Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year, New You: Be Mindful, Be Inspired

Here is my January column that appears in this weekend's edition of The Catholic Post.  I invite your feedback here or elsewhere online.

A new calendar year offers many a chance to start fresh with eating right or maybe a new exercise plan.  Bookstores shelves are full of how-to books this time of year to help kick-start that process.

That’s all well and good, but many times a shift in thinking is what’s really needed.  Two great new books offer just that.

Cravings: A Catholic Wrestles with Food, Self-Image and God  is Mary DeTurris Poust’s personal and spiritual journey about the intersection of food and faith.

“For Catholics, any conversation about the food-faith connection will always come back around to this one central theme. Ours is a faith centered on a meal,” Poust writes, and she shows in Cravings how it is vital to understand and internalize the link between our spiritual and physical well-being when it comes to food.

A big strength is that Poust’s book is both Catholic and catholic, tapping into a wide range of spiritual practices and traditions related to food and meals.  So much of our Catholic liturgical year relates to fasting and feasting, and seeing how other cultures and religious traditions share this is constructive and broadening.  Poust also shares stories of various people who have struggled with weight, food issues or spirituality related to food, and how they handle their struggles.

Cravings is more spiritual “how-to” than healthy-eating “how-to.”  Considering the many competing theories that seem to change by the week (is it paleo or vegan that’s best these days?), that seems healthy in more ways than one.

At the same time, Poust takes the time to make the case about how our modern American food promotes unhealthy lifestyles rather than healthy ones.  And her helpful appendix, “Practices for the Journey Forward,” summarizing healthy eating and lifestyle principles, is sensible and balanced without being too much.

Poust saved the best for last, in the final two chapters: “Soul Food: Turning Meals into Meditations,” and “Just Desserts: You Can Have Your Cake and Spiritual Life, Too.”  I’m not just saying that because I love dessert best of all.  Her own experiences of mindful eating, both alone and with her family, as well as her ideas for creating food rituals, are encouraging rather than daunting.

After reading Cravings, I feel motivated in many ways, and so grateful for our Catholic faith’s rhythms and rituals.  My take-away is to practice small times of mindful eating, and make more intentional and positive food rituals at our house.

Running With God Across America is decidedly not a “how-to” book about getting in shape, but many readers will find it inspiring and compelling.

Running is University of Notre Dame grad Jeff Grabosky’s account of his decision to embark, after a rough post-college time, on a cross-country run, praying for others’ intentions the entire way.

Each short chapter is titled by “day” (day 1, etc.) and covers one day of his  3,700-mile, months-long journey.  Most days he ran more than 30 miles, and he relates with openness his spiritual, physical and emotional state through many ups and downs.

“I set out on my journey to help bring our world closer to God,” writes Grabosky at the end of Running with God Across America, but it’s his own spiritual journey that takes center stage, with a endearing narrative and flow.

This book is hard to put down--I would resolve to set it aside for dishes or some other responsibility, but kept reading and telling myself, “just one more day.”

As a busy middle-aged mom (and runner), I found myself envious of two aspects of Grabosky’s trek, one serious and one kind of funny.

First, Grabosky had tons of time and personal space for prayer, while running, of course. That’s why the book reads like a retreat journal or spiritual memoir in many ways.  His spiritual highs and lows are recounted in vivid and emotional detail.

Second, food lovers will marvel as Grabosky relates the sheer amount of food he needed to eat to keep up his weight on this long run. I know how good food tastes after a long run or lots of exertion, and so his descriptions of memorable and delicious meals stuck with me.  Talk about mindful eating.

Most people aren’t going to embark upon a solo cross-country run, though some might want to join in Grabosky’s latest effort, as he organizes the LIFE Runner's cross-country Relay for Life that begins next month.

Still, most readers will glean from Running With God Across America spiritual fruit from his journey, and be inspired to consider their own spiritual and physical life more like the real journey that it is.  Just one more day ....


Note:  I will be doing Q&As this month with both Mary DeTurris Poust and Jeff Grabosky.  My Q&A with Jeff will appear next week, and I'll be part of the blog tour for Mary's book; Reading Catholic's "stop" is scheduled for January 20.

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