In Memoriam – Phyllis Tickle

Today, in celebration of Phyllis Tickle’s life, we share with you an open letter, written in thanksgiving for her friendship, guidance, and love over the last twenty years.

Phyllis at Lucy Farm

Dear Phyllis,

What can we, at the Community of Jesus, say about you?  How much of a friend you were, how we miss you terribly now and feel a hole in our days when we let ourselves think of you, and all that you have meant to us and done for the church?  

We remember your great laugh and your warmth of spirit, how you would encourage and challenge us to think beyond what we knew, to what is unknown, and maybe uncomfortable, but possibly something new to consider.  Where do we get this kind of friend?  A friend who would stick her neck out — knowing she was throwing some people into a frenzy of confusion, and yet, at the same time, feeling it’s a necessary duty.

We know you also enjoyed those moments.  You didn’t hide the twinkle in your eye when your probing had moved one of us off our chess spot, so that we bumped the Knight next to us and now saw the Queen from a completely different angle.   Yes, there were some very crafty moves, and yet, you weren’t just crafty, you were interested in the growth of an individual and its direct effect on the church.  Open the doors of the mind, let there be new ideas, let our words speak to a church in need, not a church we wish existed.  These were your words, and you were an evangelist and advocate, eager to live out your faith on the hoof with great intention and integrity.   

We miss you, friend.  We see your hand at Paraclete Press, and you will always be with us as a reminder to keep our sights on the future and the needs of a hurting world — of which we are a part — and to live out that vocation in the market place.

We miss you, friend.  We remember your words and your impassioned plea that the theater of the church be vital and full, retelling the great stories of faith and the riches of God’s promises to his people.  Elements Theatre Company owns this charge.

We miss you, friend.  We hear your chortles and southern twang as you tell stories and enjoy a visit with friends and colleagues, believing that at the basis of relationships, commitment and faith were paramount.

It has been our great privilege to know you and work with you, to sit with you and talk with you, to be a part of the church together and serve its future.  

With our great love and affection,
Your friends and family at the Community of Jesus

And flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest.  Hamlet V,ii

Outside Looking In

By Faithful Friar

Sometimes it’s funny to be on the outside looking in. For several years now – ever since overlapping events left no one else to ask – I have been privileged to participate in a succession of Elements Theatre Company productions, either at home in Paraclete House at the Community of Jesus or on the road to points between Boston, New York and Philadelphia. But here I was last week filing in to the audience for a summer theater performance of 3 dramatic monologues written by Alan Bennett for his “Talking Heads” BBC series some years ago. Totally unfamiliar with this material and contributing virtually nothing toward the set, stage, technicals or properties as I usually do (not to mention costumes, makeup, publicity, catering, directing or acting!), here I was on the outside looking in.

Talking Heads x 3

And what a spectacle it was! The best analogy I can make is that of the pleasure and enjoyment one might experience of a fine Tuscan dinner. In fact “delicious” is the adjective that came first about the experience in that theater. The stage was set with comfortable house lighting and welcoming string-based background music. The stage itself was open, fairly vertical, composed of 3 or 4 playing areas sectioned off with bright spare metal work. The opening monologue – prima piatti – was a hot risotto, rich and flavorful, accompanied by a light white wine: the character of a clever but somewhat bewildered elderly son who reveals more than even he can understand about both himself and his mother in the recounting of recent events. Delivered with nuanced expression in proper British RP (received pronunciation), one could savor the complex signals of a close (closed?) family relationship as it becomes tested.

The secunda piatti was a more complex, brooding and spare piece, yet complete and totally satisfying in its parts. It could have been a serving of wild boar or sausage prepared following ancient methods, with a mouth-watering polenta and 2 or 3 local vegetables fresh-cooked and savory, all imbued with a fiery mystery by a fine Chianti red. This one told by a younger woman from within the confines of social strictures and crisis of faith subsumed in the ancient wrestle of marital relations and self-remedies of ironic humor, alcohol and sex. Heady fare, affairs of the heart.

So on to the final piatti, the Dolce. A word that comes out it English as “sweet” – appropriate enough in its confectionary capacity. But the sheer effervescence of Italian desserts and of this closing monologue transform each from saccharine to sanguine and give each an inner glow quite beyond their subject matter. The ices, gelati, sweet lemons and creams could all stack up against this well-meaning but impulsive letter-writing maven who makes enough public nuisance that she lands herself in jail. Then without changing a beat (other than a lightning-quick costume change) she transforms herself into a loving, affectionate friend to all her new sisters in the cell- block. The whole thing is so joyfully and limpidly creative. And it wraps up a production whose lighting, sound, movement and text – both spoken and subliminally expressed – are “just so”. Dolce!

