Disclaimer—so that no one will credit me with brilliant spiritual insight, this is a slight elaboration on a sermon my pastor (Father David Poulson, diocese of Erie) gave several years ago. The gospel readings of the last few Sundays brought it back to mind.
Mythology, folklore, fairy tales—stories that tell of man’s adventures in other worlds—have a common thread regarding food. Basically, if someone adventuring in another world eats its food, a bond of some sort is formed with that world. A bond which is not readily broken. The Greek goddess Persephone eats enchanted pomegranate seeds while in the underworld, and is thereby compelled to wed Hades, and live with him for half of each year. (hence the four seasons—the dying off of autumn and the bleakness of winter occur when Persephone’s mother Demeter is mourning her daughter’s yearly departure. )
The folklore Britain and Ireland abounds with accounts of hapless people who become captives of leprechauns and fairies once they have partaken of fairy food.
Modern authors have made use of this concept as well. In C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Edmund undergoes a change for the worse after eating the White Witch’s Turkish delight. Mr. Beaver explains, “The moment I set eyes on your brother, I said to myself ‘Treacherous’ . He had the look of one who has been with the Witch and eaten her food. You can always tell…something about their eyes.”
Scholars of myth such as J.R.R. Tolkien tell us that one finds these common threads in diverse folklore traditions because they express half-forgotten Truths. In this instance, it’s pretty easy to detect what is at the bottom of all these toxically-enchanted food stories. (Jeopardy answer: What is the Tree is the Knowledge of Good and Evil?) Our first parents ate the food that bound us all to the kingdom of this world.
Happily, there is a flip side to this coin. “I am the bread that has come down from heaven. He who eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” If we have eaten the bread of heaven, then something has happened to us. We have been changed. If we have eaten the bread of heaven, we’ve sealed out fate– we already belong there. And “there” is not an alien parallel universe, but rather our true home. The Place that will make us look back on earth as the strange land of exile.
“He who eats this bread shall live forever, and I will raise him up on the last day.”