Episcopal Relief and Development Lenten Meditations

Aside

Every year Episcopal Relief and Development, the outreach arm of The Episcopal Church, releases a Lenten meditation guide focusing on one of the areas that the organization works in.  This year during Lent the theme is food and hunger, and I had the privilege of writing a few of the meditations myself!  Every day the meditation invites us to reflect spiritually on our relationship with food, the earth, and those who are hungry.  To sign up to receive them by email each day, or even to download the entire Lenten guide, visit their website at http://www.er-d.org/Lent.

Praying About Food

The following template is one that I have used several times in workshops that I have given on the topic of food and faith.  Saying grace is sometimes the first introduction we have to prayer as young people, and is often a standard component of a family meal–especially at holidays and celebrations.  Mealtime blessings are a great way to reflect on our relationship with God, and with what we eat.

I used this format last year at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church where I had the privilege of presenting two workshops on food and faith for the Episcopal Church Women’s Triennial Meeting, and I used it again this morning at a conference workshop looking at food justice in New Haven, CT.  This simple format that can be easily used for any kind of prayer, but in this workshop we used it to write prayers based on a Bible study we had just done in small groups.  The passages used in the Bible study are included at the bottom of this page, along with the study questions that were meant to lead us into prayer.  I hope you find this useful as you continue to think about what you believe and how you eat.  If you have a minute, drop me a line and let me know if or how you have used this in your own life.

God who ________________,

we ask for __________________,

so that ________________.

Amen.

  1. First we recall how God is in relationship to us, i.e. “God who has provided all of your creation the food it needs to survive…”
  2. Second we recognize our dependence on God by remembering what we need from God, i.e., “we ask for you to make us mindful of the precious gift of food given to us, our neighbor, and all the creatures of this land…”
  3. Next, we affirm God’s power to respond to our needs by asking for what we need, i.e., “so that we might be empowered to eat in ways that give honor to your gift of life and seek justice for your whole creation.”
  4. We close by affirming that we are earnest in our faith and in our request by saying “Amen.”
Below are some of the prayers that previous groups have written.  I think they are beautiful and simple, and capture the way in which we acknowledge God’s goodness and our dependence on God for all that we have and all that we need.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.  What would your prayer be if you were to write your own?
***

God who provides everything we need and asks us to share our abundance, we ask for restraint and attentiveness to how we eat and what we eat, and consideration and compassion in how we grow, harvest, and prepare food for ourselves and others, so that we make the best possible use of your creation, to provide for all your children, from your bounty. Amen

God who is the giver of all, we ask for your loving kindness in providing for our daily needs so that in turn we have the strength and courage to provide and care for your creation. Amen.

God who is the creator, provider, and protector of all, we ask for the wisdom to live our lives intentionally so that we may fulfill God’s dream for us.  Amen.

God who has given us all we need to nourish our bodies; every plant based food, we ask for knowledge and passion for the food we eat so that we are better stewards of God’s gifts and show our gratitude for your gift of abundance.  Amen.

God who has given us our daily bread, we ask for wisdom in our decisions everyday so that we can become good stewards of all you have created.  Amen.

God our teacher and sustainer, who provides all of creation with breath of life, we ask for wisdom in making choices in our daily lives, so that all can experience life’s abundance. Amen.

God who gives us a bountiful crop, we ask for the knowledge to do thy will and the strength to follow thy word so that there will be no hungry children tonight.  Amen.

God who has created ecosystems that work, we ask for guidance to be good stewards of all that you have given us, so that we live into caring for all Creation as your beloved.  Amen.

***

I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to present these workshops on food and faith, and am grateful for the participation and enthusiasm of all of the people who attended.  I am especially encouraged by the increasing number of people who are interested in thinking theologically about what and how they eat. Keep up the good work!

***

The following passages were used to encourage reflection about the following two questions, which then informed the prayers that were written afterwards.  There are many passages in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament that include food, but rarely do we read them as being about food.  These two questions invite us to start at what is said about food and to go deeper from there.  What do you think the Bible says about God and food?

1. What does this passage say about God?

2. What does this passage say about food or the way we eat?

Genesis 1:27-31

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Leviticus 11:44-47

For I am the Lord your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming creature that moves on the earth. For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall be holy, for I am holy.

This is the law pertaining to land animal and bird and every living creature that moves through the waters and every creature that swarms upon the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertakings. When you beat your olive trees, do not strip what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.

When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this. 

John 21:15-17

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 

Matthew 14:16-21

Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”  And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.  And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

1 Corinthians 11:20-22, 27-29, 33-34

When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s Supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord. Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves.

So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation. About the other things I will give instructions when I come.

Ignatius at the Grocery Store

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This gallery contains 2 photos.

