Finding God in the Heart of Your Family
by Mary Kretzmann
Chapter 3: Spiritual Food
Receive Lord, In Thy Light
The food we eat, for it is Thine
Infuse it with Thy Love, Thy Energy, Thy Life Divine!
-Grace sung before meals at Ananda
Hot tip for parents:
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teens who ate dinner five to seven times a week with their families were 45% LESS LIKELY to try alcohol, 24% LESS APT to smoke marijuana and 67% MORE LIKELY to get A’s compared with kids who never or rarely dined with their families.
Meal times create daily opportunities for loving connection within the family, but once kids get older, you often have to make it a point. We still managed to eat together most nights of the week, even when Peter was a senior in high school. He also got up very early for school, (he left the house at 6:30 AM) so we arranged our schedules so that at least one of us was with him in the morning. This created some family connection before he went off to school, which helped his attitude very much. Our youngest is currently in sixth grade, as of this writing, so we have a few years of respite before facing the high school schedule again!
We sing the grace before meals, which sometimes comes in spontaneous four-part harmony, due to the musical element in the family! And at special holy times of the year, we use the time immediately after dinner as a time for a short spiritual story or reading suitable for the whole family
Love and healing energy can be infused into food, and this is an important aspect of preparing most of your meals at home, as opposed to the common American lifestyle of eating on the run.
A few years ago, our automatic bread-maker was broken, so I decided to make bread by hand one Sunday afternoon. I always used to make bread this way, so it wasn’t a big deal, but I wasn’t ready to make a daily commitment to it, again, either. So with that inner freedom, I set out to make the bread, using exactly the same ingredients that I normally used in my bread-maker recipe. As I was kneading the dough, I decided to send conscious, loving energy through my hands into the bread, with the same feeling as when I am sending healing energy during healing prayers. I focused deeply this way for 10-12 minutes, feeling God’s love and joy, while kneading the dough. Time didn’t matter; this was not a chore, but a choice. The dough became very soft and wonderful. Then I let the dough rise and eventually put it into the loaf pans to rise again.
When the bread was done, I put it out on the table with butter. I had already made a big Sunday lunch earlier for everyone, so this was supper: bread and butter, and maybe some fruit. In other words, Mom was taking it easy… Our youngest son, David, then age six, tasted it and exclaimed, “Oh, this bread is so good! It’s the best bread I ever had! We should have this for dinner every night! I don’t care if we ever have anything else, just bread and butter for dinner, every night!”
The funny thing is, he had eaten the same bread, but made in the bread-maker, every day for the past year! The only thing that was different was that this time it had been made by loving, conscious human hands, mother’s hands.
Saints in India often used food as a means to share spiritual vibrations with large crowds of people. The devotees who helped to prepare such food would keep their minds on God, in joyful, loving silence, or in singing to God while cooking, and the saint would bless it, which is to say, infused it with divine energy, before it was served. When food is offered to God and blessed in this way, it is called prasad. Likewise, infusing food with love is a very important aspect of nurturing one’s family.
So many colloquialisms carry an aspect of truth, which is why they are repeated, such as “Home is where the heart is”, and “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” and general, fond references to “Mom’s cooking”. If Mom loves her family, then this special feeling enters into the food she prepares, whether it’s elaborate or simple.
Sometimes I wonder if it is becoming a lost art in some circles. Many American women are so busy juggling careers and family that they often rely on fast or frozen foods to feed their families. Of course, a little bit of this can really save your sanity in a pinch, but it shouldn’t be a mainstay, because then no one is infusing the family meals with love, care and attention. Who loves your family? You do. The vibrations in fast or frozen foods are either mixed or barely present, due to automation: the food is not in contact with an actual person. Similarly, many yogis prefer to eat out only occasionally due to the ‘homogenous vibrations” of restaurant food in general. In other words, it is not prepared, normally, by people who are filled with God’s love and joy. The food is infused with the consciousness of those who prepare it. Of course, sometimes it is nice to go out just to relax and have fun. I’m talking about balance here.
Banquets of Light
I remember a particular banquet years ago at Ananda’s Expanding Light retreat following an important spiritual event (such banquets happen several times a year). Normally the way we prepare such banquets is to have many devotees help with prep work for a day or two in advance. In this instance, the retreat kitchen had recently been remodeled, and the head chef wanted every possible food processor, mixer, various ovens, etc., so that large meals could be prepared in a hurry, as needed. It made sense, on a practical level. However, even though the meal was delicious, it was lacking a certain “sparkle.”
