“You are what you eat:” Further Reflections on the Church as a School of Divine Union

The Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham

Proper 14, Year B

I Kings 19:4-8; John 6:35, 41-51

August 12, 2018

 

You Are What You Eat:

Further Reflections on the Church as a

School of Divine Union

 See the source image

 

The angel of the Lord came a second time to Elijah, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

 I want to return this morning to an image or theme that I raised a few weeks ago, the invitation we have to see the parish Church, this spiritual community, as a School of Divine Union, a gathering whose deepest focus is on a greater awareness of our identity in and union within God.  This awareness, then, shapes the way we live and work in the world around us, in every aspect of our lives.

But first, a quick story: A few months ago, I had some tests run to find out why I was having recurring problems with my digestion.  While it is obvious that I have the genetic gift of a professional athlete, it seems I also have the genes for a wonky GI system.  The tests they ran showed that my gallbladder may very well be on its last leg.  In terms of its function, it is now down to one very tired hamster spinning the wheel.

I have a restricted diet, have had one for a while, and I can’t eat too much fat.  No red meat, no fatty pork, no milk or cheese or cream or oily fish.

While it is frustrating sometimes, there has also been a grace in my struggle: I have to be very conscious about what food I put in my mouth.  A while back I made a conscious shift that I would eat to live rather than live to eat.  Every meal is an exercise in mindfulness, really.  And, while that may sound exhausting, to me it is one of my most meaningful spiritual practices.

I am very aware of my body and the effects that I feel when I stop paying attention and eat in a way that fails to be conscious of what my body does and does not need to take in.

Such bodily images are powerful ones for us to explore when we examine our practice of faith.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

As much as contemporary Christians may want to stay on the level of the mind and rational arguments and doctrinal definitions, Jesus was intimately concerned with the body, and employed rich images of body, food, rest, health, and wholeness to invite his disciples to see the deeper embodiment that he was bearing within himself.

When Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die,” what does this stir in your hearts?  Do you have a bodily sensation when you hear this?  Does it ring true for you?  Challenge you?

Such images about the body, eating, and nourishment shouldn’t surprise us.  They have been there from the beginning of our story, bread crumbs, if you will, that lay out a trail for us to follow as we explore what it means to call Jesus Lord, to “grow into the full stature of Christ.”

Think back to just these few pivotal stories that have drawn on images of food and nourishment:

. . . but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.  Genesis 2:17

 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. Exodus 16:13-14

And you shall set the bread of the Presence on the table before me always. Exodus 25:30

Elijah said to her, ‘Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. I Kings 17:13

And as Elijah encounters a bit later, in today’s reading, the angel of the Lord tells him, Get up and eat, otherwise, the journey will be too much for you.

These are just a few examples, but perhaps you see what I mean.  Throughout our sacred stories, we have at our fingertips these rich accounts of food, images that invite us to see the choice before us in terms of life and death, of growth and grasping, of faith and fear, hope and despair, of nourishment and starvation.

So, when Jesus says, “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die,” our hearts see the deep significance of his teaching.

We realize that Jesus Himself is what gives us life, what nourishes our souls, what gives us energy and strength to live and grow.  It is Jesus’ own life, this Jesus who, as the story goes, was born in Beth-lehem, a town whose name means the House of Bread.  Don’t forget that little insight.

When we reflect prayerfully on this, when we become more conscious of the deeper significance of His teaching, perhaps we can come to see that what Jesus is really showing us is this: “You are what you eat.”

Our entire story of faith is filled with the call to pay attention, to be conscious, in order that we may experience transformation in Christ and resist our sinful tendencies.

This is the trajectory of our faith: the call to consciousness of God’s presence and the embodiment of compassion in the world as we participate with the movement of the Spirit.

Give us this day our daily bread, so that we may give the bread of life to those in need.

This is why the teaching of “You are what you eat” is so important for us to consider.  It is a lens that will help us explore our practice of faith in these troubled times.

