Food and drink are essential to life: both for its sustainment and its enjoyment. Over the last two years I have found out how true that is. In October of 2017, I was diagnosed with acute starvation. Collateral damage from Chronic Lyme treatment had destroyed my body’s ability to digest and absorb nutrients. Dropping just below 110lbs, I was losing the ability to walk and told that I came dangerously close to losing my life.
Thankfully, I was able to avoid a feeding tube with an elemental diet (a pre-digested drink with all the calories and nutrients you need) that saved and sustained me. Recently, my GI system has recovered to the point that I am able to eat blended soups – consisting of potatoes and some combination of carrots, beets, parsnips and squashes – along with a small amount of chicken (and a little ghee).
During this time of healing I have learned:
- There is still a mysterious delight in watching other people, like my wife, enjoy the foods and drinks they love.
- By God’s grace, I am still able to find delight in the foods from my limited menu. God is teaching me that He really does intend for us to “laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man,” even when “there’s hunger in the land,” as King Lune tells Cor in The Horse and His Boy.
- Regardless of what’s on the menu, I am still able to participate in that most meaningful aspect of a meal: fellowship. Love is a joy that even starvation can’t steal.
One thing I have been doing during this extended time in my sick-bed is reading C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. It has struck me in a whole new way how prominent a role food and drink play in the series. The necessity of food and drink is, undoubtedly, a dominant theme.
In the following two-part post, I would like to look at what we can learn about God’s purposes for a meal from The Chronicles of Narnia. In this first post, we will look at how a meal has been designed by God to nourish and delight, as well as to facilitate fellowship. In the second post we will explore a meal’s ability to heal and to serve as a sign of our ultimate future.
Love is a joy that even starvation can’t steal.
Food Is for Nourishment & Delight
We are biologically embodied beings. As such, we cannot function without food, at least not for very long (as I can attest), and not very well for the time we can go without it. Humans do no better without food and drink than a car does without gas and oil. Which is of course why the Pevensie children are so “worried” that not having any food supplies will make the mission to rescue Mr. Tumnus from the White Witch quite impossible, and why Mrs. Beaver is more concerned about packing enough provisions than she is about getting as big a head start on the White Witch as possible: “You didn’t think we’d set out on a journey with nothing to eat, did you?” (Book 2); why Shasta’s saddle bags are stocked with “meat pasty…dried figs and…cheese,” (Book 3); and why the crew on the Dawn Treader must strictly ration food and drink when a storm diminishes their supplies (Book 5).
Even when Archenland is in urgent need of military reinforcements, Narnia’s troops, led by King Edmund, stop on the way “for a halt and a morsel!” (B3). Why do the Narnians always “want some breakfast,” as Trumpkin says, “before everything else” (B4)? Because Lewis (no stranger to real battle), and by extension Lewis’ characters, know that without breakfast, so to speak, one cannot do anything else. We are meal-dependent creatures.
In addition to being a biological necessity, food and drink are an aesthetic delight. Food is for pleasure as well as for fuel. Hence the aesthetic diversity of food’s colors, tastes and smells. In The Chronicles we see this rich diversity in the various kinds of cuisines consumed by the various nations and creatures. For example: Calormene cuisine (e.g. “lobsters, and salad, and snipe stuffed with almonds and truffles”); Narnian (e.g. “roasted meat…wheaten cakes…honey and many-colored sugars and cream as thick as porridge and as smooth as still water, peaches, nectarines, pomegranates, pears, grapes, strawberries, raspberries – pyramids and cataracts of fruit”); Centaur (e.g. “cakes of oaten meal, and apples”); and Tree People (e.g. “earth [of]… rich brown loam…[and] chalky soil”).
Regardless of the kind of meal or creature, according to Lewis, you know you’ve had a good meal when it results in “a long sigh of contentment.” To the point, God gave us taste buds for a reason.
