A phrase of Saint Theresa of Avila is often being quoted as a common saying: “God walks even among the pots and pans.”
This saying is usually interpreted like God does not despise even the simplest and least appreciated jobs; on the contrary, He is even there to help one.
Obviously neither cooks nor cheese makers and manufacturers of other dairy products let slip this heavenly sent promotion, and thus this saying has also become a favorite motto of cook books, an apotheosis of the kitchen. This is how it is also used for example by the Spanish-Italian gastrojournalist María Cepeda, a direct niece of Saint Theresa – Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada – who in her childhood, when she did not want to eat the lunch, was admonished by her parents: “be obedient like aunt Theresa”.
In Hungary this saying has become popular mostly after the charming and widely used cook book of Alaine Polcz (1922-2007), the great lady of post-war Hungarian psychology and literature:
Saint Theresa of Avila, this wonderful woman whose memoirs and introductions into mysticism (The Foundations, Interior Castle) are among the first peaks of Spanish literature and who was always encircled by miracles, once said: “Between the pans and pots there walks the Lord.” And this is really so, you will see it.
But how did Theresa herself mean this?
We are just working with Wang Wei and Kata on the new Hungarian translation of the Obras of Theresa. It will be published by volumes, the first one, Theresa’s most important work, the Interior Castle by this Christmas. It is no easy job. Theresa writes as informally as an interview subject speaks – thus the sociologist’s experiences of Kata help a lot in the interpretation –, and if something occurs to her in the middle of what she’s saying she starts a new phrase without finishing the previous one. And chiefly, she never read back what she had written. “You cannot even compare it to the translation of such simple things like Finnegan’s Wake”, Wang Wei says.
The passage that is the source of the above saying is in Chapter 5.8. of The Book of Foundations. In the previous phrase Theresa says that the seeker of God who has already found the joy of contemplation would prefer to be with God without interruption, but if her obligations call her to fulfill her everyday duties then God will be for her not in the contemplation but in these duties:
Pues, ¡ea!, hijas mías, no haya desconsuelo; cuando la obediencia os trajere empleadas en cosas esteriores, entended que, si es en la cocina, entre los pucheros anda el Señor, ayudándoos en lo interior y esterior.
So come on, my daughters, do not despair. If obedience demands of you to be employed in external things, then understand that if these are in the kitchen then the Lord walks among the pots and He helps you there both externally and internally.
Thus the saying in its own context means something different from what it means when taken out of it. Theresa simply says that if your duties call you to the kitchen then God is there for you. And if they call you elsewhere then God is also elsewhere. This is not a praise of humble works or of the pleasures of the kitchen, but an appeal to the sober and precise determination of your tasks and to their resolute execution.
Independently of this, Theresa also pursued cooking in a masterly manner, just like everything else she set about. On great feasts she herself cooked for her friends and guests, and she emphasized that whoever is at the kitchen she must cook just as if she cooked for Christ himself. And when – this was obvious for both of them – she met for the very last time her master Saint Peter of Alcantara, she cooked a dinner of five delicious courses for him. All the monastery was watching what would Peter, the famous faster do. And Peter ate all the courses without a word.
Theresa – who loved not only to cook but also to eat – gave her name to a dessert as well which has been ever since prepared and sold by the Carmelite monasteries of Avila and Toledo.
Yemas de Santa Teresa – Yolks of Saint Theresa
- 8 egg yolks
- 150 g of sugar
- 1 deciliter of water
- icing sugar
- 12-14 paper capsules
1. Prepare a syrup by putting water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed steel pan on fire. When the syrup is quite sticky, remove it from heat.
2. Meanwhile, in a pan separate the yolks from the whites.Beat yolks slightly and add the syrup slowly. Place the saucepan over very low heat, cook it slowly, stirring with a wooden spoon until it begins to thicken.3. Put the dressing over a cold and even surface. Extend it slightly and let it cool. Sprinkle it with plenty of icing sugar. Then take of it portions of a walnut and form balls, then sprinkle icing sugar on them again. Serve it in paper capsules.