A rollicking Bollywood number bounced jauntily between the aisles. I navigated around the giant jute bags filled with basmati and idli rice, breathing in that quintessential Indian market aroma: spice, sweetness, and earth, wound in a ribbon of incense.
The owner, Vibha, a petite, long-haired lady, with high cheekbones and deep dimples, scanned her khol-rimmed eyes over the shelves, looking for anything out of place. She’d transformed the store from a quiet mart with flickering fluorescent lights into a radiant, bustling market, complete with a kitchen from which emerged the crispiest samosas and a jackfruit curry I still can’t forget. Vibha has been my staunch supporter, talking me through Indian cooking techniques when I was stumped and even providing spices when I cooked for my cookbook release party. I walked over and gave her a hug.
I peeked over her shoulder, taking in the hubbub of the kitchen.
“Wait a minute, Aunty,” I said (In Indian culture, every elder is referred to as “aunty” or “uncle” whether or not you share a bloodline). “None of the people cooking your food are Indian!”
“Yes!” Vibha beamed proudly. “I’ve taught them everything — how to make chutney, dosas, everything! I even taught them to pray before they cook!”
The last part stopped me in my tracks. “You do what before you cook?”
Vibha looked at me as if I’d lost my head. “Ya, of course! I always pray before I cook. Don’t you?”
Thanks to Vibha, I’ve never looked at cooking the same way again.
I began to pray before I cooked. What once felt like a chore was now an exquisite unwinding. That first slice of an onion began to feel like slipping into a warm bath, every muscle relaxing, every breath deepening. My senses were on fire: the specific sizzle of a steak when it’s ready to be flipped, the aroma of spices blooming in hot oil, the almost blinding neon of freshly chopped herbs. Prayer painted my cooking in technicolor.
I was ravenous now, looking for more of the sacred in the kitchen. Flipping through a book on Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medicine, I learned that not only is food our medicine but also its preparation. Chopping vegetables is a moving meditation, soothing our minds and bodies. God tucked medicine even into the mundane. No shade on pre-chopped vegetables, but consider what we’re missing when we don’t do it ourselves. We save ourselves time, but are we cheating ourselves out of healing?
A terrible condition has now become the norm in our kitchens: Dinner must be made in thirty minutes and consumed in even less time. At the same time, we feel stressed, anxious, and disconnected from our loved ones and from God. I remember watching my grandmother cook at our farm in Mangalore, India. It took hours — soaking the lentils, building the fire, toasting the spices, grinding the masala (spice paste) on the ragado (giant grinding stone). It was so ding dang slow. And yet, so much opportunity to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
I may not have my grandmother’s cooking schedule, but I do have time to pray. Prayer necessitates stopping, breathing, stepping out of the hurry of the day. Consecrating my cooking time puts me in a state of gratitude, counting my blessings instead of my woes. It refocuses my heart and melts my anxieties.
Perhaps my greatest motivation to seek the sacred in the kitchen is this: Jesus cooked! Our Lord, in His resurrected body, made His disciples breakfast. Heaven came down, stoked the coals, scaled the fish, and used all His senses, His humanity, to nourish His friends’ stomachs and hearts.
We see in this small act, the core of the Sacred Heart — creation and generosity. Jesus created a meal and shared with His friends. God created the world, and He shared it with us.
Thus, cooking is an invitation to join God in the joy of creation. We’re made in His image, after all. So the thrill of peeling away the hairy skin of a celeriac to reveal its ivory flesh, the happy scent of a freshly cut lemon — He programmed those moments of delight into every creation. This is His delight too, and perhaps it sheds light on God’s delight in creating us.
What a privilege it is to cook, dear hearts! What a magical portal to touch the untouchable, the sacred!
It’s such a kindness, and it’s just like God to say, Nothing you do is beyond My touch. Invite Me into the process, and just as Moses removed his sandals before the burning bush, you’ll realize that you’ve been standing on holy ground the whole time. Perhaps that’s what Paul meant when he wrote the verse that I keep in my kitchen:
“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)
The simple act of praying showed me that I’d been missing out on the blessings God tucked into the act of preparing food. And if there is holiness in the kitchen, I’d wager there’s probably holiness in the laundry room or in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Inviting Jesus into my kitchen has convinced me of this truth: A taste of heaven is in every earthly bite.Leave a Comment