(Pass out bread and fruit)
Eat. Work. Play. Pray. Rest. This summer our worship times will be shaped by these five themes. They are common things that we do every day and week. Things that involve our bodies. And the question that we’ll explore together over the next while is simply, “How do we do these things well?”
So we start with eating. And while we’re talking about eating, we might as well do some eating, so please enjoy whatever fruit and breads and dip you’d like from the plates that are coming around, and take your time is selecting what you want. And don’t worry about dropping anything on the floor or grinding it into the rug. Just so we could have a stress free morning passing food around, we have made special arrangements to have completely new carpet installed by next Sunday.
So while we’re getting into food mode, here’s a recipe for good eating: open eyes, open mouths, and open hands.
First ingredient: Open Eyes
Before the food is in our mouths and stomachs, we take it in with our eyes. Before you eat the bread or fruit passed around to you, you see it, give it a lookover, and start anticipating the taste from what you know of what you are seeing.
The first verb in scripture associated with food is not chewing, tasting, or even eating. It is seeing. Genesis 1:29 “God said, “See, behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” This is immediately followed by God declaring all of creation very good.
When we look, and behold, we see that the world is made for eating and that it is a blessing, very good, something that inspires gratitude and worship. Without good, grateful looking at our food, eating becomes one dimensional and mechanical. We forget that it is a gift and cut ourselves off from a complete eating experience. Food fills the body but not the spirit. And both suffer as a result.
Having open eyes as we eat has become much more complex in the world of industrialized food production. Well before the food reaches our mouths, there are many levels to be seen. We usually look at labels. What is the price? What are the ingredients? What is the nutrition value? Does it contain anything that we’re trying to avoid? At a deeper level of looking one might ask Where does this item come from? How far has it traveled to get to me and how much energy and pollution has been required in its production? At another level one may ask How were the people treated who helped grow and pick certain ingredients in this item? Were they paid fairly? Were they treated with dignity? Did they have safe working conditions? At another level one may look for how the land was treated that helped grow this item. Was this farmed in a sustainable way? Sometimes trying to have eyes open to all these factors can be rather exhausting. It’s hard work. Sometimes it helps us slowly change our buying and eating habits as we learn to see what’s going on at all these levels.
Mennonite Central Committee has produced a cookbook called “Simply in Season” with the recipes divided up into the four different seasons, each season having its own color of border for that section, each dish using food grown in that season. The cookbook helps us see something important. That the foods that we eat have a natural growing cycle and that eating things in season can be healthier for us and for the environment.
Ultimately, our looking should lead us toward greater gratitude and mindfulness for the gifts of creation.
The deeper we look, the more we are aware that in our eating we are connected with the entire economy of creation, and dependent on a healthy creation to be healthy people. Open eyes make for good eating and help us connect this every day activity with our spirituality.
Second Ingredient in the recipe for eating well: Open Mouths
This is the fun part of eating. Where the rubber meets the road, or where the tortilla meets the taste buds. It would have been possible for God to create us without these little sensors all over our tongues. Eating could be one of those things that we just have to do to survive. Another chore for the day like sweeping the floor and doing the laundry. Necessary, but not all that enjoyable, even burdensome. But this isn’t the case. Eating is enjoyable, pleasurable, something we look forward to and something that can be a unique experience each time because of the different spices and flavors that different foods have. Nobody has to convince us that food is good. We can smell it, we can taste it, we can feel it satisfying our hunger. That fruit or bread and dip in your mouth tastes good. To quote today’s call to worship — Jam that’s sticky, toast that’s crumby, Everything that’s scrummy yummy, All this given for our pleasure, God is good beyond good measure.
It’s no coincidence that the instruction in Genesis to eat from all the fruit of the earth comes right after the instruction to be fruitful and multiply and that they are followed by the words “God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Sex and eating are closely related in that they are both needed for the survival of the species – they’re necessary — and they are both pleasurable, exciting gifts meant to be enjoyed. Didn’t have to be that way, but it is. We feel God’s goodness in our bodies.
Here’s another connection between sex and food. Guilt. Shame. This one is our creation. For all sorts of reasons, we attach guilt with pleasure or with our bodies. If it feels good or if it tastes good, God doesn’t like it, and neither should we. There’s a lot we don’t know about God, but this much we’re sure of. Where did we get this idea from? Wherever it came from, its embedded deep in our collective consciousness and we all have to confront it at some point.
