Practice of the Week
Cooking As Spiritual Practice
Cooking As Spiritual Practice
"When the activities of one's life become spiritual practice,...the activities of life itself become a prayer." (Lynn Brodie)
Adapted from Lynn M. Brodie, "Cooking," in Everyday Spiritual Practice
two tablespoons of oil
heat it on the stove.
Chop up 1 c. onion and
1 tbsp fresh garlic.
Throw them in the pot.
a pile of fresh chopped basil,
1 heaping tsp dry oregano,
2 bay leaves, and
1.5 tsp salt.
Saute them all together.
1 lb, 13 oz tomatoes
1 lb, 13 oz tomato puree
a heaping 1/4 tsp black pepper,
a pinch of red pepper,
1/2 c. fresh chopped parsley, and
1/2 c. wine or beer
Cook it over very low heat all day on stove or in the crock pot. Stir it, taste it, and adjust the seasonings regularly.
When I make this recipe for tomato sauce, I'm not just getting a meal on the table. There is much more going on. To start with, I am paying close attention to all the sights, sounds, smells, and textures. I am smelling the sharp odor of garlic as I hold the cloves between my fingers and chop. I am listening to the sizzle of onions sauteing on the stove. I am watching bright red tomato puree pour from a metal can onto the sizzling spices and enjoying the contrast of color as I drop fresh green parsley on top. I am feeling myself present in the moment. Throughout the day as I go about my other work, my nostrils are filled with the warm, spicy aroma of a sauce made just the way I like it, and I am connecting with my mother, my father, my grandmothers, and all the cooks in my family going back to generations I've never met.
Like most children, I learned to cook by helping my mother in the kitchen. The transformations of ingredients into finished product seemed magical. Some special recipes she made the way her mother had made them. With those recipes came her stories of watching her mother cook and sharing meals with her own family as she grew up.
When I began cooking on my own, I had a great time chopping and stirring, mashing and frying, plunging my hands into bowls full of dough and squeezing it between my fingers. I never thought of it as spiritual, but I certainly enjoyed by cooking nights.
When I went away to college and had an apartment to myself, I cooked up something simple each night. I never thought about why I did it -- I just liked to cook. Now I know why. Those were times of connection and creation. Alone in my apartment, I felt connected to my family by a tradition of cooking.
After marriage and the arrival of children, my cooking had a new focus. Cooking connects me to the people I am cooking for. I focus on creating food that will nourish the bodies and souls of my family and any company we might have. Even when they aren't helping me cook, my family is connected to the process through invisible waves of fragrant steam emerging from the kitchen. When we sit down together in the evening and spook a fresh-cooked meal onto our plates, we all participate in that connection to our senses, our present moment, our selves.
Sometimes I more-or-less follow a recipe, other times I invent something new. But whatever process I use emerges from my life. Recipes I choose to follow or invent are based on my past experience, on my dietary values at the time, on the ingredients available in my house or those I can afford at the store, on the way I feel, and the way I wish to connect with others around me. Recipes I choose to cook always come out of the depths of who I am and where I am in life at a particular moment. All that is in my participates in the act of cooking.
But cooking is not merely an expression of myself. The process of creation shapes who I am in many ways. For example, cooking strengthens my awareness of my dependence on the earth. I like to start with basic ingredients and cook from scratch because it puts me in closer contact with the source of the food. I don't grind my flour myself, but it is easier to see the connection to wheat in a bag of whole grain flour than in a package of processed baking mix. When I use fresh herbs and vegetables from the store or from my garden, I feel the same connection.
Cooking has also been a way to connect with the mysterious process of creation. In cooking, one combines separate, individual ingredients and transforms them into something new. Each of the ingredients form making a muffin has a unique taste and texture that is nothing like a muffin. Combining those ingredients and baking them is as clear an illustration of transformation as one could hope for. A muffin is a new entity -- different from its ingredients separately and different from the unbaked batter of all the ingredients mixed. This happens in a more or less dramatic fashion in all cooking.
I began to realize that cooking was my spiritual practice when my life got too busy to cook -- yet I did it anyway. I was a wife, mother of two, homeowner, dog owner -- and then I started graduate school. Week after week I kept telling myself, "This is crazy, I don't have time for all this cooking." But somehow I found myself making the time to cook and being happy that I had.
Slowly, I realized why I couldn't give up cooking. Cooking was much more than a way to feed the physical bodies of my family and myself. It was much more than an enjoyable hobby. Cooking nourished my soul, too. Like all good spiritual experience, the time spent in practice enhances the rest of life rather than taking something valuable away.
My pot of tomato sauce is a prayer that has developed and evolved over the years. At first, I followed Mom's recipe exactly, creating a smooth, mild, flavorful sauce. Later, my father showed me a way to make spaghetti sauce that drew on his Italian heritage: it was a spicy, chunky, and potent sauce. In college, I began to cook a sauce that combined my mother's and father's recipes. I stopped measuring ingredients and just added them and tasted regularly. When my husband and I stopped eating red meat, I came up with a recipe for ground turkey meatballs. When we stopped eating meat altogether, I devised a vegetarian meatball. When my son was refusing to eat any vegetables, I added grated carrot to the sauce. I'm sure the sauce, like all my cooking will continue to evolve with the ever-changing inner and outer lives of myself and the members of my family.
When I cook I am part of the interconnecting past, present, and future of humanity. I have opened a window to my own inner soul and to the world around me. I am completely involved in the activities of life and paying close attention to all that surrounds me. By being fully present in the moment, I experience a peace, a connection, and a rootedness. Through this awareness I am connected with the ultimate forces of the universe within and without. That is my definition of spirituality. When the activities of one's life become spiritual practice in these ways, the activities of life itself become a prayer.
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See also: Anne-Marie Fryer Wiboltt, Cooking for the Love of the World: Awakening Our Spirituality through Cooking. "An internationally acclaimed biodynamic farmer, natural health counselor, and nutritional cooking teacher infuses cooking and eating with deeply reverent and spiritual consciousness. Food is placed within an understanding of the earthly and cosmic forces of plant life and exquisite recipes transform nature into the art of cooking."
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For list of all weekly practices: "Practices of the Week Index"