Thought for the Day - Rev Dr Michael Banner
It came as a surprise to me, and possibly to you, to discover that there is an All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image, but the findings in their Report published yesterday go beyond surprising to shocking. Girls as young as five or six are worrying about whether they look fat. Teenage boys are risking their health using steroids trying to get the sort of muscles seen on the often photo-shopped models used by advertisers. And very many of us are almost constantly dieting – but not successfully.
Of course alongside this story, there are regularly others about obesity – such as the story over the weekend of the emergency services needing to break down the walls of a house to take a desperately overweight teenager to hospital. So for all those fighting to gain a body shape which is unrealistic, probably unattainable and very likely damaging to their health, others, rather than slimming themselves ill, are in danger of eating themselves to death.
We have, it seems, a rather disordered and unhappy relationship with food – and not only as individuals, but as a society too. As individuals we seem unsure whether to feast or to fast. As a society we have enough and more, while many have less than is adequate. We want, or have, too much or too little – but rarely the right amount.
A commonly used grace, said to go back to the 8th century, begins ‘Bless us O Lord, and your gifts’. Hardly anything seems more natural than satisfying our appetite for food, but the saying of a grace invites us to pause and place even this most everyday of activities in a wider than merely material frame. This particular grace declares that food is a gift - that however hard we have worked to prepare it or pay for it, its being on our table is also a matter of good fortune or providence. But in addition, somewhat oddly at first sight, it asks God to bless what are said to be gifts, and before that to bless us. With this request for a double blessing, the prayer is surely acknowledging that even the gift of food, that most basic necessity, needs to be rightly received and rightly used if it is to serve the health of individuals or the well-being of human communities.
What we eat and how we look matter to us; but when some don’t eat and some can’t stop, when some go hungry while some throw food away, something has gone badly wrong. Christ bid us pray ‘Give us this day our daily bread’, but also said ‘man cannot live by bread alone’. Together these sayings tell us, I think, that though the needs of our physical natures must be satisfied, even daily bread will be a blessing to us and to others, only as we govern and order our appetites and desires by an idea of ourselves as something more than merely well nourished and beautiful bodies.