Since Mark has billed my radio show appearance as “diet and spirituality,” and I am indeed a pastor, I feel it necessary to put out something on the blog under this topic. The truth is, I think the spiritual element of eating and dealing with food is interwoven in everything I talk about here. It’s a lot easier to separate out and name issues within the science itself. But I’ll take a moment to begin to outline a few principles that I think are spiritual in nature. I am glad to say that an aspect of food policy and advocacy that draws me in,is the diversity of spiritual and religious backgrounds that come together. More theologically conservative people may find that uncomfortable, but I’m not Missouri Synod, in danger of reprimand for saying grace over a meal with the “wrong people.” I can find common ground with many.
1. Yes, food is sacred
I think for anyone who believes in sacredness at all, this is self-evident. If you are a non-spiritual person and find nothing to be sacred, well, then, this conversation will be moot anyway. But from pagans to polytheists to monotheists to earth religions, any place in human experience that we’ve sought the sacred, food is central. It’s the essence of life. In a time before modern manipulated food-like substances, this was self-evident. The Old Testament evokes imagery of food and bounty on countless occasions. In the Hindu scriptures, I recall my brief study in college when I couldn’t get over how much the Rig Veda mentioned clarified butter. To my undergraduate mind, it was almost fetishistic. Now that I’ve made my own, I get it.
2. It’s worth your time to feed your soul.
We voluntarily fill our time with all sorts of non-necessities, yet complain that we don’t have time for food preparation. When we really look at the time we spend on things that are of no consequence, we can find time to prioritize feeding our families. What is more important to do with your kids, prepare a meal for an hour or watch more television? Unlock a new level on some video game? People like to mock the “foodie” or “nutrition nut” but fail to take a hard look at how much of their own brains are filled with information about some random celebrity or sports team, the latest internet meme, or yet another season of American Idol. We make time for what matters to us. If we started budgeting our time with what matters most first, we wouldn’t be stressed about what time is not left over for the noise of the rest of it. We wouldn’t even realize we were missing it. We have time. We just choose to fill it with spiritually deadening nonsense and minutia. Taking food seriously is one way to reverse that trend. Get as excited over fresh berry season as you get for Dancing with the Stars or March Madness or fill in the blank with whatever pop culture diversion you want.
3. The mind and body are not disconnected.
An unfortunate dualism has invaded Christianity, and it started in the early days. There is a common idea that is present even, to a degree, within the New Testament, that the body and spirit are totally separate. This is reflected somewhat in the writings of Paul, but it is a Greek idea. If we go into the roots of Jesus, into the Old Testament and Jewish thought, Judaism has a much more integrated view of the spirit-body connection. Dualistic thinking reduces the beauty of everything into false binary choices. We tend to simplify words of Jesus that are about a kingdom not of this world as if he operated on another plane and floated around in a halo. Christian orthodoxy holds up the real presence of Jesus as the incarnated one, mysterious as that may be. That means enfleshed. Jesus spent a lot of time giving direct advice about physical realities, especially economic ones. He wept, he bled, he got hungry.
Yet the Western world has insisted on a cultural and religious dualism, that speaks of the body and spirit/mind as separate entities. It is a shame that we’ve lost the holistic nature of Hebrew thought when it comes to defining personhood.
When we don’t remove our physical bodies from our spiritual life, we will treat ourselves better. Integrated health. What could be more spiritual?
4. Producing Your Own Food is a Spiritual Act of Political Rebellion.
As the film Gandhi recounts the public life of a man who non-violently brought an empire to its knees, one of the most overt political acts he performs is making his own salt at the sea. This is done in defiance of the British salt tax, so it is a political act. But the choice of that particular tax to resist was demonstrating against a fundamental right of a living creature: to harvest food from the earth. Learn about the Salt March.
When you plant a garden, you are doing a political act. You are dropping out, at least briefly, of the economy of whatever broken system you live in. And they’re all broken. You are now participating in an economy that works on free sunlight, underground processes you can only partially control, and you yield a harvest that can’t be reduced to the world product. You are part of nature’s/God’s economy.
There’s only two things that money can’t buy. That’s true love and home grown tomatoes.
5. Have Life Abundantly
Another unfortunate by-product of the Greek duality that has influenced much of Christianity is the denial of the goodness of life. Yet the Christian has many life-affirming texts. From the declaration of the goodness of creation in Genesis to Jesus’ proclamation to have life abundant, we do ourselves a spiritual disservice if we reduce those words to only some other-worldly later reward. When rabble-rousing folk songwriter Joe Hill penned his criticism of American Christianity with the Preacher and the Slave, we got the now-famous words “there’ll be pie in the sky when we die.” He was dead-on about the problems with a reactionary Christianity that rejected the social Gospel movement in favor of a rapture-loving faith that denied the work of serving people in the world. He may have been speaking to the early 20th century labor movement, but the same religious arguments against workers’ rights were those used to encourage slavery in the 1800s. An over-spiritualization with no regard to the world we live in now is a serious problem. It’s also convenient when it comes from those in power as a directive to those without it, to simply pray for the future in heaven. It is the kind of warped Christianity that constantly says forget about caring for the land, the water, the air. The second coming is imminent! Well, Paul thought so too, to the point of discouraging marriage, since it would be any day now. Exploitation is not a Christian value I recognize, but it is plenty alive and well in commerce-Christianity that believes in special favor for insiders only.
Feed my sheep, Jesus said. Care for my lambs. God so loved the WORLD. You know, all that left-wing hippie stuff called the Gospels.
6. We Could all use a dose of Mysticism
An antidote to the market-driven commodified religion of the suburban hellscape that is over taking all of America may be found by embracing at least a bit of mysticism. Christianity has a rich history of mystics, as do all world religions. These are the people who know food is sacred, who fast as a spiritual experience, who see divinity in the rhythms of the seasons, the growth from soil, the dying and rebirth that is life on earth. You can’t get that from chemically manicured lawns and plastic, from air conditioning and shopping malls, from individually wrapped lean pockets or lunchables. You get it from the holiness of a mountain spring, an olive tree, or a bee hive.
These are just a few collected thoughts. There are whole books and clases dedicated to spirituality and food. There are many other issues I didn’t even touch on. This is only a beginning of sharing where I am as a pastor, a Christian, a human being in this world.