Caitlan Rangel finds a life-giving way to relate to food through the Church’s rhythms of fasting and feasting.
For something so essential to our survival, food poses challenges for many of us. Our society oscillates between a perspective that glorifies food, and one that demonizes it. And that does not remain external to us; we often place a moral value on food that we transfer to our sense of goodness or worthiness.
I recall the sense of relief I felt when a former spiritual director reminded me that the challenge I was experiencing with food was not only a “me” thing, but also a human thing. She said, “It started in the garden of Eden.” The experience of shame around our bodies and food became a reality that first moment we stepped away from God. It is almost too beautiful, then, to look away from the reality that our God becomes food in the Eucharist to make things right – to help us become whole again.
During years of struggling with disordered eating, one of the biggest anxieties I experienced was what to do when I was sharing a meal with others that wasn’t “healthy enough” or within my control. My need to control isolated me and stole my joy. That which I desired to control became my prison.
As I have healed, I more easily recognize this occurring around me and the real detriment it is to life-giving community. While recently celebrating a friend’s birthday, a beautiful homemade carrot cake made its way into our community’s midst. We sang "Happy Birthday," and the cake was cut. Joy and gratitude for our friend diminished like smoke from the blown-out candles when the conversation turned to dieting. Instead of being accepted as a heartfelt gift, the cake became enemy and object of desire. When life-giving celebration is supplanted by shame, it is a clue that we have entered once again into the disorder of Eden.
So, how do we engage with food in a way that is life-giving? In a way that recognizes food as a gift, as a means to health, and as an opportunity for solidarity with those who are dying to survive? I suspect that these are lifelong questions, but here are three thoughts on how we can be in right relationship with food for ourselves and for those with whom we share our lives.
When it is time to feast, feast.
One of the things I love most about the Church is her feast days. Is it the baptismal anniversary of one of your children or Godchildren? Feast! Is it the feast day of a saint you love? Feast! Is it a Sunday? Feast!
Can I tell you a secret? God became human in Jesus because being human is good. God created us at the beginning of time, gazed at us, and said we are good. As a Jewish man, Jesus celebrated festivals and feast days and (gasp) drank wine at weddings! Our God is a God of abundance and goodness. It is fitting that we share meals that reflect God’s generosity. It is also fitting that every time we gaze upon and receive the Eucharist, we realize that our God lives within us. God became human so that we could consume Him and He could become part of our very bodies. God comes to live in us not only to make us whole as individuals, but also to connect us in love to each other.
Sometimes, it's time to fast.
Yikes. Americans don’t like to fast very much. We like to be comfortable and even react negatively to the very idea of fasting. While fasting is something that I have to be strategic about to avoid falling back into disordered eating, I have ultimately come to know it as a gift. Where dieting is often motivated by critical thoughts of self and can turn us in on ourselves, fasting aims to draw us out of ourselves. We fast not to fix something wrong with our physical bodies, but in recognition that what we do with our bodies has an effect on our souls. Fasting helps us to grow very practically in self-control, patience, and selflessness. All good and necessary things, yes? Fasting also draws our minds to the millions (!) who go without proper nutrition every day.
What are some small ways that we can fast on a regular basis? You might try one of these:
- If you go for soda or tea at lunch, choose water instead.
- Have a simple dinner one night per week to be in solidarity with those who go without (soup and bread; rice and beans with a fried egg on top; grilled cheese sandwiches, etc.).
- Abstain from eating meat on Fridays year-round. While it has fallen out of practice, Fridays year-round are penitential days to be observed by abstaining from meat or some other kind of food. I incorporated this practice into my life about one year ago and have found joy in the simplicity, solidarity, and prudence that it invites me into.
Fasting is not dieting. Fasting is also not meant to be permanent. When we see fasting as part of the ebb and flow of life, it can become another way that we grow closer to God as individuals and as one Body in Christ.
Share meals with loved ones regularly
Sometimes we are in “ordinary time” and it is a gift to just be together. Hospitality does not have to be perfect. It can be a simple opening of one’s home and one’s heart to others. Sharing a meal can mean ordering a pizza and drinking wine out of Solo cups, or it can mean everyone bringing something to share. Sitting together, talking, listening to each other, and being nourished by food and company -- now that is a gift. Jesus did this with His friends and foes during His whole life, and in a defining way, at the Last Supper. “Do this in memory of me.” Just as Jesus made and makes Himself a gift to us, we are gifts to each other around the table. Our joys, our struggles, our insecurities, our loneliness, our hopes: they all have a place at the table.
I’ll see you there.
About the Author
Caitlan Rangel relishes in the ordinary being the extraordinary, fresh air, morning coffee with a little cream, and stolen moments of quiet. Her greatest joy is being anywhere with her husband and three children, especially when mountains are involved. Caitlan writes to empower parents to be the primary educators of the faith with Pathways Formation Suite, and blogs at Pure in Heart.