“You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.”
“Food is God’s love made delicious,” urged Dr. Norman Wirzba, professor of Theology and Ecology at Duke Divinity School. “All of creation is the material expression of God’s love.”
When we look at all of creation – from the delicate balance of nutrients that compose healthy, life-giving soil, to the deep flavors of vegetables that develop in that soil, to the skilled human hands that transform those vegetables into a myriad of dishes, to the men and women who grow in community when they eat those dishes together – as the material manifestation of God’s love, we see the importance of our role as caretakers, entwined in the dance of the interdependence of creation, made in the image of a creative God.
Last week, I joined dozens of men and women from around the country interested in the connection of food and faith at Princeton Theological Seminary’s Just Food conference. We spent three days attending group lectures and small workshops reflecting on the importance of agrarianism in Christian tradition and learning from those who are working towards food justice in their communities. The keynote speakers were leaders in this emerging movement of food and theological reflection; I felt honored to have the opportunity to meet and engage with them in person after voraciously reading their books. When I discovered this conference in August, I was thrilled to find that it fell in the middle of my thesis research – right at the end of my intensive book research and immediately before the start of my ethnography.
We spent the majority of the week reflecting on Genesis 1 and 2, attempting to reorient our understanding of the Creation account, to envision ourselves as the nurturers of the whole of creation so dearly beloved by God. Under this new vision, humans are not the apex of creation, Sabbath is, argued Wirzba. God instituted this time of rest as the culmination of creation, because His deepest desire is to simply delight in what He has made – to live with us, the material manifestation of His own love.
The process of eating reveals the interconnectedness of all of creation, as organisms give their lives up for the life of another. From the decomposition of life that nourishes the soil, to the plants that die for humans and animals to eat, the entire act of eating is a profound dance of life and death. As Wirzba said in his opening lecture, “Eating is the profound human connection with each other and the world.”
It then follows that God is not concerned merely about His relationship with humanity, but the triangular relationship of Himself, humanity, and the whole of creation, reflected Nate Stucky, director of Princeton Seminary’s Farminary project. We reflected on how theological education might change in honor of our relationship with the earth – from the academic institutions training religious leaders to the churches caring for diverse congregations.
As we sat together in a room of leaders from every protestant denomination – Presbyterians, Episcopals, Baptists, Mennonites – we acknowledged the power of food to cross lines of division and the need for the church to take seriously its role in nurturing creation. And at that same time, just across the Hudson river, Pope Francis stood addressing millions, encouraging this same need to care for God’s beloved earth. This call to care about what we eat – to care about the soil that grows fruit, the human hands that labor in the fields, about animals and eaters – is a call that unites the followers of Christ across all boundaries.
I feel honored to be a part of this movement, to be joined with people of God across the country and around the world who are saying that to pick up our cross we must get down on our knees – in the mud of the fields where new life abounds and the manifestation of God’s love is all around.
I am still feeling out what my role in this movement will look like moving forward. Nonetheless, I am inspired by the stories of those who have been reflecting on the intersection of food and faith since before I was born. I am excited to see pastors across the country returning to gardens to seek deeper understanding of the nature of God. I am encouraged to know that God is at work in so many people restructuring the ways that we think about food, and, in turn, the ways that we think about life. And I am anxious to know where else this movement might lead; this weekend only just scratched the surface.
Creator Spirit, come we pray. Come renew the face of the earth.
"Taste and see that the Lord is good."
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