Robin Williams, Lauren Bacall, and Philip Seymour Hoffman – who would have noticed that we also lost Robert Farrar Capon recently? I have deeply profited from his gift with language and with theology, and it was a sad day for me when he passed on.
I was thinking about Father Capon as I thought about how to introduce a talk I will give in Capetown on “place.” Capon had a rich sensitivity to context and to place, and you can see that love reflected in nearly all his work, but in particular in An Offering of Uncles and The Supper of the Lamb. Like God, Capon loved the particulars.
In one of his very first books, he offered some thoughts on creation. Here is Capon —
Let me tell you why God made the world.
One afternoon, before anything was made, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit sat around in the unity of their Godhead discussing one of the Father’s fixations.
From all eternity, it seems, he had had this thing about being. He would keep thinking up all kinds of unnecessary things — new ways of being and new kinds of beings to be.
And as they talked, God the Son suddenly said, “Really, this is absolutely great stuff. Why don’t I go out and mix us up a batch?” And God the Holy Spirit said, “Terrific! I’ll help you.”
So they all pitched in, and after supper that night, the Son and the Holy Spirit put on this tremendous show of being for the Father. It was full of water and light and frogs; pine cones kept dropping all over the place, and crazy fish swam around in the wineglasses.
There were mushrooms and mastodons, grapes and geese, tornadoes and tigers — and men and women everywhere to taste them, to juggle them, to join them, and to love them.
And God the Father looked at the whole wild party and said, “Wonderful! Just what I had in mind! Tov! Tov! Tov!” And all God the Son and God the Holy Spirit could think of to say was the same thing: “Tov! Tov! Tov!” So they shouted together “Tov meod!” and they laughed for ages and ages, saying things like how great it was for beings to be, and how clever of the Father to think of the idea, and how kind of the Son to go to all that trouble putting it together, and how considerate of the Spirit to spend so much time directing and choreographing.
And for ever and ever they told old jokes, and the Father and the Son drank their wine in unitate Spiritus Sancti, and they all threw ripe olives and pickled mushrooms at each other per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
It is, I grant you, a crass analogy; but crass analogies are the safest. Everybody knows that God is not three old men throwing olives at each other. Not everyone, I’m afraid, is equally clear that God is not a cosmic force or a principle of being or any other dish of celestial blancmange we might choose to call him. Accordingly, I give you the central truth that creation is the result of a trinitarian bash, and leave the details of the analogy to sort themselves out as best they can.
*** *** ***
The reason I recall this analogy this morning is that I recently received “Local Knowledge” by Clemens Sedmak (2002). Sedmak closes chapter one with this section heading: “A Guiding Image: The Local Theologian as Village Cook.” Clemens argues that doing local theology is like cooking with local ingredients. He chooses this image because it offers a nuance and a “feeling” that a definition cannot convey (it also offers texture and taste!). He builds in the image to remind us that Jesus feeds us, was often at dinner parties, and was himself the bread of life!
The theologian is not free to cook anything he or she likes, but is part of a community that provides ingredients and shares the food.
“Kosuke Koyama talks about the Thai theological kitchen and the Aristotelian pepper and the Buddhist salt used there. He talks about the implicit theologies that can be smelled from the kitchen while you are sitting in the living room… there are many nuances and ‘inside aspects’ that are hardly accessible to an outsider (have you ever been in the company of a conniousseur who talks about the many different kinds of wine?).
“Food is, next to language, THE local cultural product par excellence…” (19)
*** *** ***
Around 2005 another book was released that appears nearly forgotten now, in part because it was never released in North America. But Simon Carey Holt’s “God Next Door: Spirituality and Mission in the Neighbourhood” was written by a theologian who is also a cook! You might not know this from his book, but baking, like walking, gives Holt a certain sensitivity to place that is missing in similar work.
And then of course, there is my own book, No Home Like Place (2014). The final chapter is titled, “Re-placing the World Through the Arts.” But there are two parts to this chapter, and the second part is headed, “Re-placing the World through Gardens and Baking.” Ah – see how I snuck that in there! If I revise the book the 2nd edition would divide this chapter into two, to elevate that closing chapter to a new status.
After introducing this section in my book, here is how I proceed.
“It may seem odd that I am about to close a book on place with a discussion of gardens, baking and hospitality. Yet these are three of the most spiritual practices we can muster at this late date in the dying gasp of Modernity. For the preachers among you, I offer this alliterative alternative: Flora, Fauna, Food and Fellowship. Not quite? How about Cultivation, Cuisine, and Community?
“Let’s begin with the simple version: gardens, baking and hospitality. These practices slow us down, help us to locate ourselves, and open space for others. Wendell Berry writes,
“A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating.” (What Are People For?)
“Gardens: the Bible is full of them, and its pages open and close – in Genesis and Revelations — with stories placed in gardens. How fitting that the first great title for God is given to us not in terms of a distant transcendence but in terms of his intimate role in creation: “And God planted a garden in the East” (Gen. 2:8). And then Mary’s first sight at the open tomb echoes a world renewed: she sees Jesus as the gardener (John 20:15). Loren Wilkinson writes,
Then the planet will spin in a Sabbath dance
(And the dancing place will be the heart).
Fruit will burgeon from scattered seeds
And garden and town be clean as a fleece
Early in the morning, on the first day of the week. Imago Mundi
We who are created in God’s image can do no less than imitate his work.