I stand over the small wooden table gazing at the meal, my eyes taking in its beautiful simplicity. The host ladles me a generous scoop of steaming, creamy soup and I shuffle slowly around the table in silence with my fellow retreat participants. I fill my plate with a simple fresh salad, top it with nuts, and move on toward the bread. Reaching my hand out to pick up a slice I notice that each piece is generously buttered. It's enough to make me want to weep.
To me, that butter is love and I see immediately how buttering bread can be an act of love - generous, simple and true. With the sweep of a knife and the smooth gliding-on of glistening yellow goodness that bread became a sacrament, a means of grace, that butter yet another expression of the love of God in the world.
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James Martin’s book, Becoming Who You Are, includes a discussion about Andre Dubus, an author who became a paraplegic in mid-life:
In his essay, Dubus, a devout Catholic, describes the laborious process of making sandwiches for his young daughters to carry with them to school. As he maneuvers his large, bulky wheelchair around his cramped kitchen, as he reaches for the utensils, as he tries to open cabinet doors from his awkward position, and as he cuts the sandwiches, he realizes what he is doing for his children.
Each moment is a sacrament, this holding of plastic bags, of knives, of bread,
of cutting board, this pushing of the chair, this spreading of mustard on bread,
this trimming of liverwurst, of ham. All sacraments . . .
Dubus wrote about this in an essay entitled “Sacraments,” where he also says the following,
A sacrament is physical, and within it is God's love; as a sandwich is physical, and nutritious and pleasurable, and within it is love, if someone makes it for you and gives it to you with love; even harried or tired or impatient love, but with love's direction and concern, love's again and again wavering and distorted focus on goodness; then God's love too is in the sandwich. (Meditations from a Movable Chair)
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There are so many days when I feel it to be true – the fact that I simply don’t have enough to do this job of mothering well. Not enough patience, not enough compassion and curiosity, not enough LOVE. I am so busy. I am so tired. I am running on empty.
But still, I feed them, even if that feeding only consists in the tearing open of a bag full of salty, fatty carbohydrates; even if the meal was bought with money we didn’t have because for once I just wanted to sit down and relax together, gathered around these few moments of guilty pleasure.
I chop, I peel, I dice and slice. I sauté, bake, simmer and spread every day, three times a day or more. I ladle, scoop, and dish it out. These rituals I perform day in and day out, like a liturgy of love, each stroke of the spoon a prayer, each flip of the spatula an amen.
These days, when feel I don't have enough, I trust, I hope and pray that these simple acts of love, these sacraments coming as they always do in broken ways will be transformed as they’re consumed. Sunbutter and jelly sandwiches, gold fish and juice-filled sippy cups transfigured into love so that even on the days in which I have so little to give, they are being filled with good things.
These children of mine, they are eating my prayers, being filled, bite after bite, with love.