Every Accomplishment is Rooted in a Practice

| August 19th, 2023

Dear Beloved Community,

Thanks in part to the generosity of Amy Mac and Roper who shared with me a bounty of tomatoes from this week’s older adult tomato pick up, I decided that a sabbath practice I’d pursue on my day off this week was learning to make gazpacho. You know gazpacho I’m sure – that cold tomato and cucumber soup originated in Spain, and perfect for a hot afternoon in August. 

I had never been much of a gazpacho fan until last summer, when Josh and I spent a number  of hot summer days walking and traveling around Spain only to find this ubiquitous dish on just about every menu of every cafe, restaurant, and food hall we visited. I decided: when in Spain, one must enjoy gazpacho! We had gazpacho on the roadside spots along the Camino, gazpacho in the packed outdoor cafes in Seville’s plazas, and even made a watermelon gazpacho in our delightful Catalan cooking class in Barcelona. As all the cooking students assembled our ingredients to get started, I remember our brilliant Chef Maria reciting an old Spanish truth: “With a bad vinegar and a worse oil, a good gazpacho cannot be made.” Baile? Baile. (Okay? Okay.)

So on Thursday, I sliced and cubed a pile of ruby red tomatoes, crisp sweet onions, a basket full of cucumbers and banana peppers from my garden, and several cloves of garlic. It came time to compile them all when I realized we had no sherry vinegar, and our olive oil was bottom shelf at best. With Chef Maria’s watchful eye in my mind, I resisted the urge to substitute, decided not to cut corners, and left everything on the counter to make a run to Lowe’s for the real thing. 

Thirty minutes, a beautifully-emulsified gazpacho, and a golden sourdough grilled cheese later, I sat down to enjoy my inaugural run at learning a new dish. And oh it was GOOD. Every bit of the freshness in the vegetables and richness in the oil and vinegar made up for any lack in the cook, and among all the multi-sensory enchantments of this experience was the gift of learning something new, of leaning into the practice of being a novice, of trading efficiency for deep enjoyment. 

I suppose it wasn’t an accident, then, that during a kid-requested stop at Bookmarks the next day, the new book The Real Work: On the Mystery of Mastery by Adam Gopnik caught my eye. I’m only a few chapters in, but with my beginner’s attempt at gazpacho still in my fridge, I loved some conclusions that Gopnik’s research of mastery showed: that every accomplishment is rooted in a practice, that the flow of practice is a function of fragments (small steps put together for a greater work), that everything we do involves everything we do, that understanding mastery leads to an appreciation of ordinary masters, living exemplars of a practice, specific people with real lives and real work that emerges.

How encouraging, right? Whether you’re working on your gazpacho or growing your generosity, whether you’re a newbie to a skill or a longtime artist at your craft, all mastery comes from practice. So too is it in our lives of faith. So too is it in our beloved community, filled with novices in the Way of Love and practiced (not perfect!) masters who have long journeyed in this Way. For when we bring the fullness of ourselves to the steady, daily practices of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control, together with God’s help, the fruit ripens. The flavors deepen. Nourishment is shared, and our joy is made complete. 

Come taste and see that God is good!

Together in God’s work of Love,

Pastor Emily