After her grandmother died, Adriana Trigiani was helping to clean out her kitchen. The oven broke, she says, and when they pulled it out from the wall to make the repairs, a confetti of small papers flew out from underneath.
They were recipes. Her nonna’s secrets and surprises - notes written down in script and scrawls and lists of ingredients, some even in code so they couldn’t be stolen or copied!
Adapted from the traditions of three regions of Italy to meet the All-American family life of Virginia and beyond, Adriana and her sisters learned to cook by watching their mother and grandmothers in their kitchens.
With the discovery of those slips of paper so many years later, the sisters compiled a delightful cookbook of techniques and traditions, stories and recipes.
And sure enough, almost every one is modified with a little time saving technique or flavor twist or comment on presentation.
Cooking with My Sisters is dedicated to “Those who have come before us, Those who are with us now, And those who will follow…”
Food or family or faith - how do we take the treasures we’ve inherited, live and share them, adapt and pass them on for those who will follow us?
That’s the question the scriptures ask us on this Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time.
How do we keep tradition alive and vibrant for the next generation?
In the first reading from Deuteronomy today, the people are on the threshold of the Promised Land. Moses tells them to take to heart the “statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live.”
The whole book of Deuteronomy (the title literally meaning “repeated law” or “second law”) is a retelling and reinterpretation of Israel’s history and laws for a new generation.
This is not the people who escaped with Moses and Aaron and Miriam from Egypt. Those great leadersare dead or soon will be.
This is a new generation who grew up far from what their elders experienced. This is a new generation with entirely new circumstances and new cultures and new battles all their own.
How is the tradition that they inherited going to be meaningful to them now, going to sustain them now,going to both comfort them and at the same time challenge them to faithful living of the covenant under new circumstances?
Here in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses undertakes a reinterpretation of the text…and so the tradition continues. Tammi Schneider, in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, notes “Moses initiates what becomes a long Jewish tradition: constant reinterpretation of the text” (Tammi J. Schneider, The Torah: A Women’sCommentary, 1056).
It’s important to note: traditions change over time, even in the sacred text.
And who is courageous enough to keep the faith vibrant? Ellen Frankel says there develops a “kind of personality - skeptical, provocative, contrary - that best guarantees Jewish survival” (Ellen Frankel, TheTorah: A Women’s Commentary, 1059).
A personality that questions the teaching in order to keep it alive, that challenges laws that have grown static or stagnant; a personality that reinterprets tradition for the next generation.
So we come to the scene in today’s gospel. Religious leaders question Jesus about purity practices: “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders?”
Perhaps knowing what we know, they shouldn’t be so shocked at his provocative challenge to the tradition! Jesus is continuing in a long line of personalities - contrary, perhaps - but personalities focused on the future, focused on what is essential (love God and love neighbor) in order to keep the tradition meaningful and vibrant.
Gustav Mahler: “Tradition is not the repository of ashes but the preservation of fire” (quoted in Let Us Dream, Pope Francis, p57).
How are we keepers of the fire? How are we adapting and reinterpreting the teaching for a new generation…in our home and in our church and in our nation?
The role of bishops is to preserve the tradition of the church, yes.
But the letter from James says today, the word has been planted in you. Welcome it, and live it. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only.”
Welcome the word. Welcome the tradition and the ancient teaching. Welcome it to grow, and change, prune with discipline, die back in winter, nurture it again with life.
Be doers of the word. Interpret it for a new generation in our home, in our community, in our church.
Cooking with My Sisters ends with a reminder to “leave the world better than you found it.” May it be so - at the tables of our kitchens and at the altars of our churches, for those who are waiting to be fed now and those who will surely follow.
Lisa Frey has served in ministry at the Church of the Resurrection in Solon, Ohio since 1991. In addition to shared pastoral care, faith formation, and administration of the parish, her areas of responsibility include social justice, outreach, wellness and bereavement. A lifelong learner, she earned her Master of Arts in Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary in Cleveland and Doctor of Ministry in Homiletics at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis. Her doctoral thesis was titled, “Silence in Support of Speaking: How Reflective Practices Can Lead to Transformative Preaching.” A native of Northeast Ohio, Lisa enjoys the Lake Erie shoreline in all seasons.
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