For the past few years I've been on a hunt for a savory butternut squash/pumpkin soup recipe. After making a few and feeling, like Goldilocks, that they were not quite right, I decided to try my hand at inventing one myself. Here's the recipe that I've been fooling around with this past week. Roasting some of the vegetables in a toaster oven gives a dusky flavor, while boiling the squash and potato makes the soup creamy.

Savory Butternut Squash Soup

1 butternut squash
1 potato
olive oil
1/2 medium onion
1/3 red pepper
1/2 stalk celery
1 t garlic
1 c chicken stock
1 c milk
1/2 t salt
pinch cayenne pepper

caramelized onions (optional)

Peel and chop butternut squash and potato and boil until soft. Drain. In the meantime, roast or saute onion, pepper, celery and garlic with/in olive oil until browned. In small amounts, blend vegetables along with liquids. Season with salt and pepper. The cayenne pepper really makes a difference, just don't overdo it. If you're looking for a garnish, try carmelized onion instead of the more familiar sour cream. Served with fresh bread and cheese with a salad, it makes a great fall meal!
As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  (Mark 10:46,47)

Mercy has always been an interesting word for me. In the past I've most often connected mercy to judgment; God, as a merciful judge, alleviates our punishment when we cry out for mercy. In the parable of the ungrateful servant, (Matthew 18) the man who owes the king a lifetime of wages is shown mercy, and his debt is forgiven.

Further study taught me that mercy is connected to the Hebrew word hesed which is commonly translated as lovingkindness. A familiar example would be the ending of Psalm 23 where David concludes his poem on the Lord as Shepherd with this refrain:

Surely, goodness and mercy (lovingkindness)
   will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

But recently, I've come to think of mercy as a simple cry for help. This is the case for the blind beggar in the Gospel reading yesterday. Feeling hopeless to enact any sort of change in his situation, he approaches Jesus with a full-bellied cry for assistance. "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me," he cries. And Jesus does.
It's this third understanding of mercy that I'm leaning on as much of the east coast sits waiting for the landfall of hurricane Sandy, a monstrous storm beyond our ability to affect. "Lord, have mercy," I pray.

Help those who are preparing for the damage which this storm will afflict. Help those who are committed to public safety and health to themselves be kept safe and healthy. Help us to make wise choices in our travel. Stop those who would want to take advantage of the chaos that often ensues in such situations. And most of all, show your mercy by stilling the winds and moving the storm along.

Will you join me in this prayer? Kyrie eleison. Lord, have mercy.
Harvest Moon by T H Widener
Such a simple, but lovely poem...

T. E. Hulme
A touch of cold in the Autumn night—
I walked abroad,
And saw the ruddy moon lean over a hedge
Like a red-faced farmer. 
I did not stop to speak, but nodded,
And round about were the wistful stars
With white faces like town children.
My mom's arrival last week brought a bushel of tomatoes from my Indiana sister, Shari. Straight from the garden, they were picked green before the frost caught them, and ripened during the few days before they actually made it to my kitchen. After putting two canners away (14 quarts) I had three leftover yogurt containers that I needed to do something with. So I pulled out another old family stand-by and whipped up some chili, Cincinnati style.

I didn't know about Cincinnati chili until we visited some friends we had met in Chile (South America) back stateside where they lived in, you guessed it, Cincinnati. Skyline Chili is perhaps the most famous brand in the city, and one of the things that makes their chili unique is that the beans are added later along with Cheddar cheese, onions and served over spaghetti.

I must admit, I don't do the whole skyline thing. I put in the beans while simmering. And since I grew up putting chili over baked potatoes, sometimes we do that. (A quick, healthy option at Wendy's, by the way, if you're traveling over dinner time.) Other times, like last night, it topped a green salad along with the green onions and cheese.

The second unusual thing about this recipe is the addition of chocolate (!) and cinnamon which gives a fairly dark, complex flavor. Here's the recipe for those of you wanting to try something new. (And a confession - this is not a picture of my chili, as we ate it before I thought to grab a photo. But it looked just as yummy, I promise!)

