[Eating together is a central part of community life at SSU. Here are some thoughts from a master at combining theology and cooking:]
There is a habit that plagues many so-called spiritual minds: they imagine that matter and spirit are somehow at odds with each other and that the right course for human life is to escape from the world of matter into some finer and purer (and undoubtedly duller) realm. To me, that is a crashing mistake – and it is, above all, a theological mistake. Because, in fact, it was God who invented dirt, onions and turnip greens; God who invented human beings, with their strange compulsion to cook their food; God, who, at the end of each day of creation, pronounced a resounding “Good!” over his own concoctions….
Food and cooking, therefore, are not low subjects. In fact there are no low subjects anywhere in the physical universe. Every real thing is a joy, if only you have eyes and ears to relish it, a nose and a tongue to taste it. But more than that, food and cooking are among the richest subjects in the world. Every day of our lives, they preoccupy, delight and refresh us. Food is not just some fuel we need to get us going toward higher things. Cooking is not a drudgery we put up with in order to get the fuel delivered. Rather, each is a heart’s astonishment. Both stop us dead in our tracks with wonder. Even more, they sit us down evening after evening, and in the company that forms around our dinner tables, they actually create our humanity. – Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb
“Just a glimpse, Moses: a cliff in the rock here, a mountaintop there, and the rest is denial and longing. You have to stalk everything. Everything scatters and gathers; everything comes and goes like fish under a bridge. You have to stalk the spirit, too…I sit on a bridge as on Pisgah or Sinai, and I am both waiting becalmed in in a cliff of the rock and banging with all my will, calling like a child beating at the door: Come on out!… I know you’re there.”
– Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
[Here’s a story from a Benedictine monastery worth pondering:]
…chanting was curtailed in the mid-1960s as part of the modernisation efforts associated with the Second Vatican Council. The results could not have been more disastrous. The monks had been able to thrive on only about four hours sleep per night, provided they were allowed to chant. Now they found themselves listless and exhausted, easily irritated, and susceptible to disease. Several doctors were called in, but none was able to alleviate the distress of the monastic community. Relief came finally, but only when Alfred Tomatis convinced the Abbot to reinstate chanting. As he recalled: ‘I was called in by the Abbot in February, and I found that 70 of the 90 monks were slumping in their cells like wet dishrags… I reintroduced chanting immediately. By November, almost all of them had gone back to their normal activities, that is their prayers, their few hours of sleep, and the legendary Benedictine work schedule.’ The decisive factor, it seems, had been a simple matter of sound.
– Ted Gioia, Healing Songs (2006), quoted in I. McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary
[and this reminded me of a recent interview with actors from the French movie Of Gods and Men about how they were affected by the many hours of singing as they rehearsed for the film:]
…the actors were progressively transformed by the words and the musical tonality of these songs. Above all, they started to become a community. During the press conference in Cannes, Lambert Wilson expressed it clearly: “Through songs that elevate and unite us, we became brothers”.
The singing scenes also helped give rhythm to the story. They first allow us to see and hear the monastic community during its most frequent and regular activity: the seven daily offices, in other words, four hours of singing a day. “To chant psalms”, confides actor Olivier Rabourdin “is to breathe together, to share the Breath of Life”.
– Henry Quinson, “Monastic Songs”
“History belongs to intercessors who believe the future into being. This is not simply a religious statement. It is also true of Communists or capitalists or anarchists. The future belongs to whoever can envision a new and desirable possibility, which faith then fixes upon as inevitable. This is the politics of hope. Hope envisages its future and then acts as if that future is now irresistible, thus helping to create the reality for which it longs. The future is not closed.”
– Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers
[Thoughts from Parker Palmer that might make for a more pleasant time around the Thanksgiving table…]
How do we move from “the place where we are right” to a place where we can connect with each other across our lines of difference? Here’s one way: (1) Stop throwing our values, beliefs and opinions at each other as if they were weapons in a war of words. (2) When we come to a place of deep division, invite people to talk about the life experience behind their beliefs to help us understand our differences. (3) Remember that the more you know about another person’s story, the less possible it is to distrust or dislike that person. (4) Value having relationships over being right, and the result will be more that’s right. (5) Mutual understanding always trumps winning a verbal food-fight: it’s the grown-up way to go!