Eating in a Spiritually Minded Manner
Rita Madden · April 26, 2011
St. Seraphim of Sarov states that “everyday we should partake of just enough food to allow the body, being fortified, to a be a friend and helper to the soul in performing the virtues. Otherwise with the body exhausted the soul may also weaken.” In this episode, Rita provides wisdom from the early Church Fathers regarding what foods we should be eating and how to consume them in a sensible and healthful manner.
This is the first podcast of many that we are going to use to explore Holy Orthodox Tradition, teachings of the Church fathers and Saints that provide us wisdom and guidance on how to eat in our modern day world, and how to take care of our health in this day and age when there are so many mixed messages out there.
These podcasts are going to allow us to use the wisdom that is embodied in the Holy Orthodox Church, to manage such things as, high blood pressure, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, weight loss, high cholesterol and on and on. It’s also going to give us approaches for healthy ways to fast. Healthy nutrition practices for children and the family as a whole. So before we get started into this first session, I just want to share a little bit of information of how these podcasts are going to be geared.
Like I mentioned we are going to be focusing on, the wisdom that is embodied in the Church, to provide us with modern day health practices. And so we are going to look at different aspects of teachings and then we are going to correlate it to how we can utilize this today. As we do that, I am going to provide you with actual assignments that I am hoping you will take into your everyday life and practice. Reason being, is because you can listen to everything I have to say and say “wow, that was really interesting” but if you don’t go into your everyday life and apply it, really there is no sense in even listening to the podcasts at all. You will just find it maybe you know, a good way to use up 20 minutes in your day. But no, in all seriousness I am hoping that you are going to be gain some practical tips based on wisdom, again, that is ancient and just present in the Living Church, to help you with your health and lifestyle.
So let me go ahead and share a story with you. We all like examples of people that we know, that have tested out something and it worked. I just had the blessing of speaking with Kevin Allen, host of The Illumined Heart radio show and we were talking about a lot of this wisdom that is just at our fingertips and he said “you know, I started really applying a lot of the different teachings that we do see embodied in the Church” and he said “after three weeks of applying some of these principles” that we are going to be discussing as we move through these podcasts together, he said “just after a few weeks of applying these things in my everyday life, I lost six pounds.” And it wasn’t as if he was on a special diet and had to eat low-carb or fat-free, he was just applying teachings that had been passed down through our Holy Tradition.
So today what we are going to focus on, in this first session, is talking about eating in a spiritually minded manner. And so what I want to do, is I want to start off with some teachings from the Church. So let’s look at this statement made by St. Seraphim of Sarov. He points out and emphasizes, “every day we should partake of just enough food to allow the body, being fortified, to be a friend and helper to the soul.” I just want to kind of focus on this statement right here. We are going to actually build upon this as we move along in the other podcasts because it’s very key how he exemplifies that the body needs to be fortified to be a helper for the soul. Next time we have the next podcast we are going to talk about this aspect of being fortified but what I want to focus on today is this relationship between body and soul, because we again see this same concept resonating in other teachings. For example, St Gregory of Palamas, St Maximus the Confessor, they point out that same concept. They point out that man as God’s image, is body and soul and that the body and soul interact with each other to ascent towards God. So there is this interaction with body and soul, it’s not as if we separate the two and they are two separate entities. They are one together. So there is this role, this thing we have to do, in terms of caring for the body. And so there are lots of bodily acts that we do every day that are going to either harm or help our soul.
We eat every single day, it’s not something that we can just completely stop doing. So there is something and going back and recognizing how should eating be handled in its proper context, how can we eat in a spiritual minded manner so that we are taking care of body and soul alike. In fact St Paul in his teaching and his writings to the Corinthians he essentially says that “therefore whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” And he specifically emphasizes this aspect of eating and drinking. So there is something there with this aspect of eating and drinking that we need to do and make sure that is handled in the proper context. So how are we going to do that? We have these teachings, we just see them presented to us, how are we do that in this modern day world that we live in, where food advertisements are everywhere and are sending us mixed messages. We see the advertisement to buy Snickers, you are not yourself when you are hungry. Then who am I then? I mean do I all of a sudden taken a new identity? We read all these magazines and it’s telling us “lose 40 pounds in a week.” Yet, you flip the page in the magazine and the next ad is for “oh goodness, you’ve had a bad day, indulge in this rich desert.” So again, there are mixed messages everywhere. Oh you should be doing the low-carb diet, oh no, wait, now its low-fat. We essentially give these foods “bad terms”. So we hear, carbs are bad. Well no, carbs are not bad. It’s what we do with them that can make them bad. But it is important that we recognize that we do have all these messages everywhere and it’s very confusing to us. Not to mention that food is everywhere and you can go to a clothing store and be buying a pair of jeans and before you are checking out, there are some chocolate candy that are in the shapes of tee-shirts that you can buy right before you pay for your jeans. It is everywhere and as a result of that, it is not as if we setup for success. The temptation to eat and to utilize food and drink for the wrong reasons is very prevalent.
