By Father Casey

Welcome to Lent, friends.

It came a little earlier than normal this year, and it began with that funny confluence of ashes and valentines (Mtr. Rebecca coined it “Ashentine’s Wednesday” – Trademark!), but these six weeks are such a gift. They are an invitation back to basics, to the things that foster deeper life with Christ. They are a time for saying we’re sorry about the ways we’ve fallen short, and recommitting to the work of faithfulness. They are about bringing God more fully into our everyday lives, in ways we can easily forget to do the rest of the year.

In the spirit of bringing God into our every day, this Lent our formation focus is the connection between food and faith, because what is more everyday than eating? Three or more times a day, we eat. At kitchen tables, desks, and in our cars. We eat with family, friends, coworkers, and even strangers. We eat when we’re hungry, when we’re anxious, when we’re happy, and when we’re sad.

So much of our lives is given over to food – growing it, buying it, preparing it, eating it, and cleaning it up – and yet, because it is so commonplace, we can lose touch with its sacredness. We swing by a drive-through on our way somewhere, or collapse on our sofa at the end of the day with a bag of chips because we can’t muster the energy to make anything. Food can easily become a chore, a necessity for noisy stomachs, or even an emotional crutch.

But what if eating is the answer to our deepest spiritual longing? Because most people I talk to wish they encountered Christ more often. We yearn for stronger faith and deeper experiences with God. But rather than adding more to our already busy lives, we could choose to embrace the holiness that is already imbued in every bite. Every morsel of bread, every leaf of salad, every slice of steak – they are all glimpses of the Kingdom of God, and doorways to deeper discipleship, if we would simply notice them.

And so, I invite you this Lent to an exploration of the connection between food and faith. Over the next five weeks, we will explore five different topics related to this connection. On Sundays, during the formation hour, everyone will break into Bible studies to focus on passages related to that week’s topic. These are relaxed and informal conversations, guided by a facilitator but not lectures, in which we’ll listen for what the Word of the Lord may be teaching us. Then, on Wednesday evenings, a presenter will pick up that week’s topic and dive deeper.

In the first week, we’ll “go to the garden,” and consider our relationship with where food comes from, because connection to the earth is part of the divine imprint on our souls. The first person created by God in Genesis is named Adam, but in the original Hebrew he is simply adam, which means “earth creature,” because he is made from adamah, earth. His name is a description of his origin and it’s a playful bit of poetry: he is a human made from humus. Soil is in his soul, as it is in ours, too. Which is why it’s so important that we not let our busy, modern lives detach us from the origin of our food. Mtr. Rebecca will kick off our Wednesday series on this topic.

In week two, we’ll consider “forbidden fruit,” and the way disciplines around eating have been part of faithful living since the beginning. God gave every tree and every fruit to Adam and Eve but declared one tree off-limits. Later, God set boundaries around other foods, permanently or seasonally, as part of the covenant with the Israelites. Christians tend to dismiss these food rules as obsolete, but perhaps we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, to our own detriment. The Rev. Melody Shobe will be our Wednesday speaker this week.

In week three, we’ll return to the garden, so to speak, to be attentive to the shadow side of food production. God made a world of plenty, but people have created unjust structures that have led some people to go hungry, while others have far more than they need. The Rev. Yvette Blair-Lavallais, a local pastor, author, and public theologian, will guide our Wednesday exploration.

In week four, we’ll consider hospitality. Scripture is filled with stories of holy encounters around the table, when guests turn out to be agents of God’s blessing and peace. How might our acts of welcoming people to our tables (literal and figurative) make room for the Spirit to visit us, too? How might embracing hospitality make us better companions (“people who share bread”) in a world of loneliness and isolation? Fr. Ted will deliver the Wednesday presentation this week.

In the final week, we’ll consider the connections between the Sacrament on the altar and the food on our plates at home. Not every meal is the Eucharist, but every meal can be an act of thanksgiving. Our presenter that final Wednesday will be author and baker Kendall Vanderslice, who founded the Edible Theology Project, which seeks to help Christians embrace the holiness of ordinary eating. Earlier that day, she will lead a three-hour “Bake and Pray Workshop,” in which we’ll make bread together, while exploring the spiritual significance of this most basic of foods.

We hope to foster a nourishing Lent, and perhaps even cultivate new understandings and practices that will stretch beyond Easter. For who among us isn’t hungry for more tastes of the one who is known in the breaking of the bread?

Father Casey +

The Padua Baptistery. Ceilling frescoes 14th century by Giusto de Menabuoi. The last supper. Jesus and the apostles. Padua. Italy.

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