(I wrote this piece for the Portland Press Herald, where it was originally published on June 23, 2007; given today's weather news, it seems appropriate to reprint it here, accompanied by prayers for those on the Gulf Coast.)
When my daughter celebrated her 12th birthday
earlier this week, she asked for a Texas chocolate sheet cake. We first
learned about the recipe two summers ago, when a friend posted it as
her Web log entry for July 4th.
Let me step back and define the
terms of the last sentence. A Web log is an online journal, or "blog,"
for short. The journal is a blog, and writing for it is blogging, and
the person who does the writing is a blogger.
blogging for over three years now, more than four if you count three
posts in the winter of 2003, but I don't count them, really.
real life as a blogger began in the fall of 2004, when I discovered the
blogs of several other clergywomen and began leaving comments for them,
then receiving visitors and commenters of my own.
Many of those
bloggers choose to write anonymously and employ nicknames for
themselves, their families and the places in their lives.
you still with me? Out there on the Internet, I post short pieces of
writing, not unlike those I write for this newspaper, and at the bottom
of each post is a place where readers may leave comments, just as you
may if you are reading this column at the Press Herald online.
visit me, I visit you, and if we find each other to be sympathetic
characters, we may soon consider each other friends, even though we
have never met.
By the summer of 2005, I had a wide circle of
blogging friends, and when I saw a number of them were planning to bake
the Texas chocolate sheet cake, I decided to try it, too.
it was hurricane season. One blogger in my circle lives on the Gulf
Coast, and she wrote of her preparations for Hurricane Dennis that
July. She posted about meeting people stocking up at the grocery store,
and driving around the neighborhood to see if others were boarding up
She wrote about cooking madly while she still had power, and she told us she was making a Texas chocolate sheet cake.
from all over the world — who had never met her and didn't know her
real name or exactly where she lived — checked eagerly for updates,
leaving comments of support.
At my church, we prayed for this
blogger and her family that Sunday morning, a day her own church
service had been canceled because of the storm predictions.
in more than one house that day, her friends baked something more than
a cake, a gesture of solidarity, a small action representing faithful
concern at a time when no real help could be given. I called it the
Grace Cake, in part because the word "grace" appeared in the nickname
of the woman who posted the recipe.
Before that month ended, we
began to form an official online group, and not long after that I began
to meet some of the faraway friends in person. When Hurricane Katrina
hit that August, we followed the news of our Gulf Coast comrade; Dennis
had missed her community, but Katrina would not be so kind. A few
months later I would be blessed to travel south and finally meet my
It is more than a cake. Composed of ingredients I don't
usually keep on hand, the Grace Cake requires forethought, or a
forgiving family member of driving age who does not mind making the
emergency buttermilk run.
Just as cocoa, shortening and
margarine melt into a pool of dark chocolatey goodness to be poured
over sifted flour and sugar and cinnamon, contact with these far-flung
friends changes me. We melt something in one another, a group of women
who reach out to the world by writing in a little box on a screen,
sending our words out in acts of faith and praise and despair and
Like the baking soda dissolved in buttermilk, we act upon one another and work together to make something new.
I stirred confectioner's sugar into another pan of margarine and cocoa,
making the frosting on my daughter's birthday, I gave thanks to God the
Great Baker, whose grace stirred an assortment of strangers into a
group of friends.
It really is more than a cake.
(Thanks to Light Princess for letting me post this picture from her 12th birthday. It's so last year.)