The Spirituality of Tomato Soup
Alone in my kitchen, I stir the tomato soup. The large wooden spoon circles it around and around, scraping the flavor off the bottom of my Dutch oven with each stir. I watch as it bubbles under the heat of the stove’s flame and then comes to rest when I turn it down. I’ve made this soup a hundred times. It is my aunt’s recipe. As I pull out the immersion blender I remember how she gave it to me, with this recipe, as a wedding gift. I’m sure I could find the recipe online. I could maybe even find a better version of it or a more efficient way to make it. But I like using hers. I like using her hand-written recipe because it’s in a sheet protector tucked inside a three-ring notebook that my husband made for me. On the front of the notebook is a sheet of paper with a clip art image of bread that reads “Kelly’s recipe book.”
I open it and thumb through the pages to find the tomato soup recipe. I know exactly where it is. It sits between the coffee cake and the bacon-wrapped green beans. On the sheet where the recipe is written my aunt has made notes like, “I subbed diced tomatoes for fire roasted tomatoes and it improved the flavor,” or, “I didn’t use all the evoo when blending.” At the bottom of the sheet, she writes to my husband and me, telling us why this is her favorite soup recipe. I read each word each time I make it because I can hear her voice as I read the words on the page. As I close my eyes I imagine her loud southern accent and remember her making everyone laugh with her stories. In my imagination, I can see her too. She is standing over her own stovetop cooking. She is wearing her Christmas sweater and her hair is a mess from all the cooking and all the dishes and all the cleaning she has done all day. And for a moment in time, as I stand over my stove top and stir my soup, I can breathe her in. I am one with her in a world that has separated us. Geography, time, and life circumstances cannot keep us apart any longer as I stir my soup. And all I want to do is bask in the intimacy of the moment.
Barbara Brown Taylor says that “paying attention” is a spiritual practice.  It is moments like these that foster reverence in the human heart as we begin to know God through the “ordinary” tasks of daily life. The sights, sounds, and smells born of a tomato soup recipe become an altar to meet God when we pay attention.  The deep resonant sounds of a baby’s sleepy breath in a mama’s arms become an altar to meet God when we pay attention. The blades of grass dancing in the cool breeze become an altar to meet God when we pay attention. Paying attention allows recipes, babies and grass, to preach. Paying attention invites the human heart to pray, confess, and dance in ways that no other practice in the spiritual life can.
So, I will hold tightly to these moments that want to flee as I stir my tomato soup. At this altar, I will welcome the memories that the recipe brings. I will meet the bitter sadness of unmet expectations and unforgiveness that can sometimes accompany family life. I will confess and repent. I will petition God for healing as I cling tightly to hope. Because sometimes, if we will pay attention, making soup can be an altar to meet God.
 An Altar in the World, p. 20.
 This is the premise of Barbara Brown Taylor’s book An Altar in the World—that the world is full of altars to meet and know God more.
Header photo by Karissa Herchenroeder. Used with permission.