First published on July 10, 2019.
One of my children writhed on the floor today–hungry, starving–and this said child only wanted apple juice, not the protein I offered in cheese, nuts, or meat. Only the sweet stuff, mom.
I remember, too, driving on the southern California freeway, my legs sticking to old leather seats, begging my mom to pull off at a drive-thru because suddenly I was starving and there could be no more waiting. Only she had just 46 cents and a taco from Del Taco was a quarter more. The seat cushions wouldn’t produce a penny, so I wilted until I could stuff blocks of cheddar cheese in my mouth at home.
Hunger creeps up on us.
Yet I wonder how many of us have actually felt the hunger pains. Not just the “whoops, I forgot to eat a few hours ago” pains, but the ones that are deeper. The aches and longings of the soul that find their way into our bodies. (And it always surprises when they do. Yet, I realize, how as whole people how intertwined we are — why wouldn’t our sense of existential homelessness find a home in our aching bellies?)
I’ve begun to reimagine hunger this week (as my husband and I have tried a diet to recalibrate our tastebuds and our cravings) — not as restriction but as noticing. Where are we hungry? Why are we hungry? And what do we keep running to hide from our hungers?
My tears are on the edge this week. The emotions are closer to the surface when I can’t run to a cookie or Coke to make the anxiety or overwhelm go away. I don’t have a glass of wine when the noise gets past my threshold.
I am learning to sit in my actual feelings. I am learning to ask Jesus to sit with me in them–trying to take this “pray without ceasing” thing seriously. But mostly it feels a bit odd.
I want to say it’s all about losing weight, all about “clean eating”–something to make a dietary change sound like step #423 on The Newest and Best Life PlanTM. Because at the end of the day, we want our food, our bodies, and our hunger to be about something that will make us virtuous and good in a world where food has become our new morality. We want our food to tell us something true about ourselves.
Yet we are addicted to the sugar rush. And when we keep using food to numb our desires, our hungers, our longings, our imaginations are dimmed to the wholehearted goodness of home. We’re bored by the home-cooked meal compared to the culinary extravagances of the five-star restaurant or the quick fast food meal. But the ordinary meals—the liturgies of home—shape our desires and they feed us well. We must see our deep hunger as a sign: there is a place where that hunger can be satiated. There is a feast. There is a party where all of time and creation are headed. It is the marriage supper of the Lamb where all our tears will be wiped away and our joy and bellies will be full.
Instead of judging what I put in my mouth, worrying about questions of sustainability and humane practice—all of which are vital to a Christian view of eating—I wonder what would change if I saw food as an invitation to communion with God. What if my experience with food could be less about following the law of it, and more about drinking beauty down to the dregs? What if food could show me my deeper hunger and that there is a feast that will satisfy?
But first. Before we can get to the answer to our soul’s hunger, we must feel it first. We must learn to dwell with and through the hunger pain. We must learn to be hungry again.
We must come out of hiding behind cookies and kombucha, beyond wine or carb-free living. We must practice the slow art of the ordinary. It just might start with food.
It is through the mundane we get a foretaste of the feast. Our physical and spiritual hunger is an invitation to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). Your experience of food here and now, your ability to eat with joy, is a fight to stay present in a world that tells you I must transcend any limit of time, space and body to be successful.
So eat, create simple good food. But first, allow your stomach to rumble? And ask: what might that be about?