Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Nutmeg of Consolation


In my kitchen there is a whole nutmeg that’s been hanging around for a long time. I move it from the chopping board to the window sill to a little pottery dish. I am loathe to throw it away even though it may be too old to grate and get any spice out of it at all. I pick it up and roll it between my thumb and fingers. It it a beautiful, hard little nut about two thirds the size of a truffle. (I can compare anything to chocolate in some form.) Pebble smooth. Half butter-brown, half burnt sienna. It has a design, as if the author was beginning to spin a symbol or paint a scene upon it. Fascinating. It reminds me of … good things.
Today, in a piece I wrote for The Washington Institute of Faith, Culture,and Vocation, where good friend, Steven Garber writes and works and has his being, I reflected on something called “The Nutmeg of Consolation” and related it to Simeon in the book of Luke – of whom it is written that he was “waiting for The Consolation of Israel.” This has always intrigued me. It seems to me that in life we need consolation from or in so many things. Even if unspoken, we look around in the corners of our life, in the rooms where we live, in the people we know, hoping for comfort. Here was a man who lived in waiting for many, many years, looking for The One, peering into the faces and arms of those who crowded through the courts of the temple.

At the end of the piece, I quote from a book by Patrick O’Brian, who wrote a series of sea-faring novels set in the early 1800s. I love them and their characters. The Nutmeg of Consolation  is both the name of a ship and a piece of music. In rare moments of peace, Captain Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, the ship’s surgeon, played duets on the violin and cello. On one such occasion Aubrey asks Maturin, “I dare say, what was that last piece?”
Maturin’s reply: “Nutmeg of Consolation.”
            Aubrey thinks about this and says, “That’s it. Those were the very words hanging there in the back of my mind. What a glorious name for a tight, sweet, newly-coppered broad-buttock little ship – a solace to any man’s heart... Dear Nutmeg. What joy.”
            Yes. What joy to know it is coming. The Consolation of Israel will hove into sight, his sails sheeted to the wind, and you cast-away on an island without hope of rescue. That, my friends, is Divine.  To read the entire piece – go here.

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