A Blessing from The Supper of the Lamb

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Of all the books I’ve read this year (2012), there’s a single standout that has found a comfortable home among all time favorites like Godric, Jayber Crow, A Tale of Two Cities, and The Lord of the Rings. It was written by an Anglican priest named Robert Farrar Capon, it’s called The Supper of the Lamb, and it is, of all things, a cookbook—or a “culinary reflection” as the subtitle would have it.

Some of you may recall that Evie read a passage from it before Saturday’s dinner at Hutchmoot 2012, and one day either Jonathan Rogers or I will give a full account of its greatness. Today is not that day and this is not that post. But I’d consider it unforgivable to let Thanksgiving week and its many feasts go by without a mention here of so fitting a book. If there was ever such a thing as a “Thanksgiving book” then surely this is it. Equal parts cookbook, comedy, theology, liturgy, and poetry, it’s a book that somehow encompasses almost every aspect of life, and the life to come, and does it all within the context of food.

I’m going to shut up now and quote a piece of it so you can see what I mean (it bears mentioning that this passage follows immediately upon an argument for the joys of belching and a citation to be read over the magnificence of baking soda).

Travel safely this week. Give thanks. Enjoy the feast.

From Chapter 16 of The Supper of the Lamb
by Robert Farrar Capon

“For all its greatness (trust me—I am the last man on earth to sell it short), the created order cries out for futher greatness still. The most splendid dinner, the most exquisite food, the most gratifying company, arouse more appetites than they satisfy. They do not slake man’s thirst for being; they whet it beyond all bounds. Dogs eat to give their bodies rest; man dines and sets his heart in motion. All tastes fade, of course, but not the taste for greatness they inspire; each love esacpes us, but not the longing it provokes for a better convivium, a higher session. We embrace the world in all its glorious solidity, yet it struggles in our very arms, declares itself a pilgrim world, and, through the lattices and windows of its nature, discloses cities more desirable still.

You indict me, no doubt, as an incurable romantic. I plead guilty without contest. I see no other explanation of what we are about. Why do we marry, why take friends and lovers, why give ourselves to music, painting, chemistry, or cooking? Out of simple delight in the resident goodness of creation, of course; but out of more than that, too. Half of earth’s gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become. For all its rooted loveliness, the world has no continuing city here; it is an outlandish place, a foreign home, a session in via to a better version of itself—and it is our glory to see it so and thirst until Jerusalem comes home at last. We were given appetittes, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great.”

And, finally, a benediction from Chapter 15:

“I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable. May they rejoice that they will never again be taken for callow, black-haired boys. And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed. May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.

We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot … Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts—for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem.

Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthoood, He makes all things new. Our Last Home will be home indeed.”

Amen.


21 Comments

  1. Laura Peterson

    Laughed – check. (Almost) cried – check. Emailed to a friend – check.

    My Thanksgiving week can now begin.

    Thanks, Pete.

  2. Dan Keefe

    You’ve peaked my interest. I love God, theology, & food…how fun to find all these in the same book.
    God bless and Happy Thanksgiving!

  3. Ben Haupt

    Thanks for the great excerpts. Now I have my Thanksgiving toast, and for the record…my wife is that rare pastry that balances a beautiful, crisp outer shell with filling that is just done…God’s a heck of a baker! Another great book for those who love both Jesus and the physical, earthy, sometimes delicious Creation…much like the other masterpiece you mentioned, Jayber Crow. Why aren’t more people talking about that book? Why does its Facebook page only have around 1000 likes? What can we do to share this great gift of a book with others? Anybody up for some kind of book discussion group? Has the Rabbit Room ever held book discussions, maybe chapter by chapter or something? I looked in the Archives and came across Andrew’s recounting of his great trip to see Wendell and Tanya where he talks about what Jayber Crow’s influence on his life but couldn’t find anything else. Thanks to all in the Rabbit Room for teaching us to love Jesus, the Land, and wonderful pastries inside and out!

  4. Tom Murphy

    Thanks Pete for the timely post! Just came back from “The Food Treat Retreat” at Laity Lodge with Sally, Nathan Tasker, and Norman Wirzba. This needs to find a home in my cookbook collection. My roommates have recently instituted Monday dinner art night!

    Norman’s book “Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating ” is worth a read. Hit upon all of the same highlights and is smattered with Wendell Berry. Sending along this post to Norman. Wendell and Norman would make a great couple of friends to bring to Hutchmoot next year if you are garnering ideas…They are pretty good friends from what I understand.

    Their work complements each other very well…One, the Theologian poet, the other, the poet Theologian!

    http://www.amazon.com/Food-Faith-Theology-Norman-Wirzba/dp/0521146240

  5. Michael Oliver

    Maybe you can help me: I had an article by Robert Farrar Capon that he wrote for a food magazine (Food & Wine, Bon Appetit, etc.) around 1989. It was a Thanksgiving article and it had a passage that has always brought the unity of the celebration into focus – how on this of all our holidays, we share more in common and tend not to highlight our differences.

    I’d love to find that article and my searches online are coming up empty.

    Any ideas?

  6. PaulH

    “We were given appetittes, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great.”

    (I love this)

  7. Laura Peterson

    Michael – hmm, that request has me intrigued now. I did a little hunting in the databases that I have access to via my public library and grad school library. Capon didn’t publish anything in either Gourmet or Bon Appetit after 1985 (that’s as far back as their archives go.) I couldn’t find a source for Food & Wine archives. He did, however, write quite a bit for the New York Times. Only two of those articles were published in November – one in 1982, about turkeys, and one in 1983, about the difficulty of choosing recipes when everyone has their favorite. I skimmed those and neither seems to be what you’re looking for…although there is a line in the turkey article that might hit the mark – “A nation of people doing their own things can hardly pretend to have a national observance of any one thing. Thanksgiving, by contrast, has not only a common theme but a common ritual as well….Thanksgiving is better even than Hanukah, Christmas, Passover, or Easter. Those festivities, while they involve unifying activities, are enjoyable chiefly in anticipation; the feasts themselves are let-downs….Thanksgiving, however, has Advent, Hanukkah, and Christmas waiting to burst in the minute the dishwasher is loaded.”

    Does that ring any bells? If you have any more clues I will gladly keep hunting. (I’m in grad school for library science, so I’m sorta enjoying this.) Are you sure of the year?

  8. Happy Thanksgiving | Word Lily

    […] You indict me, no doubt, as an incurable romantic. I plead guilty without contest. I see no other explanation of what we are about. Why do we marry, why take friends and lovers, why give ourselves to music, painting, chemistry, or cooking? Out of simple delight in the resident goodness of creation, of course; but out of more than that, too. Half of earth’s gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become. For all its rooted loveliness, the world has no continuing city here; it is an outlandish place, a foreign home, a session in via to a better version of itself — and it is our glory to see it so and thirst until Jerusalem comes home at last. We were given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great. from chapter 16 of The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon, via Pete Peterson at The Rabbit Room […]

  9. Kristen Peterson

    This has been read again in the Peterson household, and we are ready to start another day of thanks.

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