Hunger, Satisfaction, Want, and Need
This week I started my Master of Divinity at Vanderbilt Divinity School. I have been looking forward to this for four years, and have counted down the years, months, and days in every way possible. I have had to create and also let go of my ideas and expectations of what I would encounter at Divinity School. In an effort to be as open as I can to this new experience, I have tried to let go of my constant need to feel “prepared.” Now, there are pros and cons to this. The “pro” side is I am definitely open to what’s happening to me, am making lots of new friends, am learning lots of new things, and am trying to step out of my box. The “con” side is that my anxiety levels have been off the charts for the past week because I feel so unprepared for what is happening to me. Frankly, I don’t know how to balance all of the things coming at me right now or how to best take care of myself. This is not a drastic issue as I am a whopping one week into the program; if I had it all figured out by now, that would just be boring and slightly suspicious.
However, the anxiety I’m feeling has been exhibiting itself in different ways than normal. For all of my fellow psychology nerds out there, my sympathetic nervous system has never been so activated for so long. In laymen’s terms, my body cannot adequately calm itself down. Our bodies are in a constant state of flux with our sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) taking turns in different ways to make our bodies work. Basically, the SNS activates your body (like turning on an “on” switch), and the PNS calms it down. This is how we have fluctuations in our body temperature, heart rate, our digestive systems, waking, sleeping, etc. Now, for days it more or less feels like my SNS is just not quite turning off. Sure, I feel jittery and overstimulated, but I can easily feel that way with a few too many cups of coffee. But what’s really troublesome is that I have been experiencing ravenous hunger. Insatiable hunger. And, I have no appetite. The SNS turns up the heart rate and expends energy quickly, sort of like when you’re running for your life. As a result, my body feels like it can’t spend time eating, but it can’t stop burning up all the energy I have. Thus, we have ridiculous hunger. Nothing fills the hunger I have, and as soon as I put a few bites in my mouth, I feel nauseous and can’t eat any more. It’s like my body is saying, “We can’t spend time doing this; there are other things to do.” Now, given the psychology classes I have had, I understand logically what’s happening to my body (my SNS can’t calm down) and why it’s happening (lots of new stress and anxiety, fight-or-flight responses) and what will happen if this continues and I don’t pay attention to it (honestly, an eating disorder.) But emotionally and spiritually, I feel exhausted and at odds with my body. Every day has become a sort of small battle of not wanting to eat but feeling so hungry I can’t focus, to forcing food down but never getting more than a few bites in. I’ve been exhausted and I’m working on it. Something will work out.
Of course, all this has caused me to reflect on my friends on the streets, on Jesus in the wilderness, and on what it means to truly “hunger and thirst for justice.” Sure, I’ve fasted before, I’ve gone a few nights without eating because I didn’t have the money before, but never before have I felt in such a state of dull panic and survival that I couldn’t find a way or time to eat, and when I did, it wasn’t enough to satisfy. I’m reminded of my friends on the streets who are shuffled from church feeding to church feeding, who are given few options or autonomy in what they eat, who are never given enough to satisfy their hunger (bodily hunger as well as hunger for friendship and love.) Many shelters and churches place time limits on how long people can stay and eat, and also have rules on how many plates they can eat. There is no rest here.
I am reminded of Jesus in the wilderness where he is tempted by the Accuser:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
‘[People] shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4)
There are many ways to look at this passage and I’m not attempting to exegete it here. But these verses resound in my head as I go through my days, feeling so hungry and weary. What are the stones that society is suggesting we turn into bread? Why aren’t we satisfied by the bare minimum? (Because we know the Kin-dom of God is abundance.) Why aren’t we satisfied with this broken world? (Because we know deep in our hearts we came from an abundant garden of community with God.) Why do we have to keep crying out that racism is not bread, that sexism is not bread, that homophobia and heterosexism is not bread, that capitalism is not bread? Why do we have to keep arguing that these stones are not bread and they are not filling and they are not meant to be eaten? Why do we have to keep defending ourselves when we challenge these stones and call them what they are– stones? We are not supposed to ingest these stones, yet we keep doing it over and over again, refusing to believe in a better world or the hope of resurrection. Some say, “This is the best society there is, so keep quiet,” when instead we were meant to feed off of what God provides: community, healing, justice, restoration. We are to keep hungering and keep thirsting for justice, and to not take the bait. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until it comes! And come again, it will.
I am also thinking of what it means to hunger and thirst for justice. Jesus said,
“Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.” (Luke 6)
I do not mean to romanticize hunger and poverty, and that’s not what Jesus was saying either. However, God IS nearest to those who are poor and who are hungry. Perhaps if we bring ourselves closer to the hunger of this world, to the brokenness of this world, and to our friends who are enduring hell on earth, we will see the face of God. If our friends on the streets and in the prisons are inheriting this elusive “Kingdom,” perhaps we can join that Kin-dom by joining them in their weeping, suffering, hunger, and struggle. The Body and the Spirit are not separated.
So, as I carry this weight in my spirit and this hunger in my abdomen, I choose to see it as a vicious gift that allows me to share in a struggle. Simone Weil also wrote abut hunger, though her pursuit of solidarity with the marginalized caused her to die of anorexia. I do not idolize her death, but I admire her anguish in her words, an anguish I feel I share. Simone said:
“The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.”
We were not meant to live off of stones and to pretend that we are not hungry for more, for community, for justice, for liberation.
May we not ignore our hunger, but work tirelessly to fill it.
May we not be satisfied by lies, stones, false hopes, and dead faith.
My prayer is that all those who hunger in body will be filled;
that all those who are torn in anxiety and chaos will find peace;
that the hungers of our hearts and spirits will be satisfied
not with the stones that are illusions,
but with the bread of life that we hope for;
that all of us will recognize our spiritual hunger as a blessing
and an invitation to join in the struggle towards collective liberation.