On Wednesdays on the blog I have been going through my book Idol Thoughts, on the patterns of thinking that lead us away from the freedom and joy that comes from life in God into other illusory ways of seeking and finding happiness.
This very ancient doctrine of these thoughts, eight in number, and their power over us was later adapted to the doctrine of the seven deadly sins, and the lists have a lot of overlap. So today we come to the thought of gluttony.
Gluttony is not simply over-eating, or enjoying food for that matter. God made food not only to nourish the body but to delight the palate. It would be silly, not to mention impossible, for us not to enjoy food that tastes good. Gluttony may well lead to the practice of over-eating (and as I say in my book, I do indeed struggle with this thought, and so am a little bit over-weight as a result), but the thing itself resides not in the body, but in the mind.
It is the fixed certainty that happiness lies in the immediate satisfaction of the body. That there is nothing worse than to be hungry, to have a physical need unmet, to be uncomfortable in one’s own flesh.
Gluttony is in itself the least serious of the thoughts and leads to what generally are the least serious sins, but there is a dynamic within gluttony that must be mastered if we are to ever break through this immediate grasping for instant happiness, bacon-bliss, so to speak.
Namely, the dynamic in which we have a desire, see the object of our desire, grab it, stuff it in, and are satisfied. I want-I see-I grab-I stuff-yay! That is the dynamic that can run through all of our desires, all the thoughts of our minds, and it is a powerful illusion, a dreadful mistake. It is expressed in its most immediate form in our relationship to eating, as well as how we navigate our way through the next thought, lust. But it applies to all of the thoughts – as long as desire runs rampant and unchecked in us, we are seriously impaired in our journey to true happiness.
This is because true happiness does not come from the immediate satisfaction of desire. God and our communion in love with Him is our true happiness, and He is not a consumer product that we can grab and stuff in to ourselves. He comes to us, gives Himself to us, but that is quite a different affair.
And so, fasting. This is why fasting is an integral part of every religious tradition. Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists all fast. I believe that there is a spiritual intuition in all the serious wisdom traditions, borne out by lived experience, that some degree of physical hunger breaks us through the level of the superficial and the immediate to transcendent reality.
In our Christian faith, this means communion with God through Jesus Christ, expressed in its fullest and deepest aspect through the gift of the Eucharist. This is why the Church asks us to fast before receiving communion, even though at the moment the fast asked of us is so minimal that there is no actual experience of hunger involved in it (I maintain that this is a pastoral problem). And why we have a season of fasting before we celebrate the great feast of the year, Easter.
A modicum of hunger, a small experience of that emptiness, that slight weakness, that little bit of ache—this is vital to the spiritual life. And to never, ever be hungry—to live our relationship with food in such a way that our bodies are continually full to the brim—this has a deadening effect in our lives. This is not a particularly Christian observation – the united testimony of all the world religions happens to agree on this point.
And so, ‘blessed are the hungry, for they shall be filled.’ (Luke 6: 21). We have to enter a little bit into the reality of hunger now, so as to be filled later. To want now, so as to want nothing (Psalm 23:1) later.
Anyhow, I have quite a bit more to say on the subject, and you can read all about it, if you so desire.