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False Appetites and True An essay for Lent

Photo above -- neighbors this winter joined us once a week for soup. It was during a dinner like this that Jack (second from left) told me about his moment of enlightenment.

. . . God’s grace makes every moment shine. Grab your darkest pair of sunglasses and let’s take a look.
. . . My neighbor, Jack, had a shining moment once. I know it was a moment of grace for three reasons: one, it changed his life; two, Jack tells others how it changed his life; and three, having heard his story, I want to share it with you.
. . . It was at Thanksgiving, 1997. First off, I should say that Jack doesn’t exactly call this a moment of grace. He had finished eating a huge meal. If he could have eaten more, he would have. He couldn’t. All he could do is lie in his chair.
. . . Perhaps he was groaning. He was definitely over weight and his poor heart was struggling to pump blood. (Ka-thump! Ka-thump! Ka-thump!) He was so full, he had trouble breathing. He was absolutely stuffed, yet (shield your eyes, here comes the shining moment) he wanted to eat more.
. . . Actually, wanting to eat more wasn’t the moment. The moment itself was one of insight. Jack realized his desire for more food had nothing to do with needing more food or even having any place to put it. It had nothing to do with reality. It was a false appetite.
. . . Actually, having this insight wasn’t Jack’s moment of inspiration either. Lots of people realize they have false appetites, that they don’t have to eat so much, smoke so much, buy so much, or read so many essays. Insight seldom changes behavior. It must be accompanied by something else, something that allows a person to turn around, to change their life. What is that something? Let’s call it grace.
. . . After Jack’s moment of grace he started running regularly and lost his excess weight. Now he pigs out only on special occasions, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, when he still enjoys all the delicious food set before him.
. . . As you know, the season of Lent is upon us. I have never cared much for the fasting that goes with Lent—which begins on Ash Wednesday (the day after Mardi Gras)—but Jack’s story has me thinking about false appetites, that Lent might be an appropriate time to examine my own false appetites, that fasting may be a way of confronting them.
. . . I’m reminded of a song Dave Matthews has on his Crash CD called “Too Much.” In that song Matthews imagines our appetite as an insatiable desire to consume everything, even the cities of God’s country.

Ooh traffic jam got more cars
than a beach got sand
Suck it up, suck it up, suck it up,
fill it up until no more
I’m no crazy creep, I’ve got it coming
to me because I’m not satisfied
The hunger keeps on growing
I eat too much
I drink too much
I want too much
Too much
I told god, I’m coming to your country
I’m going to eat up your cities,
your homes, you know
I’ve got a stomach full . . .

How different this is from Lucinda Williams’ song “Passionate Kisses” found on her self-titled CD (and on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come On Come On). Here is a song that celebrates true appetites even if, at the same time, it pokes fun at the idea that we deserve to have them fulfilled.

I want a comfortable bed
that won’t hurt my back
Food to fill me up
and warm clothes . . .
Pens that won’t run out of ink
and cool quiet and time to think
Shouldn’t I have this
Shouldn’t I have all of this and
Passionate kisses . . .

This Lent, I wish all of you that moment of grace that allows you to abandon false appetites and to follow your true appetites, those things for which your soul yearns, those things God means to give you.

The above essay first appeared in the St. David's Messenger, the newsletter of St. David's Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas.

 

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