by Linda Ryan
It’s coming toward the end of summer. Farmers’ markets are still full of produce of all kinds, but it’s time to start thinking about stocking up on things for winter: freezing berries or making jam or jelly or preserves, canning beans, corn, tomatoes, peaches, pears, and more. Most of all, there is the making of pickles.
What brought pickles to mind was a photo on Facebook of my sister-in-law and a niece in the kitchen making pickles. I remember Mama making pickles when I was a kid, especially green tomato, watermelon rind, and the fabulous cucumber pickles we called “Baptist” pickles because Mama had gotten the recipe from our Baptist preacher’s mother. Oh, were they good! Soaked for several days in lime, boiled in vinegar with some raisins and a few spices added, then decanted into jars and sterilized, those pickles stayed crisp and flavorful all winter. In fact, we opened the last jar of Mama’s pickles a few years after her death and they were as crisp and tasty as they were a week after she made them years before. I’d almost kill for a jar of them now.
Cucumbers are a lot more historic than I thought. They’re mentioned twice in the Bible, once as referred to in Numbers 11:5, “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic” (NIV). It doesn’t say they pickled any of them, but every single item in that list could have been marinated in vinegar or brine and turned into pickles. The other reference is from Isaiah 1:8 which talks about “Like a hut in a cucumber field,” meaning that they lived without walls, vulnerable to being in a pickle of a situation if things turned bad.
Situations turned up over and over again in the Bible that told of people in a pickle of a situation: the spies that Rahab had to rescue, Naomi and her daughters-in-law when their husbands all died, David being pursued by Saul, the disciples hiding in the upper room, Peter in a place where he was frightened into denying his master, Stephen being stoned at the feet of Saul, Paul being blinded on the road and in jail, and even Jesus in front of Pilate. There were lots more, but you get the idea.
Today we find ourselves in situations from time to time that could be described as “real pickles.” Sometimes they are simple things that are easily fixed or managed, sometimes they are like drowning in a vat of apple cider vinegar. While vinegar is great on salads and in pickles, even for cleaning or on sunburn or jellyfish stings, it’s not something one would want to bathe in or even drink straight, much less be immersed in it for any length of time (diluted is much kinder and tastier). Still, tricky situations do not always last a long time, and they can be both learning experiences and character builders.
Prayer works well when one is in a pickle. For one thing, it encourages our mind to focus on something other than the situation, or at least, to offer the opportunity to view the situation with a bit more clarity or distance. For another, it reminds us that when we are puzzled about which way to go or what to do next, checking a map or a guidebook or asking for help can make things clearer. Also, it reminds us that God is with us and is listening to us, so therefore we are not as alone as we probably thought we were.
I love pickles, except when they are situations in life that are painful, puzzling predicaments. Even so, the trials of life are spicy additions, just as a good pickle is to a good potato salad, a grilled burger, or even as an accent to whatever’s going. Prayer, like a good pickle, adds texture and flavor to life, and offers us a chance to balance a life of busy-ness with a bit of tang or even sweetness. It connects us to God, and that in itself is a thing of blessing, whether in good times or pickleish ones.
This week, I’ll think about Mama’s pickles, but I will also think about the tang prayer offers me in my life, no matter what is going on. Most of all, I’ll remember that when I have a good bread and butter pickle, even if I can’t have one like Mama used to make, God bless ‘er.
God bless you too.