Searching for thin places, Don't feed the bears

July 05, 2012

Don't feed the bears

 I am apparently living out Downton abbey. I have not actually seen an episode of the show, but a preacher friend of mine offered a sermon series based upon the drama, thus educating me in the process. It is about a large English manor (not a church), whose name is Downton Abbey (the Brits name their homes), during World War II England. The series chronicles the lives of those who live upstairs in the house, and those who occupy the lower levels of the home to serve them. And by my decision and choice I am one of those serving others. I am in the kitchen. I am preparing wood for our guests to eat. I work near and with the housekeepers, who serve the food that I prepare. Typically my interaction with the guests is when they come to chop vegetables and when I join them during a meal. The housekeepers are in contact much more frequently than the kitchen staff generally would be. It is so entrenched in tradition, that whomever is chairing the meal will actually ask prior to starting a prayer for a meal “is the kitchen ready?”, meaning is the food ready to serve.

Each week the housekeepers must train the newly arrived guests in their tasks. Guests do not come to the Abbey or MacLeod Centre to sit and “navel gaze”, they are expected to join in the life of the community and have chores to do each day. It is the responsibility of the housekeepers to do this orientation. And each week they bring the guests through the doors to the kitchen/scullery and show them all the stages of washing, sterilizing and drying dishes. Then the housekeeper will generally have the guests turn to face the kitchen and say “that’s the kitchen, don’t go over there.” It feels very much like you are one of the bears in the national park, and the park rangers are warning you not to feed the bears. Kitchen staff generally smiles and wave, as if to say, no really we are friendly. Because the housekeepers have to buzz about doing many different things they are often not around for questions that the guests have, and we as cooks are in the kitchen always. So the guests come into the kitchen and ask us questions, for which we are absolutely clueless as to most of the answers. I don’t really know where the housekeepers keep the sugar for the sugar bowl. I do know where the cooking sugars are, and they are not the same. And the guests simply look at us poor hungry bears we have been made out to be in dismay, “how could you not know where the sugar is?” One of my practices has become polite ways to say, “I don’t really know, could you ask a housekeeper?”

It may sound silly, but it is good to know that you don’t know something and readily admit that fact. Each of us has tasks that we must perform, and we need the knowledge, skills and ability to do those things, but we also need to grace to realize we don’t know something and have the courage to ask someone who might.