During last week’s Beecher lectures at Yale Divinity School, Anna Carter Florence illustrated what congregations expect of preachers with an unforgettable metaphor, that of teenagers opening the refrigerator, looking at the foodstuffs therein, and complaining “There’s nothing to eat.” Translation: “I need you to prepare me something to eat!”
The Columbia Theological Seminary professor compared this to our expectation that preachers will prepare something to satisfy our spiritual hunger. And both parents and preachers try to fulfill the demands of such expectations, sometimes simply because we can or should, given our expertise and duty, but sometimes also because we feel needed and even powerful. But, just as parents need to equip kids with cooking skills so they can leave the nest, so pastors do best to equip parishioners with spiritual skills.
Anna suggested that right in front of those sitting in the pews are mini refrigerators—Bibles, hymnals, prayer books—waiting to be opened in their pew racks. And, I would add, many of us have books at home, blogs on the internet, blank journals for our own musings, spiritual guides and soul friends, retreat opportunities, and those Celtic “thin places” in nature waiting to be “opened,” if only we opened our minds and hearts and schedules to their spiritual possibilities.
Anna’s metaphor captured one regret I have about church—that many prefer worship “to do it all for them” rather than embracing their own spiritual adventure. Please don’t misunderstand me: attending worship is a valuable spiritual discipline, but so much more is possible. That’s why I liked Anna’s other metaphor, that of a repertory church whose members actually engage with scripture. As she led us in various exercises to accomplish just that, I experienced what Presbyterian pastor Rick Spalding alluded to in the Q&A that followed: the disciples on the road to Emmaus reflecting on Jesus’ scriptural interpretation, “Did not our hearts burn within us as the scriptures were opened to us?”
I thought of another kitchen metaphor from professor Henri Nouwen’s days at YDS, the opening of his Road to Daybreak when a member of the L’Arche community prepared him dinner in his own home, using fine linens, china, crystal, candles, food and wine. “Where did you get all this?” Henri asked her. “In your own kitchen and cupboards,” came her reply, “You obviously don’t use them too often!” Suddenly Henri’s eyes were opened to new spiritual possibilities from his own cupboards!
In the story of Martha and Mary offering hospitality to Jesus, Mary is upheld by Jesus himself as choosing “the better portion,” listening at his feet, while Martha is portrayed as distracted, busying herself preparing food in the kitchen. Thus Mary became a symbol for contemplation. But now I wonder if Martha might equally be a role model for many of us, who need to do our own work in our own kitchens, independent of our spiritual gurus.
Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Suggested uses: personal devotions, contemporary readings in worship, conversation starters in classes. Please click here to learn more about this ministry and/or make a donation!
Watch the You Tube video of the panel Chris Glaser moderated last week at Yale Divinity School, “Religion in the Public Square.”