Hands with bread

Contemplation for the Kitchen — and for All of Life

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM on January 17, 2016

The spoons and cups are ready for measuring.  The flour and sugar canisters are filled and standing by.  The butter sits on the kitchen counter, softening.  All these are signs that the time of baking has arrived, and my heart and hands are ready.

For me, baking is a delight.  The kitchen is a holy place, a place where I can actually see transformation taking place—the contents of the mixing bowl mysteriously growing from salt and yeast and a bit of grain into a new, life-giving shape.  I always feel as if I don’t really go into the kitchen to bake; instead, I go into the kitchen to have a conversation, to talk with the ingredients, to welcome them, to be a gracious hostess to all who have made this moment possible.  For me, baking is a contemplative way of praying.

In the kitchen, it’s easy to reflect on how far the ingredients have traveled to come to us.  Flour from the wheat fields of Kansas.  Sugar from the Southern groves.  Butter from the dairy farms of the Midwest.  We invite and welcome them into our homes and feel ourselves surrounded by the unknown tillers of soil, the farmers, the drivers of cultivators and tractors and trucks, the factory workers who sort and package, the supermarket clerks who arrange and ring up the purchases.  In a very real way, they are all with us whenever we are in the kitchen.

Perhaps because much of the work I engage in is spiritual-related, I have a great need to  ground myself in the earthiness of baking.  It’s a sort of balancing therapy for someone like me who does so much “head” work, planning and outlining and creating, and who needs to even out that side of myself with things that are earthy and immediate and tactile.

Baking invites me, invites all of us, to pay attention to the Now.  We can’t be careless or daydreaming when we measure, sift, mix, cream, scoop, or shape.  We need to be fully present and tend to the whirring of the mixer, the consistency of the dough, how the butter is merging with the sugar.  We need to be gentle and attentive as the sour cream is folded delicately into the batter.  We need to be mindful at every step as we pour our love and care into the mixing bowl and then scrape it into the baking pans.

Gunilla Norris, in Becoming Bread, writes that “We go to the kitchen to be nourished and revealed.  It is a holy place.” She describes the kitchen as alchemical.  A place where we go to cook, actually and spiritually.  A center where we are one, linked by actual hunger and spiritual hunger.

We don’t read in the Scriptures that Jesus ever baked, but in John 21:9-13, we find Jesus on the shore standing by a charcoal fire and grilling fish.  We also remember the times that Jesus gave thanks, blessed bread, broke it, shared it, consumed it.  He imagined the kingdom of heaven as a banquet, a great feast of love and hospitality with particular welcome for those who were poor, vulnerable, outsiders.  He accepted invitations to dine with and enjoy the company of his followers.  He celebrated with friends at the wedding in Cana.  He was attentive to the wheat in the field, the figs maturing on the tree, the grapes ripening on the vine as well as all the laborers who brought the harvest to others.  He didn’t need to own a kitchen or spend hours in one to know the importance of feeding one’s body and spirit.

Often when we prepare for a holiday gathering of any kind, the food we’re planning to cook, bake, serve, and eat is a major consideration.  We may be feeling creative and try out a new festive recipe.  We may stick with family favorites and cherished traditions.  Whatever we’re baking or cooking, may love be at the center of our preparing.  May it be stirred into every pot, sprinkled liberally into every pan.  May love sit down to the table with us and grace us with a blessing.

Takeaway

What family customs or traditions do you practice around food?
Have you any special recipes that you look forward to on a holiday?
In what creative ways do you express your love and care for others?
For what are you hungering in your life?

You may enjoy this 5 minute meditation calling to a deeper mindfulness for the day: Mindfulness Bell

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