When I started Eating Liturgically lo these many years ago (has it really been so many? I started Jan 1, 2018. Yikes.) it was very much a combining of too things – my desire to orient myself to God and the church, and my desire to eat better…by which I said healthier…by which I meant to lose weight…
You can see that angle – the weight loss angle – from the start date. I didn’t start with Advent 1, the beginning of our church calendar. I didn’t start with Ash Wednesday, the beginning of a season of mindful fasting and prayer.
I began with New Year’s Day, the day of New Year’s Resolutions and setting willpower intentions.
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/daniellehelm/3967455172
I rode the “it’s not a diet, it’s a spiritual practice!” wave for a long time. And it was, it really was. As I deepened my practice of turning to the church calendar to orient my days, my meals, my prayers, it grounded me for all sorts of spiritual growth. I entered discernment, and then the process towards ordination, and now I am an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. I learned so much about our church history and our present church liturgical reality.
And I also, in the pandemic, lost my bearings both on the church calendar and on my eating and gained quite a bit of weight. This is not an unusual story, or a moral failing. One of the things I have learned and love about the liturgical calendar is that it is a circle. It’s a forever starting over. It’s a forever encountering things anew.
Unfortunately, I also lost my bearings on my mental health, which manifested in some body dysmorphia. I did not (and honestly, still do not) have a good sense of my body’s shape and where it is in space. As a dancer and fitness instructor, this is a really unsettling sensation. As an embodied human in the world, it became untenable. I felt like my flesh was swollen, disgusting, like rotting fruit.
Restricting or controlling my eating was the worst thing I could do, said my therapist. Losing weight wouldn’t help because it wasn’t about my weight, it was about how my self perceived my body. And hyper-focusing on restriction, on food rules, would hyperfocus my disorder – my perception of myself as unworthy and wrong.
So – what’s a gal who’s Eating Liturgically to do?
Well, therapy and medication and lots and lots of work toward mental health, for one.
But this spiritual practice I began and grew and have a gosh-darn social media following about – instead of looking at the day and picking food, I looked at the day and picked my prayer. And then, I’d say, “self, in this season, on this day, what do we need?” I ate when I was hungry. I bought big baggy flowy clothes that were pretty and didn’t touch my skin. I prioritized exercise because, just after a workout, was the only time my body felt right again.
I continue to struggle with body perception – I can’t buy clothing without trying the clothes on anymore because I honestly don’t know what size I am. It’s become hilarious. I should show you the belt I bought without checking, thinking it would be just right, and instead it is miles and miles too big. But, I no longer perceive my body as disgusting, as rotting, and for that I am so so so grateful (medication is a gosh-darn miracle, and God is good.)
In Advent, when we contemplated Emmanuel, God With Us, I contemplated that God, that Jesus, because corporate. A body. Like mine. And that bodies are what God created. Like mine.
In Epiphany, I prepared for ordination, and accepted that this body would have hands laid on it, and that as Simeon asked for rest after seeing Christ, I could, in this moment, ask for relief from overthinking my body and accept that Holy Spirit was to be laid on it and sparked within it. My body would be anointed. And it was worthy of it, not because of what I have done or how much I weigh, but because I am God’s.
In Lent, I cautiously considered fasting again, and life ordered itself around it – I cannot eat from 8am to 4pm not from choice, but from logistics – and it’s been good. I can feel the emptiness and space of fasting, I can drop into prayer, and not have to mentally consider any oughts or shoulds. It just is. Thank you, God, even though these days have been hard, for giving me this gift of easy fasting.
And now, on Maundy Thursday, when we remember the Last Supper, when Jesus invites me to Take and Eat – for me it will be a dual message. The first and most important is, of course, that I am invited into communion with Christ through Eucharist. The second and more personal to this year, is that I can Take this Eating Liturgically practice back on, and can Eat mindfully, trusting in my body and self again.
I look forward to the Resurrection of Easter, and the 50 days of feasting, and to returning fully into this spiritual practice I love. I’m going to spend the feasting season considering just what Fierce Day means to me now.
And I invite you to join me. And to pray for me. And for us all.