July 1, 2007
In this story from the book of Daniel, the author introduces Daniel – living under Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Daniel and others have been taken, along with treasures from the temple to Babylon. Daniel and some of other royal youth are to be trained as temple pages.
Our Scripture picks up in verse 5. Daniel 1:5-16
5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the rich food which the king ate, and of the wine which he drank.. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king.
6 Among these were: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 7 And the chief of the eunachs gave them new names: Daniel, he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah, he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, andAzariah he called Abednego.
8 But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s rich food, or with the wine which he drank; therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. 9 And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs; 10 and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, "I fear lest my lord the king, who appointed your food and your drink, should see that you were in poorer condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king."
11 Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, 12 "Test your servants for ten days: Let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the kings rich food be served by you, and a c cording to what you see deal with your servants.” 14 So the steward took away their rich food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables.
15 At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. 16 So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.
Stay tuned to see what happened!
And from the Christian Scriptures Matthew 6:16-17
Jesus said, “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others, but by your Father/Mother who is in secret; and your Mother/Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
How many of you have ever fasted? For how long?
Fasting is a voluntary abstinence from food. Richard Foster takes a broader definition of fasting in Celebration of Discipline, he defines fasting as “the voluntary denial of a normal function for the sake of intense spiritual activity.” So one can have a TV fast, a sex fast, a sleeping fast, a car driving fast and on and on.
The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, mention all kinds of food fasts.
A normal fast involves abstaining from all food, but not from water. It’s what Matthew reports Jesus did in his 40 days in the wilderness.
A partial fast is a limitation of the diet, but not abstention from all food. John the Baptist - his food was locusts and wild honey.
An absolute fast is the avoidance of all food and liquid, even water. After the Apostle Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, it says, “For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.”
Congregational fasts and national fasts are also mentioned. So fasting is a spiritual practice that is known throughout the scriptures.
I think the only time we’ve invited people to fast – are the years during Holy Week that we celebrate the Easter Vigil and we invite people to fast from Good Friday evening until we break fast – at the vigil with communion and the breakfast that follows.
Fasting is always done for a purpose: to strengthen prayer, to seek God’s guidance, to express grief, to seek deliverance or protection, to express repentance and a returning to God, to humble oneself before God, to minister to others (from Isaiah 58: Is not this the fast that I choose, to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?), to overcome temptation and dedicate yourself to God, to express love and worship to God.
Fasting is in important spiritual practice. But this morning I don’t want to talk about any of those fasts. I want us to think of another kind of fasting. A non-fasting fast. A fast where we eat food.
That sounds pretty good doesn’t it?
The question though is, what is food?
Michael Pollan in his most recent book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and in an article in the January New York Times Magazine entitled, "Unhappy Meals encourages the same kind of eating." He says, eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
And he calls food: vegetables, fruits, grains. Why is that such a big deal? Because that’s not how most of America eats.
The main features of the Western diet: lots of meat and processed foods, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of everything — except fruits, vegetables and whole grains. And that leads to what Pollen calls the elephant in the room — people who eat the way we do in America today suffer much higher rates of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity than people eating more traditional diets. (Four of the 10 leading killers in America are linked to diet.) Further, we know that simply by moving to America, people from nations with low rates of these “diseases of affluence” will quickly acquire them.
There’s a new organic farmers market down by the new Guthrie, close to the condo we live in. It was started by Brenda Langton – of Cafe Brenda, who has opened another organic restaurant called Spoonriver, right by the Mill City Museum, across from the Guthrie. She tries to buy organically and locally, supporting local farmers.
The market started last year and has been a wonderful place to stroll, meet neighbors and buy organic locally grown produce, meats, fish and chicken. A week ago last Thursday the Star Tribune wrote up the market…and the crowd the next Saturday and also yesterday was three times what there had been. Now instead of a stroll through the stands, you had to make your way through lines of people. Guess what the two places were they were lined up? The Organic Mini-donut seller, they’re still donuts deep fat fried, but organic products and the organic pork farmer who is making a sausage, egg and muffin breakfast sandwich…a knockoff of the Egg McMuffin.
This is a headline in Friday’s business section, lead article. General Mills up against cereal wall. It says, General Mills’ financial results are often a study in human behavior. The results released Thursday: Americans love convenience, they increasingly hate to cook and they are probably eating as much cereal as they’re ever going to eat. What’s challenging them for top earnings honors? The meals division, which makes packaged foods that cut the time spent preparing dinner. Things such as Hamburger Helper, Progresso soups, Green giant vegetable and Old El Paso taco shells.
What’s one of the problems with processed food? It’s mostly corn, and often, high fructose corn syrup. Our bodies don’t know what to do with it, we pass it or store it as fat. It’s in almost all processed food, at least five different ways – usually the names we’re unfamiliar with. Without going into detail in the article and the book, much industrial food production involves finding ways to deliver glucose – the brains preferred fuel- ever more swiftly and efficiently. Pollen says, “So fast food is fast in this other sense too: it is to a considerable extent predigested, in effect, and therefore more readily absorbed by the body. But while the widespread acceleration of the Western diet offers us the instant gratification of sugar, in many people the “speediness” of this food overwhelms the insulin response and leads to Type II diabetes. As one nutrition expert put it to me, we’re in the middle of “a national experiment in mainlining glucose.”’
We can almost have a chemical addiction to processed foods.
So this Spiritual Practice is about, like Daniel, eating more vegetables and fruits and grains. Daniel and his friends after 10 days did much better than the others on the kings rich diet. That scripture is the raw foodists scripture. I’m not saying become a raw foodist…but I am saying, eat less chemicals and more food – food that your great great grandmother would identify as food. Eat around the edges of the store. Our bodies are temples…what we put in to them is important.
Pollan ends his article in the New York Times Magazine with 9 pointers about eating.
I just want to mention a few:
Especially avoid food products containing ingredients that are a) unfamiliar, b) unpronounceable c) more than five in number – or that contain high-fructose corn syrup.
Get out of the supermarket whenever possible. You won’t find any high-fructose corn syrup at the farmer’s market.
Pay more, eat less. Paying more for food well grown in good soil – whether certified organic or not – will contribute not only to your health (by reducing exposure to pesticides) but also to the health of others who might not themselves be able to afford that sort of food: the people who grow it and the people who live downstream and downwind of the farms where it is grown.
Eat less is the most unwelcome advice of all, but it’s something to practice. That’s why these are called spiritual practices. They take practice.
Eat mostly plants, especially leaves.
So lots of advice, but really Don, how is this non-fasting fast a spiritual practice? Marcus Borg in his book, the Heart of Christianity says the purpose of Spirituality is to help birth the new self and nourish the new life. And spirituality is about what connects us.
The practice of eating food, not too much, mostly plants - connects us to the earth, to a diversity of crops and food, it strengthens organic farming, nourishes this temple that is our body, gives us more health and energy to be about God’s work, and nourishes the new life we are becoming. Slowing down and mindfully making a salad, can be a spiritual practice that connects us to ourselves, others, the earth and deepens our relationship with God. Hallelujah! Now that’s a good salad.
The New York Times Magazine, January 28, 2007 Unhappy Meals by Michael Pollan
The Omnivore’s Dilemma A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, 2006 Penguin Press