boughs of the spruce.  Most of them had forgotten the fact that little birds were not the only kind of birds to hide from storms in giant trees. In the stillness, they all sensed a trembling in the treetop and felt the branches quiver lightly as two large clawed feet sprang from the spruce’s height, and two great brown wings flapped crisply upward into the morning air.
Another small brown finch besides Margalo had slept in the tree that stormy night. His name was Benedict. Benedict slept in the spruce tree every night – not just when there were storms. He had not seen Margalo, because he was perched several branches higher, but he did notice when the hawk had first landed in the tree late in the rainy evening.  The hawk seemed more interested in resting at the moment than in looking for small birds to attack, for which Benedict was grateful. Besides, Benedict (who was sensible as well as courageous) knew there was no use in getting away on such a night, so he remained where he was and went promptly back to sleep. But he was relieved when the hawk flew off in the morning, taking his sharp eyes and sharp talons with him.  
After the hawk had gone, Benedict ventured out from the dim, damp inside of the tree to the wet and prickly outside which glistened gently in the morning sun. The clouds, having spent themselves on the land, were floating loose and lacy in the blue sky. Everything was fresh and delicious and bright again. Benedict decided to have a good hearty sing. So he did.
Swee-e-et is the morn!
A new day is born!
Swee-e-et is the air!
The sunshine is fair!
Then Benedict saw Margalo on a branch below him. She too, had hopped out into the sunshine and was refreshing herself by drinking beads of rain from the dripping spruce needles, pausing now and then to delicately shake the moisture from her brown feathers. Benedict thought she was very beautiful, and was sure he hadn’t seen her before. “Perhaps she is lost” he thought, “and will need my help.” So he flew down to Margalo’s branch. “Good morning,” he said.
        “Good morning,” Margalo replied.
        “Have you spent a pleasant night?” asked Benedict.
        “Pleasant enough,” Margalo answered. “I would much rather have spent the night in Mr. Grove’s barn, but I lost my way in the storm, so I was glad for the shelter of this tree.”
“I am familiar with Mr. Grove’s barn,” said Benedict. “Would you like me to show you the way back?”
        “Oh, yes, please – and thank you very much” said Margalo, which Benedict thought was quite proper, and he said “You are welcome” then turned toward the sun. “Follow me,” he said and with a flutter of wings rose into the air. Margalo with a flutter of her own was not far behind.

Benedict guided Margalo safely to Mr. Grove’s barn, where a cluster of worried pigeons greeted her with much relief and chortles of pleasure. Margalo thanked him again very cordially, and Benedict replied, “I am glad to be of service.” Then, having accomplished his mission, he flew back into the morning air and headed south towards the rye fields.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Definite Love

I've been on a George MacDonald spree lately - audio book listening through Thomas Wingfold, Curate, The Wise Woman, and now The Day Boy and the Night Girl. Oh, how I love his stories! MacDonald's writing is exquisite, transporting and thought-provoking - all the loveliness of a fantasy escape sobered by wise meditations. With all that he understands and beautifully describes about the nature of God, people, and the world, MacDonald's theology has a great flaw - that is, he fails to grasp the God-centeredness of the love of the triune God.

Writing in the midst of a nation and church decayed in formal religion and starved for a glimpse of intimate, divine love, George MacDonald tried beautifully to give hungry souls what they lacked - pictures of a kind, compassionate Heavenly Father whose heart was open to true communion with those who would seek Him. But he forgot, or never really saw, that God's love begins and ends with God, and not with creatures. Over and over, MacDonald's portraits of divine love portray a brooding, yearning being whose chief desire is the transformation of the beloved creature, and a heart unwilling to leave any finally ruined. This is so close to being perfectly right, because God's love for His people is deep, passionate and transforming - but close is only close, and a tiny gap in one's view of God can lead to chasms of error. God's love for His people is aimed at His final glorification in them. (Eph. 1:4-6) A deity whose heart's passion is all for his creatures may look nice, but such a God could never condemn anyone to final, eternal punishment. From the innocent-appearing blossoms of man-focused love in MacDonald's stories, can grow (and has in some cases, grown) the dangerous fruit of universalism - the teaching that all creatures will finally be saved, even if they must pass through judgments (i.e. hell may be real, but not eternal), for they are God's beloved creations and He could not bear to see any finally lost.

