Norman Wirzba: Learning to Eat

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Kitchen tables matter. Besides being places where we eat and socialize, they are also the daily site where we learn what it means to be human. If all living things eat, people are privileged to dine, and in dining realize what is best about humanity. The point isn’t simply to ingest food or learn a few manners—as important as these are—but to realize the graces of attention, conversation, and gratitude. Raising children, I know this does not come easily. We all have to learn to eat.

Christian life centers on a table too. At the Eucharist we eat and drink Jesus so that we can become more like him, and in doing that witness through our bodies to God’s healing, feeding, and reconciling mission in the world. The Eucharist forms us as Christians by de-forming the patterns of worry, jealousy, insecurity, and greed that otherwise define our living. If we let Jesus into our bellies, let him feed our minds and inspire our hearts, we become transformed from the inside so that our lives can be marked by mercy, trust, hope, and sharing.

Our transformation will not be easy. We live in a fast food culture that is anti-Eucharist. Behind the “cheap food” millions of us consume there are degraded soils, poisoned and depleted waters, mistreated animals, abused farmers and farm workers, and unhealthy and overweight eaters. It is very hard to find much mercy, justice, or hope in a food system that elevates cheapness and convenience above all else.

Christians can point to a better way to eat and a better food system. Insofar as we are formed at the Eucharistic table, we can bear witness to the kinder treatment of fields, animals, and the people who work with them. Every bite is an occasion to be fed. It is also an opportunity to feed the world with generous portions of Christ’s compassion, healing, and hope. At the Eucharist Christ becomes our source of nurture. To eat here is to learn to turn ourselves into nurture for others.

Norman Wirzba, PhD
Research Professor of Theology, Ecology and Rural Life
Duke Divinity School

Photo Credit: Flickr/khrawlings

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