Everyday Mysticism and a Green Pepper
Sometimes when we think of mystics, we think of individuals who had extraordinary religious experiences. They heard God’s voice. They saw angels. They levitated three feet above the ground. They lived for 30 years solely on Cheetos. (Okay, I made up that last one.) But some did live solely on bread and water. Notice, when describing mystics, I even used the past tense—as if all mystics died before the 21st Century. Surely, in modern times most mystics would be medicated. Doctor to mystic: “I notice you’re floating three feet above the ground? We have a pill for that.”
It was the noted 20th Century Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner who wrote, “In the days ahead, you will either be a mystic or nothing at all.” Theologians have been arguing for years what he meant by that. But many agree on one thing: For Rahner, being a mystic was not reserved for the spiritually elite. It was something available to all, because, as Rahner believed, the Divine is accessible to all. Mysticism then was not something restricted to desert caves, monastery cells, or convent chapels. No, it could be found in kitchens, office cubicles, and local grocery stores.
What exactly is meant by the word mysticism? For our purposes here, this definition by Kaya Oakes will suffice. Mysticism is “a transcendent experience of an encounter with God” (America Magazine, December 17, 2020). According to Oakes, a mystical experience could happen, for example, while experiencing nature, hearing a favorite song in a new way, or having a deeper and more honest conversation with a loved one. Mysticism is not confined to Christianity either. It runs deep in other faiths, such as Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim traditions.
For me, I have always thought of mysticism as seeing something as it really is. Often coupled with this seeing, is the realization of our connectedness with all that is. A mystical experience also bestows a sense of profound appreciation for the inherent mystery, goodness, and beauty of which we are a part. Mystical experiences are most often filled with joy—even ecstasy. The Divine is often sensed as both very near and very far beyond us.
That brings me to green peppers. I sometimes make my mother’s recipe for ground meat, tomato sauce, and elbow macaroni. She called it “Mess,” and several generations of our family have been raised on this dish. (It’s inexpensive and easy to make.) I get excited when I make it, not only because I feel connected to my mother when I do. But also because the recipe calls for a green pepper—sometimes called a bell pepper. That means I have to go to the grocery store and visit the pepper bin. Is there anything more beautiful than a display of green peppers? As I approach the pepper array, I take a moment to gaze at their deep green color, their shiny surface, their gentle inviting curves. I can almost hear the peppers’ tiny voices crying out to me, “Touch me! Touch me! Take me home with you!” So I begin my selection. I handle each pepper carefully, even reverently, seeking the perfect size, firmness, and color. Then I finally select “my” pepper. It’s “my” pepper not because I’m going to pay for it. No, it’s “my” pepper because I picked it out from all the others. It’s become The Chosen Pepper.
When I get it home and start to make my Mess, I rinse the pepper in cold water. Then, on the cutting board, using a sharp knife, I halve it. As the two pieces fall onto the board, I sniff its familiar earthy aroma. Then I take a moment to gaze at the tiny, ecru-colored seeds nestled in the hollow chamber. There are zillions of them! (I exaggerate their number, I know, but I find it hard to curb my excitement!)
I wonder: why are the seeds ecru—and not brown or black like so many other seeds? I’ll have to look that up somewhere. For now, I just appreciate their beauty as I pick one up (easier said than done) and admire it. Just think, I muse, inside this tiny seed is not merely a future pepper, but a future pepper plant! Locked inside each seed, is the genetic code to reproduce itself—that is, to extend itself into the future. Now who came up with that idea? Who makes it all possible? How? And (more importantly) WHY? Was the Divine Creator so enthralled with the sight, feel, smell, and taste of the first pepper that she decided peppers deserved a future—so she devised this ingenious way to keep peppers (and everything else of value) going into the future?
I dice my pepper and saute it in a little oil. That’s what my mother’s directions say. “When soft,” I’ll spoon them out. Then I cut up a “medium onion” and saute that too. (Have I mentioned how excited I get over onions—their vast variety… their perfectly formed concentric circles when you slice them… their translucence when you hold a slice up to the light? Don’t get me started…)
I will continue to make the “Mess” and eventually dine on this cherished family recipe… alone or perhaps with a couple of friends… And here’s the best part: That beautiful chosen pepper will become part of me! How cool is that?
Some people think a mystical experience has to be extraordinary. But I believe many of us are mystics of the everyday. Just ask yourself:
+ What do I get lost in?
