“If you have to be employed in domestic duties, as for instance in the kitchen, remember that the Lord goes about among the pots and pans, helping you in all things.”
Perhaps you didn’t know that my mom is world famous for soup making – at least she is a famous soup maker in my world. As I am currently serving as ‘cook’ for our community, I often pull out one or the other of mom’s tried and true soup recipes.
When I heard that a large group of Dominican novices would be coming to stay a few days with their Novice Master (and our dear friend), Fr. Anthony, I knew what recipe to turn to: Mom’s Beef Vegetable Soup.
“First throw in the chuck roast with some water and fennel and get a good broth going.” Yes, that’s step one. This is what I did, letting it cook for sometime. Next came the odd directions to (and this is a direct quote): Skim the scum off. Sure enough, after about an hour, the ‘scum’ appeared. Ick. Skim, skim, skim.
Next I was advised to pull out the meat and chop it up, then put in the hard vegetables that needed more cooking time. Then season with salt and pepper. Then, after awhile, put in the soft vegetables, then cook some more.
Needless to say, making this soup got to be an all day affair – between the peeling, the chopping, the seasoning, the adding this and adding that. It gave me quite a bit of time to think and pray. Peeling the carrots, chopping the parsnips and onions and cabbage and celery…yes, I had lots of time to think.
And what came to me? Making soup is a lot like the Novitiate…or even more broadly, it is a lot like the life of grace. There’s the raw material of who we are that we bring to the Lord. “Throw in the chuck roast…” And we are put in the pot…and the water starts boiling. And, sure enough, the scum comes to the surface. (Thank You, Lord, for the gift of Confession!) Then there is a lot of peeling and chopping. “Cut away here, burn away there – all that is within me that is not Thine.” – Cardinal Merry del Val.
Then the things within that are most resistant to change are thrown into the water (This is only right, as we know, indeed, that it will take longer to soften them). Perhaps we did not even know what these ‘hard vegetables’ were: the parsnip of pride, the turnip of temper, the fennel bulb of infidelity, the corn cob of crankiness, the carrot of uncaring, and the celery stalk of selfishness! Sometimes the water has to boil for some time before any softening occurs. But when it does, we find that the broth is all the tastier, the flavors more vivid and unique!
Then comes the seasoning. Add just a little salt and pepper, mom would say. You don’t need any artificial anything. No bouillon cubes. No MSG. No facades. Just salt and pepper. The seasoning of good humor! No artificial anything.
Then there comes a time in every soup making experience, in every life experience, when you just have to put the lid on it and let it simmer. The work of transforming those vegetables and meat into nourishing meal is not ours. The heat, the cook, the pot, the lid, the water, the vegetables, the meat and the seasoning – each has a roll to play. So it is in our life of grace. It’s not for us to control our own transformation. We simply allow the Lord to turn up the heat now and again, to let our scum be skimmed, to be receptive to the peeling, the chopping, the combining, the boiling, the softening, the melding, and the seasoning. We allow the great Chef to cook. We allow time for the process without expecting immediate results. It’s the work of a day for a good pot of soup. There’s no rushing it. Nor is there rushing the Lord of glory. Let Him do His work. Just simmer.