As I continue to reflect on food and spirituality, I am continually struck by what may seem completely obvious: It is not necessarily about what I eat, but how I eat it.
Obviously what I eat will play a large factor in the longevity, health and overall well-being of my life, so I am not stating that one can eat whatever one wants.
What I am stating is that when it comes to recognizing the spirituality of food, eating and the table, the attitude of my whole body (flesh, soul, spirit, mind, will, and heart) that I bring to the table is far more important than what is served.
This past weekend, I was catering a retreat for The Center for Christian Thought, a great new research program started by Biola University. Before the first dinner on Friday night, I had a chance to briefly dialogue with the director of the program about spirituality and food, which helped me to hone these ideas. He mentioned that he and a colleague have a slightly different take on the spirituality of eating. His colleague believes that all eating can be viewed as spiritual, whereas, he understands it in a slightly more nuanced manner, where eating may not be spiritual because of the prevalence of gluttony in American culture.
At first I wanted to agree with the colleague and argue that eating is a spiritual act; however, as we discussed, I realized that I would have to agree with the director’s position.
Any understanding of eating and food must take into account sin. Sin entered into the world as a result of eating (Genesis 3). Paul rebukes the church at Corinth for their practices of eating as a means of excluding the poor (1 Corinthians 11:17-22). Even the Pharisees, in their attempt to be pure and holy before God, twisted and contorted the Laws about food and eating (Mark 7:5-23).
And there can be no denying that the culture of the United States is gluttonous in nature from fast food at McDonalds all the way to the finest restaurant in the nation. Not to mention our rabid interest in the latest dieting information. We are a culture lost when it comes to matters of food and eating, despite having so much information.
As one surveys America’s culinary landscape, he/she might be tempted to conclude that eating cannot be spiritual. But this conclusion would be just as wrong as saying that eating is a spiritual act. (Here I am using spiritual to refer to an act that aids in one’s sanctification/growth in Christ, although one could argue, I assume, that all eating reflects one’s spiritual beliefs whether for good or for bad.)
So then maybe what we need is to train people in a different way. Train them to approach food in a thoughtful manner. Train them to see the table as another means of grace and sanctification. Train them to see the bounty of God’s good creation as a wonderful delightful gift to be celebrated, but also treated with the utmost respect. Train them to understand that there is a place for fast food just as there is a place for fine dining. Maybe even train highschoolers to approach the next pizza party as a sacrament rather than an all-you-can-eat, cram-as-much-as-you-can gluttonous affair.