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.

 

 

Advent Animals Series: The Lamb and the Serpent

In this series of Advent animals we now come to the Lamb of God and the Serpent. Both are in Bethlehem–along with shepherds, wisemen, Mary, Joseph, donkey, sheep, and camels.

Perhaps the Ancient Deceiver, disguised as a snake, doesn’t pick up immediately that something BIG is happening in this insignificant sheep town. Then, he hears angelic hosts singing, “Glory to God.”

A serpent's head

Such singing really stings. The Serpent, aka Satan, has stopped cow-towing to God long ago and prefers feasting on violence and death. It doesn’t take him long to slither his thoughts to King Herod. Soon, all Bethlehem boys, ages two and under, are slaughtered (Matthew 2).

Hanging by a Thread

Although our salvation hangs by a threat, the Lamb of God is completely safe under God’s will. Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt with enough Christmas gifts to keep them comfortable until they return to Nazareth after Herod dies.

Joni says, "Infant Jesus painted in oils in the center of a tree slice that shows age rings. I wanted this to show the significance of the birth of Jesus to all generations."
“Jesus, born for all Generations” by Joni Ware. Joni, my friend, says, “Infant Jesus is in oils in the center of a tree slice that shows age rings. I wanted this to show the significance of the birth of Jesus to all generations.”

“Behold the Lamb of God”

From Genesis to Revelation, the story of the Lamb of God is a connecting thread. Also, throughout scripture, is the thread of the Serpent: this Ancient Foe, who does everything imaginable to keep the Messiah from entering the world through King David’s line.

In the Old Testament it is the blood of lambs that protects the Israelites  in Egypt while the Angel of Death passes over each house. Families whose door posts bear no blood mark suffer the death of their firstborn sons (Exodus 12). For centuries thereafter, the yearly Jewish Passover requires many sacrifices of spotless lambs. It is into this context John the Baptist announces Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

The Serpent Has a Bible Thread Too

In Genesis 3 we read that God says to the Serpent, “Because you have done this [deceived man and woman to disobey], cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

The crushed head is more than your typical snake-rake killing. The promise to Adam and Eve is one of hope and rescue. But it is costly. God himself must leave home to become a baby and make us holy and wholly healed.

What an incredible story that turns rationality upside-down! God stoops to be a baby and experience what we experience—growing up, with its good, bad, and ugly. He is tempted as we are tempted, but he does not falter–ever. The perfect lamb is sacrificed for us. We are the “joy set before him” that compels him to the cross. Now, life and resurrection await all who believe. Our good God just can’t help being good and rescuing his wayward little folk.

Bible Story for Grown-ups

If you desire a more grown up version of the Christmas story than Luke 2, read Revelation 12. In this metaphoric depiction of warfare in heaven and earth, Satan is called a dragon, which comes from the Greek word “drakon,” to look; fascinate.

Lion and lamb

Of course, Revelation is scary, fascinating horror, unless the reader zeroes in on the Lamb of God. As John struggles to capture this vision he writes: “I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll.…I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain….And he went and took the scroll…and the elders fell down before the Lamb singing a new song.

John doesn’t miss a beat morphing a slain lamb with a resurrected lion. He records:

The New Song

Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation….

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” (from Revelation 22, ESV).

This story has a happy ending and is our Merry Christmas. Baby Jesus grows up to be the Lamb of God. Some day, He promises, earth’s troubles will be rolled up like a scroll. The Lamb will return to rule, and that Serpent gets thrown into a lake of fire.

John concludes:

The Lamb in Revelation 22

“Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.

The Throne of God and of the Lamb is at the center. His servants will offer God service—worshiping, they’ll look on his face, their foreheads mirroring God. Never again will there be any night. No one will need lamplight or sunlight. The shining of God, the Master, is all the light anyone needs. And they will rule with him age after age…” (Revelation 22:1-5, The Message).

Stained Glass Lamb