Saturday, 12 March 2016

Live to eat or eat to live

In “From Beginning to End” Robert Fulghum wrote

“Since the beginning of time, people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship. When attention is paid to this sharing, it takes on a ritual character. The nurturing of the body becomes a metaphor of the mutual nourishing of lives. Every time we hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together we have celebrated the covenants that bind us.”

Our lives are steeped in ritual, even if we don’t always recognise and acknowledge them, and perhaps the most significant are based around food. I suspect that eating in every sense is a form of communion, of coming together in love. On its most basic level it is our connection and communion with the earth from which we are all formed. Is there a more intimate and holy relationship in life than with that in which we live and breathe and have our being?

Thoughtful, mindful, reverential eating is surely an awareness of what it means to participate in the holiness of life itself. How we eat, the way that we eat is not only about feeding our bodies but also our minds, our hearts and souls. For the bread of life does not merely feed the physical body it feeds our whole personhood and if fed in the correct way we then respond to life in reverential ways and participate in life in all its holiness.

Eating reverentially feeds our interconnectness; interconnectedness feeds our sense of belonging; a healthy sense of belonging feeds our wholeness; a sense of wholeness relieves us from the spiritual hunger that so many seem to suffer from. If we eat reverentially we understand how we are interconnected not only to the earth from which we live but all that exists within this beautiful blue, green and brown planet of ours. Eating reverentially links us to the people who prepare our food, those who grow our food and produce and transport the food as well as the plants and animals from which our food comes. Eating reverentially also connects us compassionately with those who have nothing, who struggle to survive in this abundant world of ours, those for whom the search for daily bread is a daily struggle.

Food is valuable beyond its ability to merely fill us physically. There are many other benefits too. Health benefits come from eating certain food types, as do healing and soothing benefits too, whether on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. Food can also arouse the many senses, more than just taste, it can even re-awaken memory. It connects beyond our own singular selves to those we share our food with and to all people and all communities on earth who come together in communion in sharing their love and food around the table. As Robert Fulghum wrote:

“Since the beginning of time, people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship.”

I see clearly a ritualistic and interconnected relationship with others and with life itself, but what about a personal relationship with food? How does how we eat and relate to food impact on how we relate to ourselves and then life itself? Well surely everything in life stems from how we are fed and how we feed life itself.

Over the last few weeks I have been attending and participating in a series of Lent Breakfasts with Churches Together in Urmston. These begin with the sharing of tea and toast before a theme talk and conversation. This year we have been exploring “The Lord’s Prayer”. Each week someone from one of the Urmston Churches has chosen a line from the prayer and we have spent time reflecting and discussing our thoughts on it. Recently we looked at the line “Give us this day our daily bread”. Now as it happens I have not been taking my daily bread for quite some time. One of the changes in my diet has been giving up bread. This along with other changes in my eating habits have enabled me to move from a weight of over 20 stone (284 pounds) to one a little less than 12 and a half stone (173 pounds) and a Body Mass Index (BMI) that once was 38.5 to a healthy 23.5. My relationship with food, with myself and with life itself has changed considerably these last few months.

Now while I may not be literally “taking my daily bread” in many ways life is feeding me more nourishingly than it ever has before and as a result I am feeding life in ways I never have before. As a result I am communing with life in new and wonderful ways.

The morning following the Lent Breakfast I went for a walk with thoughts about feeding and being fed floating around my consciousness and the following words from Socrates singing in my heart and soul. The words were:

“Worthless people live only to eat and drink; people of worth eat and drink only to live.”

It is a phrase I’ve heard in many forms, many times before. The most common form being “There are two types of people in the world, those who eat to live and those who live to eat”, which I suspect is rooted in this quote from Socrates.

As I walked I was thinking about my relationship with food and life and the relationship we all have with the two. I was thinking about food addiction and addiction in general and the things that rule our lives, the things of value in life, the things we worship in life and how they and our relationships with these things impact on our lives and the way we live. You see how we are fed and how we feed life really matters.

Just as these thoughts were floating around I noticed a long line of deer in the park, all congregated together in a kind of communion line. The park rangers had obviously laid out a long line of feed for them. I smiled as I observed them eating. Then I noticed something that made me smile ever more broadly. One after another the young deer, probably a little too old to still be called fawn’s, got up and just began skipping off and enjoying themselves in the beauty of the park. These animals and all the animals in the park were eating to live, not living to eat. They were not slaves to the food they were eating it was not their object of worship, the thing that meant the most to them. No instead it was the fuel by which they lived.

This got me thinking about worth and worship itself. It particularly brought to mind a favourite quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behoves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.”

Whatever it is that dominates our thoughts are the things that we worship, the things that are of highest worth in our lives. So if we live purely just to eat then that is the thing that is of highest worth in our lives and our lives will be ruled by this. By doing so we will become consumed by the very thing that we are consuming and we will remain hungry in our hearts and souls.

Now I am sure there will be objections from some claiming that this isn’t worship. Well actually this is exactly what worship is. Worship has its roots in Anglo-Saxon English “worthscipe” or similar variations and meant a condition of being worthy, honoured or renowned . It only became connected to reverence paid to a supernatural being during the 13th century. Worship is not something that is only conducted in places specifically set aside for this function. We worship all the time; we worship whatever it is that we hold in highest regard. As Mr Emerson says what we worship is what dominates our lives our actions. Therefore it is important that we are careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.

Well people do say “you are what you eat.” Well perhaps this is true if you “live to eat” instead of “eating to live.”

As I have said many times before I am a great believing that everything matters. Everything we do and everything we do not do matters. How we are with one another and live with one another also matters. How we relate to all life and the people we share this life with really matters. It is the same with food and our relationship with the food that we eat, for it too will reflect on how we live our lives.

Food and the eating of it is something that connects all of us to one another. We all need food to eat in order to live, we cannot live without it. Therefore it is no surprise that the most basic human rituals have been based around food. It is these rituals and our engagement with them that help us to sanctify life, to recognise the sacredness of our existence and all existence. Therefore if we bless the food we eat, the source that this food came from and those that we share this food with we will sanctify all life and in so doing we will sanctify and make sacred both our existence and all life. We will develop reverence for life itself.

In so doing all that we do will be of true worth, for we will be truly worshipping and sanctifying life and we will begin to commune with ourselves, with one another, with all life and with the great mystery that permeates all life and we will truly begin to eat so that we can truly live.

Now I began this "blogspot" with a little bit of Robert Fulghum and I would like to end with a little bit more of his wisdom too.

He wrote:

Once upon a time, somewhere far back in ancient human history - so far back that personal survival was the only concern - a defining event must have taken place. Someone didn’t eat what he found when he found it, but decided to take it back to the cave to share with others. There must have been a first time. A first act of community - call it communion - in the most elemental form”

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