This is one of the reasons I like to read multiple books at a time - blending fiction, history, practices, and theology reading throughout my days. Solid, straightforward theology writing sheds light on the more obscure philosophies one encounters in fiction and other reading. For instance, Jonathan Leeman's The Church and The Surprising Offense of God's Love is the perfect counterbalance to my recent fiction spree. Here's a quote that grasps so clearly what George MacDonald did not:

Insofar as God's affections uphold something as most precious, he will evaluate or judge all things by whether they, too, ascribe proper value and worth to that thing. He intends for us to call 'good' what he calls 'good' and to call 'evil' what he calls 'evil' (Mal. 2:17). If, therefore, God love his glory more than anything, upholding it as most precious, everything in the world that redounds to his glory would be called 'good'. Anything opposed to his glory would be called 'evil,' the law of God would be that which upholds the standards of his glory, and the judgment of God would be rendered according to these glory-promoting laws. On the other hand, if God loves us more than anything - if his greatest affections are bent toward our glory - God's law and judgments would be in precisely the same direction.
All God's judgments serve the God-centeredness of his love. His love evaluates and assesses in accordance with his God-centeredness. His love expects, it demands, and it enacts penalties in accordance with his God-centeredness.
A theological system that presents a God who loves his creatures more than anything is a system that will probably tend over time toward universalism...any doctrine of eternal judgment or damnation will dry up. Man-centered systems might inconsistently keep such a doctrine for a time because the doctrine can easily be found on the pages of Scripture, but the inevitable logic of the system will eventually determine that , if humanity is most precious and if God loves man more than himself, there is no higher law that constrains God to do anything other than grant all humanity eternal bliss." (Chapter 2, "The Nature of Love")

God's love for His people is mighty, sweet, transformative (MacDonald pictures this beautifully in some places) and it has nothing to do with us. It is as free and unconstrained as His freedom to not love us. He loves Himself, His Son, His glory first, because He is best and first. That is right and good. That would have made George MacDonald and many of his contemporaries uncomfortable. But that is what ultimately makes the intimate fatherliness of divine love even more breathtaking than the loveliest word picture a human author could paint. He didn't have to have us at all, but if we love Him, He first loved us - and the God that first loved us, loved God first, and calls us to love Him first. From Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

Illustration from MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin, Jessie Wilcox Smith, 1920

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Good Life

I keep thinking about this piece of a paragraph from a current read - "Love Your God With All Your Mind" by J. P. Moreland:
"According to the modern view, the good life is the satisfaction of any pleasure or desire that someone freely and autonomously chooses for himself or herself. The successful person is the individual who has a life of pleasure and can obtain enough consumer goods to satisfy his or her desires. Freedom is the right to do what I want, not the power to do what I by nature ought to. Community gives way to individualism with the result that narcissism - an inordinate sense of self-love and self-centered involvement - is an accurate description of many people's lives."
This could seem at a glance to be another sadly accurate commentary upon the pitiful contemporary culture in the West - I've heard stuff like this so many times. But in this clear, objective description, I was unsettled to realize how much I saw of myself. I tend to think that I, as a Christian, am a separated observer of the follies of my surrounding culture - that I may have plenty of my own follies, but they are not those of the prevailing mucky-muck. I don't watch their shows, read their books, or worship their celebrities. I like old shows, read old books, and maintain a sincere fondness for G. K. Chesterton and Charles Spurgeon. But these are surface things, really. As much as I detest to admit it, I am a product of my culture. I am redeemed and sanctified in Christ, but I am not immune to the modern world's influence, anymore than a fish in a tank of water dyed pink. Don't I think of the good life kind of in the way he describes - sometimes? Sometimes I do think of life at its best when I have money to spend on something I want and time to do what I want. Time for me, stuff for me. Even if it isn't watching the latest chick flick on a brand new big screen TV, or some other culturally common ideal that I sort of despise, the underlying mindset can be the same.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Greatness of God

I have been listening to an audio version of A. W. Tozer's Delighting in God, and when I heard this hymn of Frederick W. Faber's quoted as an illustration of appreciating God's immensity, I had to find and read it for myself. (Thank you, Hymnophile!) Here is a portion that I thought most lovely.

We share in what is infinite: tis ours,
  For we and it alike are Thine;
What I enjoy, great God! by right of Thee
  Is more than doubly mine.

Thus doth Thy hospitable greatness lie
  Outside us like a boundless sea;
We cannot lose ourselves where all is home,
  Nor drift away from Thee.

Out on that sea we are in harbour still,
  And scarce advert to winds and tides,
Like ships that ride at anchor, with the waves
  Flapping against their sides.

Thus doth Thy grandeur make us grand ourselves;
  ’Tis goodness bids us fear;
Thy greatness makes us brave as children are,
  When those they love are near.

Great God, our lowliness takes heart to play
  Beneath the shadow of Thy state;
The only comfort of our littleness
  Is that Thou art so great.

Then on Thy grandeur I will lay me down;
  Already life is heaven for me;
No cradled child more softly lies than I,
  Come soon, Eternity!

- Frederick W. Faber