EAT

A word that’s come into new focus over the past few days is EAT. I was invited to speak at a Seventh Day Adventist college, visit a few classes and share several meals with them. They are a denomination that pays close and specific attention to eating practices as a dimension of spiritual life and health.
They avoid meat and alcohol, know what to do with vegetables, and live the idea that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in sustained and intentional gratitude. They serve food with a kind of graciousness that comes from that gratitude.
The phrase “mindful eating” comes back to me as I embark with John on a new path through the thicket of sugar and carbs and processed foods we all inhabit. Food choices are moral choices. They need to be made and re-made as we move travel, which we’re doing more than usual these days, accepting various communities’ hospitality, trying to be faithful to ways of eating that reflect the values we continue to clarify while also accepting gratefully what is given.
Eating is a powerful metaphor for what we take in. We ingest images and words that require the same kind of mindfulness as food does. I think about how I have responsibility for what I hear, for instance, or view or read. I don’t want to clog my mind with toxins any more than I want to poison my liver, but it’s hard sometimes even to recognize what’s toxic.
I think of God saying to Ezekiel, “Eat this scroll,” and, having eaten it, being charged to carry God’s words to the people. It’s a metaphor that bears unpacking: take it in, digest it, break it down into its parts and let it fill your very cells and fuel your brain. What you eat you carry. What you eat empowers you. What you eat you impart.
Bon appetit, we say, borrowing the cheerful French expression on occasion to encourage guests to enjoy the food. Have a good appetite. May the food nourish and bless you. May you receive it in good health and good spirits. Some form of grace survives even at tables where the old ones are no longer remembered; at some level—at the cellular level as one of my old friends might say—I think most of us remember that eating is a sacred act. Like many of my prayers, I sometimes do it hurriedly or distractedly. But it is hard to do it, especially at others’ tables like those the lovely Adventist vegetarians laid, complete with cucumber water, without a refreshing surge of gratitude.

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