Letters from Camp

I never really went to camp as a kid. Sure, we had a wonderful Covenant camp nearby in southern New Hampshire, but my summers were filled with trips to the library, VBS at church, and playing endless games outdoors with my neighborhood friends. The first times I really remember going to camp were in high school for our winter retreats in New York state.

So it’s been a new thing – a wonderful one – to be here at Winnetka, where camp is a way of life. Where kids look forward to summer camp all year long, and sing camp songs on Wednesday nights during the school year, and pile into minivans and church buses on weekends in the fall and winter to trek up to camp for a couple of nights.

I had a couple of opportunities in my first year at WCC to travel to camp at Covenant Harbor, for our women’s retreat and various Central Conference gatherings, but I didn’t make it up to camp at Covenant Point until a couple of years ago. And I was surprised by what I found there.

Not surprised by how beautiful it was – I’d been told, over and over. Nor by how good the food is. Or how wonderful the staff are.

But by how camp feels, and what it does inside of me.

There’s no argument that Point is far. That’s part of what kept me from going, in all honestly, for my first few years here.

It is a long drive, but it is also far from my normal life; far from the city noise outside my windows all day and well into the night. Far from the bustle of everyday living, with its screens and technology and movement and stress. Far from my normal community of friends and neighbors; more often than not, far from my Zoe.

Far from my comfort zone.

Every time I get up to camp, I find myself a little disoriented. Raw. Like not just my iPad and my computer have been stripped away, but some of my feelings of security and my sense of place and identity. I feel a little lost, like a kid going to camp for the first time.

I usually get up to camp wondering why I went. And go to bed longing for home.

But then the thing about camp – so far, without exception – is that I leave deeply glad I came. Feeling rested and restored and connected in ways I do not experience at home.

And it’s the journey in-between those two emotional states that I am pondering today.

What happens in me at camp? How do I go from feeling homesick and heartsick to calm and at peace?

I think I will have to keep going to know for sure, but for now I think it has a great deal to do with people.

Because every time I feel like maybe I shouldn’t have come, God seems to give me a little nudge in the opposite direction through the presence, words, or actions of a person.

This weekend, it was the kids greeting me at Friday breakfast.

The staff person who helped pull my truck out of the snow (yes, I did get it stuck there).

The family who invited me to their Thursday night pizza dinner in town.

The friends who brought me on my first snowshoeing trip.

With enough of these little nudges, I remember how wonderful and vital community is, and how connecting can be intimidating and tiring (especially for us introverts) but how it is abundantly worth it.

And after a few days, or at most a week, I go home feeling thankful for all if it. For being stretched and uncomfortable, and for learning new things and being more fully present than I have been for a while.

That is as true this morning, after a few days at camp with our church family, as it has ever been. I am tired, I am glad to have my bed back, but I am so grateful I got to go to camp, and already looking forward to the next visit.

-Pastor Jen

Rest and Work

This snowy Wednesday afternoon I am tired. You know the feeling. It almost aches to keep my eyes open, as I sit and read the same sentence of a book over and over without even realizing it! The book drops. My head droops. I think my body is trying to tell me something! I need to close my eyes and rest, I need to stop what I’m doing for awhile.

This is Godly, God-like, right there in the beginning on the seventh day of creation: “And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” (Genesis 2:2-3) A Rabbi once told me that in this text God the Hebrew words find God ceasing, and then exhaling, letting his breath out. there’s a helpful image!

What’s interesting is the connection between rest and creating, or “all the work he had done” as it says two times. Rest is necessary and a great investment in the to do list always waiting for action. What I also know is that this idea is not valued and re-enforced, especially in we of the protestant work ethic and our American way of driving ourselves forward.

(Getting up to grab another cup of coffee…now back to writing this blog!)

In the fall of 1992 I learned my lesson. Having recently arrived in Stockholm Sweden for a year long internship at the Immanuel Covenant Church. Mid-way through morning number one a stranger appeared at my door, peeked in and asked, “Ska Vi Fika?” , waited to see if I knew what she was asking, and then followed up the silence with a command: “time for coffee!” Not finding a mug in my office, I followed her to a common space where everyone was. Seeing the cups across the room, and walking around the growing laughter and conversation, I filled my cup and turned to make my way back to work.

