Church of the Sacred Table

Preparing a meal is a part of my spiritual practice — kinda like meditation or prayer. I’ve never gotten much sitting in a church, listening to that guy on the pulpit talk. I would slouch in the back, as if it was math class, afraid he was going to he call on me, while he rambled on about sin and salvation.

Sitting in a hard, cold pew on a brilliant Sunday morning was not my idea of inspiration — I never caught a glimpse of God in there. But put me in a kitchen beside vegetables yanked from the earth and a briny fish fresh pulled from the sea, and I’ll get lost in an ecstatic reverie that can only be described as mystical.

What is it about this most basic of activities that is so deeply resonant on so many levels? For one thing, it’s useful. I’ve always admired guys who make chairs — there is nothing more important than a chair, especially one that is well made and comfortable. A meal should be the same — well made and comfortable. And yet, it can also be much more. Like a symphony or a work of art or a great achievement in architecture, it can inspire and make us feel our place in the flow of life more deeply. It can connect us to the world — both what’s right there around us, and what’s far away and exotic. And it is an egalitarian pleasure. A rustic bread baked in a tandoori in a grimy alley in New Delhi is every bit as noble as a duck torte from the Parisian kitchen of Ducasse. A $.50 fish taco from a street corner in Puerto Vallarta can linger in the memory just as long as a whole fried catfish from a seafood palace in Hong Kong.

A plate of homemade food is also the antidote to our fast-food culture. I remember feeling encouraged years ago when the Slow Food movement emerged. Preparing a meal from scratch, even if it’s a simple pasta that only takes 20 minutes, is the opposite of that 20-something guy in the Carl’s Jr. commercial grunting and spilling ketchup all over himself. It’s an act of love and respect, toward yourself and the bounty that has been afforded us. Go to the farmer’s market, buy whatever’s in season — not shipped/trucked in from Chile or New Zealand, but from the guy who grew them a few miles away. Listen to what he has to say about sin and salvation. Clear your afternoon and invite some friends over. Invite the farmer. Invite that guy from the pulpit, if you’d like. Open a bottle of wine. Enjoy every moment of slicing the food, watching it transform in the pan, composing the plate as if you were painting your masterpiece. Revel in watching your friends enjoy what you’ve made. Cooking for only yourself? Leave the Souffer’s or Lean Cuisine to freezer burn and get out a pot and pan. Make yourself a three course dinner — after all, who deserves your love and respect more than yourself?

And then take it to the next level, and try growing some vegetables, keep some chickens and collect eggs if you’ve got room, buy a goat and try making cheese. Get your hands into the earth and see how your food grows. Pick a corn right off the stalk and eat it there, the life still pulsing through it.

I once heard the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hahn, tell a long story about sitting on a beach in France peeling an orange. Touching the peel, experiencing the scent, biting into the flesh. “An orange, dear friends,” he said, “is nothing less than a miracle.”

As I write this, I am reminded of what’s so important about cooking to me, which is that it reminds me what life is all about. Passion, love, laughter, sharing, family and friends, kindness, generosity, being absolutely in the moment. All the ingredients of a meal shared together. All the ingredients of a life well lived.

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paul
    Aug 30, 2010 @ 00:36:01

    Amen Brer’ Seamus . . .


  2. g
    Aug 30, 2010 @ 00:42:19

    Uh oh. You guys aren’t going to get a goat now, are you?

    (Just kidding. A goat wouldn’t be a bad thing, though – fresh cheese!)


  3. scolgin
    Aug 30, 2010 @ 01:22:53

    Can’t be that hard, Glennis, right? ; )


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