Author Archives: MaryAnn McKibben Dana

Spiritual Snow Day

Here in northern Virginia, we’ve had a few weather delays and closings this winter, but they’ve mainly been due to extreme cold or wintry mix. All of the hassle, none of the charm. Finally, though, it looks like snow is coming. Five to nine inches if the reports are right.

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Here’s an excerpt from Sabbath in the Suburbs that’s been on my mind as we prepare.

Every swept floor invites another sweeping, every child bathed invites another bathing. When all life moves in such cycles, what is ever finished? The sun goes ’round, the moon goes ’round, the tides and seasons go ’round, people are born and die, and when are we finished? If we refuse rest until we are finished, we will never rest until we die.

—Wayne Muller

It’s Sunday afternoon, and my children are watching the sky. It’s tantalizingly bleak, heavy with gray clouds, but . . . no snow.

“It’s happening again. I don’t get it,” I say to Robert. “Eastern Pennsylvania is getting socked. Areas all around us are getting inches of the stuff. But here? Nothing.”

“It’s a snow bubble,” he says.

People in our area (and our own household) are a little weirded out by the lack of snow this year. We’ve had a couple of flurries, but nothing substantial. Meanwhile areas all around us have gotten hit by snowstorms.

Not everyone loves snow, and it comes with serious downsides— dangerously cold temperatures and occasional power outages, not to mention the impact on the elderly who live alone or people without homes or adequate heating in those homes. But it also gives our area a pause. The DC region seems to depend on one or two moderate snowstorms to release the pressure valve. Schools and the federal government close, and many businesses follow suit. Snow provides a spiritual reset in this fast-paced culture.

The previous year we had a huge snowstorm, dubbed Snowpocalypse or Snowmaggedon depending on the news network. More than two feet of snow fell and the area shut down for the better part of a week. Snowpocalypse was a lot of work, but it also blanketed the area with peace. As a friend wrote on Facebook, “I wonder if snow days are God’s way of saying, ‘If you won’t take a Sabbath for yourself, I’m going to enforce one with this cold manna-type stuff. Have some cocoa and relax, will ya?’”

I love the story she’s talking about: God provides the starving people of Israel with bread in the wilderness, a “fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground” (Ex. 16:14). I’m struck with how improbable the story is. Manna in Hebrew literally means “what is it?” and I laugh to think about the Israelites looking confused but delighted as the desert sky rains breadcrumbs. (As a child, I always pictured it looking and tasting like yellow cake.) Then I picture them scooping up handfuls of the flaky stuff and throwing it at each other . . . a manna-ball fight. Followed by a manna-man-building contest. Then manna angels.

God provides in such eccentric ways. Bread from heaven that feeds a people. A day of rest, cold and crystalline.

Having grown up in Texas and made exactly one snowman as a child—a Yoda-sized thing studded with bits of grass since the dusting of snow was so slight—I can’t get enough of the stuff. I miss it this year, because who doesn’t love a bonus Sabbath? But I’m also glad that we have set aside Sabbath each week. Our calendar will remind us to pause and rest, even if the sky stays clear. We’re never more than six days away from a spiritual snow day.

This Week’s Muffin: Nutty Weekenders

OK, I just came up with that name, but these muffins have chopped pecans and almond extract instead of vanilla, so there you go. And it is indeed a nutty weekend, full of ups and down. Ups include a birthday party for Caroline and for Mom, and a 10K yesterday (on my fourth “runiversary”) in which I bested my previous record by 2 minutes. Downs include our almost 20 year old kitty who is not doing well. She’s getting lot of love today as we prepare to say goodbye this evening.

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It was nice to have some comfort food for a sad day.

These are adapted from the Ultimate Muffin Book.

NUTTY WEEKENDER MUFFINS

This made 12 regular muffins plus about 9 mini muffins, or about 16 regular muffins.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup plus 2 T sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
6 T butter, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon almond extract
turbinado sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare muffin tins with cooking spray or baking cups.
  2. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and chopped pecans in a medium bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, butter, milk, and almond extract.
  4. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir until just combined.
  5. Pour batter into muffin cups. Sprinkle each with turbinado sugar.
  6. Bake for 10 minutes (mini muffins) or 15-18  (regular).

A Pastor without a Congregation

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“Welcome to outside the dome, Traveler. We have been waiting for you.”

Of all the messages I received on my last day of pastoral ministry, this may be my favorite.

