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.