As I was reading Bread and Wine, the new book by Shauna Niequist, I was, of course, thinking a great deal about hungry. And not just because I heard my own stomach growling thinking about all the food.
Hunger, we think, is something holy. It is an emptiness, a readiness to receive, an active searching for something nourishing. It is holy, we say, to be hungry for God. It is holy, we argue, to ritually fast and to go "without" for a time so that we can appreciate our normal life "with." The more I was reading, though, the more I was taking in these stories around the table, the more I was realizing a harsh but humble truth:
There's nothing holy about hunger.
Hunger...is the preparation for holy.
All of these people walk in and out of Shauna's kitchen, sit down and get up from her table and the tables of friends, family, community. They come in hungry, I'm sure, based purely on her reputation as a foodie alone. They come in empty, ready to receive, searching for something nourishing. Snacking on appetizers, snacking on ingredients, licking the spoon, maybe, and picking up a bacon-wrapped date on their way to the table.
And that's never the holy moment.
The holy moment comes when they're seated around the table. When their plates are full and their mouths, equally so, their stomachs well on their way. When they are swapping stories between bites of food, crumbs spittling out of their mouths because around such a table, it doesn't seem to me there's a whole lot of place for proper manners or taking turns. It's this mess of story and meal and food and fellowship and all this sort of mixed up jumbled place that happens, yes, because they came hungry, but the holiness is not happening in the hunger. It's happening in the ham steaks. It's happening in the watermelon feta salad. It's happening in the balsamic glazed pork loin. It's happening in the dark chocolate mousse. And it's happening in the hearts, drawn by the stomachs, of those in attendance.
See, holiness is never the hungry moment; the hungry moment is the setup. It's the ache that invites us into the holy moment, this gnawing emptiness inside of us that drives us to the holy. And the holy is in the food.
That can mean the food around the table, sure. Of course it can. Holiness can be found in tangible, literal, taste-able food. Or it can be in the fellowship entangled in the table. In the family stories, in the friendly recollections, in the community play unfolding around the table. It can be there, but it doesn't have to be.
I'm thinking more of the spiritual disciplines now, when we fast in order to feast on God. When we come hungry before Him. We're so convinced there's something holy in our hunger, something righteous, even, in our emptiness. But that's never the case.
The holiness comes in the nourishment of God's presence, when He dares enter into our emptiness with us and pour us something new to drink. A new living water to fill us. The holiness comes when God meets our hunger and satisfies our ache. That's the holy moment.
Was there anything holy about a starving nation in a vast wilderness? No. But there was something holy about manna and quail. They would never have known the provision of God without the hunger, but their emptiness does not say a thing about the holy; manna does.
Was there anything holy about thousands of people listening to Jesus, sitting on a hillside with stomachs grumbling because they'd been there three days and ran out of food two days ago? No. But there was something holy about the bread and the fish. They would never have seen the miracle of Jesus had they not been hungry, but their hunger is no miracle; a little boy's lunchbox is.
I'm thinking of all the times I've been hungry in my life, and it's easy to fool myself into thinking in those moments that those were something holy. That the gnawing, growling in my stomach had to be holy because it meant I was aching for something more. But that aching is emptiness and nothing more; the holy is in the filling. (And I prefer Bavarian creme, if we're talking fillings. ...Ok, Bavarian creme and a bit of Jesus, on the side.) The holy is what happens when you've got something pouring into you that satisfies your emptiness. That's what is holy.
Just another thought I had while reading Shauna's new book. Pre-order Bread and Wine from Amazon today. The book releases April 9.
Per federal regulations, I am required to tell you that in exchange for my blogging and digital reviews, Zondervan publishing provided a free copy of Bread and Wine for my perusal. I must also tell you, as a matter of personal integrity, that I am being completely honest in my words and that the offer from Zondervan does not influence my opinion nor my statement. In the sixth grade, I once gave a book report that began, "This book was terrible. Do not waste your time reading it." The teacher pulled me into the hall and said I would get an F if I didn't change my tune, that the idea of a book report was to get people to read the book. I took the F because I don't believe that; I believe in being honest about a book. If it sucks, I'm going to tell you it sucks. This book, Bread and Wine, does not suck.