Friday, October 30, 2009

Grace in the morning

It's a gloomy day, not even a dramatic gloom. Just damp and cool, no breeze, the sky grayish white, the trees in the final stages of shedding their leaves. I've got the same gloomy feeling as the weather. How about making Rachel's Morning Glory Muffins? Problem with that plan is that I would eat every last one of them.

Here's one of the pieces of my book--not the first essay or the last, just one in the middle that happens to include Rachel's Morning Glory Muffin recipe.

A prayer for Elvis . . .

Falling From Grace or Grace in Several Forms

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (NIV)

I once knew a woman named Grace Grant, the mother of my neighborhood friend Barbie. I don’t remember much about Grace Grant other than that she was a nurse, a Seventh-Day Adventist, and she stored her butter on the kitchen counter rather than in the refrigerator. Because Seventh-Day Adventists had other dietary customs that seemed odd to me (like they ate lentils) I thought the unrefrigerated butter was a religious thing. At my house, where butter was kept in the refrigerator, we said grace every night before dinner. So for years, grace meant two things to me—Barbie’s mother and prayer before dinner.

Father Grace was the pastor of our church, St. Camillus. What a great name for a priest! A stern, sinewy little man, Father Grace ruled his domain with the authority of the Lord Almighty, especially the legions of altar boys who trembled in his presence. Even at weekday Mass at 6:30 in the morning, Father Grace had at least 20 boys on the altar, boys wearing pressed black pants, shined shoes, and white dress shirts and gloves with their cassocks and surplices. What power he wielded to get a couple dozen prepubescent boys to get out of a warm bed at five o’clock on a cold Tuesday morning, put on a shirt and tie, and go to church. I was a lowly girl, just the big sister of the altar boys, so I went along for fun. My idea of fun was seriously warped.
So grace meant soft butter, time to eat, and a demanding taskmaster.

And then there was Elvis. When he started making big money, Elvis bought his mama a mansion called Graceland. I made the pilgrimage to Graceland, outside of Memphis, a few years ago. It broke my heart. Not because it was tacky, and it truly was tacky, but because the King of Rock and Roll died in a Graceland bathroom—such a fall from grace to die on a bathroom floor, overdosed on drugs and doughnuts. Elvis, just a sweet kid from Tupelo, Mississippi, who got tangled in the trap of fame and the fast life and died too soon. Having a mansion named Graceland does not ensure a life lived in grace. Paul Simon wrote a song about a visit to Graceland. He sang, “For reasons I cannot explain there's some part of me wants to see Graceland. And I may be obliged to defend every love, every ending, or maybe there's no obligation now. Maybe I've a reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.” Maybe we all will be received in Graceland—you and me and Elvis too.

I am intrigued and somewhat mystified by the concept of the grace of God. What is the grace of God? When someone says, “There, but by the grace of God, go I” what does it mean? For me it means that there’s a thin line between success and failure, between happiness and heartbreak, between salvation and ruin, and that it is God’s grace that tips the balance. And consider the meaning of dis-grace—that we are abased when we are apart from God’s grace. I’m sure there are plenty of theological sources available that would explain the concept of grace in painful detail. I’m not interested in tedious details, not interested in regurgitating the speculations of Biblical scholars; I need to understand it on my own terms. So last night I was reading what Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians. Paul says we are saved by grace, that it is God’s gift to us. That makes sense to me. Grace is purely an unmerited gift, something we didn’t earn, and for me at least, something I don’t deserve. It is everything that God has given us—life, other people, the earth, and the divine humanness of his own son. I still don’t understand grace, but I want to accept it. And I want to be in Graceland.


My delightful daughter-in-law Rachel developed this recipe. She’s a great cook and I’m so lucky that she shared her special muffins with all of us. These muffins give you a reason to get up in the morning and will keep you in a state of grace the whole day through.

Rachel’s Morning Glory Muffins

1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup bran
1 cup unrefined sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded carrots
½ cup raisins
½ cup shopped walnuts
¼ cup pepitas
½ cup flaked coconut
1 large apple, cored and shredded
3 large eggs
½ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup apple sauce
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
¼ cup chocolate chips (optional)
¼ cup chopped dried apricots (optional)
¼ cup craisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Grease 12-16 muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners.
In a large bowl, mix flour, bran, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
Stir in the carrot, raisins, nuts, coconut, apple and whatever else you've decided to add.
In a separate bowl, beat together eggs, oil, apple sauce, vanilla and almond.
Stir wet ingredients into flour/glory mixture until just mixed.
Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups and bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until toothpick inserted into center of a muffin comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack.
These freeze well so you can take one out of the freezer the night before to have ready the next morning.

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