In Remembrance of Me

Communion Elements

The idea of memory and remembering is a key theme throughout Scripture. God calls on his people to remember their covenantal relationship. Specifically the Lord instituted the Passover as a memorial for the Israelites: “And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt” (Ex. 13:9 ESV). At other times God is called to remember his covenant with people, specifically the use of the rainbow to remember that he will never again wipe out all of humanity (Gen. 9:12-16).

In the gospels, when Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist, he instructs his disciples to partake in remembrance of him (Luke 22:19), which Paul reiterates in 1 Corinthians 11:25. Why are we called to partake of the Eucharist in remembrance of him?

The Eucharist book coverIn his book The Eucharist, Alexander Schmemann, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, writes, “Man’s memory is his responding love for God, the encounter and communion with God, with the life of life itself” (p. 125). Memory is not simply a recalling of facts, but rather an attentiveness to God and his love. We as humans, who alone possess the power to remember, only truly live as we remember God.

Therefore, sin, according to Schmemann, is that “man has forgotten God.” Forgetting God, like remembering God, is not simply to stop thinking about God, rather “to forget means above all to cut what has been forgotten off from life, to case to live by it, to fall away from it.” Sin came into the world when Adam “forgot God because he turned his love, and consequently his memory and his very life, to something else, and above all to himself.” I continue to sin in the same way – when I turn my attentive memory away from God’s love toward me to my own self love. Schmemann draws out the implication of this: “If it is God, the giver of life and life itself whom I have forgotten, if he has cased to be my memory and my life, my life itself becomes dying, and then memory, which is the knowledge and power of life, becomes knowledge of death and the constant tasting of mortality” (p. 126).

Part of the multifaceted act of salvation is the regeneration of memory – moving from remembering only death and mortality to love and life everlasting. Schmemann writes, “Salvation consists in this: that in Christ – perfect God and perfect man – memory comes to reign and is restored as a lifecreating power, and, in remembering, man partakes not of the experience of the fall, mortality and death, but of the overcoming of this fall through ‘life everlasting’” (p. 128). And life everlasting is not simply some future hope of glorious bliss, but life everlasting begins in the here and now as Christ’s kingdom has begun to break through into this present age.

If remembering is an attentiveness to God, an encounter and experience with God, then the Eucharist has the power to be a means for us as believers to re-center our attentiveness towards God through Christ’s sacrificial offering. To quote Schmemann, “The services are the entry of the Church into the new time of the new creation, gathered by the memory of Christ, transformed by him into life and the gift of life” (p. 129).

As we remember Christ through the sharing of his body and blood in the Eucharist, we remember him not as we remember a loved one who has passed, but rather as one who lives. We remember Christ as the one who invites us to partake now of his kingdom. We remember Christ by returning our attention to what he is doing to bring salvation to others. We remember Christ as we celebrate with others the broken body and blood of Christ as being formed into a worldwide, eternal community.

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The Odiferous Nature of Cheese

Celebrating Valentine’s Day this year with an evening of cheese, salami and wine, helped me recall a post I had written a few years back about the odors of cheese. Because it was on my old blog that has disappeared into some unknown space, I thought I would repost it.

Enjoy!

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Cheese and Wine Spread

As many of you know, I worked in the cheese room at Palate Food + Wine for a little while. I read up on cheeses. I put together a booklet of the cheeses we had on hand. I tasted cheeses constantly. And I smelled a lot of cheeses.

As I read about cheeses, particularly the ones that Palate carried, I was surprised to see some of the descriptions used for the odor of cheese. Some cheeses have an odor so strong that when I store them in my refrigerator, my fridge quickly smells like the cheese. As soon as I open the door, I am hit with the odor. Currently in my fridge is a wheel of VacherinMont d’Or cheese. I just hope that my roommate does not mind the powerful odor of the cheese.

Some cheeses should have a strong barnyardy odor, but a cheese should never smell like death, decay, dung or straight ammonia. For instance,  Steven Jenkins in The Cheese Primer describes the French cheese Munster this way: “Munster has a very pronounced, powerful aroma, and I have never figured out how it is that a food that smells like rotting fruits and vegetables and barnyard animals can evoke hunger pangs in me” (83). Epoisses is another cheese with a very pungent odor, which is putting it nice.

The odors of food are important because when it comes to eating the nose does most of the work. The human mouth can only decipher five basic flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. The nose, however, can sort through close to 10,000 different odors. Therefore, despite my mouth’s limitation in detecting the flavor, my nose compensates as it is connected to the mouth through the retronasal passage.

Unfortunately as an American, I am at a disadvantage when it comes to appreciating odors. The American culture literally shuns anything that smells strong, pungent, or funky. Think about how much money is spent each year to make everything smell pleasant. Granted some odors should be masked…I love my deodorant, and I am pretty positive that almost everyone else appreciates that I wear deodorant. I also love lighting fragrant candles to make my room smell nice. But this desire to cover up odors that might be a little unpleasant means that when it comes to tasting cheeses, I have to get over my preconceived idea that a bad smell equals bad taste.