After the meal, Swamiji enquired about it and told the chef that even though the food was delicious, and excellently prepared, it had “no vibrations”. (“No” is probably a relative term here; I think it would mean ‘no vibrations” compared to what he knew was possible from previous banquets.) Swamiji stressed the importance of sharing spiritual vibrations through the food, as this was a way to bless our guests and community members alike. The end result was that most of the food processors were eliminated, so that much of the food could still be prepared by hand, but the other improvements were retained, of course. Now, as one enters the Expanding Light kitchen, you can hear sacred chanting softly emanating from the cooks, or from a beautiful recording. These things help to keep the cook’s heart happy, loving and joyful, as the food is prepared. The vibration in the kitchen is very good, and retreat guests often comment on how wonderful the meals are at the Expanding Light.
I also recall, years ago, a much smaller banquet at Swamiji’s home, given in celebration and gratitude for those who had remodeled his home. All of the builders and their spouses were invited. My husband is a cabinetmaker, so we were both there. The food was absolutely delightful, and even had a transcendent quality. At a certain point I felt myself lifted into a state of spiritual joy. At that moment, Swamiji commented, “There is a lot of bliss in this food!”
That moment marks for me the highest potential of what is possible with infusing food with Light. Even if our meals don’t put people into spiritual bliss, you can bless your family with your love and joy day to day, and at special events such as holidays and birthdays, etc. On those “special occasions” let your attention be on the joy, as much as possible, and not on the tensions that can build up when you want every detail to be “just right.” Do your best to plan and prepare, and then just flow with it. Smile.
Exercise to practice infusing food with love and blessings:
- If you like, put on some joyful, yet calming music that will help your heart stay happy as you cook.
- Take a moment to feel your heart center. Take a few deep breaths to let go of any tensions. Smile. Then feel into your heart center again. Focus on feeling warmth or Light there. Let it radiate through your heart and chest. Smile again, this time with more warmth and depth. Breathe…
- Feel this warmth and Light is flowing into your arms, and through your lungs with each breath. The heart center, or heart chakra, feeds spiritual energy to the physical heart, the lungs, and also the arms and hands. Feel that with each breath you are filling your lungs with sparkling Light, and this fills you and flows through your arms and hands. As this Light gets stronger, it will bless your kitchen and everything in it, radiating through your aura.
- In this energy, begin to assemble the ingredients and tools you will need to cook. Let everything be contained in this calm flowing grace. Let the Light and love flow through your heart, arms and hands and bless the cooking area, and the ingredients.
- If something interrupts you, that’s okay, just try to get back into this feeling…that’s what the spiritual life is all about: remembrance. And why do we have to remember? Because we always forget. It’s normal. Just try to remember more and more often!
- In this focused exercise, try not to take phone calls, or other interruptions, so that you can feel your potential for what can flow through you as you prepare the food. (In normal day-to-day life, I will answer the phone, but I’ll monitor the vibration of the call, and if it gets too heavy, I’ll ask if I can call the person back when I am done cooking. This is essential for me because I occasionally receive prayer ministry phone calls at home. Of course, if it is a real emergency, I stop cooking to address the matter right then and there. But either way, I am still protecting the vibrations of the food as I cook.)
- Serve the meal with simple style and grace in whatever ways have meaning for you. We eat by candlelight every night. It just adds little bit more magic, warmth and ritual. I also transfer most foods to attractive serving dishes, unless the cookware seems table worthy. Why? Because family is precious, a divine gift in my life. Treat your family as special gifts from God.
- Smile! Enjoy!
In closing, I’ll share a little story of a marriage that was healed in great part through the practices outlined, above. In my vocation as healing prayer minister at Ananda, I met a woman who had been recently separated from her husband, but she hoped they could reconcile. In listening to her, I sensed it was a healthy relationship at the core, but it had gone sour through neglect and “taking it for granted.” I asked her what their mealtimes had been like, and like many professional couples, they had eaten at restaurants several nights a week. It was unusual for her to cook anything special. I suggested, once I knew she was open, that she invite him to dinner, and take all the time in the world to create a beautiful meal, and a lovely atmosphere. That was the priority. She was to open her heart to God’s Infinite Love, and the love she had for her husband, and to feel that Love flowing through her as she cooked. I told her that if he responded to this loving care, then she should repeat the event frequently, with sincerity.
I lost touch with her for about five years, but one day she called my office regarding another matter, and I quickly recognized her once she began reminding me of this story. She said it had really turned their marriage around, and they were both very happy.
Note: this can be practiced by the husband or the wife, but sisters, we miss the point entirely if we nag our husbands to go fifty-fifty on the cooking – and then add the advice to “put good vibes in it, too!.” In our home, I tend to do much of the cooking for I enjoy it, but my husband helps with many of the supportive tasks in the kitchen such as emptying the dishwasher and even making bread in the bread maker. Yes – we have one again! We now need to make ALL of our bread these days due to a gluten sensitivity…more on that next…