March / April 2018

The Balance of Charoset: A Love Poem from the Earth

Rev. Jennifer Brooks

By Jonathunder – Own work, GFDL 1.2,

Each Passover, which begins Friday evening, March 30, one of the traditional foods in the Seder meal is charoset, which is made from a millennia-old recipe in the Song of Songs, a love poem in the Hebrew scriptures.

Chaoset is a kind of love poem from the Earth.

When people think of Passover, they often remember the big things—the plagues, or the release of slaves into freedom. Not everyone thinks much about something so small and simple as a sweet side dish that’s part of the Passover meal.

But charoset is important. It helps to balance out some of the Seder’s sour and bitter foods—and it’s a symbolic reminder that the joys of life help to balance out life’s sorrows and challenges.

The poem that is the Song of Songs lists all the foods we combine to make charoset.

We start with apples, all cut up. Apples come from a tree and can be eaten fresh or dried and saved for a long time. Even fresh apples, stored properly, can last through the winter.

We add raisins, which are very sweet. Raisins are dried grapes, which grow on a vine. Grapes need lots of sunshine to grow; raisins capture that sunshine and offer it to us as intense sweetness that lasts through a long, gloomy winter.

We add dried apricots. Apricots are a fruit that, like apples, grow on a tree. Apricots, too, can be dried so they last a long time. They’re sweet with a color as gold as the sun.

Dried figs are another ingredient. Figs, like apples and apricots, grow on a tree and can be eaten either fresh or dried.

We add spices for flavoring. Spices come from plants that have especially intense flavors. Just a little bit goes a long way. Like the other ingredients, spices can be used fresh or dried, too, and saved in jars.

We add nuts—walnuts, which are tree nuts that grow in a round, hard shell. The part we eat is inside and we get to it only after we crack open the shell.

The last ingredient is the liquid from crushed grapes. Wine makes the charoset a bit less sweet; grape juice makes it very sweet. Either one helps to hold all the little chopped bits of the other foods together in clumps that make charoset easy finger food.

Every ingredient in Passover’s charoset is special in similar ways: They’re all delicious. They’re all good for us. They don’t need to stay in the refrigerator. They can be easily carried—which is a good thing whether you’re escaping from slavery or just going for a hike.

And, finally, every ingredient is a gift from the Earth that makes charoset a sweet blessing of Life, a millennia-old love poem that sustains us wherever we go.


Charoset Recipe

Ingredient list from the Song of Songs; proportions are guesswork

Apricots, dried, about ½ cup, chopped fine
Figs, dried, about 8, chopped fine
Raisins, about 2 oz (two little boxes; more if preferred)
Walnuts, chopped fine, about ½-3/4 cups
Apples, 3 fresh, chopped fine, with skins
Wine or grape juice, enough to dampen, about 1/3 cup
Spices: cardomon (about 1 T), cinnamon (about 3 T), nutmeg (about 1 T), date sugar (about 2 T)

February 2018


Rev. Jennifer Brooks

It was only four years ago that I traveled to North Carolina to be part of a “moral march” in support of voting rights for people of color. As I walked with 1,500 other Unitarian Universalists and about 85,000 other people from a wide variety of faith traditions from all over the US, I passed a man who was standing on the sidewalk and holding a sign.

“Welcome to North Carolina,” his sign said. “Turn your watch back 50 years.”

The Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century seemed like such a breakthrough moment. And it was. Yet 50 years later Americans are still struggling for full access to the voting booth, for good education, for affordable health care, for reproductive rights, for an immigration policy that preserves the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Folks who marched and sang and wrote letters for these things 50 years ago, and during many of the intervening years, may wonder whether their work has been in vain. The short answer is no; that work has not been in vain.

Because just think where we’d be now without that work.

In this cold and snowy February, we are called to persevere. Each generation stands on the shoulders of those who came before. There are always obstacles. There are always setbacks. And, yes, it may seem, sometimes, that the values we share as Unitarian Universalists are words that someone wrote down and forgot to pass along to the rest of the class.

We can’t let those values languish unlived. At this time in our world, we need the voices of Unitarian Universalists who see the inherent humanity of every person; who seek to live with equity, justice, and compassion in all their relationships.

Our world needs the perspective of Unitarian Universalists who take seriously the idea that people with different opinions can find a way to communicate with civility and respect. Our world, our nation, our state, and our local community—whether they know it or not—are longing for the presence and support of UUs who open their hearts to the needs of others.

