by Mary Frances Giles

If you are still searching for new dessert recipes this holiday season, then look no further! These cranberry crumb bars – along with their fraternal twin, the blueberry crumb bar* – are in heavy rotation at my L’Abri table, and are always, ALWAYS met with delight. If you want to win over your friends and relations, then this easy bar recipe is for you!

Cranberry Crumb Bars (from smittenkitchen.com)

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cold unsalted butter (2 sticks or 8 ounces)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Zest and juice of one orange
  • 4 cups fresh cranberries (one 12oz bag)
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons cornstarch

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together 1 cup sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and orange zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and orange juice. Gently mix in the cranberries. Sprinkle the cranberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble remaining dough over the berry layer.

Bake in preheated oven for about 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Makes about 32 smallish bars. Enjoy!

*For a summer (and sweeter!) version of this bar, substitute blueberries for the cranberries, and lemon zest/juice for the orange.


Poems for Advent (IV)

by Sarah Crowley Chestnut

A note of the form of this poem: For reasons unclear to me, WordPress does not respect the line-breaks and indentations of poems.  The intended shape of this poem is very different from what you see here.  Ah well.  If you are a serious reader of poems and would like a copy of the original, email me and I can send you an attachment: sarahcrowleychestnut@gmail.com.

In this final week of Advent, may the light and life of Christ be yours.  A joyous Christmas to all of you from all of us at L’Abri…


Light of Life

“In him was life…” (John 1:4)


Carry the Word in your hands, drop it

on a bench like a stone, set a wedge

to one rough edge, let the hammer fall,

watch it split like a geode, see a symphony



sun, river, shimmering motes, ring-tailed Lemurs,

metallic beetles by the thousands, jellyfish

like clouds, cattails, rat tails,

dance of the fire telling tall tales—

canter, slide and slink,

hummingbird, humdinger, twist, dance

and the rest of it—

Orca, orchid and orbits,

saw-wing swallow streaking like hail—

Kudzu of life fireworking all that is

to every far reach of this gratuitous universe—


because He is and his being is light

and light is a thing with a voice

and wings.  Light is that geode, planted

like a seed, his body a seed buried in stone.


And he is the word and the wedge and the hammer

dropping on the tomb, life splitting walls of darkness

like an infant pressed from the womb.

Poems for Advent (III)

by Sarah Crowley Chestnut

This week I am pondering what it means that Jesus Christ is our peace.  I have long loved John 13-17: Jesus’s final meal with his disciples before his crucifixion, his humble act of washing their feet, his longing to see them love each other the way that he loved them, his promises to them–that he is going to prepare a place for them, that he will always come for them, that he is not leaving them alone, but in the gentle care of the Holy Spirit.  And there is this: his hard words to Peter, predicting his zealous friend’s betrayal.  Really?  Of all the disciples, Peter would turn tail and run?

Because our Bibles have chapter breaks, I never noticed that the very next words from Jesus’ mouth are these: “Let not your heart be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in me.”  In this poem, I imagine those words spoken directly to Peter, whose anxiety (I imagine) was beginning to go through the roof.  And as the conversation unfolded, and all of Jesus’ weighty words about his leaving spilled out, I hear Thomas’s and Philip’s and (the other) Judas’s nervous questions rising from this same foreboding anxiety.  Jesus’s response?  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives do I give to you.  Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27).  This is the kind of peace I want (and need) in the face of my own anxiety.

Simon Peter’s Anxiety

(for Annie)

Questions rose like a wave in my throat, questions

I could not wash down with the wine, the bread.

The water in the basin trembled as he drew breath

to speak words that rolled in my heart like stones—

until you have denied me, the rooster will not crow…

My questions stretched anxious hands, snatched

at tail feathers, the doorknob—I was an empty-armed child,

aching to be pulled close. The crumbs

around my feet grew heavy like bones, glinted white,

set the darkness in relief.

And there was a wild bird on that wave, rising

angry in my heart, beating frantic wings, hammering

a sharp beak from inside the cage around my soul.

He could have tossed a handful of seed to feed

that insatiable beak, and quieted, for a moment, those thundering

wings.  But instead he lifted new words

from the floor (those crumbs), slipped them between

my ribs like a key, turned until he heard the click,

set that wild bird free—

                                                    there’s a room inside you,

he said, where the Spirit will be, cupping warm hands

around the grist mill of your heart where these words will turn

and turn, will help you breathe: let not

your heart be troubled, I leave you with my peace.

Poems for Advent (II)

by Sarah Crowley Chestnut


Love Speaks to Nicodemus

     “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,

      but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).


Here’s the thing, he whispered

through the darkness, words bright

like sun on a steel blade. Love

is like a fallen seed, held tight

as it breaks and bleeds. I am

that small seed come to bleed.

Go down to the dirt with me,

where darkness cracks you open,

fills your lungs with a quiet musk—

you will raise a birth-cry the color of rust.

This is the work of being born

again: cracked seed, water, soil, sun,

Spirit holding you in red hands

laid open, gentle, like a fan.


