05 May 2009

The Oblation of Onions

I've got my computer back up and running for the most part. Still some software yet to reinstall and some settings that aren't quite the way I had them before the crash. But at least it looks like I'll be able to go ahead with SoFoBoMo. I've been getting warmed up with some more food photos lately.

Onions are pretty amazing, you know. I've recently finished reading Robert Farrar Capon's The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection, which is a wonderful combination of cookbook and theological essay. In Chapter 2, "The First Session," he guides the reader through a truly spiritual encounter with an onion. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. I'd been exposed to the onion exercise in a class at Regent once before (The Christian Imagination, taught by -- surprise, surprise -- Loren Wilkinsons). But it was fun to savor the chapter from which the onion experience came.

Some choice excerpts: "Once you are seated, the first order of business is to address yourself to the onion at hand....You will note, to begin with, that the onion is a thing, a being, just as you are. Savor that for a moment." Later: "But look what your onion has done for you: It has given you back the possibility of heaven as a place without encumbering you with the irrelevancy of location."

Still farther on, one of the best sections, worth quoting at length:

"Note once again what you have discovered: an onion is not a sphere in repose. It is a linear thing, a bloom of vectors thrusting upward from base to tip. Stand your onion, therefore, root end down upon the board and see it as the paradigm of life that it is--as one member of the vast living, gravity-defying troop that, across the face of the earth, moves light- and airward as long as the world lasts.

"Only now have you the perspective needed to enter the onion itself. Begin with the outermost layer of paper, or onion-skin. Be careful. In the ordinary processes of cooking, the outer skin of a sound onion is removed by peeling away the immediately underlying layers of flesh with it. It is a legitimate short cut; the working cook cannot afford the time it takes to loosen only the paper. Here, however, it is not time that matters, but the onion. Work gently then, lifting the skin with the point of your knife so as not to cut or puncture the flesh beneath."

Later on: "Perhaps now you have seen at least dimly that the uniquenesses of creation are the result of continuous creative support, of effective regard by no mean lover. He likes onions, therefore they are. The fit, the colors, the smell, the tensions, the tastes, the textures, the lines, the shapes are a response, not to some forgotten decree that there may as well be onions as turnips, but to His present delight--His intimate and immediate joy in all you have seen....With Peter, the onion says, Lord, it is good for us to be here. Yes, says God. Tov. Very good."

Later he touches on his idea which he elsewhere calls oblation: "Man's real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God's image for nothing. The fruits of his attention can be seen in all the arts, crafts, and sciences....But if man's attention is repaid so handsomely, his inattention costs him dearly. Every time he diagrams something instead of looking at it, every time he regards not what a thing is but what it can be made to mean to him...[r]eality slips away from him; and he is left with nothing but the oldest monstrosity in the world: an idol. Things must be met for themselves. To take them only for their meaning is to convert them into gods--to make them too important, and therefore to make them unimportant altogether. Idolatry has two faults. It is not only a slur on the true God; it is also an insult to true things."

I think a photographer's calling is very connected with this idea of attentiveness to things, of oblation (offering them up to God and to others by really seeing them and loving them).

Ron Reed, in his blog Oblations, quotes the core exposition of this idea of oblation from Capon's chapter "The Oblation of Things" in his book An Offering of Uncles. My church, Point Grey Inter-Mennonite Fellowship, is going to have Ron as a guest speaker on Sunday, Sept 6, to give a version of his talk "Oblation: The Artist's Holy Calling." Lucky us!

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