As the month of March begins to turn to St. Patrick’s Day, I find myself thinking back to my early days as a budding vegetarian in high school. I got one of those vegetarian magazines and decided to fix my family a special St. Patrick’s Day meal. I would make colcannon. Yes, colcannon! It would be spectacular! They would never forget how fabulous it tasted!
I’ve now been cooking long enough that I would have skipped right over that recipe, a dish made primarily of mashed potatoes and cabbage.
But no, back then, I made Irish soda bread and colcannon and served the family dinner with a flourish. Oh, my poor, long-suffering, generous family! What meals they endured as I experimented with vegetarian cooking. Looking back, I realize I was lucky to have such parents, who didn’t complain too much about my cooking. My working mom was grateful to have anyone else cook. My dad, a long-distance runner both then and now, was interested in health.
We ate all the Irish soda bread that night, and each one of us finished our portion of colcannon. It wasn’t that bad — it just didn’t taste like what I was expecting.
I see that experience as a metaphor for so much of life. Let’s think about colcannon as a metaphor for the spiritual life.
Many of us navigated toward a spiritual life with certain expectations. Maybe we remembered the churches of our childhoods: packed sanctuaries on Sundays and bountiful potluck dinners and vibrant youth groups. Or maybe we hoped to find inspiration to lead us to our better selves. Perhaps we wanted to learn to pray better or to be less judgmental. Maybe we yearned for grand choirs with brass ensembles that come in for special occasions.
In the meantime, we’ve had to learn to live with what we actually have on our plates for dinner. We don’t attend the churches that our grandparents had. We may sit in pews that are mostly empty. We may wonder where all the youth went. Maybe we have a decent choir, but we wish we had a good Sunday school for adults. Or maybe no aspect of the church is as glorious as we wanted it to be.
We may have hoped for spiritual transformation, only to find ourselves still wrestling with how to be the best humans we can be. We go to church — so why are we still so irritated with the difficult people in our lives? We may wonder if we’ve been sold a bill of goods, much like I wondered whether that vegetarian magazine was going to lead me astray with every recipe.
Yet our current colcannon spiritual lives are perfectly satisfying, perfectly nourishing, if we could only bring ourselves to feel happy about them. We may not be able to find anyone who wants to start a homeless shelter, but we have fun working on vacation Bible school each year. We may not be able to find the extra time each week to attend a group, like Women of the ELCA or a Bible study, at the church the way our parents did, but we find ourselves making deep connections during coffee hour.
And though we still find ourselves not as spiritually evolved as we hoped we would be, maybe we think the hurtful things instead of saying them to the difficult people. Maybe we find that we’re better able to pray for the difficult people. Maybe we evolve enough to feel compassion for everyone, ourselves included.
So, wherever you are, enjoy the colcannon that’s on your plate, even if you wish you had shepherd’s pie or lamb chops. Some day you’ll likely have the lamb chops that you see others enjoying — but for now, treasure the taste of cabbage and potatoes. The lamb chops will taste that much better later for having had to wait. Or maybe you’ll decide that your colcannon of a spiritual life is what you yearned for long before you realized what you had.