Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Seven Steps to a Spirituality of Hope

I suppose it should not surprise me, but I am absolutely astounded by the conversations - well, if you use the term very loosely - on Episcopal social media sites over the issue of prayer.

No, seriously. People are crazed about it. Specifically, whether or not to pray for the new President Elect of the (divided) United States of America. 

Well, I think everyone is pretty clear that we should pray for him and for the office. And, we're pretty clear, for various reasons, that if ever there was a person, much less a PEOTUS, who needed prayer it's this one.

The issue is whether or not to say his name. Should we insert his name in the Prayers of the People of the Book of Common Prayer, even though the rubrics don't require it?

Yes, I'm serious.  That's the argument.  We seem to want uniformity on this. Or, approval for whatever choice we make, even if you believe it's the wrong choice for you. The conversation seems to ratchet up a notch in intensity and hysteria whenever an opposing point is made.

Some see the very utterance of his name publicly as a trigger for those with PTSD from sexual assault or rape or a cold-sweat anxiety for "Dreamers" and their families.

Some are insistent. Say his name, damn it. Never let an abuser have that kind of power over you. These folks seem absolutely oblivious to just how abusive it is to insist that someone say the very thing that will trigger a PTSD episode or anxiety attack because THEY think it's what you should do ("They" who have never experienced PTSD or who have and have been "healed").

And, of course, someone always trots out the tried and true, "Well, we've always named the POTUS. We're not going to stop now. If we changed it now, it would be .... " Ready? ".... awkward."

God forbid! Let's not allow ourselves to be compassionate and pastoral! Not if it's going to make things ... awkward! We're Episcopalians, for God's sake! We can't be ... AWKWARD!

And, what's wrong with you, anyway? Don't you know what Jesus said about prayer? About praying for your enemies? And, aren't we The Episcopal Church? Aren't we all about being 'inclusive"? Aren't we part of the Jesus Movement?

Why are you so HATEFUL? Why are you letting your HATE for the PEOTUS get in the way of your CHRISTIANITY??

Haven't you been reading SCRIPTURE? Or, anything our PRESIDING BISHOP has SAID about THE JESUS MOVEMENT?


Don't say another word until you've read it. Then, READ IT AGAIN!!!

Honestly, the insanity of this election season seems to have broken more than a few brains.

We're also talking about whether or not the Washington National Cathedral ought to sponsor the Inaugural Interfaith Prayer Service. It's been held there several times and, in the tradition of The Episcopal Church, if it's happened more than once, it's a tradition.   

Forget the prophetic tradition. Forget, for example, that in 1973 the Washington National Cathedral held an alternative Inaugural Prayer Service in protest over the re-election of Richard M. Nixon and his complicity in prolonging our engagement in the Vietnam War. 

In those days, we walked among giants.

Besides, it seems the Washington National Cathedral is a bit cash strapped. Hired a Dean with a proven track record in fundraising. That was their priority. Which tells you a lot. And, he put a cash register at the entrance of the Cathedral. $10 for adults. $6 for children. You know. Just like they do at the cathedrals in England. Need to dash in for a quick prayer? Fine! Welcome! Just make your first stop over at the Table of the Moneychangers. Cash and credit cards welcome. And, don't forget to stop at our Gift Shop.

It's become clear, well, at least to me, that the particulars of the conversation are not important. What's clear is that in talking about how to pray and where to pray, we aren't talking about prayer.

We're talking politics. Still.

All the voices and various positions we've heard during the election season are still saying the same things, nuanced now as a conversation - heated and passionate as it is - about prayer.

The anxiety is palpable. On both sides.

This particular President Elect is one who likes to create chaos. Even his wife - in what can only be described as an understatement - said that, "He likes to shake things up, doesn't he?" He obfuscates. He dodges. He says he's going to do something and then doesn't. He refuses to give details. He creates chaos.

It reminds me of a scene from Game of Thrones. In a conversation between the ambitious, power hungry Littlefinger (no, not LittleHAND) and the eunuch monk Varys.

Varys cautions Littlefinger against abandoning or challenging the tradition of the hierarchy of power in the Realm, saying that it will lead to chaos, which is, he says, "a pit".

Littlefinger responds, "Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is."

You can watch that scene here:

Littlefinger sees the realm's hierarchy of power like that of water... the more calm, rigid, and stable it is the harder it is to elevate his position. Add a little chaos (re: heat) and opportunities for mobility increase. The more chaos/heat there is, the faster he can rise.

And that, my friends, is a great metaphor for the story of the life of the man who will become the 45th President. This is, in fact, why many people voted for him. About 77,000 people in three states which was enough to win the Electoral College. He got neither a majority of the popular vote nor a mandate from the people. See also: chaos.

And, of course, he lies. He's been documented to be a "liar, liar. pants on fire" kind of lying.  He's been awarded a four-Pinocchio nose kind of liar by watchdog fact-finder groups. 

He likes to call it "truthful exaggerations". Which he does do. Except, of course, when he just flat out lies.  He even lies when there's no reason to lie. He lies as easily as he breathes.

I see absolutely no indication that he will change his ways after January 20.

