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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blessed and Perfected

I love to cook. That's no secret to those who know me or regularly read this blog.

If I'm absolutely honest, I would have to admit that what I love most about cooking is that, unlike so many areas in ministry, there is automatic, direct feedback on the effects of my work.

I put countless hours into every Sunday service - developing themes, selecting music, writing a sermon, making sure details are attended to like the acolytes and lectors and Eucharistic ministers are appropriately prepared and the Altar and Flower Guilds have done their work.

I put at least that amount of energy into planning a meal - from menu planning that takes into account the likes and limitations of my guests, the appetizers, desserts and wine I choose, as well as the music and flowers I select and the plates and glasses I use. And then, there's the actual preparation and cooking of the meal.

I especially like it when I can engage my guests in the meal preparation: Yes, please chop these mushrooms. It would be great if you could shell the shrimp. Thank you for opening the wine bottle so it can breathe before dinner.

I love doing both. I am passionate about both. In my view, both feed body, mind and soul.

There is great personal satisfaction in both endeavors and, truth be told, I really don't need expressions of praise from my guests, but I must say, it is very gratifying when it does happen.

I have house guests here this week, one of whom has read my blog, and came with a list of requests for the kinds of meals she might enjoy during her stay. 

The first thing she asked for was my Grandmother's Seafood Chowder ("Leite do mar").

I said, "But, it's August. Chowder is hot."

She said, "I'll let it cool before I eat it."

So, I made my Grandmother's Seafood Chowder. Of course, I made my Grandmother's Seafood Chowder. With shrimp, scallops, crab, clams, and, to honor her heritage - and, because there was a special on it here - catfish.

I only know how to make a big potful of it, so I hope we can find some dry ice to pack it in so she can take some of this home with her.

Last night, I made Spicy Shrimp and Creamy Grits.  That's it, pictured above.  Because of the inexplicable proclivities of the Southern temperament of my guests, I broke my own rule and put a bottle of Tabasco Sauce on the table. And, despite the fact that I seasoned it more than my Northern sensibilities would normally allow, they both used it.


Go figure.

I must say, I enjoyed cooking for them as much as I appreciated the praise I received from both my guests.  There is something really wonderful and deeply satisfying about preparing and then enjoying a meal with friends.

Which is probably why the central act Jesus left us to remember Him was a meal. Simple. Just some bread and some wine. "Whenever you do this," He said, "remember me."

There is something magical about a meal shared among friends in which the memory of the event lingers long after the meal is over.

Fully divine and fully human, Jesus knew that aspect of the enterprise of being human. It's not just about taking care of a basic human need. It's about relationships and community in which breaking bread together changes and transforms us and deepens the relationship and the sense of community.

There is a spirituality of a meal well prepared and shared which often goes overlooked and unappreciated in our homes as well as our churches.

I remember being in Newark, NJ during the height of the AIDS crisis and thinking, "I want to write a grant to get a table and chairs for every apartment in every 'low-income housing' unit in the City. I want every family to sit down together, at least once a day, and share a meal together".

I know. I know. That's not going to solve all the problems of grinding urban poverty much less prevent HIVD/AIDS, but it will, I think, strengthen families and communities in ways we too easily dismiss as unimportant and do not fully appreciate.

Go ahead. Dismiss that as just the perspective of a woman and a mother and a priest.  I don't mind.

Indeed, I take great comfort in the fact that Jesus seemed to understand this. The church has adopted a simple, symbolic meal as the central act of its worship together.  In fact, we say that we believe when we do this, Jesus is fully present to us.

I believe that to be true. I also think we are more fully present to each other when we share a meal and break bread together.

I only wish more people would have a greater awareness of and appreciation for what we do together on Sunday and carry that over to the meals we share together in our own homes.

Maybe that's why I am grateful for but don't need praise or expressions of gratitude for my work.

The act - the love, the relationships, the community - are blessed and perfected in the doing.  (James 1:25).

PS - You can read one of my guests reflections here. It's called "Theo's leash".


Kay & Sarah said...

One of the things that I have from my childhood home is our dining room table and the thing I love most about it is the memories. Everyone was welcome at my mother's table. The only criteria to be at my mother's table was that a person be hungry or might be hungry. I have seen some of the oddest collection of people around that table. There was love, laughter and acceptance. I love having people over for a meal and I hope that they experience what I experienced at my mother's table.

walter said...

Well, Elizabeth 4, what a wonderful surprise in the new understanding of one of the Christian principle that here in Italy we call condivisione diretta-intentional sharing is an automatic experience; the intentional choice has and is the inherent reward and just because of this it is able to deeply appreciate; that is to give value to whatever gratification may come. I am happy that I can deepen my understanding of condivisione diretta because of us. A deeper reflection will follow for our God Life Inherent of Sexuality. May we leave the deeps of life untouched because we remember they are sacred. In the name of the One who keeps us centered and focused, Jesus The Christ.
P.S. I have written by hand a note for you and I will transcribe-transfigure-transform it until I will be able to send it to you.

Walter Vitale

Muthah+ said...

If you got to Kirkepiscopoids turf be sure you ask for 'fried catfish' the speciality of N. MO. And TOMATOES. Not those golf-ball orange things in the groceries--but beautiful large beefstake wonders that you can eat like an apple.

Ahhh childhood memories