The Spiritual Gift of Grub

I want to let you in on a secret, one I haven’t shared with many people. Only those closest to me, people I can trust, are allowed in on these secret. It is slightly embarrassing, and incredibly dorky. But I am choosing to share it with you today.

I love to read cookbooks. I love the pictures on the pages, the real stories behind the recipes, the hunt for ingredients, the quips about quixotic quests for spicy flavors and subtle textures that make the dish come alive. Yes, as I sit and peruse cookbooks, I dream about having the time to travel to culinary capitols like France, Provence, and Thailand; putting together impressive recipes to satisfy hunger and please the palate. I find something deeply spiritual about cooking.

It is amazing to me how often Jesus is found eating. The book of Luke records time after time that Jesus came to dinner or told parables about parties. Jesus ate at Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. [1] Jesus went to Levi’s house and joined in a feast for tax collectors and other “sinners.” [2] He reclined at a Pharisees’ tables, too. [3] He fed the five thousand with a little boy’s snack. [4] He went to a meal in Mary’s and Martha’s home. [5] He used food to teach truth [6] and taught the people both to pray for food [7] and not to worry about food at all! [8] He spoke about wedding feasts and living with humility. [9] Indeed, we are to invite people to dine with us who can never repay us. [10]

He was called “a glutton and a drunkard” for eating with outcasts, [11] but it didn’t stop him from sitting down to sup with them anyway! [12] He told stories of lost, sinful children being welcomed home with lavish parties! [13] Jesus made sure that his last night on earth was spent dining with his disciples and teaching them everything he wanted them to remember. [14] After Jesus rose from the dead he broke bread with the two in Emmaus, [15] and when the disciples refused to believe the resurrection he stopped and ate fish. [16] Luke must have been quite the foodie to place so much emphasis on feasts and food! But the other Gospels shouldn’t be ignored, either. Matthew tells us that disciples are called to feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, and invite the stranger in. [17] John shows us that Jesus’s first miracle was turning water to wine at a wedding and has Jesus cooking breakfast for his disciples on the seashore. [18]

Food can be a spiritual experience, a holy moment. Breaking bread is offering hospitality; eating together is an extension of fellowship and love. It is no coincidence that the early church met together daily to break bread together in their homes and eat together with glad and sincere hearts (Acts 2:46). Shared meals are about more than just sharing food; they are about sharing life, praising God, and deepening relationships with other people.

I don’t just enjoy eating… I also enjoy the act of cooking. For me, cooking is a time of focus and discipline. Ministry is a weird thing; it is hard to tell people what you have done that day. Many days I feel like I have accomplished nothing. Sure, I’ve made four pastoral care phone calls, updated directory information, signed birthday cards, and started researching my sermon. But those things don’t seem tangible. When I arrive home, though, I have the opportunity to spend 30 minutes or so and see something come to fruition. I dice onions, chop celery, julienne carrots, crack eggs, and watch as a healthy stir-fry comes together before my eyes. Many people find cooking to be drudgery; for me, it is something I deeply enjoy. I am able to use my hands, my creativity, and my talent to literally feed my family. And we are able to sit, break bread, talk about our day, and share love with one another … or invite others into our home to join our family in this shared meal and fellowship.

As strange as this sounds, cooking becomes a spiritual discipline in my life. When we think about spiritual disciplines we typically consider things like prayer, meditation, lectio divina, silence, or contemplation. Rarely do we consider the spirituality of the everyday. But these mundane tasks that consume our time can (and should) be seen as spiritual moments. God made us to need food; God created our taste buds so that we could enjoy the foods we consume; God has provided numerous fruits, vegetables, and foods that we can enjoy.

As I cook, I am reminded that God is a good provider. I give thanks for the food that I am given, and I can offer prayers for my daily bread. I am reminded of the blessing it is to share food with my family and friends, or to be able to offer a meal to those in need. On days when ministry has been tough, I can take out my aggression on root vegetables rather than the root of my anger. Or I can choose to focus on something immediate rather than on the concerns of the future. Because my hands have performed these tasks countless times, it also gives me the opportunity to let my mind wander, if I want, back through the events of the day. In a way, preparation and cooking can also be a time of Ignatian Examen or reflection on the day. I am challenged, humbled, grateful, and filled with thanks. Often I am given the joy of seeing a meal come together to feed those I love. Other days I am offered a chance to laugh and realize I am not in control when the meal simply doesn’t come together or tastes just a little bit off.

The “tools of my trade” in ministry are my pastoral care, my linguistic abilities, my gift of communication, my love for God and love for others. But I am finding that my paring knife, cutting board, and sauté pan can also be “holy relics” that allow me to draw closer to God when I use them with a heart of gratefulness and joy.

So tonight, when I curl up with a cookbook before bed, it is a time for me to relax, unwind, and (quite possibly) draw closer to God.

[1] Luke 4:39.
[2] Luke 5:27-32.
[3] Luke 7:36ff; 11:37-44; 14:1ff.
[4] Luke 9:12-17.
[5] Luke 10:38ff.
[6] Luke 11:5-13 using bread and fish; 11:42 with spices; 12:1 with yeast in a negative sense; and 13:18-21 with mustard seeds and yeast in a positive light.
[7] Luke 11:3.
[8] Luke 12:22-26.
[9] Luke 14:7-11.
[10] Luke 14:12-14, put into practice in verses 15-24.
[11] Luke 7:33-34; 15:1-2.
[12] Luke 19 for the story of Zacchaeus.
[13] Luke 15:22-24.
[14] Luke 22:7ff.
[15] Luke 24:28-31.
[16] Luke 24:40-41.
[17] Matt 25:34-40.
[18] John 2 and 21:9ff, respectively.
Daniel McGraw is the senior minister of the West University Church of Christ in Houston, Texas. He is married to Megan and has two daughters, Hannah and Lydia, who teach him more about the love of God than any of his theology degrees ever has. He is a passionate, but wholly average, runner.
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Author:  Publish Date: August 31, 2017

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CHARIS hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. The website is intended to support education for Christian life and community through contemporary discussions and historical sources that variously witness to the gifts (“charis”) of God among Churches of Christ, especially their plea for visible unity among Christians through ongoing renewal and restoration of Scriptural beliefs and practices among God’s people.

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