Two decades ago, when she published The Kitchen Mystic (Hazeldon, 1992), Mary Hayes Grieco got the feeling it was a book that would be with her for a long time. This June, with the publication of The New Kitchen Mystic (Beyond Words, June 4), her intuition turns out to be true.
"Writing is a byproduct of my own spiritual questions," says Grieco in an interview from her home in Minneapolis. Those questions drove the original edition, which began as a series of columns in a local health and recovery journal. The columns were "my impulse to share my discovery process with other spiritual seekers," she says.
The New Kitchen Mystic, which contains 11 new essays plus a new introduction, is about finding meaning, awareness, and mindfulness in even the most mundane activities. Grieco uses the metaphor of the kitchen as a place where people perform everyday tasks in a way that is both functional and transformative.
Being a spiritual seeker, according to Grieco, means striving for a life of meaning in a complex world, and asking questions of both the inner and outer spaces we inhabit. She describes it as "an ongoing dialogue between that part of God that's inside of us and that part of God that's all around us."
Grieco's work is also focused on an often-cited reason people embark on spiritual journeys—the process of asking for and bestowing forgiveness. Her 2011 book, Unconditional Forgiveness: A Simple and Proven Method to Forgive Everyone and Everything (Beyond Words), explored that theme in depth, reflecting her work as founder of the Midwest Institute for Forgiveness Training.
She conducts forgiveness workshops for the general public; professional training sessions for clergy, psychologists, and social workers; and church-based programs for congregations. Her insights have clearly found an audience—Grieco's e-mail newsletter, which she sends through her Web site, MaryHayesGrieco.com, has some 3,500 subscribers, and 2,500 follow her on Facebook.
While Grieco describes Unconditional Forgiveness as a purely "how-to" book, The New Kitchen Mystic is a combination of how-to essays, storytelling, and philosophical reflection. The topics are meant to appeal to the growing spiritual-but-not-religious segment of the U.S. population that is part of the "nones" because they don't adhere to one particular tradition. Though the nones are much discussed today—mainly due to a Pew research study that showed one-fifth of Americans to be unaffiliated with any faith (and some to be atheists)—Grieco believes the spiritual-but-not-religious cohort was also her readers in 1992 when The Kitchen Mystic was first published. The yearnings haven't changed, she says: "There's a lot more permission [now] in our culture to be a none without being a weirdo," says Grieco. "I think my audience before was [some of] the nones, and I think my audience today is also—but it is a larger audience."