I live at the end of the world now.
Small seaside town on the North Sea, which you can look out over and never see beyond the ineffable grey somewhere miles, miles away from where you stand. Does the water spill over here, cascade into space and then into the beyond, Lewis’s Dawn Treader hedging the circle of our existence?
The butcher in town knows me by name. Or, perhaps, knows me by cut. I walk in and he points out what’s new; I report what was good since the last time. The green grocer is the same, the fish monger, the cheese shop staff. We have come to understand one another in laughter and in commune.
We love food. It’s a language all its own.
I ask them if there’s something I can pray for when I prepare the meal with the food they provided me. More often than not, I’m asking God to make their tables as abundant as my own.
One of my best friends back in the States is a selective omnivore. He takes seriously certain bits of Scripture that have led him to believe that while we’re free to eat meat, the manner in which we raise and slaughter our livestock isn’t always in rhythm with the principles of Scripture.
Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
The word of our Lord to Adam and Eve.
I have to be careful with the language here. The words rule and subdue trip me sometimes. I think this means I can do whatever I want to the earth, because it’s been given over to me by God.
But if I know anything of Scripture and the way it turns us and all the things I think I know on its head, I know that if Christ is our example of what it means to rule and subdue, then slaughterhouses where the animals are never free to move or caged birds unable to ever flap their wings doesn’t quite fit this Kingdom of God where rule and subdue mean to wash the feet of disciples.
I’m not trying to convince. I’m not demanding others change. I’ve just stumbled into this myself—with my butcher, my green grocer, my fish monger, the cheese staff—but I have come to realize that if I too want to take certain things in Scripture with a certain kind of seriousness, then I’m a selective omnivore, too.
I did something foolish last night.
Someone was kind enough to share one of my posts and I engaged a commenter who didn’t appreciate their sharing it. That resulted in a few others picking up on something I mentioned in passing and, before long, it was quickly leading to a mess.
Nothing in the world of Facebook is really worth much, and a few strokes of keys don’t change someone’s mind. I get a few sentences in and then I can’t go much further, because I talk with my hands and my gestures and there’s nothing to be said of them in the lines of text, hasty, and thoughtless.
Besides, I do my best theology around a table.
I invite people over and give them a place to sit. I pour wine. I offer them homemade bread. I use my hands. I whisper again and again the words of Christ: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, and I point out that He’s here, sitting with us, and that He is made known somewhere between the broken bread, the poured wine, the things debated with kindness and charity.
Only then I’ll pull out my chicken fried ecclesial Latin and talk about female clergy in France in the twelfth century, mention the articles I’ve written and am working on, reference the books, the councils, the encyclicals. But I need to do so with food in hand, with the opportunity to feed others in front of me. I need to say all of these important things by first showing this other, this person, this cosmos sitting across from me that they have been seen, that they have been loved, that even in our disagreement, they have been heard.
There’s something about the Eucharist in this.
Something about how at that Table, we are even in the presence of our enemies.
I don’t pray.
Not without a lot of forced effort, at least.
I’ve confessed this before. Aside from the liturgy, I would nearly never remember to take a moment, pause, and offer something of even meager thanksgiving to God.
That is, except for in this one thing: baking. In baking, I pray, and I pray with abandon.
The sacrament of intercessory baking.
When I kneed dough, decant the chocolate, weigh the flour, the person or people I am baking for come first to mind. They are there, in spirit, and I am calling out to the Great Physician that I don’t even know what is wrong most of the time, that I don’t even know what to offer as balm, but that He does, that these things baked for them might somehow hold grace.
The whole slides into mystery. Such is the way with these things.
We’re speaking the same language and, even if it’s unintentional, I can hear the rattling ding of prayer.
When they had been traveling all day, I fed them fat. Green chili grilled cheeses and bourbon Dr. Pepper’s.
When she told me she was leaving her husband because she found out he had already been married, I made a triple chocolate layer cake. The whole time she told me, I listened, mixed, measured.
When he said it was like the last time, only worse, I brought the wine and made pancakes, because it was old and familiar and such was the way with us.
Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.
What is a full table but this?
Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melekh ha’olam, bo’re minei m’zonot.
Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the universe, Who creates varieties of nourishment.
Between the butcher, the green grocer, the fish monger, the cheese staff, and I, perhaps we are navigating something of the way of grace. In everything offer thanks. In everything expect to find Him.
There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred. L’Engle.
Here at the end of the world, I put bread in this afternoon following church. When it comes out of the oven, it has risen.
“It has risen indeed.” I breathe into the silent kitchen and I think, if in all but glimmer in the corner of my eye, I know Him to smile.