Eating With My Hands

Last night, eating daal and bhat on the ground and with my hands, because really it’s better that way, I noticed the subtlety of God. His presence sometimes slips in without being noticed and sets around your shoulders like a shawl. I was lucky enough to catch it’s glimmer, to pause in that moment and notice. Moments, where you find you’re completely at ease without having to try, are hard to come by.

I think so much. Especially in contexts like these: unplanned events, people I don’t know very well, expectations looming. I picture my brain as pacing around in my skull, not ever landing on certainty but always dancing with possibility. I’ve fallen victim to a fickle soul too many times. How sweet are the moments when I’m alert enough to realize that though I would normally be, I’m not at all worried or anxious? There, in a kitchen in Boudha, I tapped into a sense of belonging that I wasn’t trying to earn.

I poked into the kitchen, shyly and with my arms crossed. I’m always afraid I’ll try too hard, to be seen and to be liked. It can be especially hard to tell when you’re unable to take part in the casual banter that takes place. That’s ok … I was never good at banter or chit chat in my own language, let alone one I’ve barely begun learning. I offered my help, like a good American. And like a good Nepali, she looked at me at giggled — I assumed that meant no. But it smelled perfect, the concoction of ginger and garlic she was pressing into the mortar and pestle. “Seasoning for the chicken,” she responded to my inquiring stare. We were having chicken and saag and, of course, as no Nepali meal would be complete without it, daal and bhat (or as we Americans like to call it, lentils and rice). A little red stool invited me to take a seat and I listened to the chatter, picking out a few words here and there, resisting the urge to chime in. Because I knew it would be less so I could participate and more so I could feel I had something to say. But I really didn’t, so I settled into the contentment of listening — smiling when they smiled, laughing when they laughed.

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While the lentils softened in their pot, and the conversation dimmed, I wandered into the other room and sat on the floor. I fanned out the pages of familiar chords and lyrics above my crossed knees. Unsure of what to do, and ignoring the yearning noises the smell from the kitchen was inspiring in my stomach, I closed my eyes and started to sing. I’d sung these songs a million times, at church back home, on a stage with lights, following the direction of the band leader. Here, in such a new context, cross-legged on the ground, in a room instead of a building, daal bhat cooking in the room next door, the song was the same. I went there that night to prepare worship for the next morning. I had no idea what to do. I was only a vocalist, not a musician. “Who cares,” a powerful and quiet voice reminded me all evening, “I’m the one you’re singing to.” And here, thousands and thousands of miles away from home, He is still the one I sing to. One friend came and sat down next to me. She picked up a guitar and hummed a harmony along with my melody. Two people, worlds away and yet so near, singing to the sweet Savior of all.

We took to the kitchen, the three new friends and I. A little more at ease and a little less awkward, I tested my Nepali and made simple conversation. More giggles. When they offered me a spoon with my plate of food I declined, to their surprise. “It’s just better with your hands,” we all agreed. So we sat and kind of talked and mostly giggled. Offering to eat with my hands, taking away that difference, was like breaking down a barrier between us. They were even more thrilled when I asked for a pepper, I wanted spicier. With my right hand, I formed small handfuls of perfect ratios of lentils, rice, and chicken. And with my left, I held a pepper to nibble between bites (call me American one more time, I dare you). Suddenly I found myself sitting, eating, and laughing without worry of what I had to say or do to belong. I just did. 

For months I’d been asking God for this, to feel exactly this way. Our community from home was rich and full, warm and normal. I wanted that here, in this new place. I never intended it to happen that night, I didn’t even mean to be there. It was only by chance and odd circumstances that I ended up in this room with these women. To my sweet surprise, I found myself in the midst of an answer to a very earnestly prayed prayer. Comfort settled about the room and right into my weary, longing bones. We need this, these moments where ease and belonging materialize without force, where we rest limp and heavy expecting nothing and utterly at ease.