To hear this sermon as preached, press play below:
United Church of Jaffrey
To make an apple pie, one must start with about 8 good sized apples.
I like them to be on the tart side – nice and firm. A bruise or two makes no difference here or there, but the apples cannot have even a hint of mealy-ness.
Peel ‘em, core ‘em, slice ‘em up until they fill a big bowl.
We have one of those classic yellow bowls from the 1950’s – just right for all those apple slices.
To this, you add 3/4s of a cup of sugar, a couple heaping tablespoons of flour, a quarter teaspoon of salt, some cinnamon, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and a dash of nutmeg and…
As the apple slices toss and tumble in the yellow bowl, they become coated with a layer of sugar, and they begin to soften. The apples begin to dissolve a little bit – not completely, mind you, but enough to set in motion that magical conspiracy of ingredients that results in deliciousness.
To encourage this delicious conspiracy, I set aside the yellow bowl of pie filling and let it ruminate in its own sweetness as I turn my attention to that other tricky maneuver – making crust.
I could tell you how I make my crust, but then I’d have to kill you – which would be counterproductive for a number of reasons, not the least being that this Sunday – as Carol and Aunt Vi have just reminded us by lighting the second advent candle – is the second Sunday of Advent – a Sunday dedicated to the theme of Peace.
But what does making apple pie have to do with peace anyway?
I’m glad you asked.
I was put in mind of an apple pie recipe when I was thinking about the poem I just read for you, by William Butler Yeats.
The Lake Isle of Innisfree reads a bit like a recipe – a poet’s recipe for peace.
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
To find his peace, Yeats has his own kind of delicious conspiracy – a recipe that includes
- a cup of small cabin
- Nine rows of beans
- A hive for the honeybee
For peace, Yeats wants
- A teaspoon of crickets singing
- A dash of linnet’s wings
- And a tablespoon of lake water, lapping by the shore.
For Yeats, these things – lapping water, linnet’s wings, and rows of beans, are the ingredients that nourish his “deep heart’s core.”
His life — his soul, perhaps — is, the big yellow bowl, as it were – where all these lovely notions get stirred together.
Maybe he sets them aside, to encourage the delicious conspiracy, because the poet knows that peace, of all things, is not in a hurry.
Peace, he says, “comes dropping slow.”
What are the things that drop slowly into your deep heart’s core?
What are the little things that bring you a sense of inner peace?
For a few minutes the microphone was passed around to gather some input from the congregation regarding things that give them peace. The audio was unclear, so it is not included here. People spoke of watching the sunrise; holding grandchildren; climbing Temple Mountain; hearing the sound of the Contoocook river; observing the stars on a clear night; keeping a meditation practice; returning from travels to walk into a warm kitchen; receiving beautiful Facebook posts; coming to church; and the love of a husband.
It is wonderful to hear all the things that bring you peace.
This time of year my peace involves a roaring woodstove and a kitty cat, curled up on my lap. My peace happens when I climb into our traditional Japanese bathtub, open the window, and watch as the room fills with steam. Last week our peace came when Cary and I bundled up and took the dog for a night walk in the falling snow.
Woodstove, falling snow, bathtub, a purring cat.
Have I turned into a Hallmark Card?
The things that bring me peace are so predictable!
And another thing – of the peaceful things that we’ve mentioned – most of them are reasonably dependable, aren’t they? I can build a fire in the woodstove anytime I want. I can draw a bath anytime, or go for a walk. I can almost guarantee that anytime I sit down, a cat will come along, looking for a lap to curl up in.
So if peace is both predictable and dependable, why does it sometimes seem so elusive?
There’s something else going on here.
Peace may be brought on by things, but peace itself is not a thing.
You can’t hold peace in your hand
It is not bigger or smaller then a breadbox.
Peace has no on/off switch.
It won’t connect to Wifi.
Peace is none of those things.
Peace is a feeling.
It is a moment, as the passage from Philippians put it, when you become aware of that “peace of God that surpasses all understanding.”
There it is folks – that little sleight of hand that happens each Sunday morning in Church, when something that we have been speaking of as “peace” suddenly becomes “peace of God.”
Our creaturely, human peace – sitting in front of the fire with a cat purring in your lap, or walking along the beach as the sun is setting, for example – these things do not “surpass all understanding.”
On the contrary – they are utterly within the realm of understanding.
And yet, the reason they bring us peace… is because they point beyond us – they point beyond us to God’s peace – a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Note that the passage from Philippians speaks of “God’s peace that surpasses all understanding…
It does not say that it surpasses all feeling.
We can feel things that we don’t necessarily understand.
One of the things I love about being a minister, is that religion is a field of human inquiry that takes feeling seriously.
Because feeling is a way to God – a way to experience something that is, otherwise, entirely beyond us.
There is, actually, no secret to how I make crust for my apple pies.
I follow a recipe that I found somewhere.
The recipe is entirely within the realm of human understanding.
But when it comes time to take out the rolling pin, something astonishing and mysterious happens.
As I reach into the flour and take a handful and spread it across the surface where I plan to roll out the crust, I suddenly become my mother.
Each movement is a memory. My body remembers the movements that my mother enacted in this moment, spreading the flour, rolling the dough, adding more flour if necessary, flipping, or re-orienting the dough to create a circle to place in the pie plate.
Peace is not simply an inner feeling.
Peace moves outwards.
Peace is a memory of love.
Peace is the moment when the vibration of our souls, settles into perfect resonance with a mystery that surrounds us.
A mystery that is deeply good.
A Peace – God’s peace – that surpasses all understanding.