In the waiting

‘I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.’
T.S. Eliot, East Coker.

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An oven-ready Tsoureki 

Our kitchen table has become a battle ground between woman and bread. This Saturday, the Holy Saturday before Orthodox Easter, my mother was in the front line, trying to gather up an uncooperative, sticky mass of traditional Greek Easter sweet bread, known as Tsoureki. Rewind one week, and there was I, on ‘Western’ Good Friday eve. ‘You look stressed’, my father had remarked as he found me fighting with my first  sour dough.

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An oven-ready stubborn and sourdough

It was not how I had imagined my foray into sourdough artistry. Rather I had thought I would tune into some kind of magic ancient rhythm, connect with an inner divine baker soul. But life is not like that, and neither, it seems, is art. My mum couldn’t figure out why the Tsoureki dough was behaving unusually. I couldn’t figure out why my sourdough was breaking up instead of developing the resilient membrane demonstrated in the youtube video. The disobedient doughs somehow summoning up all the unspoken tensions in our hearts as we daily stare into mundane and terrifying new realities and hovering unknowns.

‘How long will you leave it?’ I asked my mum as she finally wrestled the dough into a bowl. ‘It depends if it rises’, she replied. Another unknown, reflecting my own anxiety a week before as I awoke early on Holy Saturday anxious that my dough would have resisted natural processes and remained a small stubborn ball.

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The rising obscured

There seems an obvious connection between leavened bread and Easter. While Jews eat unleavened bread during Passover to commemorate a hurried flight from Egypt without time for their bread to rise, now we sit in wait by a pale form hidden under white cloth, yearning for a rising, a marker of the restored order of things. And since my church normally celebrates Easter, like any East London community worth their salt, with sourdough, my bread making was far from the contemplative process I had imagined. It had taken on universal significance, since it would be also be standing in (non-theological term) for the Body of Christ at our zoom Easter Sunday service. Now, more than ever, I needed to count on the rising.

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The doughs did rise. More crucially, He is Risen. But perhaps I need to stop imputing metaphysical significance or read a story into everything I do and see. The difficult task may now be to dwell in the ordinary, amidst the extraordinary.

On some mornings, the view of the peninsula on the other side of Dublin bay is obscured by fog. It reminds me that rather than trying to get a view of the uncharted country ahead, I need to sit in the ‘waiting without’. Or, between the dying and the rising again.

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Having now tried a few recipes for sourdough, I can recommend this one.

 

Here

‘Wherever you are is called Here,                                                                                                   And you must treat it as a powerful stranger.’

These words from the poem ‘Lost’ ring particularly true at this time: reminding me that however normal life can sometimes feel on a given day in lockdown, however much I reach for familiarity through work or trying my hand at being a home masterchef, an unfamiliar, mostly unwelcome, new world is emerging.

Our vicar’s zoom sermon last Palm Sunday touched on the theme of encountering the strange. The reading from Matthew 21:1-11 will be known to many: Jesus rides into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey and the crowds gather to welcome him as the long-awaited King of Israel. The sermon focussed in on the penultimate verse, describing a city unsettled by this strange new arrival and asking ‘Who is this?’. Our vicar suggested that we, too, hold back the desire to fast-forward to the resurrection, and take time to ask the same question this Holy Week.

Sometime around then I also watched a heart-warming Miranda Facebook video-cast where she reflected on normality and asked what kind of ‘normal’ we actually want to return. Do we, that is, want to return to our frenetic ultra-consumerist carbon-gulping lifestyles? Most of us would say of course not, while at the same time dreaming up post-lockdown holidays, and, if you’re me, looking forward to the time when you can once again get a take-away single-origin feather design-topped cappuccino without standing at a two-metre distance with gloves on and holding your breath. As much as I know, somewhere in my heart, that we must face into this world that seems to have turned upside down and try to learn some real lessons from it in the turning, a massive part of me deeply yearns for it all to go back to how it was.

IMG_1445I wrote a poetic reflection on it:

This is the normal I long for
A day when I turn my gaze to the expanse of glimmering sea
And it speaks to me
of the way things are
rather than how they should be
For the day when I do not awake
from anxiety-laced dreams
to a tense body
and a furrowed brow
to small, tired eyes
to dread at the news of
death tolls
and those seriously sick, close and distant, high and low.
To a discordant symphony of soft, serene sea
and terror inside.
I do not know where to look for you
Are you in the soft, serene sea
or in the terror?
Are you in both?
Who is he?
This king, making a triumphal entry
to end in a distressed plea in a garden
and death.
In that week, you preached, you confronted, you lamented,
You knew what lay ahead, yet you ate and drank, laughed with friends
You angered, grew sad and fearful,
took our punishment and felt our pain.
You laid down your life.

For every one of us.
For me?
Forgive me that I shrink from it
Something so big
The enormity of it, I cannot contemplate
Let’s start with today:
here you are
It is not yet clear, who you are
Help me to know you
Then
And now
Between the soft sea and the terror.

Meanwhile, the Palm Sunday Body of Christ was another flatbread. Simple to make and without yeast, which seems appropriate before proclaming He is Risen.

Recipe here (omit za’atar and butter if using for communion bread).

Easter post coming soon.