Poetry & Words

On Soviet Food and Spiritual Food

I’m currently reading a memoir of Soviet times, a sort of wandering musing on meals and cooking, from Lenin’s own kitchen to the communal cafeterias in Moscow. While I enjoy cooking, I confess I find food to be an inconvenience at times; and, as mother to a child with anaphylaxis, potentially deadly at others. Why did God design food to be so crucial?

On Soviet Food and Spiritual Food

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I’m currently reading Anya von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, a sort of wandering musing on meals and cooking, from Lenin’s own kitchen to the communal cafeterias of the author’s Moscow childhood. While I enjoy cooking — and obviously, books about cooking — I confess I find food to be an inconvenience at times; and, as mother to a child with anaphylaxis, potentially deadly at others. Certainly as a parent, preparing, serving, and cleaning up food is a nonnegotiable part of my daily routine. As I go about these chores, I often question why God designed food to be so crucial.

Why does the human body required food, simply to continue to exist? (Or, as I texted my friend the other day, “Why do these people I live with seem to want to eat three times a day?”)

My questioning doesn’t end there.

Why, in heaven, when all things are made new, does feasting still continue to play a central role?

Again and again throughout Scripture, we see food:

The fruit in the garden.

The lentil porridge.

The burnt offerings.

Loaves and fishes.

The last supper.

Perhaps eating, then, is an ever-present reminder of our daily dependence on God.

Take, and eat.

In Exodus chapter sixteen, the Israelites of old had to trust him anew each morning. Manna squirreled away under the corners of the tent or in a basket very openly revealed a lack of trust by dissolving into stinking, swarming mess of worms.

Manna, like mercy, is new every morning. Our own striving cannot sustain us overnight; only He can.

When Jesus teaches us how to pray, He does not tell us His power is vast enough to sustain us for all time — even though it is. No, he tells us we must ask Him for bread, every day. There’s a transcendental significance to the focus on daily bread. (Couldn’t he have just as easily taught us to pray, “Give us this month our monthly bread, so we need not stress about this again until the calendar page turns”? I would have preferred that.)

He didn’t, of course. There are no prayers for weekly or yearly allotments; but many promises for bread and mercy daily.

We are to turn our eyes upon him constantly, over and over and over again.

The hymn-writer Robert Lowry understood this when he wrote,

“I need thee every hour…
I need thee, oh, I need thee;
Ev’ry hour I need thee!”

Every hour. (If you have infants — or teenage boys — this is a very literal reality.)

Eating, I think, reminds of us our constant state of reliance on God. We rely on him for everything — the onrush of air into our lungs, the pulse of our beating hearts, and life itself. Simply to be alive is a gift. And when we set down yet another tired lunch on the table on yet another weekday noon, this ordinary act can be a worshipful acknowledgement of our utter dependence on God.

Work, as worship.

Food, as a worship.

Inhaling the aroma, tasting the spices on our tongue, feeling satiated, feeling hungry — these are all tangible ways to taste and see that the Lord is good. Yes, even if the meal is one you’ve had hundreds of times.

Even if you’re weary of meal prep.

Even then.

And our need for physical nourishment also echoes our need, too, for supernatural food. In the wilderness, David waxed desperately poetic in his sixty-third Psalm:

“You are my God;
I shall seek You earnestly;
My soul thirsts for You,
my flesh yearns for You,
In a dry and weary land
where there is no water.” 

Our souls are designed to crave Him as deeply as our stomach rumbles for food after a long day of slim pickings. God didn’t want us to miss this. He didn’t hide the symbolism in parable: he spelled it out for us when he said “I am the bread of life.”

We are supposed to feel as desperately starved for God when our spirits are hungry, just as we do for a food when our bodies are physically famished. Our bodies aren’t designed to last for long periods without eating; so too, our souls aren’t designed for only periodic spiritual dining, taken at infrequent intervals.

Later in the same Psalm where David first declares his wilderness thirst for God, he exclaims what it’s like to finally dive to God after his soul had been starved: “I eat my fill of prime rib and gravy; I smack my lips. It’s time to shout praises!” (The Message translation)

In the Soviet memoir I’m reading, the author describes mealtime in Lenin’s Russia as “soup with rotten sauerkraut, unidentifiable meat (horse?), gluey millet, and endless vobla, the petrified fried Caspian roach fish.”

