26 July 2013

A New Journey -- Part 3: Assimilation

"Behold what you are; become what you receive."
-- St. Augustine of Hippo (born 354 CE, died 430 CE)
 Bishop of Hippo Regius, Numidia (modern Annaba, Algeria)

The leading quote for this reflection comes from one of the best known of the scholars of the Patristic Period of the Christian Church's life.  This is roughly the first five hundred years of Christianity that followed the New Testament Period (roughly the first century).  This time frame included the six Ecumenical Councils that shaped the theological foundations of what we now know as "the Christian Faith."  We have morphed quite a lot since that period, but the marriage of experiences of God in Jesus with Greek philosophical structures provided the vehicle we call "systematic theology."  The Patristic scholars gave the Church a formulary for putting experience into a language that would have consistency.

This is not a theology reflection per se; nor is it a history lesson.  There are elements of both in most things I write.  This blog post is actually about eating.  The title is something of a double entendre.  Assimilation:

1.  To take in or incorporate as one's own (i.e. to absorb)
2.  To bring into conformity -- as with customs or attitudes

Food and eating are fundamental to sustaining life.  There is nothing special about that.  All living organisms have to take in a form of sustenance in order to survive/thrive.  It is a combination of nutrients and water.  I remember the first "food lecture" I had as a child, because our teacher compared our bodies to an engine.  "Food is fuel...it makes your body work like an engine."  Hey, this was the 1950s, and the analogy worked for a second grader.  I even remember our teacher, Mrs. Goodrich, drawing on the chalk board as she explained the principles of food.  

While eating is fundamental, our comprehension of metabolic activity has not been so great.  It has been not so much evolutionary as it has been a type of morphology.  The form, structure and transformation of foods, cultural "tastes" and intake capabilities of what we eat and how we eat it is my concern here.

I have already provided a lot of statistics about Diabetes and other disorders that are growing crises in not only our culture but in most "modern" world societies.

I have also used the Native American people as an example of modern diet and its affects (and effects).  Here is a direct story from a conversation in June.

1.  Daryl No Heart.  17 June 2013.  Daryl is  a 67 year old Lakota man, who is an artist, teacher and spiritual leader in the Lakota Nation.  Like most Lakota males, he is tall, affable and strongly built.  His family name, No Heart, comes from his great, great grandfather, who literally froze to death in a blizzard and, as he was being prepared for burial, resuscitated...recounting a near death experience.  In Lakota language, one who has died but returns has spent time in the place of "no heart" (i.e. no beating heart).  He was given that name.

Daryl and I had a two hour conversation about Lakota spiritual traditions and the contemporary life of the Lakota people on a rainy afternoon, 17 June, sitting at his dining table over coffee.  During that special time of revelation (for me), Daryl began to speak of food.  The leading cause of death among the Lakota people is a combination of heart disease and diabetes.  Prior to 1900, there was no evidence of either condition leading to deaths among the Lakota.  Daryl's words (slightly paraphrased due to note-taking):  When our people lived on the plains and hunted the buffalo, 60% of our diet was from the buffalo and other game (deer and elk mostly).  The rest came from berries, root vegetables and a variety of naturally growing fruits.  When the reservation sequestration began, our diet became what was given to us by the US government and other agencies...essentially a western European diet heavy in carbohydrates, grains and sugars.  In our restriction, we could no longer be active in our traditional way.  We got fat, like our overseers...and we began dying younger. 

Then he said the most important thing:  When we could eat in a sacred manner...what Wakan Tanka (God) provided us, we were healthy.  We were conscious of the sacredness of our food.  Western food had no sacred depth.  It helped break the Great Hoop.

Here is one more reflection from a conversation just a week ago:

3.  David Goodrich.  19 July 2013.  David is 85 yrs old, a retired psychologist and neuro-science specialist.  I got to know him through St. Boniface Episcopal Church, where we both worship.  He still does work with local neuro-science specialists at Roskamp Institute here in Sarasota.  We generally have breakfast together with a group on Friday mornings.  A week ago, as we sat together at breakfast, he had this to say:  Did you know that one slice of whole wheat bread affects the same center in your brain that responds to cocaine and heroin?  One can become addicted to the ingredients in bread to the same extent as addiction to drugs or alcohol.  Did you know that you could eat two of the large Snicker bars and get less sugar load in the blood stream than eating one slice of standard whole wheat bread.  It seems to me that our pattern of assimilating food into our bodies has created a food processing industry that is ultimately attuned to having us addicted to the point that we simply must have what our bodies do not need.  And they say GMO is not a crime.  We don't need street drugs.  Just go buy a loaf of bread.  There is no longer a spirituality that balances who we are with what we assimilate into our bodies.

These conversations were unsolicited and not, in any way, related to my decision to embark on a new journey.  These conversations were "gifts along the way" from men of two very distinct ethnicities living in two very different parts of the country.  And, I was actually looking for other information.

As early as the fourth century, we hear about food as a sacred part of our lives.  Augustine understood it deeply enough to incorporate into his teaching about the Eucharist in Christian tradition.  Assimilating--absorbing into our being--the character of Jesus.

In 1863, Ludwig Feuerback said, "man is what he eats," in his book, Concerning Spiritualism and Materialism.  He basically sacramentalized food in his work.

Victor Lindlahr, in 1942, published, You Are What You Eat: how to win and keep health with diet.  He was a researcher ahead of his time.

Daryl and David speak of dietary food as being taken in "in a sacred manner."  This is to say that what we eat does more than drive our metabolism.  Food becomes part of our being and wholeness.  What cultures have largely done in our time is to "conform" themselves to attitudes and behaviors that feel good, because of taste, emotional and physical appeal and, most of all, because we crave what has become addictive.  Manufacturers will produce it, because it sells.  And, even though we are getting sicker -- literally -- we must have what everyone else is having, and manufacturers tell us is just so good for us.  In this regard, we are assimilating ourselves to death.

For me, it is a mold out of which I am working to break myself.  This journey, for me, is not just "another crazy fad."  It is literally about life, wellness and wholeness.  If the body is the temple of the Spirit, why treat it like an outhouse?  It's that fundamental.

Food can be sacred.  Eating can be sacred.  Having a relationship with our environment that honors what it provides and functions to keep that environment sacred in itself, is truly what we are placed here to do.  We are the stewards of creation.  I think we have forgotten this.

My statistics this morning:  Weight -- 236.4.  Blood Pressure -- 122/69.  Fasting Glucose -- 99.  The last number is critical.  It is the first time in three years of having diabetes that my fasting blood glucose has been under 100.  It has averaged 128.  Normal is 85-100.  Just keep watching.  Something is shifting.

Love and Blessings,


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