When I first stumbled on Preston Yancey’s blog, I assumed he was some deep thinking 30-something. I figured he had come through several stages of life on his way to his current measure of wisdom and grace. I was wrong. I started reading his blog when he was twenty-one. And now? He’s twenty-two. It turns out that some people grow up deep and fast and such is the case with Preston, who just graduated from college this past May. Last October, our family had the chance to meet him. He stopped by for dinner and was as kind and encouraging and compassionate as his blog will lead you to believe. So grateful to have him here today.
I meet God in my kitchen today.
It has been nearly three months since I baked something, having no time for it while finishing my undergraduate thesis, graduating, and trying to discern what it even means to be a person. I can feel it in my hands, the aching need to be exercised in the old rhythms, so I make a point when the film has been shot for the day, when the cameras are packed up, to go by the market and fill a basket with six kinds of chocolate, a package of unsalted butter, hazelnuts, dried cherries. I sample, dream, pull too much for one batch of any one thing to hold, but I am determined to do this regularly—I feel required to return to the practice.
Hours later, in the evening, I wait for the chocolate and butter to melt on the stove, a wooden spoon as old as grace idly pulling across the bottom of the pan in slow strides. I’m anxious, which is why I’m baking in the first place. Baking is a kind of sacrament to me: a piece of myself, a temple of the Holy Ghost as O’Connor once said, at work to produce something to be given over, shared, and communed by. When I fret, which I am prone to do often, I put my faith in ginger from the spice shop downtown, which makes the pear muffins smell of November wind; I put my faith in sour cream, which keeps the chocolate loaf moist even when I leave it in a minute too long; I put my faith in cardamom pods, which took a whole Saturday to find, but make the cinnamon rolls taste of Arabia and secrets; and, eventually, all this faith in the process of the baking circles me back to faith in the Creator, the One who gave the ginger, the milk to sour, the cardamom.
I take some of the chocolate mixture into a teacup, add egg yolks, beating, deciding to make custard for a trifle. Tempering. This process is called tempering. I think on this as I pour it chocolaty yolks into the larger pan, beginning to stir again.
I’m dragging wooden spoon, old as grace, against the bottom of the pan expecting sudden relief, but what greets me is more of my disheveled self. The turning over, again and again, of the worries. Now I’ve left the pan on too long and can feel like oldest instinct that it’s about to curdle the mixture. I know custard. I know the feel of custard perfect and custard curdled just by the run of a spoon through it. I’m tilting hard toward the latter.
There’s a rush to the sink, filling it with cold water, before I follow with the pan, trade wooden spoon for wire whisk and beat, will the chocolate, the butter, the egg to cool down.
Beating the hell out of it.
This comes to mind, though I don’t think it comes from myself. I beat and beat until my arm can barely keep beating, until the ache is too much, and I give up on the whole and stare down into the pot in defeat.
But the pot contains velvet silk. Chocolate custard at its best, perhaps the best I have ever made it.
Something within me falls into place.
This is the process. Tempering. All this anxious living, these worries, these questions of finances, deadlines, and the everyday strife of simply living with laundry heaps and ruined paintbrushes. The process, sometimes slow, sometimes fast, is about beating the hell right out of it, out of me, no matter the ache it causes to the Creator. The greatest of all aches, an ache accepted and laid hidden before the foundation of the world.
I find myself returned to faith.
I have faith that chocolate and butter melted together slowly creates a silky rich delight; I have faith that adding egg yolks to a portion of the mixture and tempering it slowly is the basis for custard; I have faith that when the custard base is combined with the whole, beauty can be formed, sometimes with slow strokes, sometimes with beating and emergency cold water baths. Sometimes, oftentimes, with an ache.
But I have faith. The custard shall be made, in its time.
And I return, again, to the One. The One who gave the cow, the cocoa tree, the chicken. I meet God in my kitchen today, His wooden spoon old as grace, dragging slow, sometimes fast, across the base of my heart.
Preston Yancey earned his undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Great Texts of the Western Tradition with a focus in medieval theology and literature. This August, he will move across the pond to Scotland to earn his Masters in Theology, Imagination, and the Arts from the St. Mary’s School of Divinity in the University of St. Andrews. His book, Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again is forthcoming with Rhizome Publishing in Summer 2013.
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