On Food as Slowing:Enacting and participating in shalom through the breaking of bread
In our current cultural moment, where speed, efficiency, and distraction are immanent, can food be a way to slow to the pace that allows for the enactment of and participation in shalom — the vision of order, flourishing, fruitfulness, abundance, and wholeness that God created in the beginning of Creation and that will be restored at the end of time?1 (Isaiah 51:3; Acts 3:20-21; Romans 8:19-20; Colossians 1:20). And can the activities that surround the production and consumption of food — the act of growing, making, and breaking bread — be a direct enactment of and participation in this shalom itself? Or are they only necessary to fuel the material body unto the end of wholeness? This essay will explore the good gift that is food as a means by which to slow and reengage with the rhythms that allow us to live as Jesus did so as to carry out the formation of the totality of life unto shalom. We will also explore food as a way to directly participate in and share shalom itself.
As image-bearers of God, we are called to till and keep the earth (Gen 2:15), form apprentices of Jesus, and teach people to do what He instructed (Matthew 28:16-20), to name a few callings, ultimately giving “expression to the redemptive work of God in all of life” unto the fulfillment of shalom (Revelation 22:1-7).2 Some would say that this process of enacting shalom is limited to and directed solely at the saving of human souls, but others believe this work extends to all of Creation, including the food that we eat. The discrepancy here highlights the Western ideological paradigm which divorces the spiritual from the material and thus extricates humanity from our embeddedness in and therefore call to all of Creation. Gisela Kreglinger, a vintner and theologian, writes that “all things have spiritual meaning in the Christian faith precisely because of our belief that God created the world in such a way that the spiritual and material are profoundly intertwined.”3 They so intertwined that man was made from the very substance (adamah) that made up the earth (Genesis 2:7). And this relationship doesn’t stop with humanity’s origin but is portrayed throughout Scripture as a continuous one with “God’s redemptive purposes… [existing] between God and a people living and working on the land.”4 As stated, this is seen in the beginning of Creation (Genesis 2:15), continued into the narrative of the Promised Land where the ground is blessed and the harvest rich and bountiful (Num. 13:27; Deut. 6:11, 7:12-13, 8:8, 33:28), and spoken about by the prophets regarding the coming redemption of all things, including the land bringing forth an abundance in a garden city (Hosea 2:18-23; Joel 3:18; Mic. 4:4, Zech. 3:10, 8:12; Rev. 22:1-5). As a result, living out our calling and tending faithfully to our community, as Wendell Berry puts it, is not simply tending to human souls but to “a neighborhood of humans in a place plus the place itself: its soil, its water, its air, and all the families and tribes of the nonhuman creatures that belong to it.”5 Similarly, Norman Wirzba writes that food is a “gift of a complex membership in which each member is densely related to others,” pointing to membership in a greater community, and the need to nurture that which nurtures us.6
However, it would seem that the current cultural moment yields a pace of life that runs counter to one that is able, let alone available, to carry out that which we are called to. Author and pastor John Mark Comer describes this frantic pace of life as “violence on our souls” resulting in “people [who] are just too busy to live emotionally healthy and spiritually rich and vibrant lives.”7 Similarly, the great spiritual thinker and theologian Dallas Willard emphasized the detrimental effects of the Western pace of life, stating that you must “ruthlessly eliminate hurry” from your life as hurry is the “greatest enemy of spiritual good in our day.”8 Hurry seems innocent enough until seen in light of how it yields surface-level, not-present-to-the-moment living. From this it becomes apparent that enacting and participating in shalom is incredibly challenging if not impossible when living hurried as presence presupposes either of these tasks.
As a result, slowing to a pace where we are present, available, and willing to do what Jesus calls us to do seems to be an antidote to the current dilemma. The good news is that we have a good Shepherd, Jesus, who modeled an alternative way of being human and engaging with the world. Namely, amongst a myriad of other things, His alternative way of living yielded a slowed lifestyle that enabled him to engage with those around him and the tasks at hand. Jesus, whose “yoke is easy and burden is light” (Matthew 11:28). Who, like any good Rabbi, invited his apprentices not just to apply his theory and ethics to their lives but to practice His way of life — to learn from Him, follow Him, and do what He did. To have their lifestyle emulate the Way, not just their thought life, so that they would be living present to the moment, present so as to enact and participate in shalom for those around them — the stewardship of all of Creation. Jesus seemed to have margin in his life, which John Mark Comer defines as “space between our load and our limits”9 in which Jesus spent time in the quiet place, receiving life and wisdom from His Father and yet was also fully engaged with people and the things around him, living out the call to truly bring shalom to earth. Then He called His disciples to do the same. And the invitation still stands for us today: “Come and follow me” (Matt. 4:19).
Amongst a myriad of ways to slow, the good gift of food, cultivating, making, and breaking bread, is a way to slow like Jesus did and engage fully with God, humanity, and the earth.
