Walk inside my parent’s home any night of the week, and you are bound to smell freshly popped popcorn. Enter the rectory where I live, and one of the first things you’ll see is our red popcorn machine adorned with various oils, utensils, and varieties of corn. My husband, Dennis, agreed a well-made popcorn machine was a good start to our marriage.
Churches have artifacts, which are physical objects located throughout the sanctuary. They are objects with a story and purpose. For some, the purpose is rooted in liturgical tradition. For others, the objects emerged out of a particular circumstance, like the time a parishioner underwent jaw surgery, couldn’t sip the communion wine, so she was offered a silver straw to sip from. The silver straw remained on the altar alongside the other communion vessels for years, people forgot its original story, but the artifact became the sacred, sterling silver straw.
In many homes, televisions are positioned in such a way resembling a shrine, indicating this is the most important object in the house. Dennis and I don’t have a television; we have a popcorn machine. Popcorn is an artifact in my family. It’s something I take for granted every day. It is a practice that has many stories of origin, some of which I know. I jokingly tell friends that eating popcorn is one of my spiritual disciplines, and my mom is my original mentor.
For fun, I gave my mom a rubber popcorn ball that I found in a children’s toy store. The popcorn ball sat on my mom’s desk for years along with her books on spiritual journeys. When the ball went missing, my mom wrote a note to Faith, who cleans their house once a week. I saw the piece of paper with my mom’s handwriting on top of the microwave. “Faith, there was a popcorn ball on my desk. I can’t find it. Please see if you can find it. Thanks.” The popcorn ball eventually turned up, though it was deflated. The lumpy ball still sits on my mom’s desk.
Years ago, if you were a new visitor to St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, you would have been greeted with bags of popcorn. St. Margaret’s began as a mission in a west Little Rock movie theater. Movie posters and popcorn became part of the new church’s DNA. Years later in their beautifully constructed church, St. Margaret’s hit a rough patch in leadership with members beginning to stray. Dennis claimed the popcorn machine needed to come out of the storage closet and to “get the smell of popcorn back into the building.” When Dennis was hospitalized for five weeks in ICU with a life-threatening illness, he was unconscious for most of the time. For me, living in a hospital for several weeks produces an inadvertent daily rhythm. Wake, pray, yogurt, juice, pray, listen, be still, eat popcorn, pray some more. Popcorn is one of the few foods I can stomach when I’m stressed. Popcorn and prayer brought comfort through hours and days of medical uncertainty.
Maybe it is because of the state I was born in: Iowa. Perhaps the rolling cornfields imprinted themselves on my infant spirit. I have read about the perils of genetic modification and seen films like King Corn that depict the mess our country is in for how we treat the land and farmers. There are ways to source locally. Organic is always an option at my food co-op. I could be a more responsible popcorn consumer. Sometimes I can’t resist the coconut oil-laden popcorn in our Seattle movie theaters. Sometimes I just need an hour or two in a darkened room where the present moment includes an uncomplicated, lightly salted pleasure.
Joanna’s Theological Popcorn Recipe
My favorite way to cook popcorn is in a big pot on the stovetop. I like to mix various oils that are suited for high heat and add complex flavors.
½ cup of popcorn kernels
1 Tbsp. Grapeseed Oil
1 Tbsp. Almond Oil
1 tsp. of Walnut and/or Sesame oil
Mix the oils in the pot and heat to Med/High. Place the kernels in the pot, and partly cover the pot with a lid, so steam may escape. When the kernels begin popping, gently shake the pot to prevent the kernels from burning.