Body by God: In the Beginning

March 12, 2008 at 8:06 pm 6 comments

This post has been percolating a while, since my last Body by God post, and fueled by conversation in the fatosphere about Girl Scout Cookies, and by Rachel’s sermon.

In the Beginning

The book of genesis begins with two accounts of Creation.

For anyone who understands these stories as Holy Scripture, these stories are imporant revelations about the nature of God, the nature of humanity, and the relationships between God, humanity, and the world. As such, they are stories that tell us about ourselves- and when we understand ourselves better, we are better equipped to offer ourselves in service to God, and in ministry to the world around us.

In the first, We hear of the 6 days of Creation, and the seventh day of rest. As the work of creation is completed, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

The second account introduces Adam and Eve, and tells the story of the first sin, and its punishment.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.'”

In the very beginning, one thing was forbidden. And in the very beginning, that one forbidden thing was desired. And in the very beginning, that was the weakness that the tempter exploited.

Try a thought experiment with me. Imagine that you have placed a small child in a safe room. In this room are a number of toys, and a table. On the table, you place a sharp knife. “Don’t touch this knife” you say, “if you touch this knife, you will get hurt”. Imagine you leave the room. (Seriously, thought experiment. Please please don’t try this with an actual child)

Now imagine, a few minutes later, you return. What do you anticipate you will find the child holding? A cuddly toy? A bouncing ball? No? I didn’t think so, either.

A sharp knife isn’t inherently more interesting than a toy, or a ball. In fact, a knife isn’t all that interesting at all. Once you’ve plumbed the tactile depths of ‘sharp’ and ‘hard’, a knife has very little to offer, in terms of interest. On the whole, a ball or a toy has far more scope for play, exploration, and discovery. But the ball or toy lacks one thing: the delicious thrill of being forbidden.

How deep is this human longing for the thing we cannot have?
Genesis tells us it was there in the beginning.

This longing for the forbidden is deep, deep within our nature.  I don’t know why its there.  It does spur us on to greatness, it propels us forward- always striving for something higher and greater, “because it was there”.  But it also creates an opening for the tempter to whisper in our vulnerable ears.

Some things are meant to be forbidden, at least for some people- such as sharp knives to small children.
Murder, theft, adultery…

But, on the whole, “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good”

And yet, we take some things, some things that are, indeed, very good, and we convince ourselves, or others, or our children, that they are, in fact, forbidden. And perversely, we take other things are are also very good and we convince ourselves, or others, or our children, that they are, in fact, not very good at all.

When it comes to nourishing ourselves, we divide our choices up between “good foods” and “bad foods”. Good foods are healthy, but undesirable. Eating these foods is unpleasant, but virtuous; vegetables are the penance we must pay in order to ‘earn’ dessert. And bad foods are pleasant, but sinful; anything sweet or chocolate-y is to be enjoyed only only when ‘earned’ through virtuous eating or exercise, and better to be avoided altogether.

This understanding of food is problematic in at least three different ways.
1) It reduces the enjoyment of “good foods”. Anything that is eaten “because it’s good for you” becomes, by very definition, an unpleasant experience. When we bring this sense of duty and obligation to our eating, we make it more difficult to enjoy the unique and wonderful flavours and textures of those foods we have catagorized as good. Canadian author L.M. Montgomery quite accurately observed this human quirk in Emily of New Moon; “I am her duty,” thought Emily. “Father said nobody ever liked a duty. So Aunt Elizabeth will never like me.”

2) It inflates the pleasure we derive in eating “bad foods”. Just as the knife is only tempting because it is forbidden, foods that aren’t inherently all that wonderful seem more enticing than they actually are, and a mindset creeps in that says once we’ve transgressed in eating one cookie, we might as well eat the whole bag. It isn’t because the cookies are so very delicious that we can’t put them down- its the combination of the attraction of the forbidden, along with the sense that we’re getting away with something that puts us in some kind of thrall to the tempter until there’s nothing left but crumbs.

3) It denies a basic truth of the of creation: God made all things, and saw that they were good. It is not our place to name anything as bad when God has not done so. Several references in both Old and New Testaments connect feasting with good things: feasts are joyful celebrations, examples of gracious hospitality, and metaphors for the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus turned water into wine, ate on the sabbath, fed thousands with bread, and revealed himself to his disciples while sharing meals with them. God did not look at creation and see that it was “very good… except for that pie. That pie is bad”.

These stories from Genesis reveal to us that temptation is a very real human experience. It has been with us from the beginning. There are forces of evil that will seek to separate us from God- from experiencing the love of God, and from offering our best in service to God. The way to defeat temptation is not to seek spiritual or moral victory in self-denial and gustatory self-flagellation. The wiser approach would surely be simply to refuse to open the door to this particular means of temptation.

There is no ‘good’ food. There is no ‘bad’ food. Vegetables and whole grains and fruits and proteins and cookies and pies… they are all good. Some foods nourish the body with the physical nutrients we need to grow. Some foods nourish the mind, the heart, or the soul with memories of shared meals with loved ones. Some foods mark celebrations and enhance our sense of shared joy. Some foods just taste really good. Some foods don’t, but we eat them in the name of graciously accepting hospitality, and enjoy the experience anyway. (Ah, Aunt Ethel, you’ve made your carrot-and-marshmallow jellied salad again! For me? How kind!)

The forces of evil are real, and powerful. We are far too easily separated from God. But we don’t have to make it easy. We don’t have to trivialize the reality of temptation by making the dinner table (or the take-out window) the battle-ground. We don’t need to open the door wide for the tempter to find a way in. It has been so from the beginning.

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I’m not just pregnant, I’m fat. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Karen  |  March 12, 2008 at 10:01 pm

    Excellent.

  • 2. Becky  |  March 12, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    God did not look at creation and see that it was “very good… except for that pie. That pie is bad”.

    Ha! Great post =)

  • 3. erin  |  March 13, 2008 at 2:11 am

    Awesome post!

  • 4. wellroundedtype2  |  March 13, 2008 at 4:29 am

    I also love… “God did not look at creation and see that it was “very good… except for that pie. That pie is bad.”
    Not that I can represent the entire Jewish perspective, but the concept I’m familiar with is the “good inclination” and the “bad inclination” that all humans are born with. The “bad inclination” is what tempts us, but also causes us to strive, to create and procreate, and it’s a matter of keeping it in check — in terms of the important things. While most Jewish people I know have an interesting relationship with food (partly the immigrant expereince and not looking like the “typical American” so wanting to “reign in” the body, and partly the important role that food and drink play in adherance to religious law, ritual and celebration, including fasting) I don’t believe this comes from God. I think that our “bad/evil inclination” comes into play in a less-than-sacred relationship to food. I think intuitive eating is a way of eating that can lead to a better appreciation of food.
    Thanks for the thoughtful “sermon.”

  • 5. anayi  |  March 13, 2008 at 7:07 am

    Very good post. You sound like a rather brilliant person. 😀

  • 6. Jen  |  March 13, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    WellRoundedType2, I am so glad you’ve brought up the Jewish culture in relation to the country’s perspective! I’m an MOT, and I find food and body acceptance so much easier, so much more welcoming, for all those reasons. I never hear anyone bitching about calories or fat when it’s latke time!

    AMAZING post, and so insightful!

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