“No! No!” pastor Ake shouted as though he expected me to disappear. “Now we Fika, we sit together and drink coffee here together, not alone in our offices.” “Come and join us!” Nervously, I did. The same crazy thing happened mid-afternoon. After couple months I realized that I wasn’t tired at the end of the day, and that was happily connected in community, and that I was looking forward to my work.

But I had to be forced to stop. And not necessarily to rest by sleeping, but by ceasing for fifteen minutes or so, and then getting back to it. I learned in that time that stepping away for a bit and turning off productivity investing in collegial relationships and thinking about other things lights the fuse for the work to do when returning.

Think about it in your own context. “Work” can be your job, your school schedule, your volunteering, whatever your day’s list contains. It is good and necessary to rest for a bit, like God did before getting back to creating again.

My honest confession is that much of this is lost on me these days. but my body mind and spirit are preaching to me. Now it’s 3:30. Wednesday night dinner and refuel looms. the sermon clock is ticking. There’s calls to make and prayers to pray. I’m done with my fourth cup of coffee. I’ve talked myself into closing my eyes for twenty minutes. Alarm set. Back to work soon.

Love from here!

Peter Hawkinson

The Stigmatized Church

Stigma is a means of excluding or discrediting someone that is deemed by the majority culture as socially deviant and is usually identified with bodily deformities, moral or behavioral differences, and difference in ethnicity, culture, and religion.

I’m a third of the way through the book Saved by Faith and Hospitality by Joshua Jipp, who is assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He says, “Hospitality is the act or process whereby the identity of the stranger is transformed into that of guest. The primary impulse of hospitality is to create a safe and welcoming place where a stranger can be converted into a friend.

Jipp wrestles with this hospitality as it comes to life in Jesus, who he says “grants divine hospitality to the ‘other’ without distinction, exemplified in his welcome to sinners and the religious, men and women, rich and poor, and Jews and Gentiles….Jesus’ extension of divine hospitality appears as indiscriminate — which is precisely the feature of Jesus’s ministry that annoys so many of the religious leaders of his time.” (p.18)

All well and good. We’re wrestling with that welcome all the time.

But then he says this: “The church is called to participate in Jesus’s hospitality among sinners and outcasts by embracing a stigmatized identity that follows from sharing life together with all of God’s people. the Church must embody God’s hospitality by considering what it might look like to embrace a stigmatized identity.” (p.19). This is a fascinating thing to ponder…that to follow Jesus and minister in his name means to accept and even embrace a stigmatized identity in the world, and often even in the religious community! He quotes Heather Vacek, who says “religious stigmatization is evidence of faithful practice.” (p.42)

Over the past few years, we as a local Church have been wrestling with what it means to be a stigmatized community. In our deep discernment and earnest struggle to embrace the hospitality of Jesus, which is about embrace and welcome, we have been stigmatized by our own larger Christian community, experiencing our own exclusion and unwelcome as those seeking to be inclusive. Again, Jipp in reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son and his brother notes that “Jesus tangibly extends God’s friendship to those who, in the eyes of others, are not righteous, have a low status, and are viewed as unworthy of friendship with God… and the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling, and saying, “this one extends hospitality to sinners and eats with them! It should not escape the reader that the charge brought against Jesus (extending hospitality to sinners and tax collectors) is exactly what Jesus himself described as the very purpose of his mission (“to proclaim the year of the Lord’s welcome”)...Jesus compassionately extends God’s hospitality to any of the religious leaders who might relate with the elder son and be in need of a reorientation in their understanding of their relationship with their merciful Father AND fellow neighbors who are being welcomed into God’s family.”

Here, two thousand years later, as the ministry of Jesus’ welcome unfolds in a new way, the religious part of us still is resistant, dismissive, and largely unwilling to follow his lead. And those who do are stigmatized. I’m praying today for colleagues and churches on deck for church trials and likely dismissals, because they are trying to love like Jesus does.

And as painful as this is, we must with all earnest desire continue to follow Jesus wherever his love reaches, which is after all, everywhere! May we always and forever embrace Jesus’s stigmatized identity for the purpose of God’s love that he embodies.

Love from Here!

Peter Hawkinson

P.S. This book is to be the subject of a lenten zoom study led by Rev. Jason Mohn and Exodus World Service, which is a ministry of welcoming refugees in our midst. I hope you’ll get a copy and join the discussion. Info is here:

The words “saved by faith alone” are a hallmark of the protestant movement. Yet have you ever wondered if there is more to the Christian faith than a simple mental accent to a curated list of theological concepts? What place does hospitality play in the Christian faith? Exodus World Service is hosting a six-week virtual Book Club during Lent on the book “Saved by Faith and Hospitality” by Joshua W. Jipp, Associate Professor of New Testament at TEDS in Deerfield, IL to explore these questions.  

