Some of my best thinking happens when I’m supposed to be focusing on other things, you know, like cooking or baking. Unfortunately, it leads to some of my worst cooking or baking. Last week we lost track of my husband’s laptop. He does editing and writing and film work, so it’s important I tell you that he has more than one laptop. This one is lightweight, small and compact. He uses it for writing or when he’s traveling. But his latest writing project is done and delivered. His traveling has been more sporadic. We lost track of it and didn’t feel the absence until last week when he really needed to find it and use it.
We looked around, tore apart a few places, paced back and forth and wondered aloud about it. When I was young, raised Catholic, we would put in a call to St. Anthony. My mom would say, “Tony, Tony, look around. Something’s lost and can’t be found.” Usually, it would turn up and we’d say a prayer to thank St. Anthony. That was the drill.
Now that I’m Orthodox we turn to St. Phanourios, the patron of lost things. A few days later while I was putting away some old pictures we found a stack of papers in an odd place. Within that stack of papers was the laptop, tucked in nice and secure, and well hidden. “Look at that!” my husband declared. “Thanks, St. Phanourios!” I told him that tradition says I needed to bake him a cake now. I like that Orthodoxy offers cake as an entry way or wrap up to life’s mundane adventures.
Here’s the thing– first off, as I have disclosed before, cooking and baking are not my strong suit but the recipe looked straightforward so it seemed do-able. Throughout the recipe, however, were instructions for prayer and being attentive and whisking nine times. Let me say that I kind of love that. I need those reminders. It’s totally cool with me. The trouble is, I just kept thinking about the things instead of just doing the things. Ultimately, thinking about praying and being attentive and whisking nine times made me more distracted.
In the midst of all that distraction, I managed to mix the ingredients in some weird way that led to the batter becoming more like dough, which, I think might have been okay except that my preoccupation with this dough vs batter conflict meant that I didn’t bake long enough. I will be the first to admit I way overthought this cake thing. Sometimes distraction doesn’t take us into weird new places, apart from what we’re doing. Sometimes it takes us into micro-managing the task at hand. It leads us into the intricacies of something that might just need to have some blurry edges, some unknowns, some degree of trust in the process.
I trusted in the process of St. Phanourious doing his bit. I think of it not as superstition or magical thinking as much as a shift in emotional and intellectual fuel. The more I allow St. Phanourious to carry the stress that comes of lost things, the better the chances I can just let time unravel it, unravel me, and then I’m likely to run across whatever I need to find. Letting the stress and discomfort live there, a bit apart from me, is a kind of paying attention.
The cake baking part of this deal didn’t get the same treatment from me. It’s interesting, in retrospect, to be able to see where things went south on that cake– focus, attention, too much flour, too little stirring. Even so, we ate that cake and we shared it around. Some parts were doughy and tough, some parts were delicious and spicy– like most things in life.