Category Archives: essay

tasting that which is*


the first tomato                                                                                     © erin dunigan 2013

When I pause to think about it, it was tomatoes that did it to me, really.

That first bite of a vine-ripened-fresh-from-the-plant-right-outside-the-front-door-onto-the-plate-tomato – it hooked me, caught me, captured me and coaxed me into becoming a gardener myself.

“You mean this is what a tomato really tastes like?!” I remember saying out loud, to no one in particular. “I never knew.”

The thing is, I had become acclimatized, slowly, over time, to that round red fruit that is sold in the grocery store under the label ‘tomato.’ The fact that this round red fruit did not always taste like much had somehow ceased to be of importance to me, so gradual was the fall from flavor.

Until I tasted the real thing – and that changed everything. I had to learn to grow such beauty myself.

Which, of course, is what spirituality is all about – tasting that which is, which is more, which is, we say, of God – and thereafter not being satisfied with anything else.

It is a conversion – but one that is coaxed from us, and then cultivated within us – and one whose whole reason for being is to bear much fruit.

Taste and see – for it is good. Very good.


*This piece was written originally for the September issue of  Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland, to address the question, “What are the spiritual benefits of growing your own fruit and veg?”

an impromptu posada (the miracle of the 8 tables)

It was a bit less ‘no room in the in’ and a bit more ‘no mesas (tables) in the storage area’ – not, perhaps, as poetic, but an unintentional modern day posada nonetheless…

A ‘Posada’ or really “Las Posadas” is more typically a reenactment of Mary and Joseph looking for a place to stay – knocking on doors, being told there is ‘no room in the inn’ (so to speak) until they finally find lodging (posada) and are invited in.

So, when Jose (which is, obviously, his name, but which is also how the name Joseph is translated into Spanish) arrived at the barn where we were setting up for our annual La Mision Holiday Celebration – yes, we hold it in a barn, and no, the irony is not lost – and said that the tables, tables we need for sharing the convivio (potluck) after the service, were not in the usual location, we began to wonder where they might be found.

Wondering turned to suspecting, as Bev realized said tables had probably been taken and used at the foodbank. So, Jose, Vita and I loaded into Jose’s truck and headed over to the foodbank. Looking in the windows Jose made the pronouncement – we are not taking these tables – to which I answered of course we are. Until, of course, I too looked in the window. The tables, 7 of the 8, were piled high with carefully folded clothes, laid out as if already sorted and ready for some distribution.

photo 1-8“Just move the stuff,” Bev had instructed, when she sent us off on our table posada. “Um, Bev, that’s not gonna happen,” I told her over the phone as she said she’d be right over. I’d list her response, when she saw the room, and the tables, but that might get this post flagged for inappropriate language…

So we went upstairs to talk to Estela, who was at home. “Do you have any tables?” Vita began to sing the song for Las Posadas, the song of Mary and Joseph – or in this case, Vita, Jose and Erin.

We got one from Estela as we took the one unused table from the foodbank. While we were there Estela also lent us 40 chairs, to go with the 50 we’ve already got. Meanwhile, I called Cindi on her cell phone – “I have a couple of tables we can use,” she answered.

photo 2-8As we drove back, along the mud road, in what had suddenly become a downpour, I asked Jose and Vita if their lives were not much easier before all these crazy ‘strangers’ entered into them. Laughing they answered something along the lines of, this craziness filled with strangers has become our life.

Which, it seems to me, is exactly the message of the Posada, of Navidad, Christmas…for we are both the strangers that go looking for lodging, or tables, or a place to lay our weary head  or a seat at the table, and we too are the ones who have the opportunity to open the doors of our lives, our communities, our hearts, and our families to that which seeks to be born to us this day…God with us, amongst us – even here, even now.

photo by Marty Harriman

photo by Marty Harriman

An addendum: I shared the above message with those gathered last night for our celebration – a celebration of Christmas/Navidad of course, but also of Hanukkah, the festival of lights and the miracle of the oil that was only enough for burning the lamps for one day, but lasted for all eight days.

As we were passing the light, Ron chanted for us, in Hebrew, the blessing of the light – and, was quick to point out, that the miracle had come full circle – from the miracle of the 8 days to the miracle of the 8 tables…may it be so!

why we gather



Tonight we will gather – an eclectic group, to say the least. Though most of us live in or near the same small town, we come from many different places.

We are Mexicans and Americans. We are also Thai, South African, and even Texan. We speak many different languages (including Hebrew!) but will limit ourselves to two (or possibly three) for our service this evening.