The Book Club will be hosted virtually starting Thursday, February 23rd from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. (the day after Ash Wednesday) and gather weekly for six weeks, concluding on Thursday, March 30th (the Thursday before Holy Week). Interested participants can sign up to participate via this form. Participants who register will receive the link for the virtual meeting after registering. Each participant should purchase the book and read the first chapter before the first meeting. 

Questions about the Book Club can be directed to Jason O. Mohn, Director of Church and School Engagement at Exodus World Service (jason.mohn@exodusworldservice.org

Peace,

Jason

The Beloved Community

As I sit in my living room, cozy and dry despite the rain pouring down outside today, I am thinking of the group who are right now making their way around Evanston in an interfaith “Walk for Warmth.” I am thinking, too, about the Community Renewal Society’s Faith in Action assembly starting just shortly down in Chicago. And these are just two of the local events I’m aware of, two of certainly dozens or more, attempting to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. today, and to continue his legacy by joining in his work.

I subscribe to a daily newsletter summary on my email called theSkimm, exceedingly popular with millennials, which breaks down each day’s news in a few highlights that I can quickly digest before going about my day. And I was pleased to note that, today, the Skimm’s editors chose to devote all of their content to MLK Day. They reminded me that there are always options for doing something, even if it is small, to keep pursuing King’s “beloved community” – a vision derived in no small part from scripture. It is a community where no one has too little while others have too much; where everyone is included, and valued, and cared for. A community marked by love and generosity.

Today’s newsletter listed ideas for pursuing the beloved community for all of the following: people who have time, people who have money, and people who have skills to donate in service of this mission. All of us, I bet, have at least one of those. And all of them – indeed, all of us, are needed.

So often, when I talk about “time, talents, and resources” (i.e. money), it’s in the context of congregational stewardship. We need all of these, after all, to keep Winnetka Covenant Church going. But today reminds me that the vision is so much bigger than that. We don’t just need each other to share these things for our church and ourselves, but for our community and our world.

We need to remember that the beloved community won’t come through the work of one amazing activist, or a small group of them. It will require everyone to participate in some way. To sacrifice one meal out so they can give that $20 to a charitable organization, or to take one hour to have a difficult conversation about racism, or to knit one warm hat to give to a clothing drive.

Jesus once said to his disciples that “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Today I am imagining how much we could change if the workers were many. It’s a dream that Rev. Dr. King shared, and one that still aches to come true.

How will you join in, today or in the days to come? Where is the Spirit prompting you, to join in the work of pursuing the Beloved Community?

-Pastor Jen

The Power of Celebration

This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. (Psalm 126:3)

Over the last weekend I was surprised by joy. I mean, I knew it was going to be a happy time as Bonnie and I made our way to Peoria for the wedding of Peter Sudhoff and Erica Lee. But throughout the weekend I experienced the kind of celebration that liberated me from the burdens I brought with me. I felt invited to be free from them for awhile.

There were many moments. Finally encountering the sun for a bit on the Friday afternoon drive after so many gloomy days in a row. The radiant joy on the faces of Steve and Mollie to greet us. The deep holy breath I saw Peter take as he watched Erica moving toward him down the aisle, and the emotive love expressed by Erica and Peter as they shared their vows. The banquet that followed, up on a high bluff overlooking the river, with friends new and old. The clanging glasses, the toasts to life and love, the feasting, the music and dancing, and the laughter, the laughter everywhere.

Now I’ve been to many, many weddings, and I know that what I speak of here is not unusual. My record book tells me this was the seventy-fifth time I’ve had the holy privilege of standing with a couple in their most holy moment of life.

But there was something this time that liberated my spirit, invited me into a deep remembering of life’s gift and goodness. I drove home with a profound sense that the Spirit of God had a meeting with me there, and invited me into gladness, to let the isolating fog of the last three years and the unprecedented challenges of ministry that companion me through these days be gone for awhile.

I’m still basking in that celebration, and am going to stubbornly hold onto that invitation as long as I can. It was a healing and transformative time for me.

