I made a lasagna for a stranger in Minneapolis last week. Well, I made two. But the second stranger never got back to me to arrange drop off, so we had her lasagna for dinner.
It was part of a program called Lasagna Love, which matches people “in need” of a hot meal with volunteers willing to make and deliver a pan of lasagna. As far as I can tell, there are no eligibility requirements – recipients just need to ask for it. They can share their story with the “lasagna chef” if they want to, but there’s no requirement.
I’d been looking for physical, tangible ways to give back and nourish alongside the more cerebral pro bono consulting I do at my computer. Like my mom, I really love feeding people, and, spoiler alert, I’m glad I did it.
Glad for two reasons. One, I think the woman I fed appreciated the lasagna. Two, it gave me a chance to reflect on how I can give more freely. Without judgment or expectation. Someone asks, and I do my best to fulfill.
When the second recipient didn’t respond to my outreach to schedule drop off (a text, 24 hours later a call, 24 hours later one more text), I felt annoyed. In truth, I have no idea how long ago she made the request, if she lost her phone, if someone else filled out the form for her and she had no context for my outreach.
I looked at a lot of lasagna recipes – some used two pounds of meat and four cups of cheese- others used more sauce and less protein. Cottage cheese or ricotta? How much do I need to spend on a lasagna for a stranger? I mean, I didn’t want to be stingy, but I didn’t want to go overboard. I ended up with 1.5 pounds of meat and 2 cups of mozzarella. Next time, definitely a little less meat, more sauce and way more cheese. I know this because we ate the second one, and I can make a decision based on what I’d want to feed my family, instead of trying to give as little as possible. Not incidentally: My mom was a pro at feeding seven people with a pound of meat. Less-meat lasagna IS love!
It felt strange not to know more about why the recipients needed the meal. It was a good reminder that gifts need to be freely given. That I don’t get to judge the reason people need help or have their suffering articulated thoughtfully.
Maybe I feel the pressure, that when I ask for help I have to be able to justify my need or make it compelling. But I don’t. I can show up and help when I’m able, and ask for help when I need it.
This reading from Father Clay helps me stay grounded in giving and tending in a loving way. I especially like this bit, which reminds me not to be paternalistic: “If we can see people as people in need, this will soften our hearts and draw us into deeper and broader love. Also we must remember that our help needs to be loving, wise, and not paternalistic. We are all fundamentally equal. We are all in the same human boat.”
I so love this season of giving. And I love Father Clay’s framing of people in need and what it means to give:
“Those in need” includes all of us.
Who and what is God? What I write is the way that I imagine God. But it flows from our scripture that tells us, “God is love.” Unfortunately, there are parts of the Bible that are far removed from “God is love.”
Since to be God is to be Love, all the choices that Love makes have to be loving. When we act lovingly, we are choosing what we believe is truly in the best interest of the one we love. We are limited in our love and wisdom, so what we do is not always in the best interest of the other person. Since God is infinite Love and Wisdom, God’s choices will always be in our best interest.
Love (God) is always drawing us toward the goal of being loving, happy people wo are harmoniously related to each other and all of creation. We Christians believe that God is doing this through entering into humanity in Jesus and dwelling in us by the Holy Spirit.
When our eros is directed toward God, it means that we are willing to be drawn into becoming God-like (Love-like). Then we are becoming what we are meant to be.
What does it mean for our eros to be directed to the poor? Instead of “the poor,” I would rather use “those in need.” I like that better because “poor” can often mean those who are economically poor. I don’t intend, however, to lessen our concern for those who don’t have sufficient food, who lack decent medical care and a decent place to live.
I think that “those in need’ includes all of us. That means me too. It can mean those caught in addiction, those caught in the pursuit of wealth, power, fame and status, those caught in sin, those caught in medical problems (physical, mental, or emotional), those caught in isolation and loneliness, those caught in feeling superior to other people, those caught in feeling inferior to other people, those on the margins.
If we can see people as people in need, this will soften our hearts and draw us into deeper and broader love. Also we must remember that our help needs to be loving, wise, and not paternalistic. We are all fundamentally equal. We are all in the same human boat.
I see that directing our eros toward God and toward those in need is all one and the same. I think this is what Jesus meant when he told us to love God with everything within us and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
From “The Fire of Spirit and Eros” in Awesome Love by Father John Clay, (c) 2013