FROM THE RECTOR: THEOLOGY IN COOKING
I’ve been finding theology in cookbooks since my seminary days—and finally, I have found it in the writing of Julia Child (1912-2004). But I get ahead of myself.
Both of my parents cooked. As a child I always enjoyed helping them, not to mention that I have always liked to eat. But I learned to cook away from home, on my own, by reading cookbooks. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but cooking food for myself and others is something I still enjoy. It was my teacher Louis Weil who taught me to think about cooking and eating in a larger, theological way.
Two memories from Fr. Weil’s class still easily come to mind. During a discussion of the rubric that requires the ministers to “receive the Sacrament in both kinds, and then immediately deliver it to the people” (The Book of Common Prayer , 365), we learned that this rule was included in the rites to ensure that at least someone ate at every Mass. This was thought to be necessary because sometimes Mass was being said without anyone, not even the presider, receiving Communion.
Father Weil also set for us an exam question beginning with a quotation from the “Afterword” in Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook (1980). Hazan’s “Afterword” began, “What people do with food is an act that reveals how they construe the world,” and goes on beautifully from there (459-60). For me, the following words have remained an important point of spiritual reflection, “The world of the Italians is not a phenomenon that needs to be subdued, reshaped, arranged in logical patterns. It is not a challenge to be won. It is there simply to be enjoyed, mostly on its own terms” (459). I’ve been looking for and finding theology in cookbook writing ever since.
There’s a great line from Patricia Wells that I love to quote, “I realized simplicity was not simple—neither is it impossible” (Simply French , 15). One need not ever use Thomas Keller’s The French Laundry Cookbook (1999) to appreciate the reflections throughout his book. He labeled his introduction, “Pleasure and Perfection” and began with these words, “When you acknowledge, as you must, that there is no such thing as perfect food, only the idea of it, then the real purpose of striving toward perfection becomes clear: to make people happy. That’s what cooking is all about” (2). (I’ve always loved that the motto of the altar guild at Trinity Church, Michigan City, Indiana, where I served as rector for the decade before Keller wrote, is, “Aim for perfection.”)
Just before Christmas I could not find my copy of Julia Child’s Julia Child & Company (1978). I knew a recipe I wanted was in it. I only have a really small paperback edition. It’s probably in the rectory someplace. But now, thanks to the easy online availability of (inexpensive) used books, I have a copy of the original hardcover edition. This cookbook is organized by meals. At the end of the last of these, “Indoor/Outdoor Barbecue,” I found it, “Postscript: On eating”—theology in Julia, if you will. She began,
In planning meals for company, we all think carefully about our resources of money, kitchen equipment . . . at the shopping stage we are careful about quality and flexible (if what we wanted isn’t there) . . . Feasible preparation, graceful service, good food: can one ask more than that? Yes. One ought, in planning menus, to ponder the act of eating as much as the food itself.
This is her final paragraph:
I like to watch my guests eat and to imagine their pleasure in the lobster’s clawlets as they suck, or in something so simple as the smoothness, form, and heft of a hard-boiled egg. I think of Muriel Spark’s loving glimpse in Momento Mori of a grandmother feeding a baby, her mouth moving in unconscious sympathy as he eats. Nominally about death, that novel is about the preciousness of life, and so, however modestly, is every honest cookbook” (209).
It has taken me many years of life, work, study and reflection to begin to appreciate that before anything else the Eucharist is food, just as, with great respect, baptism is washing with water. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Marc, Arpene, Susan, Lawrence, Paris, Chandra, John, Ann, Ruth, Dorothy, Richard, Peter, Linda, Jim, Dorothy, Gert, Rick, and Deborah Francis, religious; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Matthew, Mark, John, and Rob . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . January 8: 1882 Martha Manelly Cody; 1886 Robert McKinley; 1897 Mabel Pauline Stevenson; 1937 James Gorham, O.H.C., priest; 1939 Mary Morse Clarke; 1943 James E. Johnston; 1949 Christine J. Palmer.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
STEWARDSHIP CAMPAIGN 2012 . . . As of January 3, we have received 170 pledges, 28 of them new pledges or pledges from households that were not able to make a pledge for 2011. Our goal for the campaign this year is $425,000.00. $403,673.00 has been pledged to date, which is 95% of our goal. A number of pledges made at the end of the year has brought us closer to our goal. If you have not yet made a pledge for 2012, we hope that you will do so soon. Help us to reach our goal! Please remember that every pledge counts; every pledge represents a commitment to the parish and its mission. If you need a new pledge card or have questions about pledging or how to pledge, please contact Father Jay Smith or call the Finance Office.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We continue to collect non-perishable food items and cash donations for our outreach partner, the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please look for the collection basket in the back of the church on Sunday mornings. We are grateful to all those who continue to support the Food Pantry so generously. Your gifts are exceedingly important at the moment due to state and local budget cuts. Jay Smith
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd resumes on Sunday, January 8, at 9:45 AM . . . Father Gerth will hear confessions on Saturday, January 7. Father Jim Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, January 14.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Episcopal Church calendars will be on sale in Saint Joseph’s Hall during coffee hour on Sunday . . . Altar flowers are needed for two Sundays in January – January 22 and 29; and for two Sundays in February – February 12 and 19. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch in the Finance Office . . . The 235th Convention of the Diocese of New York will be held on Saturday, January 14, 2012 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine . . . . Attendance: Holy Name 120.
