Angels Among Us

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. . . each soul is both a kingdom in itself
And part of some incorporating whole that
Feels and has a face and lets it live forever . . .
. . . an unseen presence
Tracing out the contours of a world erased . . .

—from “Falling Water” by John Koethe

The New England Aster is a lovely wildflower. Its scientific name, Aster novae-angliae, employs the latin root aster or star to gesture toward the frame of delicate petals that radiate from each golden face. Asters are blooming right now where I live, and probably inherited their common name—Michaelmas daisy—from a cousin that grows in Europe and blooms around the same time—that is, the Michaelmas season.

The Michaelmas daisy is startlingly beautiful to behold and yet its splendor so often goes unseen. Its colors are striking, and range from deep purple, to pink, to a glorious pale lavender. And, still, as often as not we walk—or drive—right past them. They flourish in thickets of weeds that gird disused industrial buildings, in clumps of foliage that spring up in abandoned lots, along the sunlit edges of highways and byways, concealed in out-of-the-way places where no one thinks to look for beauty. There they wait in the shadows of showier blooms, patiently growing taller as the summer months tick along, before they suddenly burst into color just as the growing year comes to an end. They are stars on Earth, the last glorious rays of warmth and light in a darkening world.

As the name suggests, the Michaelmas daisy blooms simultaneously with the Church’s annual celebration of angels. Today is the Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels (or St. Michael and All Angels), also known as Michaelmas (pron. Mick-el-mas). It is one of my favorite feast days of the Church year. We are so often preoccupied with human endeavors, and it’s wonderful to take a whole day and remember that we’re not alone down here. More than ever, we need the angels’ guidance and protection—St. Michael, ora pro nobis (pray for us)!

Like the Michaelmas daisy hiding in plain sight the angels also are hidden from us, though their work is visible in our lives if we look for it. St. Jerome, in his commentaries on the Gospel of Matthew, wrote, ” . . . How great the dignity of the soul, since each one has from his birth an angel commissioned to guard it.” It is reassuring to know that despite the strife, devastating loneliness, frustration, disappointment, and anguish that seems to accompany modern life, there are heavenly beings watching over us and aiding us in our struggles.

Even if we can’t see something, can we be sure it doesn’t exist? Does the Michaelmas daisy not bloom in spite of our disregard for it? We might someday catch a glimpse of an angel—perhaps in the same way we might see the flash of purple petals on a hillside in early autumn as we drive by—but not be quite sure just exactly what it was that we saw. Once I learned to see the Michaelmas daisy, I could see them everywhere. Perhaps the same is true of angels; we simply need to learn how to see them.

Yes, I believe that angels are among us—do you?

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Lubec 2018

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Our Daily Bread

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Honor the Lord with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.

—Proverbs 3:9-10 (KJV)

[Note: This post is a continuation of “Joy in Work“]

We did it! We actually succeeded in our goal to make a loaf of bread (or, as it turns out, a dozen bread rolls) starting from seed. We planted the wheat, tended it, harvested it, threshed it, winnowed it, ground it into flour, and baked it into bread.

The whole process took almost a full calendar year from start to finish, with the wheat berries planted mid-September and the bread baked and eaten on Lammas (or loaf-mass), the old pagan and Christian harvest feast celebrated on August 1st. It was a laborious process, but also incredibly interesting and rewarding. I have grown vegetables for several years now, but this experiment has given me a whole new understanding of, and appreciation for, the abundance of food to which I have effortless access. For more details about the process, see the end of this post.

Special thanks to my wonderful mother-in-law, Sharon, who is a world-class bread baker and guided us through the last step of the journey.

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Garden Notes

For those interested in the gory details.

Growing & Harvesting

Our 4×8 foot raised bed yielded just over a quarter cup of wheat berries (a little over 1/2 cup of flour)—admittedly, a very poor showing. There were several factors that I believe contributed to this pathetic return:

1) Wheat was planted very haphazardly, which resulted in clumping that impeded growth.
2) Raised bed was too shallow for this crop—the roots of mature winter wheat are 4-6 feet long, so in this cramped space the roots just tangled around each other, unable to penetrate down through the landscape fabric that lines the bed.
3) Vermin! Squirrels, birds, and perhaps later mice (while drying in the garage) gobbled up the largest, healthiest, and most mature wheat berries, leaving stunted stragglers behind.

