Sunday, September 7, 2014

Inch Twenty-Eight: El Camino de los Pasteles (The Way of the Pies)

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the Santiago pilgrimage after being moved by a documentary about walking the Way. Someone commented on my post: Every day is a pilgrimage and each journey starts when you put your feet on the ground getting out of bed. It is easy to romanticize the Santiago trip, but I would recommend your own faith journey in your own home. That would be a real adventure, thought maybe not as scenic. 

The comment may have some validity, but it misses the point of my post. My post is about the act of pilgrimage, an act which is capable of transcending the walls of our houses or the boundaries of our neighborhoods. And while one can take a faith journey every day without ever leaving the block, that is not necessarily a pilgrimage. 

A pilgrimage is defined in various sources as a journey of moral or spiritual significance. Pilgrimages to sacred sites are elements of many religions. Consider Santiago, Mecca, Shikoku O-Henro, Bodh Gaya, Jerusalem. Individuals travel far and wide seeking enlightenment, peace, God, answers. Making a pilgrimage is such a deep-seated human response that I wonder whether it is bred into our bones. It is not about being scenic or being romantic; it is about the search and the discovery. 

H. Richard Niebuhr, a twentieth century Christian ethicist, observed that "pilgrims are poets who create by taking a journey." And Martin Buber, the great twentieth century Jewish philosopher, noted that "[a]ll journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." 

Leaving the house on a pilgrimage, be it to Santiago or to your elementary grade school, is an act personal and of possibly deep meaning to the traveler. 

When we went to Chicago in August, I was on a pilgrimage: el camino de los pasteles. The way of the pies. And like any pilgrim, I took my journey seriously, even though it had a lightheartedness to it. There were four sites I had scoped out before ever leaving home, wanting to sample the pie and the place.
The coconut cream at ¡Bang Bang!

The best pie in Chicago? ¡Bang Bang Pie!, hands down. Even without its delightful pie garden, Michael the owner and his crew turn out excellent pies. Everyone who worked there celebrated pies, from the young man at the counter who took our order to the young woman who delivered it while we waited in (where else?) the pie garden to Michael, who walked us out and talked to us about good pies. 

The spiritual heart of my pilgrimage, although I did not know it until I walked through the door and sat down, was Blue Sky Bakery. Ironically, it lacked pies (typically the crew bakes pies only by special order), but in taking a seat, I knew this was the purpose of my pilgrimage. 
Blue Sky Bakery

Martin Buber was right. I had not planned on the Blue Sky Cafe touching me so deeply that, even now, with these words, I can conjure up its close quarters. It turned out to be the secret destination, the poem I created by journeying there.

Why Blue Sky? Because of its mission to offer young adult offenders a chance at a different path, a pilgrimage to a new life, in a manner of speaking. And while I "knew" that about Blue Sky before I ever entered it, it wasn't until I sat down that I felt it.

This was a sacred space. This was the heart of my quest.

This was the secret destination unknown to me when I planned my pilgrimage. 

So why pies? Why mix the ordinary, the humble pie, with the sacred, the journey of spiritual significance?

Lots of reasons, starting with the fact that I bake a lot of pies. So many that I sometimes think I have internalized the meaning of baking and of offering pies, which I take seriously to be a mitzvah

Then there's community and my belief in my obligation to repair the breaks in the community (tikkun olam, again). More than any number of committee meetings, baking and sharing pies may offer some other route to wholeness, as evidenced by Blue Sky Bakery.
Blue Sky 

And to the extent that I have multiple roles in this community, there is no question that pie maker is one of them. While having a watch battery changed at the downtown jewelry shop recently, the owner and I started talking. When I mentioned that Warren at the Symphony was my husband, she looked at me and said, "Oh, you're the pie lady!"

The pie lady.

People see God in many forms and in many places. So if I see the Creator in a slice of pie, or in the sacred space of the Blue Sky Bakery, does that diminish the intensity of the journey or the sweetness of the pie? I think not.

Ramona just turned two, and one of the presents I sent out was a make believe baking set, including pretend cookie dough, a rolling pin, and a pie pan, complete with slices of pie. In this house, we have children's pie pans—patty pans, I'd call them—that probably predate Warren.

Perhaps I can set Ramona's feet on the way, the way of the pies. I would like to pass on that legacy. 

Practice your rolling, Ramona. You and Grandma April will make a real pie next time you are in Ohio. 

1 comment:

see you there! said...

You explain the pilgrimage so well. I've heard of places like Blue Sky but not visited one. I hope Ramona picks up the rolling pin and carries on your pie baking tradition.