Friday Series: Vegetable Soup

Here’s the first installment of my Friday series about practical theology, food and keeping a day of abstinence from meat. I’ll be talking a little bit about why the Catholic Church keeps Friday as a day of abstinence and then the recipe will be at the bottom. Sorry there’s no picture – the last time I made this it disappeared too quickly…

So, why abstain from ‘flesh and fowl’ one day a week? And why Friday?

Well, the idea of giving up meat one day a week is properly a penitential practice as well as a commemoration of Good Friday. A penitential practice something that reminds us to turn back to God and to give to others, doing something corporeal (for our body) that reminds us of the spiritual. A penance is repenting from sin and also an act which helps a person do this, so giving up meat, or for some people, giving up something else or doing a special charitable act, keeps us aware of how much we need God and His help to stay on the straight and narrow, as it were.

Giving up meat, which is historically a luxury for many people, could perhaps be related to looking to our heavenly food, the Body and Blood of Christ. In addition, it lends well to the practice of taking the money you would have used for meat and giving it to the poor. Nowadays it is not uncommon for Catholics to give up something else or do a special charitable act which will help them turn from sin and remember Christ’s Passion.

As a spiritual practice I have found a day of abstinence quite helpful. Remembering that I shouldn’t eat something has also often reminded me that I ought to remember to do something else too. It has also helped me think about what I eat and how much I spend on food, which, in turn, reminds me that everything I have is a gift from God, even salvation, which comes from the greatest sacrifice, that of Jesus Christ.

Recipe: Vegetable Soup

for 2, but easily doubled, tripled etc.

2-3 good sized carrots and/or parsnips

3-4 good sized potatoes

1 onion

1 tablespoon oil

Spices to taste (see Note)

1/4 cup red lentils

Water or vegetable stock

  1. Peel and chop all vegetables into bite-size pieces.
  2. Heat oil in soup pot and cook vegetable until onion is cooked and translucent.
  3. Add spices (see Note).
  4. Add lentils and enough water to just cover the vegetables.
  5. Bring to a boil, stir well so lentils don’t stick to bottom of pot, then cover and simmer for half an hour or so, until lentils are cooked and vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally.
  6. Mash, hand blend or pulse in blender until smooth.
  7. Eat with bread, yogurt, naan bread etc.

Note: This recipe is quite versatile and depending on how I feel I’ll add curry paste and cumin to make it more like a curry, coriander seeds and garlic powder for class, or just salt and pepper for a nice, plain soup. Experiment and let me know how it goes!

 

Poem: Participles

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For something good my soul is pining,

But I know not what I should be finding

For the way is dark and winding

Though far off some light is shining.

Someone for me is God anointing

To keep this child of earth from dying,

For the easement of my sighing.

To the cross His way is pointing.

Of that grace I’ve made a sighting,

To gain its cover I am trying

Though no good works this gift is buying,

To be His child this heart is fighting.

Then my grasp on grace I’m leaving,

For myself my heart is mourning,

No escape from human borning

And for my soul I am now grieving.

Then His presence I am knowing,

In to His power I am giving

Choosing, through His body, living,

In love of Him to then be growing.

Father, Son and Ghost most Holy,

O’er to you I give self lowly,

Wishing now to be Yours solely.

 

 

What Is Theology, Anyway?

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I’m putting together a quick post today, as Part 6 of my Feeling Well series isn’t quite ready and I have piles of homework due. So, I thought I might define theology before I write loads of posts about it, just to be clear and concise, (and also because ‘clear and concise’ is pretty much my middle name when it comes to writing).

Anyway, theology…

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary says theology is: “the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; the study of God and God’s relation to the world.” This is a very basic definition, but it is also very true.

Theology is about God (literally, theos – God and logos – word, so ‘words about God’) and it is the study of the way we think of God, the attributes we ascribe to Him, His works and the relation between Him and us. The term tends to cover a lot of other topics too, from philosophical or logical proofs for the existence of God to the historicity of Christ, to Church teaching, sacraments and practical Christianity as well as much more. In a more practical sense, however, theology is often focused on figuring out who God is and who we are as Christians and human beings in light of what we learn about Him.

As a theology major I study things ranging from exegesis of Scripture to Christology and logic, to the sacraments, Catholic Church teaching and liturgy, and everything in between. All the subjects and areas I am studying, and will study these next few years, teach me more and more about God, the world and about myself and where I fit into all of this as a Christian.

