Thanksgiving is in two days. If you haven’t already, go move your turkey from the freezer to the fridge. Seriously, go, this will still be here when you get back.
Thanksgiving conjures up images of construction paper headdresses and pilgrim hats, football, cornucopias, and giant balloons in parades.
But most commonly it brings to mind this.
My parents are southern so food has always been a big part of all of our traditions. My mom actually told me I can’t marry a woman who cooks green beans any less than two hours (I did, though, because you can’t tell me what to do.)
After a long day of cooking (and days when green beans are cooked are always long days because they have to be on for like 5 hours) we sit down around a big table as a family.
Then, even though everything is perfect, my mom gives the traditional southern matriarch speech about how the mashed potatoes have too much salt, and the rolls are a little burnt, and she’s sorry that she messed everything up.
Then we each say a thing we’re thankful for.
Then my dad prays and carves the turkey.
Then we eat until we’re full.
Then we eat more.
Then we have dessert.
There’s something weird that happens in all of this. Cooking together, sitting around a table together, eating together, in all of that you somehow sense something deeper is happening. You know, sitting around that table, that food is spiritual and sharing it is an act of worship.
Food In The Beginning
God has always been interested in what we eat. After all, he put the first people in a garden. If the whole world is a garden then the whole world is food. Food serves as a symbol for all of creation and all the material world.
There’s two things we know about life the garden.
- It was absolute connection with God
- There was lots of food in it
Food fuels life and connection with God. The material words helps us connect to God. In the garden, there wasn’t a division between “material” and “spiritual.” The spiritual created and sustained the material and the material empowered and sustained the spiritual.
It shouldn’t surprise us that the fall was about food. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was not blessed by God to be a source of connection with Him. It was only connection with itself.
The fall isn’t just about disobedience but about a willingness to accept a world apart from God. It’s about being hungry for something other than God.
Spirituality and Food
How we relate to food (and by extension all material things) is a good reflection of how we relate to God. We can use it as a way to connect to Him or we can use it as a way to disconnect. If food is spiritual, then your feelings about it can be a good indicator of your spiritual state. Perhaps being separated from God leaves us miserable so we use food only as a comfort and pleasure (this is gluttony). Maybe without connection with God we lose our sense of value and despise ourselves and the things that keep us alive (this is an eating disorder).
Both of these unhealthy approaches to food (and again, all material things) come from an unhealthy division between God and the world. If we hunger for God alone we see that the world exists to help us connect with him and a right relationship to food will follow.
I love this quote by John Cassian
“We cannot possibly join battle with [the spiritual forces of evil] nor deserve to make trial of spiritual combats if we are baffled in a battle with the belly. . . For if you are unable to check the unnecessary desires of the appetite, how will you be able to extinguish the fire of lust”
If you fail with the material things you will fail with the spiritual things; if you fail with the spiritual things you will fail with the material things.
Our enemy is within ourselves and an internal battle is fought daily to combat self-indulgence. That battle prepares us for larger fights.
We have within us a hunger and the battle is to realize that God and nothing else can satisfy that hunger.
Jesus and Food
Jesus seems to always be doing something with food. His first miracle was turning water into wine, his most famous miracle feeding tons of people on one little boys lunch, and the last thing he did with his disciples was eat dinner.
One of the most interesting stories about Jesus and food is the the road to Emmaeus.
Two disciples are walking along right after Jesus died (and came back to life, but they don’t know that) talking all about what happened when Jesus joins them on their walk.
At first the eyes of the disciples are kept from recognizing Jesus. They had just been talking about Jesus, and then Jesus shows up and they start telling this stranger all about Jesus, and they still don’t know that it’s Him in front of them. Sometimes talking about Jesus isn’t enough to know Jesus.
But when Jesus is at the table with them and as he breaks bread “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
Even though they had been speaking with Him all day they did not recognize Him until He ate with them. Sharing meals enables us to recognize Christ in our presence.
And sharing meals helps us recognize Christ in others.
Jesus used meals to cross barriers over and over again. He ate with tax-collectors, prostitutes, and Pharisees. He was labeled a “glutton and a drunkard” because of his eating habits. It’s even been said that “Jesus got himself crucified by the way He ate.” What Jesus did at the table was just as much a part of his mission as what he did in the temple.
Through the incarnation, Jesus restored the unity between material and spiritual in His own body. Because of Him, when we eat we can connect to God and with one another. This Thanksgiving, remember that the meal you are sharing is an act of worship designed for you from the very beginning of time.
And let that remind you that all of life is a way to worship.
That’s something to be thankful for.