I didn’t grow up in churches where the Old Testament was heralded with the ring of good news—save a few Psalms. It seemed like we grew out of the old stories as we graduated from Sunday School and into the “big service” where the newer testament took center stage.
So imagine my surprise when I discovered the treasure trove of the Hebrew Bible–the grand narrative of exodus, the intoxicating vision of hope in Isaiah, the erotic love poetry of the Song of Solomon and gut-wrenching cries of Lamentations? Then entered the complex characters like bi-cultural Moses, drum-beating Miriam, Ruth the Moabite and Joseph the hero (or sell-out) who offered grit to my conception of faith. The Hebrew Bible took my heart and imagination by storm thanks in great part to Walter Brueggemann, who I stumbled upon in a seminary classroom.
It would be years before I encountered Ellen Davis, an Old Testament scholar who exegetes the text with velvet elegance and surgical precision. I read Getting Involved with God and was seduced by her genteel voice that never once muted the razor edge of prophetic words—such skilled grace with explosive texts. She reminded me of all the jewels in this portion of our sacred canon. I remember wanting everyone who struggled with the value of the Old Testament to take and read this book in a hurry!
Leigh indicated the book had a similar effect on her—once she committed to reading it. Antonia and Emily have each shared how her introduction wooed them into deeper reflections that hit closer to home. And I find myself soaking in the goodness of her final section, a closing salvo that focuses not on one book of the Old Testament but on the sweep of wisdom on one topic—ecology.
She’s the first to recognize that Biblical ecology may sound like an oxymoron. The church has not given creation its due, racing through the goodness of Days One to Five to get to Day Six where humanity makes a debut. In our rush we miss the twin statements of Genesis 1 and 2 about human vocation. Connected to both divinity and soil, humanity must represent God’s benevolent dominion in the world and get our hands dirty working and watching over creation. Regarding earth’s soil, which is more relative than resource Davis points out, we are to serve it, observe it and keep it.
After sweeping explication of the biblical texts from Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Job and Hosea she arrives to a comment on good-faith eating. From text to table, she brings good theology as close as the plate in front of us at suppertime. A simple summary won’t do her work justice, let me suffice by saying if you believe in eating your vegetables then read this chapter for some theological nourishment!
Here is what comes to mind when I close this chapter—there is a reason I eat the way I do. Perfumed red berries and crisp watermelon in summertime; carrots, parsnips and fennel roasting in rotation during the winter months, eagerly awaiting the arrival of tender spring asparagus to the farm stand. It matters to eat and enjoy in season, falling in line with the rhythm of the soil—our partner in good living.
Maybe respecting what the earth gives means paying attention to the goodness of each place and its unique offering. I know that the pineapple I eat each Burundian summer, straight from the reddened soil to my sun-soaked table, tastes sweeter than the ones imported from Hawaii to Arizona (my other home). I can’t eat pineapple out of season, out of a rightful region, any more. And the mangos in season, in well-suited soil, are jewels I hunger for all year long. It is worth waiting to eat them with my feet on the local soil, a tribute to the sweetness of this land.
My Achilles’ heel is the lush avocado. I crave them year round and will eat them despite where they are trucked in from, honestly. But I can tell you they are best and most guilt-free when eaten in Burundi where, again, they are within arm’s reach. The soil offers such generosity when we enjoy what is on offer right in front of us and don’t succumb to over-reaching.
These quick observations make me think that my menu planning and market selection, my dinner preparation and eating all are connected to some deeper things. Maybe theology does come tableside when we engage the text with attention (and the help of a good scholar-friend like Ellen Davis).
Maybe we can literally taste and see the goodness of the Lord when we serve, observe and keep the soil.
Maybe we can literally taste and see the goodness of the Lord when we serve, observe and keep the soil.Maybe this is the ultimate table grace, a celebration of the earth’s bounty, God’s goodness and our rightful collaboration with both. Ellen Davis, a student of the Scripture, leads me to believe this is true. I can only invite you to the table—take and read, take and eat, take a seat at the table where Creator and creation sit together in delicious harmony.
Questions to Consider
- Have you ever considered Biblical ecology before?
- What does good-faith eating look like for you?
- What is a practical change you have made (or plan to make) regarding ecology (food, earth, etc.)?
- What other concepts in Getting Involved With God resonated with you? Any final thoughts on the book as a whole?
Our June book is Soil & Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith by Fred Bahnson. Come back Wednesday, June 4 for the introduction to the book. There will be a reflection post from Cara Meredith on Wednesday June 18 and Sarah Caldwell will lead our discussion on Wednesday, June 25. Plus, we’ll be announcing the Third Quarter Books on Wednesday June 11!
For on-going discussion each month, join The Red Couch Facebook group.
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