Eat, pray, be unproductive
Given our focus of prayers for Palestine and Middle East this Sunday, I think about Swift Current, the place I grew up, and family heritage. Southwestern Saskatchewan is not the first place you expect people from the Middle East to have settled during the early 20th Century. One thing Morgan and I have in common is great grandparents immigrating from Lebanon/Syria and eventually settling as homesteaders in the area.
One thing that helped Middle Eastern-Canadian families survive a semi-arid desert climate and the Great Depression is their ability to make foods that could be stored without refrigeration. Vast quantities of food you could prepare during the summer months and sustain you and your family through a forty below winter.
One food that stands out in particular is a dried cheese porridge called Kishk, considered one of the oldest cheese in the world. You take gallons and gallons of milk to make a thick, sour yoghurt (or lebana), and mix it with burghul or bulgur, which is parboiled wheat that has been dried. You lay it out in the sun over a couple days to dry. Once thoroughly dried you run it through a grinder and make it into a fine powder. Now it’s ready for dry storage, rich in protein and nutrients.
To prepare kishk as a meal, you can have it as a savoury meal either for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, together with cooked onion and ground beef. You can also tear up pieces of bread to add to your hot, sour yoghurt, savoury porridge. Now that I’ve whetted your appetite, you might want to go visit Fig Deli, or other neighbourhood Middle Eastern grocery, and pick up some ingredients or save yourself a week’s worth of work and buy some kishk ready made.
I think about those childhood memories, eating foods, that serve as a bridge between two worlds. How many of us empathize with parents and grandparents who had pantries stocked as though they were prepared for a war? During a pandemic and the panic that set in especially at the beginning, suddenly we can relate to a feeling of scarcity. Worries that maybe we need to become more self-sufficient. More people are baking bread at home and planting gardens. Suddenly maybe older generations were onto something. Having a full pantry and a giant deep-freeze full of food isn’t such a bad idea.
Eating with family
The other thing that childhood foods evoke are meals with family, including family no longer with us. Maybe you have a favourite childhood food that brings back memories of someone you love.
During this time of a pandemic this is something we have been missing is sharing meals together, whether it is at a restaurant or even in our own homes. We think about dinner parties or festival dinners. Easter was especially strange this year for that reason. Not just because we are livestreaming worship and cannot offer communion, but because of people who are not around the table for Easter dinner. And so there is a sense of yearning.
Jesus and the disciples understand yearning. They spent a lot of time together enjoying meals and sharing words and stories. And in the gospel reading this morning we hear Jesus who is sad that he is leaving the disciples. Jesus loves the disciples and wants them to know they are loved. And yet we know the disciples continue to remember Jesus and that meals continue to play an important role. Jesus says he has given them everything he knows. That they have enough.
Even when Jesus ascends to be with the Godhead, the disciples are not alone. We know the story continues as Jesus ascends and the Holy Spirit descends to be with the disciples. God is never absent, but rather present in news ways.
That is also true for the saints who we miss in our lives. People who have died and ascended with Christ. Their words and memories are reflected in us as well. They taught us what they knew and continue to be with us.
As Christians the meal which signifies presence in the midst of absence is communion. We believe that Jesus as the Word of God is present in the bread and wine. Communion is a collective remembering of the story of Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and continued connection through the Holy Spirit.
I know many of us are missing celebrating communion during the time of the pandemic. We’ll have a chance to continue our discussion on virtual communion on Tuesday evening if you want to join us for that. You should have received instructions via e-mail if you’re on the church mailing list. Otherwise contact the church office for details. I don’t want to preempt that discussion here. I only want to add there is no one right answer. We need to discern the right response in our place and time, whatever that is. And most importantly not to let these kinds of internal discussions, as close to our heart at they maybe, distract us from a bigger sense of mission.
Whether we receive or do not receive communion virtually, we STILL ARE the body of Christ sent into the world to serve. Let me repeat that: we still are the body of Christ. Jesus is reflected in each one of us, especially as a collective, as church, living into Jesus’ words that we repeat and remember each Sunday. Gathering together even now is real. Let us stay focused on Jesus’ love for us and sharing it with one another and the world.
God loves bodies
Another part of belonging to the body of Christ is having a body. God loves our bodies. We know this because of the incarnation. God appears on earth as human with a body. Even the Ascension of Jesus, which was this past Thursday, celebrates a Jesus ascending into the Godhead with a body. Jesus appears to the disciples after Easter as a body. We do not worship a God of disembodied ghosts, but a God that celebrates bodies.
