Rebalancing the world: The Work at Hand

May 1, 2008

JMU May Day Celebration

Some women learn to bake bread from their mothers or their nanas. I learned to bake bread from a book. I can still remember reading and re-reading “a loaf for learning” and graduating from bricks to well risen delicious loaves. I learned to bake bread from Laurel Robertson. She was the one who stood next to me as I learned to read the subtleties of gluten development. She taught me to understand the delicate balance of feeding the yeast but not overfeeding it. Letting it develop, but not letting it wildly reproduce. She taught me about that magical “spring” that happens when the yeast gives a final rise in a very hot oven.

Soon after learning to bake bread with Laurel, I started reading her pivotal book Laurel’s Kitchen. At the time I was beginning to garden organically, remove hydrogenated fats from my cooking, listening to Andrew Weil’s ideas around nutrition and health. I was surrounded at the time by a community who ate white stuff – white pasta, white bread, white milk, white mayonnaise, white, white, white… This was before we really understood all the wonderful antioxidant properties of colorful fruits and vegetables, but I found as I worked my way through the Moosewood books, Laurel’s books, and of course The Vegetarian Epicure! I became hungry for a different relationship to food preparation.

I devoured all of Alice Water’s books and also read Deborah Madison and fantasized about returning to a temperate growing climate where winter salad mix grew outside my south facing kitchen door. All these women and more, mentored me in my kitchen are each lives on in my culinary expertise, AND an even more influential woman in my evolution as a “she who creates, feeds, and nourishes” was an essay in the Laurel’s Kitchen book by Carol Flinders entitled The Work at Hand. I knew that the work I was doing to create a hearth space was important. Yet sometimes, after a meal, the dishes cleared, and everyone back to their lives, I would start to wonder “why bother?” this is so much work, it is devoured, then it is over. Yet I persisted, because I believed that something alchemical happened in my kitchen when I was feeding my family and friends.

I no longer doubt the magical ingredient in my kitchen that transforms raw materials into spiritual sustenance. But I still have not completely been able to make sense of the male/female split, the duality of our nature, and how that divides us instead of unites us. I have been reading, thinking, and living this a lot recently – asking myself where I am as a woman, a feminist, and one who follows the goddess. Maureen Murdock was the next step in that journey for me. Reading the “Heroine’s Journey” gave voice to the missing step – the healing of the wounded masculine in me. All the work around anima/animus and all the dreams about guides – male and female, now had a context in which to experience them. And, just when I feel like I have gone as far as I can with this, who should show up but Carol Flinders – again!

This book – Rebalancing the World – has been on the book shelf for a few years. My husband bought it, read it, and then it sat there… week in and week out, year in and year out… and I never made the connection that the author was the same woman who gave meaning to my hearth work! My own limited view of her as a “cookbook author” precluded me from making the connection. What an aha! this has been as I open the book and begin to read. YES! This is what I am needing to go to the next place with these ideas and experiences. It isn’t just the title, it is the subtitle that holds such meaning for me in this stage of my quest.

Rebalancing the World: Why Women Belong and Men Compete and How to Restore the Ancient Equilibrium

All my struggles with duality around being AND/OR doing, providing soulful sustenance AND/OR producing an income now have names – and values – the value of Belonging and the value of Enterprise. These ideas are much larger than the narrow arguments about patriarchy and feminist rhetoric. Here is another opportunity for me to be mentored and taught – a spiritual teacher who has gone before – an elder who can help me create meaning from my own experience.

How perfect that this insight and gift comes on the eve of May Day and I am writing about it today – when we celebrate the union of the Green Man and the maiden.

One comment

  1. Hello
    I’ve just come across your blog and the very first post I see is about Carol Flinders. I bought Laurel’s Kitchen about 12 years ago just so that I could have a copy of The Work at Hand. I love that introduction to Laurel’s Kitchen and I lend it to everyone I know so that they can read it too.

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