So we have to guard ourselves, we have to arm ourselves with the right teachings and strategies to be able to keep food in its proper context. To allow food and drink to be an act that is glorifying God. To return to the sacredness of meal time. It is interesting, you think about it. We hear all these common expressions that people do before they take their first bite. They have a ‘cheers’ and then they all take a sip of their drink or Bon Appétit and then people will enjoy their first bite of their food. So it’s almost carving out this aspect, that eating together is a special time and we should allow it to be a special time, we should allow it to be a time that we commune with the divine. When we utilize our senses in a proper fashion, it allows us to commune with the divine. When we hear the singing in the church, our sense of hearing is allowing us to commune with the divine. When we taste, when we see, when we touch, we can again, utilize these senses to allow us to do that communing.
So focusing on this aspect of eating and drinking, in a mindful manner, the first thing I want you to do, so here comes those assignments that I was talking about, the first assignment that I want you to practice, between podcasts, that’s kind of the goal here. Listen to the podcasts, listen to the assignments and practice them between podcasts. Make them a part of your everyday routine. The first thing that I want you to do, is I want you to focus on thinking about your eating practices. Your eating habits. All I want you to do is think about it. Think about it. Are you being mindful with your eating? Are you eating three meals a day in the proper context, at a table, are you eating while you are driving to work in the car, are you eating that bag of chips while you wait to mail that letter in the post office line? Has food become an idol in your life? Are you overly obsessed with healthy eating? Are you utilizing food for the wrong reasons, maybe eating as a result of emotional issues, depression? Do you eat just solely out of being bored? Is eating while you are working, typing on the computer, just second nature, just a habit? Do you tend to eat while you are watching TV and it becomes this mindless act of “oh goodness, I put this in front of me and now it’s all gone!” because you were not even paying attention to the eating process because you were watching the television show. Think about these different concepts. As we move through these sessions, we are going to focus on, how to eat in the proper context, what we should be eating to benefit our body so that it can be a helper to the soul. But like I said, this is the first session of many, so I do want you to think about that concept.
Another assignment that I want to give you, in the aspect of starting to frame, our eating in a spiritual minded manner, is I want you to think about, prayer. Do you regularly have, your before meal prayers? And if you don’t, if right now you are saying you know, “I cannot honestly say that is something I am doing, every single time that I eat,” whether that be a meal or a snack and if not, start by working there. Start by, before you take the first bite, before you have the first sip of a beverage, you have your prayer. But something else I want you to think about. Not only do I want you to focus on the assignment, on making sure your first prayer is regular but I want you to make sure you are having your after meal prayers too. A lot of people will say, “Well, goodness, I think I am doing pretty good with having my beginning of the meal prayers but it is not often that I am ending my meal with a prayer.” I want you to work on this, because this is taking us back to the sacredness of eating. It’s allowing us to carve out this part of the day and have these moments of eating that is being started with a prayer and ended with a prayer.
Eating and drinking is now being done for the glory of God. Now I want you to do something. If you forgot to say your beginning prayer and you are three bites into the meal and you realize you forgot to say it, don’t just say, “oh I forgot to say my prayer, I will have to remember next time” and continue eating, stop at that moment, put down the fork, put down the chopsticks, sit, put down the drink and right there have your prayer. I also want you to do that, if you forgot to say your ending prayer. So you forget to say your ending prayer and you remember two hours later. I want you to take that moment right there when you remember, two hours later and I want you to have the prayer. Reason being is because right now you are in training, you know St Paul speaks about training of an athlete. We are training ourselves to have these spiritual disciplines be a regular part of our life. So if you remember two hours later and you say the prayer right there, what is going to happen is because of that training that you are doing to yourself, maybe if you forget to say your prayer again at the end of the meal, you are going to remember just twenty minutes later. And at that 20 minutes after the meal is over, you say your prayer right there, you are going to again train yourself to start to just have the discipline take place every time after you finish your meal.
So again, you are allowing yourself, just by practicing these simple disciplines that have been passed down and practiced for centuries and have been just embodied in our faith, to be a part of your everyday life. That alone allows you to return to making meal time a more sacred act and giving the glory of eating and drinking to God and allowing both body and soul to interact, to ascent towards God. The act of eating is only taking place because prayer took place first, they are unified, they go hand in hand.
So first and foremost, for this first session, we are going to focus on, just starting to reflect on our everyday eating patterns. Reason being is, it’s really important for you to develop a reference point. You need to see where you are at with your eating behaviors. You need to see where your temptations, to utilize food for the wrong reasons, start to develop or have developed, so that as we move through these sessions together and continue to get these hands on teaching tools, that again, are guided to us through the teaching of the Church Holy Fathers and Saints, we can allow ourselves to start to overcome the wrong ways we utilizing foods and utilize them in a proper way through spiritual disciplines.
So we are starting with just taking a look at where we are at and we are going to focus between this podcast and the next time we meet to focus on incorporating our before and after meal prayers. We have beautiful prayers that have just been written down by the Holy Fathers and have been inspired by the Holy Spirit that we can say before and after meal time.
What I want to leave you with now is an after meal prayer and God willing we’ll meet again the next time we have the Food, Faith and Fasting podcast. We thank thee oh God, giver of all good things, for these gifts and all thy mercies and we bless thy Holy Name, always, now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.