Catholic Courier

Posted: April 6, 2011

Books increase our gratitude for God, meals

Reviewed by Sister Mona Castelazo, CSJ/CNS

And God Said, 'Let's Eat': Amusing and Thought-Provoking Parallels Between the Bible and Food by Gary Graf.
ACTA Publications (Chicago, 2010). 238 pp., $14.95.

These Thy Gifts: A Collection of Simple Meal Prayers by Mark G. Boyer.
ACTA Publications (Chicago, 2010). 192 pp., $12.95.

Both And God Said, 'Let's Eat' by Gary Graf and These Thy Gifts by Father Mark Boyer attempt to increase our gratitude to God for food, meals and table celebrations. Graf's book deals with scriptural passages related to food, whereas Father Boyer's provides appropriate meal prayers throughout the year. 

Graf's work is the fourth in a series of God Said titles, the previous three having shown scriptural parallels pertaining to golf, baseball and football. The author's purpose in this book is to grow closer to God by rejoicing "in the learning that comes through the Bible's love for food."

The book establishes the connection between eating and the Bible through familiar passages mentioning nourishment. Graf then discusses all the possibilities of a specific food and suggests insights for life found in the biblical text. A full 20 pages are devoted to listing all the types of certain foods. The author, for example, lists, in sentence form, every kind of fruit, vegetable, seafood and meat found in the famous Pike Place Market in Graf's hometown, Seattle.

In subsequent chapters, he lists, among other things, all the known types of apples, breads, mustards and cuts of beef possible. In addition to listing foods, the book contains 40 pages of the full texts of parables and Bible stories already well-known to most Christian readers. Fourteen recipes appear in the book, ranging from flash-fried sage leaves (an appetizer from a supper club in Seattle) to breaded artichoke hearts to beef burgundy.

Graf's enthusiasm for food is evident, but rather than giving the reader rich descriptions or original insights, the author offers information gleaned mainly from Wikipedia and food websites, consisting mostly of definitions and listings. Also, credible parallels to biblical material and spiritual insights require too wide a stretch of the imagination and are tenuous at best.

Although Graf himself is a Catholic, questionable interpretations of belief appear throughout the book. Graf writes that there is no longer a need for prophets since Jesus came to earth. He also states that we have "all we need in the form of Scripture to redeem our souls, and achieve union with our Father."

Exhortations to reflect on Scripture end each chapter. After a discussion of water, Graf points out that upon being served water at a restaurant, we might reflect on baptism, giving drink to the thirsty and "the living water that is Jesus." In another place he offers: "The next time we enjoy prosciutto and figs or munch on Fig Newtons, we should remember how mankind sinned against the Father, how God provides, and how we must stay in right relationship with the Father."

The book's subtitle includes the term "thought-provoking." Readers will indeed find a number of provoking thoughts, such as the passage that refers to "the Almighty's love of barbecue," shown by God's creating Eve from an unessential rib of Adam's. Graf writes, "It was an extra rib. Or, put another way, a 'spare rib' -- perhaps a subtle reference to one of the most popular cuts of meat for barbecue."

These Thy Gifts, written by a diocesan priest from Missouri, provides a variety of prayers for grace before meals pertinent to all the liturgical seasons, as well as for special occasions. The words will be familiar to Catholics, since the prayers are based on the psalms, canticles and seasonal texts of the traditional liturgical year cycles.

Father Boyer's purpose is to provide alternative graces "to open our eyes to new ways of thanking God for the food set before us." The prayers are short and can be simply read by one person before the family meal begins.

Sister Mona Castelazo, a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet, has taught English for many years in Los Angeles. She is the author of Under the Skyflower Tree: Reflections of a Nun-Entity.

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