Always I have been leaning low,

ear pressed to hear the stones,

dropped limbs, spent leaves,

upward cry of lowly things—

for you ache upward, too, like dew,

have known that downward pull since the womb,

beginning that is an end, end that makes you sing:

the world is lovely because he loves it,

love reaches for the light, breaks open from the deep.

Poems for Advent (I)

By Sarah Crowley Chestnut

Back in October I had the privilege of attending a poetry workshop at OQ Farm in Vermont with a dear poet friend of mine. It jump-started what was feeling like a stalled-out writing life, and since the workshop, I have found writerly camaraderie springing up both close to home (Liz, in the other wing of this big, old house) and afar (Anna and Hilary at Swiss L’Abri, and Andy and Lindsey in Greatham). There are many reasons I love poetry and believe people should include poetry in the pile of books on their bedside table—it hones my vocabulary, it schools me in image and metaphor, it makes me a more perceptive reader on the whole, and this: it slows me down and helps me pay attention to life and language.

Yesterday we marked the beginning of Advent, the start of the liturgical year, and the season of watching and waiting—for the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and for his anticipated Second Coming. To keep watch expectantly requires that we slow down and pay attention in a season when most of us are racing to check things off our lists (the gift list, the party grocery list, the cleaning-before-family-arrives list, the winterizing list, the decorating list). But to what—or whom—are we meant to pay attention? In his Gospel, Matthew answers this question in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight…” This Advent, we are invited to slow down and pay attention to Jesus, the one who proclaims justice to the nations, the one who does not shout out about himself, the one who is gentle with the bruised reed, the one who tends to a smoldering wick. The one in whom the nations put their hope.

And so, in hope that it might help you slow down and pay attention to Jesus this week, I offer you this poem. If all goes well, there will be one for each week of Advent.


Hope     (Matt. 12:15-21)

because we were hungry

because sunlight was thick on the fields

because his hands were at home

brushing the tops of golden wheat

because at his touch

the grain fell heavy

because we were hungry

warm kernels rolled like hope

over our tongues, seed of bread

ground like mercy between our teeth

because we were hungry

as hungry as a bent reed, hungry

like a flickering wick—

he whispered mercy, hauled up hope

cold and wet, bleating like some frightened sheep

(some say hope has feathers—

let us say it has a woolen fleece)

but because we only saw what we could see

because even eyes can want to feed,

we dreamed of grinding him like wheat,

pinning down those reaching hands—

the flour sack dropped—dust on everything—

dust on the Sabbath, he made dust on the Sabbath

but still we trailed him for healing,

laid hope wheeled in like the harvest at his quiet feet,

saw the traceable trail he tracked

through the dust on everything

because we were hungry, it was hope that fell

into our dust-covered hands, silent like a seed.


by Joshua Chestnut

Matthew 10:1-4 – And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.


So the votes are in and we have a new president-elect.  In an election season as divisive, antagonistic and downright juvenile as this last one, many of us, myself included have not been immune from breathing it’s toxins in.  Yet, now that the votes are counted, that the winner has been declared, it would be naive to hope that these months and months of angry slander and polarizing rhetoric will just dissipate and we’ll all happily move on together.  The common refrain that I have read and heard since election night is that we just didn’t realize how fragmented and angry the American people actually are, and from where I stand it seems as though these divisions are as real in the church as they are in wider culture.

What has been instructive for me these last months is to consider why in the gospel of Matthew the only disciples whose names are followed by a title are Matthew “the tax collector” and Simon “the Zealot.”  Now, in most cases, if you’re a reader like me when you come upon any list of people in the bible (this one included) your mind jumps into skim mode, zooming over at a thousand feet so you can get back to the matters at hand.  Yet upon slowing down and taking a second look at this list, and these two titles of “tax-collector” and “zealot” in particular, I wonder if Matthew, in a rather subtle and indirect way, wants to teach us something important about the type of community that Jesus has both called to himself and sent back into the world.

In Jesus’ day a zealot was about as far removed ideologically, socially and politically from a tax-collector as a Marxist guerilla is from a conservative radio pundit.  The political differences between a progressive Democrat and an anti-establishment Republican might in fact pale in comparison to these radically conflicting political alignments.  Commenting on this in his hefty but profoundly helpful two volume commentary on Matthew, Frederick Dale-Bruner writes “… that a “leftist” Zealot and a “rightist” tax collector would now find themselves in Jesus’ apostolate suggests the power of Jesus.  He is able to take both liberal and conservative mentalities, both Left and Right, and, by uniting them to himself, unite them to each other in a cause higher than either Left or Right.”

There is something instructive here for Christians on either side of the political divide living in a splintering democracy like ours.  At a minimum, Matthew’s list of the disciples with its striking juxtaposition of a former freedom-fighter now working alongside a one-time traitorous collaborator with the Empire shows us that Jesus’ mission is undertaken by sinners transformed by grace rather than saints without pasts.  This should instill in us a grace and hospitality towards those who differ from us on weighty and important political matters.  But even more so, this list evidences the power of the gospel to create a community of radically different people whose political and ideological differences have been put in subjection to Jesus’ greater call of being his disciple.

