I have started reading Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren F. Winner, and I have to say ‘thank you’ to Vanessa for recommending it to me because it has so far been powerful and inspiring. Winner is a Christian who grew up Jewish, and this book is about her insights into spirituality that she gained from Judaism that she finds valuable as she navigates life in Christ.
Each chapter is about a different insight from Judaism, so it is easy to muse over each chapter and digest it slowly. The one that has worked its way into my mind with the most tenacity so far is the chapter on eating, specifically on what Winner gained from eating kosher.
I know bits and pieces of what it means to eat kosher, but I don’t really want to go into the specific rules so much as in how the heart of it speaks into my own spiritual life.
One new thing I learned about it from Winner is that the word ‘kosher’ comes from the Hebrew word for “fit” or “appropriate.” So eating kosher is about eating in a way that makes sense for those who are part of God’s people.
Just as Colossians 3 deals with a lifestyle of love that makes sense because of who we are in Christ, I can’t ignore the fact that eating is a huge part of life, and it is connected to my identity in Christ as much as anything else I do.
Winner expresses the same idea like this:
Only after I stopped keeping kosher did I fully appreciate that kashrut [kosher dietary laws] had shaped more than my grocery lists. It also shaped my spiritual life. Keeping kosher transforms eating from a mere nutritional necessity into an act of faithfulness. If you keep kosher, the protagonist of your meal is not you; it is God.
The depth of this insight kind of blows my mind. The way I eat shapes my spiritual life. I can eat or not eat in such a way that puts God at the forefront of my meal. God cares about what and how I choose to eat, just as he cares about the whole of my life.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying I have to stop and pray and ask for guidance before every me to discern God’s will for my food. I’m also not saying I have to follow a list of rules about what I eat and how I prepare it. God’s not about micromanaging. God’s not about checking off achievements on my list of ways to keeping him from being mad at me.
How I understand every aspect of my spiritual life (which is just a redundant way of saying every aspect of all of my life) is that God cares about who I am and how I relate to him, his people, and all of creation. The rules don’t all makes sense at first glance, but it isn’t about the details so much as it is about the character and faithfulness underlying the whole lifestyle.
You might wonder how to incorporate any of these ideas without keeping Jewish dietary laws. I think you will have to find a way to be intentional about your diet for yourself, but for me, part of the reason these ideas stood out to me so strongly is because I do already have something in my diet that requires some of the same vigilance.
Chrissy, Evelyn, and I, along with our other housemates, are currently eating a vegan diet.
I admit, I am the least committed of the household. I eat vegan at home, but not always when I’m out. Part of the reason for this divergence is good: it is for the sake of hospitality. When I am a guest in someone’s home or at an event being put on by others, I eat what is available because I don’t want to be a burden to people who are graciously providing for my meal.
Part of the reason is less noble: it’s a lot more convenient to eat a more standard diet when I eat out, not to have to worry about whether there will be vegan options. Also, I enjoy meat and dairy. So just so we’re clear, I’m not a perfect vegan. I’m not legalistic about my food. And if you invite me over, I will gladly eat what you provide.
But to some extent, as a (somewhat) vegan, I experience the same dynamics as a Jew keeping kosher. I have to be vigilant with my groceries (although Chrissy does far more shopping than I do). I have to be mindful of what I eat. I have to be faithful to follow what God has called me to regarding food.
I don’t really care to convince anyone to eat vegan, but the reasons we eat this way are both nutritional and ethical. As part of creation, I am called to stewardship in taking care of myself. Along with that call to care for creation, I am aware of the nearly incomprehensible cruelty enacted against the animals that provide the food for our culture. Eating vegan is about my Christian identity, about the call to live a life characterized by love, compassion, and responsibility for the life of millions of creatures God made and called good.
It becomes a spiritual discipline because it requires constant attention and faithful perseverance. It is a way in which I meat Jesus every time I take a bite of food (which is incredibly often if you think about it).
Winner talks about the concepts that provide the foundation for eating kosher (and I would say the same for eating vegan) that apply for Christians. “God cares about our dietary choices.” She connects the importance of food choices with Adam’s sin in the garden. She connects it with the God who provides for our needs. She insists that eating appropriately “at its most basic level . . . requires you to be present to your food.”
This idea reminds me of something else that is essential for the Christian life, for my life. Presence and food are inextricably linked for Christians. The central ritual of the church, the only ritual necessarily repeated by Christians, is Communion. Communion at its core is sharing food in a way that facilitates and highlights presence. It highlights Jesus’ presence with his people, his people’s presence with each other, and his people’s presence with him.
In communion, I am reminded of and renewed as part of Christ’s body, a part of God’s people. I am called into participation with Jesus in new life and the sacrifice that brought God and his people together.
I am reminded that Jesus led his disciples in the Passover meal in preparation for his sacrifice when he performed the first communion ceremony. Food is important. Eating intentionally and faithfully is sacred. It reminds me that no part of my life is too insignificant, too peripheral to be spiritual.
I don’t think I need to eat kosher, and I don’t think all Christians must eat vegan, but I do think all of us should be intentional about how we live. And oddly enough, living requires eating. I hope you can find a way to worship God with your food, and I certainly hope I grow in my own faithfulness in this and every aspect of my life. I trust God to help me in my endeavors, and I would be happy to join with anyone who wants to explore ways in their lives to find faithfulness with food for themselves.