What I want to say is that celebration is a powerful mitigating remedy for the challenges we face and the sorrows we hold. And though weddings are wonderful, it need not be such a planned and festive celebration; we can make plans to seek out gladness and joy right in the middle of our ordinary days. Knowing yourself best, it’s up to you to figure out what that looks like.

I just know I’ve been reminded again of the healing power celebration has!

God bless and keep Peter and Erica!

Dark Shines the Light

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world…the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1)

It’s challenging to wake up in the dark these days! I much prefer warm bright summer bird-noisy alarms than the one I have to set now. The cold and dreary winter skies seem to do their level best to conspire against the light. What I’m grateful for is that my waking eyes face east, for me to notice that even on most of these dark and dreary days, the rising sun’s light somehow wins the battle for a brief time, over the great lake, before it’s shut out again. The light shines in the darkness, and colors up the sky, ever so briefly. Our feast of Epiphany begins tomorrow, January 6. 

Light is the Church’s theme in January, in the darkest days of the year, for a brief time between Christmas and Lent. Epiphany is its name, and the words means, a revealing, a sudden manifestation. It begins with the starlight leading the Magi to the manger, ramps up with the baptism and temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, illuminates scenes of Jesus’ ministry, and concludes with his transfigured moment of blazing glory. The resounding message of the ministry of Jesus is the inclusion of the Gentiles as God’s people, chosen for love and grace, salvation’s wonder. It’s a gift to us who live in the darkness, captured by Walter Brueggemann in his prayer/poem, Epiphany:

On Epiphany day, 

            We are still the people walking, still people in the dark,

            And the darkness looms large around us,

            Beset as we are by anxiety, brutality, violence, loss—

            A dozen alienations that we cannot manage.

We are – we could be – people of your light.

So we pray for the light of your glorious presence

            As we wait for your appearing.

We pray for the light of your wondrous grace

            As we exhaust our coping capacity;

We pray for the gift of newness 

that will override our weariness;

We pray that we will see and know and hear and trust

            In your good rule,

That we may have energy, courage and freedom

            To enact your rule through the demands of this day.

We submit our day to you and to your rule,

            With deep joy and high hope. 

Dark shines the light. Looking forward to worship in the blessed community where the Spirit comes to remind us it is so!

Love from Here — Peter Hawkinson

Solidarity With The Shepherds

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round them, and they were sore afraid. But the angel said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2)

The universal nature of the Christmas good news comes from the angel to the shepherds. I’m so glad!

For as the late Lutheran pastor Walt Wangerin reflects,

“This time the angel grows bright before a bunch of nameless folk. First it was Zechariah, next Mary, next Joseph, all of whom had roles to play in the coming of the Christ — but now…shepherds! These, not even the owners of their sheep, they are working stiffs who don’t even get a name….and here comes Gabriel again, and what he says is “good tidings of great joy…for ALL people!” Well, of course. That’s why the shepherds are first: they represent ALL the nameless, ALL the working stiffs, the great wheeling population of the whole world.” (preparing for Jesus)

Some years ago I tried to reflect on what the shepherds must have been thinking….I wrote: “Why us?” was the common topic. We were the last who’d expect such a visit, and any news of a messiah. We’re shepherds, with least privilege and power, many of us never even called by our names. Surely this arrival was meant for the rabbis and scribes keeping vigil at the temple in Jerusalem, a holy place where we aren’t even allowed. Why us, why us? Yet here we were, running down the hills through the city gate to look for a baby in a barn, we strangely blessed, excited and fearful to see. And we found them, I know not how, but we found them.”

The shepherds seems a parable of the whole utterly astonishing surprise of the Christmas story. Just consider it. A teenage unwed mother-to-be, and a virgin at that. A sleepy, little, out of the way village becoming the epicenter of God’s incarnation. The messiah — envisioned to come as a warrior king to take over the world by power and force — instead shows up on the scene as a baby, utterly dependent on Mary and Joseph for even one day of life. He is laid not on a throne but in a cattle trough. And to top it all off, the news comes first to shepherds at work in the fields. They’re the ones who take care of things so that others have time to be religious — domestic servants you might say. In this sense, the unexpected involvement of the shepherds at the center of the story fits perfectly, because everything about the coming of Jesus is so very surprising.

The challenge for me, for us, is to overcome our familiarity with the story, and our romanticizing of it. How to allow my life and everything about life as I know it to be turned upside down by the surprise of it all? That’s the holy question. While we, like those unnamed bedouin, just zip through life, exhausted by all the cultural trappings around us, imagine, just imagine, if you were to hear the story for the first time, and encounter an angel somewhere on Hibbard Road?

