Lessons from a Soup Pot
What might a Soup Pot have to teach... along with thirty years of handshakes and hugs from homeless, hungry, and marginalized folks?
The story begins with Dorothy Day... but not the Dorothy of the past (she died in 1981)... let's begin, instead, at the end of time: let's just suppose that there is a "Last Judgment" -- where Love determines the sincerity of our hearts and the integrity of our hands: vast numbers of folks -- of every age, race, and faith (or none at all and perhaps deeply resenting the course of their after-life) are each and all standing in a slow moving line: everyone knows what is going on: but everyone's initial trepidation is replaced with wonder: no one sees a Muslim, a Baptist, a Jew, a Hindu, a Catholic, an atheist, a Buddhist, a New Ager, a Yogi, an anything or an anyone being turned back: a few folks are deeply offended (they were so certain their theology had been right): shuffling along and looking ahead, folks can see people turning back to whisper to the person behind them -- seemingly from the great distance all the way down the line: finally, the person in front of YOU turns to whisper: "Just say that you are a friend of Dorothy's. Pass it on."
In the midst of the Great Depression, Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin printed the first edition of their "viewspaper", The Catholic Worker. May 1, 1933 Dorothy, with a few friends walked to Union Square in New York City, and began to distribute their paper. In those days, anyone could stand on a soap-box and preach their ideas to passerby... and perhaps, for a brief time, gather an audience. No one hesitated in joining in, interrupting, jeering, cheering, insulting, or ignoring. Communist, socialist, Salvation Army bands, anarchists, and end-time street preachers were everywhere. Everyone looking for an audience went to Union Square. Then to the surprise of all, Catholics showed up with a revolutionary concept: apply the teachings of Jesus, the Poor Man of Nazareth, to the social conditions of the time: take seriously his call to an active life of love, justice, and solidarity: before all else, love your brother, your sister, and your enemy as yourself. For Dorothy, love meant the living fraternity of shared poverty (there was always room for one more and food for all); love meant to create the conditions necessary for people to be both happy and good; love meant access to both beauty and land to cultivate; love meant a daily practice of mercy and active resistance to war and every injustice; and, finally, love meant a radical and total transformation into love without limits. Dorothy believed that life was meant to be lived as if the Holy One really does exists: and that that One finds unending delight in our every attempt to love without attachment to "ends", "success", or the notoriety of public acclaim: Dorothy, after the example of St. Therese "the Little Flower", followed the little way: love now the person in front of you and do whatever needs to be done right now.
Basic Catholic Worker Soup Recipe:
(Vary the amounts according to the number of folks you expect to feed)
12 gallons of water
3 bunches of celery
1 crate of tomatoes
10 cloves of garlic
2 cups of vegetable oil
1 #10 can of tomato puree
(alternatively if available: 2 #10 cans of corn, green beans, and vegetarian pinto beans)
Note: it should go without saying, but nevertheless, if some of the veggies were gleaned from dumpsters, clean them very thoroughly before adding to the soup pot.
Chop all ingredients according to preference (if you will be serving folks who might have few or no teeth, smaller is better). Bring water to a slow boil: add potatoes and carrots first; after boiling for about 15 minutes add other ingredients and return to a very slow boil for about 1 hour.
Thicken according to your desire by slowly stirring in potato flakes when the soup is done (be careful to not overdo this!).
Add spices and herbs to taste: sweet basil is best. Small amounts of salt, pepper, and cumin are good. Alternatively, oregano, dill weed, or curry powder (used individually) could dominate the soup for three different and unique variations. If you suddenly discover that many more people than you expected arrive, you can quickly add just about anything in your refrigerator to this basic catholic worker soup -- and it will turn out to be perfect if you remember to breathe, smile, and appreciate the grace of service.
Stir frequently... while blessing the soup with prayers of peace, love, and adoration: remembering always that it is the Hungry Christ whom you will be serving...
These words from a sermon by St. Anthony of Padua, the patron Saint of the Poor, should be posted on a wall near the stove where you are working: "...Today Christ stands at our door and knocks in the person of the poor. It is Christ that we honor when we give aid, when we give ourselves to those in need. For he tells us plainly: 'When you did this to one of the least of my brothers or sisters, you did it to me...'"