So, we ask ourselves: What are we consuming?  What are we taking into ourselves?  Perhaps it boils down to this, a choice that Jesus places before us, that he gives us in Himself.  Are we consuming the Bread of Life?  Are we taking Jesus into ourselves?  This is, after all, the heart of the Eucharist, the key that unlocks the deep truth of Holy Communion.

Behold who you are, the Body of Christ.

        May we become what we receive, we say in our Eucharist.

Are we taking into ourselves the Bread of Life?  Or are we taking into ourselves something else?  Are we consuming those things that promote life, that nurture us and help us grow?  Or, are we consuming those things that inculcate fear and anxiety in us?  The false food of greed, grasping, fear, and anxiety that starves our souls.

St. John of the Cross spoke to this hunger within us: “My spirit has become dry because it forgets to feed on you.”[1]

You are what you eat.

So you better pay attention to what we consume, because what we take into ourselves will become us, literally.  We will become marked by it, shaped by it.  Composed of it.

When we eat, our bodies break down what we take in into its component parts, and those component parts—amino acids, minerals, water, etc.—are transported throughout our bodies and incorporated into our tissues.  Think about that, and see if you can, in your heart, imagine this in terms of how we take Jesus into ourselves—and what happens, conversely, when we take into ourselves anger, fear, greed, pride, arrogance, scarcity, and hatred.

Jesus said “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” But that’s not the only stuff out there that we can ingest.  The call to be conscious of this difference lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.  This is the real stuff, my friends, and it is why we must see that our faith intersects with our daily lives: political agendas, social assumptions, economic platforms.  To deny this is not only to be naïve of the deep call of our faith, it is to reject one of Jesus’ core teachings.

I know that we may want to come on Sunday mornings and just be made comfortable with nice hymns and pleasant stories, but the real comfort for our souls comes from the nourishment of this Bread of Life that is offered to us.

We are invited to share a glimpse of this every Sunday when we gather as we celebrate Mass, the Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion.  This is the Sacrament of Divine Union, the means of grace that helps us become more conscious of our life within God, of the presence of Jesus within us, the true nature of our being.

So, what are we consuming?  What are we taking into ourselves?  I have become very aware of certain places in town where you can’t even have a meal and a good conversation without some talking head on TV either 1) speaking with anxiety, fear, and sensationalism about the pernicious injustices happening in our nation, or 2) naively trying to convince me that the pernicious injustices are illusions, that I don’t really see what I see.  I have to tell you I am tired of all talking heads.  I am tired of the sensationalism.

When it comes to the question of “you are what you eat,” I would stress not to consume something that someone else has already chewed up and flavored with their particular house seasoning of fear, anxiety, hatred, arrogance, and ignorance.

At one point in the history of the Hebrew people, when they faced deep pressure, the prophet Joel spoke these words:

Sanctify a fast,

        Call a solemn assembly.

        Gather the elders

        and all the inhabitants of the land

        to the house of the Lord your God,

        and cry out to the Lord. Joel 1:14.

It is time to sanctify a fast, my friends.  It is time to be aware of the choice laid before us: the Bread of Life or the food of fear.  So, I call on you today to join me in an experiment: to fast from all sensationalism.  To turn off your televisions.  Turn off the instant notifications on your phones.  I call on you today to read your news.  Find a truly reputable source that will tell you what is happening around us.  Read, research, learn.  Be challenged.  Slowly digest the news that you read for yourself.  Study the issues.

Don’t consume food that someone else has already chewed.  Slow down and read, and see if your grasping in this tribal political party nonsense relaxes some.  See if a spacious opens up for you.

See if your soul can be nourished by good food.  See if your body can be strengthened to share God’s compassion in the world around us.  See if your heart is filled with the love of God so that you may love every single human being on this planet—and indeed the planet itself—the way God means for us to.

The encouragement the angel told Elijah that day I now give to you: “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

[1] Many thanks to my friend Adam Bucko for this quotation that he posted.

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