Monday, March 06, 2006

To know hunger

Our guest house has been abuzz with retreatants the past few weeks. We had five guests at dinner on Saturday, a huge number for us. Soon we won't fit in our refectory.

After Mass on Sunday, one guest went to great lengths to describe the exquisite delight of consuming Dom Brendan's apple cake. It was the first evidence of a regular feature of Lent in the monastery: a creeping obsession with food. We used to have community recreation on Friday, and we found ourselves, to our embarrassment, talking about how much we liked pizza, what kinds, why we hadn't had pierogies in awhile, and so on.

Eating is the strongest instinctual drive. The ancients (who never ate three meals a day) tended to see this as a problem, inasmuch as insincts, even valuable ones, liken us more to animals than to angels and thus limit our potential. Today, when we are hardly ever allowed to be hungry, we rarely face up to this creatureliness of ours. We don't realize how demanding our psyches have become (because, let's face it, no one's going to die having to go without food for a day) in the area of food. The impulse to eat is one of the hidden 'subrational' drives that we must confront if we are to be truly set free from the powers and principalities that tend to govern our choices without us being aware of them.

So if instead of fasting this Lent, we've decided to read a book, perhaps we could reconsider the importance of literal hunger in the spiritual life.

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