The crucial conversation - the conversation just beneath the surface of the conversation about prayer and The Episcopal Church's role in "the glory of their power" - swirls around questions of uncertainty.

What are we to make of this? What are we to do now? What are we to believe?

How are we to live in the swirling midst of chaos and uncertainty and mistrust?

What can I do to nourish my spirit? To keep hope alive?

What will spirituality look like in the Age of The Donald? 

As you might have guessed, I have some thoughts on that.

I lived through the 70s and 80s as a young adult so I'm old enough to remember two Presidents who were absolute scoundrels: Richard Millhous Nixon and Ronald Wilson Reagan.  

Nixon was known as "Tricky Dicky" and lied about the Vietnam War (and so many other things) that cost thousands of American men and women and innocent Vietnamese men, women and children their lives. He was, of course, impeached for the Watergate Scandal. (It was the 70s equivalent of the Russian hacking of the DNC.)

Reagan was famous for "trickle down economics" which was essentially robbing from the poor to give to the rich. He famously counted ketchup as a fruit AND vegetable for lunches in public schools. I will never forget "Uncle Ronnie's" trucks pulling up to poor neighborhoods handing out #13 cans of peanut butter and huge bricks of processed cheese to people as if in some warn-torn refugee camp. 

And, I personally continue to try to forgive him for the thousands of people who died of his government red tape, which was one of the major complications of death from AIDS. 

If my experience with these two men is any indication, I think we'll see a rise in the need for prayer and spirituality, community and localism in the next four years. 

For those of you who are leaders in your religious communities - ordained or laity - this means you, yourself, have got to cultivate hope in your own lives so that you may lead others to a place of hope. 

As Harvey Milk famously said, "Ya gotta give 'em hope." That's the best spiritual gift we can bring to people who belong to the various groups that will be targeted by the incoming administration: women, the disabled, immigrants, the Dreamers, Mexicans, Muslims, the elderly, the poor, those with pre-existing medical conditions and no health insurance, etc., and all those who love them.

So, how do we cultivate a Spirituality of Hope? I thought you'd never ask. (And you thought I'd never shut up and get to it.)

I have seven steps listed below. There are more but these seven are a good number which summarize the great density of information they represent.

1. Start right where you are. 

Take stock of your own spiritual, emotional and physical resources. Make an inventory of them, Yes, I mean, write them down. Then, look around. Walk around. What do you see? Who do you see? Who is suffering? Who is able? What are the barriers? What can be used as a tool? Take note of all of these so when you need them, you'll be able to find them. Because, you will need them. Eventually.

2. Take one step at a time.

When you start to pick up your head, open your eyes and look around, it can be overwhelming. Someone once asked Mother Theresa how she coped with all the overwhelming poverty and hunger and sickness in the world. Her answer? "One. One. One. One. One." You can't solve all the problems of the world. That's not your job. You need Jesus. You aren't Jesus. Or, you may need Buddha or Mohamed. You aren't Buddha or Mohamed. You are you. Pick one. One task. One attainable goal. Just for that day. Do that thing that one day. Rinse. Repeat. One day, one step. The second day, another step. As you move forward in the journey, even if you're not sure exactly where you are, you'll notice that your steps are just a tad lighter. That's because hope has begun to lift you.

3. Become a global localist

By this I certainly don't mean an exclusive "nationalist". And, I don't mean being an anti-globalist. I mean that old motto of the 70s: "Think globally, act locally." The best way to illustrate this is to tell you a modern parable.
Once, there was a village by a sparkling clean river where the villagers drank, bathed and played. One day, someone noticed some garbage in their river. By the next day, the river was overflowing with garbage. Together, the villagers worked all morning and cleaned out all the garbage but by the next morning, there was more garbage. This went on for a few weeks. People were getting desperate. Some wondered if God was testing them. Others thought God was judging and condemning them. One day, one woman walked up stream. There, she saw a new village of people. She introduced herself and made friends. While she was there, she noticed that people were stacking their garbage near the river's edge. When she asked about it, one of the villagers told her that the river was a marvelous thing. Not only did it provide water for drinking, bathing and playing, it carried their trash away in the middle of the night while they all slept. The woman then asked them to come with her to her village where the people, in horror, saw what their village was doing. Together they worked out a solution so that both villages could continue to enjoy clean water in their lives.
Become a blatant global localist. Think globally, act locally. Got it? Good.

4. Become a disciple: Cultivate a spiritual discipline

The root of the word disciple is discipline. If we are going to make it through the chaos of the next four years, we are going to need discipline. We are going to need to cultivate a spiritual discipline. The soul, I've discovered, while it is invisible it is pretty muscular. It needs exercise. "What you don't use, you lose," applies to the soul, as well. 

Depending on your personal type, your spiritual practice may be to take yourself out to the hills and woods, or the rivers and streams or ocean - alone or with another person or small group of friends.  Or you may practice "mindfulness meditation" and walk the city/town street at the same or different times of the day where you are quite intentional about either quietly paying attention or meeting and greeting the people you pass by. 