Stirring the soup as it slowly boils becomes an interior movement of prayer... and then as it simmers to shake loose the atoms of the potatoes and other ingredients to merge and meld into a dining hall version of the Holy One's "Welcome Home", you discover that that is what you are most hungry for as well... this, day-after-day stirring and prayer, has the potential of nudging one's consciousness ever deeper into the mystic: the soup pot doesn't shout: it only whispers within the gentle rising heat: appearances can be deceiving, but all along, it is the cook who is being "cooked"...
Inevitably, one club or another will feel the need to invite a speaker from the Soup Kitchen. This will frequently happen around the Thanksgiving holiday... you know, just an update on the good work going on "over there"... You arrive, perhaps a free dinner is offered, and then you are announced (you are advised to keep your remarks under ten minutes -- but you wonder how to translate the lessons of the soup pot to this particular audience). Everyone wants to know statistics: how many meals do you serve per day, per year... do any children eat at the Kitchen? Are they just getting dependent on your services, or do they ever get jobs? You keep these questions in mind -- knowing that they are all really beside the point you would really like to make: you have learned to listen to the daily messages of the soup pot and everyday you learn something new... feeling emboldened by your exhaustion you say: "I have a newsletter coming out next week with all the details of our stats and a few stories to go along with them... I'll make sure that George brings a stack of them to your next meeting... But what I really want to share with you is this: believe it or not, but we've got a teaching soup pot -- kind of like a "mystic master in aluminum". (You noticed a few raised eyebrows -- but you decide to proceed anyway). I've been making soup and stirring soup for nearly thirty years. For most of that time I was too busy to listen. Besides, I was on a mission, driven by a desire to use food to change lives. Eventually I realized, though, that while appearances had me with the chef's hat on, I was actually the one in the soup pot, coming to a slow boil with all the other ingredients. Years had to go by before I started to get loose with the tomatoes! (You noticed a number of side-long glances now -- but you grip the podium and wait to see where the rush of words will take you). When I got sufficiently loose, everything started to speak to me! Mostly though, it was the actual soup pot that did the talking. Here are the most recent instructions I have received: 1. If you are willing to listen deeply, everything has something to say. 2. If you are willing to ponder deeply upon that which is said, everything has something to give. 3. You are really just a conscious vegetable and I adore you -- thanks for letting me cook you for awhile. 4. Life is like a soup pot: but you are the one turning up the heat too high... you should turn it down so you can just float around and caress everyone cooking with you, instead of that manic crash and run. 5. Kindness and gentleness and forgiveness are the subtle mystic-herbs best for blending together all the food you have on hand. 6. Some days you are a really lousy cook -- but don't let that interfere with your happiness. 7. In everything, you are always going home. 8. Everything is always perfectly fulfilled when you have forgotten yourself. 9. The most important parts of the human body are the hands and the eyes. And, 10. When your hands and your eyes learn how to always -- to everyone -- say 'I love you' and 'You are worthy of Love' the Universe will come to you and bow down in humble worship."
You take a deep breath, but hear George jump up and say that the Kitchen needs volunteers for Thanksgiving so he would be glad to take names. He adds that time has flown by so questions would be skipped this week. The club President hands you a pen and slaps you on the back as you are ushered to the door...
Good soup requires more than a good recipe... and more than a willing hand: good soup is a "blend" of ingredients with the intentions and passions of the cook. A Soup Kitchen differs from a restaurant -- not primarily in the difference between "free" and "cost" -- but in the "blend" of mysticism and action. Again, Dorothy Day is a wonderful example. Informed by her radical socialist roots, her Catholic faith was rooted in the examples of the lives of the saints and the social doctrine of the Church. Her mentor, Peter Maurin (a French peasant-intellectual) was like-wise rooted in his peasant heritage of land cultivation, along with a profound understanding of the mystery of the human person within the context of living systems of mutual aid. The French philosopher, Emmanuel Mounier, and the Russian thinker-anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, were fundamental to Maurin in the formulation of his, and later Catholic Worker, philosophy. But for both Day and Maurin, the example of the "Little Poor Man of Assisi", St. Francis, stood out as a beacon of light in the midst of the darkness of depression, industrialization, unemployment, injustice, and the drive for vigorous social change debated in Union Square and elsewhere all across the country (and around the world). Francis lived as a "mirror" of the Divine which penetrated into the everyday stuff of life. Everything for Francis was filled with wonder and worthy of adoration. Everything for Francis was known to be a revelation of the passion with which the Holy One loved everyone of us. Therefore, why not love passionately in return? Why not work to create the conditions in which everyone could thrive and reach for their possibilities and liberation? Why not build communities of like-minded folks who would live and work in solidarity with those who are suffering right now, and at the same time confront the organized systems that create much of the suffering to begin with? ... and so began... and so continues, the Catholic Worker Movement and hundreds of other communities of intentional possibilities...
To wrestle with the on-going example and message of Dorothy Day compels one to additionally wrestle with the person of Jesus: certainly the pivotal figure for all of Western Civilization. Day's radicalism "came home" in her reading of the Sermon on the Mount, a reading that did not occur in the past tense, but in all the intentionality and vigor with which she intuited they were first spoken. For her, each word was a summoning, a very specific call to action -- not the occasional action of a seasonal volunteer, but the action of one who had committed body and soul to the personal transformation and social revolution of this "Son of Man". Dorothy wrote: "Christ lived among men. The great mystery of the Incarnation, which meant that God became man that man might become God, was a joy that made us want to kiss the earth in worship, because His feet once trod that same earth... He was born in a stable... He did not become a temporal King... He worked with His hands, spent the first years of His life in exile... He trod the roads in His public life... He was familiar with the migrant worker and the proletariat... He spoke of the living wage... He died between two thieves... He lived in an occupied country... He taught us the most effective means of living in this world while preparing for the next... And He directed His sublime words to the poorest of the poor... The last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has that great refrain -- 'All men are brothers.' Going to the people is the purest and best act in Christian tradition and revolutionary tradition and is the beginning of world brotherhood... Never to be severed from the people, to set out always from the point of view of serving the people, not serving the interests of a small group or oneself." (The Long Loneliness)
Perhaps for most of the Christian world, faith has become a "thing of the mind", the expression of a "Creed", and an "appendix" to the soul: Do you accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior? "Yes" being the only acceptable answer: and the power of the Gospel initiation into Mystery is thereby put in a safely sealed container on a shelf somewhere. It is not a judgment to observe that faith is not widely understood to be a call to transformation and action: except in "moral" terms... and then it becomes primarily a means to enforce conservative political and economic ideologies and theologies. Jesus has been muted and co-opted by agents of "morality" -- instead of exalted for activists engaged in revolution. "Christ commanded His followers to perform what Christians have come to call the Works of Mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the harbor-less, visiting the sick and the prisoner, and burying the dead. Surely a simple program for direct action, and one enjoined on all of us..." (Dorothy Day, The Catholic Worker, 1972) One can sense her exasperation (as much with herself as with others) as she wrote only a month later in The Catholic Worker, "'Charity' becomes a word that sticks in the gullet and makes one cry out for justice!" And finally, nearing the end of her life, Dorothy wrote in May 1978, "I love because I want to love, the deepest desire of my heart is for love, for union, for communion, for community... We know Him and each other in the breaking of bread."
The great treasure of the Gospel and the mysticism of Yeshua is verified in the essence of Dorothy Day and her witness: and so she stands as a sign of contradiction, revolution, transformation, service, and of hope for all ages to come. Many of today's mystic-activists are no longer particularly attached to membership in the Catholic Church (for many specific reasons), nor are they necessarily attached to the Christian faith. The Spirit has blown the cover off a scandal-plagued Church and a world-wide, multi-religion, fundamentalism that is extreme, narrow, judgmental, and oftentimes violent. But to honestly observe the signs of the times, is to also notice a bold figure yet striding through time: Yeshua the Poet of Nazareth proposing recognition of the sacred divinity latent within everyone (and everything). This basic recognition changes the outward movement of worship into the interior transformation of wholeness: the fragmentary is changed into unity both within and without. "Christ" is then no longer "out there", but a Divine Consciousness penetrating to the core of reality and "massaging" it -- from the inside out -- into the fullness of every potentiality: and the human person becomes "Christed" with Him. From this new perspective, Yeshua the Poet cannot be limited to a "Divine Image": but is recognized to be the "Son of Man": an entirely new kind of human being: awakened, in every sense of the Word: awakened: one who has entered the Fire of Love and become: God... living within everyone and everything: inviting... and beckoning... "Follow me"...
"Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then for the second time in the history of the world, man will discover fire." -- Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin