Taking Cobbler from Family: grace and the everyday gift economy pt. II

A second reflection on grace and gifts: Here is the first: Taking Candy from Strangers.

Me, baking delicious peach cobbler.
Me, baking delicious peach cobbler. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Aunt Pauline’s peach cobbler, and mysterious. She is one of those magical cooks who does not work from a recipe. She has mastered the art form, knows how to do what she does and does it effortlessly. Several of us in he family, including me, have tried diligently to reproduce the magic without any notable success. For years for my birthday it is the one thing I have asked from her. Not only does she not mind, it honors her. Its like “our thing.”

In fact a lot of people in our family have a, “thing,” with Aunt Pauline. For example, my brother claims her chocolate pie has healing powers. She also knows each family member’s favorite thing and it is ready at hand at the appropriate occasion without having to ask for it.

These kinds of gifts we call priceless. Now that is an idea worth unpacking. Imagine the awkwardness, and insult, if when we unveiled the cobbler after dinner I whipped out the checkbook and asked her how much I owed her. Ick. I don’t even like thinking about it. Or worse, can you imagine the tragedy of saying, “no thanks,” or even the futility of our trying to reproduce it instead of her and bringing it. The one and only way to respond is to say thank you.  This kind of magic can only be received with gratitude.

The funny thing about gratitude, when we let it take hold in us it arouses us.  It makes me want to find my genius, my bliss, my gift.  Gratitude develops in me and I begin to wonder if there is some kind of “peach cobbler,” of which I am capable. I want to give the world my own personal cobbler.   It is such an attractive notion to think I might one day offer something that people would desire without any pretense of buying, reproducing, or refusing it. Imagine offering something that makes people want to find their inner peach cobbler.

This lesson from grace extends beyond the dinner table.   There is so much we refuse because our imaginations are so incredibly limited by our daily economic exchanges.   In my daily life I relate to people like I do commodities. I offer you X and I expect something of X value in return. We treat relationships like bank accounts, making deposits and withdrawals, fearful of the dreaded overdraft.

I believe the beginning of our unique genius, of holiness, is to give thanks, and to welcome the gifts of others.    I believe at the very core of a mature spiritual life is to truly contemplate the relentless love of God, to see God’s incessant tenderness to us even in the midst of our untamed hungers and violence.   One might even say that God demonstrates love for us in this: while we were yet consumers, God made us peach cobbler. (Romans 5:8)

The words grace and gratitude come from the same root. As we move through this season of reflection perhaps one of the best things we can do is actually give thanks. Give it. I hope we don’t stop at naming whats good in our lives out loud but that we actively thank those who have been gifts to us so that they know they are instruments of grace. Let each other know that there love calls us to be our best selves. Dear Aunt Pauline, your unconditional cobbler makes me want to live a holy life. Thank you.


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One Comment

  • Jean McGraw

    Doug, thank you for sharing this. It is a beautiful tribute to your aunt and to the power of grace and gratitude. I want to let you know that that I am grateful for having you in my life. You inspired me and gave me the courage and confidence in myself to move forward, even at my age, and to follow what I believe was God’s plan for my life. I will be forever grateful. Thanks to your encouragement and my tenaciousness, I will be ordained to the priesthood on December 21st in Lexington, KY. Know that on that day I will remember and give thanks for having you in my life. Jean