soul food, tins, tin collection, food, menu, meal, time with Jesus, beauty, reading, nature, friends, conversation

Soul Food

So much of my life revolves around food. Purchasing, preparing, eating, and cleaning up food! Even as I start to write this post, my mind wanders to the kitchen and the squash-apple soup I plan to make for lunch. I’m not a great cook or even super passionate about cooking, but I sure love to eat. My thoughts often beeline to the soul food I hunger for, too.

I’ve shared before how my tin collection tells the story of different aspects and stages of my life. The tins reveal moments and years of the adventures of living, if you trace them through the decades: When my friends and family traveled in Europe or Asia. When my husband got socks, socks, and more socks for Christmas. When I gave lots of cookies to beggars at my gate in Santiago. Blessings inherited from special old friends. Places we visited while on furlough.

And if the tins indicate anything, you’d guess I spend a ton of time (and money!) at the supermarket. Many of my tins arrived at home originally full of edibles: Carozzi and Talliani pasta, Tucumán rice, Quaker oatmeal, La Española olive oil, Danish cookies, McKay “biscuits,” Nestlé chocolate chips, spices and baking powder, cheese, candy, and popcorn. My big green Keebler cracker tin even moved south with my daughter recently.

“You are what you eat. So don’t be fast, cheap, easy, or fake.” –Unknown

And on and on. I haven’t even mentioned the drinkables—a topic for another post. So let’s talk about all that food today. What’s your favorite? Mine’s pizza. What? I make it with all the food groups. Maple walnut ice cream has nutrition, too.

What’s meal planning like at your house?

A year or so ago I hit on a loosely organized weekly menu that helps me quite a bit. We eat our main meal at midday as it’s better for both the digestion and the culture we live in.

Monday is ethnic food, usually Asian or Mexican. On Tuesday we highlight family favorites, a wide variety. Wednesday we do something Chilean style. (That’ll be fish, if it’s Coquimbano.) Thursday’s Italian anything, and Friday lunch is soup because it’s pizza night.

“Italians do not regard food as merely fuel. They regard it as medicine for the soul, one of life’s abiding pleasures.” –Barbara Grizzuti Harrison

And Saturday is leftovers—er, smorgasbord. Sunday we pull out the crock pot and let it cook the roast or chicken while we’re at church. (Which may become stew or stir fry on Tuesday.) The advantage of the system is that I always have some ideas without getting stuck in a rut.

Despite the daily challenge, we never seem to tire of feeding our bodies. Eating well is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But what feeds my soul?

“Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.” –Dorothy Day

Some years ago, while going through Kay Arthur’s kids’ study on the Gospel of John, our family learned some details about a sheep’s life in chapter 10. Did you know that sheep can’t rest unless they’re provided with good food? I had to laugh when I learned this fact, because it came as absolutely no surprise! Back in our Chiloé days, the neighbor’s restless flock often labored in desperation to reach the rich green grass in our yard. I chased them constantly out of our garden (grrr…) with a broom.

I know that, as one of God’s more restless sheep, I can’t settle let alone survive without plenty of soul food. Just as we all have different tastes in food, what nourishes our individual souls differs too, I’m sure.

For me, the menu looks like this:

1. Reading and Studying

Yeah, I know, maybe I’m weird. For some people that would mean a huge physical, intellectual, and even emotional drain. But for us introverts, secluded “down” time energizes and revitalizes.

It’s far more than just vegetating, too. I spend these precious minutes on books. Reading for information and entertainment. Writing out my thoughts or stories. I long to be always learning new things. They say the brain never stops growing.  And for that, my mind and heart need the soul food of wholesome mental input.

“The cultivation of the mind is a kind of food supplied for the soul of man.” –Cicero

Do you like to be alone? I love my friends and family. I relish my social life, really. But sometimes I just want to go home, close the door, and take a few deep breaths. I need my quiet time.

2. Conversing with Friends

Though this may seem to contradict the above, let me clarify: I mean good conversation with thoughtful friends. Not just anyone and not just any fluffy chit-chat. Small talk bores me. Did I just admit that out loud?

“Some people drain you and others provide soul food. Get in the company of those who feed your spirit.” —Unknown

Oh, spare me the tedium of conversations that never delve deeper than the surface. Of course, not every personal exchange has to reach theological heights or philosophical depths or solve the problems of the world. Light-hearted laughter and fun also provide spice to life. I can be a party girl too.

