Author's Note: So, I just wasn't feeling particularly inspired this week. I had several half ideas, but nothing fleshed out enough for a whole post. Not wanting to disappoint my avid readers (my mom, sister and BFFs) I decided to resurrect something I wrote in college. I wrote this piece about 5 years ago for my senior seminar class at Goshen College and reworked it a little for this audience.
I have few recollections of church services from my early life and I can't recall many Sunday school lessons, either – but I do remember potlucks and picnics. When I was young, it was a time when all that was expected of me was to be a kid. I ate delicious food of all kinds and I played games with all my friends, none of which ever seemed to have a clear winner. As I've gotten older, I've found the joy in preparing food to share; either making that old favorite or trying out a new recipe for a group of (hopefully forgiving) friends. I've also discovered the importance of fellowship over heaping platefuls of each other’s food. Mealtime is a time to fellowship together and to share our joys and sorrows with one another. We can mend old fences and build new bridges over plates of casseroles, salads and pies. Potlucks and picnics have taught me joy, community, laughter, fellowship and generosity.
Growing up, my father was most often the one who prepared our evening meals. This was not because my mother was not a good cook, but because my father loved to cook. Around the time that I was in high school, my father began to branch out and started cooking more gourmet meals. My mother has always loved planning big meals for groups of friends, so they made a perfect team. Mom would prepare the place settings the night before and dad would spend the whole week prior to the dinner testing out recipes he hadn't tried before to see which ones would be perfect to prepare for the guests. I remember the care they both took in the preparation and the joy they felt when everything came together perfectly. Though it may seem unconventional, my father's cooking taught me pride. It taught me to be passionate about what I do and that if I'm going to do something, I ought to do it right. My mother taught me hospitality and that the gift of entertaining was a spiritual one, indeed.
The most powerful thing that food has given me, though, is comfort. In the weeks following my father's death I truly began to understand the power of food. Our meals were being brought to us by members of our congregation and since so many of them wanted to see us, we had several people bring different things for each meal. This supplied a constant stream of support and sustenance into our home, both from food and fellowship. I will never forget the sheer volume of food we had in the house; each casserole, pasta salad, loaf of bread and plate of cookies was a token of love for both my father and our family. This food gave me hope, love, peace, comfort, support, strength and community. I suppose the real thing food taught me in this experience is that it is more powerful than I had ever thought before.
A huge part of Mennonite culture is our food. My whole life, I have been surrounded by food filled with love. Food prepared in the fervent hope that whoever eats it will be filled and content and pleased. When Mennonites cook, we cook for others. For years, my father prepared meals that he himself did not particularly care for, but that his children loved. He did this because our enjoyment was more important than his own. At mealtime in most Mennonite households, food is a means and not an end. Yes, we come together to eat, but eating is not near so important as the fellowship.