Cincinnati Chili

2 T oil
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 pounds ground beef
2 t minced garlic
2 c beef broth
1 c barbecue sauce
2 T chili powder
1 t salt
1 ounce (1 square) unsweetened chocolate
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t allspice (I usually omit these)
1/4 t ground cloves (and these)
1/2 t pepper
2 c tomato juice (I substituted canned tomatoes and food processed some celery)

To serve:
1 pound cooked spaghetti
1 can (16 oz) red kidney beans, drained, rinsed and heated
1 pound shredded Cheddar cheese
1 1/2 cups chopped onions (I used green onions here)
Oyster crackers (don't

Heat the oil in a skillet and add the onions, ground beef and garlic til brown. Put in a larger saucepan and add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then simmer uncovered for about an hour, stirring occasionally and adding more juice is mixture is too thick. ( I add the beans in with the rest of the ingredients).

To serve, ladle on top of the spaghetti, and top with beans, cheese, onions and crackers.

Servant with a Tray by Verheyden Francois
"Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10: 42-45)

I totally resonate with the disciples who come to Jesus and ask to have an important role in the kingdom of God. Because, to be really honest, I, too, would like to be great. I mean, in my obit I would like there to be a sentence that mentions an accomplishment that's pretty earth-shattering. And what I like about Jesus' statements in this passage from Mark is that He doesn't have a problem with this desire, doesn't say that it's selfish in some way.  

No, Jesus just uses this audacious request of James and John as another teaching moment. You see, greatness is actually a good thing to want, because God is great, and following Jesus is the path toward becoming one with God. It's just that one of the things that makes God so great is that God serves. David saw this combination clearly, as in Psalm 68 where his song has this phrase:

Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord

which is followed later in the second (or third) verse by this:

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior,
who daily bears our burdens.

Later song writers also linked these concepts of service and greatness together, as is evidenced in Philippians when Paul encourages the new Christ-followers to become like Christ by quoting this song:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God 
something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

By encouraging his disciples to become servants, Jesus is not relegating them to second class citizenship. Rather, he is offering the invitation to follow his own path
to greatness. This also ensures that the Spirit which will live within his followers will be able to follow the modus operandus of the Godhead - that of service.

It's true that we serve FOR God. It's also true that we serve LIKE God. But what's truly empowering is that we serve WITH God. Jesus modeled this. It's what made him great - and there's plenty of room for greatness in his kingdom! 
I'm taking a fall break this week - my mom's in town, so we'll be running around visiting family, canning tomatoes, making applesauce, etc. Back next Monday.

Today's post is in honor of all those who struggle with mental illness and still create, still find ways to bless those around them. I'm grateful for the years of medical research which offers hope that was not available to those who, like Van Gogh, suffered through anxiety and other forms of mental illness throughout most of his adult life. Grateful also that my friends, like Van Gogh, do not give up offering the world their gifts in the midst of depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder and other conditions they have battled or continue to battle. I admire you all so much!

This video was created by Tony DiFratta, an artist who worked for years at the Mississippi State Hospital, teaching art to patients with mental illness. You can find more about him and his art here.
Now that fall is officially here, I'm back in the cooking mode, especially when it comes to soups and stews. My daughter Kara and I have a goal to make a soup a week for go-to lunches and dinner on the run. Here are two standbys that feature lentils, a good source of inexpensive protein. One is from a college roommate  (don't have to tell you how long that's been in my recipe file!) and one from a professor friend. Is there a theme here? The first is tomato based and more like a stew, while the second is lighter and uses marjoram, giving it a fresh taste. In both recipes, you may want to play with the consistency by adding a bit more water or broth.

