Meals that are just – a prerequisite for true nourishment of the soul – are not easy to come by. For we must take into consideration who sits around our table (how inclusive and diverse our circle is); who raises our food and how; who prepares and serves the meals and how they are treated; and what we eat. By this standard, how many of our meals do justice?
One way to describe food is as God’s way of saying to us, “I love you. I want to nurture you into life.” When we understand food in this very theological sort of way, that in eating we are the beneficiaries of God’s love, the only appropriate response is to turn our life into a source of nurture for others. That means coming to understand that eating is not primarily about consumption but about sharing life with others so that together we can realize our full potential. When we discover that there are people in the world who don’t have enough to eat or who eat in ways that are unhealthy to them in the long term or who live in food deserts like you find in many inner cities where they don’t have access to good food, I think the church must become serious about feeding these people. When you look at the Gospels, Jesus is doing lots of things with bodies—touching them and healing them, for instance—but he is also feeding them.
And if we are supposed to be witnesses to this Christ, I think it would be really fantastic if churches were to say, “We’re in the feeding business, literally, and that means that we’re going to try to make our church a physical place in which even the growing of food, and then also the sharing of food, happens regularly, a place where people understand that we’re not just interested in individual souls.”
Jesus cared about souls, but he always understood persons as embodied creatures who need physical touch, physical healing, and physical feeding. And I don’t think the church should be any different. It should understand that its mission has to reach out to the bodies of other human beings, which means, then, that you have to worry about all the bodies those human beings come into contact with—the bodies of animals, the bodies of plants, the bodies of fields and forests, and all the rest.
I grew up saying grace, and I imagine lots of people have. The act of saying grace can become formulaic, but it can also have a lot of value. We’re all very busy people and that means we don’t reflect on what we’re doing much of the time. We just go through our day by rote, and because we haven’t stopped to think about what we’re doing, we continue in ways that are damaging to creation and to ourselves. So an important part of saying grace is stopping and clearing our minds of the clutter, worry, and anxiety of all that’s going on in our heads. Then we turn our attention to what’s on the table. What we discover is that we’ve got a history of living and dying happening on that table. We’ve got a history of agricultural workers and cooks and people who have produced and prepared the food. We need time to take that in because, otherwise, we are more likely to abuse what we take for granted, what we don’t value. My hope is that we will learn to value food, not make an idol of it, but value it as God’s gift given to us….