Aptin’s Feast

By

From the minute I stepped off the plane that brought me home to Colorado from Hutchmoot, I’ve had this post in my head. “Better late than never,” is an adage I am coming to embrace as a writer, because I never get things written as quickly as I think I will. But Hutchmoot has followed me. The stories told and people met have stayed with me in so fresh a way that I have decided to write about it no matter how late. So this is my delayed, but heartfelt tribute to Hutchmoot. I must begin it by saying that one of the best parts of Hutchmoot to me was the feasting. Evie’s meals have now become the stuff of legend. I love this, because the meals we ate became a metaphor for what was offered to our souls in the sessions and dinner-table conversation. But I also love it because it put me in mind of another feast I experienced, a feast that changed my life. And a feast that will help me explain why I feel that Hutchmoot was a time of such grace.painting-of-a-glass-of-wine

It all began several years back, when I spent a summer as a ministry intern in England. I worked with a group intent on changing culture and having the right theology and worldview. I did it because, well, it was England after all. It was C.S. Lewis country. It was faith and academics and pubs and tea. I thought it seemed a worthy sort of work. Deep down, secret in my heart though, I also yearned to know God. Though I believed in him, he felt distant and vague to me, and I thought working with theological experts might finally answer my hunger to truly know his love. Oh, but I was starry eyed.

After two months of hearing everything there was to know about God, after sitting in two or three dozen lectures on Scripture, poring over worldview books, writing papers, and talking about God round the clock, I woke one morning and realized that I felt farther from him than I ever had. The realization was so stark, my soul so barren, I barely knew if I could finish my internship. Later that day, I heard a lecture on the six interpretations of the word “hell” and the fate of the people sent there. When the lecturer stated that he knew for sure that only one of them was true (the cruelest, I thought), something in me snapped. I didn’t even want to know so awful a God in so dark a world anymore. I finished my work and nearly ran the cobblestone streets back to the refuge of my attic room. But that’s where the grand bit of the story begins, because right then, when I was close to throwing my faith out the window, a man named Aptin was ready to save my faith with an offering of grace.

My home that summer was a rambly old manor house made over as student lodging. Good bones kept it standing, but its joints were all out of place in odd staircases and tipsy attic rooms. A narrow, homey little kitchen glowed at its heart though, crammed with mismatched teacups and a window that let in the sunset light as I cooked. This became my place of refuge in the evenings, and most days, Aptin cooked with me.

Aptin was a professor of something or other who commuted to London. He was from Iran, and had escaped with his parents when the Shah was overthrown. I’m sure he had a somewhat glamorous story, but I knew him mostly for his gourmet cooking, his friendly demeanor, and the snatched talks we had about life and travel. We both got home late most nights, and while he grilled salmon or concocted a souffle, we talked. I loved his stories and he distracted me from the bland monotony of my student’s fare of eggs and toast. On this particular night though, my budget and soul were both so tight, I made plain oatmeal and ended up just passing him as I headed upstairs with my dinner tray.

“Wait,” he said, in his high voice with its British accent, “I have found a new place in London, so I’m moving. I’m throwing myself a going away party in the garden tomorrow night – I’d be so happy if you could come.” I nodded my acceptance. I had two days off, and even if I intended to spend them having a spiritual nervous breakdown, I couldn’t offend my friend.

The morrow found me mad. Furious with myself for being the sort of person that struggled in her faith. Furious with the teachers I had trusted to lead me closer to God, and who, I felt, had shoved me away from any sense of his love. Furious, I must admit, with God himself who had left me to bumble about in a lonely darkness. By evening, I was fit company for no one, but I forced myself downstairs, eyes down, heart in my toes.

One step outside, I looked up, and I could not help it; I smiled. The garden had been transformed into the site of a fairy tale feast. The prim, green squares of English lawn were ranked by tables heaped with food like plunder. Aptin must have raided every grocer in town to fill the first with thirty different cheeses that sat amidst mounded breads, olive pates, and cracker stacks. Three giant bowls of fruit graced the next, full of grapes, pineapple, and tiny English strawberries, leaves and stems intact. The last was the crown, two or three dozen bottles of wine, among them the elderflower cordial I had come to crave during my English sojourn. As my feet sank into the grass, Aptin hurried over from the rounds he was making, shaking hands, laughing.

