Saturday, March 11, 2017

Divine Cooking: Grateful, Mindful and Sacred Meals

Food shopping and meal preparation are considered chores by many of us. Most people in our society are chronically pressed for time and meals are one more thing to worry about (whether this is objective or subjective reality is a topic for another day). Taking the time to mindfully plan and execute meals which edify both mind and body seems like a luxury American working people cannot afford. Yet, working people in other cultures do this as a way of life. 

If cooking is not enjoyable for you and you are an "eat to live" sort of person, exploring cooking as a spiritual practice could change the way you approach it. 

Here are three new elements to bring to meal planning and preparation, if not for every meal, then at least for a special weekend meal to share with family or friends:
1. Gratitude
2. Mindfulness
3. Sanctity 

Being grateful for having food to eat is only the beginning; we can also think of all of the people and actions involved in bringing the food to us, where we are. We can send gratitude to farmers, rice cultivators, migrant workers, drivers of delivery vehicles, market owners and employees and all people who implement and uphold food safety standards. As we select and prepare food, we can cultivate gratitude in those moments for all of the above, and for our own health and energy which allow us to complete the work of cooking. Not everyone can do it. In fact, there will likely come a time in your life when you won't be able to cook anymore, either temporarily or permanently. Carpe diem! 

Being mindful of the experience of cooking is immensely pleasurable; don't knock it till you try it! Take some moments to contemplate your ingredients as you set them out, noticing their unique properties. Notice the feeling of each vegetable or grain in your hands, delight in the colors of each ingredient, be aware of the sound the water makes as it fills measuring cups and pans, smell the aroma of simple ingredients like olive oil and butter and fresh bell peppers...get creative here! Go on a sensory journey with your pantry and refrigerator contents! Then, calm down. No need to wear the mayonnaise. But seriously: anchoring yourself in the moment of cooking is enjoyable and therapeutic, especially when you need to calm your mind and disconnect from the stresses of work and everyday life. 

Being reverent in the presence of food is not a very big part of American culture, is it? "Pass the ketchup, squirt some my hot dog, will ya?" Am I being judgmental again? I like hot dogs. I may have even prayed over a hot dog during my Midwestern childhood. Some people like to say grace, a short prayer, before their meals to bless the food and the hands which prepared it, and to invite God to partake in the meal. In my mostly profane and secular life, I forget to do this...a lot! It must not have been ingrained enough for my brain to make it a real habit, though I remember all of my family members saying grace as I was growing up. One good thing about forgetfulness is that when we come back to a practice such as praying over food, it can feel very new and vibrant! If you do it for every meal anyway, try saying a new prayer or engaging in a new practice like turning off the lights and blessing your food by candlelight. In a group, this can feel very festive as well as sacred. Try adding ritualistic elements to your table, such as flowers and decorative items imbued with meaning for your family's traditions. With or without prayer, take a moment to pause and contemplate your meal before you consume it, again remembering gratitude and mindfulness, then watch as this moment transforms a profane Tuesday night chow-down into a sacred meal. 

You can also transform something as simple as baking cookies into a meaningful family experience that's also part of your spiritual practice. Either by yourself or with your family/friends, execute a simple baking recipe with the intentions of gratitude, mindfulness and sanctity. Here is a link to a delicious and simple vegan chocolate cookie recipe. When your cookies come out of the oven, bless them, and symbolically offer some to God or Goddess. If you have a home altar, place some near it. Then enjoy the sweetness of the cookies with someone you love. (You're not supposed to give chocolate to dogs. But I have. Use your judgment.)

Here's a blessing you can say for your divine meals! 

Beloved, Divine One, we thank You for all who are present here today and ask your blessing on this gathering.  We offer our gratitude to you for this meal, and we are thankful for all efforts involved in its manifestation.  We celebrate the bounty of your creation and the interconnectedness of all life, partaking in this meal together.  May we hereby be nourished in body, mind and soul.  And together we say, AMEN. 

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