I plan to take all of these factors into consideration as I plan for next year’s crop which is to be planted next month. I will not be planting in a raised bed again, due to the root issues, so I am currently scoping out a good location in the yard that has adequate sun for growing grain.

It would have been really neat to harvest with a sickle, but as it happened we were pressed for time and just ended up snipping the stalks down with kitchen shears, bundling them with yarn, and storing in the garage (Note to self: Do not store grain where rodents live!)


It is VERY difficult to thresh grain—that is, free the wheat berries from the stalks—on a small scale. Most of the methods used to thresh grain without equipment do not work. In the end, the most efficacious method I tried was to hand-process each stalk, one wheat berry at a time (I pushed them out from the bottom up). That took me several hours over the course of two days. Other methods I tried (unsuccessfully) were bashing the stalks against the side of a bucket, and stomping on stalks inside a pillowcase. Both methods freed some of the wheat berries, but left so many still clinging that I had to go through each one by hand, anyway.

On the other hand, it is VERY easy to winnow grain—that is, separate the wheat berries from the chaff—on a small scale. It’s impossible to avoid getting any chaff in with the wheat when threshing it, even when threshing by hand, so it is necessary to separate the two later. I had great success using two buckets and a fan. I poured the grain from one bucket to the other in front of a fan—the wheat berries, being heavier, fell into the bucket, while the chaff simply blew away. It took about ten times of pouring from one bucket to the other to clear away all the chaff, which left me with just the wheat berries.

I ground the wheat using my Lehman’s Grain Mill—truth be told, my much stronger husband ground most of it, including the boughten wheat berries we used to supplement the ones we grew.

Joy in Work

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‘The nearer the bone the sweeter the meat,’ they used to say, and they were getting very near the bone from which their country ancestors had fed. Their children and children’s children would have to depend wholly upon whatever was carved for them from the communal joint, and for their pleasure upon the mass enjoyments of a new era.
—from Lark Rise to Candleford by Flora Thompson

Sometime last summer, probably when I was reading Lark Rise to Candleford or watching the television series of the same name, I got a bee in my bonnet. This bee took the form of a desire to experience, firsthand, the world of mowers, and gleaners, and bobbin lace-makers —to travel back to a time when workers sang their way across the field. Make no mistake: I don’t romanticize the past. Our ancestors worked hard, no doubt harder than I ever will in my whole life. But, was there joy in it, too?

To try and answer that question, I decided to grow some wheat—not a whole field, but just enough to make one loaf of bread. In the fall, we planted one of our 4×8 foot raised beds with hard, red winter wheat, and waited to see what would happen. The wheat sprouted, the snows came, the snows melted, and the wheat began to green in the warm spring sun. Over the next couple of months the wheat grew tall, pushed out spikes, and began to brown in the hot summer sun. As soon as the grains began to swell, the birds and squirrels descended; thankfully, I was able to preserve most the wheat from these interlopers by building an elaborate net cage around it.

Today, at the height of summer, we harvested our wheat. It was labor intensive, but I believe the hardest work is still to come—the threshing and winnowing. For my birthday, my husband’s parents bought me a grain mill, and I’ve been practicing grinding wheat berries in anticipation of the day when I might have an opportunity to grind my own. With such a small harvest, one doesn’t want to leave a single thing to chance! If all goes well, we’ll soon have a fresh loaf of bread made from the wheat we planted, tended, harvested, threshed, winnowed, ground, and baked . . . all by ourselves.

Yes, there is JOY in it!

[“Among the Leaves So Green O” is a traditional harvest song, arranged by John Byrt and performed by St. Charles Singers.]

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St. John’s Day

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Let us strengthen our hold on forms we still see.
Let us say: This once stood amongst us, in the midst of our destiny,
of all that destroys, our failure to see the way we should go was real
and drew stars down to it from the heavens’ sure depths.

