The Spiritual Benefits of Making Soup

By Susan Kuebler

The food industry is amazing these days.  You can now go into a grocery store, buy grilled chicken breasts, sliced, and frozen that are ready in minutes for anything from fajitas to curry.  Salads come ready to eat in bags, and even collard greens no longer have to be washed three times (my grandmother’s rule) before being cooked.

There are even companies that will send you all the ingredients you need, pre-measured and ready to go to make meals from scratch in under 30 minutes.  One store recently advertised frozen, seasoned collard greens delivered directly to your doorstep for only $69.00.  For collard greens!   For crying out loud.

But with colder weather coming up on us now, it is time to sit back and reflect on the benefits of making soup.  If you work, there is certainly time to do this on the weekends.  Making soup can be a spiritual experience if you let it.

Many of can recall the savory smells coming from our grandmothers’ kitchens when a pot of soup was on the stove.  From chicken noodle to cream of potato. My grandmother, a survivor of the Great Depression, never threw out any food. And a good deal of it would end up in her vegetable beef soup.  This is the first step of spirituality in soup.   Being good stewards of your resources and never letting anything go to waste.

In what he described as “a little Rule for beginners,” St. Benedict of Nursia, paid particular attention to the ordinary activities of daily life.  He says that “all utensils and goods of the monastery {should be} regarded as sacred vessels of the altar {and} that nothing is to be neglected.”

This is the second step of spirituality in soup. Your soup pot, your spoon, the knife you use to chop the ingredients are your “sacred vessels of the altar.”  Look at them now carefully in this new light.  Did your soup pot once belong to your grandmother or a favorite aunt?  Does using any of your utensils bring back memories of times spent with your family or friends?  Not necessarily formal parties or holidays, but the memories of ordinary, everyday times.  If not, perhaps think of ways you can use them to create memories, not only for yourself but others as well.  Handle them with love and care.  Regard them as “sacred vessels of the altar.”

Making a good soup also includes another ingredient that we all have, but some don’t want to use.  Time.  The soup must simmer, sometimes for several hours.  An old kitchen adage states that “a soup that’s boiled is a soup that spoiled.”  You can’t hurry a good soup, but you can’t neglect it either.  It should be checked frequently, tasted to see if the seasoning is right, and stirred to keep mixing the ingredients. You can’t put it on the top of the stove then go out for a game of golf.  But you can read that book you’ve been meaning to get to, or listen to music, or even watch some television.  This is the third step in the spirituality in soup.  Slowing down, paying attention to time, and to yourself.  You have the perfect excuse.  “Sorry, I can’t [………….] right now.  I’ve got some soup on the stove.”

Soup never needs fancy accessories when served.  A loaf of crusty bread.  A salad (yes, even if it comes in a bag).  This is the fourth step in the spirituality of soup. Simplicity. Consider it a “fast” from the complexities of everyday life.  During the season of Lent at a Benedictine monastery in Alabama, the sisters mark the season of Lent by only serving soup and bread on Wednesday nights.  The soup is always delicious, but the meal is always simple and satisfying.

As with any spiritual exercise, what you gain from it is determined by what you put into it.  Yet even a task as simple as making a pot of soup can be a spiritual experience if you want it to be. You have taken different ingredients, prepared them carefully, taken the time, and paid attention to what you are doing, in order to create something that is good and that you can share with others. Enjoy and rejoice.

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