It’s as easy to overlook God’s hand in the world as it is to think eating strawberries on Valentine’s Day in New England is natural. But there is surprise all around us. Everywhere God is waiting to be discovered. We can see God’s handiwork in the sheer abundance of what is available in our supermarkets, as well as in the smaller details, like the sun-ripened Florida oranges or the dirt-flecked Idaho potatoes.
Continue reading

To Care is to Want to Care

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The God that compels the Israelites to feed the poor and to care for the land is the same God that can transform our hearts and minds so that we can become people who do feed the poor and care for the land despite our distance from the land and often too, from those in need. Continue reading

Saying Grace

As I sit here at my dining room table to tap out this reflection on why food is a matter of faith, and how I have come to this realization, my lunch is cooking in the kitchen. The wind is blowing through the rusting fall leaves outside my window, and I have been warming my hands around a large ceramic mug filled with hot green tea. I’ve been imagining this dish since I woke up this morning, a concoction of pumpkin, onions, and potatoes, to be simmered to tenderness in a broth of red miso—the perfect meal for a blustery but quiet, fall afternoon.

While I peeled and chopped the pumpkin and rinsed the dirt off the tiny fingerling potatoes, I imagined the dream-kitchen of my hopeful-future. This spacious kitchen, a proving ground for new recipes and the hearth where I serve up holiday meals for my family and friends, would be at the heart of my home. In the center of my culinary sanctuary that I imagine stands a large island of countertop and eating space, where friends sit and keep me company as I put the finishing touches on dinner, and where kids ruminate over schoolwork and friendships as I scrub and rinse a sink full of dishes—a domestic altar to the relationships we nourish amidst Sunday dinners and midnight snacks.

Instead, the small galley where I bide my time slicing, scouring, seasoning, and sautéing is tucked into the corner of our modest apartment. An afterthought, perhaps, of a designers who relegated the chores of daily living to spaces outside of the common areas. An ironic choice of placement for the room that figures the hours of our days with breakfast, lunch, and dinner; an arena for the creation of soothing soups, celebratory cakes, festive roulades, and regenerating cups of hot coffee on dark mornings; and the place where the very stuff of our daily sustenance is housed, takes its shape, and is made in order that we may have our being. Food is at the literal and proverbial heart of our daily living.

For people of faith, God is our spiritual food, the bread and water of our humanity, and the nourishment of our God-abiding souls. In the gospel of John, Jesus teaches us, saying, “The bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Though we are fed by the fruits of the earth, it is not our food that ultimately sustains us, but God. God is our ultimate source and sustainer of life, who feeds us, quite literally, with the fruits of God’s creation. Norman Wirzba writes in his book, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, “Eating makes our life possible, but food is not itself the ‘liveliness’ of life” (Wirzba, p. 29). Wirzba rightly surmises that food is “ultimately rooted in the grace of God” (Wirzba, p. 29).

This reality culminates in the symbolic act of saying grace, whereby we recognize that the food before us is a gift from God, and that in being fed by it we are sustained by God. Simultaneous with this is our acknowledgement that God is both our maker and the creator of the fruits and grains, legumes and water, that permit our living. Thus, what we eat is intricately tied up with God—how we worship God through our choices and actions, and our care of the creation God has entrusted to us, not to mention how and whether we feed the hungry and the impoverished that inhabit God’s world alongside those of us with ample means to feed ourselves. Food is a matter of faith.

My own journey to this recognition spans a lifetime of moments celebrated with home baked banana bread, comforted with chocolate chip cookies, and mourned with potato casseroles, and is one that I hope to share as this ministry of affirming our responsibility to care about food and eating unfolds. Food, as we should expect from something that is so utterly tied to human well-being, is fraught with spiritual, social, and political implications, which I also hope to explore in the reflections, exhortations, praises, and endorsements of this blog.

As I share my own journey of navigating how to be an advocate for food justice responsible eating, I have also provided numerous links to other resources which I hope you, my reader, will use to continue informing and empowering yourself as you reflect on how food is a matter of your own faith. In the spirit of honest disclosure I will be forthcoming about my own biases and tendencies, where they are known to me, and I encourage you to examine your own beliefs on matters that may raise your eyebrows. I believe that what we eat, and the manner in which we procure and harvest our food, truly matters. Because of our beliefs my husband and I are committed vegetarians, and as such, some of the resources I will provide here will pertain to animal welfare, vegetarianism, and the ecological impact of the factory farming of animals.

I believe factory farming is one of the most urgent ills our world suffers from today. With that said, I would like to be perfectly clear that although I have chosen a vegetarian lifestyle for myself, and I will consistently encourage people to examine the implications of their meat eating and its effects on our planet, I in no way condemn or disparage others who continue to eat meat. But I do hope that those who do eat meat will give sufficient pause to reflect on this choice and will take a look at how even reducing the amount of animal products consumed can have a positive impact on God’s creation. More about this will certainly be said later, but this will not primarily be the intent of this blog.  This is but one piece in a much larger puzzle of caring for and celebrating God’s creation with what we eat.

I welcome your feedback, both affirmative and critical, and hope that I can provide a forum for honest and lively reflection on how God would have us behave as the consumers of God’s garden home. In the spirit of saying grace, I offer this familiar blessing as my hope for this work:

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts,
which we are about to receive,
from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord.
Amen