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 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 echoes their daring of distance after distance and feeds the hungry in all realms. The pot is pressed into service on stoves in homes, hospitals, and prisons or over campfires 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, earthy 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 give comfort.
Dinner is ready!
Come and receive the cosmos 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 embrace of snow bearing eons of silence and absence, the revelations 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 brilliance then snugs up to an onion bulb and falls asleep. The joyful 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. 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. More ancient than fork or knife and more kind, the slender spoon lathed from beech and lightly stained with turmeric glows with invention, never weary, making the meal-- offering its dance to the pot and joining hands with its partner. Close by, knobs of garlic nod delight and sinuous salt and pepper sentinels gather their wits.
The pot’s eternal calling is imbued with humor— it is after all only a pot, and unadorned, disappearing into service. Laughing at itself the pot calls out to those in need of conversation and laughter to keep their meals warm.
Meet a few of the cooks.
A cashier at a casino who lost her job fixes dinner for her girls a soup her mother made--fried pasta shells, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and water. The younger child sets out a bowl and spoon for her dreadlocked doll who loves the ceremonies of daily life.
Thinning gray hair, hazel eyes, masked, he boils spaghetti in huge pots in a hospital kitchen for staff caring for Covid patients. Outside, a refrigerated truck serves as neighborhood morgue. Seeing faces spent beneath shields, he bows his head and weeps.
A boy named Lucky, youngest of four, breaking from his online class, stirs a simple syrup for lemonade. Ill with cancer, his mother reads aloud the recipe and watches lemons roll like small suns across the long maple counter in that never-ending 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 Rosa rest before resuming their route, hoping for food tomorrow. Their life on the road toward life consists only of tomorrows.
A man at Eastham, a Texas prison, prays for the well-being of the cook who heated his green beans and hot dog. 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-h! Dakota don’t need to know.
Late at night an older woman scoops water from her basement as sleet batters the house. 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 the pot waiting on the stove. Maybe creamed spinach 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 frayed blanket, he hunts for cardboard to sleep on at night. Just help me, he prays. Ok? Just a little.
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 gaze out over the many hands stretching down to connect with the hands of 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 little food, the pot sighs an endless aspiration to feed everyone-- the scared, the left behind, those alone, the families in line in cars for hours for food, those without cars or meals, their frightened children, ICU patients starved for life, others starved for love or justice, and the ravaged planet itself.
Intensifying its efforts the pot unfolds its thousand arms, praying that sustenance for everyone be expanded beyond measure. Shaking its hand we shake hands with everything that is and together rest on the stove's coiled lightning. The pot fires its iron roots--stars combusting into being after the big bang— both heaven and earth heat the green beans and the chicken stew and all the bountiful food.
Near the window on the white counter the pot recuperates with friends in the early morning. Listening like a valley, the pot fills with bird song and sleeping cicadas begin to dream. And the sounds of pebbles alive-- their pebble hands shining with the enduring 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 spoon rustlings above the forest floor just waking up. The kitchen walls in lacquered shadow sing by gleaming. The hint of songs of pots and pebbles, 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, the elegance of nothing extra in a world addicted to more, their ebullient service to life and wondrous receptivity to being, their beyond human teaching. This silence of wisdom and ease emanates from the pot and its friends near the patio and in the small kitchen in the early morning.
I watch bubbles skip above the singing water, pot ablaze, as steam rises framing my face. With ready intent and hungry, I pour lentils into the reeling cauldron then seize the comet spoon and stir. The woman feeding her family pasta soup and the man in solitary eating his beans and praying for the cook—how are they? I cover the simmering pot and wait.
A great mix of ingredients is poured into pots around the world. Magnanimous as the ocean the pot welcomes everything, receiving the bounty wholeheartedly. In this day-to-day life on a minor spiral arm of the Milky Way which houses our little corner of Earth and sun and stars, I soon uncover the pot then sit down to my lunch of lentils and thyme.
Seeing the pot reach out we see who we are and at once reach out to those who hunger in any form. We reach out to the anguished, the struggling. We reach out to workers without work freezing at home without heat or prospect. We reach out to the old dying without touch or the gaze of a familiar face. We reach out to dying rhinos, red wolves and wetlands lost to condos.
As we reach out we see that others are also reaching out, bestowing gifts. Why had we not seen this before?
The drift of seas affirms the drift of seasons. The mountains of Earth fade into emptiness shoring up the mountains of Mars. Our warm stoves revive our wider home, our warm bridge of stars. Shadows laugh, they are light at play in unceasing creation.
All of life affirms life and possiblity-- 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 in the stars.
Together we prepare the supreme meal for each other, holding nothing back. We call forth even our fears and darkness, our failures to shelter 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 longings whatever succor the flower or street requires we offer and receive from one another. 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. 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 meal of meals which answers every thirst and hunger. As we savor the best wine from the Big Dipper perfectly aged over billions of years, we share our joys and sorrows and deep gratitude. Laughter rises like a fountain of shining water.