Failure and Grace | Times Georgian |

2022-09-17 01:48:43 By : Ms. Joan Yang

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A clear sky. Low 59F. Winds light and variable..

A clear sky. Low 59F. Winds light and variable.

When we moved into our home nearly thirty years ago, the former owners had planted two muscadine vines. One is on the far back side near the woods and produces large purple black grapes. The other is on the west side and produces the golden pink variety called scuppernongs. I have learned that both are properly considered muscadines, but scuppernongs are a cultivar of the native muscadine named for the Scuppernong River in North Carolina. The original mothervine is on Roanoke Island and dates back hundreds of years, probably first cultivated by indigenous people of the region.

This year, we are having a bumper crop, and so I decided it was time to make some muscadine jelly. I prefer making strawberry freezer jam. It’s quick and easy and almost impossible to mess up. The delicate art of making jelly entails a distillation process to clarify the juice. Real jelly makers have all the right equipment to ensure that the juice is pure and free of pulp. I don’t have all the right equipment, but I’m pretty proud of my improvised fruit strainer and canner set up. The juice was mostly clear, and my jar ring bottom created the platform to keep the glass jars from cracking in the boiling water bath.

Three days after finishing my run of 8 small pint jars, the jelly is a nice pinkish gold color, mostly clear, but a bit runny. After typing in “why jelly doesn’t set” on my web browser and reading through all the possible explanations, I figured out that probably I set the jars in the water too long, before it was truly boiling, and the longer time in the hot water caused the pectin to fail. Pectin is what causes jelly to set. The remedy is basically to start over, add a little more pectin and sugar, and time the hot water bath properly—five minutes.

Something about making jelly and jam feels spiritual to me. It starts with picking the grapes in the cool of a September evening, filling up my container with fruit that started out as little buds in the early summer. Boiling down the fruit, mashing and straining it, I understand the challenge of growing your own food, putting up what you will need for later, and preparing something sweet and wonderful for those you love. It’s hard work, but in the end, the beauty and satisfaction of crafting your own jelly is a spiritual gift. Making something with your own hands mimics the creating spirit of God who fashions the world from nothing. We take the creator’s gifts and continue the making, pouring love into our work, just as God poured love into the process of creation and into us.

My jelly may be imperfect, but I think God understands and accepts imperfection better than we do. While I may feel shame and frustration at my failure to make the perfect jar of jelly, God knows that failures and mistakes help us grow in wisdom and forgiveness. Even the most experienced jelly maker can have a failed run. We can bake the perfect cake a hundred times and still have one cave. We are fallible, and no matter how many times we practice, we can slip and fall. Being human, as Kate Bowler says, is a chronic condition. There is no cure, just the ability to get back up and try again.

I haven’t decided if I will redo my jelly or just live with a syrupy sweet mess. Sometimes you just have hang in there with your mistakes for awhile before you decide how to move on. That time of living in the uncertainty and messiness of life can be the place where the Holy Spirit stirs something new and different that you would never have gotten to if you had not failed. None of us likes to fail, but it’s inevitable that we will at times find ourselves stumbling or stuck or just flat on our backsides. What we do and where we go next depends on the grace and forgiveness we allow ourselves to receive.

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