One of the reasons I love cooking so much is that it’s often meditative for me. Peeling, chopping, mincing, crushing, tearing, and sometimes tearing up (those blasted onions)….
The work can get tedious, but I have my best conversations with Mama Mary and the Holy Spirit right there at my kitchen counter. Today, as I was slicing the chayote, it occurred to me that there are some great parallels between Christ’s teachings, vegetables, and our relationship with both.
There are those of us who have a natural affinity to veggies. Our mothers never had to resort to cajoling or nagging to get us to eat them. The love for beets, celery, eggplant, and okra was simply part of us from the beginning. And then there are those of us for whom vegetables are usually an acquired taste, especially those bitter melons, UGH. No matter how often we read about how it may keep us disease-free, the loathing wins out.
For some of us, following Christ’s teachings just comes easily. We don’t question or complain, we just follow. The rest of us have to grumble the whole way, even when we already know what’s best for us.
Parents these days have all kinds of tricks up their sleeves. One popular method is to hide greens in something more friendly to kids’ picky palates: a blended fruit smoothie, or chocolate cupcakes. Of course, those tricks don’t always work. Just ask my eight-year-old who seems to have a built-in radar for avocado. When a child is older, however, he will most likely have to encounter a vegetable unadorned. Sometimes, raw and unprocessed is the best way to learn to eat something.
We may think that sugarcoated is the gentlest way to offer Christ’s teachings to others, and that may work for a while, until something particularly challenging comes and an unexpected bitterness reveals itself. Maybe there are times when it is best to just give someone the full weight of the Lord’s commands, and let them deal with it head on.
I’m sure that if I go far enough, this analogy will start to break down, but let me share a few more thoughts.
Veggies are wonderful cooked to just the right doneness — the crisp edges of roasted broccoli, the sweet-salty meatiness of edamame, the banana-ish tones of parsnip in a stew. But overcook any of these and they lose their appeal and potency… just like when we take the Lord’s words and analyze them to death, or use them indiscriminately to “beat” people in an argument, or beat ourselves up even. Jesus said His yoke is easy and His burden light, but we tend to complicate things, don’t we.
Cooks all over the world prepare veggies in numerous ways — and you may have grown tired of butternut squash gratin, but your mouth lights up not just with recognition, but with fresh appreciation, at your first bite of a bold squash curry simmered in coconut milk along with chilies and shrimp. In the hands of a good spiritual director or a loving priest, biblical laws may suddenly spark your spirit anew, and rekindle your love for the Lord.
Friends — even well-meaning ones — may tell you to live it up: enjoy the pastries, the pasta, the cocktails: “Die happy: if you don’t like vegetables you don’t have to touch them.” But we all know on some level that vegetables benefit us. You can gorge yourself on sugar all you want but at some point your body will tell you it needs something more nourishing. Your soul tells you that as well, if you stop long enough to listen.
It’s not an enigma: vegetables are cheaper, but they are nutritional powerhouses. At the same time, some of them are easier to chew and digest than others. The same can be said about Christ’s words — they can be hard to accept, but they are always life-giving, since they come from Life Himself.
What I’ve found is that the more I eat vegetables, the healthier I am. The more I consume, the more I actually enjoy eating them. Likewise, the more I follow God’s laws in my life, the more happiness and peace I find.
Sunday’s Gospel, as explained by our excellent homilist, tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven, which God wants to share with us, is of infinite value. But God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts. We cannot judge the equality of His justice against the inequality of our limits: limits that we impose on ourselves through sin, limits that keep us from receiving His gift in its fullness.
Therefore, EAT YOUR VEGGIES.