Seventy-two labors brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us. —Zen Meal Chant
Gather round and share this meal Your joys and your sorrows I make mine. —The Gate of Sweet Nectar
The pot fills me with wonder. Open and empty like the sky it shares its upright heart. It cannot turn away from hunger-- always its long hand reaches out like the sun or gusting wind. No one is turned away-- it is born to serve.
Scorched black and cinnamon on the bottom, and inside scoured paths of shooting stars, the pot’s sides glinting silver like rain through sun in summer, the wooden handle worn from decades of dedicated work-- how radiant the pot awake on the stove.
Sharing its mineral life with mountains, the pot becomes cloud-hung distances and feeds the hungry in all realms. The pot is pressed into service on stoves in homes, hospitals, and prisons or over open fires after a day’s trek fleeing violence or drought. Always moving toward the fire the pot offers the warmth and savor of being alive, of sharing a meal.
Within the pot hot water for tea or nutty oatmeal, warm lentils or black beans with garlic, steaming broccoli, fragrant soups, sauteing onions, boiling corn, or steeping broth. The pot nurses us in health and illness, putting food in the bellies of the wise and foolish, the kind and unkind. The pot’s extended hand will shake any hand and offer comfort.
Dinner is ready!
Come and receive the universe itself. Within the pot not only vegetables and grains but the earth and sky that grew them—the red sun of summer, the sheening rains of autumn, the rounding snow uncovering worlds of absence and silence, the subtleties of moonlight with plants like oceans waving in leaf-tide and the spring star Altair illuminating and enriching the soil, mentored by a chilled earthworm, who imparts its wisdom then snugs up to an onion bulb and grows warm. The serene pot holds the whole of life.
The pot sees clearly what needs to be done but it cannot provide solace alone. Another, sleeves rolled up, must take its hand for cooking to begin. We come alive only by connecting. The pot lives by grace and gleams like the moon by reflected light-- patient and mysterious on the white stove of everyday life.
The wooden spoon on the counter, the pot’s companion, open as a palm and like the pot, reaching out, must also wait for another’s hands. More ancient than fork or knife and more kind, the slender spoon lathed from beech and lightly stained with turmeric glows with ardor preparing the meal—offering its dance to the pot and to the spirited hand of its partner. Close by, knobs of garlic nod delight and sinuous salt and pepper sentinels gather their wits.
The pot’s timeless calling is imbued with humor-- it is after all only a pot, and unadorned, disappearing into service. Laughing at itself the pot reaches out to those in need of conversation and laughter to keep their meals warm.
Meet a few of the cooks.
Thinning white hair, blue eyes, masked, he boils spaghetti in huge pots in a hospital kitchen for staff caring for COVID patients. Outside, a refrigerated truck serves as overflow morgue. Seeing faces exhausted beneath shields, he bows his head and weeps.
A former cook at a casino who lost her job cooks dinner for her girls-- a soup her mother made her—fried pasta shells, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and water. The younger child sets out a bowl and spoon for her dreadlocked doll who hungers too for the ceremonies of daily life.
A boy named Lucky, youngest of four, breaking from his online classes, stirs a simple syrup for lemonade. lll with cancer, his mother reads aloud the recipe and watches lemons roll across the long white counter like small suns in the eternal moment with her son.
Fleeing drought, crops ruined, they stop for a break on the outskirts of a town after finding no food and boil water for coffee. Backpacks for pillows, he, his wife, and their girl named Rosa rest before resuming their route, hoping for food tomorrow. Their life on the road toward life consists only of tomorrows. There are no todays.
A brown-skinned man in solitary prays for the well-being of the cook who heated his green beans and hotdog. That’s better than some folks get. But the cockroaches-- I know them have joys and sadness, he says, coaxing one to leave his cell. But wrong house, go next door he tells her. Sh-h-h-h! . . . Dakota don’t need to know.
Late at night an older woman scoops water from her basement as rains batter her home. A sleeve on her knee since the last hurricane. Another storm brewing. The swaying bulb blinks out-- light is exhausted too-- she says and feels her way upstairs. She makes out her pot waiting on the stove. Maybe its medicine in the morning?
At the shelter a man cleaning a pot watches as the men eat their oatmeal then begin to go separate ways. The last to leave, a carpenter, his tools stolen from his truck, then the truck stolen. Carrying a worn blanket, he hunts for cardboard to slip beneath at night. Just help me, he prays. Just a little OK?
