Food & Faith: A Theology of Eating
Norman Wirzba, Ph.D.
Cambridge University Press, 2011
Having provided a foundation for thinking theologically about food, Dr. Wirzba begins his theology of food and eating where God originally created humanity – the garden. By being involved in the gardening process, we find “our fundamental and inescapable home” (p. 37). As Dr. Wirzba explains, “To be a gardener is to be involved in one of the most fundamental of human tasks, namely, the effort to understand human creaturliness as our life together with other creatures and God” (p. 36). Gardening gives our existence shape by placing us in our natural home to rely on God and other creatures.
A discussion of place/home for our culture is important because so many of our lives are defined by a lack of home or place. We are a culture defined by the move. We are no longer tied to the land of our ancestors, even to that of our parents. While there are some advantages to this freedom of mobility it is not without its consequences. One of the major consequences is a pervasive feeling of disorientation, which Dr. Wirzba describes as “a fundamental distortion of who one should be and what one should do” (p. 41, emphasis original).
To counteract this aura of disorientation, Dr. Wirzba uses the Sabbath as a “model for what our life together in a place should look like” (p. 43). Dr. Wirzba’s view of the Sabbath differs from what I have heard. Rather than a rest from creation, he understands the Sabbath to be a complete entrance into the life of creation and all that is made available to us. Therefore, Sabbath is about being fully present to life rather than a disengagement from it, which is what I feel like I hear most often. This view of Sabbath also means that Sabbath is a discipline of seeking and finding God where he has placed me instead of continually uprooting and searching for the next biggest and best thing. Or as Dr. Wirzba writes, “Sabbath dwelling becomes possible as people give up the restless search for a more lucrative world and more agreeable friends, and instead embrace the places and communities that have been given as the concrete manifestations of God’s love” (p. 46).
One of the main lessons which gardening can teach us is the fact that we are not ultimately in control. It is tempting to think of gardens as utopia; Paradise will be regained on earth if only we all lived in gardens again. However, we still live under the curse of sin, which means sweat, toil, and weeds and we will continue to live under the curse until Jesus returns to ultimately redeem all of heaven and earth. But until then, gardening has the ability to teach us that no of us can ever live alone – autonomy is an impossible distortion of creation. Gardeners rely not only on their own knowledge, but on a vast amount of others, from nature to the micro ecosystems within the soil to produce the crop, much of which are beyond his control. Gardeners begin to see that they are members of all of creation, that a sense of interdependency pervades all of creation as God originally intended.
Gardening also has the ability to teach us an attentiveness that is counterintuitive to our culture today. Gardening cannot be sped up without altering and often destroying the beauty of the crop; a lesson I learned by waiting on our lemon and orange trees back in the Fall. Through gardening and a heightened sense of attentiveness we begin to see the world in a different life and take on the disposition and “the desire to work with rather than against others” (p. 55, emphasis original). Gardeners are better equipped to see the depth and the intricacies of creation which leads to a richer praise of God, according to Dr. Wirzba (p. 60).
While gardening has intrinsic value of its own as stated above, the ultimate of goal of gardening is to better understand the Triune God and how he gardens his people, thereby learning how to treat others with the same dignity. In this discussion, Dr. Wirzba uses John 15 and the image of the vine as the guiding motif. He writes:
This is arresting imagery because it communicates not only how dependent we are on God but also how important it is that we synchronize and tune our living to the true life that God reveals to us in Christ. Human life is to grow out of Christ, who is the vine, so that we can then be the agents of God’s continuing care in the world. We cannot mirror God’s nature if we are not inspired and fed – not gardened – by God (p. 67).
Intimacy is communicated clearly through the image of a vine and branches, more so than any other image Jesus used. As Dr. Wirzba writes, “Branch and vine are seamlessly connected such that it is hard to pinpoint exactly where on ends and the other begins…. The branch, by being what it is, reflects automatically the nurture and goal of the vine” (p. 67). But the vine and the branch do remain different and distinct. I will never become the vine, but hopefully I have so attuned myself to the vine that people see more of Jesus in my actions.
In learning how Jesus gardens his people, including me, how he treats me with respect and dignity, I should in turn learn not only how to be with others better, but also how to garden and care for creation.
This chapter challenged and inspired me. I have never been a gardener. I love plants and I love the beauty of gardens, but I have never taken the time to learn how to cultivate a garden. Gardening is an activity that I hope I can start to develop, but it is hard when Claire and I are renting a place and are unsure how long we will be there. Our lives at the present do not lend themselves to building deep roots, which we do not like, but also realize that it is hopefully only for a time. I also have to realize that starting small is okay; I am not going to have a huge garden overnight. But I can start by doing an herb garden that does not take up a lot of space and may even be portable.