The Christian liturgical year is built around feast days, seasons of fasting, and the ordinary time in between. How do we faithfully structure our eating rhythms, and how might they lead us deeper into Scripture? In this three-part series, writer Annelise Jolley explores the spiritual implications of our eating rhythms and how God's Word can nourish us, galvanize us, and lead us into a hospitable life.
Transformation, at least in my life, occurs in gradual shifts over long stretches of time. It’s almost always the result of sustained and mundane actions.
A shift in how I prayed, for example, led me to a new level of intimacy with God and a felt sense of Christ’s expansive love. But how did I get there? By setting my alarm fifteen minutes early for months. Each day I sat cross-legged on my gray couch, breathing in and out, slowly, while focusing my attention on one word or verse of Scripture. I allowed God’s Word to draw my wandering attention back again and again. The practice of centering prayer—sitting in God’s presence without words—changed me, but praying this way never felt interesting or glamorous. It felt ordinary.
At first glance, ordinary time isn’t all that interesting either. In the Christian liturgical calendar ordinary time falls between the feast of Epiphany and Lent, and between Easter and Advent. It’s the plateau of life, the flatline between our peaks and valleys. It is the workday lunch or the Wednesday night meal.
During Lent we might fast and adopt a spiritual practice—using Lectio Divina to read through the book of Psalms, for example, or praying on behalf of others. On feast days, such as Epiphany and Easter, we focus our joy on particular truths: God is with us! Christ is risen! But what about the time in between? What does ordinary life, with its ordinary rhythms of eating, teach us about spiritual nourishment?
Our Eating Rhythms Matter
Eating is one of the few truly universal acts, even more than falling in love or seeing a sunset or feeling sorrow. Our bodies insist on nutrients no matter how distracted we are. Daily bread sustains us all. Every day, we can choose food that nourishes or food that leaves us empty.
Like all our decisions, choices about food affect our neighbors, whether local or far-flung. If we insist on having the ingredients we want in every season, we perpetuate unsustainable growing practices. If we turn a blind eye to where our meat comes from, we support unethical treatment of animals. On the other hand, purchasing food from nearby farms supports a stronger local food system. Choosing fresh ingredients improves our health. And using our resources to feed others means extending food and friendship to those who may be short on both. We can view eating solely as a source of personal pleasure, or we can see it as an opportunity to form habits that are pleasing to God.
Just as ordinary time allows us to build healthy disciplines around food, it also allows us to develop and maintain nourishing spiritual practices such as centering prayer or reading a passage of Scripture at the same time each morning. Because we spend most of our days in ordinary time, its mundane rhythms can shape our spiritual lives more than any single feast or fast day. When we use ordinary time to build a nourishing habit of Scripture reading or prayer, we allow God to transform us over the long haul.
The Daily Work of Cultivating Intimacy
I am far from exemplary when it comes to regular, disciplined Bible reading. My approach to Scripture often looks more like hopscotch; I flip through books, read the first three chapters of John, take a few days off, forget about John altogether, and then decide to spend time in the middle of Psalms. Other times, my Bible sits closed on the shelf accumulating dust.
But when I look for sustenance in Scripture, everything changes. Just as I feel the effects physically when I skip meals or choose unhealthy food, I feel spiritually malnourished when I don’t ingest the Word of God. Regular engagement with Scripture steadies me. When my heart or mind wanders throughout the day, I have truths to tug me back.
Reading the Bible regularly might not seem glamorous, but it is transformative. It is part of the daily work of maintaining an intimate relationship with God: showing up to God’s Word, again and again, for the nourishment and provision I need. Manna for the day.
Just as it requires discipline to form healthy eating rhythms, it also takes discipline to build nourishing spiritual rhythms. Studying Scripture and seeking God in his Word is an essential element of intimacy. The more I treat these ordinary moments spent in Scripture as a meal—needed daily, nourishing, unhealthy to skip—the more they become food for my spirit.
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