Two Thursdays, two meals.
The first: a far-too-normal day that didn’t have time for lunch in it. I’m about to confess some things and this is my first confession – sometimes I get so busy I forget to eat. Feeling a hunger pang that day as I drove back to my office around 2:30, I was tempted by the instant gratification of a fast-food drive-through. Confession number two: I indulged myself with a hamburger the size of a Frisbee, onion rings and a frozen Coke. Confession number three: I scarfed this down before finishing the five minute drive back to work. Confession number four: I became nauseated and spent the next three hours moaning, burping (and not to gross anyone out, but at that point I was thinking of this meal as the gift that kept on giving) and mentally abusing myself for giving in to temptation. Like a lot of Reformed folk, I’m good at self-loathing and flagellation after the fact. (And flatulation, too, but that’s definitely in the too-much-information category.) Confession number five: That evening I play acted through a dinner my wife had prepared and pushed enough food around on my plate to make it look like I had eaten something. I did not tell her of my late afternoon indiscretion.
What word (other than “stupid”) best describes my behavior? Is it not that horribly unfashionable and antiquated word “sin”? Gluttony, greed and sloth were involved, and even some lust as I contemplated those onion rings. My actions had immediate negative consequences. I missed the mark. I lied. I wasted God’s good gifts. I made a bad choice. I hurt myself. And if the wages of sin is death, surely my nausea and abdominal discomfort were signs of my own mortality, and the artery-clogging fat and grease I ingested another step hastening my demise. And I’m just speaking personally. I’m not a food-ethicist, who could articulate the multiple problems of fast-food to begin with.
It is sin to take a good thing and misuse it, to willingly and willfully cut one’s self off from what God wants for us. The scope of my dalliance was brought into focus by the second Thursday meal.
We brokered a thank you feast between two couples who had never met. One had done a kindness for the other, and Rick, whose avocation is preparing Italian cuisine, made carpaccio, lasagna bolgnese al forno, osso bucco and tiramisu as a way to say grazie. Each course was paired with an exquisite wine. Dinner went from 7:30 to 10:30. It wasn’t just dinner, though; it was an event, a banquet, a love feast. It was grace, which of course we heard every time Rick said grazie, and tasted with each new dish.
As surely as wolfing down fast-food alone in my car is a sign of a broken relationship to my own self, this was a taste of what God wants for us. We didn’t just savor every bite, we savored each other. The food was more than just food. It was Babette’s Feast, 2013. It was a little bit of heaven, here and now. It was Good.
You not only are what you eat, you are how you eat. The Bible is full of food stories and food regulations because this matters. Discipleship gets played out in the day-to-day grind, and in a million little decisions. Eventually, we discover there are no such things as little decisions and there is no such thing as the day-to-day grind. The seeds of the extraordinary lie in each moment. This is a lesson I have to learn again and again. I first got a glimpse of it, I suppose, when my children were little and I’d steal softly into their room after they were asleep and look at them in their beauty and innocence and a lump would come to my throat and tears into my eyes. I can’t explain why that happened other than being filled with a recognition that each breath they took wasn’t just a breath but a sort of miracle, and each moment I watched them was charged with grace.
Life itself is a kind of grace. Each meal, like each moment, is a chance to live to the glory of God or our own shame.