Nothing is better for a man than he should eat and drink…
For who can eat, or who can have enjoyment more than I?
— Ecclesiastes 2:24-25
All too often, I’ve dipped into your grace as if it were my own hors d’oeuvres tray. How often I’ve made you into my special household image, no longer the Creator Redeemer, but my own hand-crafted confessor, my co-artisan. Forgive me for wanting oh-so-badly to be “a contemporary Christian,” hip, up-to-date, right up there with all things cool and knowing; forgive me for folding you into this New World of artisanal-nouveau get-togethers: herbal this, spicy that, the crafted breads, the cross-bred flavors and snappy salads, the notey wines and Mule Stool beers, all in the right glass with the right talk about the right subjects. They all taste good, and so do you—right there with me, my Cana guy—“He partied, so can I.”
After all, I’ve been told to enjoy all you’ve made, so why not combine you and all the rest into one handy spiritual picnic basket? Glory to God for varietal things! My goodness—specialty salt even! And all those slam-bang marinades! Thank you, Father. Blessings on Trader Joe’s and the sotto voce-tastey-sniffey liturgies in the Kingdom of Napa. Thank you for hazelnut-rosemary-lavendar sorbets, for that new secret coffee roast, for the latest way to sauté grapes and garden blossoms—and YESSS!—that rare moment when the en croute has never been, you know, as awesome.
Thank you for saving me from all the fundamentalist no-no’s, and for blessing all the nouveau yes-yes’s. O how good for the world to see that there is such a thing as upscale Christianity; how good that my Christian freedom fits so well with “letting my life speak.” Thank you for my newly minted legalism whereby I can prove my freedom by what I can do, instead of what I don’t do. Thank you for this awesome chance I have to interact with the earth and its fruits, all the spiritual oneness that a carmelized, chipotle cheese, tequila-laced whip-up brings to the Bible study group.
O, dearest Lord Christ, have mercy on me, giddy with this nouveau-everything, so easily Christianized. Please, dear fasting famished Jesus, stark Bread, everyday Manna; clear my senses of varietal lust. Be sure, please, that I’m set free from the material evidences and usages that make me look so hip and free. BREAK ME DOWN TO YOUR INHERENT HOLINESS. Show me what it means to follow you into the desert. Show me that glorifying you begins with starvation and thirst. Show me what it means to be panting for the next breath, while I stumble toward the water brook. Teach me the shock of Martin Luther’s words: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also…”
Put things right. Lord, if others have sinned as I have, then show us together that you are the Potter, and we the clay. Forgive us for image-making, for sizing you down and turning you into our oh-so-relevant leader, for crafting you down to our societal size. Starve us that we might learn how to feast. Redeem our appetites; put heart before art, that we might seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness in spirit and truth—by the kind of faith for which there is no outside substance or evidence, by the kind of love of which you alone are Author and Finisher, and by the kind of hope that knows without wishing. Teach us the glory of a world-barren new birth—the Good News’ swaddling clothes around us, you nursing us with the milk and honey of heaven’s manna and we delighting in the merest drop, growing up into the stature and fullness of yourself. Allow us the honor of being poor with you that we might, above all, know the riches in glory we have in Messiah, Jesus.
Then, Father, then and only then, as we are being saved from this world, show us what it means to be saved back into it. Show us that none of these things were wrong in the first place, but that we were wrong about them. Then, dear Provider, then take us back to whatever bounties you measure out; to all the art and craft of taste and nuance. Let us return reverently to the next get-together; remind us that pomegranates and shiraz and grainy breads and quaint cheeses are yours, even as you give them away; that fruit comes from your fields and that cookery is an offering, both to the imaginative and the temperate. Take us to Cana, not so much to bow down before the wine, the roasts, and the puddings, as to kneel before you, who gives freely that we might taste carefully.
Show us how to be Christ-like in our thanksgiving and prophetic in our brunches and savory get-togethers. Let taste and testimony conjoin, so that those with whom we were once fellow showoffs will come to know that the first Feast is Jesus, himself: the Bread of Life and the Royal Wine of Heaven; that all earthy feasts—as imaginative and savory as they can be—are the merest symbols of your heavenly bounties. Then, Lord Jesus, then, bless us in every nuance and note, every latest thing that we once enjoyed from the lower reaches of paganism. Help us to realize that you were calling it ‘good’ all along; that it was us, and not the foodstuffs, that needed changing.
And finally, provide us with the smiling grace and singing humility to give away far more than we ever consume; to cherish a drop of water with as much thanksgiving and hilarity as we do the latest micro-brew; and to be sure that temperance provides the master in whatever we do. O Christ Jesus, whose eternal hunger to redeem outruns ours to repent, whose bounty embarrasses our generosity, please work us hard; please show mercy to our feast, and show us your way of fasting within it. Show us how to give away before we receive. Then, dear Lord, without trying to be cute about it, help us to know that we can have our cake and eat it, too; with you as both guest and host, provider and participant; with a world of starving children and outcasts fed with more than our condescending gruels and leftover Twinkies.
(from Dumbfounded Praying, by Harold Best)