Masala Sauce: Anger, the Internet, and Indian Food

A few weeks ago I made Indian Masala sauce. It’s a tomato base with a blend of amazing spices: curry, garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg, red pepper. Butter and cream. It’s tomato-ey and spicy and cozy and creamy all at once. It’s called a simmer sauce, because you’re supposed to keep it on low heat for an hour or so, letting the flavors blend together.

The thing with tomato sauces, I’ve found, is that you can’t just let them have a pleasant, tiny-bubble simmer like you can with water or milk. The heat stays deep at the bottom, mingling with all the stuff you’ve put in the sauce, until suddenly, big bubbles reach the surface, pop pop, splattering red all over the stove. And on your clothes, if you’re unlucky (I am).

The masala sauce has become a metaphor for me, as most things in my life do. In this case, the masala sauce reminds me of myself, especially those feelings I tend to keep deep inside.

I don’t usually consider myself to be an angry person. I’m pretty even keel, keeping a straight face and feeling my emotions on the inside. This sounds pretty good, healthy even. But feeling all your feelings on the inside doesn’t mean they don’t exist; it just means other people can’t see them.

Take anger, for instance. I usually keep my anger close to the chest. It bubbles deep in the sea of my soul, making the waters bitter and murky, poisoning myself and the people closest to me. Now, I truly do mean well. I truly do love people. I truly am kind. I’m not one of those perennially angry people who get cut off in the grocery line and unleash a string of expletives. Out loud.

No, my anger is like the masala sauce. The blend of introversion and high sensitivity and empathy, my own personal curry, combine with the garlic of current events and the cinnamon of relationships, the nutmeg of tender memories, the red pepper of painful events. Butter of better judgement, cream of spiritual wisdom. And in the thick, murky tomato sauce of clouded perspective, all these things blend together. Add heat (the stress of really anything), and there’s my anger. It looks good and smells amazing on the outside, but if you get too close, it’ll sear and stain.

Last week I took an unplanned social media hiatus. It was only for a few days, and it wasn’t a straight fast, but it was a big reduction in how much social media I consume. While I didn’t experience a drastic change in my inner psyche, I did notice something: I wasn’t as perpetually, simmeringly angry.

I think we underestimate how much scrolling through the inner thoughts and opinions of friends and strangers can completely overwhelm us. If you’re like me, you have a wide variety of friends and people you follow, all from various social, religious, economic, and political backgrounds. My average day on Facebook is a mental Red Rover. As someone who has a lot of empathy, this is emotionally exhausting, and I want to scream, CAN ALL MY FRIENDS JUST GET ALONG? Social media often feels like one of those cartoon fights where everyone’s in a cloud of dust kicking and punching each other. It’s easy to feel like the real world is this way too, and then it’s easy to feel utterly, perpetually… angry.

So part of my fast was a simple act of removing myself from it all, to enjoy the feeling of thinking my own thoughts and making sense of my own experience, without the filter of others’ opinions. Even if your friends and followers aren’t actively attacking your viewpoints, it’s easy to feel that sense of judgement, that sense that you need to polish up your life and thoughts before presenting them. All this stress, real and perceived, mixes with our personal blend of anxieties and insecurities, with the pain of current events, the peppery taste of snark. And soon we’re all simmering, stewing vats of masala sauce, bubbling up at each other, searing and staining.

I’m still learning what to do about this. I think there’s a place for anger, if only as an indicator that something is going on under the surface that needs to be addressed. I think anger can be useful, but I also think that none of it are well equipped to handle it wisely. Anger attaches all our strong parts to our vulnerable ones, riddling otherwise righteous intent with selfishness. The pot boils over with so much stuff that we can’t distinguish the helpful from the unhelpful, the actions we must take from the actions that are reactive.

The only thing to do, I’ve found, is to turn off the heat. It’s only when the pot has cooled down that you can start to work with the sauce. That looks different for each of us, but I’d bet that for most of us it means stepping back and trying to relate to each other, and not merely attacking the issue at hand. It means challenging the way things are and asking how they got there in the first place. It means curiosity: why are we reacting this way? What do we all want? How can we really get to where we want to go?

For me, it’s important to remember that anger, whether it simmers (stays internal) or boils over (is externally expressed) is only useful if I do two things: think about it critically, and then once I’ve made sense of it, express it.

For someone who tends to fly off the proverbial handle, this means asking those deeper questions, and for someone like me, it means not stopping at those questions, but continuing on to share my feelings after those questions have been asked.

I wonder what would happen if we got more curious about our own thoughts and the thoughts of others. I wonder if it would look more like integration than division. Because the truth is this: no matter what your cooking methods are, all food has to cool down before it can be eaten. And eating—that act of communion and comfort and joy—is the whole point of food—ideas and emotions—in the first place.

I wonder what could happen if we learned to enjoy that meal together.

 

 

Spring Has Sprung, and So Do I.

It’s a warm sunny day here in Western PA, and I am sitting at the coffee shop with a glass of Mango Ceylon ice tea.

