Dirt, Bodies, and Food: Our Reconciliation with Creation
fellow who “welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:2).
Relatively little in the way we eat today reflects or extends this divine hospitality. To be sure, we are producing more “cheap” calories than the world has ever seen. But these calories are being provided at a very high cost: the destruction of agricultural land, degradation of water, poisoning of plants, abuse of domestic animals, exploitation of agricultural and food service workers, and ill-health of our own bodies. Remembering that God’s word is to be preached to every living creature under heaven (Colossians 1:23), what would it look like to be good news in contexts like these?
For Christians the nurture of gospel life happens as we are fed at the eucharistic table. Coming to this table with open hands, we receive and eat the bread of life and drink the cup of salvation so that Jesus can enter into the stomach and heart of our being and transform the eating we do. Christ takes over from the inside so that the growing, harvesting, preparing, sharing, and cleaning up of food can reflect God’s hospitable love for all creatures. Eucharistic eating is not confined to a table in a church building. It includes every kitchen and dining room table, and by implication every garden, field, forest, and watershed.
It is not easy to eat in a just, merciful, and hospitable manner, especially when we see how industrial patterns of production and consumption depend upon and encourage exploitation, anxiety, and ingratitude. Moreover, personal eating habits are very difficult to change (making it all the more important that we be merciful with each other). But churches can bear witness to a better way, joining with Jesus and becoming active participants in God’s soil and food business. Some Christians I know are already doing remarkable things: they are setting up community gardens in abandoned lots, training young people in the arts of gardening, and teaching them to share the gifts of God with others in need. Some are tearing up parking lots or turning over lawns so that church grounds can grow flowers and food. Others are partnering with local farmers to provide fresh, nutritious food to those who do not have enough to eat. The scientists and farmers at ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) are developing innovative ways to grow crops in a world with less soil and water, growing poverty, and rising temperatures.
Eating has never simply been about the filling of a gustatory hole. It is about sharing in God’s feeding, cherishing, reconciling, and hospitable ways with the world. As my students often like to say, “Food is fellowship!” When we eat well we enjoy a taste of the communion life that God wants for us and has been calling us to since the beginning of time. In this mundane but also (potentially) delectable daily act we are invited to bear witness to the wide scope of God’s reconciliation.