In Place

February 16, 2019

Saturday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

There’s no kitchen like home. Before cooking in a new place, I worry about adjusting to an unfamiliar stove, whether the spice rack will have the things I normally take for granted, and how much of a mess I will make. From what I hear, I don’t think I would survive a professional kitchen. Particular not a classical one ruled by the tyranny of mise en place.

As far as I understand from those who know better, mise en place is the practice by which there is a place for everything and everything goes in its place. For devotees, it can become a cultish obsession—I met a culinary student once who wanted to get a tattoo with the phrase. I, on the other hand, can organize plans and schedules just fine but do poorly with physical space. Just look at my desk. If the surface looks tidy right now, come back in an hour. Or you could get the real story immediately by opening up any drawer. Yikes!

I set things down absentmindedly and am prepared to search when I need them again. But although mise en place is not for me, I understand how in a stressful and chaotic environment it could be a lifesaver. Knowing that you and your kitchen colleagues each return every last thing to its proper place immediately after use contributes to an environment of trust.

Like these chefs, I am convinced that none of us can truly function without trust. Those who do not enjoy trust spread mistrust, in part because they have little to lose. These people may survive, and they may even become wealthy, but that doesn’t necessarily signify functioning. Aren’t those who take advantage of others actually malfunctioning by definition? Do we not malfunction when we assume the worst about somebody or indulge in self-pity?

Trust determines the strength of any relationship and has the power to forge momentary but surprisingly significant connections, even between strangers. “Will you watch my bag for me?” “Sure.” To the extent that trust exists, we are able to show some of our true selves and also rely on one another.

Another aspect of the professional kitchen that I learned about secondhand is the culture of “Yes, Chef!” As I understand it, the expectation is that any direction given by the head chef is to be followed without hesitation or question—simply a response of “Yes, Chef!” to indicate that the order is being executed. Again, I can imagine this may be necessary to maintaining order in a stressful and chaotic environment. It can also act to build trust in its own way, as long as the chef always acts judiciously and the cooks always comply unfailingly. That’s a lot to ask for.

Rigid hierarchies may have a legitimate place, so long as they do not obscure the necessary role of an individual’s conscience: the right to command remains valid only as long as the commands are made rightly. If even top-down interactions require right relationship in order to function well though, is this not true to an even greater degree in our more typical exchanges with family, friends, and fellow earthlings?

The religious vow of obedience implies a good deal more mutuality than some might expect, and not just because it exists among brothers and among sisters. True, if a superior and I cannot agree about a particular decision, he has the right to the final say by virtue of the trust placed in him. However, this kind of extreme circumstance is less typical of the vow than is everyday trust, humility, and openness. Obedience is not meant to set one person above others, but rather to remind us all that we are each obligated to help one other in our attempts to know and do God’s will, regardless of where that might lead. Only by all parties letting go of our particular ego preferences are we truly able to listen for the whisper of God’s voice, perhaps coming from unexpected sources. When I remember to remove myself from the center of my universe, I might be able to find my true place for the moment. This is true regardless of where I am in the pecking order.

This month, Marists remember the Memorare in the Snow, an event that exemplifies the attitude of our founder, St. Marcellin Champagnat, toward God and toward Mary. He was happy with the mission entrusted to him, but he would only be able to succeed if Mary did her part as Our First Superior to safeguard him and his efforts. It turns out that even God Above All desires mutuality in relating to us. Otherwise, how would God care for us and why would Jesus come to us as brother? Fear of God could be elicited easily enough through natural disasters; God wants the relationship with us to be one of trust.

Being in the right place may not always be comfortable, but at least you’re in the right place. The same God who has us take up our cross, also encourages us to present our needs before him. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find.” As I have recently heard people say, the question is not so much what God wants from you, but rather what God wants for you. And then we need to ask whether we can want that for ourselves as well.


This week’s reflection offers a healthy serving of trust with a dash of humility. To my mind, the former is reflected in this week’s “ear candy”, while the need for the latter is the key to understanding our “brain food”. Enjoy!

Ear Candy: “I’ll Find You” by Lecrae, featuring Tori Kelly

Brain Food: “The Place Where We Are Right” by Yehuda Amichai

Come back next Saturday for a new post!