Since I preached about “flavors of faith” a few weeks ago, folks have been coming up and sharing with me their musings on what their particular flavor might be. Someone recently suggested cilantro because, “as much as it can enhance a dish, proper timing, fine cookware, and a knowledgeable chef are crucial in order for it to make a difference.” So true! Cilantro is one of those tricky herbs that can be overpowering when fresh but lose its flavor quickly when cooked. Some people love the taste, while others carry a specific receptor on their tongue that gives it the flavor of dish soap. For these folks, no amount of expertise by the chef or flavor desensitization can make it palatable.
When I was in high school in Corpus Christi, Texas, a few volunteer seedlings of cilantro sprouted in our backyard and began to grow like wildfire. For months, my mother had a veritable meadow of cilantro growing in a bed by our back deck. It was probably only 10 or 12 square feet, but that’s still a lot of cilantro. In south Texas with our love of Tex-Mex cuisine, this was quite the flavor boon. We had fresh cilantro by the handful for our pico de gallo, our tortilla soup, our tacos, and our chili. Eventually, my mother began to branch out, flavoring chicken, pork, and vegetable soup with it’s fresh tang. For the most part, we loved it, but I remember one evening when she served us a chicken, rice, and pea dish that she typically made with yellow curry. But this time, she’d seasoned it with cilantro. I had to say, “stop Mom. Please. It’s too much. I love it, but we need a break!”
Because I really do love the taste, I’ve tried to grow cilantro everywhere I’ve lived. This early experience made me think it was easy! My mom had a huge bed that continuously reseeded itself for months. (Maybe years? It felt like forever.) How hard could it be?
Spoiler alert: really hard. I have yet to successfully grow cilantro. I’ve tried in Los Angeles, Georgia, Ohio, and North Carolina. I’ve tried growing it in small pots and raised beds. I’ve tried growing from seeds, seedlings, and have even re-potted healthy cilantro plants only to have them wither and die within weeks. I’ll admit, I haven’t researched it or give any special thought on soil or exact sun/shade ratios, but I have at least tried to water it correctly and planted in good potting soil, in sunny spots with nice warm weather. I’ve given it a reasonable amount of care to no avail.
I asked my mom about it recently, lamenting how it was easy for her but impossible for me. She shared that she hasn’t really been able to grow cilantro since that time. Even in the same spot in her yard, it just doesn’t seem to take. It seems there was something about that particular place during that particular season that was just right.
John 3:8, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
I’ve always loved this description of the Holy Spirit, as a strong wind or a soft breeze, as uncontrollable as it is powerful, replete with terror and joy. It speaks a truth that resonates with our experience: sometimes, we catch the wind with a glorious sail and it carries us to place we could never imagine with very little effort. Sometimes, we are stuck in the doldrums, toiling away to harness even the slightest luff. Or to take up the seed metaphor again: sometimes a volunteer seedling bursts with blooms, while rose bushes which have always thrived under our careful attention wither and die.
The same can be true of our faith. Particular times, places, people, situations might be transformed by the Spirit, overflowing with glory and power. But when we try to recreate that experience, it falls flat. Careful tending and good spiritual nourishment like worship, prayer, study, and fellowship almost always produces growth. Except when the songs and prayers and scriptures which used to fill us to bursting leave us wanting.
Last week, Melinda McKinnon and Debbie Metcalf stopped by my office to do a “random act of kindness” and found me working away. They brought me a copy of Melinda’s recently published book of poetry, armature. Since that day I’ve been cherishing her words, raw with vulnerability and the holy hope of speaking truth.
Starburst Rising – Melinda Thomsen, from armature, 2021.
A dwarf plumbago,
a tiny starburst rising
from the sidewalk,
once stopped me
midstride on Broadway
A rush hour bloom,
a swimmer with hands
braced on a pool’s
edge ready to lift
its body from the water.
The ugly named
seemed an amulet
If only I could
crevices in vibrant
blue by the sheer
force of chlorophyll.
All I can say is this: don’t give up. If you’re feeling stuck or exhausted or if you’re wondering where God is hiding in the midst of your life, remember that the Spirit is always as near to you as your breath. You draw its holy power into your body, even when you aren’t aware of it. The Spirit is at work within your soul. Trust that it will soon find a place to take root.