food for thought
"And whenever you fast, do not look dismal..." + Matthew 6:16
Our grocery store stocks strawberries year-round, even in the dead of winter. We have an overabundance of everything. Every day we are told: you can never have too much; there is more, and you deserve it. The result of our overconsumption is everywhere to be seen, from melting ice caps to vanishing rainforests. The truth is, we’ve now reached the precarious day when the earth’s future depends on our self-imposed limits.
If we ever needed Lent - with the limits it suggests - it’s now. Not just our bodies and our spirits; our world needs it. In a world of excess, the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving seem hopelessly out of style. There was a time, to be sure, when these practices served pragmatic purposes. Fasting during Lent made sense for many reasons, including the fact that food reserves were at their lowest levels in late winter. In that sense, Lenten practices helped the community survive. They still do. Something about fasting - limiting our consumption and restraining the excess - still feeds our spirit if we let it.
Like most Reformed Jews, my friend Rabbi Sharyn Henry did not grow up keeping kosher. Over the years, she has taken on certain dietary restrictions. She’s become more “observant,” not merely to follow the letter of the law, but because the very practice of limiting brings meaning to her life. When she passes on the cheeseburger and the shrimp cocktail, it gives her pause to think, consider, and pray. Limits make sacred the ordinary practice of eating. At their best, they tune our hearts to a thankful song.
I’ve been a vegetarian for twenty-three years. I’ve stuck with it, not so much because it’s healthy or good for the earth (although it is both), but because it has made me “more observant,” more aware of the millions of people whose daily choices - for food, work, school, healthcare - are severely constricted. It’s given me a greater appreciation for the energy required to sustain my life.
Best of all, it’s made the strawberry shortcake taste even sweeter.
God of sweet berries and ripe, red peppers, may the boundaries of the garden make us ever more grateful for the bounty within it. Amen.
Thank you, Glenn Euloth, for reminding us that berries need the warmth of the summer sun to grow. We can taste summer already! And thanks to Holly McKissick for her challenging words (check out her Fellowship of Prayer, published by Chalice Press).