You may also find a time in the day that meets your needs and set it aside to read and study and reflect on scripture - feeding on and grounding yourself in The Word. Or, you may prefer to read articles or books by (or about) spiritual community activists like Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, William Stringfellow, Mother Theresa, Steven Biko, Desmond Tutu, Daniel or Phillip Berrigan, Dorothy Sayers, Kenneth Leach, Nelson Mandela, Suzanne Hiatt - to name just a few.  Or, you may want to read poetry - or listen to poetry slams on YouTube - and let those powerful images and metaphors and language lift you and inspire you and inform you. Or, do Yoga. Or sit ZaZen and meditate.

Whatever you decide to do, whatever fits your particular needs, styles, limitations or abilities, do it. Every day. As Jesuit activist Phillip Berrigan (and many others) used to say, "Don't just do something. Stand there." Take a stand. Be a disciple. Do it with intention and discipline.

5. Build relationships and communities.
The great Sufi mystic Rumi writes, “There is a secret medicine given only to those who hurt so hard, they cannot hope.” It is this: “Look as long as you can at the friend that you love.” We need companions for the journey of hope. Family. Children. Grandchildren. Neighbors. Friends. Lovers. That's where you will find hope. If you can not find hope alone, relationships and community will work together to find hope. I don't know how that works, I only know that it does.  “Look as long as you can at the friend that you love."   

6. A life of contemplative non-violent prayer is an act of sacred resistance. 

I know what you're thinking. I thought it once, too. Contemplative prayer is pretty middle class. It assumes something that is a luxury for more than half the world: time and space and the ownership of enough of both to close your eyes and escape the crushing realities of the day. Some people think of it as a narcotic or sedative - a harmless alternative to knocking back a couple of beers or shots at the beginning of a daunting morning or end of a difficult day.

If that's what you think - if that's why you engage in Contemplative Prayer - I've got news for you. It's not. Thomas Merton talked about and practiced 'contemplative nonviolence' by which he meant recognizing and studying our inner violence, but not beating ourselves up for it. In prayer, we learn to have compassion toward ourselves and move ahead with nonviolent alternatives so we can have compassion for everyone.

Compassion - com passion, passion with - begins with compassion for ourselves. 

Compassion begins with non-violence to ourselves so we can be non-violent to others.

Fr. Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit priest, anti-war activist and poet was deeply influenced by Merton.
Berrigan said that if we are serious about contemplative prayer, meditation and worship, sooner or later we have to accept the Gandhian/Kingian framework of nonviolence. 

As people of prayer, we realize and embrace the truth of reality that we are all one human family, one with all creatures, all creation and the Creator, and that our shared unity precludes violence and pushes us toward universal, compassionate, nonviolent love, the love shown by the nonviolent Jesus - as well as other great spiritual leaders like Buddha and Mohamed. Our prayer life imposes boundaries: We cannot be violent to ourselves or others ever again. We must be compassionate to ourselves and others. And it sends us forth on a public mission of disarmament and sacred resistance to the "principals and powers" of the day.

7. Remember: Chaos is not a pit. Chaos is a ladder.

When you do these things: Start where you are, take one step at a time, become a blatant global localist, become a disciple, build relationships and communities, and cultivate a life of contemplative, compassionate, non-violent  prayer, you will throw your life and the dominant social paradigm into chaos. You will feel a slight dislocation. 

That happens when we determine to change ourselves and the world. 

Chaos is what this next POTUS will try to cultivate. He's already doing it. He will use chaos as a tool to keep him in power. Only he has the answers. Only he can lead us to "Make America Great Again." Which, for him, means white nationalism, racism, tribalism and misogyny. It means creating barriers and building walls and personal pockets of wealth at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable among us. 

In the Spirituality of hope in the Age of The Donald, there is radical, sacred resistance and a subversion of the dominant paradigm. Nationalism becomes localism. Thinking globally leads to more effective local action. The luxury of contemplative prayer becomes a tool of necessity for nonviolent activism. The anxiety of chaos is harnessed to become the energy of transformation and the source of new life.

Chaos is not a pit. Chaos is a ladder. It's what the Spirit brooded over in order to bring forth a new creation.  It is a tool to be used to create a new order to bring about peace. Peace in our hearts. Peace in our lives. Peace in our families. Peace in our places of worship. Peace in our neighborhoods. Peace in the world. 

To quote a group of South African ecumenical theologians who wrote the 1985 Kairos Document in the anti-apartheid struggle: 
"The peace that God wants is based upon truth, repentance, justice and love. The peace that the world offers us is a unity that compromises the truth, covers over injustice and oppression and is totally motivated by selfishness. At this stage, like Jesus, we must expose this false peace, confront our oppressors and sow dissension. As Christians we must say with Jesus: “Do you suppose that I am here to bring peace on earth. No, I tell you, but rather dissension” (Lk 12:51). There can be no real peace without justice and repentance. (3.1)"
So, there it is. That's my best shot. 

The bad news is that I know in the very marrow of my bones that we're headed into certain political chaos and disaster. A whole lot of people are going to be hurt.

The good news is that I think, from this time of chaos, we're being called into a time of spiritual renaissance and renewal. 

I believe this is the absolute best time to be alive and be a spiritual being. And, I believe, we are all inherently spiritual beings.

