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Keep the Faith: Blessing our food, and what comes afterward … – Worcester Telegram

Nov 19th, 2021

Rev. Sarah Stewart| Telegram & Gazette

The holidays are here again, and with them the seasonal foods we love. Im looking forward to pie at Thanksgiving and my Italian familys traditional antipastoon Christmas Eve. As we emerge from the pandemic, I will treasure my time with the family I have been separated from for so long.

But then, after the holidays, the inevitable pressure to diet will begin again. I can feel it in myself already: is this January the time to try to lose that weight? And if dieting is the atonement, does that mean the holiday feasts with my family are a sin?

Ive certainly felt that way in my life. Ive been unhappy with my body. Ive tried counting points, limiting myself to 1,500 calories a day, and eliminating sugar. Ive cut out all white foods and tried to be vegan before dinner. I even tried one diet that emphasized drinking sugar water. That one worked, in a way, but my skin became ashen and my mood became monstrous.

None of these diets worked for very long. After a few months (or sometimes a few weeks), my body resisted being starved. I was reminded that I was not just a machine for processing calories. Without enough food, I found it hard to think, to write, and to relate to people. Even praying was hard. My self was shrinking inside my slightly smaller body.

Yet without a plan for diet and exercise, I slowly but surely gained weight. I felt trapped. Many women feel this way. In the United States, according to researcher Hannah Bacon, over 90% of college-age women are trying to lose weight, and over 20 million American women have an eating disorder. Our world produces over 3,000 calories per person per day in food, yet people still go hungry and opportunities for leisure exercise are scarce. Women are trapped between the American imperative of consumption and conformity to an unattainable ideal.

My weight had become an equation I could not solve, no matter how I negotiated the variables. It was a woman friend who helped me glimpse a way out of this trap. She is my age, and she had taken up weightlifting. She encouraged me to try it. I was intimidated when I first stepped into the gym. The men straining at the squat rack looked superhuman to me, and I didnt see how I would fit in to this realm of strength.

I started with no weight on the bar at all. When I added in some running, my breath ran very short. It was a long journey, but it was a journey toward healing. My lifts began to build. My runs became a source of joy. Food became fuel instead of failure. The equation shifted. When I didnt try to solve for thinness, body and soul were in balance.

Lifting weights has provided a new perception of my body. When I lift, I know my muscles have moved a certain amount of weight a certain distance, and it no longer matters if that weight is the barbell or my own self. The spiritual life does not call me to be thin. It does not ask me to obsessively gaze at my own body or judge the bodies of others. It calls me to praise God and treat other people with justice, whatever my bodys shape or abilities. Life is short. Im here to live my values for as long as I can, not to use up my energies by being hungry.

The Psalmist says to God, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Even today, a table is set before us full of Gods abundance. The enemies are obsession with image, food inequity, misogyny, and misplaced priorities. Our bodies are divine gifts. Food and fellowship over food sustain them and build strength in us to do good in the world. We honor God with our fortitude and joy.

Food is not a sin. Food is a gift from God, fuel for our bodies, the right of every family, and a blessing through which we flourish. No less than the Thanksgiving feast is cereal at school breakfast, meat bought with ETP benefits, pasta from the food pantry, and a potluck that stretches a little into a lot. We are not meant to play small. We are meant to do the good work of justice and love. All are welcome at this table, to eat your fill, and to use your strength to lift up the world.

The Rev. Sarah C. Stewart is minister of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester

Originally posted here:
Keep the Faith: Blessing our food, and what comes afterward ... - Worcester Telegram

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