Cookies, Lent, and the Body

by Stacy Smith

The juxtaposition of the start of Lent with the start of Girl Scout Cookie Season is a cultural phenomenon that desperately needs to be changed. If you are one of many Christians who opt to give up sweets for Lent, what are you supposed to do when exiting the grocery store with carrots and celery, only to be met with a sweet eight-year-old who desperately needs you to buy 12 boxes of cookies?

I joke about the Lent-Cookie Phenomenon, but Lent calls us to give up something of importance for us. For many people, that something is food. It could be sweets or sodas, eating out or eating meat. All of these are traditional ways of committing to a sacrifice that is meant to imagine and celebrate Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

On some level, all of us struggle with this call for personal sacrifice. You might not be particularly worried about sacrificing cookies for Lent or heading to the gym, but in light of the current economy, I bet that most of us here are trying to figure out what we can get rid of, what we can go without, what they can shed from the monthly budget. Some of us don’t have a choice; we face unemployment, bills, sickness, tuition and loans, perhaps more personal loss and sacrifice than we have ever had to even conceive. Food is on that list as well.

These economic realities are new to many of us, but the questions of scarcity and abundance are not new. In fact, they are not new questions for this time of the year. Traditionally, Lent comes at the very end of the season when the supplies from the harvest are gone, rotted or scarce. This is one of the reasons that people chose to fast in Lent. Fasting served a spiritual purpose, yes, but it also served a physical need. It reminds us of the sacrifice offered by Christ, but it also forces us to sacrifice our immediate desires for the good of the whole. Both our physical and spiritual needs are answered during a Lenten fast.

The fact is that what we put in our bodies has both physical and spiritual ramifications. The Bible talks about this in many different places. In Genesis, the very root of sin is eating something that is forbidden to us. When we were starving in the desert, God provided manna to feed us, as we made our way to a land flowing with milk and honey. Jesus often talked about sowing grain, working in a vineyard and hosting banquets as metaphors for the Kingdom of God. Perhaps his greatest miracle is creating more than enough food to feed thousands of people. And of course, Jesus’ last peaceful moment is with his friends around a table, when he shared bread and wine with them and promised that every time they ate and drank of it, they did so to share with his very body.

This is why food is so important in Christian faith. We are a bodily people. We believe that God walked and talked among us through a body just like ours, and that his body – not just his spirit or his ghost or his essence, but his body – was resurrected on the third day and appeared among us. Christianity does not exist outside of the body. We say that the church is the Body of Christ; we meet Christ embodied in others.

Psalm 139 says that we are knit together in our mother’s womb, and that our frames – the Hebrew word here is ’otsam – that is, our bones, our very skeletons – are intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Therefore, how we treat our bodies, how we care for them, how we clean them and how we feed them, all of these things directly affect both our physical and our spiritual life.

God has created us, so our bodies are sacred. But God has also sent Christ to us, so the Body of Christ is sacred. They are not two different things, our individual bodies and the Body of Christ. What affects me affects you and what affects you affects all of us. Remember the words of 1 Corinthians: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the Body of Christ and individually members of it.” Therefore our Lenten fasting is not something we do just to strengthen our own bodies, but also to strengthen the Body of Christ.

When we do that, when we commit ourselves to our own bodies and the Body of Christ, when we realize that what we put into our bodies has a direct connection with our very souls, then we have to ask the really tough questions about how we feed the Body of Christ outside of our own physical bodies. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “For all who eat and drink without discerning the body, eat and drink judgment against themselves. For this reason many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” When we feed ourselves without regard for the food of others, we do harm to the Body of Christ. We make some weak. Some fall ill. And yes, some die.

We see this right now. Our economy is telling us, in no uncertain terms, that some parts of the body have feasted while some have starved. The body simply cannot be sustained. We must acknowledge that our over-consumption of energy, food and resources has made some of us weak, some of us ill and that some of us have died as a result. This is a systemic process that begins with how we treat our planet, ends with how we treat ourselves and affects every single person, place and thing in between.

So if we truly believe that what we put into ourselves matters, that how we feed ourselves has a direct connection on how we live our lives physically and spiritually, then we have to be willing to commit to the fast – for the strengthening of our own bodies and for the strengthening of the Body of Christ.

Now, I am the first one to admit that this is not easy. For me, it seems extremely painful to give up the cookies. I do not want to commit to the fast. But I know that if I can, my physical and spiritual body will be fed.

There are things that we all do not want to do; things that go against our instincts, our education, our politics, our judgment. But if we can honor the Body, we are promised that our physical and spiritual bodies will be healed.

For you, given our economic times, it might seem ridiculous, even harmful, to consider paying more for food that is grown locally, rather than flown in from thousands of miles away.

If we are unemployed, it might seem like a waste of time to take a pause in our frantic job search to cook a meal, rather than buying one on the fly.

If we’ve diligently paid our mortgages, it might seem unjust to pay for someone else to stay in their home and keep them out of a shelter.

If we are pressed for time, it might seem useless to research what restaurants offer fair wages to its laborers.

If we’re frustrated by the politicians, it might be easiest to simply say, “Well, I didn’t vote for her” rather than committing to the complicated task at hand.

If we’re angry at others, at those who have lived off of dollars borrowed from our futures and who now come back to the table for even more, it might be infuriating to help them once again.

If our resources are already scarce, a fast might seem like adding insult to injury. It might seem more than we can take.

But the season of Lent calls us to commit to the sacrifice. We are called to feed ourselves in a way that builds us up, not weighs us down. For when we honor our own bodies, we feed the Body of Christ. Our Lenten sacrifice strengthens us for the difficulties we face now, but it also prepares us for the coming feast in the Resurrection of Christ. A feast which, I am sure will include cookies.

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