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On Grace

Austria - Leaves

Vienna, Austria

A few years ago, a friend referred me to the theologian and philosopher, Paul Tillich. To this day, I still often revisit this selection from his book, The Shaking of the Foundations. It’s a testament to how well she knows me, and to how profound an impact grace has on my life.

Do we know what it means to be struck by grace? It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the Saviour, or that the Bible contains the truth. To believe that something is, is almost contrary to the meaning of grace. Furthermore, grace does not mean simply that we are making progress in our moral self-control, in our fight against special faults, and in our relationships to men and to society. Moral progress may be a fruit of grace; but it is not grace itself, and it can even prevent us from receiving grace. For there is too often a graceless acceptance of Christian doctrines and a graceless battle against the structures of evil in our personalities. Such a graceless relation to God may lead us by necessity either to arrogance or to despair. It would be better to refuse God and the Christ and the Bible than to accept them without grace. For if we accept without grace, we do so in the state of separation, and can only succeed in deepening the separation. We cannot transform our lives, unless we allow them to be transformed by that stroke of grace. It happens; or it does not happen. And certainly it does not happen if we try to force it upon ourselves, just as it shall not happen so long as we think, in our self-complacency, that we have no need of it.

But wait. Listen to this.

Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual, because we have violated another life, a life which we loved, or from which we were estranged. It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!’ If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.

Music: Yo-Yo Ma with Roma Sinfonietta – The Lady Caliph: Dinner and The Lady Caliph: Nocturne

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Another Promenade

From the gardens, we walk to Canada Place, where Vancouverites feel festive. We then make our way across the inlet to Vanier Park, where we sit and await China’s performance in the fireworks competition.

Kids get to have all the fun.

Watching people play dress-up.

Bohemian.

Seaplane.

Watching man watching people.

Waiting for fireworks.

Sea life.

Nine: twenty.

I’m by myself with others, but I feel alright.

Ben Folds Five – Still Fighting It

Baking for the Wedding: Tarts I

My mom was asked to bake some desserts for her friend’s son’s wedding. I returned home just in time to help her.

First on the menu are fruit tarts that would make use of the abundance of berries available in the summer. We already have large boxes of blueberries picked up from our favorite berry farm in Abbotsford, and decide to add some strawberries, raspberries, and golden kiwis into the mix.

Any good tart begins with the pastry dough (pâte brisée). We make many portions and refrigerate them in plastic wrap for later use.

The dough is rolled out, cut, and shaped into individual tins. Square pieces of tinfoil and then pressed into the mold…

…to hold the beans, which act as a weight to keep the crust in shape while baking.

Ready for the oven.

The tinfoil and beans are removed after a few minutes in the oven. The tins then go back in until the crust takes on a nice golden color. We let these cool before keeping them in the fridge to be finished the next day.

Taking a break from the kitchen, we hit up a few grocery stores and head to a family friend’s orchard to pick cherries.

My parents used to volunteer here, helping to pick cherries early in the mornings. The orchard has since switched its emphasis to a customer-picks self-service.

The rows of trees are neatly kept.

I like this sturdy, solid Toledo scale.

We pick two buckets full of cherries.

When we return, it’s right back into the kitchen. Giving my parents a break, I help my friend make a light, fresh dinner. And, not that it goes particularly well with the meal, but I decide to make mushroom paté and bottle it.

The initial inspiration to make mushroom pate comes from my aunt, who likes to concoct various mixes from the many interesting food items she picks up during her travels. I enjoyed her mushroom paté made from thirteen or so different mushrooms (this one’s from Bhutan and this woodsy deep mushroom was given to me in Burma and so forth) while staying with her off and on in recent years. While I can’t find that variety here, I find some Portebello and shitake mushrooms on sale, as well as some fresh basil and rosemary. I decide to sautée an onion in grapeseed oil and butter until translucent, and then add the chopped basil and rosemary, along with salt and pepper. The diced mushrooms are then added, along with some red wine (red being the only available wine; try a drier white wine next time) until all the liquid has been absorbed. In a food processor, I put in the leftover ground pistachios from yesterday’s macarons and blend that with a block of cream cheese. When smoothly incorporated, I add the mushroom mixture, along with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste.

I have to say… I’m adding this to my favorite snack list.

My friend’s salmon is baked with wonderful aromatics – garlic, mint, lemongrass.

A very appropriate summer evening meal.

Natalie Merchant – I May Know the Word