Returning from a long walk this frigid April morning, I unwound my scarf, unzipped my down vest and heard myself say out loud, “What’s for breakfast this morning?” I was conversing with God, as I had been doing all morning along city streets spanked with sunshine and raucous with birds twittering in blossom-laden trees stunned by frost.
On such a cold morning, reaching into the fridge for a container of homemade chicken-rice soup may not have been the oddest choice. But it felt like I had bypassed what, if I were God, I would have fed me. (Perhaps a fruit and spinach smoothie with chia seeds, for my health.)
But as I took a spoonful and let the warm, deepening flavor of the broth (this is Day 3 for the soup) spill over my tongue, I started to cry. And suddenly I was a child of seven or eight, back at the long, white paper-laden tables in the Fellowship Hall of the Lancaster Church of the Brethren, hovering impatiently over a bowl of chicken-rice soup for the scriptures to be read and the prayers to be said. It was the annual Love Feast, and we had just come from gender-separate rooms where we all washed each others’ feet. (To me at the time, that was the embarrassing part and seemed pointless, since most of us had washed our feet beforehand anyway.) I was still too young to grasp the meaning of the symbolic reenactment of Jesus with his disciples at the Last Supper.
But the soup. Now that was something I could relate to, since the ritual occurred well after our normal dinner hour, and I was ravenous. Women from the church had spent long steamy hours in the church’s kitchen boiling and deboning whole chickens, chopping celery and onion, adding rice and seasonings. By the time they served the soup (with a roll) to the long tables of several hundred people, the vegetables were soft, and the rice had fluffed out and blended to make the creamiest and most delectable of textures. Eaten out of white styrofoam bowls, there was no clinking of silverware, only the quiet smoothness of a simple, succulent meal eaten in reverent silence. A love feast.
The saying goes, “from soup to nuts.” Well, today it’s from soup to parents. The parents who brought me to those love feasts. Today is April 6th – what would have been their 69th anniversary if Dad had lived.
My parents cannot remember who took the following photograph, or exactly when it was taken, and I confess I hardly know them like this. (In fact, I don’t know them at all like this.) But I cherish this picture like none other.
These are my parents at 19 and 24 – the people whose intimacy I was born of, whose DNA I carry, the folks to whom I inexplicably returned getting off the school bus day after day in my childhood. They are the ones who dedicated me and my siblings in the Church of the Brethren, saw to it that we got baptized, took us to events called Love Feasts, and laid the groundwork for what it means to live in a community devoted to love through service.
I would like everyone to feel born of this kind of love, and I would like to make my church’s chicken rice soup and serve it at long tables winding through beautiful forests and over bridges the circumference of the entire world.
Everyone of every race, ability and temperament would be invited, and everyone would feel cherished. Everyone would learn they are born of an intimacy that will never break, and everyone’s wounds would become so healed they wouldn’t need to do another thing to prove that they matter in this world.
We would eat together in reverent silence for each other and for our Maker.
We would wash each others’ feet.