CONFIRMATION & RECEPTION . . . If you believe that the time has come for you to make an adult affirmation of faith by getting confirmed or being received into the Episcopal Church, please speak to Father Gerth or Father Smith. Bishop Charles E. Jenkins, III, retired bishop of Louisiana and a great friend of Saint Mary’s, will preside at the Easter Vigil, on Saturday, April 7. This is a wonderful time for confirmation, reception, and, of course, for baptism!
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Thursday, February 2, 6:00 PM, The Presentation, Blessing of Candles, Procession & Solemn Pontifical Mass. The bishop of New York will be celebrant and preacher . . . Monday, February 6, 6:00 PM, The Ordination of a Deacon, Mary Julia Jett. The bishop of Montana will be celebrant and preacher . . . Saturday, March 3, Lenten Quiet Day, led by Father John Beddingfield.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The prelude at the Solemn Mass on Sunday is the chorale prelude on Wir glauben all an einen Gott, BWV 681, by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750). The setting of the Mass ordinary is Messe Brève de Angelis by French composer Jacques Chailley (1910–1999). Chailley did much to form the academic infrastructure on which the intellectual side of French musical life now rests. He studied at the Parish Conservatoire and privately with Nadia Boulanger. His earlier compositions, of which this setting is one, are based in a loosely modal style, and commonly make references to Gregorian melodies (this Mass is based on the Missa de Angelis). At the ministration of Communion, the choir sings the motet Quem vidistis pastores (1951) by Francis Poulenc (1899–1963). Poulenc rediscovered his faith following the death of a close friend in 1937, and a series of liturgical works followed. The Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël, from which today’s motet is drawn, comprises settings of four texts drawn from the Christmas and Epiphany liturgies of the Roman Church. The motet reflects the nature of the texts in two contrasting ways. Initially, the questioning of the crowd (“Who did you see, shepherds?”) is portrayed with a wandering eight-note movement. Eventually, the shepherds’ response is matched with a trumpet-like fanfare worthy of the angels themselves. James Kennerley
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . On Sunday, January 15, at 10:00 AM, Father Jim Pace will begin a three-part series entitled “Comfort and Suffering” . . . On Sunday, February 5, Father Jay Smith will begin a three-part series entitled “What Do Episcopalians Believe?” For this series, Father Smith will be working with a new book, What Episcopalians Believe: An Introduction (Morehouse Publishing, 2011), written by Samuel Wells, the Dean of the Duke University Chapel and Research Professor of Christian Ethics at Duke Divinity School. Copies of the book can be purchased at amazon.com or in the parish gift shop. There are now several copies of the book in the Gift Shop and more have been ordered . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will resume on February 8 at 6:30 PM in the Arch Room on the second floor of the Mission House. The first 4 sessions of the class will take place on February 8, 15, 29, and March 7. We will be reading the Letter to the Hebrews this semester. J.R.S.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . Thursday, January 12, 6:30-8:00 PM, Interfaith Panel: Jerusalem – Sacred City of Three Faiths, at the Museum of Biblical Art (Mobia), 1865 Broadway at 61st Street. Sponsored by Mobia and the Jewish Community Center. Free and includes museum admission. Registration required. Call Mobia at 212-408-1251 . . . Sunday, January 15, 10:00 AM, Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street: Angeline Butler presents a forum considering the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the heritage of the civil rights movement. Ms. Butler is a good friend of Saint Mary’s. She was deeply involved in the civil rights movement during the 1960s.