Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Nothing to eat in here

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the May 20, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Father Michael Savelesky Sometimes we human beings make the oddest statements. One such catch of phrase sallies forth from our lips when, after our perusal of cupboards, pantry, freezer and refrigerator, we moan with some measure of anger or at least frustration, “There’s nothing to eat in here!” Bang shut goes the door, our emotions translating into kinetic energy. We were driven there by our hunger pangs (or so we think), yet our eyes and searching fingers seemingly find nothing of value. Nothing in reach matches our hunger.

Isn’t our comment rather interesting, when the very shelves we explore usually burst to overflowing with foodstuffs? Then why the grumbling?

Surely this is the strangest of phrases. The shelves before us are laden with food a plenty, yet we complain that there is “nothing” to eat. What a contradiction! There obviously is plenty to eat. It’s just that we are fussy about our appetite. Or often we don’t recognize what dynamic of need truly has driven us to the cupboard, pantry, freezer or frig. There are some hungers which no food can satisfy. When those hungers gnaw at the soul, it actually is most non-productive to eat – when food easily becomes a substitute remedy for the inner hunger of boredom, loneliness, fear, anger or anxiety.

The emphasis on the negative element in the phrase, “There’s nothing to eat in here!” is an interesting confession of our material affluence. Only those who have more than enough to eat utter such words. They do not flow from the lips of the starving children in nations like Chad, Sudan and Nigeria. They cannot be heard from the lips of indigenous people who eek out a living in the rugged highlands of Guatemala. And I doubt if they are heard from the lips of the thousands of children in our own nation who go to bed hungry every night.

In our culture, for the vast majority of us, circumstances, culture and a working economy grace us, ironically, with the luxury to complain. “There’s nothing to eat in here” expresses presumption and material arrogance. Only those who have a plentiful spread before them can make such a contradictory statement. The plenty itself makes such a phrase possible. Interesting, is it not?

Food is a “natural symbol.” That is to say, no one needs to go to school to know that the pervasive hunger for physical nourishment readily speaks to the need to be nourished in a deeper dimension of our being, our hearts, our inner selves. Hence, food, eating or sharing a meal frequently is a symbol or image of our relationship with God.

As one who often drew his instructions and observations about our relationship with God from the images of common life, it is not surprising that Jesus refers to his ministry and even to himself as food. Characterized by its use of symbolic language, the Gospel according to John is preeminent in this regard. Jesus stands out as the very Bread of Life. Hearers of his account of the Good News can let the image draw them in a variety of directions. The down-to-earth image is universal and powerful in its appeal. Perhaps our habit of browsing through cupboards, pantries, freezers and refrigerators brings to light a twist in the imagery that is a bit different from the usual ones. It is easy to move from our need for food to our need for Jesus as the Bread of Life. Or from the notion of the breaking of bread to our call to expend ourselves in the service of others.

I find particular food for thought in the well-known scene in which Jesus multiplies the loaves (and fishes). Surely his action makes us conscious of how God meets us in our need with astonishing generosity and plenty. In Jesus we have more than enough. The leftovers flow from the baskets.

It surely must amaze us how, without knowing it, we open and close all those doors where food is available in plenty and still complain that we have found “nothing” to eat. Can the image transfer readily to our presence before God’s plenty? How often have we opened and closed Sacred Scripture without being moved by a thing? Spent hours of time in prayer without ever giving God time to speak? Heard homilies with hardened hearts, closing doors on their shelves of plenty? Attended Mass a hundred times without letting it nourish and inspire us?

Even with all this “spiritual plenty” spread so lavishly before us, we can walk past all these cupboards of plenty and still complain that we “get nothing out of it” – that is to say, “There’s nothing to eat here.” The ironic thing is that God has made such a complaint possible because of a lavish outpouring of generous, unconditional love. We hungry human beings are free to stare such plenty in the face and yet not feast on any of it. We are free to complain that God is distant or that life is empty and void of purpose and direction. The sad thing is that we may not even recognize how hungry we are for the things of God and try to satisfy ourselves with the consumption of trivial things, events and activities – junk food – that satisfies or entertains only for the moment and nourishes little but our ego. Feeding frenzies of this sort only make the inner self more aware of what is not, what is lacking.

The next time we find ourselves complaining that we get nothing out of our prayer times or our religious practices, it would serve us well to hear the irony in our complaint. The complaint that there is “nothing to eat here” may well be a paradoxical testimony to God’s shelves of plenty. God is lavish with the provision of plenty. It may well be that we do not know that for which our hearts truly hunger.

(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane. His book, Catholics Believe, is available from Harcourt Religion Publishers.) (Download an order form in pdf format to print)

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