But soul-nourishing conversation needs to stir our thoughts with more than the latest gossip. When I make the effort to go into a social situation with a positive attitude and seek to connect with those around me, I usually end up encouraged—and filled.  

3. Making the World Beautiful

In a sense, this is another side of the connection coin. As we receive soul food from others, we give back to them. We can’t keep stuffing without sharing the feast. In both the physical and spiritual realms, if I don’t use what I take in, (by exercising or passing it on), I just get plump. (And you know what happened to the fatted calf—or sheep!)

So I think of beauty as a banquet for myself and for others. I try to stay alert and tune my senses to the harmony, symmetry, order, and balance in my surroundings. That’s not intended to sound New Age-y. My home should relay peace, reflect who I am, and nurture me at the same time. I find soul food in art, color, music, fragrance, building and craft projects.

“Don’t be eye candy. Be soul food.” –Unknown

Some days I feel I can’t stand another moment of looking out my windows at stones and cement walls and gray skies. That’s when I need to get busy in the garden. Even tending a yard offers beauty to my neighbors. And part of making things beautiful is making them clean and tidy. At least, that’s what I tell myself that when I don’t feel like scrubbing the tub.

4. Enjoying Nature

While I’m weeding and watering in the garden, I’ll take time to admire the blossoming bougainvillea. This soul food goes alongside the idea of beauty, but this time it has nothing to do with human talents and achievements. Instead, it’s all about celebrating God’s creation, not my creations.

Being outside in nature, especially near the ocean, relaxes me. It draws me from the four walls of my house, out of myself and my own head. I open my eyes and see the spectacle of this world: the stunning, starry heavens of our arid valley, the pounding surf, the palms and the añañucas, desert flowers springing up after a rare rain. Sunset over the Pacific. The pair of hummingbirds that flit to my deck to feed. Even the blustering wind and swirling fog provide health in their way.

“Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are sunshine, food, and medicine for the soul.” –Luther Burbank

And the glorious vitamin-packed sunshine, on the days it bursts early through the morning mist. I worship the Sun-Maker and revel in His universe. This is snack-and-play! What’s a source of joy and awe to you? I prefer wandering on the beach to mountain climbing, but that’s me. God has poured out marvels enough for everyone’s taste.

Take a walk, a hike, a drive. Travel and be amazed at His hand-wrought wonders. All food for the soul.

5. Spending Quality Time with Jesus

Should I term this last “menu” item the base or the summit of my soul food pyramid? Wherever and whenever it comes, at the end of the day, an interlude of restful communion with my Jesus is the most meaningful. Whether brief or extended, it sustains and strengthens me, gives me courage and vitality for whatever I will face.

“Burning hearts are not nourished by empty heads.” –R. C. Sproul

Today I leaped out of bed with an immediate desire for coffee. I rarely, ahem, race to get to my devotional time, though. It’s kind of like my approach to oatmeal—I discipline myself to eat it regularly because I’m convinced it’s good for me. Like bread and rice for Chileans, it’s essential nourishment. It satisfies, it fills me up. Just doesn’t tickle my taste buds like, say, chocolate.

Thank God for soul food. And I add to my prayers a yearning for my special time with Him to become the highlight of my day. For this meal to taste more like bacon and eggs. Because yes, I know I need it more than anything else. But more, I long for the heavenly honey, manna that’s sweet and strong at once.

What things (events, activities, books, etc.) feed your soul? Care to share what refreshes and rejuvenates you? Maybe it would give me a boost too.

Now I think I’ll go check if anything’s left in that tin of cappuccino mix. Though I’m pretty sure the Dunkin’ Donuts tub emptied long ago.


  1. Donuts!!! Such yummy empty calories. Thoroughly enjoyed these ruminations. And related. Thank you.

  2. I keep my secret ginger cookie stash in the McKay “Afternoon Tea Biscuits” tin. Don’t tell my husband!

  3. As I read your blog, I reflected back to those coffee visits with friends that felt so good and were so absolutely soul food. We chatted and got caught up about our families, our work and progressed to talking about what we were learning about God from our Sunday morning sermons to our personal time with Him and what struggles/victories we had been through. Those were the conversations that so refreshed my soul and my friend’s. We always felt/commented afterwards…I so needed that!

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