When I was a pre-teen, it became a singular delight to accompany my mom to bridal and baby showers, to take part, even if just perched on the floor by my mom’s chair with a cup of sherbet punch balanced in my lap, in these rituals of womanhood. At one wedding shower, instead of the regular games, the organizer asked all the married women to bestow on the bride-to-be one bit of wisdom that would help her through her marriage. I don’t know what the other women said, but I remember being impressed by their depth and sincerity, the spiritual significance and grand ideas they presented. When it was my mom’s turn, she smiled this Cheshire-cat grin, shook her head, and said, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” The ladies laughed as if my mom were joking, but she, born of a hearty family where food played the centerpiece of connection, was not.
To my mom, nourishment equaled love.
This was not the farm-to-table, grass-fed, sustainable, mindful, clean-eating, put-any-label-you-like-on-it nourishment of today. When my mom talked about food, it was rich food, sweet food, not necessarily healthy food, but whatever it was that would make you know she was thinking just and only of you. I forgot my lunch one day in junior high and she showed up with a peanut butter and chocolate frosting sandwich. While my brothers and dad went on Boy Scout trips, my mom and I bonded over cheap carryout and bon bons (yes, literally, bon bons, the ice cream kind). When my brothers and I hurt our dad’s feelings one day, my mom baked him “warm cookies to soothe the coldness in his heart.” (No, we kids didn’t get any of those.) In my mom’s Italian family, learning to make “the sauce” (homemade meat sauce that cooks all day) was a rite of passage for womankind; after she died, I taught my brother and he still texts me photos each time he and his wife set aside a day to do it.
My mom wasn’t much of a hugger, but food… now there is where she showed her love. It’s a thing I do, in my own foodie way, and my brothers’ families both do too. The table, and specifically the spirit in which food is prepared, we learned, is all about connection.
“At the last supper,” Tish says, “Jesus tells his disciples to eat in remembrance of him. Of all the things Jesus could have chosen to be done ‘in remembrance of him,’ Jesus chose a meal” (63).
How much sense this makes! Food is the ultimate metaphor. The nutrients sustain us. Preparation and sharing the table connect us. Giving thanks humbles and aligns us.
As much as I love the various aspects of regular Sunday worship, nothing means more to me than communion, the time when we engage together in experiencing with our physical bodies the truth that Jesus was here with us and broke bread and drank wine, and sat around a table with his friends, and connected and learned and grew. Just like we do. And the mystery that he is with us still, in this bread and this wine, in the way we live and practice at being like him. What a glorious and tangible thing.
I was certainly a little bit embarrassed all those years ago at the bridal shower when my mom brought up food while the other women had been so deep. Now though, as many of us eventually do, I realize that, far from silly and flip as she may have seemed in that moment, my mother was actually a font of tried-and-true, honest-to-goodness, real-life wonderful wisdom. And I am forever in her debt.
A reflection on Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren, chapter 5 – Eating Leftovers: Word, sacrament, & overlooked nourishment.”