One of my many charms is a predilection for preaching a completely different sermon to myself while listening to someone else preach. Today was one of those occasions. In a move which could only be described as provocative (or maybe blood-thirsty), the Revised Common Lectionary assigned the fantastic story of Salome's dancing for her step-father and her asking for the head of John the Baptist on a platter as a reward. It's awful and awe-ful and unfair, as the preacher rightly pointed out. Where is the good news here? She began speaking about how unfair all of our lives are, but my mind turned in a different direction altogether.
Last night, Loving Husband and I watched Ratatouille and, while the movie was pretty darned great, one moment struck me. [I should note that there will be a SPOILER in this post. Won't ruin the movie for you, but proceed at your own risk. Or just go watch the movie right now and we'll wait for you.]
So near the end of the film, the restaurant critic is waiting ominously in the dining room while chaos and artistry vie for supremacy in the kitchen. We know the critic to be a dour, excessively disapproving sort--one who delights in writing negative reviews. And we know that the fate of the restaurant and of our two heroes--their identities, really--hang on the critic's experience of the food. Because we're all smart people here, I don't mind saying it's a foregone conclusion that the critic will come around, but how? With such build-up, it seems impossible for anything to change his mind, much less for the animators to be good enough to capture it. And yet they do so with one of the most graceful and most beautiful of moments I've seen on film.
The chef prepares a "peasant dish" of ratatouille, a simple vegetable stew, unremarkable to anyone. Of course he puts his own spin on it--what can it be? There's no way for us to know except through the critic's experience. Because when the plate--elegantly stacked as all haute cuisine is these days--arrives on his table and he takes his first sneering bite, he pauses. He pauses mid-chew and is, with us, catapulted into a childhood memory of having wrecked his bicycle, needing his mother to comfort him, and her serving him a dish of comforting ratatouille. And just as suddenly, we're catapulted back into that restaurant where the critic's face is shining with joy. It is a revelation, both to him and to us. No words could do the moment justice, no argument could convince the critic of the food's worth, but the memory does.
I've had that kind of moment. Loving Husband and I went to dinner at Hollyhock Hill in Indianapolis. When they brought out the sixth pre-dinner dish of food, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. But it was when I noticed that there were both cottage cheese and apple butter on the table that I swooned. I used to mix the two when I was small and called it "Witches' Brew." I spooned equal amounts into my salad bowl and stirred them with anticipation mounting. With the first bite there came a moment like the critic's when my taste buds remembered the smell of grass and the grain of the paneling in my neighbor's house. It was a taste that I had forgotten and which revealed to me my youth.
And that, my friends, is what the book of Revelation is about. I'm not certain about all the seals and the 144,000, but that moment of seeing clearly, of physically remembering something forgotten but pivotal and even simple, that is what John of Patmos' Revelation is about.