There are only a handful of people with whom I’ve shared the extent of my love for Dining Hall omelets with. For those unaware, almost my entire day rests on if I get to start a school day off with what is quite literally a yellow circle folded in half with vegetables in the middle. It’s almost problematic. I have sat in line and waited for my omelet while late for class. I have, in the middle of a stressful week might I add, cried that I over slept and didn’t make it to Dining Hall in time before they stop serving at 9 a.m. I have, in a state of frustration, gone back to bed when waking up slightly after 9 a.m. because I knew going to get food when the omelet station was just closing was going to be defeating. Is my reliance on that special breakfast privileged and silly? Absolutely. But it’s always consistent in my weekday mornings. Anybody who knows me is probably aware that I consciously fill my mornings with little rituals and habits, and breakfast has always been one of those.
When I was informed that Norman Wirzba, theologian, ecologist, philosopher, and professor at Duke university, was coming to Berry for a Lumen Lecture, I was immediately excited. I impulsively bought his book Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, and I read it immediately. His chapter, “Thinking Theologically About Food,” got me thinking specifically about this strange morning ritual of mine. Why exactly is it important to me? Wirzba describes the aim of spiritual practices as “to develop in people the habits that will enable them to live a more ordered, measured, reflective, free, attentive, available, and responsible life.” He argues we need to view eating as a spiritual exercise. Too often today we eat only for the sake of nourishment. We rarely truly enjoy and experience food with other people. We are “frantic and blind” when it comes to the way we eat, and this is completely true about my lunch and dinner. I usually have a podcast on, ignoring both people and the food I’m putting into my body. This way of eating makes it impossible to actually be grateful for the food placed in front of you. I don’t ever think about all the hands (unfortunately in most cases, it’s actually machines) that worked to bring food to my table. When was the last time you saw someone say grace or give thanks in Dining Hall? The implicit message is there: we really aren’t thankful for our food. We’re not focused on it or where it comes from. The fact is, the food we mindlessly ingest likely hurt someone or something while giving you the opportunity to nourish your body. An animal may have been killed, a machine may have pumped more pollution into the atmosphere, a coffee farmer in El Salvador probably toiled and sweat to bring you that cup of caffeine you toss a bunch of sugar into and throw back because it’s only a resource you use for energy.
“Giving thanks, eating with others, and being mindful of where your food is coming from are all ways to eat theologically.”
Is turning our eating into a mindful spiritual practice a way to combat these issues? Yes. Wirzba argues we need a sense of life’s fragility and gratuity. Every bite is a sign of giftedness and grace, but it’s also an uneasy sign that we will have to eat again. Eating theologically invites us to commune with each other, but it also directs us toward God. A realization that nothing is truly independent reveals our true dependence on God, the sustainer of all life. Giving thanks, eating with others, and being mindful of where your food is coming from are all ways to eat theologically.
Has reading Wirzba radically transformed how I enjoy my omelets every morning? No, but that isn’t really the point. I still sometimes mindlessly eat. I still throw on podcasts and distract myself from my food now and again, and I even still sometimes eat unethically sourced meals. Food & Faith has not remade every facet of my relationship with food, but it isn’t supposed to. The mindfulness is the point. Every conscious decision to eat theologically matters. These choices begin to reshape the heart and make the choice easier. In the same way I get upset sometimes when I don’t get my morning omelet, intentionally eating theologically can make it difficult to desire the old surface-level relationship with your food.
Theology professor Norman Wirzba will discuss the spirituality of eating as part of the Berry College Lumen Lecture Series at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 28, in the Spruill Ballroom.
Wirzba is a Gilbert T. Rowe Distinguished Professor of Theology and Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics at Duke University. He is the author of several books including “From Nature to Creation: A Christian Vision for Understanding and Loving Our World” and “Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating.” Wirzba’s focus of study is an intersection of theology, philosophy, ecology, and agrarian and environmental studies.
The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For more information, go to https://www.berry.edu/student-life/activities-and-organizations/religious-life/guest-speakers.
Alex Killingsworth is a religion and philosophy major from Cumming, GA. Some of his favorite things/hobbies are coffee, photography, ultimate frisbee, and reading. Two of his hidden talents are roller skating and yo-yo tricks. Yes, he was the coolest in middle school.
Press release written by Chaplain’s Office Public Relations Manager and student Bailey Dingley.