When was the last time you felt really hungry?
Just yesterday I found myself a wee bit hungry (an oddity for this time of year but it had been a little while since I’d eaten a meal). I saw out of the corner of my eye a small tin of chocolates and almost without thought proceeded to pop not one, not two but three chocolates consecutively and with rapidity into my mouth. They were delicious (“See’s” chocolates, some of my favorites). Mindlessly licking my lips, I returned to the book I had been reading.
My wife called me to dinner just ten minutes later. Now, typically, when this happens I pop out of my chair and rush to the table anxious to eat the meal that has been prepared. No surprise to you, I found myself fairly disinterested in the food being offered. Instead, rather dutifully, I went to the table and sat but found myself feeling lackluster about the hearty soup, breads, crudités and cheeses set before me. As my mother routinely warned me in my early years, I had “spoiled my appetite.” I squelched my hunger.
Hunger, is a complex phenomenon, in part because it a multifaceted interweaving of many aspects of our person. Biological psychologists, those in my field of study that focus on the physiological or bodily aspects of our being, would tell us that when I popped the chocolates into my mouth a series of neurochemical reactions ensued resulting in my experience of satiation or of feeling full.
Most scientists would argue that there are significant physiological components to our hunger or lack thereof. So while many would say that this is a rather robust explanation of what happened to me that late afternoon, others would suggest that my experience of feeling isolated and alone also contributed significantly to my somewhat impulsive chocolate-bingeing behavior. Thus the traditional relational aspects of psychology may also have played a significant role in my hunger pangs and behaviors.
In addition to being a complex neurochemical and psychological phenomenon, hunger is also a profound spiritual reality. You probably already thought of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus talked about our hunger for God and the importance of filling ourselves with Jesus, the bread from heaven, the true Bread of Life. “He who comes to me will never go hungry and He who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:38)
What I’d like to suggest in this short article is fairly simple, and while not at all rocket science, is perhaps more relevant and dare I say important for the average man or woman out there. I would argue that hunger is a good thing. In fact, so much so that I would suggest that there is goodness in allowing or even encouraging ourselves to be hungry. Why would we ever choose to let ourselves go hungry? For if food is a good thing, and being well nourished and satisfied also a good, why might we do such a thing?
Now back to the story of my pre-meal, chocolate binge. No surprise to anyone, I completely lost interest in the food before me, as delightful and appetizing as it was. I had supplanted my desire for food with a chocolate fling. May I suggest the obvious, in a culture that offers so many opportunities for satisfying our appetites, perhaps it is not wise to indulge the opportunity every time. Why might this be? As it is with food, so it is with God. If I rid myself of my hunger with substances that lack nutrition, I lose my hunger. So if I fill myself with things other than God I will not feel my need for Him and will be less apt to feed on Him.
Have you ever put off eating a meal so that your hunger grows? How did the meal ultimately taste to you? Wonderful beyond description I would imagine. So the heart that allows itself to grow in hunger feasts on God!
What might it be like to allow, even encourage yourself to grow in hunger? To do so we open ourselves to God Himself. This is the wisdom of fasting…we are in essence holding ourselves open (hungry) in order to be filled (satiated) by Him. Because, as Fr. Reginald Martin suggests in his reflections on the Beatitudes, “only God is Immense enough to fill our Infinite Longing.”
It is not insignificant that Christ tells HHH His followers that He is going to prepare a place for us and that the pictures of this are often of a feast or of a BANQUET! We will one day feast infinitely on God Himself, our hunger shall be no more because we will be perfectly filled…UNTIL THEN, let us live as those who are waiting for the Banquet, holding ourselves open to receive and accepting that until that time comes we shall live in some want…longing for HIM who satisfies all.