A kitchen is a holy place, as holy as any sanctuary.
What was the kitchen of your childhood like? When I was growing up, we had a bright yellow kitchen. It wasn’t very big, just large enough to accommodate a stove, a refrigerator, and a sink with counters and cupboards extending on both sides. Two windows were perched above the sink, facing east. They overlooked our spacious side yard with its wide ash tree, tall maple, and several pear trees. Our large kitchen table was in the center of the adjoining room, our dining room.
As a child, I saw the kitchen as a magical place. It churned out all kinds of good stuff: hot oatmeal for a winter breakfast, chicken noodle soup and baloney sandwiches for lunch, meatloaf and mashed potatoes for supper. On Saturday mornings, the kitchen produced those tantalizing aromas of Bohemian sweet bread (hoska), kolachky, cinnamon bread, and nut rolls. On Sunday mornings, after church, Mom would start brewing up Sunday dinner: pork (or goose), dumplings, and sauerkraut.
As I grew older, my mother shared some of her culinary magic tricks with me. She taught me to make cookies, brownies, and cakes—all from scratch. I eventually graduated to creating simple meals.
I can remember the kitchens of every convent I ever lived in. Some were huge industrial-sized kitchens that turned out three meals a day for 100 or more hungry sisters. Others were normal-sized convent kitchens where we sisters took turns cooking for six or so. In the “old days” we had “cook sisters” who toiled long hours preparing meals not only for our large convents but also for boarding schools, college resident halls, and maintenance personnel. Some of these dedicated women got up before the rest of us (and we got up at 5:00 am!) and after supper, they were often canning and freezing fruits and vegetables, sometimes late into the night.
And through it all, these cook sisters usually exuded joy, humor, wisdom, and prayerfulness. If I had a problem at school or in my family, I’d go to the kitchen and ask a cook sister to pray. I always assumed her prayers were more efficacious than mine.
In her book, Ordinary Places, Sacred Spaces, Sister Evelyn Mattern said this about kitchens: “Kitchens are obvious contemplative places. So many rhythmic and repetitive actions keep them humming: peeling potatoes, cutting up and grating vegetables, stirring sauces and soups, kneading bread, making coffee, washing dishes, feeding cats and dogs. These actions offer meditative possibilities, breathing moments in the midst of a hectic day.” (I wonder though, with today’s modern conveniences such as prepared foods, microwaves, and “Grubhub,” if we have lost these rhythmic and repetitive actions so conducive to contemplation…)
Kitchens exude a certain level of intimacy. Strangers or formal guests don’t usually get invited into our kitchen. We share our kitchen with family and close friends. Realtors know the importance of kitchens. One of their maxims is: kitchens sell homes.
When Jesus sent his disciples to get a room to celebrate the Passover, he must have known that a nearby kitchen was part of the deal. Da Vinci’s famous painting of the Last Supper, as beautiful as it is, did us a disservice. It made us think of this event as a quiet, private affair involving 13 men. I like some of the more modern depictions (by Bohdan Piasecki and Nora Kelly, for example) that include women and children. (I give a website to view these paintings below).
Writes Mattern: “As Jesus and the twelve reclined at the table to share these last, sacred intimacies, the women disciples were preparing food nearby and carrying it to the table. They made the bread, blessed it before it was blessed by the Lord, and—with this Lord—no doubt shared in the meal and the bread. In one sense, every time we share a meal, we share in the Eucharist.”
Yes, a kitchen is a holy place.
Do you have any memories of the kitchen of your childhood or your grandmother’s kitchen?
Is your current kitchen a “contemplative space”? Why or why not?
Do you agree or disagree: “Kitchens exude a certain level of intimacy”?
To see Piasecki’s and Kelly’s paintings of the Last Supper, go to We Are Church Ireland – Last Supper. What do you think?
I am offering two songs this week. The first is “One Bread, One Body” by John Foley. Many of you have probably sung this hymn at Mass. The words take on deeper meaning against current headlines. The second is a the Negro Spiritual, “Let Us Break Bread Together,” sung by Joan Baez–who is 79 now. Appropriately, she sings this song in her kitchen! This video was filmed only a few weeks ago. Baez explains her timely dedication to George Floyd and others.
“One Bread, One Body”:
Joan Baez: “Let Us Break Bread Together”
Do you have anything to say about any of this? Don’t be shy!