One jillion tiny red currants,
already simmered, fill
Mama’s jelly bag, slung
on its tripod — summer
reduced, overnight . . . drip
by drip . . . until piquant,
brims in the metal bowl:
suspense, at its sweetest.
Time plus fruit, gently filtered through fabric open enough to permit the passage of light, creates a domestic trifecta. The upshot? Shimmering jelly, to later be spread like jewels across winter toast.
Just typing those words makes my mouth water. The image offsets weightier meanings of “strain” — as both noun and verb.
With the Delta variant on the rise, with wrenching losses and lockdowns barely behind us, escalating fatigue and fear plus diverse opinions can erode our peace.
“There is a physics of friction,” essayist Tim McCreight writes. “Things push against each other.”
Derived from the Latin stringere, “to stretch something to an extreme or damaging degree,” strain takes on different meanings in diverse areas, such as music, medicine, lineage, and biology.
Strain is a shape-shifter. Who knows where it will appear next?
My head lifts, as I catch a Celtic tune’s familiar strain,
or my neck bows over the sink, as I strain a batch of dubious gravy.
Perhaps appetite stages a binge, numbing a mind and nerves strained by too many housebound days spent avoiding excessive heat and smoky air.
Ears strain to decode an accented voice on the phone.
After a 4-mile run, strained muscles benefit from massage.
And memory offers the fraying thrum of rope straining through a pulley, my father winching our boat from lake to trailer. (Oh, the suspense: Would the rope hold?)
In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes: “The strain of life is what builds our strength.”
When we face it—head-on and heart-foremost—we can overcome doubt, dare that next step forward. And as we do, grace closes the gap, supplies us with nourishing fortitude — sometimes, through other people.
Dare I view strain as an invitation?
“If you do this, and God so commands you, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will also go to their homes in peace” (Exodus 18:23, International Standard Version).
Thinking again of Mama’s jelly process, I make a plan . . .
- Let faith, rather than dread, simmer.
- Maintain the tools (prayer, worship, the Word).
- Make friends with time.
- Welcome prolonged suspense.
- Savor the juice of simple goodness.
Then feast on a bagel smeared with jelly.
Friends, what is strain teaching you? I could use a few tips . . .