Thinking Theologically About Food

Dan Cranley, theological Student and intern at St. George’s is leading a Lenten book study on Thursday nights at 7pm. The book we will be reading is “Food and Faith: A Theology of Food” written by Norman Wirzba. Below is Dan’s reflection on the first chapter.

In introduction I would like to clearly state that this book study is designed to explore “a” theology of food, not “the” theology of food. It is designed to get us thinking about how we may observe food through the lens of our faith. We are approaching this topic together in an explorative spirit that embodies hospitality and compassion to the various understandings of faith and food.

“To live we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness and others to want.”
Wendell Berry, The Gift of Good Land.

The Fate of Food in Modernity
In our consumer based modern western world it is very easy to do convenient, quick and mindless eating. Like many other aspects of our lives, food may very easily be reduced to a product that we simply consume, supplied to us by a corporation (for profit).

“People can now consume a slice (of bread) and have no imagination or sympathy for the agricultural community or ecological neighborhood that brought it into being. They can purchase a loaf in a store and have no idea if its existence depended on the destruction of soils, watersheds or the decimation of indigenous cultures and the degradation of today’s workers.” (page 17)

Bread: Spiritual Eating
Historically people of faith have viewed food not only as a sustaining power of God the creator, but also as a community exercise that connects us with the world, with each other and with God.

If we continue on the topic of bread…

“Bread is the bearer of at least four major narratives or histories. (1) a narrative of natural process that yield diverse plant growth, yeast spores, salt, sugar and water; (2) an agricultural narrative about the human domestication of plants, considerable experimentation with grains and heat, and the development of grain economies; (3) a moral philosophical narrative about transformation of humanity itself as people grow into the idea that they can control their habitats and relationships with each other in new and potentially hospitable ways; and (4) a theological narrative focused on Jesus as “the bread of life” ( page 13)

These narratives may lead us to a more thoughtful awareness of the food we eat and digest. We may gain a deeper understanding of the narrative of natural processes, agricultures, philosophies and theologies of food.

“… what a theological approach to eating does is enable the perception of food within a context that stretches through the many ecological and social relationships of this world to the divine creator and sustainer of it. To approach food with a concern for its theological depth is to acknowledge that food is precious because it has its true source in God.” (page 29)

Discussion Questions

  • Why did God create a world in which every living creature must eat?
  • Is the modernization (or the convenience) of food to be avoided or protested?
  • How might you integrate spiritual Eating into our everyday lifestyles?