I was raised in the Presbyterian tradition by a Presbyterian-raised father and a mother who adopted one particular Presbyterian church because of its music program. In my growing up years, we went to that same Presbyterian church most Sunday mornings, though the habit became less and less regular as we grew older. When my parents separated and later divorced, our Sunday church seats, on the right side of the balcony, were our family throughline. So strong was that tie that part of me wanted to sit in those right-side balcony seats, not the left front row of the sanctuary, for my mother’s funeral.
During my college years I drifted toward the Episcopal tradition, and in my 20s I was confirmed in and joined an Episcopal church where I taught 7th grade Sunday school until one of the parents complained about what she saw as an overemphasis on Jewish traditions during Easter lessons.
When my own children were young, as I’ve written before (and won’t belabor again today), I once again taught Sunday school, though to younger children who were just as funny and interesting as 7th graders.
All of that context, then, to underscore that Sundays have always had, in one form or another, a thread of faith and family to them, whether or not they’ve included actual church attendance. Sunday, for me, is a day to contemplate, to reset, and to reconnect, both with myself and with the world around me. When I was a runner (hard to believe, I know), Sundays were my long run days. When I switched from running to biking, Sundays were long ride days.
So I’ve described my Sunday routines, in their various iterations, as “church of running,” “church of biking,” “church of fly fishing,” and “church of The New York Times.”
What I’ve meant, though I didn’t understand it consciously until recently, is that Sunday is the day when I fill my proverbial cup.
For me to fill that cup (after filling, and emptying a literal cup (or three) of good coffee), I prefer to start the day with no chores, instead coming into a clean kitchen, sitting in a clean room to read (or write), exercising for a duration of my choosing, putting on clean clothes when I’m ready to dress, and having time and space to do something enjoyable. It’s why, for me, Saturday is cleaning day. (Side note: It has warmed my heart to learn, after yesterday’s post, that others also have “mixed marriages,” as it were, dealing with a partnership between Saturday cleaner and Sunday cleaner.)
Perhaps my approach to Sunday seems selfish and in opposition to the ideas of both communion and charity that are so deeply embedded in the idea of church and religion.
You are welcome to see it that way, though I’ll invite you to dig beneath the surface of that reaction, if that’s your immediate response to the idea of Sunday as self-care day.
A story for you, as you think that one through:
I left the church in which my children were both baptized, the church in which I was confirmed in the body of the Episcopal faith, after a nasty spat with the then-rector about who was, or wasn’t, deserving of care.
In the way that my mother joined the Presbyterian faith because one particular Presbyterian church spoke to the music in her soul, I joined the Episcopal tradition because this one particular church spoke to the ecumenism in mine. That we are all one, equally divine, equally deserving of loving kindness and care, is my deeply-held belief. Embedded in that belief is the companion perspective that we all have pain, brokenness, and unmet needs, though our material and spiritual needs look very different across race, religion, and economics.
I feel this truth more acutely now than ever. The past two years have offered us a chance to look differently at human needs, at our need for companionship and communion, our need for connection, and our need for things both tangible and abstract that support emotional wellbeing and balance. We’ve seen, and are still seeing, the reality of compassion fatigue, the toll on caregivers (including parents) (especially parents) who are pouring from empty cups.
If that’s you, if you are trying to pour from an empty cup, believing that your own cup is somehow less worthy, less needy than another empty cup, then I invite you to poke at that, to consider an honest look at whether that behavior is truly charitable or self-destructive martyrdom.
If, on the other hand, you are “blessed” both with a full cup and the ability to refill it as needed, then I invite you consider how that full cup might pour kindness, patience, and understanding into the cups of friends, family, and strangers — all of the people you meet, the store clerks, nurses, teachers, doctors, airport security staff, counselors, and clergy.
Fill your cup, and then help fill the cups around you, first with gifts of spirit and then, if needed and wanted, with practical, tangible things, too.
One of the things I enjoy doing on Sunday is cooking something that takes time. Last week, before my son headed back to college, we gathered the ingredients to make green chile chicken, and he made a batch mostly on his own. We aren’t recipe people, as you surely already know, so I can offer only general instruction on this one: A mix of chicken breasts and thighs (skinless, boneless), an onion (thinly sliced or chopped), garlic (pressed or minced), and a bag (or two) of green chiles that have been roasted and peeled (and, in our case, frozen). All of that goes into a Dutch oven and cooked, in a slow oven, for about three hours, until the meat falls apart at the touch of a fork. Do we cook the onions and garlic in oil first? Sometimes. Do we sear the chicken pieces? Sometimes. What I’ve found is that it makes no difference in the long run, especially if we’re going to use that stew as tamale filling, as my son wanted to do (and did). If the chile is super hot (meaning spicy), then we’ll sometimes split it into two containers after it’s cooked, adding a can of diced tomatoes to one batch. The tomatoes sweeten the stew and balance the heat nicely. A dollop of sour cream will temper it even more, if needed.
Last Sunday I also made a pot of grits, at my daughter’s request. I cook grits in a mixture of broth and cream, so the fat in the cream gets into the grains and plumps them out in an utterly delicious way.
This kind of slow Sunday cooking often leaves leftovers, which can make for an easier Thursday evening, when the Sunday dish is on its last day before needing to be thrown out, right?
And since I mentioned it on Thursday, I’ll now share the “recipe” of sorts:
- Spread leftover grits in a casserole dish (or square Pyrex)
- Spread a can of refried beans over the grits
- Spoon leftover green chile chicken (mixed with a can of diced tomatoes) on top of the beans
- Sprinkle (generously) shredded cheese on top and bake, covered, for about 30 minutes, until it’s heated through. Remove the cover for the last 10 minutes of cooking to get a nice color on the melted cheese.
Serve with or without a spoonful of sour cream, chopped cilantro, and a slice of lime.