The Sacrament of Feeding People

I’m currently reading Rachel Held Evans’ Searching for Sunday. In the introduction, she talks about the book’s organization, based on seven sacraments, and she notes that the church has many more sacraments that she could’ve chosen, like the sacrament of bringing someone a casserole. I smiled a little at that, but there’s something deeply holy about feeding someone who’s in a rough spot. It’s practical assistance and pleasure and warmth and love and effort all wrapped up in a package.  Like Captain Awkward says, “The sandwich means ‘I love you.'”.

The Quaker meeting I attend with my husband has been participating in Safe Sundays, where a group of homeless people come hang out at the church on Sunday, to have someplace inside out of the cold. It’s an extension of the Safe Nights program, which gives people a place to stay at night, as well as dinner, breakfast, and a bag lunch. Most of the places homeless people can go inside during the day, like libraries and community centers, are closed on Sundays, so this helps fill the gap.

When we do a shift, we bring food. We don’t have to, because the church that hosted the previous night provided bag lunches, but the goodies are always appreciated. On cold days, like today, we bring hot cider. Usually we bake something.  Today it was brownies and a “tropical pound cake” from a Tastefully Simple mix.

One of the guys was complaining about the lunch he was provided. He really can’t stand apple butter, and that’s what was in his sandwich. A lot of people might say he should be grateful that they gave him food at all (and he probably is), but imagine how discouraging it is when the only thing you have to eat between 7 AM and 7 PM is a sandwich and chips, and the sandwich is something you really don’t want to eat. So, I hope he had a brownie or three, because everybody deserves food they like.

There is this cultural thread, a combination of Puritan self-abnegation and diet culture, that teaches that pleasure from food is suspect, probably sinful. It can be earned, through exercise or through cooking everything yourself with the “right” ingredients, or through having the money to buy what you want, but it isn’t a given. Yeah, screw that.

This is not to rag on the folks who made the sandwich. The sandwich still means “I love you,” even if the message got garbled through food the recipient didn’t like. And for everybody who thinks, “Why, *why* do they keep giving me apple butter?” I’m sure there’s someone else thinking, “Woo-hoo, apple butter! Best day ever.”  Feeding people can be a guessing game, and volunteers do the best they can.

For me, participation in the sacrament of feeding people means trying to make tasty food that they’ll enjoy, being sensitive to allergies and intolerances, and refusing to participate in any shaming or moralizing about the food itself. If you don’t want the brownie, don’t eat the brownie. But don’t guilt anybody else about the brownie, because the brownie means “I love you.”

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