“I talked to a nurse practitioner about my gastric reflux,” I said to my spiritual director. “I changed my diet, don’t eat after supper and raised the head of our bed. And that’s not all I’ve been doing to care for my body. I’m still doing yoga every morning. I’ve never been able to be consistent about exercise before. But now if I don’t do it, I miss it.”
The changes were significant and my director was duly impressed.
“But those aren’t the only changes. I’ve decided to be vegan for Lent. It’s the single most effective thing I can do to care for the earth and future generations,” I said and was surprised to find myself tearing up.
I reached for a tissue and explained. “Our priest and I suggested at a debrief about our church’s community meal that we serve vegan food because it’s ethical, economical and hospitable. Almost anyone can eat it. But not everyone there was convinced. People really liked the beef stew and turkey dinner, and there are rarely more than two vegans that come. Although we made the decision to provide vegan meals for the time being, I realized that to help make a lasting change, I needed to be added to the number of vegans that come, even if it’s only one more.”
As I spoke, I felt a hard lump in my throat. It was so painful, I began taking slow deep breaths. I sat for a moment and then told my director about it.
“I think this is really important to God,” I said recalling another time I experienced this.
Years ago I was on retreat and joined in a community prayer time. The leader asked what hopes we hold that have yet to be realized. People shared various things, and I said, “A home for everyone.” Suddenly I had this painful lump in my throat holding back a wail of sorrow. I didn’t know what was happening. It was weeks before I could name it as God expressing God’s feelings in my body.
It was happening again. God feeling strongly about the earth, about all the living creatures on it and about one person being counted.
It’s almost shocking to feel God’s feelings, to be one with the divine in such a visceral way. It’s humbling to step back and let my body have a voice.
It’s also awkward. God has weighed in about what I eat on a subject that’s dangerously divisive.
Ignatius warned about adding things to spiritual experiences like this one and making assumptions that God never intended.
As I write about it now, I return to the feeling, the lump in my throat, the experience in spiritual direction. I breathe and listen.
What is God saying in this?
God isn’t saying everyone should become vegan. But I’m hearing that God cares deeply for this earth and all living things. When we act with compassion for our bodies, others–all God created–we express God’s compassion. And that compassion, unlike empathy or pity, leads to actions that free and transform.
Five Contemplations Before Eating
1. This food is a gift of God from the earth, the sky, the universe, numerous living beings and much hard work.
2. May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.
3. May we transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.
4. May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of all beings, preserve our planet and reverse the process of global warming.
5. We accept this food so we can nurture our brotherhood and sisterhood, strengthen our community, and nourish our ideal of serving all beings.
Source: Savor by Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Lilian Chueng. Italics mine.
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St. Stephen the Martyr Anglican Church in Burnaby loves to eat together and seeks to love our neighbours in practical ways. So we put those two desires together and invited the neighbours to come for dinner. Everyone is welcome. Everyone is host and guest. No one has to eat alone or go hungry or fear they don’t belong. Community meals like this are happening in other places too. Maybe there’s one in your neighbourhood. Or maybe you could start one.