LIVING AS APPRENTICES
Have you ever heard of mise en place (pronounced me-zahn-plahs)? Mise en place is a French term that literally translates to “set in place.” In the culinary world it means having everything ready to cook and in its place before the service of a meal. I have heard that term trill off the tongue of so many chefs on the Food Network that when I heard a story about it on NPR, I was glued to the radio. As I listened, I thought “This is so much like spiritual formation!” that I started taking notes.
The term mise en place is used in professional kitchens to refer to organizing and arranging the ingredients (e.g., cuts of meat, relishes, sauces, par-cooked items, spices, freshly chopped vegetables, and other components) that a cook will require for the menu items that are expected to be prepared during a shift. In a busy restaurant there is little room for error in the kitchen. Communication and organization are crucial. Time is precious, resources are precious, self-respect is precious. The workers want to spend energy only on what they really need to do.
In order to make this happen, chefs and sous chefs and line cooks learn a way of life (mise en place) which helps them concentrate and focus only on what they need to be working on. It is a preparation mind-set which accounts for every minute of time and every movement in the kitchen. Workers set up their stations, line up their cooking tools and their ingredients, cut meats, wash and chop vegetables, create sauces, pre-cook when possible, and clean up furiously as they go along. By the time the dinner shift starts, they are ready to prepare meals as the order tickets come in. They know where everything is on their station. As they are cooking, the goal is to keep up a pace that will allow them to get the food out but not make mistakes.
Because this is naturally the way I prefer to function in life (though I rarely cook much anymore), I am fascinated by watching a large kitchen in action. As I listened to these cooks talk about the importance of preparation, intention, and getting into a rhythm of life (which continues for most of them even when they are out of the kitchen, much, sometimes, to the dismay of other people in their lives), I couldn’t help but think about training for discipleship.
Dallas Willard used the acronym VIM (Vision, Intention, Means) to help us understand how to become more like Jesus. Like a chef who envisions a menu for his/her guests, we need to have a vision for what our life will be like. Apprentices use the life of Jesus as their vision; our goal as people in whom Christ lives and dwells is to be true to the Christ within them as they live out each moment.
A professional kitchen works with military-like precision. Everyone is intentionally focused on making the chef’s vision of a delicious and beautiful meal a reality. Every person in the kitchen has trained for every operation he must perform: chopping, slicing, choosing spices, blending, frying, making pasta, creating sauces, and the training and practice is a life-long pursuit. They sharpen their knives, they keep their boards clean and sanitary, they choose the right pan. They are responsible for their own work, but they function as a team.
Apprentices of Jesus are intentional about training as well. We learn and make use of the spiritual disciplines, the soul-training exercises, so we can grow and heal our souls, become more intimate with God, be stewards of resources, worship, forgive, live and walk in the world with eyes who see Christ in everyone we meet. We learn to “clean up as we go along” so our lives are not weighed down by guilt and shame. We are responsible for our own journeys, but we also live in community, creating a loving fellowship in which we are all helped to be accountable for the life of the community.
Mise en place – setting everything in place, working as a team and preparing for a beautiful and nutritious meal one day at a time – is a good reminder of how we function best in the life of the Kingdom.