So, quit squabbling about prayer and how it should be done and put your own prayer into action.  

Pull up your socks, put on your boots, wipe your nose, dry your eyes, and roll up your sleeves. We've got a lot of work to do. 

Join the #Sacred Resistance.

Remember: Chaos is not a pit. It's a ladder.  Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

On being a Hospice Jedi

Note: One of the joys of being a Hospice Chaplain is that, every two weeks, I get to provide an opening meditation for the IDT (Interdisciplinary Team) meeting. I try to find different ways to provide the staff with a way to think about the spirituality of their work. I love using poetry - especially contemporaries like Anne Sexton, Annie Dillard, and May Sarton along with Emily Dickinson, Gerard Manly Hopkins, and John Donne. In the past, I've reflected on what I've learned about Hospice from children's fairy tales as well as Winnie The Pooh. This one is from Yoda. It was well received by my team. I'm happy to share it with you. 

Everything I needed to know about being a Hospice Jedi,
I learned from Yoda in Star Wars

5. “The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is.” 

6. “Always pass on what you have learned.”

7. Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.

8. “Mind what you have learned. Save you it can.”

11. (Said just before Yoda dies) “Soon will I rest, yes, forever sleep. Earned it I have. Twilight is upon me, soon night must fall.” 

Chaplain Elizabeth 
January 4, 2017

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Angel wings, Camel Drool and other Portuguese Christmas Treats

Christmas came early for me this year.

Just the other day, I was searching my cookbooks for a recipe and there it was. Tucked way in the back of the ancient Betty Crocker Cookbook which my mother gave me in 1970 was an envelope so full of papers it could barely close.

I opened the envelope and there it was! Something I had been looking for these last five years.

All of the recipes for my grandmother's Christmas treats.

The little kid that still lives in my heart let out a most joyful yelp.  I didn't know I could still make that kind of happy noise. Indeed, just hearing it, combined with my find, brought tears to my eyes.

As I opened the envelope, all of the treats and tastes and sounds that filled my childhood Christmas came tumbling out.

There I was, six, maybe seven years old. Standing at the stove as my grandmother fried up the Coscoroes - the Angle Wings - two or three or four at a time, lifting the delicate fried dough out of the oil and letting them drain on newspaper (no paper towels in mia VaVoa's kitchen) then sprinkled with a mixture of cinnamon sugar.

In the oven the Cavacas - Portuguese popovers - were baking - light, airy confections, drizzled with icing with just a hint of orange rind and a few drops of orange juice. At least, that's how my grandmother made them.

And, in the pressure cooker - didn't EVERY household in the 50s have a pressure cooker? - was a can of sweetened condensed milk, slowly boiling into the can, transforming itself into caramel. It would be used, along with egg yolks and fluffy egg whites, to make the yummy, sweet, sorta-pudding-kinda- mouse confection known as Baba de Camelo - Camel Drool.

My mother hated that my grandmother called it that, but that's exactly what she called it, so we kids did, too. My mother consented for us to call it "Baba".

Only "Baba". We had to leave off the "de Camelo". She reasoned that babies drooled. So did old men when they saw beautiful women. And drooling was the highest compliment you could pay a cook who had prepared an amazing holiday repast.

So, "Baba" was okay. Say "Baba de Camelo" and you'd see the back side of my mother's hand slap you right upside the head. And then, stars.

My grandmother had a wonderful story with each of the treats on the table. We heard the story as she was making the confections in her kitchen and then again on Christmas night. Except on Christmas night, she would select one of us to tell the story. We thought she was testing us. I have come to believe it was her way of making sure we'd know the story so well, we'd tell it to our children and our children's children.

Cavacas in the foreground - Chocolates in the back.
She would begin with the Cavacas - the Portuguese popovers. My grandmother would say, "Who knows why we eat these beautiful, light buns?"

We'd all shoot our hands up in the air, hoping she'd call on us for this one. It was the easiest.

She would always choose one of the littlest ones to answer. "After the angel Gabriel left Mary," one of the kids would say, in that sing-songy way little kids always have, "suddenly, there appeared in Mary's belly" . . . . ."

. . . . at which point someone would always stop and say, "Wait! Wait!"

"Oh, yeah," the child would blush, I almost forgot." She'd shoot a look at my grandmother who smiled lovingly.

"After the angel Gabriel left Mary - AFTER Mary said 'YES' to the angel - suddenly there appeared in Mary's belly (and, we'd all join her in saying) . . . a . .. .  little . . . round . . . . . BUMP."

"That was the sweet BABY JESUS in there!" she'd squeal, "A sweet bun in the oven! Filled with the breath of God!"

And we would all applaud, and then look around for whichever aunt was pregnant that year. And, there was always an aunt somewhere who was pregnant that year. She'd be hovering over by the kitchen door, an uncle draped over her, one hand on a beer bottle, one hand on her belly, looking so proud he could burst.

Now, understand, please, that this expression, "bun in the oven" is not from the Portuguese culture. I'm not sure but I suspect this was my grandmother's cultural adaptation to her new American home. I don't know what they called it in their little village in Portugal, but I'm sure there was some Victorian euphemism for pregnancy.

