Eating Like Humans

You probably don’t have to worry about your children eating like animals. Mine sometimes get into role play as dogs or cats (when they aren’t superheroes or cartoon characters) and they have to be encouraged not to take this too far at the dinner table.

When we went out for my birthday dinner last weekend, the woman and I realised how well behaved our kids were. We sat near a family that trashed their dining area and at one point the woman got a splash of soup or some such on the face. When they left the restaurant, we were embarrassed seeing the cleaning crew come in and scrape everything away.

Many families eat like animals and don’t even realise it. Their children may be even better behaved than mine. Nonetheless, they lack the distinction that makes us different from all other creatures at mealtimes. They don’t bless their food. Fr Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory points this out in For the Life of the World. It is not just the essence of the sacramental life, it is the essence of human life. I don’t need to preach to the Orthodox choir that we are, after all, first homo adorans and only as a result homo sapiens.

I have sometimes been embarrassed around visiting unbelievers and not blessed the food. Either that, or I can have a tendency to rattle it off like an auctioneer. I didn’t want to impose my religion on them. Predictably, I had it all backwards. What I should be offering them is an opportunity to experience their own humanity. Religion is either a compartment of life that can be sealed off when inconvenient, or it is the very nature of who we are and to deny it is to make us not just less than who we are, but other than what we are.

By not blessing, we turn the food into an affirmation of materialism with the inherent value of cardboard. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we no longer deny a heavenly gift to our guests. If we would deprive them of this, then we cannot say we love them, regardless of how closely we may be related to them.

Even in restaurants, sitting amongst strangers, if we bless our food, we bless them. This is not because we make a show openly. This would be the Protestant idea that value is only derived from knowledge. By blessing the food, we make Christ present in and at our meal. Who is not blessed by proximity to Christ? Even by these small actions, we fulfill our essential mission to bring Christ to a hungry world starved of the love of God.

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A Real Original

At Liturgy today we picked up something for which we had been waiting two years. That’s how long it takes to get to the front of the queue for an Aidan Hart original. I can’t get our scanner to work, so I had to take a photo with the digital camera, so the gold is too bright and even washes out some of the blue. The resulting fuzziness does not do any justice to the strikingly sharp colours. I tried it without the flash, but the ambient lighting wasn’t good enough.

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(click for larger image)

Having never owned a hand-painted icon, I didn’t know that it shouldn’t be directly kissed for a year. It needs to harden during this time, after which it can be sealed. Before this time any oils, including those acquired from kissing, may damage it. It should be kept in a glass-fronted frame for proper veneration in the meantime.

The Abigail icon is original in more than just being hand-painted. We looked high and low for an Abigail icon before we commissioned this one in 2005. Elizabeth found one on the web last year, but I don’t know the source. Ours is not sourced on any other version – it is writted solely on the inspiration given to the iconographer.

The words on the scroll are those of the Righteous Abigail from I Samuel 25:29 where she tells King David, “Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my master will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the LORD your God. But the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling.”

Not only is this an extraordinary blessing, but perhaps it is a family story her step-son Solomon had in mind when he wrote, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It is difficult to be vengeful while you are being blessed.