Christine Gutleben

Christine Gutleben

"…my everyday reality has the potential for divine meaning and purpose. While I believe there is spiritual potential in everything we do, I am especially aware of a divine presence in all things involving food and meals. For me, food has tremendous spiritual importance: it brings people together, allows human beings to feel satisfied and comfortable, connects us with the earth, provides us with health, and is basic for life."

Christine Gutleben
Washington, DC
Submitted July 06, 2007

I live according to the belief in the interconnectedness of the material and spiritual. I trust in an incarnated universe and find deep inspiration in the fact that Jesus truly walked on this earth. I am excited by Karl Rahner's simple observation: "Two thousand years ago someone died on the cross in all the darkness of his death out of love for the Father. And this took place from the very outset in a sphere which is my own reality." I interpret Rahner's observation to mean that my everyday reality has the potential for divine meaning and purpose. While I believe there is spiritual potential in everything we do, I am especially aware of a divine presence in all things involving food and meals. For me, food has tremendous spiritual importance: it brings people together, allows human beings to feel satisfied and comfortable, connects us with the earth, provides us with health, and is basic for life. The Bible is full of stories about food and meals. Jesus spends much of his time sharing meals with people. As a Christian, my belief in the incarnation and the significance afforded to the material world by the incarnation, gives me reason to be intentional about my food choices. By intentional food choices, I mean thoughtful consideration given to the food's source and how it was produced.

While there are many aspects of industrial agriculture that do not square with my belief in an incarnated world, factory farming is one that I cannot, under any circumstance, tolerate or support. Factory farming warehouses animals in intensive confinement for their entire lives, denying many of them even the most basic natural movements. It is surely not in the spirit of the Incarnation and the sacramentality of the earth. These farms are marked by violence, cruelty, pollution, profitability, and total disregard for sentient life. Animals produced by these industrial systems are denied even the slightest bit of mercy. These massive concentrations of suffering and inhumanity clearly fall outside of God's intent for creation and the meaning of the Incarnation. It follows then, that it is the Christian's responsibility to begin to end suffering by reducing the consumption of these products, refining selection to humane alternatives and replacing them with sustainably produced fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. For more information please visit this page at the Humane Society.

The Eucharistic meal was at the center of faith for the first Christians. Shortly after Jesus' death and resurrection his followers set out to establish a unified faith and to codify what they had seen and heard into a tradition that would continue to edify present and future followers of Jesus. There were, in fact, several sects of what is now called Christianity, all trying to establish a tradition in the name of Jesus. It was a period when ritual practices were in flux and liturgy was emerging. Early on, a group of Jesus-followers decided it would be a good thing to eat together and share a meal of thanks for the promise of new life they had just received. Food and meals provided a way to follow Jesus' teachings without a tradition or a church. Eating was both a fitting first step in the development of a cohesive community and an opportunity to establish a ritual for daily practice. Of such is the development of liturgy: "liturgy interprets our life outside the time and place of ritual, while our life outside the liturgy shapes and interprets our ceremonial ritual. Life and ritual become, in fact, one liturgy." Thus, the Eucharistic meal shaped Eucharistic liturgy and subsequently the Christian community, all the while remaining intertwined with the Christian's daily life through food.

Christianity has a rich food tradition wherein the Eucharist is a primary example. The gospels are full of stories about food whereby Jesus eats with sinners and outcasts, feeds the hungry and shares meals with his close friends. His parables are replete with food imagery and the theme of justice is often connected to images of abundant food. It is no small matter that Jesus spent his last evening sharing a meal with his disciples or that the Eucharistic meal was the first communal expression of faith for the early followers of Jesus. Indeed, food has a spiritual purpose and a ritual meaning in Christianity and we ought to acknowledge its potential for nourishing both our souls and our bodies.

I hope that Christians work to remove all residues of anxiety from the Eucharist and learn to laugh and be joyous at communion. For gaiety belongs at every meal shared in community. That holiness cannot get along with laughter is a later invention of Christianity. Similarly, it is a later invention that the Eucharist is a meal only in a symbolic sense, that you don't eat and drink in order to be filled. The meal to satisfy one's hunger and the meal of the Lord were therefore separated from each other. Communion in Corinth, the evening meal and the early church's Eucharist is a joyous common meal; there is bread, and barley porridge, eggs and vegetables, wine and water.

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is a novelist and author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life.

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