Robert “Burns Supper”–Bag Pipers, Highland Dancers, Haggis

Have you heard of a Burns Supper? I was invited to one this month and was privileged to take in the Scottish tradition of honoring bard Robert Burns.

Robert Burns portrait
Robert Burns (1759-1796), portrait in public domain

 

The annual supper, going strong for 200-plus years, occurs worldwide around Burns’ January 25 birthday. It’s a great excuse for Scottish folk to come together and celebrate their culture and poet. The supper’s festivities may include kilted bagpipers, Highland dancers, poetry, whiskey toasts, and haggis. What’s not to like?

What is Haggis?

You may ask, “What is haggis?” Robert Burns, although a poet, was also a farmer. Sensible country folk know that on the farm when one butchers an animal, such as a sheep, one utilizes everything

Server carries honored guest "haggis."
Server carries honored guest “the haggis.”

except the baaaa. Haggis is a Scottish sausage made from sheep’s stomach stuffed with diced sheep’s liver, lungs and heart, oatmeal, onion, suet, and seasoning. It’s cousin is scrapple, made with cornmeal and pork scraps and enjoyed in the Mid-Atlantic states. 

Burns appreciated Haggis so much he wrote “Ode to a Haggis.” Here’s the last verse in English:

You Powers who look after mankind,

And dish out his bill of fare,

Old Scotland wants no watery, wimpy stuff

That splashes about in little wooden bowls!

But, if You will grant her a grateful prayer,

Give her a Haggis!

No Watery, Wimpy Stuff!

A somber kilted gentleman leads the haggis march.
Burns Supper is serious business.

Because of this epicurean fondness, at a Burns Supper, the haggis is the first course brought in with pomp and circumstance—bag pipers and drummers escort the meat held high on a platter to a center table. A kilted Scotsman addresses the haggis, reciting Burns’ poem. Theatrics may include a drawn knife that hacks a thistle (from a vase) and then plunges into the meat.

Drummer leads the server carrying the haggis.
Here it comes to a drummer’s tap-tap.

Two drummers twirl their sticks.

Diners are served thin haggis slices with mashed potatoes. The rest of the meal is more common banquet fare such as salad, salmon, polenta, roasted carrots, and cake.

Upstanding Whiskey Toasts

I don’t recall ever tasting whiskey until this past month. The warm liquor gets a thumbs up along with the haggis. A wee amount of whiskey is served to each guest. Diners rise “upstanding” and do five toasts with some light-hearted speeches thrown in. At my Burns Supper there were toasts to: the U.S. President, the Queen, “The Immortal Memory” of Burns, “The Lassies,” and finally “The Reply to the Toast to the Lassies.”

Burns did love his lassies. He had several illegitimate children with several women and nine children with his wife Jean Armour. While he farmed with his father and brother, Burns composed rough drafts of his poems without paper. With encouragement from his friends and in need of supporting his family, Burns published Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect to great success. Following, he wrote and helped collect many of Scotland’s folk songs into several volumes. Unfortunately, poor health resulted in his death at age 37.

You May Know Poems by Burns

After being invited to a Burns Supper,  I vaguely remembered as a student reading a few Burns’ poems like “To a Louse.” This poem is the one where Burns observes a louse on a pious woman’s bonnet during a church service.

That famous line: “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men” comes from Burns’ poem “To a Mouse,” after he accidentally destroyed the mouse’s winter home with a plow.

Burns’ poem “Auld Lang Syne” (For Old Time’s Sake) has given me my word for 2017: “kindness.” At Burns Suppers people sing this song in closing as they often hold crossed hands. Kindness is a good word to remember as we plunge farther into this topsy-turvy year.

Four children sing "For Auld Lang Syne"
Kindness For Auld Lang Syne

A “We Can Eat” Prayer

Burns Suppers often include the recitation of this meal prayer, which has 17th century roots. Tradition says Burns recited this prayer while attending a dinner given by the Earl of Selkirk.

Selkirk Grace (1)

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
[The last line is often varied to read]
And sae the Lord be thankit

Selkirk Grace (2)

Some have meat and cannot eat,
Some cannot eat that want it;
But we have meat and we can eat,
So let the Lord be thankit.

Below are links to explore Robert Burns’ poetry and a five-minute rendition of Auld Lang Syne.

http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poets/robert-burns

 

 

 

 

Mountain Busting with Mustard Seed Faith

Mountains represent impossibilities. Mustard seeds represent faith.

For 2017, I am reflecting on what it means to have mustard seed faith. Jesus declares in Matthew 17:20 that we remove mountains if we have a tiny bit of trust in him. Do I believe this?  Atheist Philippe Petit has helped me form an answer. Here’s how.

“Le Coup”

In 1974, Petit, age 25, took a 55-pound balancing pole and illegally walked, knelt, laid down and contemplated the universe for 45 minutes on a high wire strung across the World Trace Center’s twin towers. He called the project “Le Coup.”