We are those who come from plenty, and those who survive and often thrive even in the midst of want – be it materially, emotionally, or spiritually. Tonight we will share with one another – in food, in wine, in conversation, in love and in laughter.

We will gather to sing, to speak, to offer light in the midst of the darkness of what is predicted to be a chilly winter’s night. We will eat together. We will drink together. We will add our individual lights to a bonfire that we hope will warm us in the midst of the cold.

Amongst those who will gather will be some who call themselves Christian, Jewish, Catholic, Atheist, Protestant, Mormon, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Science of the Mind and even a JW or two (don’t tell) – but also many who find themselves outside the traditional categories of religion, faith, or belief.

There are those in this world who decry the use of the word ‘holiday’ in place of ‘Christmas,’ siting it as further eroding of our religious heritage. But regardless of the name given to it, this evening will truly be a ‘holy-day’ – a time of transcending the boundaries that normally keep our world so neatly divided between the ‘us’ and the ‘them’ – tonight there will just be ‘we.’

There have been those who ask, why in the world would this group gather together for such a service? How is there possibly anything in common amongst such a wide diversity of background, class, culture, and religious opinion – or lack thereof? What is the point? Why bother?

For me, the answer is simple – though I hope not simplistic. It is, according to the custom of Jesus of Nazareth, an answer that is, in return, a question.

Why would I want to be anywhere else?

on tiggers, gracias, and grace

Were I to have set out to obtain a canine companion – which I most decidedly did not do – I could not have chosen for myself a better match than the four-legged ball of brown fur and wagging tail that chose me. Truly.

For a long while I had ‘wanted’ a dog – like someone ‘wants’ something that is just out of reach, but always desirable.

But, faced with the practicalities of life, I didn’t put any action into actually obtaining that which I believed I wanted. But clearly someone heard. Clearly some intention was communicated out beyond the confines of my small self, to a world beyond that heard, listened, and responded – or maybe it was all just chance, coincidence, luck. I prefer to believe in serendipity.

Granted, at the time of the fluff ball’s arrival I was not so convinced – how can I possibly have a dog, I asked myself, and anyone who would listen. Until one day about a week into the adventure a friend pointed out that, having purchased a stylish matching leash and collar, it appeared that I had, in fact, admitted that I did, actually, have a dog.

But I don’t have a life for a dog, I protested, rather futilely, as the canine began to slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, to rearrange the life that I thought I had so well ordered.

Three years and some weeks later, I cannot imagine life without that dog in it. Yes, I do have a fairly crazy life for someone who now has not just a dog, but two cats as well. But there are ways of figuring those things out. The joy that creature brings to my life – and I chose the word joy intentionally – far outweighs the hassle of figuring out what to do with her when life takes me away from home and into the world.

She loves to play fetch. She loves the ocean. She loves running on the beach, chasing the birds, chasing the frisbee. She loves to swim. She looks like a bit like a coyote, my favorite animal as a child and the subject of my fourth grade report on an animal – any animal – of my choice.  She has mellowed out somewhat, from those first months, thankfully, and now sleeps peacefully nearby while I sit to write this.

I named her based on her high energy and her propensity for jumping – Tigger, was what a friend on facebook suggested – and it stuck.

But had I given her a name based on her place in my life, for her role rather than her behavior, there is one name that would have transcended all others – gift. Or perhaps grace. For that which I could not actually accomplish on my own, was graciously given to me. What I wanted, but couldn’t find the space or the way to encounter, appeared on my porch without the slightest action or initiation on my part – other than to allow her to stay.

In the debate about baptism in the Christian church (trust me, you didn’t miss a paragraph or a page here, this will relate, shortly) there is a discussion of whether or not one should be baptized as a baby or as an adult. “You should be an adult,” many will say, “for only an adult can make a decision on an important matter such as this.” The emphasis is on the importance of belief, the importance of acknowledging, accepting and embracing that which one believes to be true. That is a good and reasonable rationale.

But there is also the conviction, held just as strongly, that being baptized as an infant, an infant who has no choice in the matter, is just as valid a form of baptism as that of an adult. “Being baptized as an infant,” the reasoning goes, “shows us in a tangible way that God chooses us before we can even know what that means – that God’s love and graciousness are offered to us freely, long before we know how to respond.”

Not all that unlike a dog – the perfect dog for us really – who shows up one day on the porch without any decision, action, or belief on our part, and proceeds to begin a transformation of life as it had previously been known.

A gift, freely and graciously given – a gift that we are invited to receive. And feed.