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Two of my sisters and I went out for Korean food. I’ve hadn’t had it before, but let me tell you: Korean barbecue is the bestest.

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That green stuff is spinach, sautéed with sesame oil and spices. It definitely makes spinach more palatable. The thing I hate most is soggy, moldy-tasting spinach. >_<

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Spring has sprung! Tiny green buds are popping from tree branches, waking up and stretching out in the warm sun. Every year I know it will happen, and yet every year I am enchanted and filled with delight from my head to my toes. I dance around stupidly and sing songs from The Sound of Music with gusto. I bounce around like, well, a spring (see what I did there?).

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Why is that? We all are refreshed one way or another by spring. There is something about the warm rich smell of dirt that makes our hearts skip a beat. Somehow, by the smells and the light and the textures and colors and tastes and sounds, we are filled with ridiculous, familiar hope.

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I like to think that that feeling of utter joy was meant to be there all the time. God intended for us to always be delighting in His creation, be it through nature or through each other. But when sin entered the world, so did violence and ugliness and lost innocence. Now the pockets of joy we find are hard to come by, hard even to afford.

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But at springtime, we feel that joy again. And it is so familiar, and so natural, that we all long for a time when we can be free to feel it without guilt, pain, or heaviness.

Someday we will.

Weekly Reflection: Traditions

Hello friends,

Every Sunday I’d like to do a little “weekly reflection”, a sort of journal post. It’s nice to take a day before the next week’s craziness begins to reflect and give our minds a rest.

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The fourth commandment says to “remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Some people take that very seriously, and are quite strict with their Sabbath days. And that’s okay. But for my family growing up, Sunday was a day to recharge from the pell-mell activity of the week. We weren’t super strict, but we had our little Sunday traditions that made the day relaxing and special. And even though I’m an adult who doesn’t live at home right now, Sunday still means those little traditions.

Every Sunday morning we went to church, unless occasional illness or total exhaustion or travel kept us away. This gave us an opportunity to quiet our hearts and worship the Lord. This was a huge priority in our family’s life, and still is. This helped us to keep the day holy.

After church we usually had a big lunch, our main meal for the day. Mom would cook something special: sauerkraut and kielbasa, beef roast and potatoes, or her famous lasagna. After lunch we’d have a nap time and sleep for most of the afternoon. It was lovely :o) Then finally, we’d have “Family Night”, when Dad would make an enormous bowl of popcorn and we’d watch a movie.

Obviously, this routine changed from time to time, but overall that was our Sunday tradition. It’s funny how you grow up with a certain routine, and it never occurs to you that other people don’t do things the same way. I’d have friends over sometimes on Sundays, and as the evening wore on they’d ask, “When’s dinner, by the way?” and I’d think it was so weird that they actually ate dinner instead of just popcorn on Sunday nights. Seriously, who eats Sunday dinner at dinnertime? :o)

Long story short, my family’s traditions really instilled in me that Sunday isn’t like any other day of the week, or at least it shouldn’t be. We need to give ourselves just one day of not running around, working, or being busy. We need just one day of rest and reflection and devotion to the Lord.

However, we should not be a slave to the Sabbath either. Jesus Himself said that “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). While we should be purposed to attending church weekly, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” (Hebrews 10:25), even good Christian church activities can become a ball and chain, a way to be even more busy on Sundays. I really respect how my parents achieved that balance when I was growing up. We were active in church, but there were times that Mom and Dad made the decision to not attend certain functions or activities so that we could keep our unity and integrity as a family secure, so that we could be together to rest on the Day of Rest. This is a mindset I have even now and it is a mindset I want to have with my own family.

This past week was nuts. I’ve realized that I need to work on being kind to myself about halfway through the week, because by then I am so burnt out. I get to bed so late and wake up exhausted. This past Tuesday night I had a little meltdown. Tuesdays are my busiest days, and my head is perpetually spinning as I try to keep the proverbial plates spinning. As an introvert my first reaction is to shut down and go off somewhere solitary. The only problem is that I live at a college, where there are people everywhere. And when you’re tired and burnt out, being around people is not the best idea. Whenever I find myself thinking “He’s stupid, she’s stupid, they’re stupid”, it’s a sure sign I need to go lock myself in a closet and not come out til I’ve had a good cup of tea and a nap.

Obviously that is not a correct reaction. It’s something I need to work on. With God’s grace I can live at peace with others, even when my head is spinning and I hate everyone. (Heck, with God’s grace I can avoid the head-spinning and people-hating altogether! :o) So I relish the Sabbath day, and weekends in general. It’s a time to take a step back and decompress. It makes it a whole lot easier to go into another busy week.

So in summary, have a great Sunday. Rest. Reflect. Worship. Don’t overextend yourself or let others dictate how you remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Meet with other believers, yes. Don’t forsake the assembly. Give yourself time to be with the Lord, because that is the most precious and lasting thing you take away from the Sabbath. Draw your loved ones close to you and have one heck of a peaceful day. And have a splendid week to come. :o)

Much love,

Hannah

(Photography by Hannah Allman. Bible references from the English Standard Version.)

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