Sunday, June 11, 2017

An Unexpected Discipline - Eating

It seems to make sense that God cares about our dietary choices, but can eating be a place of spiritual discipline? Well, I know not to be a glutton.  I know Paul released people of his day from strict Jewish dietary laws, but is eating a spiritual discipline?

If there was only one reason for eating to be a spiritual discipline, the reason is in its metaphorical reflection of the great struggle in distinguishing need from want. Some people may experience that struggle in consumerism of other products, but for most, we experience it in how we eat because everyone of us have eaten when we were not hungry or have eaten (a lot) to satiate some emotional need, essentially going to something else instead of God for our needs.  To consider eating as a spiritual discipline in this case is to consider why we are eating.  Why this bite? Why this food?  Why do I want to eat? What am I hungry for? What do I delight in?  Do any of our answers cause us to turn towards or away from God?

Jewish dietary rules give us insight into the significance of the way we eat.  Most of the Jewish dietary laws serve two purposes. One is that they were actual safety rules. Some foods were unfit for human consumption.  The strictest rules, though, revolve around foods which were too closely identified with idolatry practices.  Is it possible for us to examine if our eating is related to idolatrous practices? 

Gluttony is when a person eats more than they need.  The words used in the Old Testament and in the New for gluttony indicate someone who is out of control. In the Old Testament, gluttony is translated from a word that means to shake or tremble, like a person "who must have it."  

In America, in modern times, food availability makes gluttony an every day opportunity.  It takes a prayerful consideration to participate with God in food selection, especially the amount.  We cannot use the culture's standards on how much is enough.  Maybe, though, the New Testament standard can help us.

Paul tells Timothy, "Godliness with contentment is great gain...and if we have clothing and food, we will be content with that."  The word to concentrate on here is the one translated "have." In Greek, it is "echo," which means, in part, to have something on, which speaks to clothing.  It sort of means "the clothes on our back" is enough.  "Echo" can also mean to hold oneself to a thing, to cling to it, or to keep it in its appropriate significance, with food as the object.  Food is to be sustenance - enough to sustain a person bodily. Maybe it means to understand food's place in God's design: to appreciate it, to see it as a vehicle to approach God.  For food can be a vehicle for gratefulness, especially in light of the rest of verse, and to be content with what God has provided.  

When it comes to food, have we vacillated between holding food in too high regard or allowed eating to become meaningless?  We wolf it down, not only missing gratefulness, but also the appropriate volume of what to eat. 

How could we get more meaning out of eating?

Some of the significance of Jewish dietary laws was to create a sense of eating attentively - to think about what a person was eating; to think about how a person was eating.  Some of those dietary law's purpose was that a food's source was to be known and that it was to be prepared attentively and consumed with awareness of that attention. As my husband says, "made with love" makes a difference in the quality of the food.  This creates an awareness of the quality of the preparation of a meal as part of spiritual discipline, building gratitude and contentment.

Another part of the spiritual discipline of eating could also be in its communal nature and its connectedness to fellowship, as seen in traditions of the banquet, the Lord's supper, the feasts in heaven. To keep an awareness of the company with whom you eat, the etiquette of the meal, and the shared joy of the meal  can keep us in awareness of God, too!  A joyful, shared meal lifts the community fellowship and moves us to see God!

Have hands lovingly prepared it and contributed to its presentation and quality? Have you savored your bites lately?  Have you relished the company which surrounds your meal?   The burning question, though, is how do I stay spiritually attentive to eating?

There have been movements in history to slow how fast a person eats.  One monk dictated that a bite of food should be chewed over 500 times before it was swallowed.  In some cultures, clearing of the palate with water, ginger, wine or an allowance of time causes the taste buds to recovery and enjoy the next "first" bite.  

I remember a seven-course French meal that took three hours to complete.  The setting was elegant.  The pace was slow. The room was quiet.  Most dishes were small and followed with an extended time period, water and wine allowed.  I remember it as one of the best meals I ever had!  Add that it was done in fine company and the memory of that meal is full of meaning. Maybe more of our meals could be filled with the meaning of gratitude and contentment if we savored them, too.  

