The Intimacy of Food (3 of 4)

I recently watched a little girl unscrew an Oreo cookie, and then scrape the cream center off with her teeth, and I was immediately transported to my youth. But I never was much of a fan of eating Oreos this way as a kid, even though it was the common practice of my peers. I’d much rather bite down on the cookie and cream together, quickly followed by a swallow of milk. But then I was reminded of the first time I had cookies and cream ice cream – it was before you could buy it in the store. My wife, before she was my wife, cut crumbled up Oreos into vanilla ice cream . . . and it was simply delightful. Which then made me think of my daughter Callie’s Oreo truffles – light and rich temptations that are best appreciated . . . with a glass of milk.

It’s funny how a single food item can have so many layers of memory associated with it – unspecific moments with people in forgotten places of our past, somehow imprinted with a peculiar intimacy . . . of shared experiences with food and drink. But I guess it’s really not that surprising, as there is an unavoidable intimacy with something you intentionally put into your mouth knowing full well that on a molecular level it will alter the chemistry of your body. Which may explain why intuitively we are drawn to experience eating and drinking in the company of others.

My wife and I decided early on in our marriage that dinner would be a family sit down event. So that seven kids later, gathering around the same table, the youngest in the same wooden high chair that the oldest once occupied – the ethos of our family would have a daily touchstone, of thanking God for what we were given . . . and thanking my wife for her loving labors in the kitchen. And after all of this time, the comfort food shared around that table has become almost sacramental to my children, who now have grown up to establish homes and traditions of their own – where my wife’s recipes have become a legacy to what it means to be at home.

In the book of Leviticus we find the dietary laws of Israel, which were intended to distinguish them as a people set apart to God – in this way, what they would eat and not eat, became a sign of allegiance, a sign of their belonging to the one true God. And their high holy days were not merely ceremonies and rituals, but celebrations and feasts, intended to coalesce God’s people in reconciliation to God, and with one another. And when we consider the sacredness of the custom of hospitality to the stranger and the sojourner – the sharing of a meal takes on even a greater dimension of grace transmitted in a most personal of ways possible.

And on the night that Jesus was betrayed, he broke the bread and poured the wine – inviting his disciples to eat and drink, and by doing so they were receiving his body and blood, to be changed by the experience. Now, I won’t bother with debating whether you take this as metaphor or literally – either way, the invitation of the table, is to be changed by the experience. For the Bread of Life is the giver of life. In this way, Jesus is essential, not merely as a eschatological proposition, or as some sort of a social/ religious explanation – rather, he is ontologically essential, in the same way that food and drink are essential . . . which is why when I approach the communion table, I whisper “This is your body and blood – change me now from the inside out, and sustain my life with your presence” For this an intimacy to which Christ entreats us all to come.

“Break this bread . . . sip this wine . . .”