rerouting through new terrain-

October 13, 2013

Samuel Wells talks about gifts and givens, where givens are what the world assumes are the fixed, immovable circumstances of life that one must work around, like threading through a difficult maze, and gifts are what they really are when seen in the strange light of the kingdom of God. Things that can change, or be changed, things that are optional, that can be repurposed; things one does not assume are set, because the only thing really set is the kingdom of God itself.

I’m not quite at Wells’ level of re-seeing the world, but my hands smell like garlic and I was thinking today as I cooked of the mindless pleasure of making food.

I’m not using Wells’ metaphor to its fullest extent, of course, where the gifts themselves are no fixed obstacles to be navigated around or shipwrecked upon, but offers from the world to be accepted, blocked or most commonly, overaccepted (this is the language of theatrical improvisation, which is of course why his book is called Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics). I was merely thinking of turning givens into gifts at the most basic level of the words themselves. Seeing blessing where there is curse, because the world is double-faced as a door. That burnt tree always has another face at the back of it.

(“Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? it is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front -“)*

I need to cook, in my flat, seven or eight times a month, and I see it as an obligation. It takes time away from the work I could be doing, or not-doing; it takes time away from my own relaxation, my own insular cycles of functioning and repair. It is time and money spent doing something that is not on my agenda of priorities, like assignments, and paying off overdraft debts, and though assignments and overdrafts are important, I am essentially selfish, and I regret most that cooking for my flat uses resources I have assigned for my own untouched patterns of looking after myself in order to be wasted on looking after other people. It is, in short, an obstacle; a given, a thing to be navigated around. And look at that- sometimes I really don’t realise how selfish I am until I verbalise my subconscious thinking because whoa, that is really not a thought pattern of the kingdom of God. That’s a counter-pattern.


Thinking in the odd light of the kingdom really blows your expectations for existence out of the water. It’s not a habit I’m used to, and it hurts, the way stretching stiff muscles hurts, the way beginning to exercise on a daily basis makes your lungs and body very unhappy. Beginning to exercise my new eyesight makes my old habits and patterns of self very unhappy. I can feel the complaining. When I first started writing this blogpost I was thinking of how cooking is actually a gift, particularly for one who is by deep habit as well as current discipline consistently cooped up the head and deliriously active in the brain. I have become incredibly alive mentally, here in this place, to the point where I forget sometimes that I have a body that needs to be fed and needs to sleep.

It is a very old habit from when I hid in my head from necessity, and it is easy to fit into old grooves without conscious choice. But I rediscovered this afternoon that cooking gives me an outlet from being a thing-of-thinking. grounding me in the substance and physical goodness of this world. It pulls me concretely into my senses with the sheer, mindless physical pleasure of crushing garlic underneath a knife, tasting the sting of balsamic vinegar in the air, peeling and chopping carrots and feeling the straggling peels cling to my fingers. It reminds me that being alive and human is really good.

I used to be more mindful of the wants and needs of my body, particularly when I had more time and occasion to make things with my hands; when I began this blogpost, I intended to speak of how these seven or eight evenings of cooking are actually much needed, much desired re-rootings in what it is to be wholly human, and alive, and in a body, and not just a brain floating in a jar that occasionally needs to be refuelled, emptied, cleaned and charged up again. And that’s where I started from, but it’s much more than that, isn’t it? That’s not the gift, or not the entire gift, not nearly all of it. Givens and gifts.

Turn on the lamp, open up the clouds, push aside the curtains; re-see the world. More than just myself rerooting myself, the gift of cooking for my flatmates seven or eight nights a month is that I get to cook for my flatmates. I get to cook for my flatmates. I am given the gift, and it is a gift, of serving and blessing the people I live with, with what I have. I have been given the opportunity to create something good for them, to use what I have to bless my flatmates, to be good to them and to love them, because that is what I should do as a person loved by God.

Stuff the fact that I’m never entirely sure whether God loves me or not. The amount I believe will do. Because, you see, the problem is really that I don’t love my flatmates, and I have chosen not to love them, or see them for who they are, because I really don’t want to like them, let alone love them. Because living with other people is hard, because other people are difficult and irritating and intrude on my looking-after-myself, and because I am deeply self-centred and liking other people, loving them, requires really loving them.

And I really don’t want to love these people.

Did I mention this was hard? Did I mention this is a really new way of thinking for me? Did I mention also that these are habits I am not in the habit of habituating? God this is difficult! Ack. Being Christ-centred is incredibly bizarre why do we do it someone remind me. What the hell is this kind of living. Why are we Christians againWhy is this so hard.

I am too, too amused at myself and my own chagrin. My hands smell like garlic. I really need to work on my essay now, not faff around with blogposts, but I’m pretty sure this was a necessary revelation. I don’t want to love these people. But I don’t get a choice in this matter. What is this being in the kingdom of God nonsense?! Why the hell did I decide to take these Ethics papers?! Community! Sacrifice! Being faithful! Loving people! My God this is ridiculous. I’m pretty sure I just got blindsided by the kingdom of God and it is ridiculous. Fine. Fine. I’m sorry. I will love these people. I hope you’re happy, God. I hope you’re happy.

This is so unfair. And hilarious. I’m going to go check on my roast and work on my essay. Thanks for the ambush, Jesus.



* Chesterton, of course. The Man Who Was Thursday, one of my favourite books of all time.

One Response to “rerouting through new terrain-”

  1. qwandor Says:

    Have you come across the term ‘anti-pattern’?

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