Hard work is good for us. It teaches us the value of what we have and it builds character. My mother used to say, “Do something hard every day. It builds character.” There are so many things to learn and do in life–the world is full of a myriad of possibilities, and it’s satisfying to rise every day with a purpose set before you. Something I’ve been paying more attention to recently, though, is the need to let go of goals and take time to nurture being. Brian McLaren, in his book, Finding Our Way Again, the Return of the Ancient Practices, talks about seven ancient practices in the Abrahamic faith traditions: fixed-hour prayer, fasting, Sabbath, the sacred meal, pilgrimage, observance of sacred seasons, and giving. These life practices, McLaren calls humane practices, because they “help us practice being alive and humanely so. They develop not just character but also aliveness, alertness, wakefulness, and humanity.” Sometimes I get caught up in the pressures of goals I set for myself or the pressures or obligations I have or perceive I have related to work. Too often I let my mind dwell on this concern or that, then the pressures close in, and I fall into a place of forgetting that what happens in my life is not all up to me. If I can consciously accept limitations, and live with being incomplete, it can help me learn that I will never actually “arrive” in life. All of life is process, stretching, growing. My task is to grow more and more into myself. Inner fulfillment or satisfaction will not come through competition or through other’s vision of who I am or should be.
So, taking some time each day to purposefully go slow seems especially important when living in a fast paced or competitive environment. McLaren explains, “That’s why, through the ages, people have tried to find ways to tend themselves, to do for their souls what exercise does for the body, or study for the minds. Through these character exercises, they give birth to the person they are are proud of becoming, the person they are happy to be, the one who is trying to be born in them every day…Spiritual practices are actions within our power that help us narrow the gap…They are about not letting what happens to us deform us or destroy us…(They are) about realizing that what we earn or accumulate means nothing compared to who we are.”
Married to someone who loves to cook, I’ve learned to understand how preparing food for others is an act of love. Years of practice making a zesty salsa with the perfect balance of tomatoes, onion, lemon and cilantro, or hours in the kitchen making foccacias to get the perfect texture in the bread, sewing up the deboned turkey and filling it with oyster, cornbread, nuts, celery and pomegranate stuffing–none of this is fast food. It’s not meant to be, and taking it slow–the physicality of slicing the tomatoes, cutting the nuts, getting your hands in the dough, moves food out of the realm of a commodity of something that is bought and paid for, and back into realm of relationship. Greens in your hands as you run them through the water, you think of those have grown the food, and you become aware of your interconnection to others, to the web of life itself–the force of life that blesses us over and over with the earth’s gifts.
Today in the middle of a very busy time, we took time to have a gathering at our house, and tonight we are preparing a turkey for a gathering of friends for a belated Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow. It can take years to make a good salsa or bean dip that makes people stand by your table for hours, but it’s a happy thing to notice when it happens. All week, all year we work hard, then we take time out to be with others, believing that somehow the rest of the work that’s pressing in and needs to be done we will somehow get done. We consciously choose to let time move slowly. The work can wait for a few hours or a day. Instead, we spend time pouring love into the food we make food to share with others, we spend time in the presence of friends.
Feasting is a part of every culture and every religious tradition, but every day we can make our meals as a conscious act of connection to the earth and of gratitude for each other. Cooking a meal with the hands is a gift of love.