So please join me in a toast of sparkling prosecco to this wonderful theatrical feast. May there be many more to follow (with or without my help)!

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Taking down from a great run!

Quiet Reminder

By Renaissance Girl

Tucked behind the set of our theater production of “Julius Caesar,” I have had the unexpected privilege of hearing comments from the audience as they return to their seats after intermission. The set is outside in the atrium of The Church of the Transfiguration — the stone paving and imposing columns setting a believable scene for this historic tale. Inside the side aisles, the roof gives way to open air — the moon and stars add to the elemental thread through the play.

As I stood there two nights ago in silence and out of sight, I heard two women walk by, heading back to their seats. One of them said “I just can’t help but look up to the heavens now and again — it’s so beautiful” and her friend replied, “I know, and to see that huge angel looking back down on us — amazing!” I smiled to myself at the reminder to look up to the heavens now and then, and know there are angels looking back whether we see them or not.

The Community of Jesus

 

Chestnut Stuffing: Recipes From A Monastery Kitchen

 
Last month Elements Theater Company presented two memorable weekends of Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol in our church. Favorable comments were made about each little detail of the production, including one delightful feature that added much to my own enjoyment of the experience. This was the roasting of chestnuts out in the cold night air over an open fire in the church atrium before and after each performance.

 I think of Christmas time as chestnut season and since childhood chestnuts, along with pomegranates, have to me always been as essential as holly and ivy to its celebration. Not only did we enjoy eating the nuts warm out of the shell, but at our house they were always considered a necessary ingredient to our holiday stuffing. That’s what made it so special and different from the stuffing we had the rest of the year.

The combination of sausage, chestnuts, apples and savory herbs still remains in my memory as a most extraordinary culinary Christmas experience. But there’s no reason it can’t be enjoyed, even after the holidays while chestnuts are still available. Here’s my  suggestion for a cold winters night……stuff a nice crown or loin of pork and roast it for an unexpected, out of the ordinary dinner. I guarantee you rave reviews.

Chestnut Stuffing

1 pound crumbled sausage meat
4 ounces butter
1 cup diced onions
1 cup diced celery
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 quarts bread, cut or torn into 1-inch cubes
4 ounces chicken stock
4 ounces cider
1 cup diced apples
1 pound roasted, peeled, and cleaned chestnuts cut into quarters
Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put sausage meat and butter into a hot casserole. Add onions and celery and cook until soft, but not brown. Remove from heat and add marjoram and thyme. In a bowl combine bread, vegetables, hot stock, cider, apples and chestnuts. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Place in covered baking dish and bake for 30 minutes or stuff into roast. Add a sprinkling of pomegranate at serving time for a touch of color and extra flavor.

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“Will you let me in, Fred?”

By Renaissance Girl
 
Elements Theatre Company is performing “A Christmas Carol” right now. Such a classic Christmas story — I look forward to seeing some version of it this year. But something different is striking me about it this season. It doesn’t feel like just a heart-warming Christmas story any more. It is a challenging and hopeful story of daring to say yes to a journey that takes you places you don’t want to go – so that you can emerge someplace you never thought you could be.
 
We’re presenting it in the style of Reader’s Theatre — so there are no sets or costumes or props to draw the attention — just the words. The line that grabs my heart is towards the end. After years of hardening his heart, treating people like dirt and closing himself off to any conviction or change, Scrooge says yes to a wild ride through his past — looking at every painful memory and bad choice he made and facing it. No one has he treated worse then his nephew Fred, who valiantly tries to invite him to Christmas dinner each year.
 
Having found himself alive Christmas morning and overwhelmed with gratitude and joy, Scrooge makes his way to Fred’s house, shows up on his doorstep and asks “Will you let me in, Fred?”
 
Total vulnerability and willingness to shed all pride — in the risk that Fred could turn him away. Such a simple sentence — and so powerful — the story of Transfiguration in six words.
 
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Seeing Through

 
I was in Boston this past week with Elements Theatre Company.  Four members of the company performed “God of Carnage” by French playwright Yasmina Reza.  In short, it is the story of two sets of parents who have met to discuss the fact that one of their sons has smashed the other in the face with a stick and broken two teeth.  Through the course of the play, each parent is stripped down to their raw-est self and what seemed a clear cut case left me with more questions than answers.
 