Eating a meal with an awareness of good food lovingly well-prepared, add an awareness of a taste-system that he invented and the awareness of satiation, suddenly the meal can become hallowed ground.

Meditate on the meal. Why the fast? Why the Lord's "supper"? Why heavenly banquets? They all hold spiritual meaning.  Even if each of those are symbolic, and especially if they are symbolic, consider how we can participate with God in transforming all eating from mere nutritional necessity or idolatrous gluttony into an act of faithfulness.  Eating can be an unexpected spiritual discipline because it gives us a chance to draw closer to God and to become conscious of God in the simplest of ways.  

Tuesday, June 06, 2017


life would shake me loose
from the Life I choose.
it goes at break-neck speed
trying to replace the Need
that I really have.
I am not unaware or lame to its ways.
So I detach from one
and re-attach, yea, cling to the
who has brought me thus far.
Let Him give me steer
and break me clear
from all that would not be


Sunday, June 04, 2017

An Unexpected Discipline - Rest

One of the missing ingredients of work's purpose is in the understanding of its relationship with Sabbath-keeping, not in the formal sense of a church day, but in its nature as rest. Work frames Sabbath.  In fact, rest cannot occur without work; rest grows meaningless without work.  In the Old Testament, people worked six days and were directed to honor the Sabbath.  Today, because of the American spirit of "working hard," we need to remember that work is to give a place for Sabbath and not take the place of Sabbath.

Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.  You have six days for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God.  Exodus 20:8-10.

This set of verses also gives us guidance for the true nature of rest:  it is to be about God and not ourselves.  Our striving is to cease.  Our expenditure of energy is to not be directed outward, but inward, able to take in the nature of God and his ways in rest.  Sabbath's purpose is to give us a chance to portray the set-apartness of our lives, that we are dedicated to more than just our impact on the world.  It is the chance to let God impact us. 

It is interesting to note that pursuing rest and resting properly is a spiritual discipline.  The Israelites were commanded to rest as a sign of the commitment between them and God.  Like going home after a day of work, Sabbath was to be a going home ("set apart") space which would be the chance to move towards God, give the human spirit and body pause in a dedicated space.  Its spiritual discipline arises when we use this dedicated space correctly.

How to use it well?  That hint is given in the first word of Exodus 20:8 - "Remember" or "Recall."  This hints at recalling the Sabbath's purposes throughout the coming week, not just capturing its moment for a day.  If it is used well, its calm can shine on subsequent days; its rejuvenation will carry us through the coming week.  It can be a beacon whose practices are more likely to enter daily efforts at work (and home).  For the Jews, Sabbath is the beginning of the week.  It launches them.

How do your Sabbath practices enter your work week?

Workers who engage in spiritual practices and God-attention at church will be able to transfer them into the daily spaces of a work day.  Worship, prayer, peace and rest transfer forward.  Ultimately, faith development that has happened on a day of rest can then happen at work, too.  Work becomes a spiritual activity not only because it was instituted by God, but because it can be part of the outpouring of Sabbath when it is rightfully observed.

Part of our problem comes when work fills the space of Sabbath-keeping.  We all need rest and a chance to honor God and his influences in our lives, which includes the community practices of the faith. (Hebrews 10:25).  Hard work is part of life maintenance and the use of our gifts and it is easy to let the demands of work enter non-work spaces, especially given technology.  Sometimes people don't get the luxury of a Sunday off or even a consistent day off.  

Paul warns us about the world's message.  He (Jesus) has disarmed spiritual powers and authorities.  He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.  So, don't let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, of for not celebrating certain holy days or the Sabbath.  For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. Christ being that realty. Colossians 2:13-23

So, find your day of rest according to the path God has you on.  Get creative in seeking fellowship with God and people. Find Sabbath-keeping another way and gain the benefits of joining in God's rest and reverence.  Do it for God's sake.  Do it for yours.  

Let all that I am wait quietly before God
for my hope is in him.
Psalm 62:5