The following post contains affiliate links. Thanks for helping us keep the lights on here at GraceTable.
I sit here on the sofa and stare out the window at the spirea… A bee buzzes around the tip of a spirea branch and lights on the top leaf. I’m frustrated by my lack of energy. I’m frustrated that my brain feels like a sieve and that after about noon I can barely string six words together to form a coherent sentence. I’m frustrated that given this blessed hour of silence and aloneness, all I can do is sit on the sofa and stare at a bee on a leaf.
I think, I should write a blog post about that bee. But I have no idea what I would say beyond, “There was a bee on the spirea.” Who cares? Even I don’t care. It’s what the bee means that matters, and I have no idea what the bee means, how the bee is holiness in the midst of the ordinary.
Those words come from my book Cracking Up, and I can hear Father Robert Farrar Capon taking me to task. “The bee doesn’t have to mean anything!” he thunders. “The bee’s very bee-ness is enough! You—you—you secularist!”
For Capon, author of The Supper of the Lamb, being is meaning. The fact of being—my being, your being, the being of a bee, or a leg of lamb—is cause for deep wonder and rejoicing. He spends an entire chapter of his book meditating on an onion. The beauty and aliveness and wonder and miracle of it! The reason you and I do not fall down in awe before a lowly onion is because we’ve never actually seen one. For most of us, an onion is merely the first thing you chop when you’re making pasta sauce or stuffing. For Capon, it’s a window into the wonder of existence. And so—a chapter devoted to seeing an onion. Its skin, its flesh, its central core, the root and shoot and life and juice of it.
Ostensibly, The Supper of the Lamb is a cookbook. There’s a great deal about cookery in here (Capon spends several pages waxing eloquent and opinionated about kitchen knives), and there are 90 pages of recipes at the back (in addition to the ones sprinkled throughout the first 200 pages), but saying this is a cookbook is like saying Moby Dick is a whale-hunting manual.
To Capon (may I call him Father Robert? He seems, if not a friend exactly, then a delightfully grumpy neighbor. Rather like Mr. Harrison in Anne of Avonlea, heartily opinionated and a little crispy but a kindred spirit nonetheless)—to Father Robert, my little complaint about the bee is heresy. A bee mean something indeed!
“Creation is God’s living room, the place where He sits down and relishes the exquisite taste of His decoration. Things, therefore, as things, are inseparable from God, as God. Separate the secular from the sacred, and the world becomes an idol shrouded in interpretations; creation becomes too meaningful to make love to.”
“Significance,” Father Robert continues, “consumes the world of the secularist.”
Father, forgive me; I have sinned. I am a secularist, obsessed with significance.
But Father Robert is not done with me yet:
We have arrived at an untoastable condition. Turn your glass upside down for a moment. There are demons to be exorcised.
Omnes dil gentium demonia sunt; Dominus autem coelos fecit. Deliver us, O Lord, from religiosity and Godlessness alike, lest we wander in fakery or die of boredom. Restore to us Thyself as Giver and the secular as Thy gift. Let idols perish and con jobs cease. Give repentance and better minds to all pagans and secularists; in the meantime, of Thy mercy, keep them out of our cellars.
Amen. I smile weakly. I think I need a glass of wine.
That’s the sanest thing you’ve said yet, Father Robert says. Wine cheers the heart, and your secular little heart, my dear, could use a little cheering. Under his breath, he mutters, Doesn’t know what the bee means. He hands me a glass. Wait here, he says. I’ll go down to the cellar.
Sheepishly, I stand with an empty wineglass in my hand. Barred from the cellar, I am in need of an exorcism. I have been brainwashed and am in need of a better mind. As much as I love real food (and I do: down with processed cheese food spread and factory-made bread!), I confess I haven’t bothered to look at it much.
Father Robert comes back up from the cellar, a bottle of Cinzano in his hands. “The habit of contemplation—” He uncorks the bottle. “The ability to sit down in front of something and care enough to let it speak for itself—” He pours the wine into my glass. “—cannot be acquired soon enough.”
I drink to that.For all my attempts to live mindfully, attentive to the present moment, I have spiritualized all the soul out of that practice. What is attention if not to the thing before me? Live not so much in your mind that you neglect your body. Live not so much in the realm of the spirit that you fail to revel in the beauty of things, their color and texture, their veins and sinews.
I set down my wine glass and pick up a knife. On the counter beside a cutting board lies a pile of lacinato kale. I slice kale almost every evening of every winter of my life. It’s tedious and repetitive. Normally, I would become disconsolate and bemoan the dreariness of my existence, but Father Robert leans over my shoulder like an angel of beneficence. “Look!” he commands. I look.
Kale is crinkly. Everyone knows that. But have you noticed the shades of green in a single leaf? Have you noticed its asymmetry? Have you noticed the way the central vein splinters into a thousand smaller ones, like the veins in the back of an old lady’s hands, feathering all through her skin, so many threads holding the stories of her life, her being, her glory?
Ah! Father Robert says, I have excited your sense of the gloriously unnecessary abundance in which we stand! I have succeeded.
In this paltry post I have only scratched the merest surface of Father Robert’s marvelous book. You simply must read it yourself, in its entirety. At at least three times. The riches of his thought are manifold. His humor is contagious, his wit delightful, and his sense of the holiness and wonder of life are gifts we all need to open again and again and again because it is so easy to become dulled to “the gloriously unnecessary abundance in which we stand.” I heartily commend his book to your reading pleasure: The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert Farrar Capon.