Taste and See

Post Author: Melissa Bills

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” –Psalm 34:8

Image courtesy of the author

Image courtesy of the author

I didn’t know what else to do, so I baked a cake.

Thunder rolled in as I hung up the phone. The results of my father’s bone scan had come back: Cancer. Multiple spots. Source unknown. Tests to come. Treatment plans to be devised.

The storm pounded at the windows and I was scared, so I pulled Sam from his crib. We sat on the couch and snuggled with all the lights turned off, save the light of the television. I clung to Sam and to the weatherman.

I am still a child, frightened of storms. I am still a child, needing my parents’ assurances that the storm will pass over, that I am safe. Tonight, though, my parents can guarantee neither safety nor sunshine. They are just as scared as I am.

Someday thunder will scare Sam, even if tonight he remains oblivious to the storm outside. Someday Sam will grow wide-eyed with each lightning flash and will look to me to keep him safe. I want to be a good mother, able to shield my children from the rain. I want to be a good daughter, able to keep my parents invincible. I want to pretend that I don’t need to be mothered, or fathered, or sheltered. I want to be less frightened by the storm.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I baked a cake.

The thunder shrank to dull and distant rumbling. I swaddled Sam and settled him back into his crib. I re-opened the nursery windows. I walked to the quiet kitchen and opened my three-ring scrapbook of untried recipes:

“Valerie’s French Chocolate Cake.” A simple but fiddly recipe.

Melt butter, chop squares of chocolate, separate the eggs. Stir up a thick batter of chocolate and egg yolks and sugar and not much flour. Beat the egg whites until stiff and structured. Combine the heavy batter with the eggy fluff. Pour the thick, springy mixture into a buttered and floured pan. Slide it into the oven. Set the kitchen timer and wait.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I baked a cake.

It wasn’t an act of theology. It certainly wasn’t a movement of faith, nor a hidden prayer. I baked a cake because I needed something to do. I needed to fill space and time with the taste of something other than fear. I needed to pretend that it was a normal evening. I needed to rebel against the swirling of grief and funnel clouds alike.

Is it an act of restoration to measure out proportions of flour and cocoa? Can a cake, crawling up the sides of the pan, be an act of resurrection? Do prayers, rising as incense, smell like chocolate? And might the heavenly communion of saints be a feast of chocolate and strawberries? For cake and berries are yet the grain of the field and the fruit of the vine, a singular meal of something dense and rich and sweet and so very indulgent. Divine, even.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I baked a cake.

Taste and see that the Lord is good, the Psalmist sings. I cannot taste the goodness of the Lord tonight. I cannot see the goodness of the Lord while I grieve and fear and grapple with what it will be to stare down the mortality of someone I love.

But I can see the outline of the cake plate stenciled in powered sugar on the countertop. I can taste the deep, bitter, dark chocolate crumb, sweetened with a pile of sliced strawberries. I can taste and see that cake is good. And I can hope that in the taste of bitter and sweet, in the sight of fear and love, I will come to know anew that the Lord is yet good.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I baked a cake. And cut myself a slice. And covered it in strawberries. And I ate.

Melissa Bills is ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is currently serving First Lutheran Church in Decorah, Iowa. She graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and also spent a year at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She dedicates this post, which first appeared on her blog, The Holy Imagination, to her husband, Matt; her toddler, Samuel; and to the memory of her father, Mark Johnson, who passed away in December 2014, six months after being diagnosed with lung and bone cancer.

Image by: Melissa Bills
Used with permission
1 reply
  1. Collette
    Collette says:

    Yes! Thank you for writing this beautiful reflection on the ordinary work that sometimes allows God to speak the comfort we need. I too have baked because I didn’t know what else to do, or more often, because I wanted one thing in my life to turn out according to plan.


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