Nourishing contemplation


Lent is here again. As a non-church-going pseudo-Episcopalian, I’m sure there are many of my friends who are surprised that I observe Lent in any fashion. I can’t quite explain why I find it comforting to continue this yearly practice, but it fulfills a spiritual and physical need for quiet and contemplation. I have even found myself thinking of adding the observation of the Advent period of fasting and meditation.

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I’m not one for “giving up” things for Lent. Instead, I prefer to “take up” something new. Sometimes, this difference is simply a matter of how I look at my life, and how I frame the change. For instance, the years where I did not drink during Lent, it wasn’t a matter of “giving up booze” as it was “taking up sobriety.”  The year I became a vegetable-tarian, eating LESS meat was just a natural function of eating MORE vegetables and grains. In both cases, it was an opportunity to make a positive change in my life while contemplating the social and emotional challenges associated with the change, as well a chance to pause and sit with uncertainty and uncomfortable feelings a bit.

This year I decided to spent Lent focusing on the larger concept of nourishment — body, mind, and soul — on an individual and community level. For me, this will be expressed by taking the time to care for and learn from my body and my spirit, exercising my muscles and my mind. I had settled on this approach weeks ago, and started preparing for what it would entail. It was a complete coincidence and a very pleasant surprise that the Episcopal Relief & Development 2012 Lenten Meditations(pdf) is also focused on the social issues around food security and community. I followed their daily meditations last year, and found them to be perfect bite-sized meditative prompts that resonated with my own way of manifesting public displays of private beliefs.

Today’s changes include:
Eating a healthy, homemade breakfast of oats – I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been eating breakfast out far too much lately.
Adding more veggies to my lunch – Normally, I would have just eaten the left-over Chinese food as is, but today I added some additional vegetables and grains to make it more filling and increase the nutrition of my lunch. And, by doing so, made a larger batch of food that will be dinner and additional lunches later this week.
Continuing my gym activities – I just started back at the gym this semester and haven’t been as regular as I’d like because of sickness and scheduling problems. But it needs to be a higher priority.
Making time for quiet contemplation – I will always have plenty of work and homework to do, as well as countless other things to distract myself. It’s important to make the time for it regardless. The payoff in reduced stress alone will make it worth it.
Getting enough rest – This has been a continual problem, and relates to the busy-ness of modern life. There will always be something else that I want to do. I will not have time to do everything. And sleep is as important as all the other activities.

God creates humankind in the last act of this creation story and charges them with stewardship of all the other animals.
I have always loved the idea of stewardship rather than domination or control. Stewards have power over their charges, but more importantly they have responsibilities to their charges. This concept above all others has informed many of my decisions in life. It is this sense of responsibility that led me to find a local source of vegetables, and that continues to drive me to seek out and support local farmers and food producers, as well as truly sustainable* sources for most everything else we buy and consume. I know it often costs more than conventional foods. I am consciously aware of the blessings I have been given in that I can afford to pay the premium cost for good food grown by my friends. I feel it is a kind of privilege that I can pay a little extra to keep a local farmer working her fields, and that her continued presence may encourage others to take up the mantle of “farmer” and create a wider market, thus bringing the costs down over time.

The divine intent in creation is about food security.
It’s fascinating to think that the most important part of the opening scene in the Bible is about food and food security! But it makes sense. Without food, Adam and Eve and all the creatures could not have survived long enough to “go forth and multiply.” And without food security, communities around the globe cannot thrive and reach their highest potential.

When a child goes to school hungry, he does not learn. As a society, we have acknowledged this basic fact, and provide meals for children who might otherwise go hungry. It’s in our own best interests to do so, since we want all children to grow up to be functioning members of our society. The same thinking applies to food stamps and other safety net programs to make sure we don’t have people starving to death in our communities.

But there’s a difference between being hungry and being nourished. We are inundated with advertisements for all sorts of processed food products that are very low in actual nutrition, except for what has been added back in after the fact to meet some arbitrary minimum standards set by some panel somewhere that seems to have a vested interest in keeping the food industry happy. I’d like to see more public attention on the quality of food available to all of us, and especially those with fewer resources for accessing the food they need.

I’ve seen some steps taken by local governments and community groups. Several vendors at our local farmer’s market accept WIC and other food vouchers, which is a great program! And every year there seem to be more community gardens popping up around town. And my personal favorite organization, Food for Thought, has long had a vegetable garden to supplement their food pantry.

Loving our neighbors means ensuring they have enough to eat.
This seems intuitive to me. When guests come to my house, it is my duty as a good hostess to feed them. It’s a duty I take on gladly, as many of you know. Community meals are integral to so many societies. Think about why we have traditional meals. We gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter, and Purim and Passover, and so many more events. Each with its own special menu.

When a friend loses a loved one, we bring them food for the wake. When a family brings home a new baby, we bring them food to help them during the first weeks of parenthood.

It’s the reason even weekly holy days are often marked by gathering around a table with those we love to enjoy a special meal. My most wonderful memories of Sundays growing up aren’t about what happened IN church, but about what happened afterward, at Aunt Carolyn’s house or a the Picadilly.

If we make food a symbol of love between us and those we care about, then it should follow that we extend that symbol to those we are taught to love without knowing. “Love thy neighbor” is more than simply reminding us to be neighborly to those immediately adjacent to us. It is reminder to include all those who are within our sphere of influence. If I am going to claim to be a resident of Sonoma County, I am taking on the role of being a full member of this community. As such, I get to call one of the most beautiful places on the planet home. But I also become responsible for what happens in my community, just as I am responsible for what happens in my home. Which means I am responsible for making sure my neighbors have access to healthy, nourishing food.

Eating more simply — more vegetables, grains, fruits, less animal-based food -— is not only better for our own health, but increases our ability to feed more people more adequately.
“Live simply, so that other may simply live.” This is my guiding principle. I’m far from perfect, but I am continually working on improving my version of “living simply.” When it comes to food, I hope that I am making the right choices so that I can share the bounty of Sonoma County with my neighbors.

*I’m convinced that the term “sustainable” has been thoroughly abused and misapplied by those who wish to capitalize on the idea of sustainability without truly taking measures to ensure they actually meet the standards sustainability requires.

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