Philippe Petit, Aug. 7, 1974, AP credit

The highwire artist’s book, To Reach the Clouds—My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers, is poetic, obsessive, crazy, and specific about an impossible feat. His memoir starts out describing his ego: “Rebel poet? By four-years-old, disdain for my fellow man starts to show: I climb onto everything to distance myself.”

Petit’s parents legally emancipate him on his 17th birthday. He understands. By age 18 he has been expelled from five schools for practicing pickpocketing on his teachers and doing card tricks under his desk. A Paris street performer on a unicycle with impromptu high wire acts is the life for Philippe. He practices and performs, wowing crowds and provoking police.

Mountain Busting Begins with Enchantment and a Toothache

Philippe’s dream of a WTC highwire act begins in 1968 at age 18 with a toothache. While waiting to see a dentist he thumbs through a magazine and reads an article about NYC’s future World Trade Center. The towers will rise 110 stories and “tickle the clouds.” He is enchanted. He draws a line between the two towers. He sneezes to cover up the ripping out of the article. Under his jacket it goes, and he is out the door, without getting the tooth fixed!

Philippe tucks the article in a “Projects” keepsake box and forgets about it for a while. He begins to do more difficult tightrope walks and improvises equipment to  perform illegally on the towers of a Paris cathedral (1971) and the world’s largest steel arch bridge in Australia (1973).

Faith in Tandem with Patience and Urgency

In between these feats, he reads a WTC article and is alarmed, thinking: “What if they [the towers] are completed before I link them for eternity? I must keep an eye on them. Once they are officially opened, it may be impossible to take them by surprise.”

Tired of Paris and encouraged by American girlfriends, Philippe visits NYC, Jan. 6, 1974. He’s too busy to visit the incomplete Twin Towers, until three weeks later. “I force myself to go meet them.” And when he sees them, and touches a wall, looking up:  “I cannot breathe. Cannot move, talk, think. I am dismayed, my dream dissolved. I feel fear. Glued to the railing, I am an invalid. I stare, I look, I glance, I observe, I watch. My scrutiny yields only two monoliths, beyond all scale, and carves deeper into me the word: Impossible…I long to flee but still the colossal magnet controls my destiny.

“Obscene Syllabic Obesity: Im-pos-si-ble!”

Philippe finds one tower exit door ajar and runs up the stairs. “I bump into construction workers as my body language declares, ‘What are you looking at? I’m the owner of these buildings!'” Then, at the top, among the construction, he views the other tower and sees “a word stretched across the gap between rooftops in all its obscene syllabic obesity: Im—pos—si—ble!”

Then, there is a mind change: “…teeth clenched, eyes half closed, in horror, in delight, I manage to whisper

Philippe on Aug. 7, 1974, between his WTC Twin Towers

my first thought (whisper, so the demons won’t hear): ‘I know it’s impossible. But I know I’ll do it!’ At that instant, the towers become ‘my towers.’”

Removing a Mountain Takes Help

Book cover of “To Reach the Clouds” shows Philippe accomplishing his dream. He crosses eight times that day.

What the rest of the story tells you is that Philippe cannot accomplish Le Coup without the support of a handful of imperfect people–some who are friends and others who are strangers. As one reads the book, one realizes all the individuals have their roles and come together in an amazing way. Philippe uses the word “miracle” several times in his book for the unexplainable coincidences.  It’s not difficult to understand that God is right there in the mix with Philippe and his little band,  giving them the desire of their hearts.

Against all odds, at sunrise, Aug. 7, 1974, Philippe Petit performs his WTC high wire act a quarter mile up in the air without a safety net. Of course, the authorities are freaked out and arrest him after he steps back onto the roof. But NYC loves a gutsy guy.

Actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit in “The Walk” (Sony, 2015)

His punishment ends up being a free performance in Central Park. WTC officials give him a free life-time pass to visit the towers whenever he desires. Of course he first tells them how he worked around all their security protocols.

Topography Transformation

Sadly we know the towers do not outlive Petit. At age 67, however, the artist is still busy. He has an artist in

Philippe Petit
Philippe Petit

residence space in NYC’s  Cathedral of St. John the Divine. In Petit’s book acknowledgment he quotes the church’s retired Rev. James Parks Morton, his “spiritual father”: “Philippe does not believe in God, but God believes in Philippe.”

I like the thought that God has more faith in us than we have in him and in ourselves. And I am encouraged to believe if Philippe could do what he did with the object of his faith being his own abilities, I certainly can remove some mountains with the object of my faith being Jesus who said, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

I have much to learn about mustard seed faith, but this is my takeaway from Philippe:

<><Faith begins with an idea bigger than oneself. It begins with an attraction one might not fully understand.

<><Faith works with both patience and urgency.

