This post is part of a series called The Cure of Souls: A Spirituality of Care and Compassion written by Kate Wiebe. Look for her posts twice a month, and a list of them here.
“A key,” to a place, author Carol Flinders once wrote, “is that concentrated, conscientious work is done there regularly. In a place, something hangs in the air – a life, a spirit. You are held there not merely by comfort, but by interest and expectation . . . . There is a feeling of calm, and warmth, and something more: the meals we share are sacraments, nothing less.”
Having, or being in, a place is important for life. It is in a place, rather than a station of coming and going, that healing happens. It is where joy emerges, and where growth goes on.
When Flinders wrote these words, she referred to the current era of North American time, an era from my childhood – the eighties. Remarkably, her description of that time still rings true today.
The pressures of normal everyday life in the eighties push us toward a great deal of mobility and an extremely fast pace – a basically competitive outlook, and an unprecedentedly high level of getting and spending. And nowhere do those pressures converge more ferociously than on the kitchen and how we feel about being there. Everybody likes long-simmered soups and good whole-grain breads, but who in the world is going to provide them?
I first read these words seven years ago in the introduction to The New Laurel’s Kitchen cookbook and found them convicting. The world of 1986 that Flinders describes in which “People are having a much harder time purchasing homes, educating their children, and saving for the future” seemed the same twenty years later. And I could easily count myself among those that admired a deliciously timely prepared meal, but felt that circumstances (kids, school, money, stamina, etc.) made that impossible for me to do. Reading her words, I thought that we even seemed to be bombarded by the same self-perpetuated cultural messages.
“From every quarter the message comes: housework is essentially demeaning, unmanly if you’re a man, exploitive if you’re a woman or child.” Further, Flinders continues, “Life in the eighties really does militate against home-cooked wholesome meals – just as it does against friendships, marriage, parenting, and almost everything else that makes life worth living.”
I am all the more sensitive to this claim because of my work in disaster and trauma relief. The aftermath of disaster is a lousy time to start creating the basics to healthy living. Of course, “there’s no time like the present.” But, truly, if you want to be “disaster-prepared” (whatever that means), start living before the disaster strikes.
A kitchen is a great place to start. As Flinders goes on to describe the art of the kitchen, she makes these statements: “When we turn our home into a place that nourishes and heals and contents, we are meeting directly all the hungers that a consumer society exacerbates but never satisfies.” – “Cooking involves an enormously rich coming-together of the fruits of the earth with the inventive genius of the human being.”
Flinders notes how we balk at anything that takes us more than fifteen or twenty minutes to accomplish. Yet, there is no way around the fact that soul-deep satisfying care, the kind of care that can go on consistently and regularly through ordinary living, takes time. She encourages, “it may be that the time it takes to prepare good, wholesome food is as healthful and healing – for everyone concerned – as the food itself.”
DID YOU CATCH THAT? It may be that the time it takes to make good food is as healthful and healing as the result! Flinders figures that this may be “for the simple reason that it requires us to ‘light down’ for the duration.” In the very process of preparing health, we are invited into health-as-it-happens. “At first we may feel restless, wanting the quick fix, the fastest route . . . But there are no shortcuts. If we want a home that is ‘not a station but a place,’ we must be there.”
What became clear in the eighties to Flinders has become clear to me today: “nurturant work is not only for mothers, not only for parents even; it is the birthright of every man, woman, and child. Without it, we never grow to our full stature.” And, I would emphasize what Flinders mentions, without the nurturant work of adults and children, we never heal.
These days, as someone who has spent a lot of time in and among talking therapies, sharing narratives, analysis, and intellect, I find myself drawn to non-verbal healing encounters. Art, music, and food, in particular. I love to have these all around me in the kitchen, while we are preparing meals or to have them all around us at a restaurant. Eating prepared food, time-honored and slowly seasoned, with adept instrumentals in the background and flowers, fabrics, or frames around.
I’m still learning how to settle in consistently and regularly, to light down for the duration, for creating these kinds of meals and spaces myself. I’m still learning how to fold and invite in children and guests to the mix of the preparation itself – the healing-as-it-happens. The process tests and stretches me. But I’m committed to doing it, to providing slowly prepared meals at least weekly and hopefully more. For these same reasons, occasionally, I treat myself to the tremendous ethnic foods of my community – specifically a local Indian and a local Italian restaurant that both serve prepared dishes where you can taste the love and care that go into them. I savor the varieties of vegetables and slow-roasted seasonings. I have come to treasure the bite that is like a painting, with an array of colors cast across the canvas.
For those of you who have experienced trauma or are a responder to traumatic events, you know there is a kind of boundary that exists entre nous – a difference between people who know and recognize the deep complexity of trauma and those who are distant from traumatic happenings, the difference between people who practice Shiva or other forms of multi-dimensional communal grieving and those who appear to skip right to the Resurrection as if the bewilderment and agony of Holy Saturday never existed. For me, the company I yearn for in the aftermath tragedy, the communion and sacrament I wish to keep, involves the art and fellowship of patient home-cooking. It involves the kitchen-keepers (may every congregation have one!). For these are the people who know that it takes patience and loving time to heal.