Cooking as a Spiritual Practice
Today let’s reflect on cooking. We’ll begin with a few facts about cooking and end with some thoughts on cooking as a spiritual practice.
The precise origin of cooking is not known. But researchers say that roughly 2 million years ago, early human species tamed fire (a major feat!) and began using it to prepare their food. What was the first method of cooking? Probably roasting. One day some caveman or cavewoman threw a hunk of meat into a fire and presto! roasting was born! Later someone stuck a fish or bird onto a stick, held it over a campfire, and rotisserie cooking was invented.
Why do we humans cook our food? Here are five reasons: 1) to improve the taste, 2) to make it safer to consume, 3) to make it more digestible, 4) to improve its appearance, and 5) and to change its texture. The oldest known cookbooks were found in Mesopotamia. The tablets date back to 1700 B.C. and contain 25 recipes for stew–among other culinary treats. The oldest known meal was discovered in China along the Yellow River. It is a bowl of millet noodles that were prepared over 4,000 years ago.
Here are a few miscellaneous facts about cooking: There are 941,600 chefs in the world… During WWII, housewives donated their excess fat from cooking to the U.S. Army. It was used to create explosives… Americans spend about 27 minutes a day preparing a meal and four minutes cleaning up. That’s less than half the time spent in preparing a meal and cleaning up in 1965… What’s the difference between herbs and spices? Herbs are from the leaf of a plant; spices are from other parts of the plant such as the root (horseradish), seed (caraway), or bark (cinnamon)… In ancient Greece, the word “cook,” “butcher,” and “priest” was the same: mageiros. It shares its etymological root with the word “magic.”
Cooking is more than simply roasting or boiling something to eat. Over the centuries cooking has evolved into an art and even sometimes into a religious practice. Cooking demands our full attention and can be a form of meditation. Cooking a meal for another is an act of love and caring. Sharing a meal with others strengthens the bonds that unite us as family, as friends, as community. (Isn’t this one reason the pandemic is so difficult for us? It has prevented us from gathering and dining with those we love!)
In his book, Heaven All Around Us: God in Everyday Life, Simon Carey Holt describes the powerful religious experience of leafing through his mother’s cookbook. He writes, “When I hold my mother’s recipes, I understand better who I am, where I am from, and, in part, who I aspire to be.” He even goes so far as to say, “This tattered old book is a testament to her priestly service… she served me and fed me…. In eating her food I was nourished, enfolded, forgiven, enriched.”
The Zen priest Edward Epse Brown has also written a book entitled No Recipe: Cooking as a Spiritual Practice. In it he points out the profound connection between cooking and the spiritual life. He writes, “Making your love manifest, transforming your spirit, good heart, and able hands into food is a great undertaking—one that will nourish you in the doing, in the offering, and in the eating.”
Did anything in this reflection touch you today? If so, what? Why?
Do you like to cook? If so, what do you like about cooking? If you don’t like to cook, what don’t you like about it?
Do you have any childhood memories that revolve around someone cooking something?
Have you ever experienced cooking as a religious experience? If so, what made it a religious experience for you?
PS: I’m giving a virtual Advent retreat Saturday, Dec. 12 from 9:30 am (Eastern time) to 4:00. It is sponsored by the St. Francis Center for Renewal in Bethlehem, PA. Check their website for details: www.stfrancisctr.org .
I felt compelled to select a Communion hymn for our video today. I chose one of my personal favorites, “Bread for the World” by Bernadette Farrell. May the words of this song be our prayer today in thanksgiving for the meal Jesus shares with us at every Eucharist. And a reminder that we must be bread for others.
Now it’s your turn to say something. Would you like to respond to the reflection, pictures, video, or to another responder? If so, please do so below. (As I write this, I’m not sure my blog will be fixed yet to accept your comments…)
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