I’m so thankful for those shepherds, who are the exclamation point on what seems like only a tall tale. Without even trying they widen the net of this good news of great joy to include ALL people, everywhere, and especially those least considered and most unexpected.

I hope sometime in all your plans and parties, maybe in an anticipated moment when someone you love looks into your eyes and hands you a gift, you might get more than you bargained for — a still small voice speaking to your spirit tidings of comfort and joy that suddenly take your fear and sorrow all away, until you raise your hands to your cheeks and welcome the coming of Jesus, as if for the first time, not knowing if ever the Savior would come. And the Savior has come.

And in your own way, join the shepherd parade to go and see this thing that has taken place. SHEPHERDS!

Joy and Peace, and hope to see you Saturday at 4 p.m.!

Peter

The Holy Interruption

Well, friends, here we are.

The week leading up to Christmas.

A span of days that I think of as “Christmas crunch time,” when those of us who have delayed shopping are suddenly consumed with gift lists and delivery dates and rush shipping costs. When those of us who have been working steadily on holiday to-do’s all along are nearing the end of our lists: cards all but mailed, wrapping nearly done, most of the cookies baked and some gifts already delivered.

Students are just finishing finals or beginning to recover from them. Teachers are in those last few frenzied days before vacation begins.

Most of us, I am willing to bet, are weary. That could be the normal weariness of a season that asks a lot of us, from calendars full of gatherings, programs, special events, and concerts, to extra cleaning, extra cooking, shopping and wrapping. Or it could be the bone-deep weariness that sets in after a hard year, or a hard series of years.

It could be the weariness of those who are grieving this season. Those who are struggling with seasonal depression. Those who are overwhelmed by memories of Christmases past – good or bad – and unsure of what the present or future contains.

Take your pick, really.

And wherever you are starting this week, the intensity only seems to mount as we get closer to Christmas Eve.

Now, I tend to have one of about three reactions to this kind of mounting stress and tension.

  1. I kick into high gear, as my mom might say. I make lists, and cross them off. I don’t sit down for most of the day. I get stuff DONE.
  2. I get overwhelmed and do less and less. I don’t know where to start, so I don’t. And I watch holiday baking competitions on tv, and scroll through videos of dogs in Christmas pjs, and I try to ignore the list that is growing longer of things I have yet to do.
  3. (This is the least likely option, if I am honest.) I take a deep breath, and look at my list, and realize that very little of it is as important as I make it out to be. I simplify. I try to be present, and loving, and kind. I pray for patience and try to show it even when I don’t feel patient.

I was thinking of all this today, as I sat down to read my Advent devotion (I’m reading this one by Kate Bowler). And today’s reading reminded me of a tradition called Las Posadas, begun in sixteenth-century Mexico, of reenacting that tender moment when Mary and Joseph seek a room at the inn. Traditionally, a small procession walks to a designated house after dark and re-enacts a dialogue between Joseph and the innkeeper, who is annoyed and stubborn and refusing him and his pregnant wife any room. But at some point, he recognizes the two weary travelers, and invites them in.

The scene is carried out for nine days, at nine different houses, culminating in a big party on Christmas Eve. People gather and celebrate the hospitality extended to Mary and Joseph and by extension baby Jesus: the willingness to be interrupted. To share when it feels like there is nothing left to give. To find a well of something – kindness, generosity – when we thought we were dry.

This, I think, is a key part of the Christmas story that we miss when we rush to the nativity scene and the birth.

That for the story to happen as we know it, someone had to be willing to stop, and look, and recognize holiness in their midst. To be inconvenienced for the sake of another in need.

It’s a good reminder for Christmas crunch time. A necessary reminder. That perhaps the best gift we can give to God, and to one another, is to be willing to be interrupted. To be kind, above all else. To make space for each other. To care for one another. And perhaps there, to find Immanuel, God with us, even where we least expect to.

I hope you will be surprised by some holy interruptions this Christmas, too.

Yours,

Pastor Jen

Stubborn Faith Via Bruce Cockburn

“…but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

For a time now I’m going to reflect on some favorite rock and roll lyrics that carry and challenge my spirit. I must begin with Bruce Cockburn, the Canadian troubadour who must be my favorite poet also. You must check out his music library.