To be clear, I do believe there are lots of political and cultural matters that are worth disagreeing about, even getting upset about, and I am not intending to downplay these in the some sort of watered-down call to “just get along.”  Nor am I saying we should overlook unacceptable behavior or dangerous policy proposals, but how we deal with that is a matter for another blog post.  Many of us are justifiably upset at the way this whole process went down, and frightened by the picture of the nation it has given us.   It is here, in this place of disillusionment, fragmentation and polarization that the church of Jesus in North America needs to remember that Jesus calls his disciples from across the political spectrum to himself and his call eclipses, transforms and subverts our prior political affiliations uniting us to a higher cause.



Pumpkin Apple Autumn Gold, and Understanding Soup

By Sarah Crowley Chestnut


Soup and I go way back. On fall nights during high school, when I returned home at dinner time after volleyball practice, the welcoming aroma of my mother’s chicken noodle or her beef stew met me on the short, brick walk way to our front steps. And there were biscuits on the table, too, nestled in a basket, tucked in with a cloth napkin to keep them warm.

In my second year of college I had mono for a month, and my mother brought me her chicken noodle in a quart-sized mason jar when she and my father were in town on business. I knew that I was loved.

In the years after college when I lived in Prague, teaching English to students bright as a lit wick, I taught myself how to make a creamy potato soup, studded with the bright half-circles of carrots I bought at the vegetable market in the small plaza at the mouth of the metro. There was celery, too, and white wine. I learned how to make a roux.

One afternoon a Czech co-worker took me on a walk through the heart of the old town, and we stopped “for refreshment” in a small tavern, tucked (like those warm biscuits), in a thick medieval wall. We sat at a table that was small and round. The waiter brought us a rendition of borscht that seared itself into my memory. It was chunky: beets, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes. There was sausage that made it smokey. And the pigment of the broth!

During my years at Regent College I ate soup every Tuesday, with the rest of the school, from a white bowl balanced on my knees, and a Portuguese bun spread with peanut butter and raspberry jam leaving a dusting of flour over everything. In time, I was the one who made that Tuesday soup with the help of many hands. I learned to extract garlic from its skin properly: trim the root end, set it on your board, lay the flat of your knife on the cloves and let the heel of our hand fall hard on the smooth steel. Pluck the crushed clove from its husk. Repeat. There was roasted butternut squash. There was vegetable barley. During Lent, even nettle and potato to remind us of the sting of thorns.

It is fall—deep fall—in New England; the air snaps hungry jaws and what it wants is soup. At L’Abri we make soup by the gallons: Ben’s Corn Chowder, Mary Frances’s Tortellini Spinach, Liz’s Potato Leek. Or this past Monday, because it was Halloween, my Pumpkin Apple Autumn Gold. I am told there was always soup at the Schaeffer’s table. And when I was a Helper here in Southborough, trying to recreate that Prague borscht from my tastebud’s memory, word got back to me that Joe Morrell had told Joshua, “Your wife understands soup.” I really can’t think of a better compliment one could pay me. It amounts to this: soup is as simple as sunbeams, and as complex as the light they make.

So join us at the table. Pumpkin Apple Autumn Gold is hot, and warm biscuits are tucked and waiting.

Recommended Reading and Cooking:

The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Farrar Capon (especially the chapter, “Living Water”)

Twelve Months of Monastery Soup, Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila Latourrette

The Moosewood Cookbooks—any of them—for great vegetarian soup recipes.


Pumpkin Apple Autumn Gold (adapted from Moosewood Cooks for a Crowd)

This recipe makes 25 12-oz. Servings. Invite your neighbors over and plan to freeze some, too. Or halve the recipe.


16 cups / 7 lbs Cooked pulp of pumpkin or other winter squash (I used a mixture of sugar pie pumpkin, kabocha and butternut squash)

10 cups / 2 lbs.8oz. Onions, chopped

½ cup Olive oil

1 tsp Dried thyme

3 TBS Fresh sage, chopped (optional)

1tsp Ground nutmeg

1-2 tsp Ground cinnamon

1 thumb-size piece Fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped (optional)

8 Bay leaves

2 generous pinches Kosher salt

Several cranks Fresh ground pepper

4 cups / 1 lb. 4 oz. Carrots, chopped

6-8 cups / 2 lbs. Celery, chopped

1 cup White wine (optional)

3 qts. Chicken or vegetable stock

1 qt. Apple juice

1 qt. Orange juice

more salt and pepper to taste

Plain yogurt and toasted pumpkin seeds to garnish

  1. Halve and seed the pumpkin/squash, rub lightly with olive oil and bake, covered with foil, at 400F for about an hour, or until very soft. Set aside and then scrape out the pulp when it is cool enough to handle. Meanwhile…
  2. Heat oil in a large pot, add onions, herbs, spices, salt, pepper and bay leaves and saute until onions begin to soften.
  3. Add the carrots, celery and white wine, stir and cover, cooking on medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
  4. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until the vegetables are very soft. Remove the bay leaves as best as you can.
  5. In a blender, puree the squash, juices and rest of the soup in batches until smooth. Taste for salt and pepper and season to taste. Reheat gently.
  6. Garnish with a swirl of yogurt and a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds.