We got a dusting of snow yesterday. A light shellacking of ice. Windchills are in the teens today. You know what this calls for? Pajama bottoms and penance.
When I was a kid my father was always storming our elementary schools with his Bible. In fundamentalist lingo the Christian Bible is often called a sword, as in Sword of Truth or Sword of Spirit. My father would get pissed about something blasphemous being taught to his children by the public school system and go charging into the principals’ offices with his Sword to slay. He did it once when my P.E. teacher played pop music in the gym while we ran laps. (This was devil-worship in disguise.) He did it again when an English teacher insisted I go on a field trip to see a play about animals who walked and talked and lived life as humans do. (This was witchcraft in disguise.)
We could learn no comparative religion or heaven forbid, sexual or reproductive education of any kind. I was not allowed to know how my own body functioned, even approaching puberty. Many hours I spent sitting on chairs in hallways outside classrooms while everyone else was learning something forbidden such as biology, earth history which included the existence of dinosaurs, or the former cultures of Native Americans. No secular music of any kind. Nothing which included the animation of inanimate objects or non-sentient beings, which eliminated most cartoons and children’s books. No lessons of constellations, space, or planets, because that would lead to astrology and horoscopes. No Easter bunnies, no Santa Claus, no Halloween anything. I’ve got tons of these stories. Readers of my old blog have heard them all before.
The worst of all was the time my little sister’s class was learning about cultures around the world and landed on an Asian ritual of home and hearth. In this particular country the families made an offering to a kitchen deity to bless their food to the nourishment of their bodies, make them strong and healthy, protect them illness and injury, yada yada yada. In good old America we call it Saying Grace, often with a cross or portrait nailed to the dining room wall. (We dined under The Last Supper every night in our house.) In this case, the hypothetical Asian family burned a small offering in a bowl placed in front of a figure installed in a corner of the kitchen. My father didn’t see the parallel, of course. This was idolatry in disguise.
It did no good for the school system to threaten us with failing grades for non-participation. This only made my father slay harder. Sometimes we’d try to hide it but he’d figure it out when we asked for art supplies for homework. For the Asian kitchen god project he interrogated my little sister until she confessed the class was crafting paper mache offerings they intended to take outside to burn in the parking lot. My father grabbed his Sword and stormed the school. No child of his would learn how to burn offerings to a heathen kitchen god on his taxpayer’s dime. All of his children suffered persecution as a result of his slaying, for which we were told we supposed to be GRATEFUL, because it was a honor and a privilege to suffer for our lord’s sake.
Yeah. Big mistake. Huge. It all backfired, of course. Everything he wanted to slay I have embraced. My little sister is an expert on mythology. I listen to chanting when I run. I embrace animals as spirit guides and totems. I have idols and altars everywhere now. When The Chef and I moved into our first new home together the first thing we did was go thrifting for a Kitchen God. I’ve usually got a candle or scented oil lifting my incantations semi-daily. All the Woo. You know this; you read it here all the time.
As the new year dawned I performed one of my sweeps through the house to minimize unnecessary stuff, clear space, lighten up and release. It usually follows a period of housekeeping malaise in which I get rid of things because I’m just damn tired of dusting them. On such a sweep last week I almost sent our Kitchen God to donation. He was in the box to go when I took a break for a snack. I sat in the dining room eating my reheated samosa and beheld the box. The Kitchen God was taller than all the rest so my eyes naturally rested upon him as I ate. My father would call it devil-magic or witchcraft or evil sorcery, or whatever is worse than that in ancient Chinese. In those moments of sustenance I reconsidered and through whatever forces appeal to you, I reconnected with the Kitchen God.
There’s been hella magic in this kitchen. I thought of the last seven months I’ve been vegan. I thought of the last fifteen months I’ve adjusted to sharing the cooking duties with The Chef even before the vegan conversion. Seriously y’all, he did ALL the cooking before; for ten years, and look at us now. All this work I’ve dubbed an act of devotion to wellness, to the point of calling it Sacred Nourishment to keep me from saying I hate cooking. At least half the week I nourish us now. Willingly, faithfully, dutifully, without complaint. That’s no small miracle, folks.
I thought of how we grow our own herbs and peppers now. I thought of how it feels incredible that my specialty is Indian cuisine. The first loaf of bread I made from scratch. The way my palate has changed. Composting and recycling born of being the individual newly responsible for throwing things away during food prep. Look how much life has changed here in the kitchen. Look what we don’t eat anymore versus what we do. Look at how well we’ve become as result of all this effort and change and p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e.
The Kitchen God came back out of the box. He was given a new place of honor. Small bowls of offerings were replaced. Tomatoes, onions, garlic hiding behind the teapot. I offered a short prayer for forgiveness. Instead of getting rid of him I opted to invigorate my devotion. I made us a pot of tea and futzed around trying to make a fake vintage photograph to make him appear timeless and transcendent. I pledged to write about it as penance. What was I thinking? A kitchen without a Kitchen God? Who does that? I didn’t suffer all those years for nothing, you know. My roots are firmly planted in all the fertile Woo I was denied as a child. I don’t want less magic in my kitchen. I want more. D’uh.
When I finally worked up the nerve to push back against the fundamentalist doctrine of my youth I pushed hard. I did everything forbidden to me and I did it on purpose, with gusto. The split-second I turned 18 I began to slay my own way. I studied everything that would damn my soul. I cursed and blasphemed and sinned fiercely. I deliberately broke commandments. I mocked and picked fights and made a public display of my disdain and disrespect for religious slavery. I joined up with the opposite team politically, socially, and spiritually.
My relationship with my father was tortured by my rebellion and by his stubbornness. For many years we were lost souls, each to the other. Well into adulthood we were dismissed from each other’s life. Then I began my recovery, which included recovering my relationships and family. We settled. We will never agree. It will never again matter enough to justify hurting each other or keep us from each other.
When my father visits he dines under the gaze of our Kitchen God in peace. There is no slaying here. He bought me a set of bowls for the kitchen after his first visit. We call them his bowls (by his name) even when he isn’t here. I ate my breakfast from one this morning. He doesn’t challenge me for all the Woo and craft and practice. We don’t argue. We don’t debate anymore. There are no more tears of frustration. No incrimination, no demands for reparations. All is acknowledged and forgiven. Most importantly, there is gratitude. Had I not been raised that way I might not be living this way. I would have missed out on everything that got me here. Years ago I wrote a poem which included the line:
The path to enlightenment is paved with the places we stand along the way.
A different path would have taken me to different places. I am Here now and it’s a good place to be, so all the places I stood while getting Here were necessary waypoints and markers, including the battlefields. My father can be Here with me. I can be Here with him. My heavy iron painted chicken Kitchen God is a monument to all that thrives Here now and to all that came before. May I never part with it. A thousand amens.