God forbid one should be so bold and brash as to use the word "pregnant" to describe such a delicate condition. After all, even scripture never uses the word, "pregnant". It says, "with child". 

My grandmother would then hush the squealing by announcing, in her Church Voice, "Hail, Mary!" And, we'd all join her solemnly reciting the prayer we learned even before the "Our Father."
"Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus (Always a slight pause and heads solemnly bowed here.) Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."
Except, we'd all say the prayer in Portuguese, because that's how our grandmother taught it to us. It would be said in that sing-songy kinda way all kids have when they are reciting something.
Avé Maria, cheia de graça, o Senhor é convosco. Bendita sois vós entre as mulheres bendito é o fruto do vosso ventre, Jesus. Santa Maria, mãe de Deus, rogai por nós pecadores, agora e na hora da nossa morte. Amen
I can still hear our high, sweet voices, lilting above the voices of adult men and women who had gathered 'round the dessert table to join the ritual.

Then, we'd move down the table, onto the Coscoroes.  That was my favorite story.

Turns out, when the Baby Jesus was born, there was great rejoicing in heaven. A special choir of the newest angels was selected to accompany the Angel Gabriel to sign to Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus.

But, when they arrived at the manger, the angels were simply aghast that the newborn Prince of Peace was wrapped in swaddling clothes and his bed was a manger of straw.

So, they decided to make a proper bed of their feathers from their angel wings for Jesus. They also used their wings to cover his swaddling clothes with a blanket woven from their wing feathers.

The angel Gabriel was quite upset when he saw this and scolded the angels for what they had done.

"This child," he said, "while one of us, is also very human. That's the whole point of this project from God. Jesus has come to know everything about being human - their thoughts, their feelings, their suffering, their joy - so that they may know the unconditional love of God."

But, the angel Gabriel also had great compassion on the Choir of Angels, so he sprinkled some white, sugary angel dust on the bed and blankets. At that moment,  the angels and Mary and Joseph could see them, but to everyone else, they were invisible.

All the shepherds saw - and the Wise Men when they arrived - was straw and swaddling clothes.

My grandmother said many miracles happened that night that have not been told. This, she said, was just one of them.

Coscroes are very light, fried dough, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar. They melt in your mouth and are, well, simply heavenly.

The Baba de Camelo always held the last spot on the table - only because it was the story for Little Christmas - the Epiphany - when the Wise Men came on their camels to bring presents to the Baby Jesus. So, of course, they drooled.  Of course.

The Baba would make a reappearance at the dessert table at Little Christmas, complete with the story of the Wise Men. I don't remember them having names when my grandmother or someone from the family told the story. I didn't learn that until I went to school.

The thing is that we didn't exchange gifts at Christmas. Not in my grandmother's house, any way. We did that at Little Christmas. My grandmother wanted to keep the focus of Christmas on Jesus. We exchanged gifts on the day when the Wise Men brought presents to Jesus.

When my children started getting older and starting their own families, I restarted this tradition. My Christmas gift to them is to be and do whatever they need to do on Christmas Day. But, on Little Christmas, we all get together - the whole family. It's our favorite family day. The only thing that has stopped us in the past is the weather, but we wouldn't miss it for the world.

As a kid, the Coscores and Cavacas, also made a reappearance at my grandmother's Little Christmas celebration, along with a huge platter of Pasteis de Nata - Portuguese Custard Tarts. They are little mouthfuls of divine egg custard nestled in light filo dough. I could pop a half dozen in my mouth without breaking a sweat. Heavenly stuff. Trust me on this.

I'm going to leave you with my grandmother's recipes, including her little notes and cooking tips.

I can not even begin to tell you how much it means to me to have these recipes back in my recipe stack.  I mean, they were always right there. I just found them again.

Sort of like the "original blessing" in the garden was there but we misplaced the recipe for awhile. So, Jesus had to come to show us the way back to Paradise.

Feliz Natal!

Pasteis de nata


For the Pasteis de Nata dough
  • 2 cups minus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for the work surface
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 3/4 cup plus two tablespoons water
  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, stirred until smooth
  • For the custard
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cups milk, divided
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg yolks, whisked
  • For the garnish
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Cinnamon


Make the Pastéis de Nata dough 

In a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix the flour, salt, and water until a soft, pillowy dough forms that pulls away from the side of the bowl, about 30-60 seconds.

Generously flour a work surface and pat the dough into a 6-inch square using a pastry scraper. Flour the dough, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Roll the dough into an 18-inch square. As you work, use the scraper to lift the dough to make sure the underside isn’t sticking to your work surface. 

Brush the excess flour off the top of the dough, trim any uneven edges, and, using a small offset spatula, dot and then spread the left 2/3 portion of the dough with a little less than 1/3 of the butter being careful to leave a 1 inch plain border around the edge of the dough.

Neatly fold the unbuttered right 1/3 of the dough (using the pastry scraper to loosen it if it sticks) over the rest of the dough. Brush off any excess flour, then fold over the left 1/3 of the dough. Starting from the top, pat down the dough with your hand to release any air bubbles, and then pinch the edges of the dough to seal. Brush off any excess flour.

Turn the dough 90° to the left so the fold is facing you. Lift the dough and flour the work surface. Once again roll it out to an 18-inch square, then dot the left 2/3 of the dough with 1/3 of the butter and smear it over the dough. Fold the dough as directed in steps 4 and 5.

For the last rolling, turn the dough 90° to the left and roll out the dough to an 18-by-21-inch rectangle, with the shorter side facing you. Spread the remaining butter over the entire surface of the dough.

Using the spatula as an aid, lift the edge of dough closest to you and roll the dough away from you into a tight log, brushing the excess flour from the underside as you go. Trim the ends and cut the log in half. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and chill for 2 hours or preferably overnight. (The pastry can be frozen for up to 3 months.)

(Yes, of course, you can use philo dough, cut into small rectangles and fitted into a nonstick 12-cup mini-muffin pan 2-by-5/8-inch size. Caution: my grandmother might rise up from her grave and give you such a smack upside the head. But, you will do what you will do. )
Make the custard

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and 1/4 cup milk until smooth.

Bring the sugar, cinnamon, and water to a boil in a small saucepan and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 220°F .(It will look like syrup.) Do not stir.

Meanwhile, in another small saucepan, scald the remaining 1 cup milk. Whisk the hot milk into the flour mixture.

Remove the cinnamon stick and then pour the sugar syrup in a thin stream into the hot milk-and-flour mixture, whisking briskly. Add the vanilla and stir for a minute until very warm but not hot. Whisk in the yolks, strain the mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside. The custard will be thin; that is as it should be. (You can refrigerate the custard for up to 3 days.)

Assemble and bake the pastries

Heat the oven to 450°F . Remove a pastry log from the refrigerator and roll it back and forth on a lightly floured surface until it’s about an inch in diameter and 16 inches long. Cut it into scant 3/4-inch pieces. Place 1 piece pastry dough, cut side down, in each well of a nonstick 12-cup mini-muffin pan (2-by-5/8-inch size). Allow the dough pieces to soften several minutes until pliable.

Have a small cup of water nearby. Dip your thumbs in the water, then straight down into the middle of the dough spiral. Flatten it against the bottom of the cup to a thickness of about 1/16 inch, then smooth the dough up the sides and create a raised lip about 1/8 inch above the pan. The pastry sides should be thinner than the bottom.

Fill each cup 3/4 full with the slightly warm custard. Bake the pasteis until the edges of the dough are frilled and brown, about 8 to 9 minutes.

Remove from the oven and allow the pasteis to cool a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a rack and cool until just warm. Sprinkle the pasteis generously with confectioners’ sugar, then cinnamon and serve. Repeat with the remaining pastry and custard. These are best consumed the day they’re made. That won't be a problem. Trust me on this.

Baba de Camelo (Caramel Mousse) "Camel's Drool"

1 can of sweetened condensed milk
6 eggs

Place the can in a pressure cooker, cover completely with water and cook for one hour. Be sure to remove the label from the can before placing it in the water.  (Note: I do not have a pressure cooker so I just use a large pot and cover the can completely with water. I cook it, covered, for 2 hours)

After the proper cooking time, remove the pot from the heat and carefully remove the can from the pot. Allow the can to cool.

While the can is cooling, separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and whisk the egg yolks. When the condensed milk has cooled, blend well with egg yolks, either with a whisk or mixer.

Separately, beat the egg whites with a mixer until stiff peaks form.

Carefully and slowly, fold the egg whites into the condensed milk/egg yolk mixture until all ingredients are well blended.

Pour the mixture into a large bowl or individual serving bowls.

Before serving, garnish with your choice of chopped almonds, chopped walnuts, sliced strawberries or even crumbled sweet Madelines or sugar cookies or, if you want to get fancy-schmancy, Piroulines

Cavacas (Portuguese Popovers)

This recipe makes 24 but it can easily be cut in half. You'll have 24 if you use regular muffin pans. If you use a proper popover pan, you'll have 12. If you've only got one popover pan, like I do, I would make this in two batches. It's really important that you use the batter immediately.


2 cups flour
1 cup oil - my grandmother always used olive oil but you can use vegetable oil
1/2 cup whole milk (or whatever you use - I wouldn't use skim)
8 large eggs at room temperature.

Sugar Glaze

2 cups Confectioner's Sugar
Zest of 1/2 orange
2 T of milk - more or less depending on the thickness you like


Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease regular size muffin tins or popover tin.

Using an electric mixer, beat all ingredients for 20 minutes without stopping. (Yes, my grandmother stood there for 20 minutes. I strongly recommend using a stand mixer set on level 6.)

Once the ingredients have been mixed for 20 minutes, immediately fill the muffin or popover tins half full. No more than that. Trust me on this.

Bake on the middle rack for about 45 minutes; if you want the Cavacas to be on the dry side, bake for an hour. They will turn a golden brown and "popover" the pan.

While they are still warm, dip the sugar glaze or drizzle glaze over them. You can sprinkle them with green and red sugar or, if you prefer, some orange zest.

Coscoroes - Angel Wings (Fried Pastry)


5 -6 cups of flour
4 eggs
zest of one orange
juice of one orange
4 T melted butter
4 T sugar
2 oz whiskey (not to worry, the alcohol bakes off)
pinch of salt
oil for frying.