These lines from his song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” (album is Stealing Fire) have journeyed with me through life since my college days when they first appeared:

“When you’re lovers in a dangerous time Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

They seem to ring true more than ever before, like loud clanging bells these days, in these hard years filled with challenge, most especially in and for the church. I’m of the opinion that we are in a profound re-formation that history will mark and remember. Some of the Church is gathered around a growing, driving impulse to be more inclusive as we become more and re-focused on the gospels and the love of Jesus. This impulse is being challenged, and appropriately so, by much of the Church that can’t locate that impulse biblically and theologically. So the debate rages on, often as we forget that what we are at odds about after all is love, and the will to love.

As I reflect on the Jesus of the gospels, it would be fair I think to identify him as “a lover in a dangerous time” who was certainly “made to feel as if his love’s a crime”. He was rejected, arrested, beaten and crucified in the end because his love for the world reached consistently beyond the borders of the religious establishment. His ferocious fight had only one weapon, and that was love. And he told his friends that it was love more than anything else that would bring light into a dark world. His was a stubborn and relentless love, intentionally directed at the unclean, unwelcome, and unwanted.

Now it’s our turn! And we should not be surprised that the journey we take to speak and act out the love of Jesus will bring division, rejection, and suffering. But we must persist, even if stubbornly, to “kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight” and to fight for the love of Christ Jesus to light up the darkness that’s in each of us, and then through us the world around us.

In another one of Bruce Cockburn’s songs, he writes:

“There’s roads and there’s roads and they call. Can’t you hear it? Roads of the earth and roads of the spirit. The best roads of all are the ones that aren’t certain One of those is where you’ll find me ‘Til they drop the big curtain.” (“Child of the Wind”)

I am learning through the journey of life that the call to follow Jesus is a call to uncertainty in terms of how things will go in the world, and even sometimes in the religious world — but he road walked with Jesus is the road of all-healing love, and light, and so the best road of all. It requires a stubborn faith to keep going when the going gets tough when the days are dangerous and even love seems a crime.

This is our call, our life’s most central vocation. What do you think?

Peter Hawkinson

Enchiladas

My sister Mary from Minnesota joined us for thanksgiving. We had a wonderful time drinking coffee, laughing, and telling stories, sharing memories together. Mary is number three in the birth order, four years ahead of me, so we spent a lot of our childhood together. At one point in the festivities I simply gave her some sort of special look while I pointed up at the top of the hutch above our dining room table. I knew she’d remember. And she did. “ENCHILADAS!” she almost screamed with joy.

Up there on top of the hutch sits the copper skillet, the very copper skillet that our grandma Lydia used to make enchiladas; well, the enchilada tortillas. One by one she made them for our extended Hawkinson Christmas family gatherings, when in the late sixties and early seventies there might be thirty or forty of us crowded into their flat on Christiana avenue.

The issue was this, that because those enchiladas were so very delicious, Lydia needed to make, in my estimation, at least two hundred tortillas, one by one, on that little skillet, let alone all the fillings — hers were mildly, rather “Swedishly” seasoned ground beef, cheese, and brown beans. Like being faced with Nanna’s Maple Bars or Oma’s Rye Bread or a bag of Fritos (you pick your favorite food you cannot stop eating here), the over/under on these enchiladas was 5. I think one year my cousin Tim set the record at 12.

Of course Lydia didn’t have to do this — and how she got all those corn tortillas ready to cook up I’ll never know, but wish I did. She could have made it easy on herself; after all there were only two houses to the corner and Foster foods. But there she will ever remain, laboring with love, carefully cooking up hundreds of enchiladas for the generations to gulp down.

And of course, it’s not really about the enchiladas, but about the sacred memories of those childhood christmases, and so many who were there who aren’t anymore, and so many who I rarely if ever see anymore. There’s uncle Zen with his homemade jul must (root beer!). Aunt Barb, ever the preschool teacher, gathers us kids to tell us a Christmas story. Grandpa Eric, ever the stoic, sits in the corner with a sly and delighted smirk. My dad is in his early forties and full of life! And mom at some point gets to the piano and gets us all singing. My oldest Cousin Tom is back from Illinois Wesleyan; and my youngest brother Paul is a toddler, “Pauly-wally” in those days. What memories.

And, of course, it is about the enchiladas. They were scrumptious.

So what thing, what object is laying close by somewhere in your home, and what memories does it hold for you? What are those memories for you? Tastes and smells, faces and voices?

Love From Here

Peter Hawkinson