Mindfulness and the First Celebrity Chef

May 28th, 2017 · No Comments

St. Lawrence by Jane St. Clair

Since two men called St. Lawrence are both Roman Catholic saints of cooking, it is confusing for us.

Now’s the time to clear up our confusion!

St. Lawrence holding his grill

Brother Lawrence with pots and pans

St. Lawrence of Rome should be the saint of grilling,as opposed to cooking. The Romans murdered this poor man by tying him to a grill and burning him to death in 225 A.D. He said as his killers were roasting him, “I’m done on this side. You better turn me over now.” It is no wonder that St. Lawrence of Rome is the saint of comedy as well as cooking.

The second St. Lawrence is very much in style now for two reasons. He is our first celebrity cook, and he invented his own version of mindfulness.

Brother Lawrence of Paris was born into a poor French family in 1614. Like our own Abraham Lincoln, he wanted to go to school and learn to read, but his family could not afford it. He joined the army and received a war injury that left him crippled for life. Brother Lawrence was a big heavy man, and now a bum foot made him even more clumsy and awkward. He took a valet job, waiting on tables and opening doors for rich people.

One day when Brother Lawrence was around 25 years old, he was looking at a tree sprouting in spring and felt a strong calling to join a monastery. He hoped the monks would let him work in their library, where he’d read and study and become an educated man. Instead, his abbot took one look at our clumsy humble Lawrence and assigned him to permanent kitchen duty.

I picture Brother Lawrence in the kitchen, as awkward as Peter Boyle’s monster in “Young Frankenstein,” tripping over boxes, spilling hot water, and breaking dishes. He was the kind of guy that other monks would tease.

Although Brother Lawrence felt disappointed to get kitchen duty, he made the best of it. “I shall have to find God among the pots and pans,” he said, vowing to keep his mind on love and God at all times.
Like anyone who tries mindfulness, Brother Lawrence had a hard time concentrating. His mind kept jumping around in what Buddha called “monkey mind.” Ten years passed before Brother Lawrence reached his mindfulness goal, which was to experience God in every moment of the day –in what he called “Practicing the Presence of God.”

I picture the big guy chopping carrots and seeing cathedral stars in them. I bet he was full of wonder at the inside of an orange pepper, the beauty of a purple eggplant or the splendor of an orange pumpkin with beautiful yellow ribs. I bet he’d see the mushrooms dancing.

As sensitive and sweet as Brother Lawrence was, I bet he felt bad about taking the life of any vegetable. No doubt he’d apologize to a cabbage before he cut into it. I bet he heard the sound of the universe in the squeak of corn husks when he shucked them, and I bet that every time he cooked a meal, he prayed that the food would reflect his love for the other brothers, and God’s love for us all.

Modern people try to find work they love. Brother Lawrence tried to put love into grunge work that he got stuck with. As the Arabic poet Kahlil Gibran wrote and as Brother Lawrence discovered, the motivation behind your work is all that matters.

“It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart,
even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.
It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy,
even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.”

Before Brother Lawrence died, his friends insisted that he tell them how he achieved mindfulness. They recorded their conversations into a tiny book that is a practical how-to manual for anyone who wants to try a mindfulness path to spirituality.

The funny thing is that Brother Lawrence’s little book became a classic. That means God gave him the very gift he always wanted – to be an educated, wise man.

Guess what! You can download Brother Lawrence’s book for free at the Gutenberg Organization

Negative Capability Press accepted Jane’s short story, “The Gerber Secret,” for an upcoming issue of their magazine.

Tags: Uncategorized