Soul Food

Jn. 6:24-35
Pent. 8

While Faye was in Boston this week, I came across my mother’s favorite cookbooks. The first was the Fanny Farmer’s Cook Book from 1912 and the second was a loose-leaf book of my Swedish Grandmother’s recipes, which dated from the 1880s. We have other cookbooks; my son has half a dozen, which specialize in marinating and grilling. Faye has her favorites. Food plays a big part in all our lives. Recently Ben and I watched a PBS special at 1:30 a.m. about “The Sandwich.” This feature film was fascinating as it profiled the sandwich in all of its permeations and ethnic/cultural forms. The best “New York Sandwich” is found at Kaplan’s in NYC. The best lobster sandwich is found at Red’s in Wiscasset, Maine. I was introduced to “soul food” of collards, black-eyed beans, ham hocks, hominy and grits when I lived in Arkansas. It was a mark of the community to consume and inwardly digest this high cholesterol diet. Food is really more than food, even in those lands in which there is mass starvation. There food can be life saving, a weapon, a sign of social hierarchy. My classmate Bud Trillin has made a name for himself writing droll articles about food for The New Yorker. Trillin is known to eulogize such restaurants as Winsted’s in Kansas City, a drive-in that became a cultural landmark. Once upon a time young women brought your order to you in your car! How food is chosen, prepared and presented (served) is often important.

I’ve noticed a constant over the last two years as Faye and I have traveled from coast to coast. We are addressed by the “server” as “You guys.” “You guys want an appetizer? You guys ready to order.” This form of address does not seem to be a regional mark. There are, of course many regional marks. The Bible, of course, writes about food, Israel is “the land of milk and honey.” The patriarchs feasted. Jacob conned Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of porridge. Exodus from bondage in Egypt is memorialized in the Passover Meal. Eschatological and apocalyptic writers looked for a “heavenly banquet,” where there is neither sorrow nor sighing. In The New Testament Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana. He fed the Five Thousand in last weeks Marcan account.

In this week’s lectionary reading from St. John, the crowd followed Jesus, and He challenges them that they are interested only in material food, filling their stomachs, and not in the signs which He has done. The crowd cites Moses as having given them food and challenge Jesus to do the same. Jesus replies that the food He gives them is more than the bread of every day meals. It is bread from heaven. He then says,”I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

As usual, John has taken a simple idea or object (material food) and bored deeper and deeper into the imagery and symbolism found therein. Reality is always much deeper than appearance in John. The crowd is thinking about food which feeds the body. Jesus speaks of that which feeds the soul, literally “soul food.” And so you and I are asked again and again to consider things of the soul.

We have learned in the last few weeks that we are preapproved “loved by our creator and redeemer, that we are always moving on” pilgrims on a journey of faith, that our task in life is not to do better try harder, but to repent, face the evil spirits and to heal. Last week we learned to see God as our refuge and strength and to lean on him. Now it is time to consider that which feeds us not materially but metaphorically and on a deeper level.

In thinking about this I drew up a list of those things for which we hunger, and I came up with twenty-two. “You guys” may have a different menu but mine is fairly standard. What is it that you and I hunger for? 1) We hunger for recognition, to be noticed. 2) We hunger to be counted, to have value. 3) We hunger for affirmation. 4) We hunger for companionship. 5) We hunger for friendship. 6) We hunger for affection. 7) I think we hunger for devotion, although this may be debatable. 8) We hunger for self-respect. 9) We hunger for respect. 10) We hunger for fun. I had fun once, back in 1952. 11) We hunger for pleasure. 12) We hunger for satisfaction — often over a job well done. 13)We hunger for release (from pain?).14) We hunger for peace, quiet, calm. 15) We hunger for meaning, for an ultimate purpose and value. 16) We hunger for sense — that things make sense, that we see connections. 17) There is sexual hunger. 18) We hunger for excitement. 19) We hunger for beauty. Our aesthetic sense needs to be fed. I cannot go four days without listening to classical music. 20) We hunger for power — to have some control over life. 21) We hunger for intellectual challenge. I always keep a mystery book going. Lastly we hunger for 22) freedom — inner as well as outer freedom.

When I sat back and looked at the list, I realized that Jesus Christ feeds all of those hungers. We are more than noticed, we are redeemed. We count. We are affirmed (blessed). Christ is our companion. He is more than friend. He provides friendship within His body the Church. We receive the affection of other Christians. In Christ there is devotion. You and I are given self-respect. We are respected by other Christians. There is fun in the body of Christ. Maybe it is better called “joy.” In Christ there is pleasure forever more. There is satisfaction. We are freed from the pain of self-doubt. There is healing. In Christ there is peace, meaning and things make sense. Sexual hunger is appropriately resolved in the sacrament of marriage. To serve Christ can be the most exciting thing in the world. There is beauty in the love of God and in the liturgies of the Church. We know power — the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of forgiveness, the power of love. Intellectual challenge is abundant in the creeds of the Church which seek to define the mysterium tremendum, the Holy Other, which confronts and leads us.

Finally there is freedom, a freedom from being enslaved to guilt and to the total demands of the secular world. There is the ultimate freedom of eternal life, where principalities and powers, things seen and unseen hold no sway. A pretty awesome list. To go back to the PBS movie that I referred to earlier, towards the end there is an interview with a Palestinian in New Jersey who specializes in a sandwich called the falafel. It is sort of a breaded baseball mitt filled with all sorts of good things. His grandmother taught him how to make it. When he came to the United States he hungered for it and eventually made falafels and has a thriving business selling these sandwiches in his restaurant.

Now it turns out that the Jews, who emigrated from Israel, also enjoy the falafel. So this Palestinian is serving hundreds and hundreds of Jews the bread. Jews and Palestinians eat at the same tables and share their food with one another and their friendship. In a closing clip of the film, the owner of the restaurant says, “Here Jew and Arab eat together. Maybe if we could all just sit down and eat together, we would have peace in the world.” As Christians you and I share that sentiment. You and I come each Sunday to partake of the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ. We come to the Eucharistic feast and are fed. Many of our twenty-two hungers are met on Sunday. In effect our souls are fed. As we participate in the Eucharist we are reminded that we, too are part of the body of Christ. In a mystical way we become His body and through our actions and through our lives we literally and figurative feed others. Our souls are nourished and, by the grace of God dwelling within us, we are able to nourish the souls of others. As Christians you and I are no longer just “You guys.” You and I are brothers and sisters in Christ, purveyors of Soul Food. Salute! — Amen