Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Asperges, Asparagus, Aspergillum
Back in March I bemoaned the lack of local tomatoes and hungered for those beautiful Hanover tomatoes we will have in a couple of months. I closed the moan-a-rama with a mention of Peruvian asparagus, also not a locally sourced veggie in March.
My friend Jules had a beautiful reflection on asparagus at her blog, and she got me thinking about my favorite green veggie.
Good news (at least for me) right now. Local asparagus is here, the true harbinger of spring. I picked up some from our Farmer's Market last week, a parishioner brought me some from her own garden on Monday, and I just got another bunch of glorious, fat, purple-topped spears from the Farmers' Market again this morning. I am happier than a pig rolling in...well, asparagus.
Because my mind plays hopscotch with words, as I was looking at these pretty spears, I remembered the French word for asparagus: "asperges." Lovely, that word, so soft and lush, with the zzzhhh sound at the end, like the sigh I make when I eat perfectly prepared asperges. Asperges au gratin. Potage aux asperges. Yum.
But then I thought, "Wait! Asperges! Isn't that the word for the liturgical act of sprinkling folks with Holy Water? Aren't we going to do that at the Easter Vigil service on Saturday night?"
Of course...but what's the link between the greenish-purplish spear of vegetation that makes our urine smell funny and a holy ritual at the most powerful of our liturgies?
I remembered that the implement for doing the sprinkling of the holy water is called an aspergillum, but it doesn't look like the veggie. Those who participate in such sprinklings often use a branch of a shrub (hyssop is what is defined in Psalm 51:7 - Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow - as the appropriate bit of leafy sprinkler) but I wonder what it would be like to use an asparagus spear? Would this invalidate the whole act? Would we all smell a bit fetid as a result? Or are we all a bit fetid in our hearts and in need of the cleansing?
After all, asparagus was long thought of as having curative properties. Galen said it was "healing and cleansing." It is high in vitamin C and antioxidants. Perhaps it is the perfect name and the perfect tool for cleansing of body and soul.
It is unlikely, I fear, that Father Geoff and I will use asparagus on Saturday night to sprinkle holy water on the folks in the pews. More likely a sprig of boxwood, which has its own odoriferous qualities. But the cleansing of the heart will be the same, the cleansing of the soul, and it will be something more akin to the aroma of Christ (2 Cor 2:15) as we remember that we are once again saved.
Thanks, Jules, for setting my mind in gear!