Friday, August 27, 2010

Like a Prayer: Tomato, White Bean, and Bacon Soup

I've been thinking lately about prayer.  Reading ALI blogs, you kind of have to ... there is so much hope, and so much loss, and so many people who support each other on these difficult journeys, that "prayer" becomes part of the common parlance.  Before I go too far here, I should probably make a confession: I attend a UU fellowship, and I'm not sure I'd use the word "pray" to describe my spiritual practice; if anything, it's more like meditation, or communion.  But I do find myself telling people, in times of crisis (for them), that I will pray for them ... because "keep you in my thoughts" doesn't seem like it's enough, nor does it really describe how I feel.  "Hold you to the light," a phrase that some of the others in my fellowship use, also doesn't really fit me.  So I've been wondering: it disingenuous to use "prayer," even when it's not the word I would use for myself?

I just finished reading Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, and while the book is also about a lot of other things, it's given me some food for thought, about loss, about finding hope, about blogging and telling our stories and making meaning, even when we may not be speaking the same "language" as those who are bearing witness, and about the importance of bearing witness, even when we do not understand.  The plot, in a nutshell, goes like this: skeptical well-educated Jesuit priest/linguist embarks with a group of friends on a mission to make contact with an alien species on another planet, believing that the mission is divinely inspired because of the connections of his friends--all with complementary talents--to the Arecibo observatory, where the signals from the other planet--singing--are first heard.  What begins as hopeful cultural exchange ends in disaster, murder, civil (or interspecies?) war, and the priest's debasement into a sexual slave for the famed alien poet whose songs he once heard on the Arecibo receiver.  The priest, left to cope alone with the loss of his friends and the disfigurement and violation of his body, questions the existence of God, and tries desperately to find meaning in this loss.  The story is told in flashbacks from a hearing where he is forced to recount the painful details of the expedition to an audience of priests and judges who see the mission very differently.

So what does this have to do with anything?  In some ways, so many of us in the ALI community are a little bit like Emilio: on a (divinely) inspired mission (to conceive a child), full of hope, full of faith.  Then, tragedy.  The very thing we believe in turns on us: our bodies betray us, and either we wait, cycle after cycle, for news that seems never to come, or we are about to touch what we came for, and then lose everything, sometimes multiple times.  We are all here because we need to tell the story of our journey, to make sure that people see it as we see it, or at least to let them hear our words.  And we're also here because we need to hear those stories; we need to bear witness so that we can make them real.   There are times when we don't speak the same "language" about ALI.  But that doesn't matter so much as just being here.

Maybe I've just answered my own question about prayer.  That empathy, perhaps, doesn't need to speak the same spiritual language, or that we can use a common language to mean different things that really, in the end, are part of the same feeling, even if they're not part of the same practice.  I'd love to hear what you think, though.

A heavy post for a weekend.  I'll be mulling this over a late-summer warming, comforting soup, for when the nights get a little bit cooler, even when the days are warm.  Thanks for being there for each other here in the blogosphere, for listening, for reading, and for speaking, even when it may be hard to make those translations.

Tomato, White Bean, and Bacon Soup

1/4 pound bacon (veggie bacon is fine ... it's for the smoky flavor and for some fat to cook the onions), diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups peeled, chopped potatoes (recommend Yukon Gold)
6 cups peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes (or canned whole tomatoes with juice)*
2 cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1 15-ounce can white beans, drained (I use canned white beans here for their convenience. If you want you can take this soup up a notch and use dry beans that you've soaked overnight and cooked until soft.)
Salt and pepper to taste
* To peel fresh tomatoes, cut a shallow cross on one end, blanch in boiling water for about 30 seconds, remove from boiling water and the peels should easily come off.  Or, be lazy like me and don't bother peeling them.

Cook bacon on medium heat in a large saucepan until lightly browned and fat is rendered. Use a slotted spoon to remove bacon from the pan. Set on a plate lined with a paper towel.

Add the chopped onion to the pot, cook in the bacon fat on medium heat until soft. Add the minced garlic and cook a minute more. Add the chopped peeled potatoes and cook a few minutes more.

Add the tomatoes and chicken broth. Cook until potatoes are cooked through, about 20 minutes (or longer).

Stir in the brown sugar. Add half of the beans to the mixture. Use an immersion blender to blend about half of the soup mixture (or blend half of the soup in a standing blender and return to the pot).

Add bacon to the soup and the rest of the beans. Add salt and pepper to taste.
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  1. First off...CONGRATULATIONS! I am so happy to see you are trucking along with that little bean dancing the tango in utero! lol. Wishing you a relaxing and healthy journey! Secondly, I want to thank you for your words of support after our m/c. It meant so much. I am heartened to see fellow IF sisters get their much anticipated peanuts. It give such hope. I'll be keeping an eye and sending good wishes!!

  2. There is a story about Mother Theresa. Someone asked her what she said when she prayed, and she answered: "I don't talk. I listen." So the questioner asked what God said, and Mother Theresa answered: "He doesn't talk. He listens."

    I have a whole essay in my head about prayer and how we pray and what it means which I should probably write down sometime, but for now I'll just say that your loving meditations sound like prayer to me.

  3. Here from ICLW. Interested thoughts on prayer. I've lost a lot faith through all my experiences with loss and infertility. I still try to pray for others and myself, though. I don't know if it does any good, but I figure it couldn't hurt. Maybe if enough people pray for someone, God will finally get tired of hearing it and cut the person a break!

  4. Sounds like quite a story.

    I know that for me, when it is coming from somebody who can at least sort of understand what I'm going through, support is support is support. Even if our language isn't exactly the same, the intent gets across, and that is often all that is needed, I think.


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