Let me first present some of the elements in play… A. My eyes were (and still are) dilated from a trip to the ophthalmologist B. I was traveling on roads I’d never driven to a place I’d never been C. I got bifocals for the first time and was wearing them home…D. While driving in the pouring rain E. By now in the dark.
Home was a most welcome destination…. And for reasons that went beyond personal and public safety.
As I wandered the mall, passing time while my glasses were being made, I found myself thinking about polenta. Yes. Call it grits, call it cornmeal mush, call it polenta. This is what occupied my mind while watching frantic last minute shoppers with bags hanging off each arm; watching red faced babies bellow for their dinners to mothers on cell phones; watching teens cruising one another while wearing elf hats, Santa hats, and Goth-meets-Emo silver studded clodhoppers; all to the tune of tinned music and the scent of cigarette tinged, perfume schpritzed air.
Me? I was with a pot of polenta. I was imagining the process I will follow tomorrow night when making it for the first time. A slow and steady stream…whisking all the while…marvelling at the creamy science of deliciousness. I was mentally dicing mushrooms and tossing them in with the garlic and onion and hint of olive oil for a quick swish around before adding the zucchini, the yellow squash, and the tomatoes….
I half chuckled to myself when I realized what I was doing…in the middle of the Too Much-ness of retail swarming, I was cooking a meal. Why? I thought about this while watching a group of children play hop-scotch on computer projected Christmas ornaments, bouncing around on the floor.
There is something essential to me about cooking. Yes, cooking leads to eating leads to living…but more than that, there is something that I find holy, something of God, in the process. There is mystery, creativity, sensuality, ritual, and there are culinary sacramentals… There is formula and there is freedom, there is community and common-good. There is interiority and there is sharing. It is about bringing things together in harmony and creating texture and flavor that pleases, nourishes, and piques curiosity. Cooking can be an act of welcome, an act of well-making, a coming home.
Home. Yes, overwhelmed in my senses by the neon exterior nature of shopping malls, I was yearning for home! That is to say, yearning for God to be what fills me…and being grateful, so grateful, for the spaces and times where I learn the marvel of what that means and what that calls forth over and over again….whether with my students, with friends or in community, in silent morning prayer, with pen and notebook, or a pot and polenta…