“…love’s most intimate union
Is through eating, tasting and seeing interiorly.
He eats us; we think we eat Him,
and we do eat Him, of this we can be certain.”
My husband and I are unrepentant foodies; we fast and feast with passionate intensity. Beautiful meals are an essential part of the artistry of life. An ugly, unwholesome meal in an otherwise lovely home is an abomination. It cheapens the entire atmosphere and strips away the comfort of the place. Food done well is an artistic extension of the self: like music or clothing it reveals the state of our hearts. Done badly or ignored completely, it indicates a floundering interior life. That is not to say that those who can’t cook at all are spiritually deficient, so long as they don’t use their deficiency to excuse regular meals of wonder-bread and frozen burritos on paper plates; or tasteless, soulless health food eaten without joy. But we must recognize that “our meals are alive with the goodness of God” and that all of them “point toward [the] greatest feast of all, in which we receive no longer just earthly things, but the incarnate act of God’s mercy.” When we begin to see meals in this light, how can we be satisfied with food that does not also feed our sensual and aesthetic hunger? In this sense, “health food” often fails as much as “junk food;” neither the power bar, nor the candy bar lead us to dwell on the “goodness of God,” instead they encourage us to treat the body as a machine, to minimize the importance of the body. Instead of minimizing the importance of meals – treating them as a means to refuel the body, or else as solely an opportunity to socialize, “we should resolve to make our meals once more holy times, to open and close them with prayer,” to fill them with beauty, to allow the meal to nourish our faith; “doing this will introduce a new, [fuller] atmosphere into our homes.”
A meal doesn’t have to be extravagant to be a beautiful, holy time. Often simple meals of bread, cheese, fruit, and vegetables are filling, simple to prepare, and absolutely lovely. Set out on a table with cloth napkins and nice dishes it becomes a thing of beauty to be enjoyed by the whole person. Other meals may take longer to prepare, but they too are worth the effort. They make a meal the event of the evening (or morning, or afternoon). Lenten meals are sparser, and further removed from each other, but they too demand loveliness. Simple soups are ideal for the season. They are warming and filling; they evoke memories of loving parents or grandparents, and pleasant, warm winter evenings. In lent I have taken to making tomato soups with dumplings of flour, oil, water and spices; along with baked flat breads topped with herbs or sundried tomatoes. I try to avoid extravagence, but keep up appearances. To fast from beauty would be like fasting from God.