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Archive for the ‘Food/Drink’ Category

Gluttony

A glutton is one who raids the icebox for a cure for spiritual malnutrition.

— Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words

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In calling Himself “the bread of life”—and not, say, crème caramel or caviar—Jesus is identifying with basic food, with sustenance, with the food that, for centuries afterward, would figure in the protest efforts of poor and marginalized people. No one holds caviar riots; people riot for bread. So to speak of God as bread is to speak of God’s most elemental provision for us.

Especially for people who have lived with hunger, this is a powerful, palpable image. But I admit that it is a biblical metaphor at which I sometimes find myself staring blankly. I have never been hungry for more than thirty-five minutes, and, though I always need to be nourished, I rarely notice this need, and I rarely credit God with my nourishment (more often I either take my nourishment for granted or credit myself—my labors, which provide the money to buy the food; my hours, devoted to cooking; and so forth). So for me (and maybe for you), the image of bread as provision can be a bit of a corrective, showing me how insensible to my dependence on God I really am. But instructing me in my hunger is not all this image can do. Bread is basic food, but bread nonetheless contains meanings beyond sustenance.

I once asked a circle of people from church, if Jesus is the “bread of life,” what kind of bread is He? Not a one of them said, “He’s that small round wafer we use at Communion.” I wrote down their answers. I think they make a good prayer:

a bagel
rye
toast with jam
morning glory muffins
chocolate tea bread
rosemary ciabatta
my grandmother’s sourdough
my grandmother’s challah
French toast
a crusty baguette

This gorgeous list expands our attention from the usual thought “if God is bread, then God meets my needs” to the category of delectation. If God is chocolate tea bread, God is not only panary provision—God is also about delight. It is one of the beauties of this metaphor that bread, like the One who made the hands that made the bread, contains both: enjoyment and necessity, sustenance and pleasure.

— Lauren Winner, Wearing God

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You, eternal Trinity, are Table and Food and Waiter for us. You, eternal Father, are the Table that offers us food, the Lamb, your only-begotten Son. He is the most exquisite Food for us, both in his teaching, which nourishes us in your will, and in the sacraments that we receive in Holy Communion, which feeds and strengthens us while we are pilgrim travelers in this life. And the Holy Spirit is a Waiter for us, for he serves us this teaching by enlightening our mind’s eye with it and inspiring us to follow it.

— Catherine of Siena

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There are a few very goods meals I remember and there are a few truly terrible meals I remember. But most of the meals I’ve eaten, thousands upon thousands, were utterly unremarkable. If you asked me what I ate for lunch three weeks ago on Monday, I could not tell you. And yet that average, forgettable meal nourished me. Thousands of forgotten meals have brought me to today. They’ve sustained my life. They were my daily bread.

We are endlessly in need of nourishment, and nourishment comes, usually, like taco soup. Abundant and overlooked.

My subculture of evangelicalism tends to focus on excitement, passion, and risk, the kind of worship that gives a rush. Eugene Peterson calls this quest for spiritual intensity a consumer-driven “market for religious experience in our world.” He says that “there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness. Religion in our time has been captured by a tourist mindset. . . . We go to see a new personality, to hear a new truth, to get a new experience and so somehow to expand our otherwise humdrum life.”

Instead of the focus of worship being that which nourishes us, namely Word and sacrament, the focus became that which sells: excitement, adventure, a sizzling or shocking spiritual experience. An individual’s own experience of worship, a subjective notion of his or her encounter with God, became the centerpiece of the Christian life.

There are indeed moments of spiritual ecstasy in the Christian life and in gathered worship. Powerful spiritual experiences, when they come, are a gift. But that cannot be the point of Christian spirituality, any more than the unforgettable pappardelle pasta dish I ate years ago in Boston’s North End is the point of eating.

Word and sacrament sustain my life, and yet they often do not seem life changing. Quietly, even forgettably, they feed me.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

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At the Last Supper Jesus tells his disciples to eat in remembrance of him. Of all the things he could’ve chosen to be done “in remembrance” of him, Jesus chose a meal. He could have asked his followers to do something impressive or mystical—climb a mountain, fast for forty days, or have a trippy sweat lodge ceremony—but instead he picks the most ordinary of acts, eating, through which to be present to his people. He says that the bread is his body and the wine is his blood. He chooses the unremarkable and plain, average and abundant, bread and wine.

N. T. Wright reminds us that in the upper room, right before Jesus’ death, he didn’t offer his followers theories of the atonement or recite a creed or explain precisely how his death would accomplish salvation. Instead “he gave them an act to perform. Specifically, he gave them a meal to share. It is a meal that speaks more volumes than any theory.”

If all the cathedrals on earth were gone, all the most glorious art were lost, and all of the world’s most valuable treasures were thrown out, Christians could and would still meet for worship around the Scriptures and the Eucharist. To have church, all we need is Word and sacrament.

And both Word and sacrament are gifts given by Jesus, who calls himself the bread of life. The Word of God and the meal of God’s people are intended to point to and make manifest the presence of Christ, who is both the Word and the bread. In John 6, Jesus reminds his listeners that they received manna, their daily bread, as a gift from the Father, but that it was not enough to nourish them spiritually. They still died. But Jesus promises that those who eat “bread from heaven” will be eternally nourished and will not die. Then, to the horror of his disciples, he says that this heavenly bread is his very flesh and calls them to feed on it as their “true food” (Jn 6:55).