Is this what your soul has been surviving on?

Come!

You don’t need to live like this anymore. There is living water. There is life-giving bread.

The shackles are off; the walls have crumbled.

Read! Partake! Drink it in!

The time for feasting has arrived.

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Poetry & Words

When I was a little girl, I didn’t live on the prairie

when-i-was-little-didn't-live-in-america

When I was a little girl, I didn’t live on the prairie or in the suburbs or in wide-eyed city lit by neon signs. I didn’t know apple pie was supposed to be American. I never saw a baseball game. I didn’t have a picket fence, or a dog, or any of those things that are you supposed to make you American. But I didn’t live in America, either.

When I was a little girl, I lived in the middle of a brown and white house right smack on the edge of a street called Taborska right smack on the edge of a city called Ljubljana. Our front door didn’t have a doorknob. It had a door handle instead, which was long and narrow. It kind of looked like someone had taken a capital L, turned it sideways, and jammed the short side into the door. Our landlady lived downstairs, so we called her Grandma Downstairs. Petra and Alenka, her two granddaughters, lived up the stairs. We called them Petra and Alenka. Much later when I grew up into a lady and lived maybe a million or seven miles from there, I had a daughter too and I named her A. Alenka. It sounds like music. But that didn’t happen yet, because I was still a little girl.

I had one brown-haired mustached dad and one strawberry blonde mom, and a brother who got himself locked in the spare room once. The L-shaped door handles were very good at getting locked and very bad at opening up again, so while I cooked horseradish and dandelion soup in my cardboard kitchen, I prayed for a replacement brother. The original brother was unlocked before I’d finished praying, but God sent me a second brother a few years later anyway.

I didn’t have a dog. Once I had some tadpoles, which sounds nice, but really they looked more like their other name, pollywogs. Sometimes we had a goldfish. He was a very possibly magic goldfish. Sometimes he swam right out of the bowl and was missing for a long time before he popped back into the bowl. My dad was not a goldfish but he had blue eyes on the front of his head and an extra pair of eyes on the back of his head. The extra eyes were just as good at seeing as the forward-facing ones. He had a stack of heavy books next to his bed. Since it was dark when he woke up, I’m not sure which eyes he used to read.

I don’t think my mom and dad could see very far from the middle part of the house where we lived, but as I was still a child and hadn’t yet grown eyes in the back of my head, so I could see for miles. The red clay rooftops sparkled like tiny crests, like little ocean waves in a red sea. Of course, the Red Sea isn’t actually red. I know this because I am very nearly six years old, and I know almost everything there is to know, particularly important truths such as how one person cannot see one’s own face, no matter how tangled up one gets trying to turn one’s eyeballs toward it.  I tasted the sea in Greece once, although I probably shouldn’t have because there was quite a lot of rubbish floating in it. It was a rather green sea. All the books I’d ever read said seawater was supposed to be blue, but I guess they hadn’t been to Greece.

Things don’t always end up the color they set out to be, anyway. There’s a man who sometimes who comes to visit the cats and chickens and sour cherry trees downstairs, and I think his hair started out brown but it’s beginning to have grey bits around the edges. I think to myself that it’s the same kind of grey as the sardines heaped up on the tables near the bridge in the city. The sardines started out with a silvery flash of green, I think, but mostly they end up grey, too. There are big cement columns stuck into the ground at each end of the bridge down by the sardine tables. They are grey, too, like most of the things in our city, but the dragons on the top are a kind of sad, flaky green that looks like it used to be happy. Mom says the dragons are made of copper but I don’t thinks she’s right about that.  I saw a picture of a copper penny once, in an American book, but it wasn’t green at all. Our friend tried to each me about pennies. I didn’t listen. I just looked at her when she talked, and watched my head head bob up in down in the reflection of glasses she wore to cover up her glass eye.

I didn’t need to know about American pennies, anyway. I didn’t live in America. Maybe someday I would, and there would be plenty of time to learn about pennies then.