A CRAWFISH BOIL AND FAITH
From Eden to Heaven: Spiritual Formation for the Adventurous
By KELLY PIGOTT
This book has been a very long time in the making. I’ve been teaching spiritual formation for over a decade at Hardin-Simmons University, and I’ve led three pilgrimages to Ireland (a fourth is slated for this spring). Drawing upon the material I developed for these courses, I’ve crafted this book.
In it, I explore the Celtic idea of a “peregrinatio.” As with much of Celtic spirituality, the concept is best described by a story whereby a group of monks entered a coracle (a small boat) one day and cast out into the Irish Sea. The wind and the waves beat them back to the shore, so they decided to try again the next day; however, the same thing happened. On their next attempt, they decided to bring the oars in and allow the sea to take them wherever it willed. This time, the coracle drifted far from shore. Eventually, they landed on a beach, and allowed the Spirit to lead them inward, where they eventually happened upon a king who asked them what they were doing. They responded, “We wanted for the love of God to be on pilgrimage, we cared not where.”
The word “peregrinatio” gets attached to this more daring and spontaneous idea of a faith journey “wanted for the love of God.” So I’ve based the book on it, borrowing from Joseph Campbell’s outline of a hero’s quest. Specifically, I take the reader to various places that lead them through the stages of faith which include departure, initiation, transubstantiation, struggle, victory, and return.
It’s an inward journey, so to help the reader I’ve provided journal prompts located on my website www.spilledcoffeeonancientscrolls.com. They are designed to complement the chapters, providing a unique experience for each reader.
Here’s an excerpt:
Imagine walking into a backyard with tables set up in a row, lined with old copies of the Daily Advertiser. In the yard is a type of Bunsen burner on steroids connected to a white, banged-up propane tank. The blue flame sounds like a mini jet plane engine. On top of the burner is something that looks like a metal trash can, and the water in it is rolling wildly and bellowing steam. Bags of spices, onions, lemon halves, corn-on-the-cob, and red potatoes bob on the surface. Black eyeballs attached to red beaks peek between the vegetables every now and then, staring at you with a distant gaze before sinking beneath the gray brine. Now imagine your favorite pair of tennis shoes that you refuse to throw away because they are so comfortable, even though they are falling apart. Imagine also that you have been standing ankle deep in muddy fish heads with those shoes for years, and now you’ve decided to stuff them with cayenne pepper and boil them. That’s what a crawfish boil smells like.
If this hasn’t ruined your appetite yet, now picture a large potato bag, a little smaller than yourself, filled with hundreds of gray crawfish still alive, pinching their claws, moving in slow motion, gasping for water and secreting God knows what. Fifteen minutes later, those same creatures are bright red and steaming in a pile in the middle of the table. You are then handed a bib and a bowl of melted butter and told to dig in. I must confess that my virgin experience with crawfish was not pleasant. I may have had the guts to nibble on a potato or an ear of corn, but that was it. The image of beady eyes giving me menacing looks before dipping to their deaths ruined what little appetite I had.
In much the same way as I’m sure it was with Proto-Cajun, in South Louisiana you either learn to like crawfish or you starve. Or, at least, you go hungry until your parents take you home, which could be past midnight. Gradually, after a hundred or so crawfish boils, I got the nerve to tear off the tail, peel it, and pop it in my mouth.
Mmmm. Sweet, buttery, with a little bite from the cayenne to make your lips tingle. Aaaaiieeeee. Laissez les bons temps rouler! I am now a Cajun. And I even understand what they mean when they point to a cooked crawfish in a steaming pile and say with all seriousness, “Don’t eat that one; it’s dead.”
The crawfish boil is only the beginning, though. After everyone is finished eating, you are required to sit at the table and talk, get a little tipsy on cheap wine, and peel the rest of the crawfish. You then stagger home with a bowl of leftovers that in the coming days will become crawfish étouffée or perhaps seafood gumbo. Since the latter has to fill a pot, you must add to it anything left in your refrigerator that used to be alive, swimming or crawling in the water. In addition, you toss in the holy trinity—bell pepper, onion, and celery—along with roux, a wonderful, smoky soup base made from browning flour in butter. Top it off with a generous supply of garlic, various spices, and white wine, and you have gumbo.
Right now, you could go down to the local store and buy a can of “gumbo” made by a major company. I’ve actually tasted it, and though I’ve never been to culinary school, I can authoritatively say to you that it’s not gumbo. You can even go to one of the many Cajun restaurants popping up everywhere and order gumbo, and though it’s better than the canned version, it’s still not gumbo. You can’t package gumbo, nor can you mass-produce it. If you really want to experience good gumbo, you must make it yourself. To do so, you begin with your grandmother’s recipe (or one out of a cookbook if your parents weren’t Cajun), and then you make it your own by adding flavors and ingredients that suit your tastes. It takes a lot of trial and error, but eventually, if you don’t give up, everything comes together, and you take a sip of something that makes your feet scoot across the floor in a Cajun two-step.
Faith is like gumbo; for it to be authentic, at some point you have to make it your own.
The book is currently available on Amazon.
Kelly Pigott, Ph.D., is professor of church history in the Logsdon School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons University.