Christ is our bread and gives us bread. He is the gift and the giver. God gives us every meal we eat, and every meal we eat is ultimately partial and inadequate, pointing to him who is our true food, our eternal nourishment.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

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Public displays of religion are more offensive than public displays of affection, which I think partially explains some Americans’ reactions to Muslims who say their daily prayers. For many Americans, seeing someone practicing religion in public feels a bit like watching the inebriated or mentally unstable in public: What are they going to do next? Why aren’t they being rational? Why couldn’t they keep this to themselves? Which is one reason why saying grace can be a testament to a watching world that our faith is not a personal preference that we keep discretely hidden behind our “normal” public life. And insofar as saying grace defies the secular social etiquette of privatizing religious practices, it is a disruptive witness.

We certainly shouldn’t say grace in order to be seen saying grace, or to make people uncomfortable. We don’t pray loudly so that others will be shocked and disturbed by our piety. Being a “Jesus freak” just to be a freak capitulates to the game of secularism in that it turns our faith into an advertisement, a signal to others. The practice of our faith turns out to be the advertising of our faith, which is the exact kind of hollowness at the core of so many contemporary beliefs we are seeking to avoid. If our public prayers or any other public display of faith ceases to be primarily about the spiritual purpose—in this case, thanking God for his provision—and instead becomes about others seeing us be thankful toward God, then we have exchanged the thing itself for the appearance of the thing. Our motive ought to be gratitude to God, not seeking attention. But if we find ourselves actually avoiding public prayers because it feels socially awkward, or because it feels like we’re imposing our faith on our neighbors, we need to be able to call that avoidance what it is: a capitulation to secular ideas of the public square.

Another way that saying grace is a disruptive witness is that it challenges a materialist account of provision. Although there are nearly innumerable acceptable visions of fullness in our secular age, the majority of them assume that we live in a closed universe wherein everything or virtually everything can be explained through an empirical, materialist, scientific account. Physics and chemistry account for the totality of existence. We may come to many different conclusions from this assumption, however. For example, someone might look at the purely material world as a kind of nearly transcendent gift that requires our admiration and worship. Such a person may show gratitude for the idea of the Earth in all its vastness. Others may believe that the food in front of us is a testament to the human potential for greatness—our ability to cultivate the earth and produce fine food efficiently and economically. Still others may simply take provision as a given, not bothering to consider it at all except insofar as they are responsible for paying for the food.

What is uncommon is the view that whatever food lies before us is a gift from a personal God who provides for us because he loves us. The more divorced we are from the cultivation of crops and animals, and the more mechanical and manufactured our food appears to us, the less we see it as a gift. When our meals come to us carefully wrapped in paper from hands wrapped in latex gloves that took ingredients from hermetically sealed plastic bags that were created in a sanitary, automated factory, it is no easy thing to see the hand of God at work providing for us. Contingencies of weather and seasons, human errors, and animal behavior and health have been carefully, systematically, and technologically reduced as much as possible. Think, for example, of the fact that modern people expect to be able to go to the market and buy apples year-round. Humanity has mastered nature, and we owe humanity no gratitude—just some monetary compensation. This of course makes the act of giving thanks to God all the more disruptive. If I am thankful to the cook or the restaurant chain or capitalism or modern farming techniques or my job that allows me to afford the food or even a semimystical conception of Mother Earth, I am still fundamentally accepting that the food before me is completely the result of processes in the material world. But to thank God is to defy this logic. This is not a generic or impersonal sense of gratitude toward nature or the universe, but a specific thankfulness for a meal to a personal God whose common grace provides for us all.

— Alan Noble, Disruptive Witness

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Our addiction to stimulation, input, and entertainment empties us out and makes us boring—unable to embrace the ordinary wonders of life in Christ.

Kathleen Norris writes,

Like liturgy, the work of cleaning draws much of its meaning and value from repetition, from the fact that it is never completed, but only set aside until the next day. Both liturgy and what is euphemistically termed “domestic” work also have an intense relation with the present moment, a kind of faith in the present that fosters hope and makes life seem possible in the day-to-day.

Daily life, dishes in the sink, children that ask the same questions and want the same stories again and again and again, the long doldrums of the afternoon—these things are filled with repetition. And much of the Christian life is returning over and over to the same work and the same habits of worship. We must contend with the same spiritual struggles again and again. The work of repentance and faith is daily and repetitive. Again and again, we repent and believe.

A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: “Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.” I was, and remain, a Christian who longs for revolution, for things to be made new and whole in beautiful and big ways. But what I am slowly seeing is that you can’t get to the revolution without learning to do the dishes. The kind of spiritual life and disciplines needed to sustain the Christian life are quiet, repetitive, and ordinary. I often want to skip the boring, daily stuff to get to the thrill of an edgy faith. But it’s in the dailiness of the Christian faith—the making the bed, the doing the dishes, the praying for our enemies, the reading the Bible, the quiet, the small—that God’s transformation takes root and grows.

— Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

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