Join me and, hopefully, enjoy with me learning about theology, thus (I hope) getting to know God and the self better, as well as what its role in the world is.

Poem: Garden of Gethsemane

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Matthew 26:36-46

O Lord, if it be possible, remove this cup from me,

A deep and heavy depression through which I cannot see.

The cup from which I’m drinking is full of bitterness,

Sadness, pain and anger. Father! Heed my distress.

Your will is my endurance, my growth perhaps is pain.

Unless drink I the cup’s contents, sonship I will not gain.

Your will and mine align, O Lord, make it so to be

That I might truly be a son and join eternity.

Like Christ in garden dark that night

I plead with you for me,

And then accept what’s truly right

and what I ought to be.

Feeling Well Series – Part 5: What To Do

Hallo! Welcome to my first blog series on Against The Stream. It is called Feeling Good and focuses on depression and the stages of moving through a very low or difficult time in life. Unless you are feeling well and able to function it is really hard to start living well and as God intends, so let’s start with the basics.


 

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What we have covered so far in Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4 of Feeling Well sums up the basics of what’s going on, where to start looking for help and my story. But what about some practical things to do or consider that might help ease the pain a little, get through those bland, dull, black days? I certainly found it very difficult to balance what was going on in my head with what was going on in my day, so here’s a few practical things to do between (I hope) doctors, therapy, drugs, or all three.

  • Rest

This is one of the most common suggestions of things to do, but probably one of the hardest. To begin with, I found that whenever I tried to put things aside and sit for a bit I either ended up feeling guilty for not doing things or I started thinking about myself too much and got in a state. Eventually, and with my counselor’s help, I found a better way to relax. It sounds a bit weird, and it took a while for me to learn how to do it well, but it does help to listen to your body and learn to calm yourself down.


 

Sitting or lying down, eyes closed, take deep breaths, visualizing yourself sinking further into your body as you do. Be aware of how the parts of your body feel. Is anywhere in your core tight and tense? How do your fingers and toes feel? What are you touching? Are you comfortable or uncomfortable? Thirsty, hungry, tired? Hot or cold?  Does anywhere hurt, like head or feet, or stomach? Sit with your awareness of your body for a bit, acknowledging yourself without judging or making decisions and still breathing deeply. Then, when you are ready, open your eyes and slowly return to the moment.


 

After calming myself down as above I was usually able to pinpoint what I needed to do to help myself rest, like eat something, have a drink of water, try to nap or go for a walk etc. By the way, I’m taking ‘rest’ to mean anything that helps you be calm, reduces stress and anxiety and helps you feel less wrung out. For me it was lying down with a book, watching mindless TV shows for a few minutes (Pingu is a great favourite) or knitting an easy pattern and breathing with each stitch. You’ll have to figure out what works best, but I can advise you to stay away from complex activities or thing that require concentration.

  • Sleep

Sleep can fluctuate wildly during a period of depression and is often affected by drugs. Therefore, it is natural to go from sleeping ten to eight each night, for example, to eleven to five, as I have done. I kind of like the early morning, but it is frustrating when I can’t get to sleep at night. If loss of sleep is making functioning hard, talk to your doctor, as they might be able to tweak something or advise melatonin or a new routine.

Pretty much all sleep patterns can be affected by depression and drugs and because of this you may find dreams become more vivid too. All that being said, sleep is good for your brain and helps it heal, so try not to deny yourself sleep within your current pattern, even if it means leaving a party early to get to bed or arranging your day so you can sleep in.

  • Social Activities

Talking of parties, let’s cover social stuff next. An introvert to begin with, I’ve found almost all social occasions very draining and have taken on some recluse-like qualities. This has, however, removed a large amount of stress from my life and it is only now as I am recovering more that I find myself able to do more in the way of getting out and about.

However, not everyone is like me, so you may find it helpful to connect with people or add a the occasional social activity. Really, it is up to you to gauge what helps you and what hinders you, so do what you need to do. Now may also be a good time to cut back on the things you do if you are a social butterfly, so you’ll have to learn to say ‘no’ sometimes. It can be very difficult, so take things slow and monitor yourself as you do so, whether cutting out activities or adding time with friends.

  • Eating

This one has been hard for me as I have pre-existing problems with food. However, I have found that a routine really helps with the fluctuating appetite side of depression. Good brain food is key, so things like eggs and nuts have been helpful for me, and then teas, fruit and juice have helped with relaxation and Vitamin C. Depending on your regular diet some changes may be necessary to include the nutrition you need, but it is generally better to eat on a schedule or make the effort to eat well than be tempted to skip meals and starve yourself in times of great pain.

