A Benediction

This is my last post of the year.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to spend the moments that are typically carved out for writing, reflecting on good endings instead. I want to finish well. I eagerly anticipate the restful time of learning about that closure from my mentors.

This marks the end of my first year of writing posts.

I’m grateful for the flawed journey. It has been so many paradoxes: risky and comfortable, abstract and tangible, weighty and light.

To celebrate those paradoxes and how they’re reflected in the Christmas story, I want to share a poem by one of my respected “mentors”. She’s a woman who writes far better than I, and makes the intangible, tangible.

This poem illustrates the timeless beauty of that intangible story.

As a benediction to the holidays, this Christmas season may you find risky love born out in the tangible moments–a peaceful and contemplative Christmas to each one of you.

The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973
by Madeleine L’Engle

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome
Honor and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn –
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Halley’s Cup

Let me tell you about this beautiful confluence of events that occurred a few weeks ago.  It was my own Halley’s Comet that burst into my morning routine with shameless complexity in a plain mug.

This rare beauty was a 2013 Kenyan single origin Ndaroini Peaberry in a Chemex pour over.  For those of you who don’t speak coffee, it takes a Ph.D. in Chemistry, hours of caffeine-enhanced demonstrations, and a propensity to tease apart details that defy all reason, to get the big picture.  I have to settle for a mediocre education that accommodates my limited brain plasticity.  It’s only my passion for coffee that motivates my persistent (and feeble) attempts to educate myself, seeing how I became a counselor strategically to avoid science….and math.

My effort at a succinct summary of the intertwining variables would most certainly fail so bear with me.  The confluent artistry is worth an elongated explanation.  First, let’s talk about the intersection of a variety of rare events that make this particular brew so special, beginning with the origin story.

Kenyan coffee is a mild Arabica known for bold flavor, full body, and aromatic properties grown in nutrient-dense, volcanic soil.  Production varies widely, dependent on a range of factors, and the common scarcity rouses the continued interest of ardent coffee lovers across the world.  Single origin refers to flavor profile purity based on the micro lot or distinct supplier it was generated through and that farm’s unique roasting method.  To many coffee connoisseurs, this is the gold standard of purity.  I won’t bore you with the history of single origin production, evolving definitions, and arguments over whether micro lot really is the best.

Now, to the Peaberry.   The normal production of coffee involves harvesting a coffee cherry (not an actual cherry), which is the fruit produced from a coffee bush.  Normally, the coffee cherry has two seeds that grow uniformly, nestled in the same shell.  On the rare occasion that one of the seeds falls off, the other grows into one, full bean called a Peaberry.  Some coffee lovers believe this abnormality leads to a fuller flavor profile and a more even roast.   The 2013 Kenyan Ndaroini Peaberry happens to be an exceptional crop.  This isn’t always the case.  As with grapes, coffee fruit fall victim to the whims of various ecological factors.

And for the Chemex?  It utilizes a burr grinder with medium grains sized to ensure complex flavors are evenly released into the cup, as the water, literally, pours over the paper-filtered, coarse grounds into a glass beaker, which incubates quality aromatic liquid.  All of these tedious details allow for uniform brightness, flavor coherence, and a full profile to shine through without the astringency or bitter tannins. For an impressive, educational video on the Chemex, click here.  The Chemex tells the coffee’s story purely and simply, without muddying the waters (if you’ll allow me the bad pun).

My first taste of this coffee could only be described as a journey into Halley’s cup.  There was the exceptional dark fruit flavor accented by a citrusy, smooth finish.  It evolved with the transparency of each sip, hitting the palate one note at a time, followed by the velvety texture of the grounds, best narrated by the melodic quality of the pour over with its discerning clarity.  Can you tell I kinda liked it?

I happened upon this brew with none of the fanfare and all of the dense self-absorption that would typically ensure my missing the rarity of the event.  Had the coffee not shouted its story from the rooftop of my palate, I would have overlooked this convergence.

It wasn’t until after tasting it that I researched the brew and it validated what I suspected from that first sip.  This coffee is a true gem, brimming with thousands of harmonious details.

This season, are your eyes open to the possibility of rare moments?  We’re all likely to miss them in the midst of the mundane, our own busyness, and our self-absorption.  Those moments may be lingering in the recesses of your chipped, coffee mug; the bottom of your thread-bare, strung-up stocking; or the back of your tinged, Christmas bulletin.  To follow up from last week’s post, I’m grateful for the mundane because when I look closely and curiously enough, it intermingles with the sublime the way robust grounds and transparent aromas intermingle in a plain, ceramic mug.

The Descent

Thanksgiving is over and many of us are done picking at the leftovers of turkey, stuffing, and gratitude.  After a month of giving thanks, have you lost sight of what gratitude is beyond word and breath?

Cultivating the discipline of gratitude is an act of being present in word and deed.

This year I want to cultivate a thankful heart for the seemingly mundane, the belabored and burdensome moments.  It’s in those moments that all the doings of the world are nestled.  They are tucked into the centricity of the temporal.

I know they’re there for a reason and that I have much to learn from them.  These unsung moments populate my life and if I ignore them, I’m closing myself off from the teachable.

In that spirit, here’s step one in my life.  I’m thankful for the concrete, textured steps that lead up to my office door. I want to slow the pace of my short ascent to consider all those who will be making the journey down later that day at varying paces–some will skip, others trudge, and some will slink down, worn thin by the difficult work of that hour. Whatever the pace and tenor of the walk, I want to remember that those steps bear the momentary weight of self-revelation, unique and distinct for each person descending.

If gratitude remains immaterial, you may miss the resplendence in the mundane.  What are the concrete, textured steps in your world?  What do they whisper about gratitude?