Food and faith in the new year

Posted: Sunday, January 10, 2010

Opportunities to begin anew abound. Here we are in January and in a new decade. Rather than be cynical, I welcome practices that encourage letting go and beginning anew.

The Christian new liturgical year began with Advent on Nov. 29, 2009. Other religions begin with other times. Some begin in spring. Some new year celebrations are based on culture (i.e. Chinese New Year is yet to come). These time-markers offer opportunities to review what has been working, clear out what no longer serves us and consider making changes.

While some religious folks focus primarily on what might happen after they die, my practices are linked to life here, because I believe in a God who created this world, called it "good" and continues to be present in it. Regardless of one's religion or lack of one, we are all faced with how to best utilize and share our resources. So issues around food and faith are inescapable.

Because we are so dependent upon food for our survival, it is no wonder that gratitude for it is one of the most common prayers. Sharing of food is found in spiritual practices for connecting and supporting people, honoring the dead, celebrating life and more.

One of the names Christians use for Jesus is "the "Bread of Life." Jesus was known to share food with people in ways that challenged cultural and religious rules. He feed the hungry and shared food with his followers.

I've experienced both heaven and hell in relationship with food. Growing food helps me to feel a kinship with much of God's creation. It has deepened my understanding of many parables and scriptural wisdoms.

My deep love for the earth and understanding of stewarding God's creation has blessed my gratitude in receiving food and the ability to share it. I know what it means to hatch, raise, butcher and cook chickens. I've caught my own fish and crabs. Being able to prepare in all stages of receiving the gift of food has deepened my appreciation of it.

Eating foods taken straight from the vine, bush or tree offers an awesome blessing. Laboring for them in a harvest links me to others who do similar work. So many people today have no idea where their food really comes from. Our processed foods are so distant from us it makes it difficult to digest the gifts.

Food and faith also affects how we relate with one another. Economically sustainable family farms are almost a thing of the past. Farm workers face numerous issues of working in unhealthy conditions, challenges with immigration laws, homelessness and unfair wages. Many of the farming practices today use toxic chemicals and methods such as genetically modified organisms damage God's creation. My faith calls me to consider these issues along with the blessings of food we share.

Personally, my faith has helped me as I've struggled with my weight and eating issues for most of my life. Growing up there was little chance for any sense of learning natural trust and a sense of safety that my body could help me know what it needed.

Along with 12-step programs of Adult Child of Alcoholics and Codependents Anonymous, I've worked some in the area of Overeaters Anonymous. My concern in my relationship with food has helped me in my ministry with others. God's Grace, unconditional love, has been the key to facing my issues with food. Once I was truly able to experience deep gift of Grace in food, then I was able to explore the gifts of spiritual fasting from food.

You're invited to explore issues around food and faith from Jan. 15 to 16, along with a study on Sudan and dreams of peace and a study on Native Alaska and Native American survival issues, at a Southeast regional United Methodist event taking place at Northern Light United Church. Contact Barb Mitchell for registration 789-3552.

• Judy Shook is pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church.

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