Beat the sugar, eggs and butter. Add the pinch of salt, orange rind, orange juice whiskey and the flour and continue beating until the batter is smooth. Cover the bowl and set aside for one hour.

After one hour, pour the batter onto a very floured counter. Kneed the dough with enough flour until the batter is no longer sticky. (Note: this could take a while and use more flour than you think.)

Roll out the dough into 3x5 inch rectangles, about 1/4 inch thick. Make cuts lengthwise in the center of the rectangles.

Fry in hot oil until golden brown (I use a large cast iron skillet, filled about 3/4 full with vegetable oil. this allows me to do 2-4 at a time, depending on how large I make the angel wings)

Place on paper towels to absorb any grease (my grandmother used newspaper or sheets of an old calendar - never paper towels. Then again, she used newspaper and sheets of old calendar for toilet paper, too. Waste not, want not.)

Blend sugar with cinnamon in a bowl and coat each Coscoroes.

A final note: 

My grandmother would make a pot of hot, strong, black tea and pour each of us a cup into which we would add several teaspoons of sugar and lots of milk. Then, we'd sit down at the kitchen table, near the pot bellied stove, and much on a few angel wings as she'd tell me a story. Like, her life in her village outside and to the north of Lisbon and her six older brothers. Or, the day her mother died. Or, her trip on the boat alone from Portugal to America. Or, some of the memories of her childhood.

Making these Portuguese treats brings each one of her stories back, and I feel connected to her and a part of my identity.

These recipes are really part of my "incarnation".  May they become symbols of incarnational, unconditional love for you.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Vocational Risk Management

Vocational Risk Management:
Some Thoughts on Parochial Discernment of a “fixer-upper” parish.

So, the question was asked on a private FB page for ordained women:
Seeking the wisdom/experience of this group. In discerning my next call - as first-time rector - I'm considering two very different places. One, is a church with incredible potential, but a real fixer upper. It's a risk, but in the neighborhood in which I've lived for a decade. (I've been serving as associate at a growing and thriving church across town all these years.) It will be a tremendous amount of work, faith, and trust that God's love will shine through and this place will climb out of its decline.

The second option is a stable, steady, healthy church with many similarities to my current ministry context. It's a decent size with stable finances and lacking a lot of potential to grow in any significant way due to demographics and location.

IF I were to take a risk and be successful and lucky in turning around the declining church, it would be fabulous. BUT, if it didn't happen, I would fail as a middle-aged woman in our church.

The second option is the safe choice.

In my experience, I have seen lots of men recover from failures like that, but women's careers seem to sputter out or die.

What thoughts, advice, suggestions do you have as I enter deeply into discernment with both of these congregations? 
Here’s how I responded

It was requested that I put it in a document for wider distribution. You have my permission to share this with those you think may benefit from it - colleagues, deployment officers, bishops, etc. - with proper attribution, of course.(It's fine. I'm happy to take the hit from your bishop.)

So, here’s what I wrote:

Having taken risks all my adult life and most of my vocational life (one I thought I'd never recover from which turned out to be the BEST thing to ever happen to me), I have learned that it is important, right from the start, to "manage risks".

Here's what I've learned about managing the risks in a "fixer upper".

1. Do not be seduced into thinking you and Jesus can do this.  It took YEARS of neglect by LOTS of people for them to get into this shape. It's going to take YEARS and LOTS of people to get them out. And, you. And, Jesus. 

2. Here are some more specific suggestions:  
+ Do not consider taking this on without a plan that involves the Wardens, Vestry, congregational leaders, appropriate Diocesan liaison and the bishop.

+ Make sure the concerns/problems are articulated and written down on paper (letter of agreement/plan of ministry action/business plan) with a plan to address each concern/problem and the person/people who are responsible and the task they are assigned.

+ Develop a "business plan" with an estimate of what each problem will cost to repair/fix. I’m not just talking about problems concerning the physical plant. What are the “problems” that have prohibited or stalled growth or thwarted the achievement of goals?And, what will it cost - monetarily and in terms of human capitol - to address them?

+ It's also a good idea for you to articulate what your skill sets/gifts are for this ministry project as well as your learning curves and some possible resources/places for help and assistance.

+ Where is this congregation in their life cycle? What skill sets and gifts do you have that match with where they are right now and what they need? Know that there is a difference between skills of initiation and skills of management as well as skills of maintenance. How do the skills you possess and the passions you have serve the needs of this congregation at this point in their cycle of life?

+ If you have had a course in Family Systems or studied anything by Ed Friedman, get out your books and notes and brush up on them. You’ll find the information absolutely invaluable. 

If you haven’t studied Family Systems, get the Friedman book GENERATION TO GENERATION. Read it. Talk to people who have studied Family Systems. Keep them in your circle of support and advice. (Note: This is especially important if you are an ACoA (adult child of an alcoholic). If you’ve been thinking you should get into an ACoA support group but haven’t, this would be the time. Now. Today. Go online and look for the closest group in your area. Don’t think you really need it? Do it anyway. Trust me on this.)