God wants you to love your body. Even if society tells us our bodies aren’t perfect. Forget that for a moment. Trust that God loves your body just the way it is right now. Even if your body doesn’t always do what you want it to do, which is frustrating at times. We’ve become very aware of the fragility of the human condition in the time of COVID-19 when otherwise healthy people suddenly become sick. And people with compromised immune systems are even more at risk.
We are saddened when we cannot visit loved ones in care homes. We are saddened when we cannot visit people who are sick or dying. We grieve these realities.
At the same time we trust that God is with us in the midst of a pandemic. We trust that the Holy Spirit is with those who are alone in nursing homes, prisons, people without homes camping in parks. We trust knowing God loves our bodies.
You are more than your productivity
Another affliction people are suffering from these days is feeling unproductive. We measure our bodies not only in terms of beauty and health, but also in terms of productivity. A lot of people have lost their jobs, have been furloughed, are sick, or on disability, and cannot work. We are bombarded with messages that the economy needs us all to go back to work, to keep making money, to keep the financial machine working so we can keep enjoying good things like food, a home, roads, schools, travel, all the things we’re accustomed to doing.
I’ve heard from students and from people working that they cannot focus on their studies or work. They don’t see the future as bright and are spending too much time as home, so it’s hard to get to work. We are distracted by so many things, including reading conflicting news reports about best practices around COVID-19. We keep checking the numbers, whether cases are going up or not. We are worried about family and friends, which is understandable. It’s hard to be productive.
In the midst of all these pressures, God’s word is one of grace and unconditional love. As Christians we proclaim we are more than our productivity. Jesus wants us to love our bodies and be loved as children of God, not based upon other metrics.
Finding Peace and Value through Food
Often what get hidden in the discussion around productivity is all the labor that doesn’t get counted. When we think about favourite childhood food, often these were made by women. Historically more women have worked at home, engaged in childcare, and this labor often doesn’t get counted when we talk about contributing to the economy. And yet this where so many irreplaceable childhood memories are formed. Those favourite meals we enjoyed with family cannot be quantified. Instead they are part of community and hospitality.
A similar case could be made for the hospitality of inviting different groups to a meal. Today our prayers focus on peace in Palestine, peace in the Holy Land. We are not going to solve this crisis today, but we can lift them in prayer and invite one another to the table sharing hospitality.
A story about food. I once had the opportunity to hear Michael Twitty talk. He is a Southern food scholar and chef who identifies as black, Jewish, and gay. He was invited to give a talk in Jerusalem bringing together both people from Israel and Palestine. He found himself in a quandary when he was giving a demonstration on making humus:
“I held a cooking class at Abraham Hostel and it was very funny: I had on one side of the room Israeli Arabs and Palestinians and on the other side Jews! Israeli Jews.
“I look at them and I see they’re ready for me to start something. And so, Orthodox Jewish guy and Palestinian guy both get up at the exact same time and ask the exact same question: Tell me who does hummus belong to?
“So I look around the room, I wait, 10 seconds go by. (There were people in the hospitals at the other side of Jerusalem, waiting to see Hashem – their ears are burning in anticipation for what I am about to say! There are people on the other side of East Jerusalem– they have sounded the horns at the mosques to hear what I’m about to say. The entire Kotel has stopped praying . . . because they all want to hear the answer. Who owns hummus?
And I look at the anxious faces in the room and I say, “Is hummus Jewish?”
And half the room grumbles.
“Is hummus Arab?”
There’s a yay – and the more grumbles in the other half of the room.
“Does hummus belong to neither of you?”
And No! I say to them ‘no.’ Hummus belongs to a Mesopotamian woman – neither Jewish, nor Muslim—who had hungry kids. And she had some chickpeas and some garlic—she mashed them together and said, here, eat!”
As we pray today, let us remember ways in which food brings us together. Let us offer the hospitality of the meal rooted in grace. As allies we listen and lift up voices of the oppressed, yearning for peace.
Wrapping up, remember a favourite food form your childhood. Give thanks for whoever introduced you to this, whoever made it, whose labour was undervalued.
Love your body and whatever level of productivity is working for you right now. Give yourself space to flourish, to breathe, and to find life.
Embrace peace and opportunities to offer a meal and hospitality at times when we disagree. Together as the body of Christ, Jesus is sending us out to be the legs, arms, voice, and listening of offering love in the world. Know you are loved as children of God. Amen.