Lentil Vegetable Soup

2 c lentils
5 c water
1/2 c onion
1/2 c celery
1/2 c carrots
3 T parsley
1 clove garlic (1/2 t prepared garlic)
2 1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/2 t oregano

Put all ingredients in large pot and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

1 can (28 oz) tomatoes, diced
2 T vinegar

Simmer another 1/2 hour. Serve hot.

Crystal's Lentil Soup

2 c lentils
5 c water
2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 t basil
1 onion, chopped
4 carrots, chopped

Simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

1 lb kielbasa, cut in small rounds
2 t marjoram
1 box frozen spinach (optional)

Simmer additional 30 minutes.

Note: We are trying to go with organic meat, so I used chicken/feta/spinach sausage that I had cooked up earlier and put it in at the last minute.

The Communion by Stefan Mierz
Note: This essay was guest posted yesterday at Better Living Through Beowulf, a blog hosted by my friend Robin Bates. Robin, who teaches at St. Mary's College in Southern Maryland, takes his depth of knowledge as a literature prof and interweaves it with contemporary issues, encouraging us along with his students to ponder how great literature can help us grow and flourish.

Today many Christian churches celebrate World Communion Sunday. Communion, or the Eucharist, has its roots in the Jewish Passover feast, which Jesus celebrated with his disciples on the night before the betrayal that led to his death. In a rented room, surrounded by the twelve, Jesus broke bread and passed around the second cup of wine, reforming a familiar ritual by offering a fresh midrash to his actions. The bread was now representative of his body, which would be sacrificed for them. The wine was his blood, signifying a new arrangement with God. From now on, his followers were to remember not the exodus from Egypt – Israel’s meta-narrative– but Jesus’ upcoming death, which would enable their own exodus from lives dominated by separation and powerlessness.

In Holy Communion, George Herbert, the 17th century priest and religious poet reflects on his experience of taking the bread and wine.

Not in rich furniture, or fine array
Nor in a wedge of gold,
Thou, who for me wast sold,
To me does now thy self convey,
For so thou should’st without me still have been,
Leaving within me sin.

But by the way of nourishment and strength
Thou creep’st into my breast,
Making thy way my rest,
And thy small quantities my length,
Which spread their forces into every part,
Meeting sin’s force and art.

Christ could have conveyed himself to us as a King, Herbert imagines, seated on rich furniture, dressed in royal robes, crowned with a golden diadem. But if it were to kingship Jesus had aspired when he came to earth two thousand years ago, he would have stayed distant, powerful and yet “without.” This regal other would have had no impact upon Herbert’s inner life, “leaving within [him] sin.” But through his death, Christ comes to him by “the way of nourishment and strength” - bread and wine, which are his body and blood. These small quantities are able to act as antibiotics, spreading their way into the length of his body and diminishing sin’s “force and art.” 

Still, Herbert wonders if this is enough.

Yet can these not get over to my soul,
Leaping the wall that parts
Our souls and fleshy hearts;
But as th’outworks, they may control 
My rebel flesh, and carrying thy Name
Affright both sin and shame.

Only thy grace, which with these elements comes,
Knoweth the ready way,
And hath the privy key,
Op’ning the soul’s most subtle rooms;
While those to spirits refin’d, at door attend
Dispatches from their friend.

It seems as if Herbert is after more than healing, more than pardon from his religion. Even if he has been forgiven from past wrongs and been given power to live in ways that are honorable, the heart still yearns for more. The soul’s subtle rooms are waiting to be unlocked. Will grace come and offer a divine friendship, filled with intimate communication? 

As Fiona Sampson asks in her poem Communion

If I’m you, or you me-
Interpenetrating God-
Enlarge our intimacy.

Becoming one with God infers intimacy. Just as the wine and bread become a part of the person who eats them, so God, interpenetrating the self, becomes part of me, as I am part of God. This is what Jesus is at when he tells his disciples upon leaving the last supper that, after his death and resurrection they will “know that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” 
This coming together, engaging in communion, has a third element, however. Not only are we made whole within ourselves, not only joined with the Divine, but as we take communion we connect with a community that stretches across the globe, and moves freely through thousands of years. The spiritual nature of this community makes it seem in some ways virtual, but that doesn’t mean it is not real.

