Sharing Meals with God

Humanity all over the world shares meals with God. God who is source of our food becomes our guest in these food sharing traditions . There is the God welcome inscribed in nature and humans. This sharing of meals with God shares in this God’s welcome. In fact we share God’s image and likeness and live out this God’s welcome while we share our meal with God. Fire is associated with God in several traditions. We can imagine fire as associated with God’s welcome. The discovery of fire by our human ancestors has totally transformed human life. Fire in our major Indian tradition is God. It is Goddess Agni. In fact, Fire might have been thought of as a guest in the house. It being browed from the neighbour into our homes, one had to care for it like a guest as there was danger of it getting extinguished. This is why fire who is a guest ( Atithi ) is moving and does not stand (atati gacchati na tistthati). Fire, therefore, became the welcome guest of humanity. Atithidevo bhava. We can thus find that the Vedic people thought of fire as a guest. They expressed their hospitality to Agni. They had to feed Agni to keep it burning.

The guest comes unannounced. He/she is a-tithi. Offering hospitality to an unannounced guest was thought to be true yajna. Maybe in our country, this sharing of meals with God came from this tradition of treating the guest as a God. It is paradoxical that God who is the source of life and food shares food with us. We can also find similar irony in Shiva-sahasranama, the litany of Shiva’s thousand names. Shiva is named bhiksu or the beggar. It suggests that the giver of everything comes as a beggar. God who is the embodiment of love ( snehana) and grace (prasada) seeks our hospitality. Maybe God’s hospitality is visible in our hospitality. We image it and reflect it back to God.

The question is does God eat the meals that we offer to him? It seems that God eats without eating. This offering and eating does not belong to our order of exchange of the market as well as the order of our body. It belongs to the order of excess. It belongs to the order of pure gift. Belonging to the order of pure gift, it transgresses the order of the market, the order of law and the economy of debt as well as the order of our body. God’s love is unconditional and is pure giving. This is why being underserved remains above the four debts taught in Saptatha Brahamana. Saptatha Brahamana teaches that we are indebted to our parents (pitr-rna), to nature ( deva-rna), to the sages of the past (rsi-rna) and community at large ( manava-rna). This is so because we come to each of them as guests. It is interesting, that Sapatath Brahaman is silent about our indebtedness to God. It means that God stands beyond debt economy. God gives without giving. It is pure giving that stands beyond the give and take order of the market. In a similar manner, God eats without eating. This indicates that God’s eating is transgressive and excessive. It belongs to the order of pure eating. Hence it does not closes down to the economy of digestion of our food or the order of our body. This pure eating is accepted by humans and is behind the practices of sharing meals with God.

Eating without eating is akin to giving without giving or giving without losing. It is pure eating. It belongs to the logic of excess. It is what we may call the lila of God that produces the maya and hence we cannot see the eating of God as it does not belong to the order of digestion or the order of our body. This is why we have to agree that God eats without eating. It is the logic of fullness. We cannot fully enter this logic of fullness on this side of the grave. Life comes to us always in its fullness but we enjoy it only sip by sip. God comes to us in the order of fullness of life. The coming of God challenges us to enter the absolute horizon. We have the challenge to take a leap into the open absolute horizon away from the closed familiar anticipatory horizon of our comfort. We cannot exhaust the order of fullness of life. Only when we take a leap of faith and enter the open horizon without anticipating any reward or punishment. Only when we take a leap into darkness, that we can certainly come into the realm of the divine and share meals with God who eats without eating.

Human traditions that share meals with God take us into this order of excess and transgression. Humanity by sharing meals with God transgresses the order of digestion of food and attempts to enter the divine horizon that does not close on the order of the market, order of debt or law. While humans have certainly taken a leap away from the order of digestion of food, humans are not yet to fully free themselves from the order of the market, economy of debt, and the law. This mean, we have the challenge to let the sharing of meals join the order of excess and transgression and enter the divine milieu by making our sharing of meals a pure gift . This letting our sharing enter the mode of pure sharing is impossible in this life but we can gradually move closer to it. This level will make us understand that man does not eat by bread alone. Neither the bread is merely bread. It is life. It will open us to understand that we are guests of God and nature in this life and open us to remain grateful so that we can live our life in the hands of God. Thus, we will live the welcome of God that is written into us and into the entire universe.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao