What Have You Been Reading?: The Supper of the Lamb

 

“O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad of the oil which ran upon Aaron’s beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all, give us grace to live as true men- to fast till we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve thee as thou hast blessed us- with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine. Amen”[1]

 

This odd prayer, offered up by Robert Farrar Capon, is in many ways a summary of his odd book, The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection. Technically it is a cookbook, but to tell you the truth after reading it I promptly forgot about how many recipes he offers. This book truly is a reflection of goodness and joy, fellowship and neighborliness, and the connection to God we can experience through God’s daily gifts and provision.

 

Capon is an Episcopal priest and amateur cook. He encourages us to taste our food, to enjoy the cooking, the eating, and the sharing of food. We do not cook to impress, nor do we eat to survive; these are side effects of a right relationship with food. Cooking and eating, from Capon’s view, is intended for delight.

 

As a lens for this culinary reflection Capon offers a recipe to be unfolded for us in almost 200 pages: lamb for eight persons, four times. The premise, that you can make four meals for eight persons out of one leg of lamb, seems nearly unheard of in our modern food culture. And that is in part Capon’s point. We see food in terms of caloric intake and nutritional value. We feast like there is no tomorrow, then feel guilt and determine to atone for our sins through a penance of celery and carrot sticks.

 

As an alternative, Capon champions a rhythm of festal and ferial eating. There are days of large, fatty portions that are enjoyed for their richness, while there are other days of frugality and wise stewardship in food. Capon claims, “… real eating will restore [one’s] sense of the festivity of being. Food does not exist merely for the sake of its nutritional value.”[2] Good food, then, provides our bodies with what they need, gives us a sense of comfort, creates community when shared with loved ones and strangers alike, and cultivates in us appreciation.

 

To that end, Capon expends many words extoling the virtues of simple things: an onion, a good knife, broth, wine. We are instructed to slow down. “There are more important things to do than hurry,” Capon writes. “The grim old religion of salvation by rushing will go bankrupt altogether, and we shall go straight out of our minds- unless we learn to sit still… the ability to sit down in front of something and care enough to let it speak for itself.”[3]

 

Why does enjoyment matter so much for Capon? Because he believes, and I agree, that God did not create Creation for tedium but for enjoyment. God did not have to make food taste good, yet there it is all the same. Wine, for example, is a gift from God that God continually recreates. “The bloom of yeast lies upon the grapeskins year after year,” Capon assures us, “because [God] likes it… every September, He says, That was nice; do it again.”[4] Seeing food in this way makes every time of eating into a communion with our divine Creator.

 

What’s more, it invites us into a mindfulness of the way we share Creation with our fellow creatures. Capon rejects the notion of hosting a meal for purposes of social climbing or bragging. Instead, understand that, “To ask a man to break bread with you is to extend friendship, to proclaim in love that you want not his, but him… To invite guests is a courtesy, a courtly act: It confers greatness on all concerned, and therefore must never be done for mean reasons.”[5] Cooking, eating, sharing food in enjoyment builds up God’s Kingdom and moves this world closer to God’s original purpose.

 

Finally, slowing down, being attentive, tasting and enjoying, sharing the delectability of Creation prepares us for our eschatological future. “It will be precisely because we loved Jerusalem enough to bear it int our bones that its textures will ascend when we rise; it will be because our eyes have relished the earth that the color of its countries will compel our hearts forever. The bread and the pastry, the cheeses, the wine, and the songs go into the Supper of the Lamb because we do: it is our love that brings the City home.”[6]

 

Read this book slowly. Savor Capon’s phrasing as you would his cooking. Try the recipes or don’t. But definitely try the mode of living.

[1] Capon, Robert Farrar. The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection. Modern Library. New York. 2002. 27.

[2] 114.

[3] 68.

[4] 85.

[5] 172.

[6] 190.

 

 

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