Finding Hope and Zebras in the Supermarket!

James Cathcart August 28, 2023 0 0
Finding Hope and Zebras in the Supermarket!

James Cathcart shares some suggestions he and Laura Digan have for finding hope (and zebras) on our shopping trips. These were developed as part of worship through our recent Sunday Live service Ecosystems of hope.

I want to share with you a few simple ideas to help us feel hopeful and inspired on the supermarket run.

Big shops can be daunting and overwhelming places. Bright, noisy and full of countless decisions to make. This is especially true during a cost of living crisis and a time of environmental uncertainty. We want to make wise, sustainable choices while balancing the costs, and our health, and so many other factors.

On the one hand supermarkets are economic and technological marvels. They have brought a wide range of affordable food options to many over the last century or so, freeing up domestic labour (especially for women) in the process. But with their vast array of produce they also highlight many of the issues we face as a planet to do with sustainability, inequality and food waste.

Many supermarkets and charities are working hard to combat these issues but that doesn’t stop the food shop from being a sometimes stressful or uneasy process. Dazzling lights, empty shelves, or perhaps the numbers at the bottom of the receipt — it can be a jolt to the system.

But hope can still be found in the supermarket! Our supermarkets, often open 24/7 and a home to friendly faces and conversation, can shine as little beacons or hubs in our communities. They are, after all, places that feed us.

As part of our theme Habitats of Hope this month we have been reflecting on how we can nurture an attitude of hope in our world as disciples of the hope bringer: Jesus Christ. So through some simple prayers, prompts for contemplation, actions and yes even zebras… we invite you to rediscover a sense of hope in the supermarket…

1) A Shopping List Prayer!

Whether your shopping list is in your head, written on a scrap of paper on the fridge, or put in a notes app on your phone — take a little time before you set off to pray through your list.

This could be a prayer of gratitude (like saying grace before a meal) where you thank God for the items on your list; and pray for all those involved with cultivating, producing, packaging, delivering and stacking them.

You could also use the items as a springboard to think about other things that matter to you too. For instance, maybe you have pasta on your list that you’re getting so you can make a meal for a friend. Or maybe you have got a particular type of chocolate on the list that is your aunt’s absolute favourite. Or maybe the chocolate is produced in a country you’ve read about recently in the news. You could use these things as wee nudges to include in your prayers.


An example prayer:


In our hearts and minds, we bring the things at the top of our lists

the things we don’t want to forget

the things we don’t want to leave without

the things we need restocking

that we need topping up

that we are struggling without

the people we care about

the headlines that fill our heads

the concerns we have for your beautiful world

the gratitude, hopes and concerns we have.


We come because we have hope

that you listen

that you care

that you want to know

that you love us



2) Communion all around you!

Another thing we discussed in the service was the idea of appreciating that supermarkets are integrally linked to Communion!

Given that most of us in Scotland, and most of us in the world, get most of our food from supermarkets — that includes the food we use for Communion: bread, and juice/wine.

Supermarkets can be odd, timeless places full of randomly assorted souls isolated from one another. So remembering Communion is a useful reminder that we are linked to one another. Into the sometimes otherworldly space of the supermarket Communion paints a beautiful picture of a community that bridges time and space, uniting us with others that have gone on before us and will go on ahead of us. It’s an invitation to a meal where there’s enough for everyone. Where we serve one another with simple everyday things.

This supermarket that you find yourself in, is itself a link in the chain of Communion. That’s pretty cool. Who knows what quiet loaves or bottles are biding their time on the shelves around about you waiting to participate in the ongoing feast of hope that sustains us!

Crucially supermarkets also remind us that Communion is food! Actual food that helps us to actually belong. When we walk through the aisles we can think about how this very place is a place that is connected to that very picture. To feeding us body and soul!

When we are overwhelmed by all the brands in the supermarket it’s refreshing also to remember that Communion doesn’t rely on a brand or a logo. It’s adaptable and has taken many forms over the years, through myriad small contributions. In the face of the enormity of climate change, Communion can remind us that we are more than the sum of our parts, and our small actions are not an end-point, but the beginning of transforming ourselves bit by bit as we fall in love with our world all over again.


Example prayer:


Dear God,

Thank you for the invitation

to the gifts of Communion

that I am reminded of here.

Work the wonder of your grace

in the lives all around me.



3) Look for the barcode that’s in everything!

Christ is in everything, holding all things together, as we read in Colossians 1:15-20. Jesus — the Word at the beginning of the universe — is in the fabric of everything, working for good, for renewal. Christ is the barcode that is in all things. Not all things are good or great, there is a lot of brokenness and pain in our world but we follow a God of restoration and redemption. If we hold things up to the light we can search for the barcode, and find Jesus Christ running through it all. The spark of hope, that things can be made whole again. That love and hope and grace are worth it. Hold it up to the light and Beep! It’s found. Beep!

Imagine that next time you’re in the supermarket, all those little beeps as amens! Amens testifying to Christ in everything. Beep, beep. There’s Christ! There’s Christ! There’s Christ. Beep, beep, beep…

Sometimes of course, it’s hard to find the barcodes. The packaging has got dented and folded over, or it’s been misprinted. And so sometimes we need to ask for assistance, or get someone to enter a code manually, but it’s there.

My wee 3 year old daughter loves scanning items at the checkout and my wife had the ingenious idea to tell her to “Look for the Zebra” to help her find the barcode. She loves helping and seeking out the zebras. So, next time you’re in the supermarket I encourage you to find the Zebra and hold it up to the light. Listen out for the beep — find Christ in everything! We all have a code, we all have zebra stripes encoded in us that Jesus can scan and recognise us as one of his own. Beep!


Example prayer:


Dear God

Each beep here reminds me that you are in and through everything.

Help me to spot you

and celebrate you

and work alongside you.



4) Bags for life prayer!

And at the end of the shopping comes the packing. In our service we shared a Bags for Life Prayer where we used the metaphor to think about all those around the world carrying burdens in the face of environmental crises and prayed that we might help them shoulder the load.

So, as you pack your bags, think about what you’re taking away from this experience and perhaps say a quiet prayer as you do. Ask what God would have you take away from this journey you’ve just had, from what you’ve seen and noticed. Maybe you saw someone you know in one of the aisles who is going through a hard time, maybe you saw a poster looking for donations or volunteers, maybe you were inspired with an idea for a recipe you could make for someone who could use a treat and the chance to take the weight off. It’s traditional after all to come back from shopping with a few extras we found along the way.


An example prayer:


Having dug out our bags for life

we ask you Lord God

to stuff them with hope,

hope for one another and for our world

give us bags of enthusiasm God!



So, Laura and I encourage you to shop well, go well and hope well!


James Cathcart