This winter I subscribed to an excellent literary journal, Poetry East, and the first issue that arrived in the mail was devoted to food. Poems on food. Great art on food. Quotes on food
I read it slowly every morning, savoring every mouthful.
The magazine reminded me of an essay on food that I read years ago and never forgot, though I frequently berated myself for not saving it or at least copying a few passages. Then two months ago I started to organize my old journals and found that I had copied one quote from the article, “The Exegesis of Eating,” by Alane Salierno Mason which appeared in the book, Best Spiritual Writing 2001. She wrote: “To prepare, for one’s elders, the kind of food they prepared for you in the way they taught you to prepare it is something that goes beyond food for survival. It is the richer nourishment of memory, love, and gratitude.”
Here was someone who articulated what Old Monk feels about food and can’t communicate to people who did not grow up in an ethnic family where food was the axis on which our world turned. Mason captured the spiritual nature of food by wrapping it in the words “memory, love, and gratitude.” Those three words explain why I am reduced to tears when I talk about my mother’s chicken and biscuits or potato pancakes or elderberry pies or pierogi or …. How it was for me to wake up every morning and smell bacon and eggs, or French toast, or biscuits, coming from the kitchen—no cold cereal for me or my brothers. How it was coming home every day from school and being greeted by a homemade cake, or oatmeal-raisin cookies, or some exotic pastries filled with creams and jams. And this love for food extended to grandparents and aunts and uncles and picnics and parties and holiday feasts. Always over-laden tables. Here’s how I spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s when I was a child. Keeping the Polish tradition of Kolendy (carols), the entire clan of Kownacki’s or Kryzan’s (my mother’s family) gathered each night after work at one of relatives’ homes. We entered the house singing Polish carol and were treated to a delicious buffet of sausages and hams and turkey and casseroles and homemade breads and sweets. After everyone ate, we sang more Polish carols and then…. we went to another relative’s home and repeated the entire process. Sometimes we visited three homes a night eating and drinking and singing and eating. We did this for seven straight nights—Christmas Day to New Year’s Eve—culminating with a New Year’s party at my home where my mother prepared the most amazing shrimp crepes. You can understand why it’s really hard for me to get excited over kale smoothies and energy bars and fat-free anything. Because for me, though it’s about delicious hot food prepared with tender care, it’s mainly about a gift I received wrapped in memory, love and gratitude.
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A blog by Mary Lou Kownacki
A personal journal captures what’s in the heart. Most of my adult life I’ve recorded my notes, brief reflections, poems, reactions to daily events in a journal. It is an ongoing source of monastic formation; the rich and raw material of life that helps shape my Monastery of the Heart. About a year ago, Old Monk began to appear on my journal’s pages. Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB, is the Monasteries of the Heart coordinator.
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