I’ve been a pastor for the better part of twelve years, and worked in parish ministry for a good six years before that. The only thing that’s lasted longer in my adult life is my marriage. Until Adam asked me to write for this series, I hadn’t thought much about pastoral identity because for a long time now, pastor=me and me=pastor.

That doesn’t mean I had no life outside of pastoral ministry. Nor does it suggest that I approach my everyday life all “ministered up.” I mean it more in the sense of seeking congruence in my professional and personal identity. I want to be the same person in the pulpit as I am with the swim team carpool—though there are obviously different expectations and norms in each place.

Now I’m a pastor without a congregation.

READ THE REST at Adam Walker Cleaveland’s blog Pomomusings. And check out his whole series on pastoral identity.

This Week’s Muffin: Glazed Grapefruit Poppyseed

We love grapefruit in our house, so I had to try these. Truth be told, they didn’t taste terribly different than lemon poppyseed, but there was a subtle grapefruitiness to them, especially in the glaze.

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This recipe was adapted from Girl Versus Dough. I didn’t have whole wheat pastry flour on hand so I improvised as noted below. I used less milk than the original calls for and ended up needing to add some flour at the end. I’ve reflected these changes in the recipe as best I can.

GLAZED GRAPEFRUIT POPPYSEED MUFFINS

For the muffins:
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest (from about 1 large grapefruit)
  • ⅓ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ cup poppy seeds
  • 1 tablespoon grapefruit juice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup cake flour *
  • 3½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup 2% milk (I used skim–it’s all I had)
For the glaze:
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1¼ cups powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons grapefruit juice
DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease 2 regular-size muffin tins with baking spray or line 14 muffin cups with paper baking cups.
  2. In a large bowl rub sugar and grapefruit zest together with fingers until well-combined and fragrant. Add oil, poppyseeds, grapefruit juice, vanilla and egg. Whisk until combined.
  3. In a separate large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and salt.
    (*If you don’t have these exact types of flour, use about 2 cups and eyeball the consistency of your batter in the next step. You know it’s the right amount because batter should not “pour” but drop into muffin cups with a wet plop.)
  4. To grapefruit-poppyseed mixture, alternately stir in flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, until just combined. Pour batter into prepared muffin tins. Bake 17-20 minutes until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean. Transfer muffins to a cooling rack to cool completely.
  5. In a small bowl, combine ingredients for glaze, adding more grapefruit juice or powdered sugar as needed to achieve desired consistency. Dip top of each muffin in glaze, then return to cooling rack or parchment paper so glaze can drip and set. I only glaze the ones we’re planning to eat and store the leftovers in the fridge. Muffins can be reheated and glazed as you go.

Day 4 of #BoredandBrilliant: Take a Fauxcation

BoredAndBrilliantSquares_ButterflyIt’s day 4 of the Bored and Brilliant Challenge! #BAB is the brainchild of the folks at the New Tech City podcast, who argue that boredom is essential to creativity—our best thinking comes when we allow our minds to be idle. Check out their website and the podcast.  You can also read my reflections on the project.

Today’s challenge:

Your instructions: Set an email auto-reply just as you would if you were out for a real vacation, send an “I’ll be back later” text out on group chat, or put up an away message status on social media.

I haven’t taken part in today’s challenge, since I do something very similar on tech Sabbath days and feel like I get it. But I have lots of friends who use their email signatures to communicate their email habits: “I respond to email only twice a day,” “I don’t check email on X days.”

Then there’s the person whose vacation message says “When I return from vacation I will delete all the messages I received while away. Please re-contact me then.” I can’t decide if that’s brilliant or jerky. Or both.

To be sure, not every profession lends itself to unplugging from the constant nag of email. But many more do than we probably want to admit, especially if you’re talking about a matter of hours rather than days. And as the podcast makes clear, breaking away from the tyranny of the urgent is important for our thinking and productivity.

One way to dip your toe into this practice if today’s challenge seems too hard: take a faux-cation from responding to messages, if not reading them. I check email throughout the day–I’ve never been able to break myself of the practice. Truly urgent messages are dealt with as soon as possible. But I respond to everything else the following day. I find batching them makes them go faster, and often the issue has resolved itself in the meantime. If someone really needs an answer quickly, I find they’re quite resourceful in getting ahold of me.

What do you think? How does a fauxcation, or a tech sabbath sound to you? Check out what people are saying about today’s challenge on Twitter.