<><Faith, although a gift, often requires preparation, perspiration, and perseverance.

<><Faith overcomes discouragement; the timetable of mountain busting is controlled by the one who created time and is not limited by it.

The challenge of mustard seed faith is to spy the mountain, accept it, and then work in tandem with the author and finisher of faith (Hebrews 12:2). After that, watch the topography transform.

Want More of Petit?

For more on Philipe Petit try his memoir and other books. Online, you can find numerous You Tube clips and a TED talk by him. I enjoyed the Academy award-winning documentary film, Man on Wire (2008), by UK director James Marsh and the biographical drama The Walk (2015), directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit. The Caldecott award-winning picture book, The Man Who Walked Between The Towers (2003), by writer/artist Mordicai Gerstein, began my interest in Petit. A beloved three-year-old and I read it often and then line up tiles and pretend we are high wire artists.

 

 

Ten Tips to Help You Throw Off Grudges

I’m percolating on a blog about high wires and mustard seeds. Meanwhile, you might enjoy reading this piece by licensed clinical social worker Nancy Norman. Used with permission, Nancy offers 10 tips to help you throw off grudges. Those resentment gremlins like to hide in soul closets, year after year. Sometimes they ambush when least expected. Perhaps 2017 will be the year to throw off these joy-sucking monsters. Read below and see:

Are Grudges Too Heavy to Carry?

By Guest Writer Nancy Norman

What is a grudge, anyway? Webster says it’s “lingering ill will towards a person for a real or imagined wrong.” A synonym is “resentment.”

Mark Sichel, a therapist writing in Psychology Today, defines resentment as “receptively replaying a feeling, and the events leading up to it, that goads or angers us.” He adds that not overcoming resentment is probably the single most devastating obstacle to repairing a relationship.

This pen and ink drawing shows a woman barely able to care a huge bag on her back with the word grudge across the bag.
A grudge can be a heavy burden.

Resentment is different from being angry with someone. You get mad; you get over it; you put it behind you. But grudges aren’t finished. They offer endless reruns; they fester; they create barriers to closeness; they shout out any chance of resolution except by the person feeling them.

Sichel lists 10 steps to letting go of resentments. I’ve added ideas to his list:

Addictive State of Mind

1. Approach resentment as the addictive state of mind it is. If you can’t keep going over and over how you were offended, you’ll lose the resentment.

2. Realize that you are using resentment to go over old dramas. What your neighbor just did reminds you of an earlier hurt. But you can’t change the past.

Transferring Onto Others

3. Examine how your resentment may come from emotionally confusing people in your present life with people from your past. Your boss has characteristics, both good and bad, of your mother or father. When the “bad” ones show up, the intensity of your anger is often measured by the past–not the present.

4. Acknowledge that you cannot control those who have rejected you. Many resentments come from feeling unimportant to someone who matters to you. You can’t make people like you.

Resentment always hurts you more than it does the person you resent. Quote by Rick Warren, with art showing a park bench by a tree and water.
Quote by Rick Warrren

 

Fake and Fraudulent Power

5. Recognize that your resentment gives you only a false sense of power and superiority. You feel “better than” the one who did you wrong. But there’s no real power in judging others. It’s a lonely existence.

6. Learn to identify signals that provoke resentment. Get familiar with the words and actions that seem to cause lasting anger and blame. This awareness can help you move through the hard feelings.

Powerful, Healing Words

7. Put a thought between your feelings of resentment and chewing on them. Therapists call it “thought stopping.” It takes practice, and it works. Get a phrase in mind that you’ll use when feeling resentment such as, “I can give myself peace.” This interrupts the resentment-ruminating cycle. Say it any time resentment flares.

Sign on window says, "Holding a grudge is letting someone live rent-free in your head."
“Holding a grudge is letting someone live rent-free in your head.”

8. Unless you look closely, you can convince yourself it’s all the other person’s fault. Look for your part in the offense, forgive yourself for that, and make a goal not to let it happen again.

Pardon and Peace

9. Declare an amnesty with the person you resent–whether he or she is aware of it or not. The person you resent may be long dead, but you have the power to grant a pardon. Extend the pardon to yourself as well, for holding that grudge.

10. Forgive when you can, and practice willful and deliberate forgetfulness when you cannot. These acts are gifts to yourself rather than giving in to the people you resent.

AA says that “resentment hurts me most.” To gain more peace of mind, I lay down the grudge. And I look for things to carry that bring me happiness instead.

(Note: The above article appeared in “There’s a Blog in My Eye” over a year ago and has been a favorite among my blog hits. It originally was published in LIFE After 50  and is used with permission. Below is some advice to ponder that a friend found on a sign. It seemed appropriate in thinking about grudges.)

A black printed sign with the words quoted in blog.
The words say: “People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you arer kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway. If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway. For you see in the end it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway” (author unknown).