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Eating Mindfully PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, February 16 2005 19:00
“Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty.”

To some Americans, these prayerful words are as familiar as old friends. Many people have been long accustomed to saying them aloud before sitting down to dinnerand perhaps other meals.

For many others of us, however, there is no time for such a ritual. We are too rushed and usually grab food when and where we can. We may even lunch at our desk while continuing to work, and give precious little thought to what we eat.

In the hectic atmosphere of an office or the pressures of family schedules, eating does not allow for leisure, much less prayer. And yet, mealtime can offer precious opportunities for renewing our soul as well as our body.

The traditional words of the grace quoted above suggest some of the rich meaning that lies hidden in eating a meal.

First, it is a time for receiving God’s blessing. The Lord looks lovingly on us and we are showered with divine favor. God loves us and the meal is a sign of that love.

Secondly, the food and drink set before us come as gifts from God. They are products of the earth and human hands, yes, but the creator has made them available to us.

Thirdly, we are recipients of these goods that enable us to continue living. They also bring us pleasure, even joy. What the Psalm says of wine, applies to all nourishment: it makes joyful the human heart.

Fourth, the gifts come from a giver who overflows with goods for us. The old word “bounty” suggests an inexhaustible supply of gifts. God’s generosity toward the human family does not know limits, although our selfishness too often finds ways to deprive brother and sisters of their share.

The beauty of this approach can be summarized as Philip Zaleski and Paul Kaufman do in their book Gifts of the Spirit: “Through table blessings, we remember in our hearts and proclaim with our lips the divine source of all food, all nourishment. Gratitude for food thus becomes gratitude for creation, for life itself.”

To eat and drink with awareness of these ideas makes of mealtime a spiritual exercise of mindfulness. That is what some religious traditions would call it using a term favored in much current spirituality.

Here’s how the authors mentioned above describe mindful eating: “Be attentive to every part of the process: how your fork spears the peas or shovels the carrots, how your muscles stretch and contract as hand and arm join forces to lift the food toward your mouth. Be aware of opening your lips to receive the morsel. Attend to the tastes and smells, the dance of the tongue and teeth as you chew.”

This approach, valuable for some, surely does not suit everybody. To me, it feels extreme. Nonetheless, reading it can suggest something of the spiritual potential in an everyday activity vital to our lives.

Reverently said, the traditional grace with which this column began has enough spiritual power to transform the action of eating and drinking. It is a simpler expression of mindfulness that then frees us to enjoy eating straightforwardly without analyzing each small movement of hand or mouth.

No single meal stands alone. When eating, we can be reminded of other times when we have sat down at the table with family members and friends. Many of those gatherings were marked by laughter, celebration, commemoration, or simply quiet exchange with one other person.

Eating thus brings back events in our lives that have made them memorable. If we come from the Christian tradition, meals will remind us of the Eucharist, the sacred rite of thanksgiving to God for divine deliverance from evil.

In this setting we may also become mindful of those who do not have enough good food and drink. How the world allows any of God’s children to go hungry remains part of the mystery of evil. Including them in our own gift-giving and in our prayers has to be part of any authentic spiritual life.

Many people of faith, taught by the Bible, see in earthly meals a preparation for the great feast of heaven, when they will sit down with the angels and saints in the loving presence of God.

Richard Griffin