+ What takes my breath away?
+ Where do I experience goodness and beauty?
+ What gives me the sense of my connectedness to the cosmos?
+ What makes me feel the nearness and beyondness of God?
PS: I know some of you might be asking, “Can you share the recipe?” So here’s my mom’s recipe … in her own words… typed on an old Royal portable typewriter… on a 3″ X 5″ file card, now slightly bent and stained:
Cut up 1 medium green or red pepper. Saute in skillet with a little oil. When soft, spoon out. Cut up 1 medium onion and put in same skillet and saute until transparent. Put the pepper back into the skillet with 1 lb. fresh ground meat. Add a teaspoon of ground paprika, tsp. of salt & 1/4 tsp. pepper. Brown the meat real good. Add 1 10 oz. can tomato soup. Boil 1/4 lb. elbow macaroni. Drain and add to meat mixture. Mix well. Serve.
The song today is a 17th Century poem by George Herbert, a Welsh poet who was thought to be a mystic by many. It is called “Love Bade Me Welcome” and is a dialogue between the poet (the soul) and God (Love). Love invites the soul to come in to the banquet, but the soul, aware of his sinfulness, hesitates. He feels unworthy, until Love speaks of the one “who bore the blame” (Love/Jesus). The poem ends with Love (God) actually serving the soul. In three simple stanzas, the poem demonstrates the gentle invitation of God (Love) to the human soul, the admission of our sinfulness, the forgiveness of sins through Jesus, Love’s presence in the Eucharist, and God as the Host of the Eternal Banquet.
Dear Subscribers: I know there is a major problem with my blog. I suspect most of you are NOT receiving my blog in your mail. Even I am not receiving mine! I have notified our IT personnel about this problem several times. They assure me they are trying to fix the problem. Meanwhile, I apologize for the inconvenience this is causing you. The quickest way to access my blog is to google “sunflower seeds” and my name. It comes right up for me.
PS: I received my blog in my email Thursday afternoon. I trust many of you received yours about the same time.
I invite you to write a comment comment on anything that struck you in today’s reflection—the words, the photos, the video. We all love hearing from you!
Thank you for giving me a new understanding of the words mystic and mysticism. (and of course I will think of it whenever I see or better yet eat bell peppers!)
Our family has a similar recipe that my Mom called Slumgullion.
Maureen, our family calls it Slumgullion too!
Good morning, Melannie,
I have always loved that poem by George Herbert, and as I listed to it, i was reminded of a prayer said after Communion in the Byzantine Tradition: Behold, this has touched your lips, shall take away your iniquities and shall cleanse you of all your sins. My priest brother (gone to the Lord) always said this aloud, when he celebrated. He said, :These are not just words; this is the reality.” What a comfort!
On another note; “Mess is one of my favorite foods!” and now, it might just be a mystical experience the next time we have it here!
This recipe sounds like American Chop Suey–one of my favorites!!
Thank you for this wonderful article, Sister!!
Thank you for making such a profound subject so real and accessible in such a reverent way.
I know I’ll like your mother’s recipe–Thanks
Thank you for today’s reflection. Always gets my Monday going in the right direction.
My small faith group met last night and one of our members spoke about a poem by George Herbert. She shared a copy with all of us. Imagine my surprise when, this morning, I had the pleasure of listening to these same words put to song! That made my day. 🙂
I have been receiving Sunflower Seeds emails on Monday for years. Since Easter, I not received Seeds for several weeks now. You are lost somewhere in space. Help! I miss your words of wisdom and your food for thought.
Good morning Sister Melanie, I too have missed your blog since Easter, not sure what happened. Today I just sought you out.
Your messages always touch my spirit..thank you.
Hi Sister…I did not receive this week’s Sunflower Seeds. I checked my spam just in case, it was not there. Then tried to subscribe, says my email already exists. Don’t know what is happening. I found you through your website, but like the convenience of receiving it through email. I’ve been getting it that way for a long time, but after your short break, it stopped coming. Can you please check into this? Thank you and God bless!
Dear Sister Melannie,
As I read your beautiful words, they remind me of Teilhard de Chardin’s magnificent view that God is in all, or in his words, everything is graced to be a part of “The Divine Milieu.”
