I

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.

II

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.

III

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.

IV

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.

I make a point of reading food blogs that touch on the beauty of a full table. Joy the Baker, The Yellow House, Roost. I read them because when they speak of food, my soul nods knowingly.

We’re speaking the same language and, even if it’s unintentional, I can hear the rattling ding of prayer.

V

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.

42 comments

  1. Jennifer

    Beautiful. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. This resonates. I’ve been mocked/kidded for seeing “signs in signs” — along the lines of “it is risen” referring to bread and Christ and us in Christ. You might like an ebook I just put together. It’s on my blog if you have any interest. (p.s. I’m in Shanghai this weekend and spent most of my afternoon saying, “I feel like I’m in Scotland!! I’m so turned around!”

    Reply
    • seeing “signs in signs”

      That’s stunning. Completely stunning. Thank you for it.

      Reply
  3. This was beautiful and challenging. I write about food and radical generosity, but often feel frustrated by the tension in our culture surrounding what Jesus intended for us to understand about food. So often when he spoke about food, it was metaphorical and not literal. I have been called to recognize that my mantra should be John 4:34 “My food . . . is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” So while I write posts about real food, I have to keep at the forefront of my mind the reality that Jesus clearly said, “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.” This kind of sacramental talk scared off a lot of his followers AND it scares off a lot of mine too. It seems we’d much rather hear we can get the bread of heaven just by grinding our own organic wheat berries. As his metaphors of family, table, and work so often do, they keep Him at the forefront of every encounter, meal, and celebration.

    Reply
  4. This baker/cook understands and says Amen as she feeds/prays for her own family.

    Reply
  5. Reenie

    Forgive me – I was surprised this was written by a man!!
    Smiled at your description of St Andrews as the end of the world…..
    Really enjoyed reading your post and much of it resonates with my view and experience of hospitality and sharing food. I think it’s so important that as Christ-followers we care about the food we eat and perhaps especially the treatment of the animals. We SHOULD be selective both in terms of our stewardship of the earth and our stewardship of what enters our bodies.
    And yes, food shared has a way of breaking down barriers, is a means to knowing and being known by others.
    My soul is nodding, too…

    Reply
  6. GORGEOUS.

    Reply
  7. This made me cry with its beauty and simplicity. You reminded me that tables and altars are so similar…places to meet together with God.

    My best friend, we have been apart from for 20 years, made biscuits for me yesterday morning…the Crisco can before us, the buttermilk mixed just so. A thousand thoughts of God’s goodness swelled within me as I watched and later tasted that gently prepared, simply gracious offering.

    You words are a gift to my life. Thank you, Preston.

    Reply
    • Exactly. Our tables are altars. Yes; this.

      Reply
  8. Beautiful. For me, it’s cooking. I seem to pray naturally and freely and without my own brain getting in the way when my hands are busy cleaning and chopping vegetables.

    Reply
    • Yes. It’s rhythm, like a liturgy of body.

      Reply
  9. I’m reminded how it is much easier to give grace and understanding when we are meeting the physical need of a person. Beautiful, Preston.

    Reply
    • Exactly. Often, too often, I don’t think I consider it until that moment.

      Reply
  10. I love everything about this, Preston. Food as a love language, a way of making people feel seen, preparing the way for conversation. This past week spent with family, we gathered around the table and though we mourned, we found such comfort in eating and allowing people to love on us in that way.

    Reply
    • There were rounded prayers for you this week, friend. I’m glad your tables were full.

      Reply
  11. beautiful. Do you ever reading Voyage of the Dawn Treader while on the shore?

    Reply
    • Thank you. It grows a bit too cold now to stay long on the beach except for a walk, but come spring I have the hope to.

      Reply
  12. This life is all about this–no?! It’s no wonder the first miracle is at a wedding feast, or Jesus surrounds himself at the table with sinners. All things point to the feast at the end of days and it brings me joy to know many, like you, are bringing heaven to earth. We share our tables and find Jesus there. I have some thoughts on my blog as well as some great books you might be interested in.

    Reply
    • And I love Coco from Roost as well.

      Reply
    • Yes, yes, yes. The table and feasting … I can never get away from the implication of the Eucharist in the commonality of everyday life.

      Reply
  13. It is only within this past year that I have started to see how good cooking and sharing meals can be for relationships. It started with Thursday nights back and forth between my place and Erika Smith’s apartment, cooking dinner for each other and catching up on life. It continued into hosting dinner parties at my place, bringing together many people to share life together over the shared need to eat. And now, even as I don’t have my own kitchen anymore, my natural instinct when wanting to talk to someone is to invite them to Starbucks, to share over coffee and bagels.

    I findi it sad when people see food as merely sustenance. Food can be a shared art, or a shared story. As you have so beautifully shown, it can even be something deeper, almost sacramental.

    This is beautiful. Thank you for this, Preston.

    Reply
    • shared art

      I think that’s exactly it. Yes.

      Reply
  14. Oh friend. This is why my family (though small) loves you so much. You know – you understand. This is precisely what my chef tries to do every meal – however small or extravagant. A bit sad we can’t do theology over a shared meal for a while, but know that there will be many in the future…So thankful for your words.

    Reply
    • And I for you all. Many, many, many in the future.

      Reply
  15. My, but this sings, Preston. And makes me terribly hungry – for the things of God as well as something deliciously home-baked. The last line made me gasp out loud a bit – thanks for all of it.

    Reply
  16. This is awesome! I seldom get to cook, and I find my prayers before meals rather shorter and simpler than in the past (prayers of thanksgiving and blessing, not mini-sermons)… but we do an awful lot of fellowship, ministry, and what not around food. It’s almost a sacrament.

    Reply
    • I would even go as far, at times, when the wind blows a certain way, to call it a sacrament. But, it depends on the day and whom I’ve been reading.

      Reply
  17. Preston.

    Beautiful.

    Reply
  18. I LOVE this: “The sacrament of intercessory baking.” // I bake bread for Friday nights when we have a mashed up global eclectic version of a shabbat meal around our table. Baking is prayer, indeed.

    Reply
    • I do mine on Saturdays. Prayer indeed!

      Reply
  19. rain

    this brought tears.
    makes me want to speak in whispers.

    Reply
  20. This is BEAUTIFUL!

    Reply

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