Sunday, April 08, 2018

Coffee or when in Rome

This isn't coffee either, hot chocolate at the local coffee house.
When in Rome...I drink coffee.  Nowhere else. Everywhere else in the world,  I drink tea.  So it's perhaps more than a little ironic that I'm quoted in a recent Washington Post article about the brewing controversy in California requiring the labeling of coffee as a carcinogen.

But coffee is iconic.  I say, "let's get coffee" to mean, let's find a time to talk that's not over a meal and not in someone's office but at a place where hot beverages are sold and consumed.  But where there will never, ever be a good cup of tea to be had.1 So I talk about coffee.

When I talk about the molecules we eat and drink, I also talk about coffee, a complex brew of a thousand or more different molecules, that most people have some experience with. It is my push back point for molecular madness of all sorts.

Yes, some of the names for chemicals are harsh and discomfiting. What is acrylamide anyway, I imagine acrylic nails or crunkled tubes of paint in high school art class. It certainly doesn't sound like anything I want in my morning pick-me up.  Nor does oxidane, an industrial solvent used extensively in the preparation of coffee. But that last is just water, while the former is perhaps a carcinogen.  The names aren't important in assessing the risk a molecule poses.  Molecular structure and the resultant reactivity are.

Nor does source matter, natural or not. In this case acrylamide is an all natural carcinogen.  Acrylamide is found at much higher concentrations in other foods (see this list at the FDA).  It doesn't matter if it is "clean," organic or non-GMO. If it has sugars (this means fruit) or starches(vegetables) in it and you cook it at high temperatures, it has acrylamide in it, and often far more than coffee. Tobacco smoke has acrylamide in it — if you need another reason not to smoke.

This rush to judgement on coffee makes me wonder about a strain of chemophobia that I see circulating from time to time, one with an extra dash of Puritanism.  Pleasures are bad for the soul, and so by extension must be for the body.  I wonder if coffee and sweets and even artificial sweeteners come in for more than their share of judgement for this reason. 

I'll still drink coffee in Rome, though not in California. 


1.  This is true in the US, and in Italy.  But in Ireland I can get better cup of tea at a gas station convenience store than I can at very good restaurants in the US.

Monday, April 02, 2018

ISO Patron saint of mansplaining

Catherine of Siena/Franceschini via Wikimedia
I'm well into the second week of a run of mansplaining.  I've had quantum mechanics explained to me — twice.  I've had the liturgical rubrics for the Easter Vigil explained to me.  I've had the context of the photo that illustrates my recent essay in Nature Chemistry explained to me.  I've had the lectionary (incorrectly) explained to me.  I've had Marie Curie explained to me. She's fragile (probably as a result of her zombie status), and I must be careful not to suggest that men dominate science, because Marie might be diminished.  I've had chemistry explained to me, repeatedly.  Many men have explained things to me.

Enough. I need a saint to light a candle to that I might have patience.  A patroness for the patronized.  Some ideas!  Others?


  • Mary Magdalene
  • Catherine of Siena
  • Hildegarde of Bingen
  • Marie Curie (how not?)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

God breathing in God

"...simply God breathing unto God in one unbroken line of praise. Alleluia. He is risen. Alleluia. We are risen. Alleluia. You will rise again. Alleluia, alleluia, an infinity of alleluias." — From "Alleluia" in Not By Bread Alone, 2018, Liturgical Press.

Listen to Easter.  Breathe in Easter. Alleluia.




All creation holds its breath

“All creation holds its breath, listening within me,
because, to hear you, I keep silent. ”

Anita Barrows.
Rilke's Book of Hours. Book of a Monastic Life, I,17

Stay here

I stood on the altar, wrapped in a veil of incense,  facing God made flesh in a church grown dark.  Flames flickered and people slowly gathered from the corners of the church. A procession formed, as the choir sang Tantum Ergo.  As the last light vanished down the center aisle, I led the way off the altar.

The cloud of unknowing. The cloud moving at night through the desert.  The puffs of smoke floating up before me to briefly flare in the light pouring out from the vestibule, and part before me. The measured pace of the music and the presider behind me, Christ's body cradled in his hands, guarded by this incense which surrounds us.

We reach the altar, passing through the silent crowd.  The presider incenses the altar and the blessed Sacrament. He kneels, and without thinking, I fall to one knee.

The choir shifts to a Taize refrain, "Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray." I'm thinking of Tom, of staying with him through the early hours of a Holy Thursday; of those who stayed with me; of staying with my mother in her last moments.  I hear the call stay with each other, to remain present to the person we really don't want to listen to, to the person who talks over and over us, to the ones who make us uncomfortable, or frighten us.  Stay here, with me.  Remain here with me. The music ebbs and flows around us. The church itself seems to breathe. Stay. Here.

This is surely liturgy as summit, we have gathered and done what we were asked to do with serene grace, with incense and music, and beauty all around. But this is also liturgy as the font of holiness, as discipline, as training ground.  Kneel here, so that you might know how to kneel before Christ in less recognizable or acceptable guises. Let your feet be washed, that you might know how to accept help, not just give it.

Fr. John leans over and murmurs, "Can you get up?"  My kneeling had not been in the plan, as we weren't sure my ankle would let me get up again without help.  But prayer is sometimes entirely in the body, and in this case it surely was, all those years of praying on my knees in front of the tabernacle and my body decided before my conscious mind had time to weigh in.  "Yes," I assured him. And gratefully, I had no trouble getting up.

The church gradually emptied, I headed out to the parking lot to go home and change and re-splint my ankle before returning for Compline at 10:30.  I get outside to find cars jamming the parking lot, caught in a tangle with traffic from the grocery store across the street and couldn't help but hum...stay with me.