I recently discovered a wonderful book by Louis M. Savary entitled, The Divine Milieu Explained. I highly recommend it for Savary does in fact “explain” the science/spirituality link of The Divine Milieu in everyday language.
God bless you, Sister, as Easter Joy continues
I became well acquainted with Teilhard by reading Louis M. Savary’s “The Divine Milieu”…..and have come to understand the “spark of the divine” in e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. I would recommend it, as well.
The past two blogs have not been sent to our e-mail. We have had to go to a past issue of Sunflower Seeds to be able to bring up a list of the posted blog. We always have enjoyed
your posts for six or more years. We are not tech savvy, please see how we can get back to receiving your postings each Monday in our in box noted below.
Got Sunflower Seeds in my email today at 1:06 p.m. Wednesday. Don’t know if it was fixed on your end or just coming late, because I used to sometimes get it on Tuesday. Anyway, happy to have it, and thanks for whatever happened to get it fixed.
Hi Sister Melannie….in reading some of the comments, it seems I was not the only one who didn’t get the Monday morning blog. I think it means you just can’t take a break! Messes up everything! LOL!😅
I adore George Herbert. And “mess” is known to my family, strangely, as “American chop suey.”
Your Mess reminded me of a dish Mom made, but we called it Favorite. It was even more economical…no meat. We loved it! The closest I’ve come to a mystical experience was when I gave birth to my son and daughter. When my babies were passed to my arms I was awe struck and tears rolled down my face. I’ll never forget it! I’ve gotten Sunflower Seeds every week and always look forward to it! 🤗♥️
Sister Melanie, I recently had the same reaction as you the last time I cut open a pepper. I’m 70 years old and have cut up, probably, at least a thousand peppers in my lifetime, but never before considered the miraculous design and purpose of just one little pepper seed. It truly made me awestruck at the genius and generosity of our God. Not sure why I never contemplated this before, but I laughed out loud when I read your words describing the same experience. Thanks for that and for all your blogs – they are always inspiring. BTW, my Mom made something very similar using canned tomatoes instead of tomato soup. She called it Yukon Pete.
Have a blessed day. Maggie
I received your blog notice in my email, though it didn’t come until Thursday this week. I just wanted to say that as I read your blog, at one point my eyes misread Mess as Mass. I’m sure you can find many correlations in that!
Thank you for always being a bright spot in my life!
I look forward to your weekly words of wisdom and enjoy every bit! Thank you.
Like all large families growing up, lots of mouths to feed and not too much money, so we had a similar dish as your Mess. My sisters and I continue to make that dish and we call it Rose Hotdish. And think of our dear mother, Rose 🌹
I love the way your mind works and how you express that on the page. Thank you for all of your blog posts. I like getting them on Mondays but any day works for me.
I love your soliloquy on bell peppers. There is so much beauty all around us, even in the ordinary. I just received your blog today, May 5. I’m just glad to receive it — ANYTIME!
I just received your blog today and was so glad to get it, I don’t care what day I get it, just so I get it. I so much enjoy your blog. Have a great rest of your week and weekend.
I love that you are able to incorporate God’s creations into a recipe and make me see it in a whole new light
Thank you, Sister!
My dear readers, My friend Sharon tried to leave this comment, but her comment “disappeared.” So here’s what she said after reading this reflection: “I know I had a mystical experience when I read the book ‘The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse’ by Charlie Mackesy.”… She asked me if I had read the book. YES, I have! It’s marvelous! The book is SO simple, yet SO profound. The drawings are beautiful—and mystical! My question to you, my readers: Have you read this book too? Sr. Melannie
This “Seed” was in my email this morning. It is great having you back! Think I will make the Mess for supper tonight. Thank you.
Hi Sr. Melannie!
So great to read your words again! Thanks for the recipe and book suggestion! Take care! Just got a notice my computer is “running low”! Bye!
Dear Sr Melanie, I have also missed your blog lately, so am pleased as punch that it returned to my inbox on Thursday! Your words feed my soul and now your Mom’s recipe will do the same 🥰 Happy Mother’s Day to all of us women who love so many so generously.
I tried to leave a message about the book, as it was given to me at the time of my son’s death last summer, but the system keeps booting me out. Indeed it is a beautiful book, and I gave it to three of his musician friends who came to play at his Celebration of Life. They loved it too.
We called “Mess” goulash. I learned just last year peppers with three bumps are male, and four bumps are femail