John the Short said, “If a king wants to take a city filled with his enemies, he first captures their food and water, and when they are starving he subdues them. So it is with gluttony. If a man is sincere about fasting and is hungry, the enemies that trouble his soul will grow weak.”
Early Christians believed the first sin of humanity was gluttony – Adam and Eve overreaching beyond God’s boundaries. It just so happened to be connected to fruit on a tree. The earliest Christians thought of gluttony in broader terms than we do. We think of it as ‘overeating’ or ‘lavish feasting’, but the early monastics saw food deeply connected to our spiritual lives. Thomas Aquinas points to this in the 13th century as he expands gluttony to include ‘eating too eagerly’, which he considered the most egregious form. Eating eagerly causes us to disregard health, social, and especially spiritual matters in our lives. He points to Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of beans as a primary example of disregarding the spiritual for sake physical desire.
We all suffer from obsessions with food in our culture. I am currently binge watching several food shows in ‘4K Ultra HD’, including ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat’ by Somin Nosrat (which I highly recommend, by the way). Gluttony has moved from the mouth and the stomach, to my leisure time and my eyes. While on vacations, my family has a notorious practice of discussing our lunch plans over breakfast, discussing dinner plans over lunch, and discussing breakfast plans over dinner. I often wonder how much more we could share together….
But here is the rub…gluttony is always about more than food. Evagrius listed it as the first of the 8 passions, or terrible temptations. It has always been connected deeply to our spirituality and has always been see as one of the obstacles to love.
Are you fasting from some food or drink this Lent? Many of us do. But let me ask all of us, including myself, to consider whether we are actually giving up something ‘easy’ – which only skims the surface of Lent’s intention – or if we are considering giving up something more difficult? Here are a few more difficult things to consider ‘fasting’ from not just at Lent, but in our lives…some things that we tend to ‘overindulge’ in:
What if we could learn to tame or possibly lay aside our ego, or even our pride for Lent?
What would it feel like if we could learn to ‘fast’ from worry?
Is it possible for me to go 40 days (or even 1 day?!?) without judging someone else…without being critical…without gossiping…without slandering someone else?
If you are like me, you will say, “that’s basically impossible, so why start?” You miss the point. Ash Wednesday begins with the affirmation that we are dust. We affirm our humanity and our imperfections. We WILL mess up during Lent…and life. It is assumed already. But we identify our failing, we get up, brush ourselves off, ask for God’s guidance, and we learn as we keep going…relying on the power of the Holy Spirit.
Try it…not just for the remainder of Lent, but everyday. Think about boldly ‘giving something up’…something hard…something that could change your life.