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Friday, September 30, 2011


Elijah called to her and said, 'Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.' But the widow said, 'As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug. I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.' Elijah said to her, 'Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.'            1 Kings 17:10-14

That, I'm sorry to say, is one of the only passages in the Bible that approaches being a recipe!  I think it would not pass whatever test a recipe has to pass in order to get into the church cookbook.
Do you follow recipes when you cook?  Sure you do.  Whether you are someone with shelf after shelf of back issues of Gourmet magazine or you are someone who reads the instructions on the microwave box every night before you heat up the frozen entrĂ©e, we follow recipes to make sure we get it right.  Some of us follow recipes to the letter.  If it says one cup of diced carrots, then ¾ cup is just not correct.  Having all the ingredients available in just the right proportion and preparation before starting to put a recipe together is a wonderful feeling.  There is something deeply satisfying about following the instructions exactly and having a stew or a batch of cookies come out just right.
In the interests, as they say, of full disclosure, I will admit that I have a more flexible relationship with recipes than some people.  I like to think that I can vary an ingredient here or there when I'm missing something.  Won't some chopped basil do just as well as some chopped parsley?  Is sour cream a substitute for heavy cream?  I also like to think that I might stumble upon something unexpected and wonderful. 
Like what?  Take the recipe for oatmeal cookies on the inside of the lid of a container of Old Fashioned Quaker Oats.  It calls for one teaspoon of ground cinnamon.   I made a batch with ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon and added one teaspoon of a blend of spices called Chinese Five Spice.  Our neighbors are still pestering me for the recipe.  Very satisfying.
The truth I've experienced in recipe-following is that I almost never have everything I'm supposed to have and I almost always can't do some step exactly like it says.  For me, all recipes are "really more like guidelines," (to quote the pirates.)  And, yes, here's the Jesus part of today's essay.  Jesus was a follower of the law.  He loved the law of his family and of the people who came to follow or to listen to him.  He "opened the scriptures."  Jesus would not want any of us to overthrow the patterns of order and health that have enabled people to live together with justice and mutuality.  It is also clear that Jesus sometimes treated the law more like guidelines.  He trusted a particularly loving kind of common sense that led him to violate the letter of the law in order to fulfill the wonder of the law.  I believe Jesus calls us to do the same.  I believe that each of you, each of us, is called – is commanded to make something nourishing and delicious and personal with the recipes of our tradition. 
And let's remember that the recipe Elijah requested from "the widow of Zarephath" in the passage quoted above, wasn't much of a recipe for a cook.  The Bible is not that kind of a cookbook.  Elijah offered a recipe of hope for someone who didn't have any.  "Do not be afraid.  Make a little something to share.  We'll eat and then see what is best to do next."  That's the kind of recipe I hope we can each cook up this day and every day.