—from “Seventh Duino Elegy” by Rainer Maria Rilke

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. This solemnity is so important to the Church that it supersedes even the regular Sunday liturgy. As its name suggests, this is a feast that celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist, that strange and haunting figure crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord!”

It is no accident that we celebrate John’s birth at the time of the summer solstice, opposite the birth of Christ at the winter solstice. John said, “He [Christ] must increase, and I must decrease.” Indeed, at the summer solstice the light peaks and then begins to recede, decreasing day by day until the arrival of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Past generations would have celebrated this day with great fanfare, beginning with the great bonfires of St. John’s Eve. Now this day, and its season, are largely forgotten outside of the liturgical sphere.

Regardless, here we are at the start of St. John’s tide, such a special time of the year. I like to gather St. John’s wort, which blooms in this season—like my medieval forbears, I tuck a sprig above every window and door (better to keep evil out and goodness in). I also like to dry some cuttings to use as the hay in the manger of my nativity at Christmas. Usually I have to drive out to places where I have seen these plants growing in the wild, but this year a veritable miracle occurred: I found a patch of St. John’s wort growing just a few hundred feet from my house on a sunny bank at the entrance to my neighborhood, a place it has never grown before. I was able to gather several armfuls as well as dig up a few live specimens to plant in my own yard for next year’s harvest—and all of this was done on the feast day itself, such a blessing!

I would be remiss if I did not mention that St. John’s Day is also very special to us because it is my son’s Name Day (Zane is a variant of John)—there are many saints called John, but John the Baptist is the one he chose to be his patron saint. To celebrate we had cake and I said a blessing for him. You might like to do this for your children on their name days.

In closing, I thought I would share a meditation for St. John’s tide, cobbled together from different lectures given by Rudolf Steiner that are contained in the book St. John’s: An Introductory Reader (2007, Sophia Books)—I’ve indicated the pages on which each bit of the material can be found. Wishing you all a blessed St. John’s tide, and a happy summer!

Now let us examine what is left lying in bed [when we fall asleep]. What happens to it? It suddenly becomes plantlike. Its life is comparable to what takes place on earth from the moment when plants sprout in the spring until the autumn when they die back. This plant nature springs up and puts forth leaves in the human being, as it were, from falling asleep to waking. We are then like the earth in summer . . . [and] between falling asleep and waking is our summer . . . for during sleep we resemble blossoming, sprouting plant life, like the earth in summer. (pp 9, 10)

People of olden times sensed how different the air and warmth became around St. John’s time, at the height of summer, how these assumed something of the quality of plant life . . . They were aware in their perceptive feeling of a quality of ‘greening’, blossoming, and fruiting coming towards them not from the earth but descending from the surrounding atmosphere—air and warmth, themselves—and assuming a plantlike character.

Thus the festivals had a wonderful, intimate, human content. A question was sent forth into the divine, spiritual universe; and people received the answer because—just as we perceive the earth’s greening, fruiting, and blossoming today—they sensed something plantlike streaming down to them from the otherwise merely mineral air. (p 33)

This was the season which people perceived as the time of divine and moral enlightenment. And above all, what they wanted to obtain from the heavens as ‘answer’ to their performances of music, poetry, and dance was an earnest revelation from the heavens of moral guidance and impetus. (p 37)

John the Baptist . . . prepares the way for the Christ impulse. We can see him preparing the way for the Christ impulse, and we can see how he really appears to us as the one whose words characterize this impulse, saying: ‘Change your disposition. Do not look back any longer . . . but seek the kingdoms of heaven instead, in your innermost being!’ John the Baptist characterizes the true essence of the Christ impulse. He is a herald of Christianity in a truly wonderful way. (p 47)

. . . [This is] a true picture both of our current condition and the mission of St. John: To purify our longing so that more and more of . . . the world of spirit . . . can enter us. To decrease so that he can increase. To sing, humanly, but then fall silent, and listen with every fibre for the answer which resonates from the heights and depths of our being. (p 91)