February 29, 2024

Verbatim: A meditation on 'The Flavour of God' written by Jason Openo


A meditation on The Flavour of God written by Jason Openo, a permanent diaconate candidate in Medicine Hat, Alta., and posted on the Diocese of Calgary blog.

“Our Lord moves amidst the pots and pans,” St. Teresa of Avila once said, and indeed, I often find God in a busy kitchen. I love cooking, which was once described to me as the art of redistributing water, which is simply a clever way of saying chefs are masters of matter.  

Western culture is often derided as being materialistic, but the philosopher Alan Watts disagrees. In a passage contemplating proper Christian materialism, he writes:  

“I would point to bad cuisine as the main sign that American culture is not only post-Christian but anti-Christian. Proper cooking can be done only in the spirit of sacrament and ritual. It is an act of worship and thanksgiving, a celebration of the glory of life, and no one can cook well who does not love and respect the raw materials he handles — the eggs and onions, the herbs and salts, the mushrooms and beans, and, above all, the living animals — fish, foul and flesh — whose lives we take to live.”  

St. Augustine noted that things are to be used, but only God is to be enjoyed. We enjoy the goodness of God’s creation in the bounty on our table, but especially in those at our table. As the Catholic Bishops of Japan wrote in Reverence for Life, “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope.” At the best feasts, everything and everyone is singing joyfully in God’s love.   

One pillar of the Diocese of Calgary’s Pastoral Renewal is to strengthen family life, and eating together as a family is a powerful bond. Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education says only 30 per cent of families manage to eat together on a regular basis, but those that do experience lower rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders and higher rates of resilience and self-esteem. The Father has always been calling us to a meal because this is one of the ways he keeps us free from all anxiety. A family dinner can be a minor mirror of the Mass.   

My most joyful cooking comes when I remember to recite my favourite lines from the Eucharistic prayer:  “Fruit of the earth and the work of human hands… Fruit of the vine and the work of human hands…” 

A cosmic vertigo occasionally overwhelms me at the simple act of looking down at a carrot in my left hand and a knife in my right. Everything — the sun, rain, earth, fire, time and human craftsmanship — everything is in my hands….

 As a family and as members of the Body of Christ, we are dependent on God and connected to each other. Cooking in the spirit of sacrament means to contemplate this long chain of interdependent relationships. As the Catechism teaches, “God wills the interdependence of all creatures. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tell us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other.” 

I am completed as a father and husband by serving the meal. Listening to the stories of frustration and triumph from the day, that cosmic dizziness comes over me again when I consider how the bountiful diversity of God’s great creation led me to this moment of perfect praise that hints at what Heaven might be like. All of which likely explains why my favourite dishes are reductions, when the steam goes up fragrant from the pot like incense....  

And in this holy season of Lent, it is important to keep in mind that this sacred materialism allows us to fast in a meaningful way. When we temporarily go without God’s bounty, we turn away from the idols of comfort and convenience to focus our attention on the Father’s loving provision.  

When families reclaim this communion at the domestic church’s dinner table, they will once again find God in the midst of pots and pans. 

Medicine Hat, Alta.

Feb. 19, 2024

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