My first thought when I read Fr Peck’s suggestion for today’s topic was to break from the pack and write something different. You know, ’cause I’m a rebel like that. Don’t fence me in, bro.
Maybe, also because I was not sure I could find a path to Advent in it. I’ll just admit that here up front.
And then a few things came to mind on the topic so I thought I’d write those down and see where it led.
The first is a statement: I’m not going to get chickens.
I’m not even sure if it’s legal in the city limits here in Chicago though I know I have heard a rooster crowing across the street in my weird neighbors’ overgrown backyard. But I’m not going to get chickens. I know a few people now who are keeping chickens and I love that they’re doing it. It’s unconventional and interesting and the eggs are better than anything you’ll ever get at a full on grocery store. It’s true, I’ve tested this myself. They taste better.
But I’m not going to get chickens. I can barely raise the children with any success. Maybe chickens are easier, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I’m not going to do it.
The second is a story. When my mom was a little girl her grandmother would buy her a baby chick every year for Easter. The details of the transaction are fuzzy to me but the gist is that she’d get a chick and then at some point, that baby chick, having grown into a mighty chicken, would disappear to wherever mighty chickens would go. I suppose my grandparents said she sent it to a farm. Maybe they did. That doesn’t make the end of the story any better for that poor chicken though if you think about it.
I remember she said that one year the chicken grew and stayed around a little longer than usual, that it would sit on my great uncle’s head. It had become a kind of pet. But that one too, found its way to a “farm” at some point. The last chicken grew up into a rooster and that signaled the end of the baby chicks as gifts and/or pets.
The last thought that came to me happened tonight whilst I was cooking, something I do often but not very well. If you ask my family, they will corroborate this information. Having to cook vegan/vegetarian at proscribed times according to the church calendar makes us all a little crazy. I do what I can given the parameters I’m working with- kids who don’t care for onions or garlic, spicy foods or most vegetables if we’re being honest and a husband who does not care for beans or legumes.
They eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches between meals.
When I asked my son, Henry what he’d like me to make to help kick off this lengthy Nativity fast he sighed and said, “whatever it is, could it at least have mashed potatoes…and gravy?”
And so I obliged. I picked up the makings for a vegetarian version of Shepherd’s pie, thinking ahead to the chorus of “ew” that would issue forth when they saw the lentils inside, and grabbed a box of “no chicken” broth. I learned the hard way that straight up vegetable broth makes lousy “gravy” so we went with the “I can’t believe it’s not chicken” version. I don’t know what makes it taste like chicken. I’m a little afraid to ask. It’s not perfect but it comes close.
I thought to myself as I stood in the grocery store aisle that it wouldn’t take much to skip that part of the dish and just bend the rules to make a more “conventional” shepherd’s pie. Who’s going to care? Why do I go to such lengths to fool us all into thinking what we’re doing here is the “ordinary” thing? Who’s going to know if I use real beef or chicken stock?
I’m going to know and for some reason in that moment it really did matter to me. We’re not in an “ordinary” time. This is not a conventional way of operating in this season of Advent. Most of my non Orthodox friends, whether they’re Christians or not, are celebrating already, indulging, merry-making. Once again, as an Orthodox christian I am out of step, by choice, on purpose and I guess that’s the point of it after all.
Perhaps it’s the unconventional that stands out in the long run, at least I can hope it will make for better stories later.