Today, I’m handing over the blog to someone very special, Joy McEwen. Joy and I share a few things in common: we’re both believers, moms, pastor’s wives and bloggers. And then there are those things that are quite different. Joy lives a rural life as a stay-at-home mom who is incredibly gifted in all things domestic. She has a life of contemplative, artful devotion that often evades me. Though younger than me, Joy is who I want to be when I grow up.
I asked her to share her experience in learning to cook. She has a deeply spiritual and compelling response. Read on.
It seems to me that there are so many things in this world to divide our hearts. Each of us inhabits the fullness of our life experiences, genetics, and personality and each one of these leaves its inevitable mark on the way we see things – politically, spiritually, culturally, and otherwise.
Yet whether it’s at a church potluck, a business lunch with colleagues, a Starbucks date with dear friends, a big old family dinner, or awkward small talk at a table with perfect strangers at a wedding feast, food has the power to bring us together. There is just something in the breaking of bread at a shared table that levels us to our most basic common experience- our tangible need for sustenance meets the immortal, invisible hand of grace that lays before us the manna of heaven, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
I love that so much of Jesus work was done with a loaf in one hand and a cup of drink in the other. In his short time amongst us, he made wine for a formal celebration; he multiplied fish amongst baskets for a hillside picnic; he sat amongst his friends in an Upper Room and passed the plates and talked of an everlasting meal. His life was the embodiment of provision and constant invitation. Come.
Whenever I am in the kitchen baking or cooking, my two year old pulls up a chair and peeks her face over the counter edge alongside me and asks, “what are you doing mama?” I know now that she is not looking for a synopsis of the situation. She doesn’t want to know that I am baking a cake or boiling potatoes, but rather she wants to understand the process. She wants to know that I am creaming butter and sugar, or salting the water. Even at this age she wants to understand the pieces and how they fit together.
I don’t remember being that kind of child. My grandmother and my mother are both wonderful cooks and bakers in their own right. My Nana canned peaches and made strawberry jam that said everything about her love and life and faith, all bottled up in a mason jar. But I don’t remember sitting under foot and studying their every operation.
As I came to fall in love in with the culinary arts in my early twenties, it seemed to be something that perhaps I had picked up by osmosis all those nights when I came home from high school and dropped my backpack and told my mom all about the boys I had crushes on and why while she stood over the cast iron skillet and fried pork chops.
It seemed to be a passion that was lying dormant in my very bones until just the right moment. I had reached a point in my life where the creativity that flowed in my veins just needed a way out. I didn’t understand that I was an artist with an artist’s heart, just like my grandfather who painted milk cans and flower pots and took the very plain vessels of life and gave them colours and textures and stories. I didn’t understand that artists could use things other than horsehair brushes, charcoals, and many hued pencils to tell his story and sing his songs.
Sometimes it occurs to me that God didn’t have to make food beautiful. He didn’t have to make early summer strawberries gleaming red as radiant rubies. He didn’t have to make the seeds of a kiwifruit seem like a million black fireworks bursting against a bright green sky. It would have been enough that it filled our stomachs and kept our bodies in motion. It could have been tasteless and colourless gruel with no smells of invitation. It could have been nothing enticing, but instead it is everything that draws us in- towards each other, towards our truest selves, towards Him if we have the eyes to see.
Some of us can lay a feast worthy of the giants of the foodie world (not me, certainly). Some of us can call ourselves adequate home cooks. Some of us call ourselves beginners and we are daring ourselves to learn each and every day. Some of us will bake from scratch, and some of us will serve a cake out of a box. Some of us will flour our counters and incidentally our floors and bake our own bread and some of us will go to the bakery and buy a fresh loaf. In all of this, there is a degree of same difference. In all of this, there is the matter of the heart.
Even as a competent baker and cake decorator and home cook, I have to admit that the biggest challenge in culinary preparation is a matter of casting down my pride – that at the end of the day it’s not about the degree of homespun-ness but of hospitality. It’s not the question of whether my table could be shared with Martha, or Nigella, or Bobby Flay. It’s the question of whether my table is shared with my neighbour, my testiest congregants, the difficult sorts, as well as my friends, my family, and ultimately my God. Do I have the grace and strength to serve? Do I have the humility to be served?