I was reminded of the possibility of unity across cultures and continents as I listened to a TED talk by Eric Whitacre this week. Whitacre, a choral composer and conductor received a youtube clip from a young musician who wanted him to hear her singing the soprano line of a piece he’d written. Touched, and a bit intrigued, he sent out an open invitation to any musician to upload a video of themself singing their part in the song Sleep. He also put up clips of himself directing, as well as a piano accompaniment, so the singers could keep time.

Several months later, he had over 500 respondents and a volunteer to mix the piece. The result was a collaboration resulting in a choir who had never met each other. One conductor, one piece, one technician (a nod here to the Holy Spirit, I think) and the result was a unified whole, different parts and harmonies from around the world blended into one.

Communion – the many becoming one. It seems impossible, but it’s not. It’s the goal of a God who is offering an open invitation to join the Godhead. There is one caveat, however. The only way this all works is if those who respond, who take communion, remember. Remember that Jesus came to earth because of Divine Love, loving us enough to give his own body and blood. Remember that it is this love that heals and empowers and then connects us not only with God but also the others who live in love. We need to remember, and then live from that love, nourished by what “creepest into my breast, making thy way my rest.”  
Are you wishing you could visit an amazing art show this weekend, but can't get away from the house? Check out the homepage of Artprize, a one-of-a-kind art show put on yearly in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I had never heard of this art show until my friend Sybil mentioned it to me a few weeks ago. She'd been attending for several years and this year a friend of hers was entering a piece.

There are several things that make ArtPrize unique. First, the cash awards (and they total over 500 thousand dollars) are chosen by a combination of popular and juried vote. Unfortunately, this post comes too late to give you a chance to vote, (that ended last night at 11:59) but there's always next year. Voting happens through the website, which has pictures of each piece of art with links to the artist statement as well as some bio information.

Art can be installed anywhere in Grand Rapids; those places which can offer a venue connect up with artists needing a place to display in the months prior to the show's opening. When opening day rolls around the entire city, both indoors and out becomes an art gallery - this year's entries came to a total of 1517!

I spent a little while looking through this year's contributions and here are some that caught my eye. Each is linked to the site for additional information.
Stick-to-it-iveness by Richard Morse
Richard Morse, whose sculpture made it into the Top 10, is a cancer survivor. The horses, rising out of the water symbolize "the struggles and perseverance, the simple grace yet powerful attitude that everybody needs in difficult situations." Each horse is created from fallen branches, bringing "nature back to life."
Friends by Nnamdi Okonkwo (Nigerian)
Nnamdi Okonkwo was born in Nigeria and came to BYU-Hawaii to play basketball, but he was always drawn to art. His chosen medium, sculpture, gives him a way to express the "beauty and nobility that is in humanity." The female figures in this piece were chosen since Okonkwo feels that women best "exemplify the noble virtues such as serenity, love, hope, humility, charity, and inner strength, which enable us to face and transcend the adversities of life."
Small Parts - Comfort from 2000 Cups of Tea by Lynn Johnson
Lynn Johnson collected tea bags from those cups shared with family and friends to create this mixed media piece of art which measures 10.5 feet high by 5.5 feet wide. Johnson feels that "recording and lending significance to individual social interactions," allows her to "celebrate the value of the personal connection that is achieved through our everyday social routines and rituals." I love how the lighting creates warmth through the tea bags, mimicking the comfort we often feel when having a cup of tea or coffee with a friend.

Beautiful Day by Carol Shelkin
Carol Shelkin "works with the constant rhythmic sounds of breaking glass" as she creates her stained glass works of art. Drawn to portraits, she is especially intrigued by eyes, and seeks to capture unique moments. The rich infusion of color and wide variation of tones drew me to this piece.