catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 24 :: 2009.12.11 — 2009.12.24


A peaceable feast

Being attentive to the calendar of the church year provides opportunity to travel through various seasons of emotion, relationship and ritual as participants in a grand story.  Growing up, the only liturgical season my church celebrated was Advent and it delighted my senses with mystery.  Accompanied by the lighting of candles and gathering of gifts, Advent is a season of hopeful anticipation.  At our best, we spend Advent in hopeful anticipation of the Christmas celebration as a reflection of our longing for God incarnate, a flesh-and-blood God who comes to us to reveal salvation in our language and in our daily lives.

Unfortunately for many, Advent is also a season of anticipating rituals that offer the opposite of hope.  As we look ahead to extended hours with our families, we expect to observe certain tired traditions: the same argument we had last year, the surfacing of insecurities we’ve been trying to shed for decades, gift-giving dictated more by ads and one-upmanship than by sacrificial love, language or opinions that distance us from people who share our very DNA.  And into this potent mix we almost always drop a prime opportunity for contentious collaboration: the holiday meal.

For some, the food issues that arise around holiday feasts are the very arena of our most complicated family tensions.   Some tensions are related to limitations that have chosen us — an eating disorder, alcoholism, allergies — while others are related to significant identities we’ve actively chosen as vegetarians, vegans, locavores, traditionalists or culinary epicureans. 

Even around a table where disagreements about food ethics are fierce, food can still be a powerful agent of incarnational unity.  Like the memories we create each year, which become a part of our stories, food literally becomes a part of our bodies.  We take in vitamins and nutrients that nourish us, even as we take in less tangible nourishment from shared meals: hospitality, abundance, love, peace.

Before retreating into the bunkers of our food patterns this year — whether those patterns are shaped by a certain type of intentionality or complete lack of intention — we might do well to consider together as families how the good news of “peace on earth” and “joy to the world” might extend to the earth and all creatures.  Jesus didn’t just enter into the world to save humans, but to save a whole creation that’s been groaning deeply for release from violence and brokenness.  Humans were designated as stewards of that creation in the very beginning and now we face complex questions of what exactly that stewardship looks like in our current industrial food context.

When we begin a conversation about food by acknowledging our central faith commitments, a whole world of possibilities can open up for food choices every day, but especially around the holidays when we long to faithfully recount such a central story.  Instead of starting with the question of what we do every year or who’s got what (annoying) restrictions, we might begin by asking: What kind of feast can honor the Prince of Peace by embodying that peace to the plants, animals, soil, water and air that help provide our nourishment, as well as the beloved children of God who will share our table? 

In considering how we might be agents of Christ in our food choices, most of us don’t need longer lists of do’s and don’ts, but better questions as a starting point.  If we can’t engage these questions within the community of our families, we might consider honoring a principle of the biblical and monastic tradition, eating what is set before us as guests.  Our best hope, however, should be that we can set our egos aside and earnestly seek together what a truly good meal might look like, in honor of a child king and in anticipation of the great banquet that is to come.

This essay is part of a peace-focused Advent devotional series from the Christian Reformed Office of Social Justice.  Visit the OSJ web site to sign up to receive the free daily meditations.

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