Sunday, September 26, 2010

In defense of the most important meal

I'm one of those people you love to hate. Why? ... I'm a morning person.

I know some of my friends share my sentiments, but I absolutely love waking up to realize that I've been blessed with another beautiful day. Sure, sometimes there are days when I know there is a lot coming down the pike - tests, papers, meetings - but I can't help but think of all of the possibilities that exist with the dawn of each new day.

Maybe the most fun part about waking up - and I hope most will agree with this obsession - is that mornings equal breakfast! Just think of all the amazing breakfast foods: oatmeal, pancakes, fruit and yogurt, fresh orange juice, coffee, scones, omelets ... I could go on for a very long time (drooling the entire way). From this short list that doesn't even begin to scratch the surface when it comes to breakfast related meals, it's easy to see why God put this meal at the beginning of our day - to give us something exciting to think about as soon as we step out of bed.

A wonderful quality about breakfast is that it makes people happy. Have you ever seen a child cry at the sight of a Belgian waffle topped with succulent red strawberries atop a pillow of fluffy whipped cream? Have you ever heard a man groan when he sits down to eat a hot cinnamon roll dressed in a silky-smooth coat of icing? Honestly, what I'm describing right now is downright food porn!

Unlike actual porn, eating breakfast is something that you never have to hide or be ashamed of. In fact, I think I would be quite delighted to eat breakfast foods for almost every lunch and dinner. Tonight was one such example. In the spirit of communion and in support of the Colts football game against the Broncos, my church parents and I, along with a group of their friends, decided to make breakfast for dinner. Each of us made a favorite breakfast treat to bring to our gathering. Janene made a french toast casserole. Denny and Kim made an omelet with ground turkey, spinach and mushrooms. Jenni, our hostess, made oatmeal and chocolate biscuits. I made fruit and yogurt parfaits. As you can tell, we had a smorgasbord of options. As we gathered to pray before serving ourselves, I could tell that everyone was eager to heap our plates with a taste of each breakfast masterpiece.

In a nutshell, breakfast doesn't have to be complicated. Starting off your day with eating breakfast is a way of showing respect to your body. If you want to be a person who is passionate, who serves others (and yourself), you have to put fuel on the fire from the moment you rise out of bed; and that, my friend, is done by the simple act of eating breakfast.

Maybe tomorrow, maybe a day later this week, I challenge you to breakfast... or rather, to break-slow, to break for your health, to break for reflection, to break for the start of a new day full of limitless possibility.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A taste of my roots

I wouldn't naturally position folk music in a food-related self discovery, but after feeling the sensations brought on by the band Crooked Still, I would say their lyrical sound melted into the essence of my family table image.

On Saturday night, I stood in front of the Lifecycle stage at Bloomington's Lotus World Music & Art Festival, my ears captured by the plinky tune of the banjo and the undulating sounds coming from the cello. When lead singer Aoife O'Donovan began to sing, her mellow yet passionate voice took me on a journey. Guided by the dancing rhythms that sailed from the fiddle, the music began to unlock part of my heart and open me to a longing I never knew I had. My head nodded and my hips swung side to side as a smile crept across my face and stayed for the rest of the evening. I closed me eyes and was instantly transported to the heartland.

While the heartland conjures images of the rural Midwest, (where I happen to be going to school) I think that it is a place where the boundaries of nature and man meet and live in equanimity. The heartland I was experiencing, elicited by the bluegrass swing, was a place where I could see my family - my Dad tossing rocks into the cold and glassy creek; my grandfather looking his wife in the eyes as they sat under the stars at night; my great grandfather treading through the forests of Nicaragua to help cure a dying man. This land, this space, while evolving, is a place where I imagine my family growing, laughing, giving, loving. My heartland is enveloped in the roots of my past, which extend to generations of men and women whom I have never met but feel embraced each other with an unconditional love.

It has been almost eight years since I last saw my mother, more than eight years since I can remember my parents showing their love in a romantic way, eight years since I have been able to introduce my parents to my friends. It's now over two years since I last kissed my dad and wished him a good day at work, two years since I tossed the football with him in the backyard, two years since we stayed up late talking about our dreams. These days I find that I am so hungry to have parents, to reach out to them, to feel, really feel their love by just their mere presence.

It is this hunger that grew within me as I stood before the stage listening to Crooked Still. Their music seemed to be luring me into my past, to untangle my roots and acknowledge a past that sometimes seems less painful if I just forgot it was even there. The sounds churned within me a desire to reach inside my family's ancestry and find the stories of the people I've descended from.

As I sit down at the table each night for dinner, it is this same heartland that I feel a longing to revive - to create a presence where I feel a love and warmth, where I feel apart of a family. While my family might not have come from a people who played the banjo or danced around the magical sounds of the fiddle, I couldn't help but feel that this music was a sound from my loved ones, whispering to me that there is a "hole in the middle", a hunger that can only be filled through the magic of communion.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

My Dinner Table

Communion: an act or instance of sharing.

When I think of my Dad, one of the first things that comes to mind was his love of cooking and having dinner parties. Every night, I was always eager to see what he had roasting in the over or sauteing on the stove. The house would fill with the clatter of pots and pans and scents of onion and garlic would guide my grumbling stomach downstairs towards the table.

Our table was long and made from dark wood that was textured as if someone had taken a mallet and whacked it hundreds of times. Running my hands over its surface, it felt as if it had been around for centuries ... I'm sure that's what World Market was thinking when they manufactured it - some young girl hoping that her relatives in Scotland had sat around its edges every night, gobbling down their turkey and sipping ale ... well, that's a vision I am happy to keep.

This table was the scene of countless meals: my Dad and I slicing into a tender pork chop topped with grilled onions and a tangy lime dressing; me and my high school friends diving into bowls of pasta salad and chili that we made for a potluck; the extra-spicy, ignite your tongue on fire jambalaya that my Dad made with triple the spices ... us flinging towels to our guests to blot the sweat off their foreheads. But most importantly, this table is where my Dad and I shared our daily happenings, our embarrassing stories, plans for the weekend, travel dreams, what brought us joy, what was hurting us - how our actions hurt each other.

Regardless of the night, our family table was always a place of communion. There was no grab-and-go frozen dinner, no taking the food to our own rooms, no watching TV. Dinner time was special. The food, while usually delicious, was arbitrary. The conversation, the company, the relationships that were cultivated ... that was everything.

Every time I see a kitchen or dining room table, I always wonder how the empty space will transform that coming evening. Will it remain empty? Will it be buzzing with kids stuffing their face with mac and cheese, speaking with mouths full asking "what's for dessert?" Will it be shared by a husband and wife? Will it be a space of learning and sharing? Will it be a table for one?

Right now, my family table morphs from each day to the next. Yes, there is the table I eat most of my meals at in the condo I'm staying in at college ... but that doesn't feel like my family table. Right now, my family table sits in the house of Tom and Alma, a couple who lives out by the lake I used to row on every morning at 6 a.m.; it sits in my God parents' house in Florida on the island of Longboat Key; it sits in Ft. Smith, Arkansas at my aunt and uncle's house that overlooks the Arkansas River. In truth, my family table is wherever I create and share a meal with those I love and care for. While I do miss that sense of having one table that I can truly call my family table, I can't help but feel blessed that I have family tables scattered throughout Bloomington, Portland and all over the country.

Communion and the family table - two words that will forever be connected in my mind. A shared experience and a place where it can manifest. I don't believe there is any place more sacred.