I’m a little tardy on March’s “meet my friend” post and didn’t even get it in under the wire… my calendar tells me it’s April! Well, let’s pretend it is still March. I’m so excited to introduce you to my friend Joy-Elizabeth Lawrence. An actor, writer, and cooking expert (with a great food blog), here Joy shares some great insights about prayer & spirituality . . . and yes a unique and healthy recipe!
I have been married to Justin for over 10 years and we have an 11 month-old daughter, Evelyn. I work for money as a freelance writer and theatre publicist and for familial and environmental health as a homemaker. One of my biggest strengths is that I’m interested in many, many things. This is also probably one of my biggest weaknesses.
In March, we focused on prayer and meditation. Prayer is a practice we all know about, but I think many Christians struggle with this one. I know I do. Do you find prayer challenging?
Well, yes I find it challenging, but no it’s not challenging. Does this make sense? I believe that prayer is really powerful. My most tangible experiences of the presence of God have been because of prayer, but I find it hard to set aside specific times for prayer and then to sit and pray. My mind wanders. I think of the many, many things I’m interested in and I look out the window.
I think that there’s this perception that prayer is something that we sit and do rather than something that is part of our very existence, like breathing. Have you read Anne of Green Gables? There’s this part where Marilla is telling Anne about how she needs to kneel to pray and Anne says, “Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky — up, up, up — into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” I think that Anne is on to something there.
I use Phyllis Tickle’s Divine Hours prayer book trilogy to help order my prayer. There are 4 prayers for each day of the year and sometimes, when I’m not sure what to say but I want to pray, I’ll read one aloud or with Justin. Honestly, I think that the best prayers have already been written. They’re in Psalms. So, what Anne should really do is grab the Psalms, head out to the woods, and read one aloud.
Has the addition of your baby daughter to your life changed your approach to prayer or other spiritual practices?
Yes! I pray more now because I have a daughter. Right after Evelyn was born, I had all these post-natal hormones flowing through me and I cried all the time. I was really scared that I’d be a horrible parent and that Evelyn wouldn’t like me when she got older. Thankfully, those hormones have passed, but during that time, I prayed so much. I prayed that God would help me to be a good parent and that Evelyn would grow into a kind, loving person. I still pray that.
Plus, being a parent has helped me realize how little control over my world I actually have. Loss of control is a great impetus to pray!
One of your major interests, and the focus of your web site, is cooking and food issues. I’m interested to hear your thoughts: how can the work involved in cooking relate to our spiritual life? Specifically, do you see a connection between cooking and Christian meditation?
I think there’s a certain liturgy to the cooking process, especially if you’re using whole ingredients. (It’s different to open a can or a tray of pre-made food than to chop an onion.) For example, you probably chop an onion the same way each time. There’s a rhythm there, and if you’re chopping an onion, you might even cry. Maybe you need to cry. Maybe you need to mourn. Who knows. Sometimes, even when I’m not sad, I cry and cry when chopping an onion and then I feel better. Could this be a time for confession or lamentation? Perhaps.
When using whole ingredients, you might feel more connected to the earth — to the people who tended and harvested it, to the soil it was grown from, to the animal that died to feed you. There’s a lot of things to pray for — and to give thanks for — right there.
Imagine how many people have touched your food before you have! Ask yourself, “What kind of life does this person have?” “How does my consumption of this food affect the soil, the earth that God created and called good?” Asking myself these questions has motivated me to pray more thoughtfully for the people involved in our food production.
The food industry — like all industries and I don’t want to sound like I’m condemning here — is fraught with sin. And we’re always complicit in it, even if we try to be thoughtful consumers. Even vegetarians, for instance, are complicit in soil loss from the grains or vegetables they consume — even some certified organic food. Eating is an ethical and political act that we can not escape nor can we completely purify. I meditate on this while I cook. I think it makes me more thankful for opportunities to consume ethically-raised food. It also helps me to remember that I am not the savior of the world. Christ is. But I am still called to be a steward, to tend the land and to do the best I can.
Here’s an odd question, but I know you’ll have an answer: What has your study and pursuit of food issues and culinary arts taught you personally about God?
In Scripture, there are tons of stories about feasting. There are also a lot of stories about fasting. I think that we’ve forgotten what it means to really feast and fast. Maybe not even fast as in not eat food, but fast as in eat simple, small meals. But if we do that, the feast can be enjoyed more. I am — by no means — an experienced expert in this — but I do think it can say something to our “give-it-to-me-now” society. It’s good to wait.
In Revelation, we read about God’s coming Kingdom and the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. God wants to celebrate with us by having a feast! Doesn’t this tell us about God’s attitude toward food? I think that God loves food. God cares about these things, and that tells us a lot about God’s character.
You also work in theater. How has drama influenced your spiritual life and practice?
As a Christian, one of our callings is to understand and celebrate God’s story as it’s told in scripture. Theatre is a wonderful art that can teach us how to participate and respond to story. The best theatre artists I know are the ones who are in it for the story — who want to see stories presented to audiences in ways that will teach them new things about themselves and their world.
Practically, I’m involved in Biblical storytelling, which is a form of performance where Scripture texts are memorized and presented. My theatrical education has helped me to evaluate texts from a script-analysis perspective in a way that (hopefully) helps people hear Bible stories in ways they’ve never heard it before. I love Biblical storytellling because it means that I have to memorize scripture and I probably learn more from the process than the people who hear it once.
One of my favorite things about theatre is the collaborative aspect of it. Theatre is not a solitary task; it takes a group of people, each with different skills, experience, talents, and ideas to produce a great play. It’s a great (though completely imperfect!) example of Paul’s description of the body of Christ.
And before you go, I must ask a totally unspiritual question: Got a good recipe to pass along to us?
I have this really simple recipe for chickpea tacos on my blog. They’re vegetarian, but you don’t have to be a vegetarian to eat and make them! Here’s the link: http://joyelizabethlawrence.wordpress.com/2010/09/09/chickpea-tacos-for-amanda/