Somewhere in heaven Miss Cissy cooks chicken stew for her son George. You were there for me, he says. I heard you call out—I’m not far away. I put fresh sheets on your bed. George, before we eat offer a prayer. Dear God thank you for our breaths which nothing can extinguish and for this hearty food. They both gaze out over heaven at all the black hands reaching down to hold all the black hands reaching up-- those jailed and those still marching, until they finally return home, and heat leftovers for dinner. Cissy smiles at her son George Perry. Please pass the stew, he says.
Distressed that many have no food, the pot sighs a vast aspiration to feed everyone-- the scared, the left behind, those alone, the families in line in cars for hours for meals, those owning neither cars nor meals, their frightened children, those dying from Covid starved for life, those starved for love or justice, and the ravaged planet itself.
Intensifying its efforts the pot reaches out with a thousand arms—praying that sustenance for all beings be expanded beyond measure. We clasp the extended hand of the pot and together move toward coiled lightning. Shaking hands with the pot, we shake hands with the boundless universe. The pot ignites its mineral roots-- stars combusting into being after the Big Bang-- both heaven and earth heat the green beans and the chicken stew and the bountiful food and tenderness outside time.
Near the window on the white counter the star-flung pot recuperates with friends in the early morning. Open like a valley, the pot fills with bird song. From the near-by grass quiet breathing and the sounds of pebbles alive and reaching out with pebble hands to the silent strangeness of clouds.
And inside, from the cutting board with incised verticals like pouring rain a soothing thrumming. From the green ancestral branches of the wooden spoon a buoyant silence. The turquoise kitchen walls in lacquered shadow sing by gleaming. The soaring songs of pots and pebbles, walls, clouds, cutting boards, and spoons.
Just when we do not speak but slip free of thinking and sentience, we begin to hear the inconceivable music of the insentient-- their no striving after movement or gain, an elegance of nothing extra in a world addicted to greed, their ebullient service to life and wondrous receptivity to being, their beyond human teaching. This myriad-voiced radiance of silence of the deepest kindness and ease emanates from the pot and its friends near the patio and in the small kitchen in the early morning.
I watch bubbles bob above the singing water, pot ablaze, as steam rises warming my face. With unwavering effort the pot breathes hard, holding nothing back. It takes my hand and with the other I pour green lentils into the reeling cauldron, then seize the cometlike spoon and stir. The woman feeding her family pasta soup and the man in prison eating his beans alone and praying for the cook—how are they? I cover the simmering pot and wait.
Such varied ingredients at hand are poured into pots across the worlds. Magnanimous as the ocean the pot welcomes everything, turning nothing away, receiving all ingredients without question. In this everyday life of a minor spiral arm of the Milky Way which houses our little corner of earth and sun and stars, soon I uncover the pot then sit down in gratitude to enjoy my warm lunch of lentils and thyme.
As the pot reaches out we know it more intimately—see who we are more clearly. Just as the pot reaches out to us, we reach out to all who hunger in any form. We reach out to the anguished, the struggling. We reach out to families with no jobs freezing in line at pantries of food. We reach out to the old dying without the touch of a hand or song of a loving voice. We reach out to dying birds, rhinos, and seas.
As we reach out we see that all the others are also reaching out, bestowing gifts. Why had we not seen this before? Like the long-armed pots, trees reach out to the light and dark of arriving skies.
The drift of seas reaches out to the drift of seasons. The mountains of Earth reach out to emptiness and the mountains of Mars. Our warm stoves reach out to our wider home, our warm bridge of stars. Shadows reach out to the light offering rest from its unceasing play of creation We live only within this reach of gifts.
All of life affirms life and freshness-- even the virus quickens compassion. Is there anything that is not alive and utterly generous? Braided as one insentient and sentient, indistinguishable. We throw open doors and floors, tear off the roof pull down the open sky and let life stream in. We are the pots, the pebbles, and the poise of cutting boards, and they are us-- the oneness of our ordinary life originating beyond the stars. All things share a silent music and service and reach out to each other with radiance.
Together we prepare the supreme meal for one another, holding nothing back. We extend even our fears and darkness, our failures to reach out, as a blade of grass shares shadows and a hill its loneliness. With courage and kindness like the pot, we sustain and encourage life.
Whatever food satisfies our hungers, whatever succor the flower or moon requires, we offer and receive from each other. Quiet in mystery, our timeless origins ignite the light and code of life, embedding in the DNA of every emerging cell of our vast, connected life compassion. We are the love the universe pours into us and into the pots and plates of every day.
We take our places at the table of the worlds. Even the freshening wind sits down with us. We dine on a feast of every taste and fragrance. Led by birds, songs flare praising this inexhaustible meal which resolves every thirst and hunger. As we savor the best wine from the Big Dipper exquisitely aged over billions of years, we share our joys and sorrows, and deep gratitude. Laughter rises like a fountain of shining water.