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hope against hope

There’s a promise in the enticing aroma of a meal being prepared, a promise that is more expansive and all-encompassing than the taste and textures of the ingredients alone, a promise that is larger than the sum of its parts.

 

There are those who are gifted as the preparers of meals, the culinary artists who turn the things of the earth into offerings that feed tummy and soul. I’ve long admired those who can enter a kitchen, and with the tying of an apron around their waist, lure you into a sense of trust in their competence to pull this off. I’m more comfortable on the bar stool, taking the posture not of a voyeur but as one eager to play a part in the dance of culinary preparations, even with my two left feet. I’m always humbled to be handed a knife and some ingredient or other, entrusted with the task of chopping or slicing. It feeds one’s ego to play a supporting role in the preparation of a meal but please don’t ask me to be the director.

God takes whatever you have in the fridge of your soul, vegetables this side of limp and spices that have lost their bite, then calls you into the kitchen, hands you a cutting board, looks you in the eye and says, ‘you’ve got this.’

swiss chard, an ingredient in God's banquet

I witness the dance of culinary prowess often enough that I could re-enact the steps, I could write down the recipe by memory and execute each movement with some accuracy. But a meal is more than the sum of its parts, it’s more than the successful execution of a recipe. To put it philosophically “the many become one and are increased by one.” (A.N. Whitehead) The many ingredients become one but are more than they then could ever be alone.

 

I imagine this is how God works, present in the bits and pieces of our lives, making them more than they could be alone. God takes whatever you have in the fridge of your soul, vegetables this side of limp and spices that have lost their bite, then calls you into the kitchen, hands you a cutting board, looks you in the eye and says, ‘you’ve got this.’

 

Whether it’s a dinner party or a family meal, taco Tuesday or a Thanksgiving feast; the promise of the meal is where it’s at. Yes, there’s something wonderful about finally sitting down at the table but it’s the magic before that leaves me on the edge of awe. By the time you sit down, the distractions of whining children, juicy mouth noises, and clanking cutlery can make it hard to stay in the wondrous presence of the promise of the pre-dinner aroma. By the time dinner is served, what you had hoped is rarely what is actualized.

 

When the sweet smell of onions and garlic, sizzling in the cast iron pan, rise and envelop you in their glorious aroma it’s as though you are being embraced in a promise. You could choose to lean into judgment or worry. You could think, “it’s all going to be burned, cooked ‘til it’s too dry.” You could imagine all level of culinary catastrophe. But when you are the beholder of the creative culinary process, not one with the inherent gift, you go instead to hope and utter trust. The smell of the softening garlic and onions make it impossible for you to feel anything but comfort and trust that there is something very good to come.



There’s a promise in the enticing aroma of a meal being prepared. It’s a promise not of certainty, but of possibility; a promise of a nearby future filled with just what you need for such a time as this. The not-yet-meal embodies an essence of hope but not just any old hope, and certainly not optimism. It can best be described as a hope against hope. In a world where life itself is vulnerable and futures are no longer something we can predict, hope against hope is what we are called to embrace and embody. It is our only hope.

 

The scriptures tell us that Abraham had hope against hope. He trusted in the faithfulness of his God above all else. It wasn’t a blind trust. It was more like the trust that allows you to be real with another person, like unconditional-love trust.

 

Maybe you walked away from the all-controlling God years ago. Maybe you’ve been let down by the God you were told would inoculate you from hardship and struggle, would grant your wishes, save your loved one from dying or relationships from failing. When God doesn’t show up like that we sometimes turn into functional atheists, people who claim faith but don’t expect God to be at work in our lives. Or maybe you became an actual atheist. It’s just as well, because that God is lie.

We don’t have a “fix it” God. We have an “I’m going to walk through any hell that befalls you” God.

A God who fixes all problems is not the God of scripture. That idea of God is based on the very type of power that Jesus came to save people from. There’s another God present in scripture and at work in our world today -  a God worthy of our trust, a God in whom we can place our hope against hope. It’s a God relentlessly faithful, and doggedly committed to calling us to the next best step, no matter the mess of our lives. To hope against hope is not to be blindly optimistic, not to be in denial but to see the stark realities, to truly see the state of things even if that state is dire, and to hope that God is a God of love; to trust that God is at work within every cell of your body inviting you in each moment to the next best possibility given the current reality.



 

Hope against hope is never an inoculation against disappointment or struggle, it’s not a promise that you’ll get a prime spot in heaven any more than it is a promise that your life will be easy. We don’t have a “fix it” God. We have an “I’m going to walk through any hell that befalls you” God. We have an “I will not leave you orphaned” God; an “I will bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone” God; a “do not let your hearts be troubled,” God. Maybe think of that the next time someone hands you a cutting board.


[*]God: read - source of love, power of the universe, essence… whatever you do, don’t think for a minute that I’m referring to some human-like figure hanging out in some far-off heaven.

 

 

 

 

 


 

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Well done, can smell the essence of God as I was reading this. Thanks Beth. Bob.😍

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