I've been reading a history of salt.
Your first reaction to this tidbit of personal information may be to shake your head with sadness and think, "So this is what it comes to in retirement." I had read earlier an enticing review of the book and must have made a mental note to look into it when I had the time. Now I have the time. So when browsing through the bookstore our precocious three year old granddaughter refers to as Barnes and Norbull, I found a paperback copy of "Salt, A World History," by Mark Kurlansky, and said to myself, "Why not." Kurlansky has also written a book entitled, "Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World." Of course, the cod couldn't have changed the world if it wasn't easily preserved... in salt, of course. Let everyone say, "Baccala."
The Norwegians, dreadfully short on salt, preserved their cod with lye, naming it lutefisk. To find out just how one can eat fish preserved in lye, go to the following website:http://www.geocities.com/NapaValley/3227/. Then read the hilarious account of a world traveler tasting the cuisine of the natives, and the natives are Norwegians, "The Power of Lutefisk":http://www.ecst.csuchico.edu/~atman/ic/lutefisk.html.
In this era of aggravated worry over high blood pressure, salt is regarded with medical suspicion. Twenty years ago when a GP noticed a hint of edema in my ankles, she told me to go easy on the salt and, maybe, cut out the Pepsi. Fortunately for me she did not know of my appetite for Genoa salami and corned beef. Salt is seen as a culprit, when in fact it is also a necessity.
A friend and former parishioner, a nurse by vocation, a woman with a wonderfully strong will, was advised by her doctor to cut out the salt. She did, all of it. And she promptly ended up in the hospital with a mild delirium from lack of salt.
World history, Kurlansky suggests, can be read as the search for salt. Long sea voyages would have been impossible were it not for its preservative ability. Sodium chloride's value to the ancients hides in the word we use for the pay we receive for work done, "salary." Roman soldiers were paid their wages with salt. Salad and salami also derive from "sal" the Latin word for salt. "Salacious" arises from the assumption that salt has something to do with sexuality. Old salts with their salty language hint at millennia of sailors on the salt seas with their salted provisions. Something like that.
Salvation, however, does not assume that the narrow way is paved with salt; "salva," save, is the Latin from which it is derived.
Too bad I no longer inhabit the pulpit on a weekly basis. Because I feel a sermon coming on... about salt. Maybe starting with Lot's wife. God could have turned her, Medusa-like, into a pillar of stone, or, Midas-like, into a pillar of gold. Instead she was transformed into 125 pounds of salt. Theologians now and then use the phrase "the economy of salvation." It doesn't mean free markets. It means that God is the first ecologist, and the deity's actions, even when wrathful (as with Lot's wife), serve a larger purpose. Maybe camels needed a salt lick in the desert. Maybe the spring floods had severely watered down the Dead Sea. Maybe the towns on the far side of Sodom and Gomorrah were running short of preservatives for the fish from the Sea of Galilee.
Please don't take me seriously. My imagination may be getting a little too salty.
Then, of course, there's the most famous of all references to salt in the Bible, in the Sermon on the Mount, red letter words: "You are the salt of the earth." Kurlansky's book provides for me a whole new reach for this familiar description of the disciples of Jesus. That they (disciples) not only make the world taste better, they are a necessity without which the communities they inhabit and serve might lapse into a delirium of self-interest. We can't really begin to imagine the USA without spires reaching heavenwards, the values with which they infuse our society, and the provision they make for those who most need looking after by reason of sickness, poverty, and loss... which is to say hardly anything about the true community churches inspire.
Maybe I'll entitle the sermon: "Salty Christians: a Sacred History of the World."
Then I'll research a world history of my own, on sugar. Now that would be a sweet undertaking.