I watch him cut the onion, methodical, like when he carves rows into fields that give way in spring.
Shadows have stretched across the yard, and over my man’s stalk-stubbled frozen fields, now hibernating. His hands still crave work, even when acres sleep.
He announced it to the whole car on the way home from church: “I’m making supper tonight!”
I beamed relief. I considered the book I might read while he chopped and stirred. Or perhaps a longer nap, under my favorite plum blanket. But when he pulls the knife from the drawer, I lay down the book, and push away the blanket. I migrate to the kitchen because I want to read him instead.
He cuts the onion in half, and then in halves again, leaving corpulent chunks to bathe in butter. He extracts thick sirloins from the grocery packaging and arranges them on a plate. These are the hands that rip open the threaded seed bags in spring, that wrap around the frolicsome baby pigs. These are hands that once were soft, when they held fat volumes like Civil Procedure, Courtroom Evidence. The law-school books are in the basement storeroom now, lid snapped shut.
Rough farmer hands, cracked from winter work, turns the dial on the oven. He wears one single gold band that I slipped on his finger 14 years ago.
He works wordlessly mostly. Pots clang. He occasionally asks questions: Which pan to use? Where’s my father’s recipe for steaks, the one we use in the winter when snow shrouds the grill?
I’m eager to sink teeth into the medium-rare cut, but right now, I savor the work of hands.
I pray it silently: “God bless the hands who prepare.”
One night earlier, I underlined Lauren Winner’s words: “… be present to your food.”
Lauren wrote that a right relationship with food points us to God.
“This reflection on and participation with my food leads ultimately back to him who sustains, provides and feeds.”
— Lauren Winner, author
Could I do that? Could I move closer to food as a way to inch closer to Holy God who conferred it?
It seems sort of silly, like I’m overthinking things. Someone might say I overspiritualize my life, looking at onions and Iowa beef as something sacramental. I mean, to get up close to God by watching my husband dismantle an onion? To get close to God by carving up a bit of steak on a Sunday night in January? Sometimes, people tell me I’m “interesting” or “quirky,” and I always wonder if it’s just another, kinder way of saying I’m strange.
Which I am. So…
Strange as it seems, I go hunting for God in the kitchen.
I watch my husband take the back side of knife to push mushrooms into popping onions, now turning translucent. And just then, I remember the verses he and I read together earlier this day, side by side in the church classroom.
The crowds were God-hunting, too. They sought Jesus, a day after he turned loaves and fishes into a miracle feast. They find him on the other side of the lake now. What are they hunting for? More food, or more Jesus? Why do they draw closer?
“I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill,” Jesus tells them.
Jesus identifies himself that day by a new name: “Bread of life.”
The people grumble and splinter. Confused brows knit in a furrow. Jesus speaks of eating flesh and drinking blood, and the message sounds cannibalistic — like horror-film fodder.
His disciples call it a hard teaching, and that day, many of them left for good.
Our classroom fell silent, with Bibles split open before us. My husband underlined the words of John 6:66 with his finger, and he spoke his own short commentary on disciple behavior: “Following Jesus is becoming more difficult.”
I wrote my husband’s words in the margin of my Bible. And I wonder about me. What do I seek? How close do I follow?
Six hours later, I watch him put steaks into the 375-degree oven.
“Ten minutes ’til dinner,” his words swell through the rooms to find the girls, bellies rumbling.
And what do we all want? More food to fill us? More God? Both? I hope.
When we don’t get enough of what we want — or the answers sound strange — does following Jesus become harder? I think about these things as my husband sets pottery on the wooden rectangle.
Our youngest asks me to light her pink votive candle, third night in a row. The farmer-cum-chef brings steaming beef to the table.
Our youngest one volunteers to pray, and we bow heads. She’s six and she plays connect-the-dots with her prayer of thanks. She links the food and the farmer-cook and the Provider, and I see the picture clearer. “Dear God, thank You for the food and drinks. Thank you that Daddy made us steaks. This is my second favorite food ever. Amen.”
I lift a knife, and slice a fissure. I’ve seen the sacramental work of hands, and I’ve opened my eyes a bit wider to pay attention to the sermon that speaks in our kitchen-pulpit.
I think I’m feeling fuller already. And I haven’t even taken a bite.
Photo: Plate of butter-bathed mushrooms and onions, with Anna’s candle flickering behind.
This is submitted as part of the book club discussion on The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields. To read more from other writers, or to participate with your own essay, find us gathering around the table here at The High Calling.