Feast or Famine? Workshops Discuss Food, Spirituality

Article excerpt

For Lent as well as for some holidays in other religious traditions, going without food is the virtuous thing to do.

But clergy members and psychologists contend that eating well also should be a spiritual experience.

They have been stressing that point at a series of workshops called "Healthy Eating in a Spiritual Context." The last one will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the Wohl Center at St. Louis University Hospital, 1221 South Grand Boulevard in St. Louis.

The program has been restricted to people in religious orders. That's because they have special eating issues, the psychologists teaching it said. For example, members of religious orders often ignore their own needs because they believe they should be sacrificing themselves and serving others, the psychologists say.

As a result, religious may eat too little or may eat too much to fill up an emotional void, says Paul Duckro, a psychologist who led one of the sessions.

"They are ambivalent about nurturance and whether they can get nurtured," says Duckro, director of the Program for Psychology and Religion at St. Louis University Health Sciences Center. The workshops, he said, have looked at the "difficulties in balancing nurturance and service to others, enjoyment of the body and transcending the body."

Leaders have stressed the need for moderation in both fasting and eating, and for awareness of one's feelings while giving and receiving food. They have encouraged participants to think about their relationship with God when they eat.

Many religious traditions promote spiritual feasting as well as fasting. Jews will mark the beginning of Passover March 26 with a Seder, or ritual meal. Muslims end Ramadan on Monday with the Feast of Eid. …