Just Food – Edward Echlin’s address
This is a transcription from notes made during an address from Edward Echlin at the CEL “Just Food” workshop, held on 18th January 2014 at St George’s Church, Bloomsbury in London.
[ Paul Bodenham, Chair of Christian Ecology Link ]
Ed Echlin, writer on Earth Spirituality – one of the first publications to break the silence [ on environmental matters ]. Ed is a nourisher of our thinking.
[ Edward Echlin, Ecological Theologian ]
The Bible is an agrarian classic in the whole body of literature […] a way of living and ordering our lives – care of the land and all its creatures. Food and water is pervasive in every human endeavour, and part of the Bible account.
“Thou mastering me God ! giver of breath and bread.”
[ Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Wreck of the Deutschland” ]
A Duke University agrarian scholar – noted that in the Bible Book of Genesis, Chapter 1, God created plants with seeds [ heralding the start of the cultivation of wheat and the making of bread ].
[ The early Genesis account uses the word “dominion” ] – an instruction in a sense – to take responsibility for the land flourishing.
[ Philo of Alexandria ] described man as the viceroy of God.
Robert Murray – the bearer of the image of God – thoroughly democratised – men and women – have a vice-regal role with responsibility to God. Today some prefer the notion of stewardship – but the metaphor is royal.
In the Book of Isaiah there is this description of God – he will feed his flock like a shepherd – the ideal Biblical king. In another place, humans are regarded in the same community as soil, animals, microbes.
In Genesis, God creates a food garden, sharing with the people. Plants with seeds are given to people – but only plants to the animals. The second Genesis account, of the food garden, people are called “Adam” – having the complexion of the soil. Even after “the Fall” they have to till the soil […] We only eat plants until after the Flood [ of Noah ]. God [ farms ] with us, unless we commit acts of hubris [ then we experience ] floods and droughts. After the Flood, Noah, a man of fertile soil, plants a vineyard.
Deuteronomy describes good land – […] pomegranates […] – some room and the fringes of fields left for the poor. Out of the hills can dig copper – but this is not about fracking. For example, flintstone church roofs – stone removal with respect.
I had the privilege of visiting George Dent’s home and garden. In Eden, it was not necessary to irrigate. George watered his garden from water collected from his own roof in winter.
Wine is very important in the Bible. I am very much a man of the Bible.
We are part of a cosmic rainbow community – partners with other sensate beings. After the Flood, God permitted carnivorous eating – but without the blood. […] thanked Bonnie the cow as he ate her. She remained one with us. We say Grace to recall the creatures in their death in order to feed us.
[ The principles of early Judaism ] – keeping the Sabbath and not to accumulate things. Fallow land for the poor and animals. At this time of year we are trying to fill the “hungry gap”. [ Reverend ] Peter Doodes brought such an array of chutneys and jellies [ jams ] from foraging.
The “priestly code” [ of the Torah ] could be described as an agrarian ethos. The 50th year. You were only selling the harvests of 50 years, not the land. The concept of land involves sharing the borders. Shalom was to be found under one’s own fig tree and vine. Urban shalom – the importance of town gardens.
Fertile soil is a gift and responsibility from God.
The production of food is fundamental to every other aspect of life.
The misuse of soil and those who work it will undermine every political system.
We too are like plants in the garden – also affected by the soil’s condition.
We share with strangers and each other, the importance of food.
Jesus was very connected to food – he was born in a manger.
It is written several times that Jesus returned to Nazareth and grew in wisdom – that would have been so much about soil and growing.
In Isaiah 28, God is said [ in wisdom ] to [ plough his land, but not break up the soil; to ] drive over wheat, but not crush the grain.
Let’s conclude with Jesus – included meals as a very important part of his life – feasting and ministry. He was recognised in the breaking of bread. He ate with publicans, tax collectors […] He had outside meals. In one way there were two “Last Suppers” – one at Bethany, the other, with bread and wine, he institutes the Eucharist.
Our shared meals lead to “Joy in Enough”. G. K. Chesterton must have read Colossians Chapter 1, Verse 17 : “In Him, all things cohere”, on reconciliation and redemption :-
“Yet by God’s death the stars shall stand
And the small apples grow.”
[ The Ballad of the White Horse ]