Thursday, January 27, 2011

Stir This Batter, While I Create the World

Lately when I reflect on what it means to be in ministry in the world, I am transported back to Christmas 1985.  I was three years old and my Grama Char and I were baking thumbprint cookies in her kitchen.  Anyone who has baked with a three-year-old knows that one does not invite a toddler into the kitchen out of a need for extra help; I am sure I contributed more to making messes than baking cookies.  

I was in the kitchen because I was (for one more year, at least) my Grama's only grandchild, and she wanted to make cookies with me.  And I wanted to help.  I wanted to be like her.  So much in fact, for at least part of the time I wore blue knitted mittens in imitation of her oven mitts.  I felt so prepared for baking.  This memory comes to mind lately, whenever I am trying to tackle the question of why God created the world and gave humans "dominion" over it.  My hunch is that when God tells us that we have dominion over the earth, it less like a landlord handing over the keys to a superintendent, and more like a grandparent inviting a three-year-old into the kitchen.  

25 years later and 900 miles away, I am in my uncle's kitchen in Florida and I am seasoning ingredients for chirashizushi, at my Grama Ty's direction.  All I really need to do is season different ingredients in dashi, but I am feeling a little useless.  I don't know where things are in the kitchen.  I'm not sure how long to simmer things, how high the heat should be, or exactly what the end result should taste like.  But, I'm learning.  I have been watching my grandparents in the kitchen to learn how to make our family's favorite Japanese recipes, especially because most of them seem too nuanced to just jot down ingredients and steps.  You have to learn by doing, and it takes practice to know how much salt or soy sauce will yield that exact flavor that we have grown up tasting.  

The life of faith is the same way.  When God invites us to take part in the stewardship of creation, it is not because God needs the help or because we are even particularly prepared.  We have blue mittens on our hands, and we don't know which cabinet holds which pots.  But God thinks our blue mittens are adorable, and can't wait to watch our little fingers make the little imprints in the cookie dough.  And as we know from our experiences in our grandparents' kitchens and gardens and woodshops, when we work together we learn from each other and - more importantly - we learn about each other.  In Matthew 11:25-30, Jesus talks about this, and I particularly love the way the Message paraphrase puts it, especially at the end:

Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."  (If you want, compare with the NRSV).

When it comes to being invited into God's kitchen, the lessons are more varied than we can imagine, but they all involve practicing together - together with God, and together in communities of faith.  When we worship together or pray together, when we reach out in compassion or sing a song with someone, we are learning the unforced rhythms of grace.  When we get to know the created world, and when we enter into the tasks of caring for and preserving the natural environments around us, we learn more about the character of the one who created it.  Sometimes we don't feel like helping out or learning. But the deeper our relationship with God grows, the more we long for that time together and the more we are able to recognize and share the flavor of grace.   


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