Posted by: jevcat | April 25, 2010

Food and the Lectionary

I smiled when I saw that one of the daily lectionary psalms for this morning was Psalm 63, with its verse 5:

     My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness,

            and my mouth praises you with joyful lips.

and chuckled when I realized that the Gospel was the Feeding of the 5,000.  It’s a food-oriented Sunday!

As an American in this day and age, and as someone who has struggled with my weight all my life, reading that psalm – and food images in general in the Bible – brings an odd combination of recognition, satisfaction, vindication, and something akin to trepidation. 

Over the years, I’ve had far too many conversations with medical folks about my weight, and during one of them, I looked my gp of many years in the eye and said, “There’s a reason the psalmist says ‘my soul is content with marrow and fatness’ not ‘my soul is content as with water-packed tuna and lettuce’.”  He did what he always does when I come out with something beyond his comprehension:  stared at me for a minute, shook his head, and moved on.  (I confess, I do enjoy doing that to him.)

Food is problematic for Americans; we have too much of it, we eat too much of it (and the “wrong” kinds), and we waste too much of it.  We love it, and we fear it and what it can, potentially, do to us.  Sometimes it seems everything is bad for us, even the stuff we thought wasn’t.  Then there’s the food police, standing ready to stamp out every last shred of indulgence in the name of Health (do they really live longer or does it only feel that way?).  And let’s not forget the idiot studies; my favorite was the one that found people on low fat diets have higher levels of depression (duh):  they needed a scientific study to tell them this?

Biblical authors had no problems unless there wasn’t enough food or unless those with food wouldn’t share it with those without.  To them, food is a good thing – something to be enjoyed – and heaven is a banquet.  As someone who loves both to cook and to eat, that resonates with me (and as someone in what the Victorians used to call “reduced circumstances”, the invitation in Isaiah 55 to “come buy [food] without money” is particularly attractive).  In the Bible food is, as Ben Franklin said about beer (which does actually have some nutritional value), “proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”.

So what are we to do?  For me, the best analysis of the situation may have been from Robert Farrar Capon, a few decades ago, in his wonderful book (with recipes!), Supper of the Lamb.  He says that our problem today is we’ve lost the distinction between “festal” and “ferial” eating.  (In the church calendar, you have feasts, fasts, and ferias, the last being days on which no saint or other special occasion is celebrated.) 

As America prospered and our standard of living increased, gradually food that used to be reserved only for “high days and holy ones” began to be eaten more frequently; for many, every day became a feast (actually, in the medieval calendar almost every day was a feast, but most were “lesser” feasts and didn’t involve big meals).  I’m thinking here of the wonderful old Jewish proverb:  “When a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick.”  Nowadays, it’s generally chicken (or beef or pork) every day – and a lot of us are, if not sick, at least less healthy than we might be on account of it.

So what are we to do?  Stick to the grim consumption of un-sauced vegetables and hope for “pie in the sky by and by”? 

There’s an odd thing I’ve noticed:  if I eat less, I actually enjoy what I do eat more – now there’s an incentive (when I can remember it)!  If I eat rich food every day, it ceases to be special, I don’t think about it, I don’t savor it, and eventually I just get tired of it – I reach a point where I long for a big salad or some ripe strawberries all by themselves.  And maybe that’s the lesson:  the everyday has value, too – without the dark, how would we understand the light? – and it’s something to be grateful for.  If I can let the everyday be the everyday, and I can appreciate it for what it is:  simple bread and fish tasted awfully good to those 5,000 tired and hungry folks.  And I can enjoy the special times more intensely, without guilt, and understand more fully what they mean (not to mention maybe even being healthier).

All is gift “and my mouth praises you with joyful lips.”


  1. I even find when I chew longer and actually taste what I’m eating I realize how good something, even simple somethings, taste. Of course, that just leads to a second helping…

    • Wouldn’t it be nice if, if we just said the right blessing, the calories and cholesterol would just go away?

  2. I missed this one. Good and interesting ideas. As one who has eaten your baked goods (made dairy-free, especially for lactose-intolerant me) I can attest to the reverence of your approach.
    One of my ministries (not yet officially sanctioned by the church) is fitness training. I always tell my “unofficial”) clients, “Never eat anything you don’t really enjoy.”
    Other tips from a certified (and certifiable) fitness trainer/priest.
    Don’t “drink your calories,” except for beer and wine in moderation, and low fat milk if you’re not lactose intolerant. That means no soda, juice or sugar-sweetened iced tea.
    Every time you eat anything, meal or snack; say grace. You can do it sliently if you don’t want to be ostentatious. My personal “quick grace” (spoken or just thought) is this: “Bless my body, bless my soul; make me a blessing in the world. Amen.”

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