You made us for yourself, o Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you
In a world overwhelmingly dominated by fast food, the poetry and beauty of the slow food cooking hasn’t actually disappeared. Cooking is an art of savouring, tasting, longing for beauty and creativity, balancing the right ingredients and combining the different flavours. How do we reach that experience of delightfulness when we try that first bite of a dish and say: “This is delicious!”? How does a chef make us live such a delightful and holistic experience that would go deep into our eyes, smell, touch, body and mind? What’s their secret? There are two films that recently came out about the cuisine and its connection with people’s lives: one is called “A hundred foot journey”, that tells you the story of this Indian family moving from India to London and then to France, and an Indian cook who learns French cuisine and becomes an amazing chef. The second one is called “Burnt”, a story of a chef who was once a top chef in Paris until drugs and alcohol led to a meltdown that put his career on hold. After moving from New Orleans to London, he gets a shot at redemption when his former maitre reluctantly hires him as the head chef of his fine-dining restaurant where he gets a second chance to fulfill his dream of earning a third Michelin star. They are very different stories -the first one is a comedy and the second a drama-, but they have something in common: the passion and love for cooking. Both films show you the fascinating and absolutely crazy world of the kitchen, where everything happens. Both chefs in the stories are extremely gifted, very talented and passionate about cooking, but what makes them special is their obsession for perfection that would requires study, hard work and essentially preparation. Each dish that goes out from the kitchen to a table would then be the end result of a long process of preparation. A tasty, delightful and superb dish, beautiful to the eyes and tasteful to your palate will always be the outcome of a creative process of preparation. A preparation that would allow many mistakes to happen in the process before reaching the perfect combination of ingredients.
Now think of cooking as a metaphor of Advent, the time of the year when we become aware of the need for preparation. During Advent we actually prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord. Someone is coming soon, coming very soon, and John is getting them ready. He proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which literally means “turn round and go the right way”. That would probably be our first question: is my life going in the right direction? If not, I would be waiting forever for someone who would never come. I don’t know if you ever had that awful experience of going to the wrong place at the wrong time of the day, especially if it was an important meeting or a job interview. In that case, you see, you’d probably prepared yourself very well and had a smashing presentation in your handbag, but nobody would turn up because you messed up with your diary, and are waiting for someone who is actually waiting for you somewhere else! It must be a terrible feeling and an extremely distressful and frustrating experience.
Again, Advent is about preparation if we are going in the right direction. If you know “where” and “when” the Lord would come. They actually complement each other, but the first one “repentance” is a pre-condition to the second one, “preparation”.
The Lord is coming and we feel the need to be watchful though, because we struggle to find out where and when he is going to show up. We constantly need to re-route ourselves. We get lost in hundreds of distractions: shopping, presents, office lunches, promotions, deadlines, etc. and are always at risk of losing sight of the signals of the coming of the Lord. Setting our minds to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Lord will certainly help us because it is about being patient with ourselves, getting to know our hearts, souls, and minds. It’s about letting them be hospitable spaces for the coming of the Lord with a slow process of training our eyes to see his footprints in our lives, and ears to hear his Word and let it sunk deep in our souls.
Again the analogy of the kitchen can be very helpful to understand the meaning of Advent.
In the film “Burnt” there is a very interesting scene set in the kitchen like 95% of the film. The chef is trying to explain to his assistant chef, who in the meantime is making pasta,what would be his ideal restaurant and says: “People come to my restaurant because they are hungry. I want them to come and stop eating”. Now he says that in his strife for perfection, but we can interpret it spiritually. Can we not say the same about our encounter with the Lord?
Advent is then about that longing for the one who could extinguish our thirst. In St Augustine’s words, we would say: “You made us for yourself, o Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you. Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Say it so that I can hear it. My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am your salvation. Let me run towards this voice and seize hold of you. Do not hide your face from me: let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed”.
If we feel this longing for the coming of the Lord, then we can’t waste a minute of our precious lives wondering what to do, we must tell others the good news and don’t let them ignorant of the most beautiful meaning of our advent preparation: God is so passionate to save us to become one of us, a child. During Advent let’s make St Augustine’s prayer our own prayer by saying: “You made us for yourself, o Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you”. As a way of setting our minds and lives in the right direction towards Christmas.