Text: Genesis 1: 9-13, 29-31
In the opening chapter of his book Food and Faith, Norman Wirzba reminds us: “We can never only bite into one thing.” And then he goes on to unpack that a little, and then a lot! He writes, “Food is about relationships that join us to the earth, fellow creatures, loved ones and guests, and ultimately God.
When our eating is mindful, we celebrate the goodness of fields, gardens, forests and watersheds, and the skill of those who can nurture seed and animal life into delicious food. We acknowledge and honour God as the giver of every good and perfect gift. … eating is among the most intimate and pleasing ways possible for us to enter into the memberships of creation and find there the God who daily blesses and feeds life.”
I wonder if your morning muesli, or cup of coffee, or that slice of toast and marmalade just took on a whole new and enlarged taste-experience?!
What if we brought to our eating the kind of mindfulness Norman speaks of, that would allow us to see and appreciate this whole world that is brought to our table?
What if we allowed ourselves to recognize the life and the lives that are all part of what we put into our mouths? What more might we be tasting, savouring? How much more satisfied might we be, having taken the time -- because it does take time-- to notice not only the flavours but the soil, the microbes, the sun’s rays and the rain, the ones who sowed and the ones who harvested, those who brought it to market … and on and on and on it goes -- the lives that are re-presented in some way.
And it’s even more than that, isn’t it.
There’s this affirmation at the heart of our faith that all that springs forth from the earth, from the sea, is of God’s giving … of God’s self! brought into being for the sake of life--the flourishing, the nurturing, the generating, the delighting of life … such that to eat is to see and smell, touch and taste God’s provisioning care …. such that through eating we participate in -we receive into our being - the self-giving life and love of God! Marinate in that for a minute and with every morsel!
“We can never only bite into one thing.” … that’s the understatement of the day, isn’t it!
What Norman is inviting us to appreciate is that food isn’t simply fuel but sacrament … a visible expression that points to an invisible reality … and a means of grace by which we may grow and be transformed into the fullness of our God-given humanity.
Food not just as fuel but as sacrament … let’s go there for a moment.
One of the ways we can get there Norman suggests is by saying grace, which he advises is not so easy. Granted, we can rattle off words that have become so familiar we could say them in our sleep … but what if saying grace was uttered from this place of fully awake and aware, or at least as awake and aware as we can possibly be.
At the heart of saying grace is the expression of thanksgiving … but offering genuine thanks requires that we know what we are thankful for … which means having devoted some time and effort to recognizing this great web of life that is feeding us. Where do the ingredients come from? Were the labourers honoured for their work? Is the food grown and distributed in a way the reflects God’s desire that all be fed? Is the land cultivated in a way that it will remain productive for future generations? Were the animals respected and treated with care?
When we offer thanks we ackowledge our dependence, our reliance on others, on the soil, animals and vegetation for our life and our thriving, and so we admit our need for humility and responsibility and celebration. “Grateful people understand they cannot be thankful for others if they are at the same time knowingly engaged in their destruction,” Norman reminds us. “The thankful word that lifts up and carries the world also cares for what it carries.”
In other words, when we say grace we do not merely say a few words over our food. Rather, we open ourselves to being transformed as we allow ourselves to connect with the sanctity of all life. No wonder Norman advises us saying grace is not so easy. Genuinely give thanks is an act of solidarity with creation.
It is also, at the heart of it, an act of connecting, of communion with the Creator from whom all blessings flow …the blessing of life itself, the blessing of forgiveness and healing, the blessing of unconditional love, the blessing of the unending out-pouring of wisdom, renewing energy, and inspiration, the blessing of empowering companionship, the blessing of all that nurtures body and soul.
It is all of this that we remember in our celebration of communion.
That’s what the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving, as we call it, is all about. It’s our grace before the meal! We take the time to give thanks before we eat, remembering the out-pouring of God’s care and creativity, steadfast love and generous provision. We remember God’s remembering of us and refusal to abandon us. So by the time we come to putting this bread and juice in our mouths there is far more here than meets the eye. We are taking into ourselves God’s self-giving love, this transforming presence, that we ourselves may become gifts of nurture, of healing.
“We can never only bite into one thing” whether we are at this table or our kitchen table … whether we are biting into an apple or a lovingly prepared meal. And it’s the practice of saying grace that can help us to see and appreciate the more that is already there. Not only do we come to see our food not just as fuel but as sacrament, but we come to see ourselves not as filling stations but beloved creatures sustained by and through and for our relationships with this wondrous creation that is pulsing with God’s creating, renewing, sustaining energy.
It’s a powerful thing, this practice of saying thank you … the way it takes us, like every spiritual practice, deeper into the world and deeper into the heart of God … the way it propels us into a way of being in the world in a way that advances justice for all people, promotes care for the earth, the preservation of species of plants and animals … the way it draws us into sharing in God’s work of redeeming and sustaining the world God so loves.
What if we brought to our eating the kind of mindfulness that would allow us to see and appreciate this whole world that is brought to our table?
What if we allowed ourselves to recognize the life and the lives that are all part of what we put into our mouths? What more might we be tasting, savouring?
 Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith- A theology of Eating, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, p4
 thoughts on saying grace with thanks to Norman Wirzba, Ch 6, “Saying Grace” in Food and Faith - A Theology of Eating