“Oh, I am so glad you came! It’s a perfect night for a feast – fill as many plates as you can.”

I obeyed. I sighed for the sheer relief of distraction, and somewhere between the brie and the cordial, I forgot to stew on my crisis. There was simply too much to enjoy. Plate filled, I found a seat under a gnarled old apple tree. The light was honey and gold and it fell on my head through the green apples and heat-struck leaves. The setting sun dyed the garden gold, and everything in it glowed; poppies and roses, the red stone walls, the rich, worn wood of the tables. A merry group of housemates soon joined me, and an air undeniably hobbit-like descended upon our feast.

For almost the first time that summer, I talked with my neighbors. I shared internship woes with Andrea, a German student. I asked Debbie, a doctoral candidate in theology, all about her studies. And I finally worked up the courage to talk to Ged, our housemother, a former nun who had left a strict, secluded convent to run the house for the summer. I questioned her about a life of contemplation and prayer, and in her gentle, reticent way, she told me her tale. “But I needed to be with people again,” she ended. I simply nodded, knowing the truth of that need as I basked in the friendly presence of the woman beside me and the other friends round me. Night grew up as we lingered, a warm, hushed darkness that slowed our breath and rested our bodies. Bugs chirruped. Stars blinked. We chatted to the clink of plates refilled and glasses brimmed again. When sleepiness finally came, I climbed slowly to bed.

The minute I opened the door, my earlier struggle sprang, catlike, from the shadows. I clearly remember the way I tensed, and even clearer, I remember the peace that came and relaxed my fear. Darkness passed me by and I sat down on the edge of the bed, shocked at my lightened heart. The silver light of the moon fell full on my face and out of the blue, I know God loved me. I knew he was with me. A calm warmth filled every nook of my soul and I knew that I was held, kept, loved just as much as I had hoped. Grace cradled my heart and doubt seemed like a ghost. And it was all because that night, I had finally touched something real.

God, I finally realized, is not merely a thought I must think, or a proposition I must know. For the first time in weeks, I had tasted good food and rested. I had spent time in the fresh, green glory of the garden, seen the myriad colors, tasted the fresh, fresh air. For almost the first time that summer, I’d had a personal conversation, I had exchanged stories, doubts even, with a friend. And I’d been still. Quiet finally had a chance to still the frenzy of my thoughts. Sitting there in the moonlight, I came to the knowledge I had so hungered to find. God is the lover and maker, the friend and creator. He reveals his goodness in the tastable, touchable wonder of his world. His love is felt in the fellowship of his people. His joy is what sings in the wind and spices the best wine, and glimmers in the gold of sunset. In the savor of feasts, the cadence of seasons, in apples crunched and friends touched, God is known for the eternal Good that he is.

But I had lived apart from that goodness all summer. I had tried to know God by thinking about him. By working for him. By saying the right things about him. All the while, I ignored the earth and people God made so that I might know his soul. To grasp truth is vital, and I know it is something that must be taught in an age of such spiritual confusion. But truth must be enfleshed by love and beauty, or it will ring empty to the soul. Beauty known and people loved are the great ways that God offers his hands to us while we sojourn here in the earth. By loving, by feasting, by touching his beauty, we grasp him back and let him fill our hearts with joy. Two months of study couldn’t give me what one night of feasting could, because I was made to touch and taste and see the goodness of God. I don’t even know if Aptin had my faith, but somehow, he had grasped a heart of celebration. He understood the grace that beauty and friendship bring, and through the gift of his feast, he saved my faith.

The reason I tell this story here is because, for me, The Rabbit Room is that feast continued.  I discovered the Rabbit Room the same year I went to England, and as I grew, slowly, in trusting a God of beauty, it became a refuge for my heart. The Rabbit Room community sheltered me as I learned to let stories, music, and nature bring God close to my heart. In the daily creativity and fellowship of this place, I experienced that sense of God being not just a thought to be known, but a song to be sung, a story told, a friendship sealed by love of the same good things. Then I went to Hutchmoot and felt that I had stepped into Aptin’s garden all over again.

Taste and see that God is good, says David in the Psalms. And at Hutchmoot, we did. We sipped wine and gobbled up spiced rice and roasted chicken made by the matchless Chef Evie, and we knew that God is good. We lingered at conversations that rambled onto holy ground, sat and marveled at songs that sang out the hungers in our souls. We watched light drip through a stained glass window onto the heads of a band of musicians merrily re-enacting the Last Supper, and we knew that God is a God who has laughter every day.

