Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When Does Feasting Become Gluttony?

We've been reflecting on the thoughts of St. Gregory the Great about gluttony: too much, too soon, too eagerly, too richly, too daintily.

Gluttony has always been a problem in society. We usually associate gluttony with big meals with big servings, or too big of plates or too many trips to the buffet. But if God commands his people to worship him through feasts, maybe gluttony isn't just about the portion size, but the purpose of the meal. And maybe not just about the purpose of the meal, but the people at the meal with you.

God spoke to Moses: "Tell the People of Israel, These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of God which you are to decree as sacred assemblies. "Work six days. The seventh day is a Sabbath, a day of total and complete rest, a sacred assembly. Don't do any work. Wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to God.
~ Leviticus 23v1-3 (The Message)

Following this introduction in Leviticus, we learn about seven feast days, starting with the Sabbath, that are spread throughout the year. Days of worship when the people of Israel are to assemble together - a sacred gathering designated by feasts. You got to like a God who when giving instructions on how to worship him includes regular feasts.

Through this text, I observed three things about feasting - when it's connected to worship, when it's connected to rest, and when it's connected to community.

Feasting as Worship: Eating with gratitude, with God in mind, as a sacred task

Feasting as Rest: Eating slow-food instead of fast-food, preparation instead of pre-packaged

Feasting as Community: Eating as a family, eating with your neighbors, eating as sacred event

Gluttony is probably connected to scarfing your food. And scarfing your food is rarely connected to gratefulness. Feasting becomes worship when we consider the gathering to be sacred, a special moment of the day. Feasting becomes worship when we let God sit at the meal with us, listening in on our conversations, adding to the experience. Feasting becomes worship when we eat with a grateful heart to him and those around the table with us.

Why not prepare home-cooked meals? Because we're too busy. Why not eat dinner at home with your family at least five or six times a week? Because you're too busy. The purpose of a meal is to add energy to your life, to add life to your family - which is the same definition of rest. We've forgotten how to make meals rest-full, instead we've made them stress-full and a chore.   

The irony is: eating fast-food fuels only a fast-paced life that does not lead to rest. Busy people don't usually grow gardens. Busy people don't usually do dinner as a family. Busy people eat pre-packaged meals which add to their waistline instead of their family legacy.

Michael Pollan observes that most American families today report eating dinner together 3-4 nights a week. But - Mom cooks alone; Dad and each kid prepare an entirely different entree for themselves. They might join Mom as long as it takes to eat, but not necessarily at the same time. This does not create for rest and refreshment.

Michael Pollan also observes that people eat more when they are alone. If you have family that live in your home, you ought to do the hard work of rearranging schedules in order to enjoy the blessings of meals together. Of course this may require some mending of relationships, of adding to people's lives before and after the meal. Which would be a good thing, right?

Feasts are meant for community. Every dinner could be a feast - not because of the mounds of food - but because of the attitude towards those seated to your left and right.If you rarely eat with others, you have to ask yourself, why? And when it comes to the prospect of changing your life in order to feast with others more often, you have to ask: why not? 

The ancient Israelites knew how to turn a worshipful community feast into an gluttonous affair of orgiastic proportions. And they were punished for it. You can read about it here in Exodus 32:1-6. The temptation towards gluttony is always powerful, always hard to resist. The rut we get into makes it so easy to eat too much, too quickly, alone. When we take matters into our own hands, life unravels for us. The same for our eating habits. Or addictions. God offers deliverance. But it doesn't come as a miracle, but from a way of life. And for us Christians, Jesus is our guide.

Jesus ate at plenty of feasts, and though he was accused of gluttony, it's easy to see him as making the event worshipful and sacred and good, of making it rest-full and refreshing, and making it a rich community experience. And one of the feasts he was invited to, he noticed how some people used the experience to their own advantage, so he made this observation:

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
~Luke 14v12-15 (NIV, 2011)

Jesus wants us to reconsider who we are eating with. We all need to make our feasting more worship-full and more rest-full. But we also need to make it more community oriented. And that doesn't mean we only invite people who like us, or who are like us. Would we consider throwing a party or planning a feast and then inviting the poor, the disadvantaged, the socially awkward, the outcasts, the smelly or undesirable ones? Would you EVER do that? Why not?

Notice also about this verse: the assumption that we'll be feasting in the life to come with God. If you don't like feasting according to God's commands now in this life, what makes you think you'll like heaven? If you've got to spend eternity eating with people you avoid on earth, does that sound like joy and bliss? Maybe you ought to reconsider your assumptions about what you eat and who you eat with in the weeks to come.

What can you do this week:
to make Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner worship-full?

to eat more slow-food and less pre-packaged food?

to avoid eating alone – or add another chair to your family meal?

What can you do so that you're sharing a meal with the poor and marginalized?
Maybe at your church? Who in your neighborhood?  
Do you even know any poor people?

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