Scripture: Psalm 98
When I was a little kid, my family visited my grandparents in New Mexico each year over spring break. Somehow my birthday always seemed to fall over that week, so I felt like the luckiest kid ever. When I woke up early and excited on my birthday, my Grandma Jan was always up waiting for me in complete make up, wearing a bright floral perfume, with her hair in her signature blonde-white beehive bun. I was convinced she always looked like this and that seemed like magic.
We made the same chocolate cake together each year for my birthday. She had written up the recipe using a typewriter on a little notecard. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a bundt pan (she always used lard) and coat with a dusting of flour. Sift together dry ingredients – 2 cups sugar, 1 ¾ cup all purpose flower, ¾ cup cocoa, 1 ½ tsp baking powder, 1 ½ tsp baking soda, 1 tsp salt. In another large bowl, mix together wet ingredients – 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, ½ cup vegetable oil, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Slowly mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients. When complete, add one cup boiling water and stir carefully. Pour into bundt pan and bake for 50-55 minutes. It was this last step couple of steps that were the measure of my growing up. When I was old enough to pour and stir the boiling water by myself and then pour the batter into the bundt pan, I was officially grown.
I still make this cake every year on my birthday. And I make it for 1 or 2 beloveds each year who ask for it, thinking it is some kind of mysterious, magic grandma cake because it is so good. But this is the thing: it’s actually not a secret recipe. It’s one of the most public and famous cake recipes in the country. It doesn’t just live on my grandma’s recipe card, but on the back of the Hersey’s Cocoa box.
This is the archetypal story of food in my family. We have cherished food rituals like this. But like most families that have assimilated over generations into whiteness, they aren’t our own. There was a myth for a period of time in our country that corporate giants could make more nourishing, healthy food than anything that came from traditions going back through the generations before. Think white bread and canned foods. It was a kind of erasure of where we all came from, if we weren’t indigenous to this land. And it was highly successful. Most of us, now, know a lot about this kind of comfort food. But we don’t actually know how to nourish ourselves – with food or with rituals of the spirit. To nourish means to grow. My birthday cake is a balm, a memory map, a sweetness beyond sweetness on so many levels, but it’s not growing food.
This stewardship season, we are calling on you to “Come to the table. Come as you are. To be nourished and to nourish in return.” That’s what the little pamphlet that arrived in your mailboxes last week had to say. But what does it really mean for you to be nourished? And what does it really mean to nourish in return?
I spoke to a friend of mine who is a nutritionist about this from her professional perspective. She said the most important ingredient to real nourishment is eating whole foods. Whole foods are foods that change very little from the time they are harvested to the time we eat them – fruit, vegetables, legumes, meat, whole fat dairy, whole grains etc. These are the foods that fill us up and keep us full. Unlike highly processed food, they aren’t designed to keep us eating, to keep us wanting more, but to satiate. Also, to make a full meal of them, you can’t just open a box. They require attention and preparation.
I imagine spiritual nourishment the same way. The ingredients are what make and keep us full and whole and growing our connection with the Divine. Based on our own experiences and spiritual topography, the ingredients will be different. Based on our own particular privileges and realities of oppression, the amounts of the different ingredients will change. But these are not pre-made, consumer-friendly spiritual care products. You cannot buy connection with the Divine. Spiritual nourishment requires discernment, attention and time from each of us.
For myself, I know a healthy plate of spiritual nourishment, of re-connection with God, needs to include a healthy portion of alone time because it’s the only way I know I will find my way towards gratitude and remembering my way to God being bigger than the moment; a portion of exercise to move all the energies of the universe through me and because endorphins are real; a portion of quality time with my dearest beloveds that is only about re-connection and not productivity of any kind; rest, real and regular; discomfort to feel my broken-heartedness and injustices of the world and find my way towards response
“The worst things in the world will happen, day after day,” says emergent strategist Adrienne Maree Brown. “i survive by putting my attention on what nourishes me and my loves.”
I hear that as a modern translation of our psalm today. The ancient Israelites had already and would continue to live through the worst things in the world. They too were just trying to survive by putting their attention on what nourished them and their beloveds. The most traditional language we have for that which is the source of our nourishment is God. And the most traditional language we have for paying attention to that source is praise.
“O sing to You a new song, for You have done marvelous things. … Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises… Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of God…”
What does it take to “leaven our lives ‘til they rise in praise,” as our call to worship says? What are the ingredients in your recipe of spiritual nourishment? In your bulletin, you’ll find an index card not unlike the recipe card my Grandma Jan once gave me, stained with cake batter. Yours is clean and blank. Take a moment now in prayer to write down some of your recipe for spiritual nourishment, for re-connection with the Divine in yourself and the world. Only when you know how to nourish yourself can you turn to nourish the world.
Come to the table. Come as you are. To be nourished and to nourish in return.