Wisdom Embodied

Sex and food, I’ve heard, are the two greatest human pleasures in life. I find myself ruminating on this thought as I slowly peruse the items stocked at my local grocery store. I start to tear up as I smell the freshly-baked baguettes, and walk past the table laden with various types of cheeses. As I wander, I can almost feel the crusty bread tearing between my teeth, and taste the sharp, pungent flavor of a fresh block of provolone. I let myself linger among some of my favorite foods for a moment and then walk away, feeling disappointment and longing rise within my heart.

I am a third generation Italian-American who grew up eating homemade Italian food at least once a week. My childhood was smeared in marinara sauce, wrapped in fresh mozzarella, and blanketed in the comfort of fresh pastas.

Culturally, food cultivated a sense of communal belonging in my being that remains to this day, as I still delight in spending quality time with friends around a table.

In my early twenties, my body began rejecting the very foods I had enjoyed so much throughout my childhood. Over time, I developed a painful allergic reaction that causes my body to reject both gluten and dairy. This reaction leads to a narrowing of my esophagus, making it impossible to swallow, when I consume either food. If I choose to ignore the allergy, I put my body at risk of needing emergency surgery. If I avoid the foods altogether, I remain nearly symptom-free.

There are times, like today, when the temptation rises to ignore what my body needs. I wander through the grocery store, longing, waiting, and feeling different. I sometimes think that Heaven will be made of fresh bread and, at times, interpret all too literally the verses in the Bible that reference the land of milk and honey. There are days when I join friends for meals and tire of explaining why I can’t share certain foods with them. There are worse days, when watching friends eat the foods I love makes me feel like I don’t belong, or that I am a burden. I have grown to learn that these lies have echoed throughout other pages of my story.

I am learning to believe that my body truly is a temple and the wisest teacher I have, as I continue to tap into my longings for goodness and redemption.

Perhaps embedded into my family’s culture as deeply as antipasto platters was an agreement to be strong, ignore weakness, and not take up emotional space; that choosing to embody my humanity in any of these ways made me a burden that did not belong. As I linger among the foods of my people, I wonder if my body’s allergic response is a holy invitation for me to tend to my needs, my body, and my heart. My allergies force me to take up space, and my body seems to beg me to do so after decades of neglect. My dietary limitations invite me to allow others to care for me in tangible ways that acknowledge my existence and belonging. I am forced to take up space.

My desire for pleasure this side of Heaven takes me deeper into the caverns of my soul and invites me to a hope that must exist outside of myself. May it be so.

Devan Grayson is passionate about contemplating the beauty of this world as she finds it in her own story and in the lives of others. She loves good conversations, ultimate Frisbee, the arts, and large cups of tea. She works as a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern and is continually struck by the specific beauty woven into the seemingly ragged details of our lives. She counts it a privilege to wonder with clients about their own stories.