I also found it helpful to eat with someone, even if HusBen just texted me from work on his lunch break. The other thing I found helpful was rewarding myself for accomplishing something or doing something I found difficult, like doing the dishes or folding laundry. This even worked at my job, where I would bring a cookie or some nuts and sweets to have after doing an onerous task.

  • Exercise

This was a hard one for me. I hate exercising for the sake of exercising and I already walk a lot, so it was hard to fit something more into my life. Currently I am doing a two week stretch of core and leg muscle exercises – but I only do a few minutes in the morning, so it is bearable. I did find deliberately going for a walk helped sometimes, especially on nice sunny days, otherwise a good bit of stretching and gentle exercise helped me feel accomplished and better for having done something, although I doubt I’ll be seeing much change in my body anytime soon. Do note that a common side effect of antidepressants is weight gain, so don’t get discouraged if you do manage something but still put on a few pounds. Now just might not be the time to go all-out on a diet and exercise regimen.

  • TV

Netflix was a great help for me at some very low times. For someone who isn’t terribly keen on having a TV it was extremely helpful to be able to watch simple, entertaining, low emotional investment shows rather than wander the house feeling awful, and then guilty for feeling awful.

As a book lover, it was really hard to not have the concentration necessary to get through a good book, and even if I did the level of emotional investment was sometimes unhelpful, especially if a character I liked died, or the book ended unsatisfactorily. However, I felt it less strongly if a TV show ended or a character disappeared. It was easier to move on to another show or chooses a different movie. This may be singular to me, though, and I’d be interested to hear how other people find it.

 

All this being said, a period of depression is hard and I can’t lie and say that doing all these things will fix you or even help all that much. Sometimes it simply has to be got through. Hopefully, though, as your brain heals and you get stronger, doing some of these things will help with the boredom of waiting it out and trying to stay level. A time of depression may not be the right time to learn a new hobby or make new friends, but it is a great time to learn good habits and gather the skills you need to stay healthy.

In Part 6 I will be talking about changing the way you think, which is extremely hard work, so check back in a few days to find out some strategies for helping yourself grow and change in order to feel well.

 

 

 

Friday Series: Cooking With Less

Next Friday I’m going to be starting a little series about cooking healthy and cheap food. However, this is Against the Stream, so my “spin” on this oft blogged topic is Fridays as days of abstinence and what that really means.

For those of you who don’t know, Catholics traditionally give up (abstain from) meat on Fridays, remembering Good Friday and Christ’s crucifixion and preparing for Sunday and the celebration of the resurrection. In my Anglican Use Catholic parish we take this seriously and are asked to observe Fridays as ‘days of fasting and abstinence from flesh and fowl in remembrance of the passion of our Lord’. I’m not the best at remembering His passion on Fridays or cooking without meat, so often I don’t, but it is a habit, both culinary and spiritual, that I’d like to get into.

The point of giving up meat specifically is that, historically and presently, it is often fairly expensive, and by not spending money on meat but choosing to eat eat simply, you are supposed (in theory) to give more to God and to the poor. This tradition is often forgotten or bypassed these days, but I would like to bring some perspective to it and offer up a few ideas both for easy, cheap meals and for how we can practically apply theology to our lives.

Obviously, Fridays are my first choice for the day on which to do this, but does anyone out there on the Interwebs have any questions, comments or suggestions? I’m still pretty new to this and would welcome ideas before I publish the first one next Friday. 😀

 

Poem: My Cross

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My day may have been pleasant, an easy burden to bear,

Until an evening darkness brings shadows everywhere.

My cross descends to crush me; I cannot stir and rise.

My cross down heavily drags me, and sadness clouds my eyes.

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I yearn to wrest the cross into the fire,

See it burn and leave it far behind.

Rest easily at sunset; rise at dawn.

I try and strive to put it down,

Leave it, my life and time to own.

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Take I cross again and heavily it goes,

But unknown hands help heave and it is up!

My new cross is borne by other hands than mine,

One who daily bears the burden, drinks the cup

Of suffering He knows well, still chooses wine.

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I yearned to throw my cross to fire,

‘Stead took it up, look’d not behind.

Might not rest at sunset; rise at dawn.

But for His sake ne’er put it down,

Leave Me, Him life and time to own.