A powerful story emerged from the bombing raids of World War II where thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. After experiencing the fright of abandonment, many of these children were rescued and sent to refugee camps where they received food and shelter. Yet even in the presence of good care, they had experienced so much loss that many of them could not sleep at night. They were terrified they would awake to find themselves once again homeless and hungry. Nothing the adults did seemed to reassure them, until someone thought to send a child to bed with a loaf of bread. Holding onto bread, the children were able to sleep. If they woke up frightened in the night, the bread seemed to remind them, “I ate today, and I will eat again tomorrow.”(1)
I love this story and the image it sets boldly in my mind. But I first heard it as a young woman in the throes of an eating disorder, and I just could not relate. For a growing number of lives around the world, the thought of bread is far from a source of comfort. Eating disorders are a rapidly escalating epidemic no longer seen primarily as an American phenomenon as once thought. According to one psychologist, “[R]eports have emerged of an increased incidence of eating disorders in the Middle East, Africa, India, and various countries in southern Asia, including Hong Kong, China, Singapore, and South Korea.”(2) For many individuals, the thought in the night that they will face food again in the morning is terrifying.
There was a time long after recovery in a clinical sense of the word when fear of food was still what centered me. I realized this in my aggrieved reaction to a seminary professor’s pronouncement. “Heaven is a feast,” he said in class, “and God is the one preparing it.” Later he added a similarly troubling thought for me, “The image of the banquet is central to our communing with God.” His words were devastating, largely because I suspected he was right. The table is intricately connected with the faith Christians profess in remembrance of the one they follow. The ministry of Christ and the call of God is resounding and specific: “Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find” (Matthew 22:9). I had for so long wanted to understand these ideas figuratively: the kingdom as a vast table at which Christ wants us to sit for the sake of words and talk, nothing more than decorative bowls of plastic fruit in front of us. No need for real food.
However we approach the rich imagery of biblical language, these images of banquet, feast, and table are clearly intended to bring something powerful to mind and body, and the great lengths I went to put these images away should have been something of an indicator for me. The psalmist writes, “The poor will eat and be satisfied… All the rich of the earth will feast and worship!”(3) But in my malnourished imagination of God’s house and kingdom, food was exactly what I had been trying to avoid. To commune over food with people, much less at the table of God, was something that expended everything within me. The table was a symbol of stress and discipline, a daily battle from which I wanted to be released—not invited. Yet how often God invites us to face the one thing we cannot, the very thing that brings us to surrender and live. God prepares a table in the presence of our enemies, and at times the enemy is us.
Though I had convinced myself that food would one day be a problem fully behind me—even if this meant waiting for eternity—God seemed to be shouting an invitation to the table today. My presence was requested at the banquet; I was invited to the feast. It was an invitation that both startled and confused me: “If you listen willing, the good of the land you shall eat” (Isaiah 1:19). It drove away the hope to which I cleaved on bad days and woke up with each morning: God doesn’t care about food; God doesn’t care about my battle with it. But one day it will be no more. Yet this lie Christ graciously purged from my altar. Slowly, cautiously, my eyes were opened to life and land, to bodies and to bread, to healing and to his assurance of real food from a generous creator.
On the night Jesus was betrayed unto death, he took bread and broke it and gave it to those he loved. Holding onto him, like children with bread, we are given peace in uncertainty, mercy in brokenness, something solid when all is lost. In his unsparing hospitality, we are all invited to the table: Come, take and eat.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Dennis Linn, Sleeping with Bread (New York: Paulist, 1995), 1.
(2) Richard Gordon, Eating Disorders: Anatomy of a Social Epidemic (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 80.
(3) Psalm 22:26, 29.