As I enter 2022, I have once again been bombarded with advertisements for self-improvement. Depending on which social media site I am perusing or which email account, the ads invite me to eat better, look better or be better in the new year. Those advertisements filling my inbox and social media feeds tend to focus on food, or fitness or faith.
A new gym membership or fitness app will help me look better and be stronger than I ever have before! This or that diet, or app will help me melt pounds easily! This book or app or group will help me read the Bible in 365 days or deepen my relationship with Jesus in three easy steps.
Between the focus on food as a problem and diets and exercise as the solution, my life would be fulfilled and perfect. All I need do is identify the “bad” foods and eliminate them, or better yet take one of those “miracle” pills and the pounds would disappear.
When did food become the enemy? In the book of Genesis, God creates and blesses all the earth as good. In the second chapter humanity is offered enough to eat from the fruits of the garden. Now our failure of course was that we always go for what we are denied and Adam and Eve were driven from the garden to sweat and toil in order to live and eat.
Food is necessary to live, but food also brings joy and connects us one to another and to the God who created us. Food has the capacity to break down barriers, offer healing and hope and bring differing sides to a common table. In Christian tradition, the sacrament of Holy Communion points to this powerful truth, Christ is present at a table where two or three gather.
Our rituals are a window through which we can see the incarnation, God with us. In those rituals the intersection of food and faith point to that truth. We gather at a table for a birthday and the one being honored is offered a cake with candles to celebrate another year of their unique and unrepeatable life. A couple at their wedding share cake and a sparkling beverage celebrating this union and the hope and promise of years ahead of them. Even funerals offer food gathering family and friends together, for comfort and peace and a time to share stories as the deceased is remembered and celebrated.
Food is not the enemy, but perhaps our relationship with food is what we do not always understand. We eat to live. Sometimes we eat because we are bored or sad or are trying to fill some ache inside of us.
Eating food with little nutritional value doesn’t help with any of those feelings or experiences, but can be a quick fix. For me, Kettle Potato chips are my downfall. I love the taste and the crunch and the salt and the fat and when stressed, I eat way too many of them. It is easier for me to not have them in the house or I eat every one of them.
That is not the fault of the potatoes or the salt or the fat or the company that makes them. There is nothing inherently wrong with potato chips. In fact, in terms of ingredients, at least I can pronounce them and the list is short. It is my use of this particular food to deal with my stress or sadness, rather than my faith. I need food, but I also need food for my soul and spirit.
Cooking can provide a spiritual component to my day. Sitting at the table with my husband, savoring a meal, reconnecting adds to a sense of centeredness and peace that no potato chip offers. As I begin this new calendar year, I am reminded that food and faith belong together. A table where love and laughter and even heartache are shared is gift from God. I pray that this year is filled with many tables, with many friends accompanied but love and laughter.