It was a unique opportunity to see it almost four times.  I learned things about myself I wasn’t completely prepared for.  Like the fact that I make a hard and fast judgement based on surface facts.  It seemed clear to me that the boy with the stick was at fault and should be punished – until the rest of the story started to come out and I found myself questioning the “victim.”  Or that I, too, have a “public persona” I put on to ensure that I am well-received and liked, when what’s really underneath would rival any nine year-old.  When I get uncomfortable with a situation, it’s easier to fixate on something else — like a tragedy in a foreign country — than to lean into what’s right in front of me.
 
Isn’t that partly (or mostly) why we go to theatre?  To see ourselves and what we truly are – or could be?  To see that maybe we don’t have to live our persona — maybe it’s possible to just be ourselves. 
 
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Lessons From Puck

 
Elements Theatre Company just finished a run of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Nights Dream.”  I played the part of Puck — a fairy and servant to Oberon, King of Fairies.  It was a  great journey, finding and embodying this character.  For our final shows, our director Sr.Danielle, asked us what about our character did we want to celebrate in our performance.  I thought about Puck and looked back at his evolution.  Traditionally, Puck is played as a sprightly character, innocently making mistakes on orders Oberon gives him. Our Puck was a bit darker, reveling in the chaos created by his blunders.  But what makes him endearing and inspiring, is his ability to completely move on after making huge mistakes.  He endures the wrath of Oberon and, in the next breath, eagerly receives his next assignment.  I saw such courage in this.  To barrel into whatever task is given, fail gloriously, and eagerly charge headlong into the next task.  For now, Puck has returned to the pages of Shakespeare’s script, but hopefully not without leaving a bit of his spirit with me.  
 
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Recipes from a Monastery Kitchen

 by Gourmet Nun

Last weekend Elements Theatre Company performed Henrik Ibsen’s “Pillars of the Community.” Each production we fed the cast and crew meals and snacks. This year I was feeling homey, so made some really good comfort food for them — what I like to eat, and what I know a number of them really enjoy. So it was meatloaf (a great recipe by Emeril Lagasse), macaroni and cheese, a really meaty lasagna, fried chicken (Ina Garten’s oven fried – my favorite)…you get the picture.The last night we decided to “pull out the stops,” making up big platters of antipasti, salad, home made bread with some of the lasagna, and as an afterthought, deviled eggs. Now I think I make a pretty mean deviled egg, and guess it’s true, because they were all gobbled up to rave reviews in the first wave of diners. I did this pretty much by “add a bit and taste.” I’ve tried to give you some measurements, but it’s really best if you make this to your level of devilishness.

Deviled Eggs

6 eggs, hard-boiled, cooled, peeled
1/2 cup Hellmanns Mayonnaise
about 1/2 teaspoon of  Worcestershire sauce
about 1/2 teaspoon of dry mustard
onion salt, to taste
ground pepper, to taste

Cut eggs in half lengthwise, remove yolk to a small bowl, set aside whites. Mash with a fork, adding mayonnaise, Worcestershire, and mustard, mixing until creamy. Add onion salt and pepper to taste. Spoon or pipe (with a star tip) mixture into egg white halves. I found that I had just enough to fill all 12 halves. Garnish with paprika if desired.

 

Marta

by Renaissance Girl

I met a new friend about 6 months ago.  She wasn’t someone I would normally cross paths with, but there she was — to become an intimate part of my life for the next 6 months. We had a lot in common, and our first chats were easy. But as it turned out, we had some things that were quite different, and the chats got more personal and challenging. We talked and worked and moved together, walked through history over and over, each time with a new result, or more questions. I realized along the way, that I couldn’t imagine my life not having met her. I had the chance these past two weekends to tell her story. She went from being a character on paper, to being a real flesh and blood person — my flesh and blood.  We talked a lot, and for the last time last night, I let her story tumble out for whoever was at the performance of the play to hear it.  Her youth and heartbreak, patience and sadness, love for the child she raised and the heart-wrenching sacrifice of giving her up. Last night I had to say good-bye and I have an ache inside me this morning. She was a “good friend.” She cried with me, laughed with me, and laid a challenge before me with her final words which I hope I can learn to live: “We all have things we think we need, when really we don’t.” Thank you Marta.  I hope we will meet again.