I am working on a story for telling. I know that sounds weird, but Biblical Storytelling is a thing, and I’m working on putting together my first story to tell. It is the story of the man with the withered hand, whom Jesus heals on the Sabbath. I’m thinking about telling this story from the perspective of the man’s wife or daughter or mother, because I think I can tell it better from a female point of view. And so I found myself researching how Shabbat was observed during the time of Jesus, how a woman would prepare home and family and meal each week.
Meanwhile, I’m fat. I don’t say this to put myself down. By any objective measure, I’m way-the-fuck overweight. Morbidly obese is the lovely, hopeful medical term. There are so many reasons for this – genetics, of course, a slowing metabolism when I finished university and got a desk job, three pregnancies in rapid progression, medications that carry increased appetite and/or weight gain as side effects… and a pattern of emotional eating.
As I researched online, I found this amazing summary, which is based on The Lord’s Table: Eucharist and Passover in Early Christianity by Gillian Feeley-Harnick, and was written by Jerome H. Neyrey of the University of Notre Dame:
Hypotheses about the symbolic nature of food and eating in the Hebrew scriptures:
The power of the Lord is manifested in his ability to control food: to feed is to bless, to confer life; to feed bad food or to starve is to judge or punish, to confer death.
Acceptance of the power and authority of the Lord is symbolized by acceptance of his food.
Rejection of the power and authority of the Lord is symbolized by seeking after food he has forbidden.
People “limit” or “tempt” the Lord–that is, question the extent of his power or authority–by questioning his ability to feed them.
The Lord’s word is equated with food.
Eating joins people with the Lord or separates them
I have recently become acquainted with the work of Isabel Foxen Duke, whose ideas about eating, binge-eating, and emotional eating feel a lot like the ideas about shame, vulnerability, and courage in the work of Brené Brown. What I am learning from these amazing women has a strong resonance with these observations about meals and eating from scripture.
Food is a blessing. Food sustains our very life. Food is wonderful, amazing stuff! Food should never be reduced to “mere fuel.” Food should be celebrated as a great gift from the Creator of all that is, and it should be shared and decorated and prepared to be beautiful and appealing to all of our senses.
What this means in practice is very interesting. Over the last four or five months, I have tried to choose foods worth celebrating. Recently I had a massive craving for chocolate cake. In the supermarket, I was looking at the Hostess and Little Debbie products, figuring I’d have three or four little cakes once we got home. I picked up a box… and then set it down again. These are not worth celebrating. Instead, I found a pair of chocolate cupcakes on the clearance shelf in the store bakery – good cupcakes, made that day in the store – and I enjoyed every little bite of them. And I’ll tell you: because I chose good food, because I paused to appreciate how beautiful they looked, how wonderful they smelled, how it felt to peel the paper from each–because of these things, that craving was fully satisfied. I didn’t eat five individually-wrapped cupcakes and feel like I still needed more. No, I had my celebration, and I felt grateful for it, and I was able to stop thinking about food and get on with life.
I am also very intrigued by the final hypothesis, that food and eating are things done in community. One of the questions that gets asked on “Are you an alcoholic?” tests is “Do you drink alone?” I wonder about “Do you eat alone?” being an indicator that one has a problem with food. I don’t mean that if you’re living alone or your partner is on travel for work, you shouldn’t eat. More what I mean is that furtive eating that emotional eaters are familiar with: hiding in a corner of the darkened kitchen to choke down a piece of cake without anybody noticing, furtively eating one more slice of pizza while you’re wrapping up the leftovers, hiding food in your car or your desk or your bedroom.
All of that said, I will take these ideas with me into reflection, these thoughts about food and eating and meals and dining as they relate to God’s great Kingdom. I think they will make fascinating reflection during the Advent season of preparation.