You might be thinking, “Why would I ever want to put something in my mouth that has an odor that strong and that off-putting? I will just stick to food that smells good, like strawberries.” You are entitled to your opinion, but think of all that you will be missing in life. Epoisses is one of the best cheeses in the world. In fact, the great food writer, Brillat-Savarin called it the king of the cheeses. And once you get past the stench of the cheese, what awaits you is, in the words of Max McCalman, “a lovely chorus of refined flavors, complex yet well rounded” (The Cheese Plate, 102). Later, he writes, “It’s amazing how it can smell so funky and yet taste so balanced” (185).

As I thought about the odiferous nature of cheese, I began seeing the connections between cheese and my Christian life. I have come to believe deeply that my life should always smell and look good. I do not like it when things smell bad or get messy. I wish my Christian life was like a perfectly ripened strawberry—lush, perfectly ripened, that smell that immediately draws my mind to the beauty of spring and summer, and the juice that drips down my chin—that’s the Christian life I like. As I observe American Christianity, it seems that I am not alone. This is what we all want and this is what we present to others, and I think we have gotten pretty good at it, unfortunately.

But as I have studied spiritual formation, I have begun to learn that this is rarely the case, as we live in a fallen, sinful world. Sure there are moments when the Christian life might come close to resembling the strawberry. However, messiness and foul odors are part of the process that God uses in his infinite wisdom to mold me and shape me. Just like with cheese, however, there is a fine line. I am not talking about sin, which to use the analogy with cheese, smells of death, decay and dung. I am talking about situations, trials, thorns in the flesh, that the Lord introduces; those events, peoples, situations, whatever they may be, that smell “bad” to me, just like some cheese might smell “bad.” However, if I can get past my preconceived ideas and deep beliefs of what smells good and bad, then I might discover that what awaits me is similar to Epoisses: “a lovely chorus of refined flavors, complex yet well rounded.”

Unlike with cheese, where the payoff comes as soon as the cheese enters my mouth, I may never fully know that chorus of refined flavors, but I will continue to learn to trust.

Tips for Valentine’s Day

Cheese and Wine Spread

I realize that this may be late, considering today is Valentine’s Day, but I thought I would offer some of my personal suggestions on dining on Valentine’s Day.

My number one suggestion: Don’t go out on Valentine’s Day. Working in a restaurant, I, along with others who work with me, look forward to Valentine’s Day as much as I look forward to a root canal. For some reason, people who never dine out decide that on February 14 they should go to the nicest restaurant they can afford. Chefs know this so they cater their menu accordingly. Or they offer a set menu that while may not be completely uninspired, is definitely not the food they would love to cook.

Not to mention that if you do decide to go out, you are going to be putting up with large crowds and noisy restaurants. Because my ideal Valentine’s Day is to celebrate it with 200 other people crammed into a restaurant being served by people who may not be in the greatest mood.

The one caveat I will throw out there is this: If you and your significant other have a great hole in the wall place where you just love to eat, go there. Chances are those types of restaurants are doing nothing different, and you will probably not have to face large crowds.

The other side to my number one suggestion is: Dine in on Valentine’s Day.

You do not have to make an extravagant feast for you and your other, rather simply enjoy the food you both love with the mindful intention of just being together (Two years ago I wrote a blog post on the simple and Valentine’s Day). If you are both adventurous and want to create something new, by all means do it, especially if you do it together. But, say in my case, where I am most likely to cook for Claire, I would purposefully choose a dinner that would not require me to spend all day in the kitchen by myself. For instance our first Valentine’s Day together, when we were dating, Claire came up to my little cabin in Forest Falls. I made a citrus salad (all of which can be prepped beforehand and assembled right before eating) and then short ribs with mashed potatoes. As the short ribs were braising in the oven for a couple of hours, we were able to go out and play in the snow.

This year, Claire and I are going to enjoy an even simpler dinner: cheese and wine. I went down to Trader Joe’s in Salt Lake City and picked up three different types of cheese, some salami and some dried fruit. It is one of our absolute favorite things to do. There is little prep and little clean up. We usually clear off the coffee table, put in a movie and relax.

One of the other major perks of staying in on Valentine’s Day is that you do not have to worry about drinking too much. I am by no means advocating getting drunk, but if Claire and I open a bottle of wine, if we finish it, neither of us is in a good place to be driving.

Claire and I don’t have children at the present, so it is a lot easier to plan an evening. But if you do have children, make Valentine’s Day special for your children, but do not forget about each other. Maybe wait to celebrate Valentine’s Day until the weekend, like a Friday or Saturday night, where the two of you can stay up later. Once you put your kids down for the night, maybe try and be intentional about doing something special, whether it is cheese and wine or even having a separate dinner for the two of you.

As I was thinking about this post, I remembered one of my favorite quotes from M.F.K. Fisher, the celebrated food writer. She writes:

“And above all, friends should possess the rare gift of sitting. They should be able, no, eager, to sit for hours—three, four, six—over a meal of soup and wine and cheese, as well as one of twenty fabulous courses. Then, with good friends of such attributes, and good food on the board, and good wine in the pitcher, we may well ask, ‘When shall we live if not now?’” (The Art of Eating, p. 44)

And isn’t this what Valentine’s Day is all about?