Amongst a myriad of ways to slow, the good gift of food, cultivating, making, and breaking bread, is a way to slow like Jesus did and engage fully with God, humanity, and the earth. The Slow Food Movement, though not faith-based, embodies this intention. It was started to cultivate awareness around the interconnectedness of all spheres of life with the emphasis that “slow food is not simply about slowing down our eating” but what slowing down makes room for in life.10 The very systems that make up our food production, as well as the ways which typical Westerners eat, run counter to slowness. As a result, when it comes to food production and consumption, intentionality is required, but the reward is rich. Friends sitting down to a simple meal together might slow down enough to let, as storyteller Lettie Cowman writes, “their souls to catch up with their bodies.”11 And in this they might see the person in front of them as a person instead of the machine which we can view humanity as. And, in that moment, we might have slowed down enough to engage in listening, hearing, speaking, and helping, and through that, transform the table around us into the wholeness — shalom — that God intended. This process makes a way to not just consume but contribute — a way for flourishing — for the formation of all of life.
Not only is food a means by which to slow and therefore carry out the great commission, but the very act of growing, preparing, and eating the food itself is a direct participation in and enactment of this shalom — waking us up to the cycles of Creation and our place in it — waking us up to true ecological and human-body and community stewardship — waking us up to the fact that we are communing with our Creator when we nurture the soil, cultivate the plants, grind the wheat, and bake and eat our daily bread — waking us up to our actually embedded and embodied life. Alexander Schmemann writes that “to eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that ‘something more’ is, but they nonetheless desire to celebrate it. They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life”12 — hungry to move past seeing food as only an input for a physiological need.
We live in a time when food is seen not as something to be nurtured by but as something to control, an entity to gain supremacy over, to manipulate, to serve our individual needs, a means to an end. We think that this industrial, mechanical approach to food could somehow garner health. Upon not seeing these results, both individually and communally, we go back to the bench, focusing our efforts on designing a better food product with less sodium, tweaking the nutritional facts panel just a little more, finding the perfect macro ratio for our morning routine, all the while blind to the “dubious assumption” that we could be nurtured by something that we in turn do not nurture.13 Instead, if we move away from the dualistic thinking of humanity as separate from Creation, and instead operate as we actually are — embodied and embedded in Creation — we can begin to nurture the soils and land and creatures, and in this, nurture humanity, for if one part is not healthy, physically or spiritually, the rest will not be healthy.
In terms of food production, Kreglinger states that as “creation is a gift from God,” how a farmer tends to it “is of spiritual significance,” marking the tasks of cultivating the earth, sowing the seeds, nurturing the plants, harvesting their fruits, and then transforming them into the meals that nurture our bodies as significant ways to experience and enact God’s shalom — His love, generosity, and hospitality through the gift that is food.14 Additionally, as image-bearers, part of our calling includes stewarding the earth in the way that our Creator would, nurturing the soil, microbes, insects, animals, and plants as a reflection of His tender care, thus participating in His ordering and nurturing of life. Our calling is to recalibrate our understanding of our relationship to the land and creatures as embedded, embodied, and not divorced but instead incredibly intertwined. We are reminded of our original call to stewardship, not to control and coerce, but to allow for the flourishing of all (Gen. 1:28-30) — to work so that our “highest priority should be to nurture the world that is nurturing us.”15 Kreglinger shares that this new approach “does not lift us out of the natural world. Rather, it calls us to trust that God wants to heal our relationship with creation and the profound gifts that we receive from it, including food.”16 In this healing of one is the healing of all.
At a time when food holds every meaning other than a good gift, it is crucial to offer an alternate view and return food to its needed place — both as a way to slow and reengage so as to be able to form all of life, and as a way to participate in Life itself. So, may we allow the breaking of bread at the supper table to slow us so we can participate in God’s shalom present in this gift – the goodness of His provision that comes from the interdependent relationships of the soil and microorganisms and wheat and farmer and baker and us, the eaters. And in this, may we slow to see the person beside us and across from us — to hear them and know them and so open a way to enact shalom.
References: 1. James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2010), 228. 2. Ibid., 226. 3. Gisela Kreglinger, The Spirituality of Wine (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2016), 2. 4. Ibid., 16. 5. Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom, and Community (Berkley: Counterpoint Publishing, 2018), 16. 6. Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 14. 7. John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group), 47. 8. Ibid., 19. 9. John Mark Comer, “Unhurrying with a rule of life; the power of margin in a world without limits,” interview by Bridgetown Audio Podcast, Dec 1, 2019. 10. Wirzba, footnote, 69. 11. Lettie Cowman, Springs in the Valley (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1968), 207. 12. Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963), 16. 13. Wirzba, 30. 14. Kreglinger, 2. 15. Wirzba, 14. 16. Kreglinger, 4.