I never knew you could make chicken noodle soup from scratch. Like sliced bread and chewy chocolate cookies and powered lemonade- I thought there were secrets to making comfort foods that only grocery stores knew. In my family, if the flu struck, Mama rushed to the store for a can of Campbell’s and if I needed a quick lunch, I’d fill a styrofoam carton up with hot water. These were recipes for comfort foods of my past.
Until I decided to read through a cookbook and found a recipe for chicken noodle soup and realized that women just like me have been creating this alchemy of stock and vegetables, starch and spice, simmer and served for hundreds of years before me, suddenly, making soup didn’t feel as unattainable as once thought. The ingredients were available and my hands were capable, so I made it my mission to master the chicken noodle soup– my ultimate comfort food.
That summer, we were moving into a neighborhood in New Orleans to do incarnational urban ministry and I knew, eventually, we’d need the comfort. The fear of a drive by, the hopelessness of a failing school, the weight of poverty, the malnourishment of an urban food desert, and the injustice of racism could leave members of our community in need of the warmth of a bowl of soup, and when it happened- I wanted to be ready. With a stock pot and a prayer, I was ready. Those two years in Hollygrove I cooked as many pots of soup for neighbors and friends as I cooked for our family. Even on the hottest summer days, I made soup and not surprisingly, we were all comforted.
Even under this California sun, I need to be comforted again. Last week, I watched a video of a black man beaten and then run over by white teens in their pick-up truck. For sport. It reminded me of a black man dragged behind a truck when I was a little girl and my stomach turned with the memory. Then I saw a trailer for a movie about Jordan Davis, a middle-class African-American boy shot to death by a white man in a gas station parking lot and I couldn’t speak for hours it feels like we’re reading the same story over and over- just different names, different faces. Yesterday when black women protested topless in San Fransisco, I was reminded that black women and children are suffering police brutality too. All this and more makes me heart sick.
It feels like the infection of racism is no-where near rooted out, no matter how much we’d like to think so. As a black woman, I still see it. Everyday. In crafty, insidious ways. Like shopping for shoes and at school pick-ups. Racism infects everyday social interactions for the African-American person. Most of the time, its as unnoticeable as the cold virus that sneaks around our system until we can’t take it anymore and cough, cough, cough we’re unable to move out of bed. Racism slips quietly into our thinking forming negative stories, reinforcing undeserved pride, and shaping accusations. Until suddenly, pop, pop, pop black bodies lie dying in the street and we’re unable to move forward.
I feel sick with my own prejudices, too. I try to speak shalom when I’m tempted to speak fear, but fear is a persistent bedfellow for the closed-minded. I try so hard to not let my children see my anxiety and mistrust, but I don’t want to hold my boy’s bullet-riddled body and wonder, “What could I have told him to prevent this?” So, I live with the sickness of mistrust like the cavity that I keep putting off to fill. I’m fighting over-generalizations and my impulse to demonize decent people trapped in an unjust system, but it’s hard. I want to listen when I can’t breathe, but I’m infected too.
So, I made my soup.
I once heard of a monk who prayed while he washed dishes, I like that, so I prayed while making soup and called it my “reconciliation soup”. The recipe is in my journal written on the same page as my list of prayer requests.
Defrost Chicken Breasts: Jesus, this issue of reconciliation and race is a dangerous one. It’s full of possibilities to hurt. Like the salmonella that coats this very chicken, scary and dangerous and off-putting. I want to avoid handling it, but I can’t. It’s as vital to this soup as racial justice is to your Kingdom. It’s essential to our formation into people who want to look like you. So, just like I take care to avoid the dangers of raw chicken help me handle this reconciliation with care. I respect the gritty nature of holding raw flesh in my hands so I’m careful and afterwards, I wash everything thoroughly. Help me know how to respond to the raw words of fear and pride with care. Then, let me throughly wash every interaction in grace.
Dice Onions: Jesus help me embrace the tears. Tears are not my enemy– they are indications of deeper prayers needing to be prayed. Help me pray the deep prayer as I dice and measure.
Slice Carrots: Some say eating carrots gives you good eye sight. If so, Jesus, I want to see people through your eyes. White and black. Police officer and politician. Story breakers and stay at home moms. They are all valuable to you, so they will be valuable to me. And just like I had to *acquire* a taste for carrots, let me *acquire* a taste for truth, love, and wholeness.
Chop Celery: I don’t understand celery, Lord. It’s punchy, sharp, bitter taste seems too much for this soup. Too bold. Over-poweing. But simmered with the other ingredients, it creates a healing broth. Lord, my anger feels like the celery. I don’t understand it; it’s too much. I ask you to take it, break it down in to something useful, and let it simmer mixed in with your love and wisdom until it creates something life-giving. Every recipe for chicken noodle soup calls for the celery, so I’ll use it. Every act of reconciliation calls for a safe space for sharp words and hard truths- so I’ll use them and trust they will transform relationships like the celery transforms the soup.
Toss In Leftover Frozen Peas: Jesus, thank you that in the Father’s economy- nothing is wasted! Not our fears, not our sadness, not our tears, not our questions, and most definitely, not our prayers. Especially when we pray for your shalom. Lord, take our prayers that sometimes feel like not enough and make a banquet table of hope before us.
Add Noodles: Lord, let us remember that we are intertwined. Let us not shy away from bumping into each other in the broth of reconciliation. Let us wrap around each other and soften our wills to yours.
Bring to Boil: Because the ingredients are only changed under pressure when the heat seems unbearable and the broth permeates the hardness, Jesus refine us in your fire. Let us submit to the heat of your call to unity because it brings the warmth of wholeness. Let this unbearable pressure of black families mourning and communities torn permeate the hardness of our hearts.
Simmer until the aroma of peace fills your kitchen and serve.
P.S. You can email me at email@example.com and I’ll send you my recipe, if you’d like. This post was inspired by Preston Yancey’s post “when there is no way but through, or, when there is room at this table”