Like many women I know, my mother carries a deeply ingrained impulse to feed others. Once I watched her tend Penguin, her black and white tuxedo cat, clucking and fussing as she prepared and set food before him. To my eyes, the hefty Penguin was doing just fine, and the fuss seemed to be unnecessary. Who knows though? Fussing can be an expression of affection or concern, and perhaps the cat thrived in part because of it.
In our church this summer, we are looking at scriptures of Jesus and food. We hope to chew over these food stories, savour the tidbits that are present in them and delight in Jesus’ earthy, lively engagement with people. On one Sunday, the preacher, drawing on several Jesus-food scriptures, noted that food and love are entangled. That caught my attention.
Food and love, from my mother’s hands, were inseparable. To love her family was to prepare and serve food for them. Thousands upon thousands of meals. Countless hours of gathering and preserving produce. Tucked within my childhood memories are numbers from each summer—100 bags of corn, 100 jars of peaches, 200 jars of tomato juice, etc.—the fruits of her labours to love her large family through the coming winter. Even today, as my mother lives in a nursing home, she takes great joy in feeding others. For example, she will carry pieces of fruit from a gift basket in her room to the dining hall to share with others.
Like the cat Penguin, I benefitted from my mother’s urge to nurture through food, and I inherited a similar impulse. Few things give me greater pleasure than the hours I spend in my kitchen, preparing a meal—designing the menu, compiling ingredients, dicing, chopping, cooking and baking. And then the culmination! Gathering around the table with friends and family, and partaking of the sensory delights of taste, colour, texture and scent. Food is entangled with love. These experiences draw me closer to God.
Pleasure and love, like that known by a cook and her diners, is close to God’s heart.
Jesus, who most clearly represents God to us, often broke bread with others in companionship and friendship. Jesus used food stories to teach people about God. Jesus had so much fun with people over food and drink that he was called a glutton and a drunkard (Luke 7:34).
Jesus isn’t the only biblical character who uses food references to point us to God. The psalmist invites people to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). In another song, the unnamed poet waxes about God, the food provider, “[You] bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.” (Psalm 104:14-15).
I write these words knowing my fridge is packed with summer produce—strawberries, cherries, saskatoon berries and raspberries. New potatoes, beans, lettuce, spinach, basil, parsley, cilantro and mint. Not to mention the full freezer and the overflowing pantry. I am grateful for this abundance, and intend to use it wisely and well. A passion to feed others is a passion to be respected and exercised.
Such a passion draws me to be aware of those lacking in food and in food security. God knows there are many people in my city, in this country and around the world that do not have enough healthy, wholesome food or clean drinking water. Hopefully our passions stretch us to care for the hungry and the thirsty, to work towards a day when there is no more hunger and starvation. When food and love are sufficiently entangled and offered so that all have enough.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.