So, I’ve discovered cooking this summer.
I’m not up to anything elaborate. Actually, nearly all of it has come from a cook book Emeril made for kids. But it’s been both a yummy and interesting diversion. It occurred to me that there all sorts of interesting theological ramifications to cooking.
This first occurred to me as I was measuring out the sugar for apple muffins. I scooped out the sugar, and the measuring cup was almost full. It occurred to me I had a couple choices: First, of course, I could declare that “almost full” is close enough. If I did this, I’d dump it into the mixing bowl and continue on.
Secondly, I could put the measuring cup back in the sugar bag and bring it out again. When it came out, I knew it would probably be slightly over full. (Isn’t that how it always is: either too much or not enough?)
Finally, I could get all compulsive and level the top off with a knife if it came out that way. Or I could pour the slightly over-full cup in the mixing bowl.
To use the under-full cup in the mixing bowl felt like an act of stinginess. To pour in the overly full cup felt like an act of generosity. And to level it off felt like an act of legalism.
I realize that this association probably says something about me having an unhealthy relationship with food. But it also says something about the act of providing nourishment for my family, about taking care of their needs in a manner that is much more direct than what I am used to.
I’m the families “bread winner” (interesting term, that.) Work can sometimes feel so disconnected from the money that pays our rent and grocery and other bills. Investing some time in making some food is so much more of a direct line between me and the nourishment of my family.
As I was kneading the cinnamon roll dough, it was all between my fingers and smelling good. The physical-ness of the act was probably therapeutic, but, it also felt somehow like an intimate connection between myself and my family, even though I was the only one awake at the time. Maybe it was because it was like massaging somebody’s shoulders. Maybe it was because generally I hate having sticky stuff on my hands and I was (in some tiny sense) sacrificing for them.
I was putting those things together and hoping that it’d come out the way it was supposed to.
It’s instructive that God provides the building blocks in all sorts of different ways. One of those ways is through the laws of physics and biology. By all rights, flour and butter and cinnamon and eggs and yeast and stuff should just turn into a sticky mess when you throw them together. But when you mix them and cook them in a manner that is consistent with the scientific laws that God set up, you end up with cinnamon rolls.
God actually does the real work in everything we do. All we do is figure out how things work, put them together, and have faith and hope that it comes out the way it is supposed to. We do the work of planting seeds. Or sharing the gospel. Or turning the key in the ignition.
God makes them grow. Or speaks to the potential convert. Or igniting the spark plugs.
And sometimes of course, the seed doesn’t grow. The person doesn’t hear Christ in us. The engine doesn’t roll over.
Maybe these cinnamon rolls won’t turn out after all my work, too. All we have in this life are recipes and hopes that they’ll turn out.
Another theological ramification of cooking is what I learned about sacrifice. If I had to kill the chicken I cook, I’d probably be more attuned to this. I wonder if this is some of the reason that God doesn’t require animal sacrifice anymore. (I know that there are theological reasons, but presumably, God could have arranged those rules differently if he’d wanted animal sacrifice to outlast the Temple.) It’s hard for this representation of God’s love to resonate with us, now.
If I had lived in ancient Israel, I’d be killing an animal nearly every day to eat. The act of sacrficing an animal would connect to my every day experience of killing an animal. (Especially because of all of the perscriptions about blood and killing animals that the Hebrews contended with in the first place.) If I lived in the time after Christ, I’d further connect these sacrfices with the crucifixion: if I knew my scriptures I’d know that he so often compares himself to water, and bread, and that this comparison is enacted in the Lord’s Supper.
It’s not even a meat-eating thing. If I was a farmer, and I watched the crops I’d toiled “dissapear” into my families’ mouths, I’d still be aware that some things must die in order that my family might live. In the act of cooking, I’m returning myself toward that realization. The closer I get to making things from scratch, the closer I get to that realization: something had to die in order that I might live.
When I crack open an egg I am reminded that a chicken laid the egg. If that egg had been fertilized life would have sprung from it. When I pour in the milk I am reminded that a cow gave the milk. In different circumstances, that milk would have nourished the cow’s young. When I pour in the sugar, I know that sugar cane plants had to be hacked down, somewhere far away, in order for me to enjoy this thing that I am now making.
(There is a whole other thing in all this: connections are formed through my awareness that somebody hacked down the sugar plant, tended the chickens and cows, etc.)
If I’d bought one of those nuclear-power cinamon rolls thingees where you burst the canister and then heat the rolls inside, I might have reflected on the machines that created the thing. Rationally, I’d know that just as many people (and other life forms) where involved in bringing together the various ingredients. But this is just an after thougt: I’m not holding the eggs in my hands, I’m not pouring out the milk. I’m not reminded of the fact that things have to die in order for my family to live if I’m operating in a world of prefabricated food stuffs.
It’s a subtle thing, not the first thing we might think about… but it’s incredibly important: things have to die in order for my family to live.
And it’s not a very long walk from this realization to a next one, so much more important: one of the things that had to die, so that my family might live, is Jesus. His death allowed for the most important kind of life, a deeper life than merely living, a more eternal life than the body will experience.
I’m not saying that we ought to use cooking as a means of conversion, nor am I saying that cinnamon rolls are the place everybody will find God. But He is everywhere, and as I reflect on this mornings cinammon rolls, I find him there in all sorts of ways. (They were, by the way, delicious.)
This post was my submission to Watercooler Wednesday, Randy Elrod’s blog carnival.