Christian churches used to remind their members that the Sabbath was supposed to be holy. The traditional Catholic explanation of this was something along the lines of, “Do only the work you must do; Sunday is for God, family, and rest.” Hospitals have to care for people, fires need to be fought, cows have to be milked, etc.; the local knick-knack shop does not really need to be open. God rested on the seventh day, not because He needed it, but because we do. Sundays should be a weekly reminder that rest is good for us… and that God and family are more important than work and money.
Of course, modern man, in our wisdom, has insisted that we should work all week. And we sort of forget everything else. Commercials assure us that buying Hardee’s biscuits makes you a good mom, because they’re cooked fresh each morning, and, hey, you don’t have time for that, right? Quilt shops close because hardly anybody bothers anymore; why quilt when you can buy a cheap one made in China? My neighborhood has beautiful gardens… but almost all of them are planted and maintained by yard services. We work all week, run from event to event, and spend the weekend shopping and catching up with chores. And because everyone “has to” shop on the weekends, people with no economic options have to staff the shops, fast food, grocery stores, etc. We don’t just squander our weekends, we squander theirs.
I try to be at least somewhat mindful of keeping the Sabbath, so I enjoyed my Sunday the usual way… by “wasting” a great deal of time. I did nothing that earned money. I didn’t clean the bathrooms. I didn’t even do laundry (ok, I usually break down and do some laundry on Sundays). I made a huge mess in the kitchen.
I went to mass last night (normally, we go as a family, but my son has mono, so one of us had to stay with him while the other went to mass). I read books to my kids. I took a nap on the couch. I almost got around to reading a book.
I wandered around my front yard, admiring flowers and trees, but not pruning or weeding, for once. I picked lovely, fuzzy, sweet-smelling peaches off the tree that I grew from a pit from a supermarket peach. That store-bought peach was perfectly blushed, wonderfully sweet, and unblemished. My peaches taste wonderful, but suffer from a peach borer infestation which I failed to treat last fall, so they don’t look perfect. They have spots, they have bugs; very few make it to full ripeness unblemished. Let me tell you, though, they made a great cobbler! And I know they were never sprayed with any chemicals I have to worry about. Plus, I get to watch them grow.
Out back, fig season has started. The stupid birds ate all of the Violette de Negronnes, which are purplish black and ripen the earliest, but I’m willing to let it go, now that the Brown Turkey tree is covered in more fruit than I could possibly eat. Some of the extras are destined for the dehydrator so that I can use them for Christmas baking. My kids saw me come in the other day with the bowl, savoring a fresh, sun-warmed fig. “Mom! Is that a fig!? I want a fig! Please? Hey, there’s a whole bunch in the bowl! Can I have two?” Who knew kids could be so excited about fruit?
Fresh figs are one of my favorite little joys of summer. They rarely make it to the supermarkets, because figs are easily bruised and don’t travel well. Worse, the ones that do make it may not be picked at full ripeness, and not-quite-ripe figs are really awful. But a ripe one… mmmmm. The Greeks considered figs to be the food of the gods, and that isn’t too hard to believe, once you’ve had a good one. I have a number of gourmet varieties growing, but even the common Brown Turkey is sheer heaven when the skin has just started to crack, the fruit has softened enough to hang down from its stem (if not quite ripe, the fig may be pointing any direction, but that telltale sag lets you know its ready), and it’s just a little bit soft to a gentle squeeze. The purplish brown skin opens up to a pattern of red flesh around tiny white seeds, little comets radiating out from the center, and melt-in-your-mouth soft.
The other little joy of summer is tomatoes. Back when I had just started gardening, my husband looked at me and asked, “Why bother? Tomatoes are so tasteless, anyways.” That first summer of homegrown tomatoes, he reluctantly tried the tomato-ranch dressing-crouton salad (nothing says “summer” and “we planted too many tomatoes again” like my mom’s tomato salad). After a single bite, he was more excited about that tomato than he usually gets about any food that isn’t a steak or a chocolate chip cookie. “Wow! This is like ketchup on the vine! This is actually good.”
I got a late start this spring, so I only have cherry tomatoes right now. Sun Golds, bright orange when ripe, and so sweet you could stand next to the plant and just eat a pile of them like candy. I brought in a big bowl yesterday and another one today. I’m sure the store has the big tomatoes… but you just can’t compare those to an odd variety you grew yourself, still warm from the sun and smelling like the tomato bush. There’s something deeply satisfying about knowing that I started those plants in my little greenhouse on the back deck, dug and added compost, and weeded so that these tomatoes could be here.
My biggest “waste” of time today, however, was the Chinese feast. Yes, I have plenty of Chinese restaurants near me. Some of them are even pretty good (but I’ll have to tell you about the food in China sometime). However, I like to cook. So, I spent about five hours today cooking. Jasmine green tea. Beef mushroom soup. Moo Goo Gai Pan. Kung Pao Chicken (made using latex gloves so I didn’t give myself chemical burns from breaking up the dried peppers this time… I may be slow, but I do eventually learn from my mistakes! And did you know that sponging milk over your stinging lips and face will counteract the effects of scratching while handling peppers? Water and soap isn’t enough.). Bok Choi in sauce. Snow peas. Potstickers with dipping sauce. I cheated and bought the Har Gao (shrimp dumplings with translucent rice flour wrappers, so the pink shrimp ball inside shows through… possibly the cutest Chinese dumpling around). Fresh noodles. Jasmine rice. And peach cobbler and fortune cookies to finish up. New placemats with Chinese paintings (plastic coated- beautiful, but nearly indestructible!). The chopsticks from the vendors who chased us through the hutong tour in Beijing on bikes. The new dipping sauce bowls with the yellow background and blue dragons chasing pearls, with a flaming pearl in the bottom.
My in-laws came over, so it was seven of us around the table tonight. My oldest acted up, refused to eat anything but noodles and rice, mouthed off, and got sent to her room twice. My son has mono and hardly ate anything. My youngest happily slurped noodles, threw things off her tray for the dog, and shrieked whenever she thought we weren’t feeding her fast enough. But, hey, it’s summer. It’s Sunday. For once, I’m not going to stress about it.
All of the adults, at least, loved the meal. The clean up took hours and two loads in the dishwasher. The wok had to be reseasoned because I *ahem* slightly singed it while deep frying the chicken for the Moo Goo Gai Pan. It took a lot of scrubbing to get most of the smell of peanut oil out of my hair. But it was worth it.
Yes, it was work, but the meal was also about what Sunday should be about: God, family, and rest. Counting my blessings that I have these three crazy children at all, even if they are constantly underfoot in the kitchen. Watching my oldest actually calm down and enjoy stir frying the chicken. Pulling out ingredients, pots, and dishes and thanking God that I am fortunate enough to have this wonderful house and the stuff to make a meal like this for my family. Enjoying the crunch of the cabbage being chopped for potstickers and wondering who grew it. Watching my family enjoy the meal. And, yes, it was restful. Rest isn’t just lazing around, although it can be that, too. Rest is whatever rejeuvenates you. For me, it’s cooking, gardening, and a host of other things that might look like work.
God works and is creative. He also had sense enough to give us an example of resting on occasion. We, as humans, are made in His “image and likeness.” Even Adam had a job in Eden. We are happiest when we have the opportunity for good, honest work. We enjoy being creative in our chosen areas, even when it’s difficult. And we need to rest.
On the best days, we get to do all three at once.