+ When you’ve developed your plan of ministry, which, to review, includes, but is not limited to
*a fair, honest and accurate assessment of where the congregation is in their life cycle

*an articulation of what it was that brought them to this point, including any congregational conflicts with themselves or former rectors/bishops - ask specifically about theological conflicts, or crisis like abuse or boundary violations or destruction of property through fire, flood or other natural disasters.

*the challenges they presently face with realistic, measurable, achievable goals

*the skill sets you possess to address their needs.

*the resources you’ll need for the skills you - and, they - don’t have
*who is responsible for what - bishop, diocesan liaison, priest, congregation.

*a realistic, attainable budget. Don't hesitate to ask for the last 5 years of Parochial Reports. If the church or diocese don't have them, you can get them online through 815.
make sure the bishop sees the plan and signs off on it as well as everyone else.

Make sure there's a provision for everyone - including the bishop - to review and reevaluate the plan at least once a year.

Wait. Did I mention that it's really, really important to have the bishop on board with your plan and that the bishop promises to have your back when you get serious push-back/acting out/attacking you? It is. Extremely. Because there will be. You can count on it.

Please note: This does NOT guarantee success. This just makes certain that everyone goes into this risk situation with their eyes wide open, and everyone is clear about the responsibility they all share.

Yes, you’re absolutely right. This all should maybe have been done in their interim period. Maybe some of it already has. Probably most of it hasn’t. So, look: This won’t be the first thing that wasn’t done that should have been done and it won’t be the last. That’s part of why you’ve been called to this place. You can’t change the past, and you can’t control the future; all you’ve got is the moment in front of you. Use it to move forward into the amazing future God has in store for everyone when you risk something big for the Gospel.

3. Remember: You are not the savior. Neither is the bishop. Neither is the congregation. Jesus is. (Have I said that too much? If you’re thinking that, perhaps I haven’t said it enough)

4. Remember the three C's: You didn't cause this. You can't control it. And, you can't cure it. (You’ll learn that in an ACoA group) That takes Real humility to admit. Together, however, you and the congregation and the bishop can manage the risks involved to discern what is in the heart of Jesus for this work of ministry. See also: Jesus is the Savior. Not you.

5. Personal resources/support: Make sure you have a mentor with whom you meet at least every other week. A support group is wonderful. A spiritual director/guide is important. A therapist is absolutely essential. All four will help you manage the spiritual, psychological and vocational risks you’re about to take on.

6. Remember this: In an experiment, there are no failures. There are just lessons learned. This HAS to be the attitude of this ministry project. For everyone involved. No failures. Just lessons learned. This allows you and the congregation and the bishop enormous freedom to be creative and imaginative, to risk something big for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It allows you – when you leave, whether the church is growing or not, and the congregation and the bishop to allow you – to leave the project with your sense of dignity - and vocation - intact.

7. Finally - (I would have said it first but you might have stopped paying attention): Pray. Without ceasing. I’m not kidding. Start every meeting - even if it’s just with one other person (even if - no, wait, especially if - it’s with the bishop) with prayer. Just the two of you. Every time. It’s okay if you have a prayer - or write a prayer - to use that same prayer before you do anything. Begin and end your day with prayer. Even if it’s just Anne Lamott’s Morning Prayer ( “Help, help, help.”) and Evening Prayer (“Thank you, thank you, thank you.”). Humility and gratitude are essential components of mission and ministry. So is a great sense of humor. Prayer will help you laugh at the absurd - and, this sort of ministry will often bring you face to face with The Absurd. In fact, laughter is the greatest statement of faith there is. Think about it: You’d be a fool to laugh in the face of The Absurd - or Danger or Evil - without having faith in God. And faith is always strengthened by an active prayer life. One thing I know to be true: You can’t take a risk for the Gospel without prayer. Well, you can. But you could really hurt yourself. Seriously.

Wait. I almost forgot. There is one more thing. Not essential, but it helps: Get a theme song. You know. Something to sing when you find yourself in the middle of a major pickle and for the life of you, you can’t remember what in the heck possessed you to do this in the first place. Every good team or school or movement has one. It could be a hymn or it could be a contemporary song. You choose. Just make it inspiring and hopeful, something that will lift you out of the muck or the ambush you’ve just walked into and back onto the path. There could be one for you, personally, and one for your congregation. Or, they might be one and the same. Have fun with this. Start with one of your own. You’ll need it. In one ministry project, I used "Searching My Soul" from Ally McBeal which got me through some tough times. Here's my latest theme song for my work in Hospice.

Oh, and if you decide to jump into the risk without a parachute or goggles and boots or other protective gear, just know that the ride will be exhilarating and pray for some trees or water to break your fall.

Always remember and never forget, especially in a creative, imaginative, high risk ministry project: You are not the savior. Neither is your bishop. Jesus is.

So, there it is. Broad brush stroke stuff, really. There’s a whole lot more detail, of course, but those are the basics to get you started. If you want to send me feedback or ask questions or share a fabulous experience or insight, please contact me directly at Mother Kaeton at Gmail Dot Com. I’d love to hear how you’re doing.

You’re in my prayers. I really mean that. God bless you.