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Food for the Body is Food for the Soul

James Tonkowich | ReligionToday.com Columnist | Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Food for the Body is Food for the Soul

Sunday morning a few weeks ago was unusual. Duty called my wife who headed for the hospital, leaving me alone early. Friends were coming for dinner and, since I wanted to swing by the supermarket after church, I shuffled through recipes, wrote out a shopping list, and slathered a marinade over an already purchased pork loin. Then I had my devotions, but food was on my mind. Church reinforced it.

The first reading was from Isaiah 25: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (v 6). Then came Psalm 23: “You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows” (v 5).

St. Paul reminded us, “I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need” (Philippians 4:12). 

Jesus in the Gospel text (Matthew 22:1-14) began, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son” and then we dined together on heavenly food, the Eucharist. 

Food, Glorious Food! The Bible is filled with it: forbidden fruit, birthright porridge, Passover lambs, miraculous manna, self-replicating flour and oil, locusts and wild honey, wedding wine, breakfast on the beach, the Savior’s broken body and shed blood, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (to which Isaiah 25 points).

While G. K. Chesterton (a man of considerable adiposity) noted, “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese,” he also wrote, “All true friendliness begins with fire and food and drink and the recognition of rain or frost. ...Each human soul has in a sense to enact for itself the gigantic humility of the Incarnation. Every man must descend into the flesh to meet mankind.”

It seems to me that Chesterton captured the essence of what all that food is doing in the Scriptures.

Angels and devils are pure spirit, but to be human is to have a body and to relate to other humans, we need to relate bodily, just as Jesus did (and does). Food is a daily—usually a thrice daily—reminder of our embodiment and with it, of the Incarnation of the Son of God. 

Having bodies means we need to care for our bodies. So we have to obtain (harvest, hunt, or purchase), prepare, serve, and eat food. In the kitchen and around the table friendliness leading to true friendship happens as we share “fire and food and drink and the recognition of rain or frost,” that is, as we come together in our common physicality.

In a 2009 article entitled, “Faux Friendship” in The Chronicle of Higher Education," William Deresiewicz noted that social media’s “very premise—and promise—is that it makes our friendship circles visible. There they are, my friends, all in the same place. Except, of course, they’re not in the same place, or, rather, they’re not my friends. They’re simulacra of my friends, little dehydrated packets of images and information, no more my friends than a set of baseball cards is the New York Mets.”

Dehydrated food is among my worst memories of backpacking—and of eating. Just-caught brook trout from a mountain lake, sautéed in butter, and enjoyed with fishing and hiking companions is among my best. 

We are physical beings and friendships thrive in physicality. Social media has its uses, but developing genuine friendship isn’t one of them. We have to move beyond social media, come face-to-face and hand-to-hand. Most often food is involved.

“Throughout history,” writes Chef Russell Cronkite in his cookbook Return to Sunday Dinner: The Simple Delight of Family, Friends, and Food, “special meals have come to symbolize special times, and such meals mark our family lives as well: birthday dinners, reunion picnics, weddings, anniversaries. When other details of past events fade, the flavors of the food we shared together linger in the memory.” 

Cronkite goes with words that apply to Sunday dinners and to days like Thanksgiving. They “provide us with unhurried hours for enjoying our shared lives—exploring our heritage, remembering the sacrifices of those who made our lives possible, and giving thanks for God’s kindness and blessings.” 

Our Sunday dinner party was lovely. Good friendships were made better through companionship, encouragement, love, laughter, prayer, and pork loin with grapes and vegetables. The party ended with happy souls and satisfied bodies just, I believe, what God had in mind.

Jim Tonkowich is a writer, commentator, and speaker focusing on the role of religion in our public life. His new book, The Liberty Threat: The Attack on Religious Freedom in America Today is available from St. Benedict Press and other online retailers. 

Publication date: November 12, 2014