And the laughter continues here, now, in the Rabbit Room. To stumble into a feast is one thing, to have a daily bit of savory bread served to me through this place is another level of grace altogether. So this is my roundabout and heartfelt tribute to Hutchmoot, and really, to the whole Rabbit Room. It is my thanks to all you feasting folk who make this a place where God is touched as well as talked about. To me, the Rabbit Room is Aptin’s feast continued every day. Since that feast restored my faith, I can think of no more heartfelt compliment. God bless you Aptin, wherever you are. God bless the Rabbit Room, and all of us here as we strive to taste and see his goodness. And Hutchmoot 2011, here I come.

Sarah Clarkson is the author of several books including the best-selling The Life-giving Home, which she co-authored with her mother, Sally Clarkson. Sarah is currently studying literature at Oxford University where she’s not only a brilliant thinker and writer, but is also the president of the C. S. Lewis Society.


20 Comments

  1. Nick and Susan

    Sarah,

    I love the honest thoughts you shared above, particularly where you said, ” I had tried to know God by thinking about him. By working for him. By saying the right things about him.” It reminded me of that verse in Corinthians, ‘..the letter kills but the Spirit gives life’.

    Living across the pond myself meant attending Hutchmoot was not possible, but my heart has been enriched by those who have written about their time there, and your post as always was a delight to read. I can relate to someone so much better when they have the guts to show me the bruises they’ve got from wrestling.

    Susan

  2. Jen

    Such a beautiful story… thank you for sharing, Sarah!

    Still sad I had to miss Hutchmoot this year, but I’m so grateful for everyone sharing their stories and tributes. It just convinces me that I have to be there in 2011! 🙂

  3. ljjasper

    Shimmering words, painting a picture of the feast that is and is to come. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  4. Ashley Elizabeth

    I too have tried to know God by thinking about Him. And truth be told, my mind knew Hutchmoot would be a weekend of academia- chalkboards, desks, note taking, podiums, lectures, possible quizzes. For that is how one learns of God, right?

    Wrong.

    My thanks for your words does not seem big enough. Much like the Doxology sang that Saturday night, my heart overflows with praise for the blessings of good wine, great food, holy friendships, and blessed laughter. Turns out, somewhere along the way, I learned more about God than I thought. Learned to love Him more, too.

  5. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Sarah, the heart comes through your writing. Thanks for this post. I needed it today.

    Evie’s food was a big part of Hutchmoot. It was an integral part of the whole experience; the best quality physical food for the body combined with the best food for soul and spirit.

  6. Sofia

    Thank you for the beauty that you have added to the feast. And for the reminder that tasting and seeing the Lord’s goodness is not just an abstract phrase but is grounded experiencing His creation, the joy of fellowship and of celebrations together.

  7. Dan Foster

    Thank you. You have stirred so many thoughts in me; let’s see if I can lay them out.

    On the way into work today I heard Joan Osborne’s “What if God was one of us.” When that song came out I was in high school and saw it as basically blasphemous and useless, albeit with a very catchy, haunting tune (that would forever be linked in my mind to a certain episode of Homicide: Life on the Streets). But the last two times I’ve heard it, I finally _got_ it. Ms. Osborne is crying out for someone to care about her own personal needs and reach down to her. Yeah, yeah, God’s great and all that, but he’s not a stranger on a bus like I am. I am guessing that you, Sarah, felt much the same way. But the truth that I pray Joan Osborne would see is that the true living God DOES know each of us personally, he HAS become one of us (and felt rejection, loneliness and the rest), and he LOVES us.

    In fact, it often baffles me just how multi-faceted God is. The Rabbit Room tends to be artistic and many of you find it easy to see God’s beauty. But the scientist is astounded by his order and precision, the theologian finds his depth of being unfathomable, and the child knows that he is love. God meets every personality type and ability and exceeds their imagination.

    Even in worship. We hear the Word and understand it with our minds; we see the baptism (and feel it if we receive it); we sing with our own voices; we touch and taste the bread and wine. In a simple one hour worship service, God’s wonder is experienced by every type of learning style and personality.

