Slow cooking

One of the joys of making my retreat at Llannerchwen is that I'm self-catering. For a week I can cook and eat at my own rhythm, preparing my favourite treats and comfort food, usually my favourite Italian dishes which I grew up eating. I will cook risotto rosso at least two or three times, making it, as my mother did, with roughly crushed chunks of garlic and fresh herbs. As a child I used to stand on a chair stirring the pan of rice, learning how to guage when to add the next ladleful of stock. Now, I find something truly comforting about cooking with such a familiar process; something that comes so naturally to me that my brain can disengage while my hands and senses take over.

Making risotto is a slow process; it is not for the impatient or the easily distracted. The rice takes its time, and cannot be hurried; it also requires the cook's attention and commitment. You can turn your back on it for a few moments, to whisk something into the fridge, but more than that and the rice starts sticking to the pan. As with all things, you learn all this through experience! You also learn not to panic at the beginning, when the amount of rice in the pan seems so small, almost drowned by that first infusion of stock. As the rice cooks it gradually expands, absorbing the liquid, expanding some more, softening, growing, softening some more... but never losing its "bite". It absorbs liquid but does not liquify; it is still very recognisably rice, but now deliciously edible.

And really, it occurred to me last week that growth in the spiritual life is pretty much like all this: God generally takes his time and cannot be hurried, while we need to be attentive and not wander off chasing distractions. But if we stick with the process, we find ourselves growing and softening, as we absorb more and more of God within us. We remain recognisably ourselves, just lovelier, gentler versions, now filled with God. And we learn all this - and not to panic! - through experience.

Such are the strange thoughts which can come to me whilst contentedly cooking on retreat...