Growing up Italian, there is this special relationship we have with the wooden spoon.
It’s a staple in the kitchen for many reasons:
You can use it to brown the meat for the gravy (yes, that’s what we call the red sauce that goes on pasta) without making the meat too tough…
Or to mix the ricotta filling for the ravioli…
Or to threaten unwieldy children to come in line ‘or else…’
One of my favorite things that it was used for was when my mom would make escarole soup. (Simple gluten-free recipe alert, so jot this down) You take garlic and hard wedges of pepperoni and saute them until the flavor of those two magical items merge and infuse the olive oil they are in.
Once that happens, you add rinsed, white Cannellini beans. You mash half of them and leave the others whole. And then, after those get all yummy with each other, you add the chicken broth and tons and tons of torn up escarole and some salt.
After that sits for a couple of hours on a low simmer, you have this top layer of floating greens which are tender and delicious and so good for you. But the real magic is when you take that wooden spoon and send it way down to the bottom of the pot and dig up the gold of the pepperoni and beans where all the flavor, taste, and chew lives.
That’s the power of a spoon — this neutral colored, bland looking, seemingly nothing of a kitchen tool: To dig up the stuff that sits on the bottom of the pot.
Circumstances in our lives are our ‘wooden spoons.’
The waitress who doesn’t give you good enough attention
The guy who cuts you off on the freeway
The fender bender at the Farmer’s Market
The letter from the IRS
Being invited to a party
Not being invited to a party
Buying 300 dollars in groceries and then, the power goes ou that night and you have to throw much of the food away.
Kids misbehaving at a restaurant
Stepping on the scale and seeing it go up
Coming down to go to a doctor’s appointment and finding a truck has blocked your car from leaving
And you don’t know who it belongs to
Having a friend betray you
Having your spouse tell you they’re done
Having a family member reject you
See, big or small we all have circumstances and situations every day. All throughout the day. Some leave us unfazed and some really stir up some stuff.
Right now, we’re in a heated political conversation in the US. While I’m not a super-charged political person or a super-knowledgeable one, I have my preferences and thoughts. They’ve shifted over the years somewhat, but mostly I just keep to myself and carry on.
I didn’t used to be that way.
I used to be in a sweat about who would be president and there was a clear ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’ to me. The bad guy was always the other guy — in the other political party. He was always Satan incarnate and I had a magnifying glass over him and his imperfections. My guy was the good guy. He had grace from me in his weaknesses. I treated him like a beloved family member: Highlighting his strengths and downplaying his weaknesses and saying things like, “Well, everyone’s human.” But the other guy? The Not My Guy, guy? If he tried to pull the same thing that My Guy pulled, he couldn’t get away with it. I’d hold him to the letter of the law.
My Guy has an affair? He’s human.
Not My Guy has an affair? He has no character and can’t be trusted.
My Guy makes a decision to up the military? He’s protecting our country.
Not My Guy ups the military? He’s a killer and a hater and not reflecting my dove-like heart.
Seriously. That’s where I was. Why?
Because I had a preference and my preference felt safer and truer and when the elections would come, that spoon would go down deep and stir my sense of safety and show my fear.
I went through that with religion too. If you were of my faith and wore my religious label, I felt like we were on the same page and safety was implied.
But if you were from another flavor of faith, then, I now had a mission: To save you. You couldn’t quite be trusted the same way. So, knowing your label of religion stirred my pot.
But here’s what started happening: I started realizing that my peace was always subject to the circumstances. Who was in office, who shared my religion, who spoke to me in a certain way or treated me a certain way, or what weight I was and how much money I had, and on and on and on…
My circumstances were determining my peace.
It felt like Fear of Not Being Safe and what kicked in for me was wanting to control the circumstances so that I could BE safe SO THAT THEN I could be at peace.
And that didn’t feel like real, spiritual, true peace to me.
Peace that comes from control means that I’m treating a lot of life like an enemy that I have to have under watch with an armed guard in order for me to feel safe.
So, life started calling me to deal with this inner restlessness, only I didn’t know it. I thought I was just getting called to some spiritual practices — one of them in 2005 — was a practice of stillness.
A practice where I sat in quiet for 15 minutes a day, to start. No books, no journals, no prayers, no breathwork, no meditation, no songs… Just sitting and being quiet.
I didn’t control or direct my thoughts. I just let them be.
What happened was pretty amazing over the course of those months and eventually years, which I wrote about in a book coming out in 2019 but here’s the nutshell:
Sitting in silence and stillness stirred the pot of what was underneath the surface of my beliefs. What fears I had, what trust I had, what preferences I had and which ones of those came from fear. What control issues I had and arrogance I had and pride I had and on and on and on…
It sounds awful to hear and know those things but in the space of the stillness, the judgments I had about myself would rise and then, evaporate.
Conversations with what I understand God/Spirit/Love to be started addressing things in powerful and healing ways.
And what happened as a result of that practice being in my life? When I got up from the chair and life happened, I just didn’t respond the same.
The fears I used to have that shaped the needs, changed. When the fears went away, the needs did too. The need for my guy to be in office, the need for you to be my particular spiritual persuasion, the need for you to say things a certain way, the need for things to go smoothly or else, the need for you to like me or affirm me in a certain way.
The stillness changed what was in my pot and when the circumstances of the wooden spoon of life would come and stir things up, there weren’t the same things on the bottom.
My peace is not dependent on the circumstances in the same way they used to be. Oh, I still have stuff in my pot. Trust me. And it comes up in situations and circumstances. Like last week someone pushed my buttons so hard, I wanted to crawl out of my skin. In that same week, my phone was stolen on the train from Rome to Assisi and I was fine. All of those things that come up are about me needing to feel safe. That is what I believe every foundational fear in humanity is rooted in: Not feeling safe.
When I get afraid and controlling and then, thank God, have my spiritual practices to come back to – not that they’re magic, because they’re not, but they help me to access the places of peace that are within that sometimes I can’t seem to find access to in other ways.
So, instead of trying to control, I journal and I pray, and I meditate, and I breathe. Or I just sit in silence and stillness and simply ‘be’.
And in that state of simply being, I am able to hear that inner voice that lives beyond the media and news reports and beyond the fears that our culture is promoting and in that space I hear, “All is well.” And it’s not an “All is well because your guy is in and your circumstances are perfect and your scale is going down and your bank account is going up…”
Nope, it’s not tied to those conditions. It’s simply an “All is well” because the Spirit that speaks that truth to my heart knows the whole picture and knows Who is holding me and knows what Love is within me.
And that Love is for all.
The words of Jesus speak to me when I remember them, “Peace, peace… my peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid.”
The peace the world gives is: “You can have peace when you buy this toothpaste, own this car, wear these clothes, have this money, and Your Guy is in office.”
The peace that Spirit gives is: “All is well”
We make much different decisions and live much different lives from a state of All is Well than when we’re afraid and trying to control.
The circumstances are our wooden spoon, stirring us to show us what’s inside. It’s not really about the wooden spoon, because that’s just a thing… it’s about what’s inside our pot.
Since we can’t control the whole world, let’s work on what’s inside of us.