Everyone likes to eat. What do you like to eat? On Sunday I’m preaching the Acts 10 text, about Peter’s vision, and so I’m pondering food choices. In the text, Peter, a law-abiding Jew, encounters a Roman named Cornelius and dreams of a sheet filled with food that he considers to be unclean. In the dream, God tells Peter: “Get up Peter, Kill and Eat.” Understandably, Peter recoils. The action recurs three times.
It strikes me that food is not just something to think about. Food is something to partake of. Recently I’ve experienced food a bit differently from normal. I just spent ten days traveling in the UK, and I did my share of eating! I began my travels in Ayr (west coast of Scotland), as a guest, sharing meals with my host family. Then I traveled to Edinburgh where I talked about pilgrimage based on my book, and stayed at a lovely hotel, like a tourist. Then off to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne (east coast of England), to practice being a pilgrim.
All along the way, I did something I don’t usually do: I took pictures of my meals. I kept thinking, “Doug would love this!” So as a way to share the experience with my husband later, I snapped pictures. Which part of me was trying to preserve those memories — the tourist me, or the pilgrim me?
Back home, I stumbled across an interesting article that suggests, among other things: The way of the tourist is to consume; the way of the pilgrim is to be consumed.* It’s a delightful play on words. And it is certainly true that a pilgrim is primarily concerned with letting the Divine consume her, and therefore is unconcerned with the food she consumes along the way. But the quote would be problematic if applied directly to food. To say that “the pilgrim is to be consumed” by food is to speak the language of eating disorders. Still, we all know that food is a powerful way that we connect with others. Sharing at a table with someone is a way of appreciating differences — and transcending them. When we eat their food, rather than insisting on our food, we cross a boundary and inhabit the other’s world more fully.
Fittingly enough, one of the sermons I heard in Scotland was based on this same Acts 10 text (my host follows the Narrative Lectionary). Rev. Liz Crumlish did a great job of having her congregation share with each other about ordinary food experiences before we dove into the text.
The take-away: Don’t let notions of ritual purity stand between you and the Other. There is no Other anymore. We are one in Christ. Work this out in the most basic way possible: at the table. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that a symbol of church hospitality is the potluck table, where we share each other’s dishes. In that spirit, check out some of the meals I consumed in Scotland and England.
*At the asterisk, the author, Michael Sacasas, explains that he has borrowed this phrase from William Cavanaugh, which yes, led to further interesting Google searches.