The Spirituality of Gumbo
by Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
I recently made gumbo for the first time. Inspired by the okra I got from the farmers’ market and the peppers, onions, and celery I had growing in my garden, I thought I would try my hand at making a batch.
I pulled out the Cajun cookbooks given to me by generous Theresians, read through the various recipes for gumbo, and began to make my cooking plans.
Then, I panicked.
Was it OK to use okra in Cajun gumbo? Trying to recall all the delicious gumbo I ate during my visits to Lake Charles, Jennings, and Lafayette, I couldn’t remember if okra was part of it. Chicken. Sausage. Seafood. Yes. But okra? I don’t know!
Sure, no one would know up here in the North. But what would happen if I was asked by someone in Louisiana about gumbo and admitted to using okra? Would I be condemned? Ostracized? Even if I made an awesome roux, but added the wrong ingredients, I might lose the respect of the entire state of Louisiana.
There was a lot at stake here: my reputation as a good cook and my credibility as the TI executive director.
I am familiar with Gumbo Doctrine: Always use the Holy Trinity (onions, peppers, celery). No tomatoes unless I’m in New Orleans. White rice only.
But, okra? Is okra allowed?
On a Sunday afternoon, standing in my kitchen in a complete conundrum, I emailed Eileen Eskew, Petals of Faith, Jennings, Louisiana. “Will I be committing a mortal sin if I put okra in my gumbo?”
She replied within the hour, demonstrating women in support of women who are trying to make gumbo for the first time. Eileen assured me okra was fine to use.
My chicken-sausage-okra gumbo turned out great, though it had more of a greenish tint than the deep brown color I remember from the bowls in Louisiana. (Yes, I cooked the roux to a dark chocolate color.) Let’s blame the green tint on the dark green celery from my garden. Or maybe the okra.
Unfazed by the color, my husband ate three bowls. I had two.
This gumbo experience made me think a lot about the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Regardless of where or how we choose to worship, it is the relationship among and with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – that forms the foundation of our Christian faith. Your faith may not look exactly like my faith. Perhaps yours is a little greener than mine or maybe it has tomatoes, but it is still built on the same basic relationship of love with and among our triune God. In the words of Bishop Robert Barron, God is “a family of love.”
I guess you could say my gumbo was love, too… even if it was green.