Food Is for Fellowship
The rhythm of eating and drinking has been built into the world, from the beginning, to remind us where life comes from, to whom we owe thanks, and to perpetually draw us back into loving communion with God and one another (Matthew 6:25-26). In other words, food is not just for nourishment and personal delight; it is for fellowship and mutual delight.
My favorite example of what we might call the “fellowship function” of food and drink is in Book 4 after Prince Caspian has spent a few days with the “Old Narnians.” Lewis writes:
To sleep under the stars, to drink nothing but well water and to live chiefly on nuts and fruits, was a strange experience for Caspian after his bed with silken sheets…at the castle, with meals laid out in gold and silver dishes…and attendants ready at his call. But he had never enjoyed himself more. Never had sleep been more refreshing nor food tasted more savoury…
Why was everything so much better? Because, as Caspian explained when he first met the Old Narnians: “I’ve been looking for people like you all my life.” As we know from experience, the satisfaction we find in a meal is greatly enhanced (or hindered) by the company we keep at a meal and by its occasion. This was Caspian’s first time feasting with those who saw food and drink as gifts, which facilitated bodily nourishment and relational delight; instead of as a mere practical necessity or hedonistic indulgence (the Telmarines perspective).
In Narnia meals are designed to bring people together. They are an occasion for:
- Sharing the “fruits” of one’s labors. For example, the Bulgy Bears offer Prince Caspian “some honey” and the Squirrel offers him “a nut” (B4);
- Swapping stories. As Peter says while “eating hot fish with no forks, and one pocket knife between five people,” to the Dwarf, “You tell us your story first” … “And then we’ll tell you ours” (B4), and;
- Possibly dancing and playing games. For instance, “that night there was a great feast in Cair Paravel, and revelry and dancing…” in Book 2, or the “grand feast” at the end of Book 3 when “tales were told and jokes were cracked” and the “King’s poet” sang such a tale that “when it was over [Aravis and Cor] wished it was going to begin again.”
In other words, Lewis depicts meals as an inherently festive activity. Not to say that there are not sad or lonely meals (e.g. Edmund eating “dry bread” by himself in B2, or the “very poor appetites” everyone had when Eustice went missing and the dragon showed up in B5), but that Aslan’s original intent was for a meal to be a festive occasion.
Before closing, note that in Narnia the measure of a good neighbor is the invitation to a meal. And like in the Bible (Luke 10:25-37), any and everyone, including those who are not like us, qualifies as a neighbor. As a quick example, consider the diversity of creatures the White Witch sees in Book 2 when the snow finally begins to thaw: “A little way off at the foot of a tree sat a merry party, a squirrel and his wife with their children and two satyrs and a dwarf and an old dog-fox, all on stools around a table.” Meals are supposed to cultivate neighborliness.
Do my current eating and drinking habits demonstrate that Jesus is Lord of my kitchen?
The Sacredness of Meals
I believe what C.S. Lewis has taught us, with regard to these first two purposes, is that meals are sacred events—rituals where we acknowledge our dependence on God and one another (at least tacitly); and learn the art of thankfulness, sharing, conversation and festivity (or at least we should).
As Christians, I pray these truths will inspire us to be more intentional with the way we cultivate, cook and consume our meals. The question we should all be asking ourselves is: Do my current eating and drinking habits demonstrate that Jesus is Lord of my kitchen (1 Corinthians 10:31)?
 This includes before making plans: “Let us refresh ourselves…After that, to our plans” (B6). Of course, attending to injuries, such as “Puddleglum’s burnt foot,” and immediate danger are exceptions.
 The necessity of food for creaturely flourishing is why Aslan asks the Cabby, who is to be the first King of Narnia, if he can “use a spade and a plow and raise food out of the earth?” and is unconcerned with how much formal “eddycation,” he’s had (B1). And why “hunting parties,” “fishing,” and “planting the orchard outside the north gate of Cair Paravel” are depicted as so important (B4/B5).