In a normal year, this week in early July would be our annual Discovery Week. The Discovery Week is our premier program where we explore eleven religions through classes and twenty site visits. We encounter ritual, architecture, great people and one other key thing that I am especially missing: the food.
I say this not merely out of humour but because food is an integral part of the week. Food is critical to humans not just for nourishment but for social reasons. Food bonds us. If you want to make a neighbour or work colleague into a friend, you invite them over for food. If you want a romantic relationship with someone, you ask them out to dinner. And in religions, humans have been offering food to gods since as far back as we have records. At the temple in Jerusalem, animals were burned on an altar every day as a way of offering food to YHWH while an almost identical practice was being carried out at outdoor altars in India.
Just as food bonds devotee and deity, it also bonds community and establishes relationships. Every year, we are fed at the mosque by my friend Imran Ally. Despite my many offers to pay for the meals, he insists it is their pleasure. The Jews we visit on Shabbat offer us kiddush lunch and of course, the Sikhs feed everyone who comes through their door, every single day through the langar meal. Food makes us feel welcomed, it moves us past this belief and that doctrine into simple human community. It is a kind of entrée to relationships.
We focus often on the teachings and texts of religions but they are whole cultural systems, holistic ways of life. I often think part of understanding a religious tradition is to get a taste of it in some way – see the beauty of some ritual, feel the sense of community, be moved by hospitality and kindness. Sharing food is one way into this holistic grasp of a tradition. To get a glimpse not merely of do’s and do not’s but of a way of being.
I look forward in 2022 (or perhaps even sooner if luck smiles on us) to reviving these kinds of visits. To share a smile, enjoy conversation, and find connection over a samosa. The shared pleasure of food reminds us of our shared humanity and brings us together. Samosas, in short, are even better than you knew.