Image @ Hope and Harmony Peanuts: https://hopeandharmonyfarms.com
Bits and Pieces
By Nita Gilger
Fall is coming and Christmas is not far behind which makes me think of peanut brittle. For many years my dad would fill tins with peanut brittle made by his own hand for Christmas gifts. Now my brother has taken up that mantle and I look forward to his gift and craft every December. I also spent time watching my mother-in-law make this special candy. She would spread out the layer of sweet crunchiness on a cookie sheet and when cooled, she would smack the tray down on the counter to break the candy into all sorts of irregular pieces. I have only tried to make brittle once at which point I accidentally poured the super hot candy onto my left hand which caused a third degree burn with blisters as I yanked off my wedding ring pulling skin with it. It is not a good memory. So, thank goodness my brother likes to make this family tradition and share it with me because otherwise, it would not be a treat at Christmas in our home.
Why a conversation about peanut brittle? Go with me. It is because I am thinking about the circle of life. After a long, seemingly endless stretch of COVID, natural climate disasters and all the deaths and hardships for so many, I am wondering how hope remains in our lives in all the rubble and broken pieces. Does it take a special recipe or talented cook/person to survive it all? How can we maintain a deep, abiding hope when life gets difficult? I have a few ideas and, of course, a list.
· We need to be able to name meaning and purpose in our lives. What we do day in and day out needs to matter in some way at the very least to ourselves.
· It is helpful to be open to possibilities and change. I like a sense of fluidity in my life. It is easy to get stuck. While most of us want a feeling of stability, it is important to avoid stagnation. Getting stuck is the extreme version of stability. Being stuck is when our need for stability becomes too rigid. If all I ever want is constant stability and no change, I may find myself with a fossilized kind of stuck-ness.
· Balance is important. If there is too much change, life can become overwhelming and chaotic. While it is true that some change is unavoidable and even necessary, it seems important to balance that whenever and however we can. Beauty can emerge from chaos but so can despair and exhaustion. Self-care is vital. Saying NO to some requests even from close friends and family can be the healthy thing to do on occasion.
The list is far from a Pulitzer Prize kind of list but you have to remember that I started out this conversation talking about peanut brittle and burns--just sayin'. When I left full-time ministry and moved out to the ranch, a dear friend said to me, "I am not sure I understand your decision, but I would ask you to consider one thing. Please don't let your world become too small." I have thought about that advice many times. In some ways my world became larger and the depth of spiritual growth opportunities changed and deepened in ways I could never have predicted. Nature became my Bible in more profound ways. Relationship challenges and broken-heartedness have taught me a kind of love, forgiveness, and growth I never thought would ever happen but did. Life simply is not a cake walk. At times it is glorious and beautiful and at times it brings me to my knees. This season of my life and the world situation calls for juxtaposing the need to balance reality with optimism and hope. It calls for me to hold sorrow and joy in my heart simultaneously. Life's challenges and gifts shout out the need to find some meaning, balance, and purpose in it all. Sometimes there seems no rhyme or reason and yet, I know I will always learn something if I search for it. The long and short of it is that I guess my life is a little like peanut brittle. It is sweet and delicious and has many broken pieces that need care and love and hope. Life is such a paradox. At my deepest core I believe that God is with me in it all not to fix everything and everyone or control all things, but to abide with me.
Prayer: God, I ask that you take my broken pieces and bring me hope and meaning in the circle of life. And, when I mess up and burn my hand, help me to turn to you and others around me who still know how to provide the goodness and sweetness of life for me to share. Amen.
Peanut brittle is sweet and delicious. It's enough to make you wish that you could turn the whole of your life into crunchy, nut-filled candy. And yet...you can't.
One difference between life and peanut brittle is that, with life, it’s impossible to have all the ingredients in advance, much less to pre-measure them. The ingredients come with the living of life, and every new experience becomes, as it were, a new ingredient to be added to the mix. The peanut brittle of our lives is never made; it’s always being made.
Another difference is that we really don't want a brittle life. We want stability, as Nita explains, but not stagnation. We don't want to get "stuck" in a particular phase of our lives, as if there are not alternative possibities for the future. Somehow life's sweetness includes its uncertainties.
However, and here Nita's metaphor is so helpful, once something happens it cannot un-happen. It becomes what Whitehead calls our “past actual world.” In a certain sense it becomes brittle, or at least unchangeable.
When we look back at our past, as Nita does in this essay, we recognize that it came in bits and pieces. How are they held together? Part of their being held together is our memories of them, both conscious and unconscious. But is it our memories alone?
I think not. A key idea in process theology is that, even as we remember our pasts, so the very Mind of the universe, God, also remembers our pasts, in a loving way, with a "tender care that nothing be lost." (Whitehead) God knows the hardships, the trials, the mistakes, the sins, the incoherencies, the contradictions of our lives, and also the pleasures, the joys, the achievements, the moments of kindness, and the consistencies of our lives. Moreover, in God's memory, the tenderness adds a beauty to the whole that we might not be able to see, except in faith. Our lives are sweet to God even when not always sweet to us. Perhaps faith is our way of tasting the sweetness along with God. Nita puts it perfectly:
"The long and short of it is that I guess my life is a little like peanut brittle. It is sweet and delicious and has many broken pieces that need care and love and hope. Life is such a paradox. At my deepest core I believe that God is with me in it all not to fix everything and everyone or control all things, but to abide with me."