Monday, July 22, 2019

A strange connection between the secret to great pastry and the secret to great holiness.

Being a person who had been schooled in F&B on a professional level before, I was lured by a click-bait on the internet last week on CNN’s website, which posted a news story entitled “There’s a reason the pastry in Paris is so darn good”.  I can attest to this truth because when I was in Paris about two years ago, I was enchanted and tantalized by the many offerings of viennoiseries that were available in the many patisseries or pastry shops which proudly displayed their mouth-watering wares all over the city.  

Before I went to the text of this short article, I presumed that the writer would attribute the high quality of breads and baked goods in Paris to the high quality of butter, the freshness of the ingredients, the low humidity of Paris or a combination of all these. But I was wrong.  The writer quoted one pastry chef as saying that all of the pastry chefs she knows share one thing in common, and it was this - they are totally passionate about their craft.

So it’s not the butter, not the flour, and not the availability of fresh ingredients, nor was it due to the low humidity.  In fact, even if all these are of superlative quality, and the patissier has little or no passion in the craft, the product will turn out mediocre or passable at best, but not extraordinary and exquisite.  It is true then, that as the accolade puts it, the most important ingredient in cooking is love.  

After having read this short article and putting it aside, my thoughts then went to the spiritual life. This is where my reflections on the spiritual life have the wacky and strange ability to be taken to places they ordinarily would not go.  I was given to see that the very same principles apply to our prayer life and our spiritual life as much as this principle applies to food preparation. For our prayer life to be more than pedestrian and mediocre, for it to not just exist, but to flourish, for it to be outstanding and stellar and not just ordinary and average, passion is absolutely necessary.

The prayer life, because it is very much connected to love and based on love, is also very much connected with effort.  Love, unfortunately, has been very much defined by and associated far too much with feelings, sentiments and emotions, and this is understandable.  The songs that we listen to and the many love stories that we read and see portrayed in the movies all tell us that having these experiences are the only indications that love is present.  There is a huge problem then when our feeling bank is running on empty and there seems to be nothing to draw out from.  

Romantic love is far more associated with receiving than it is with giving  whilst the giving of love requires far more effort, and isn’t predicated on how one feels, what mood one is in, and which side of the bed one got up on in the morning.  

It is this kind of love that we need to put into when we enter into prayer.  Without this effort and awareness, our worded prayers that we read off from some printed page hardly turns into words of love that we send to God.  

Yes, we need to truly believe that love (effortful, and not dependent on feelings) is the most important element that makes all the difference when it comes to prayer, just as the patissier’s passion is the most important element to make exquisite morsels that delight the tastebuds.  Even if one has the best ingredients, the most favourable of climatic conditions and the best equipment, lacking the passion the patissier needs to have will not guarantee a great finished baked product.

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