  8. Sallie Kate

    All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
    but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.
    Proverbs 15:15

    His grace and mercy free us from oppression and allow us to truly live.
    Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, am so grateful for the Rabbit Room.

  9. Shelley

    Dear Sarah,

    I was transported into the garden of Aptin’s Feast by the keen, rich language used to describe your experience. Thank you, most deeply, for sharing your heart. Here (in this Rabbit Room) I have also found a treasured refuge to spur my mind and heart when my faith is dry, or when I feel like an outsider in my church because I really do enjoy art, music that isn’t happy, hiking the unmarked trails on Lake Superior’s North Shore, etc. Perhaps we’ll cross paths one day and swap stories over brie and blueberry wine…. until then, continue to write and share the feast of your words.

  10. Leigh McLeroy

    Sarah! So good to hear your voice. Your story (and Hutchmoot, too) reminded me of Babette’s Feast. Why should we be surprised to encounter God through good food and friends and clinking glasses and conversation and wide, green grass? We search for Him in books (and He can be found there, true), but truly, He is always, always among the living! Cheers to you–well done!

  11. redheadkate

    It reminds me of I Thes 2: 8 that talks about being delighted to “share our lives together”. We can’t do it as solitary individuals. So glad I got to share Hutchmoot with you.

  12. dawngreen

    Sarah,
    Thanks for posting this beautiful tribute to HM. It truly is”better late than never” because I could not describe how much I needed today a reminder of that sweet, past time. At the time I could not have articulated what brought me to HutchMoot but I know that God was preparing me for a season of trial and sadness. His gracious provision sustains me now. Your richly expressive post returns me to a place where I am reminded that He is my refuge and my hiding place.
    God richly bless you today and always,

  13. JodiK

    Sarah–

    I enjoyed dinner conversation with you at Hutchmoot; you were the first person, aside from my husband, from whom I felt genuine excitement when you heard I am pursuing a writing dream. Thank you.

    For many months now I have been where you were after hearing the lecturer give his opinion about hell. It has taken me longer to come back to God, but I do believe there is a reason and purpose for that. Ironically, I have found that since setting aside my Bible, which was causing me great frustration, I have been more naturally embodying some of the virtues that I struggled so hard to pursue for so many years. The Biblical foundation was good for teaching me to recognize the virtues, but it became for me a distraction in living them out. Maybe this is something similar to what you experienced.

  14. Chris

    Thank you for this lovely, nourishing story. As a writer and craftsman whose little chosen corner of artistic endeavour is food, I seldom come across meditations or stories that speak directly to the things I do, write, and struggle with, let alone ones that also address my faith. Bless you for reminding us that all feasts motivated by love are echoes of the final, eternal Feast!

  15. evie

    oh sarah, thank you for this.

    “Night grew up as we lingered, a warm, hushed darkness that slowed our breath and rested our bodies. Bugs chirruped. Stars blinked. We chatted to the clink of plates refilled and glasses brimmed again. When sleepiness finally came, I climbed slowly to bed.”

    just…..wow. this is real and fundamental. this is the stuff we should fill our lives with. thanks for opening a window onto it, i am always in need a fresh view of such goodness.

  16. Dan R.

    Wow. I read this and Ephesians 3:16-19 came right to mind. It seems to resonate with a lot of different things you wrote about, and I think I have some idea as to why… It goes back to the many hours I’ve spent seeking to do more than just know about Christ, but to truly know him, to fellowship with him, to abide in his dwelling. The principle is the same, I believe, and I’ve seen it other places as well. Unsurprisingly, much of that time I spent was centered around these same verses.

    “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

    Thank you, Sarah, for presenting this so beautifully.

  17. Amber Leffel

    Absolutely beautiful… I haven’t been to Hutchmoot or to England, but I know in all of my heart what this is.

    He keeps showing me in places where I wasn’t looking for Him. I kept thinking I would find Him somewhere else… And then, a haphazard click on a post from 2010 called “Aptin’s Feast,” and He says, “Remember?” with a smile. A smile. The right smile. You know.

    God bless you, Sarah, for this Beauty He’s revealed through you… He’s been using your posts, lately, to pour Himself out to me (and to pour myself out to Him, which I don’t always know exactly how to do). Ah, blessings and blessings and blessings! Amen!

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