Another thing our world needs is the persistence, the perseverance, of people who understand that the world we imagine may be generations in the making—and who also know that every act of love and grace may make an immeasurable difference in the life of a stranger.

The First Unitarian Church is here in Des Moines because of the generations that came before. It will be here in generations to come because those of us here and now remain faithful to our heritage, our values, and our vision.

January 2018


Rev. Jennifer Brooks

Photo by Mikito Tateisi
Photo by Mikito Tateisi

The New Year starts with good intentions. And, yes, we all know that good intentions may not pave the road to happiness. But there is one practice that can make a difference as we seek to live our values in 2018.


When we bring intention to all that we do, we gain a moment of awareness that can help us keep—or intentionally break—those New Year’s resolutions. The practice of intention is the act of pausing to ask: Is this what I intend? Is this thing I’m about to do or say really what I intend?

That question inserts a pause. It’s likely only a millisecond. But the moment in which we ask and answer that question creates awareness. And awareness is the first stage of mindful living.

A pause to notice intention doesn’t mean that we must change what we were just about to do. But we notice it. Over time this practice of intention develops out the ability to choose our words and deeds with more attention to their congruence with our values.

Despite the chilly winter weather, the members and friends of First Unitarian have warmed my heart. I wish you all a happy and healthy 2018. May it be the start of a life of greater awareness—not only for our own lives, but for the life of the world.

May we be the change we wish to see.

December 2017

Habitat Dedication

Rev. Erin Gingrich

It was cold outside and we couldn’t wait to get indoors, but we had to. When we tried to enter the front door of the house, which was slightly ajar, it quickly became apparent that there was nowhere for the door to go—a lot of people were standing on the other side. The entire living room and first floor, in fact, were full of people.  About 50 had gathered to celebrate the completion of Hekmat’s and Abeer’s home, many having worked on the house with the family and Habitat for Humanity through our houses of faith. It was a joyous and prideful occasion.

In the dedication, we learned the homeowners, Hekmat and Abeer, had brought their two sons to the United States from Iraq in 2008 when living there became unsafe. The eldest son was a Grandview University student studying to be an anesthesiologist. I realized I had met him before. As the president of the Diversity Alliance at Grandview, he had helped organized a letter writing campaign to support DACA recipients and their families that our church members signed at a fall event at the Capitol.

It is a small world and a meaningful joy to experience our interconnectedness and support of one another in community. Let us celebrate our church’s efforts in the making of their beautiful home. Let us also celebrate the family’s efforts in making our shared home community and nation beautiful as well.



Rev. Jennifer Brooks


December is the month for hope.

We human beings hope most of the time, of course. Even in our day-to-day lives we hope. Maybe especially. We hope for good weather, or for the traffic to unsnarl, or for the old car to make it through one more winter. We hope the children are OK.

People long ago must have hoped for similar things. Good weather, certainly. Good hunting, perhaps. For the old horse to make it through another winter. For the children to be OK.

During December, it’s possible to see how the hopes of people today and the hopes of people long ago are connected. We can see those big hopes for the world; big hopes for each individual life.

Advent, Dec. 3-24, is from the Christian tradition. It’s often described as the “advent of hope.” Hope for peace. Hope for goodwill. Hope for a better life for all people.

Bodhi Day, the day of the Buddha’s enlightenment, is Dec. 8 this year. The Buddha sat for days beneath the Bodhi tree, and then one day understood how attachment keeps people from experiencing life fully. Whether it’s attachment to the losses of the past, or attachment to future outcomes, attachment keeps us from living life mindfully—keeps us from appreciating the good we experience in the here and now. The Buddha’s enlightenment gives hope to everyone who longs to grow spiritually and emotionally.

Hanukkah, in the Jewish tradition, this year runs from Dec. 12 through Dec. 20. It celebrates the miracle of the lights that lasted for eight days when they should have gone out after just one. The Festival of Lights gives hope to everyone who longs for a signal that persistence is rewarded.

Yule, or Solstice, is the pagan celebration of the longest night in the northern hemisphere—this year Dec. 21. It’s a celebration that arises from the turning of the seasons, which are as infallible now as they were long ago. It’s a celebration of the ever-fulfilled hope that darkness will give way to light; cold to warmth; a fallow season to a time of new life.

And we, in the here and now, watch the days shorten and grow colder. We remember the big hopes that all the religions of the world express. We decorate our homes with symbols of hope. We gather each Sunday to celebrate our free faith that invites people with different beliefs into beloved community—a community that encourages us to wonder, to grow, and to hope.