A monthly feature about spirituality
It should come as no surprise that obesity is now an epidemic in America, surpassing smoking as the number one public health problem. Fast food, a sedentary lifestyle and a super-sized, "all-youcan-eat" culture has taken its toll, while a debate rages about whom or what is to blame.
The medieval moralists would not hesitate to call it gluttony, one of the seven deadly sins. Gluttony is eating to excess, for the wrong reasons or making a god of the belly, as Paul would say. It was not only considered a form of idolatry, but a way to commit slow, self-indulgent suicide.
Gluttony was also thought to be tied to other cardinal sins, especially pride and lust, since feasting is often a demonstration of wealth, and drunkenness so often precedes sexual activity. At its core, gluttony is about abusing the temple of the body by eating for all the wrong reasons. Like so many other sins, it’s too much of a good thing.
Consider, however, the lively virtue that lies on the same bed with this deadly sin. There is nothing more sacramental in the gospel than a meal shared with friends. What we call "holy" communion satisfies out of all proportion to its size, because the Eucharist isn’t too much of a good thing, but just enough of something sacred to become the bread of heaven and the cup of kindness.
In other words, when there is a "theology of food," a little goes a long way. And we need a theology of food in this culture, not only to curb the deadly sin of gluttony, but also to remind the world that the lively virtue of communion applies to people inside or outside the church.
The way we eat, and how much we eat, makes an ethical statement in a world that begs bread. There is enough to go around if we don’t take more than we need. Besides, a meal that is prepared by loving hands, and eaten in the company of loved ones and friends is one of life’s greatest joys. The difference is that when food is a form of communion, we eat to live, rather than living to eat.
The lively virtue of communion is not only a sacrament for the church, but a lesson for the world. Eating is a social and spiritual activity. Sharing food is the first lesson in the sharing of our lives. Life is a table. Give thanks, take only what you need, and pass your gratitude around with the rest of the potatoes.
The Rev. Robin Meyers is senior minister of Mayflower UCC in Oklahoma City and is professor of rhetoric in the philosophy department at Oklahoma City University. His latest book, The Virtue in the Vice: Finding Seven Lively Virtues in the Seven Deadly Sins is available at HCIbooks.com.