October 13, 2020 – Roger W. Lowther
There is so much brokenness in this world! Just by me speaking to you right now, it’s very likely that some of you are suffering, or someone you know is suffering. Especially now, during COVID-19. Life is hard, and we would be fools to think otherwise. It’s a terrible part of this world, and you know, frankly, it makes me a little bit angry. We want to protect the ones we love from suffering, but we can’t.
So, where’s there hope in that? How can we keep on going? How do we overcome this?
This podcast is about art, life, and faith. Art comes in different forms, and one of these forms is food. Food—not just something to get us through the day. I suppose we could just take pills for that if we needed to, at least that’s what a lot of sci-fi films say about the future. No, we have this amazing abundance of food, in so many possibilities, that make up all the different cuisines of the world—Japanese food, Korean food, Chinese food, Thai food, Italian food, and, my favorite, Greek food. They’re all different, and sometimes they’re using the same ingredients. Like so much in our culture, we have the power to create it, and I believe that it tells us something about the way we see the world. Food, too, can tell us about hope in our suffering.
Now, of course, every culture is looking for hope. That’s what makes us universally human. And in Japan, when I eat mochi, I have hope. It’s kind of a strange thing to say about food, I know, but it’s true! Mochi gives me hope. I think about it a lot actually. Some of you may not even know what that is, so let me explain. It’s an unsweetened chewy rice cake, a kind of food that’s made through pounding. Sometimes our family toasts it. Sometimes we grill it. Sometimes we put it in a soup.
Mochi is made through crushing. By hitting and pounding and crushing this food, it becomes stronger, durable, lasts longer. I need this kind of message in my life, something that’s stronger because of its suffering, that makes the suffering worthwhile.
I remember the first time I ate mochi. It was at my son’s kindergarten. Let me try to paint the scene for you. Laughter filled the air. The sound of something being hit reverberated off the walls all around me. A woman turned to me and smiled. She wore a festive red and white headband and bright blue, white, and red clothing known as a “happi,” which I thought was a pretty appropriate name for the occasion! She pointed to a large wooden mallet telling me that it was my turn. I picked it up, surprised by how heavy it was, and there in front of me was a big wooden mortar filled with hot steaming rice.
A man crouched next to the rice, ready to turn it over between each of my hits. “Okay, don’t hit his hands,” I told myself as I rose the mallet over my head.
Mochi making is such a violent process. In order to make these Japanese rice cakes, the mallet needs to come down . . . hard . . . in order to crush the rice. It was fun, but at the end of the day, I had blistered hands and a sore back. But every single kernel of that rice was pounded.
The source of its strength is its pounding. The source of its durability is its “suffering.”
It’s amazing how long you can keep mochi without it spoiling. You can keep it in the refrigerator for a very long time. Two little pieces have about the same number of calories as an entire bowl of rice. In the cold winter months, it’s great for keeping the body warm.
I think we are like mochi, hit over and over again. Crushed. Pounded. Sickness. Loss. Broken relationships. Unrealized dreams. When we are wounded, or in pain, or hear traumatic news, or, in my case, poked with needles, sometimes we may even pass out, one way the body protects itself. Nothing good can come from this, we tell ourselves. But if we’re anything like mochi, then pain and suffering can actually transform us into something stronger. The very thing which we think is killing us can actually help us grow. James wrote,
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2–4)
Do we want trials to grow and mature? No, of course not! We don’t want to suffer. It’s not nice. Why would we want that? Who would? Yet, God uses even this. God works through the brokenness that we “may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
We don’t change by being comfortable. In fact, it may do just the opposite. It may even ruin us, make us unable to change or empathize with others. We have to be broken to be reshaped, and there are so many examples of this in the Bible. There is Job, who lost his children, his health, his property, everything he had, but through it all actually came to know God better.
“I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes.” (Job 42:5)
There are the Israelites, pounded over and over again in the wilderness as God transformed them into a stronger people.
And there’s the persecution of the early church, and the growth it received through that.
God wants good things for us, and he would never allow the pain and suffering of this world to be without meaning. When we’re crushed, we receive endurance. When we’re pounded, God is made stronger in us. Through adversity, we’re prepared for something greater. Trials are an opportunity to know God and rely on him. To rely on his power rather than our own power. To look to him rather than to ourselves.
Jesus trusted God and died, in order that we may trust God and live. He was crushed for our iniquities, suffered so we could be healed. The hands and feet of Jesus were literally pounded on the cross for our sake.
The world may try to pound us into the ground, but through it, we are transformed to be more like Jesus. He knows what we face. He empathizes with our trials. He experiences our pain. He shares in our suffering, wherever and whenever we are.
So, do you see why mochi gives me hope? It reminds me how, by God’s grace, the suffering of this world will not destroy us.