Blue-gray morning light slants through the kitchen window. I arrange strips of bacon in a hot skillet.
They pop, curl, emit an aromatic wake-up call to youngest daughter. She shuffles across the wood, dragging a pink blanket through crumbs behind her, rubs eyes with a closed fist.
I crack eggs, season, butter 12-grain bread. We gather at the wooden rectangle for a Sunday morning feast, steaming in tendrils from pottery.
We link fidgeting hands, pray. One child sneaks bites, mid-petition. We ask for God’s blessings on our country church, its steeple rising over our poplar windbreak. We pray for our Sunday School teachers, the children in Haiti and the man missing from this table — Daddy. He’s away on retreat in the hills.
Our oldest daughter thanks God for the bacon — her favorite food, she says. She knows that pork doesn’t come from WalMart, but from farms. And she knows these browned slices came from a pig that her Daddy fed.
And, like we do every meal, we deliver a unison invitation for Jesus to pull up a chair: “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest. Let these gifts to us be blessed, Amen.”
We linger long at the table this morning. This feast engages the senses.
I chew deliberately, savor the sweet of the strawberry, the tangy crisp of bacon, the egg, running in lazy yellow rivulets on my plate. I lift the cup, drink deep from Pattycakes “Rise and Shine,” the private-label coffee of a baker-friend who buys her coffee wholesale from an Iowa roasting company.
On this Sunday morning — before we step foot in the sanctuary — our food delivers its own sermon from a pulpit-plate. Steam rises, and so does my praise.
Can even this — our eating — be worship? When we invite Christ to the table, aren’t we partaking in worship, and aren’t we dining with Living Bread?
I’ve been pondering much these days about what we grow, how we grow, what we put in our bodies, and what we don’t. Perhaps it’s because we watched for weeks from this kitchen window as farmers gleaned fields. By now, the farmers have tucked combines into barn-beds for winter hibernation. Over pews and mailboxes and corner-cafe tables, we reflect on the autumn bounty.
Perhaps, I’ve been pondering this because when the seasons shift, and the cooler weather drives us indoors, we gather ’round the table longer and more deliberately over comfort food.
And surely, I’m pondering these things because she sent this book to me. Even as the girls and I dine on our Sunday morning feast, I’m flipping through its pages.
I savor her words:
“Every pot will be holy to the Lord. Mine. Yours,” Leslie Leyland Fields writes, hearkening the prophet Zechariah’s ancient words. “And every soup and vegetable and grain and fish and casserole and souffle and crepe prepared within them will be holy to all who partake, and holy to the God to whom it belongs.”
“Perhaps we’re not to wait for this day. Perhaps we are to begin now, growing, harvesting, cooking, serving from pots made holy to our work, our love, our worship.”
Yes, I nod, then say the words aloud: “Perhaps we are to begin now.”
I lift a fork to my mouth, and think about this: Even as a farmer’s wife, I sometimes pay scant attention to what I put into these bodies that God has entrusted to my care.
Yes, on this morning with homegrown bacon and Iowa-roasted coffee, we know where the food comes from. My little girl-duet decides that Daddy’s bacon really does taste better than the kind at the store.
But this is not our everyday practice. Many meals, we dine on PopTarts, frozen waffles, waxy fruit. In our garage freezer, we stock up on breaded chicken parts and artificially-colored ice cream that blazes lime green and neon orange. I don’t know where these things come from. They sit behind glass doors in aisle eight. They woo me, and I mindlessly drop them into the wire basket, pushing forward to the next aisle.
Back home, these things find a place next to the brown-paper bag with the words: “Scott Lee bacon.”
Anna pushes tines onto a yellow egg hump. What if these eggs were bad? How would I know?
In 1973, my mother didn’t know, until I lay limp in her arms. I was hospitalized as a toddler with salmonella. And just a few months ago (and three hours east of our farm) an Iowa egg-operation was a source identified in a major egg recall.
Anna eats the egg. I taste guilt, fear.
But that’s not true worship — this shame-ridden, self-accusatory finger-pointing.
I want to make good choices, but I don’t want the choices to control me.
I want to do better, yes. But I don’t want to get paranoid, or legalistic. Legalism is a salmonella all its own, tainting our praise.
On this Sunday morning, Christ comes to dine with us as we savor the homegrown food. And he’ll come to dine with us on the nights when I pull the frozen pizza from the freezer and serve fizzy grape sodas.
We’ll pray again on that night, “Come Lord Jesus.” And He will.
He dines with sinners, breaks bread with the broken, nourishes the hungry, feeds the five-thousand … and the pajama-trio at the breakfast table.
And we bow our heads in gratitude today, we ask him to increase our understanding of what we eat. We want to do better, Father — not out of legalistic obligation but out of a heart of worship.
“Perhaps we are to begin now,” Leslie’s words challenge me again.
And yes — I whisper to our invisible Dinner Guest in the seat of honor — I do want to begin now.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
— 1 Corinthians 10:31
This weekend, I began reading The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God (Leslie Leyland Fields, Editor.) What a word-feast it is, full of delectable essays and recipes that glorify God and draw us into a deeper understanding of what we eat.
Here’s the back-cover copy:
You are invited to a feast for the senses and the spirit! Thirty-four adventurous writers open their kitchens, their recipe files, and their hearts to illustrate the many unexpected ways that food draws us closer to God, to community, and to creation. All bring a keen eye and palate to the larger questions of the role of food–both its presence and its absence–in the life of our bodies and spirits. Their essays take us to a Canadian wheat farm, a backyard tomato garden in Cincinnati, an organic farm in Maine; into a kosher kitchen, a line of Hurricane Katrina survivors as they wait to be fed, a church basement for a thirty-hour fast; inside the translucent layers of an onion that transport us to a meditation on heaven, to a church potluck, and to many other places and ways we can experience sacramental eating. In a time of great interest and equal confusion over the place of food in our lives, this rich collection, which includes personal recipes, will delight the senses, feed the spirit, enlarge our understanding, and deepen our ability to “eat and drink to the glory of God.”