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Advent IV: Seeking the Holy Through Our Sense of Taste

Advent IV: Seeking the Holy Through Our Sense of Taste

December 19, 2021

from Luke 1:39­­­–55: The Mighty One has … filled the hungry with good things.

from Psalm 80:5: You have fed them with the bread of tears….

In today’s Gospel, Mary sings of God’s filling the hungry with “good things.” Probably most of us can think of certain traditional foods—“good things”—we count on to celebrate various holidays and holy days. That said, I don’t know of a single traditional dish that marks the liturgical season of Advent. (If you do, I’d love to hear about it). However, I can think of many Advent hours spent preparing foods to give away or to eat when Christmas finally came around.

For example, growing up, I used to help my mother make sugar cookies in the weeks preceding Christmas. What a thrill to take the cookie cutter collection out of storage, roll out dough, and transfer shapes of trees and stars and angels to cookie sheets. What a delight to sprinkle them with colored sugar or decorate them with icing and small, edible silver balls. After the cookies were baked and had cooled, we stored them in wide-mouthed 2-gallon glass jars until we packaged them for delivery to friends and neighbors. I remember using great care to place the crisp cookies into those jars without breaking them.

For me and perhaps for you as well, Christmas gifts often involve good things to eat: homemade jams and jellies, fresh-baked bread, savory roasted nuts, assortments of fruits and cheeses. Food is life. It not only celebrates, it also conveys hospitality, sympathy, concern, and love. Some foods are thought to bring good luck. Some foods have healing properties.

Food is also a hallmark of our interdependence. My mother and I were the ones who baked those dozens of cookies, but first someone else had to plant and harvest and mill the wheat, raise and milk the cow and churn the butter, harvest and process the cane that yielded the sugar. Someone had to get the ingredients to the market and onto the grocer’s shelves. Someone had to supply the energy for the oven in which we baked them; someone had to make the oven, and the glass jars; and someone had to—well, you get the picture. Even if we grow most of our own food, where did the seed come from, or the water, or the sunlight, or the amazing process of photosynthesis? No matter what the “good things” are that feed us, every bite we take—even the impersonal bites of fast foods or reheated frozen dinners—can remind us of two things: first, that as human beings, we are interdependent; and secondly, that we are not alone.

What might that suggest about God? What might that suggest about what is holy?

In contrast to the “good things” of the Gospel, the psalm appointed for today, mentions “the bread of tears.” Many of us know what that means, especially at this time of year. Loss of loved ones through death or divorce; changes in our physical or financial circumstances; pandemic disruptions to our home, church, or work lives; anxiety about the future of our world, our nation, current and future generations of children —these things weigh on us. These things are hard. No beautiful sugar cookie or lovely charcuterie board can assuage the grief they bring.

But could it be that even our “bread of tears” can remind us that the Holy is present with us, despite—or maybe because of—our worry, anger, and pain? Can the “bread of tears” itself thus be a possible source of nourishment? Could the “bread of tears” point to the same two truths from a completely different direction: first, that we are interdependent; and secondly, that we are not alone?

I am not sure what the answer to that is, and I do not want to glibly reach for one. But whatever we have to eat, whatever the taste in our mouths at the moment, I wonder if we can sit expectantly with it this fourth week of Advent. Perhaps the journal keepers among us will write about it. My prayer is that we may each give thanks, not only for having food but also for being able to taste it and be nourished by it, remembering that we are interdependent and that we are not alone. And may the food we eat give us strength and courage to take whatever next steps we need to take.

"Come Darkness, Come Light"

Mary Chapin Carpenter


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