Scripture does bring out another aspect of eating that comes into play here. Feasting and pleasure aren’t the only things associated with food. There is also fasting, simplifying, refraining from eating certain things in order to be more spiritually aware and physically healthy. Maybe we don’t know how to really enjoy feasting because we’ve never learned how to fast. Or maybe feasting brings guilt because there’s not the discipline of fasting. When Daniel was exiled to Babylon along with his friends Shadrach, Mishach, and Abednego, they were brought into the royal palace for their re-education to serve in the Babylonian court and were given a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. To serve with the king meant they got to eat like a king. Rather than digging in to the rich food, Daniel and company resolved not to eat any of it and requested a diet of vegetables and water. Here’s what happened, from Daniel chapter 1: “At the end of ten days it was observed that they appeared better and healthier than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations. So the guard continued to withdraw their royal rations and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. To these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom.” (Daniel 1:14-17a)
Eating well will involve knowing when to close our mouths and knowing when to open them – when to fast and when to feast. And feasting becomes all the more pleasurable when it is combined with fasting.
Open eyes. Open Mouths.
Third Ingredient: Open Hands
Eating is not good eating without open hands. It’s incomplete. The relationship between us and the world is lacking if we look and gather and eat and enjoy without sharing. We cut ourselves off from the big economy of creation that always receives and gives.
After coming out of slavery in Egypt, after trekking through the food scarce wilderness and depending on manna from heaven for daily bread, the Israelites settle in the land of milk and honey and experience, for the first time in generations, an abundance of food – food security. They have what they need. No more dependency on Pharaoh, no more uncertainty of whether manna will be around the following day. There is land to till and fruit to eat.
And at the heart of the law that they were to live by are commandments to live with open hands.
Suzanne Marie read one example of this from the law code:
Leviticus 19:9-10 — “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.”
The law assumes that there are those who have land in their family that they farm and those who do not. It is addressed to those with the resources, commanding them how to live in such a way that they can remain free from being over possessive of what they have and so that those who are poor, unable to work, immigrants who haven’t established themselves yet, can remain free from grinding poverty and starvation. So, when you’re harvesting, don’t worry about collecting and gathering every single piece of grain or fruit in the field. Because it’s not just your field. It belongs to God and the universe and there are poor people whom God loves who are going to need to come in and do some gleaning in order to have their daily bread.
This winter I attended a several week class at Hebrew Union College right by UC taught by a rabbinical student. At one point in the class this text was brought up and the instructor mentioned how the gleaning law is still observed in parts of Israel and how when she had last been there she and her group had actually done some gleaning. They were out on the road, were hungry, happened to be by a field, and went and ate some of grapes or figs or whatever it was that was growing there. She said this was an accepted practice and that it is understood that a hungry person has a right to eat and that no rules of private property should be able to keep them from getting some sustenance.
Gleaning is still a common practice in the US, it’s just gone more underground. One form of this is known as dumpster diving. It looks a little different, but it’s the same basic reality of gathering from the leftovers of the fields of the plentiful. Some middle class people have chosen to dumpster dive as a way of reducing society’s waste and as a way of saving money on food costs. You can dumpster dive for furniture or appliances left on the curb for trash or in a literal dumpster by a market that is discarding unused or day old goods.
We have some gleaners here at CMF. Once a month Elaine and Kevin go to Panera Bread after the store has closed in order to gather the bags and bags of unsold bread from the day which Panera is gracious enough to donate. They make it available at Community Meal for those who need and want bread. The breads on the trays this morning are from some recent gleanings, and there’s more available this morning in the bread spread, so if you ate a piece or take some home you are officially a gleaner yourself.
Some continue in the ancient tradition of gleaning out of necessity. Every Tuesday night and Wednesday morning the gleaners of Oakley come out in our neighborhood. It’s not food that they glean for, but it is something that can easily be sold for money which in turn can buy food or whatever else is needed. Wednesday is recycling day and before the truck comes for the contents of the green bins, the gleaners do their rounds to collect the aluminum cans. They’ll walk up and down the streets, searching through each little field of recyclable items placed out on the curb in front of people’s houses, carrying large bags or pushing carts that hold their harvest. They take their gleanings to the Oakley Recycling Station just a couple blocks from here by the railroad tracks and cash them in for some supplemental income.
It’s interesting that just a few verses after the gleaning laws is the well-known law, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself,” Leviticus 19:18. In the Levitical Code loving one’s neighbor includes allowing them to glean from the bounty of one’s field. I’m struck by how minimal of a demand this is on the person with resources, but how much it can change an entire attitude toward living with open hands. This law doesn’t ask for major sacrifices, although there are plenty of teachings that do call for sacrifice. It asks that those with resources live with open hands, open fields, open houses, open recycling bins, in the spirit of keeping the circle of giving and receiving open.
So let’s live well, cooking up a recipe for joyful eating. Take two open eyes, add one open mouth, mix in two open hands. Stir together, bake until done, and eat with gratitude and thanksgiving.