Food and Sacrament and Evie’s Cooking

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There’s a moment in George MacDonald’s Phantastes in which food makes all the difference.

…it not only satisfied my hunger, but operated in such a way upon my senses, that I was brought into a far more complete relationship with the things around me. The human forms appeared much more dense and defined, more tangibly visible … I seemed to know better which direction to choose when any doubt arose. I began to feel in some degree what the birds meant in their songs, though I could not express it in words, anymore than you can some landscapes.

Food can do this sort of thing. I’m sure you’ve experienced a baser version of his: not stumbling through Fairy Land trying to get a grip on what’s around you, but the simple grumpiness and crankiness that results from being late to get your meal. Tricia and I went through this in our experience at Hutchmoot, and in the moment our plane landed back in Rochester. We had spent all weekend having amazing meals courtesy of the cooking artistry of Evie Coates. On the way home, our first flight was delayed, and we did not have time in the layover to get dinner. We were starving by the time our plane landed in Rochester. We got in the car and drove directly to get Rochester’s most famous meal: The Garbage Plate. (If you’re ever in Rochester, I’ll take you out for one of these.) We were revived (though I admit, the next morning I regretted the decision to eat such a plate at 10:30pm).

Where am I going with this ramble about food? Wherever I want. It’s food. It’s worth talking about.

But apart from that … well, let’s back up and say that Evie’s cooking is better, by far, than a Garbage Plate (and believe me: as a Rochesterian, that’s saying a lot). Combine Evie’s cooking with the great company at Hutchmoot and the wonderful conversation around the dinner tables, and you had an experience that helps you to see the world better, like the man walking through Fairy Land. It’s magic. It’s sacramental. AP told a story at some point during the weekend about bringing the same pot of chili to a family that had lost a loved one and a family that had welcomed a new baby into the world.

Food, in all its wonderful varieties, is like the stories we tell. They are many and varied, but all the best ones have a source in One Story. Food sustains us; the Story sustains us. Food, like all the created world, points to the greater reality in and behind and around it, that there is a creator who sustains us and nourishes us.

At the first meal of the Hutchmoot weekend, it was noted many times that Evie put a lot of love into her cooking. It might sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. Love and food go together.

And now I’m hungry, so I’m wrapping this up and heading downstairs for a burrito.


4 Comments

  1. anne

    Amen. I heartily agree that food, good food shared, impacts our soul, and Evie’s offering was amazing.

    Earlier this summer I met with some friends to discuss a book. We decided to share a meal inspired by the book. Here’s a short recounting of that evening:

    Ice cold tartly sweet Limoncello greeted me. Rich flavors of red pepper and basil infused tomatoes and sausage mixed with garlic buttery spaghettini brought groans of pleasure. Every drop of lemon butter drippings from the scallopini was sopped up with crusty bread. And in the midst of the delightful and satisfying meal we talked. Questions were raised about lives of poverty, crises of faith, the place of beauty and art in our lives and in the church. We argued over the weakness of the story and the strength of the message.

    But as the evening wore on, settled on the porch overlooking the moonlit fields listening to the nights sounds of nature, real conversation began. Brokeness, infidelity, mental illness, cancer, lonliness filled our story. Yet from the depths of pain emerged empathy, hope, and heart felt praise of Gods faithfulness. I am grateful to walk with women who battle for their marriages, lovingly care for sick parents and children and spouses, struggle with their calling, are willing to be my companions on this rocky and beautiful journey of life.

    The stage was set for that evening by food, lovingly prepared, graciously shared.

  2. Tony Heringer

    Thanks Travis! I don’t think we can say enough about the meals at Hutchmoot.

    Evie inspired my wife, Cherie, and me as we hosted 15 Brazilians and other friends on Saturday night. The work that goes into a substantial meal — this one included beef brisket — is great, but the rewards are even greater still. What made the meals Evie concocted so wonderful were the amount of folks she fed — the Hutchmoot version of “Dinner Impossible” but with three more meals — and how they were fed – artfully and graciously.

    Barliman alluded to Eugene Peterson in his opening remarks at the Friday night dinner and in the course of his speech he unwittingly alluded to something Eugene discusses in his wonderful book “Christ Plays In Ten Thousand Places: a conversation in spiritual theology” related to hospitality. Here’s a taste of this section of the book I had in view while Barliman spoke, picking up with Peterson’s discussion of living a sacrificial life:

    “It’s a strange thing, but sacrifice never seems to show up on anyone’s Myers-Briggs profile.

    For people like us, trained in a culture of getting things done (pragmatism) and taking care of ourselves (individualism), sacrifice doesn’t seem all that obvious; neither does it seem attractive. There is nothing about a life of sacrifice that appeals to our well-intentioned desire to make a difference in the wrongdoing in the world and to make things better for our neighbors and ourselves.

    But the self-promotion and self-help ways of salvation, so popular among us, do nothing but spiral us further into the abyss. There is no other way but sacrifice. Annie Dillard, one of our unconventional but most passionate theologians, is blunt in her verdict: “a life without sacrifice is an abomination.”

    “Hospitality is daily practice in keeping sacrifice local and immediate: a meal prepared and served to family and guests is a giving up of ourselves for another. All the food on the table is life given and offered so that others (we among them) can live. “Sacrifice and meal,” Hans Urs von Balthasar observes, are “always interlinked.” Meals provide daily opportunities to be on both the giving and receiving ends of a sacrificial life, to see how it works in detail, to observe the emotions and effects, to discover the difficulties. When we are talking about the salvation of the world, a bowl of rice seems like an insignificant launching pad. But it wasn’t too insignificant for Jesus. Will we replace Jesus’ humility with our grandiosity? Preparing and cooking, serving and eating meals are Jesus-sanctioned activities that provide daily structure to our participation in the work of salvation.

    So what do we do? We take the meal with as much gospel seriousness as we take our Scriptures; we take the kitchen to be as essential in the work of salvation as in the sanctuary. Meals are front-line strategies countering the inexorable deconstruction of hospitality that is running amuck in the Western world today. The meal is a focal practice for reenacting in our daily lives all that is involved in the Eucharistic meal in which we participate in the sacrifice of Christ for the salvation of the world.”

    “Everything in our lives that takes place at the Lord’s Table can, if we will, inform and shape our lives as we return to our kitchen tables. What is before us supremely in Jesus on the cross and in the Eucharist gets worked into the way we live with and for others, expressed in language as everyday as “pass the cauliflower,” or as Jesus said in one of his most memorable salvation conversations, “Give me a drink” (John 4:7).”

    All the elements of a Eucharistically formed life are present every time we sit down to a meal and invoke Jesus as Host. It’s a wonderful thing, really – that the most common action of our lives, eating meals, can reflect and continue the most profound of all transactions, salvation. The fusion of natural and supernatural that we witness and engage in the shape of liturgy continues, or can continue, at our kitchen tables.”

    Thanks again Evie for giving us such a visceral reminder of our salvation and the great Feast we will all share with our Host in person one day. Maranatha!

  3. Andy

    Nice to see a Rochester original promoted! I might make the trip back (from Syracuse), just to take you up on your offer! Love the musings on the realm of imagination and how we engage it through our senses…

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