Thursday, September 30, 2010

Food, Sex and Humility

In the Garden of Eden, Eve was tempted by food.  The draw to the food, or the justification for the draw to this particular food, was intellectual, not biological.  That is, she was not drawn to the forbidden food because she was hungry.  Eve's mind and the machinations of her mind (with the help of a serpentine friend) increased desire and justification to the point that she was overcome by desire.
The Garden of Eden is within each of us, and the struggle of Eve is the struggle we all face.  Food, in many respects, is the most basic and natural manifestation of this struggle (it is natural in that the desire that must be controlled is a natural desire--there is nothing wrong with wanting to eat).  Sexual desire follows a full stomach (this is the experience of the Fathers and the Bible--"neighing as a well-fed stallion" [Jer. 5:8]).  Controlling the stomach weakens the body and makes sexual desire (also a natural desire) easier to control.
However, many people who are good at controlling their eating do so for the sake of vanity or some other pride-related weakness (thus conquering a natural perversion by a spiritual one and in the end being worse off).  Humility is the only safe path.  The humble begin with very small steps--because the humble person knows that anything but the smallest steps will lead to failure.   Alcoholics Anonymous and groups that follow a similar pattern are successful largely because they are like church.  They begin with confession and humility.  They take things one day at a time (I might eat the cake tomorrow, but today I won't).  They know that without God's help and the help of others they will fail.  If we are going to control our stomachs, thus weakening our sexual drive so that we might more easily control that too, we have to begin small and be faithful in those small things.  


Anonymous said...

I never really understood the whole ' first gluttony, then fornication' saying. Could you expand on that a bit?

Fr. Michael said...

It has been the experience of the Fathers and Mothers of the Church that lack of control in eating leads to lack of control in other areas. This why the Church recommends fasting. However, fasting in pride does more harm than good. Humility (knowing my weakness and dependance on God for moment by moment help) is essential for success in any spiritual endeavour.
Although I can't explain why gluttony leads to fornication (or at least to lusting) and fornication to murder (or at least to hatred), it is a pattern that one sees in scripture and sees played out in people's lives.
Perhaps the psychological dynamic is one of first losing control in eating and despairing that any control is futile. (That is, having completely indulged one appetite, any appetite should be indulged.) Then fornication leads to shame and anger at self and the one with whom one has fornicated. But however the dynamic works, the Fathers recommend fasting as the way to begin to bring all appetites under control.