Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
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
Looking for something to eat
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Sept. 11, 2008 edition of the Inland Register)
We human beings sometimes make the strangest of 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 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 that satisfies. Nothing in reach seems to match our hunger.
Isn’t our comment rather interesting when the very shelves and bins we explore usually burst to overflowing with foodstuffs? Then why the grumbling?
Surely this is the oddest of phrases. The storage before us is laden with food aplenty, yet we complain that there is “nothing” to eat. What a contradiction! Obviously, there 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 fridge. 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 Uganda. They cannot be heard from the lips of indigenous people who eke 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 functioning economy ironically grace us 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. Even at a so-called secular level, sharing a meal often points to an unspoken hunger for a richer relationship with family or friends.
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 those 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 in 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 in here” may well be a paradoxical testimony to God’s shelves of plenty. God is lavish with provisions. It may well be that we do not know truly that for which our hearts hunger.
(Father Savelesky is the diocese's Director of Deacon Formation and pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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