I hate the phrase “spiritual disciplines.” It seems to take the joy out of Christian living, because I typically associate joy more with dancing than with discipline, more with freedom than with scructure.
Still, the value of spiritual disciplines cannot be denied. Prayer, meditation, Bible reading and fasting do something in the spirit that do not seem attainable without them. Now, Paula Huston has introduced me to a new discipline–eating for health.
Paula has written a post on the subject at the Patheos web site that makes the point succinctly.
As Paula has explored this new discipline she offers the following synopsis:
“And what an exciting adventure this has been! As soon as I began to deal with my relationship to food as a substantive moral and spiritual question rather than, as is so sadly common in our media driven culture, simply an appearance issue—am I thin enough? do I still look young enough?—it became clear what needed to happen. I needed to start practicing on a daily basis healthy habits of eating. I needed to think of my body and my energy and my ability to focus and think as beautiful gifts of God, not to be squandered. I needed to eat well out of tremendous gratitude for life.”
She says so much in that paragraph that is true and meaningful. And it brings me to a prayer:
Dear God, help me this day to eat in a more healthy manner in order that I may serve you better. Especially, Lord, help me as I go to this meeting today where there will be stacks and more food than I need. I need your Spirit to remind me as I go. Amen.
I’m attending an amazing conference in San Antonio titled “Our Abundant Communities: Neighborly Nourishment in the Wilderness.”
Here are my notes from Walter Brueggemann’s session titled “The Food Fight: Accumulation and Abundance.” (The following notes are close to being quotes but there is no guaranteed precision so I will not use quote marks. It would be best to see them as paraphrases.)
Food draws together all the important themes of biblical faith.
Production — Distribution — Consumption — Environment
Hunger for food overlaps our spiritual hunger.
We are in a food fight — a fight between two narratives about food. Who gets it and how much and who decides?
1) Aggressive Accumulation
The metaphor is Pharoah
Genesis 12: Abraham went to Egypt because Pharoah had food.
Genesis 41: Pharoah has acute anxiety; he has a nightmare. He dreams of cows and wheat. Joseph told him it was a dream about scarcity.
With a scarcity mindset, the more you have the more you worry about running out. Pharoah dreamed scarcity out of his anxiety. Therefore, Pharoah had the need to accumulate food.
Anxiety = Scarcity = Accumulation = Monopoly (Pharoah controlling all of the food)
People get into slavery because of market manipulation of the economy.
Later, Solomon becomes the Pharoah of ancient Israel. (1 Kings 4:22) Solomon was an accumulator of food, weapons, wives, wisdom sayings, etc. … Solomon had productive peasants so the transfer of wealth was to urban elites.
Luke 12: A dispute over family resources.
Brueggemann broke us into small groups to deal with these questions: 1) Where do you see this narrative being found in our world? 2) Are there any ways in which you are prone to collude with or participate in this narrative? 3) What steps are necessary for you to depart from this narrative?
The scarcity narrative dominates our culture. The scarcity narrative will never permit healthy, safe community because it’s designed to keep us insecure.
Biblical faith imagines an alternative narrative.
2) Shared, Grateful Abundance
There are three preconditions for abundance:
i) a firm grounding in a conviction about the reliableness of God’s generous creation. … The earth is blessed. … God intended the world to produce abundance. … Psalm 104. … The opposite of creation faith is to imagine that you can be self-sufficient. Creation faith points beyond oneself.
ii) doxology: the total sense of self-abandonment — back to the goodness of God… Praise. … The more we accumulate, the less we have freedom to abandon it to God. … Our desire to accumulate evaporates in wander and awe. … Psalm 11:48. … You can’t let go in a scarcity system.
iii) Sabbath: Exodus 31. … God tells Moses to keep the Sabbath. … v.17 … keep the Sabbath as God kept the Sabbath and was refreshed. … God was “re-souled.” … Sabbath is a cessation from production and consumption in order to get your depleted life back. … Doing productive work 24/7 is a requirement of the scarcity system. … The scarcity system wants exhausted people. Exhausted people do not change systems.
These three are profound acts of resistance against the scarcity narrative.
The exodus from Egypt was a departure from Pharoah’s system. … In Exodus 16, the Israelites said, “Let’s go back.” … It takes enormous intentionality to step outside that narrative. … The wilderness equals no viable life-support system. The coming of manna in the wilderness is the narrative of abundance. In the deepest wilderness, the creative God provides sustenance for the day.
Elishah is a performer of abundance.
In Mark 6, there is a hungry crowd in the wilderness. Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave. Jesus fed 5,000 people and there were leftovers. in Mark 8, he does it again. Jesus took, thanked, broke and gave. He fed 4,000 with leftovers.
In Mark 8:14, Jesus says, do you not yet understand that the scarcity system has been defeated.
Jesus is saying, “Do not be anxious.”
Mark 6:52 — The disciples did not understand about the bread because their hearts were hard. It reminds you of Pharoah. This is not an accident. They couldn’t get abundance because they were situated in Pharoah’s narrative of scarcity.
As you think about these two narratives they do not break down along Catholic-Protestant lines or conservative-liberal lines. They are at war in our own persons. In our own lives, how do we sort out these two narratives?
Does the pursuit of pleasure sometimes prevent us from experiencing happiness? Yes.
Sharman Apt Russell, in her book Hunger: An Unnatural History, notes that Alan Goldhamer “makes a nice distintion between pleasure, a response of the nervous system to a specific stimulus, and happiness, an extended mood that occurs when we perceive the balance of our experiences to be positive. Happiness is created by the ongoing act of making progress toward our goals.” (p.64)
Russell made the point in relation to how we eat. “In terms of diet, modern humans are now being misdirected, overwhelmed, and seduced by ‘pleasure traps’ that appeal to our hard-wired excitement in finding a high-energy, high caloric food source.”
In other words, we eat chocolate cake for the jolt of pleasure that it induces. But too much cake will have negative effects on our physical wellbeing that can hinder the pursuit of our life goals and thus happiness.
So, beware of pleasures. Too many pleasures of the wrong kind may equal less happiness of the right kind.