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A Time to Create

September 13, 2013

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, I am reading Michael Pollan’s newest book, Cooked.  In case you missed my earlier post about this book, let me bring you up to speed as succinctly as possible.  In Cooked, Pollan takes an in-depth look at four methods of cooking food–fire (barbecue!), water (braising), air (baking, in particular yeast breads) and earth (fermenting, such as pickling, sauerkraut, beer, and wine).    He spends a great deal of real-time working on perfecting a recipe for each method.  In his time with water, he devotes Sunday afternoons to slow cooking, not with a crock pot, but a long afternoon braise on the stove that his family of three eats several times throughout the week.  A professional chef came to his house for weeks to teach him the methods behind braising.  Even after she stopped, Pollan continued his Sunday afternoon cooking.

Here’s what Pollan said about his time cooking Sunday afternoon:

Once I committed several hours to being in the kitchen, I found my usual impatience fade and could give myself over to the afternoon’s unhurried project.  After a week in front of the screen, the opportunity to work with my hands-with all my senses, in fact, is always a welcome change of pace, whether in the kitchen or in the garden.  There’s something about such work that seems to alter the experience of time, helps me to reoccupy the present tense.  I don’t want you to the idea that it’s made a Buddhist of me, but in the kitchen, maybe a little bit.  When stirring the pot, just stir the pot. I get it now.  It seems to me that one of the great luxuries in life at this point is to be able to do one thing at a time, one thing to which you give yourself whole-heartedly.

Unitasking.

Every time I’ve read that paragraph, I’ve immediately thought of several of the spiritual books I’ve read.  Kathleen Norris’s book, The Quotidian Mystery, is always the first to come to mind.  While Pollan attributes being attentive to just one thing as a Buddhist trait, it is also true of Benedictine monks.   Do one thing.  Be present in that thing, whether it is stirring a pot like in Pollan’s book, or doing laundry like in Norris’s book.  Everything is a prayer when you give your self to it.

As I mentioned a week ago, it’s been a bit of a tough three weeks for me.  I’ve emerged from the exhausted weeks now and have looked for what I need more of.  On the way home from church last Sunday, the grumpiness was creeping back in.  “I just need something,”  I told Curtis,  “but I don’t know what.”  Curtis immediately nailed my problem on the head.  “You need to create something.”  For the month of August and into September, he spent time creating in the weekends, building our back deck and a table for our smoker to sit in.  He was happier in that time than I had seen him in a while.  I knew Curtis was right.  I did need to create something.

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We are created in God’s image.  Part of what that means is that we were created to create.  We weren’t created to be consumers and to observe life from our easy chairs.  We were created to create–to be part of the process.  This doesn’t mean we make supper while watching TV or help kids with homework or break up fights.  That’s the reality of life, I know.  That’s the everyday chore.  Creating means being present in what we are doing, being aware of what we are using to create, how we are changing that thing, and what the purpose of our final product.  Creating means doing one thing at a time.  In the creation story in the Bible (and whether or not you believe that creation occurred in seven days or over millions of years, this is true for both), God created one thing at a time.  There was no multitasking going on with God.  When God created, God created.  There was but one God and that one God did one thing at a time.  To create is to be present exactly where I am.

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Caught in the act of creation. No shirts required.

Creating is both a luxury and a necessity.  I need to create something to be fully present.  The fabulous thing about creating is, that for each person it may be something different.  For Curtis it is working with wood, building things.  For Madeleine it is making stories or drawing pictures or building complex communities with blocks.  John creates by building with Legos (not following directions but his own creations, like his computer space ship he made yesterday) and by telling stories through the pictures he draws.  Isaac creates by causing trouble (ok, not really true, although it seems like it sometimes).  Isaac creates by painting and telling us stories.  Next time you spend some time with children, watch them as they’re creating.  So much of the play and things children are involved in is creation.  When my children create, they are swept away into their own world.  Why do we lose that as adults?

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Creation at it’s best–with mud and siblings.

I create in different ways.  I create when I cook at home by myself, when I can just cook and watch the onions transform as the heat softens them.  As I knead bread and feel the dough change from sticky and messy to smooth and coherent, I am creating.  I create by writing here.  I create by making scrapbooks for my children and piecing quilts for them  (I really need to work on both of those!  Yes, they’re on a to do list, but once I start on it, it’s one of my favorite things to do).  I create by singing in church and in choirs.

What Curtis and Pollan helped me realize is that for months, I haven’t been creating.  I have filled my free time with things I enjoy–starting to exercise again, being with kids (traveling),  keeping us well nourished, reading, watching Grey’s Anatomy.  While most of those good things are to do (with exception of my guilty pleasure, Grey’s Anatomy), none of them have satisfied me as a creator.

So this fall, I’m trying to return to that.  When I meet with my dear women and we talk about our plan for the week, I say I need to create more.  I do.  It is not selfish to take them time to create.  It is not a waste of time to create.  It is a key part of who we are as humans and I need to remember that it is just important to my life as a beloved child of God as reading my Bible, attending church, or reading reflections on spirituality are.  I am made in God’s image. I  am made to create.

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