The Catholic Table- Emily Stimpson Chapman
By Donald McKenzie
April 3, 2017
The Catholic Table
During Lent I’ve been offering a series of lectures called Eucharistic Eating. This is part of an ongoing project(sadly my attempts to record it have not gone well), and I’m always on the lookout for more material on the topic. So, I was quite pleased when I came across The Catholic Table blog. Written by Emily Stimpson Chapman, a freelance Catholic writer and blogger.
The Catholic Table is part memoir, part theological reflection, with a few recipes thrown in along the way. The tone of the book is light and breezy with occasional light touches of satire and sarcasm. Always gentle and never malicious. As a Catholic writer she makes good use of both Scripture and Tradition.
At the core of the book is the story of how Chapman battled with Anorexia, and how receiving the Eucharist was the turning point in that battle. One result of this battle that shows up in her writing is a desire to not be heavy handed with those who struggle with issues around food and their consumption of it.
One thing to make clear from the beginning, Chapman doesn’t look at the Eucharist as a cure-all. Her own struggles with disordered eating were deep and complex and beyond the Eucharist there was medical attention and therapy that went into her healing.
Yet, her ongoing relationship with food was changed by her ongoing relationship with and to the Eucharist. Reflection on and the receiving of the Eucharist helped her to see food through God’s eyes.
While my understanding of exactly how Christ is present in the Eucharist would differ from Chapman’s I share her conviction that we in all reality meet Christ in the Eucharist. Regular reception and contemplation of the Eucharist can be transforming in our lives.
One thing that comes out of this reflection. is a certain level-headedness in talking about food. Chapman places food back into the daily rhythms of our lives. She does this particularly well when she talks about fasting and feasting. She realizes that these two practices are not meant to primarily focus us on our own bodies. She states:
For this reason the Church has always seen fasting primarily as a spiritual practice. It may involve the body, but it’s the body doing something for the sake of a healthier soul, not a slimmer waistline. ” Page 87
Chapter nine entitled: Table Lessons – Eating and the Virtues is another of the book’s high points. Here Chapman takes the four Cardinal Virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance and applies them to how we should approach food. Again, like the rest of the book, these are not rules to apply to our eating, but ways to think about what and how we eat.
As an aside, Chapman does post a list of rules, but emphasizes that these are her rules applicable to her own situation. She shares them only that because some readers may find some of them helpful.
The Catholic Table and Hospitality
I read the book on the weekend before I delivered by lecture on hospitality, and this is the one area where the book is a little bit of a letdown. At the end of the book lists a chapter by chapter bibliography, but when it comes to hospitality, there are no recommendations.
This is a disappointment. First, because the monastic tradition within the Catholic Tradition is one of the great sources on the subject of Christian hospitality. Second, there is a great deal of information on Christian hospitality in the catholic tradition, if not the Catholic Tradition, Christine Pohl, Amy Oden, and Arthur Sutherland are just three that come to mind.
The other thing that I think would make this book a stronger example of a Catholic Table would be a little more emphasis on the question of sacrifice, and how the sacrifices we make are a reflection of Christ’s sacrifice of himself in the Eucharist. Perhaps in her blogging she will take time to look at these two topics in more depth. I hope she does.
This book is a good book for someone who has friends and family who struggle with various eating issues. It’s also a good introduction to how the Eucharist can help transform not only our spiritual lives, but also the day to day aspects of life.