Monday, November 09, 2009

Satiety And Hunger

One of my faithful interlocutors has written the following question regarding my post on "hunger and thirst after righteousness." Maybe my musings on this question will be a blessing to someone.

"I reread this blog after reading the account of the Woman at the Well in St. John. Christ tells her that the Living Water He provides quenches all thirst and becomes a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. So if satiety is our enemy, why did Christ promise it so abundantly? How is hungering and thirsting after righteousness different from asking for and receiving the thirst quenching gift of living water?"

Good question! Answer: I don't know. The Kingdom of Heaven as we experience it in this life is always a matter of already and not yet. The Kingdom of Heaven is already here; the Spirit has come; we are the body of Christ. And yet St. John tells us in his first epistle (3:2), "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be." St. John both in his Gospel and in his epistles continually presents to us this paradox, or rather, this mystery: "Beloved, now we are the children of God" and "everyone who has this hope purifies himself." Already and not yet.

One of the ways we talk about this irony in our current existence, whether it be in our spiritual life or in our relationships is to talk about levels. On one level I am satisfied but on another level I am hungry. "Level" is of course a metaphor. It is a way to use a category well suited for the merely physical, mechanical aspect of our existence (the upper and lower levels of the bridge deck, for example) to talk about our actual experience which is so much more than merely physical. In our experience, "levels" are not really separate: I experience hunger and satiety at the same time, they don't cancel each other out. The laws of physics do not apply to a large part of human experience. This is one of the problems with western culture generally. We want to deny the existence of anything that cannot be reduced to a discrete point that is either on or off, right or wrong, hungry or satisfied; and so we end up living a delusion that denies the reality of a large part of our experience: both and.

So satiety is our enemy not because God does not satisfy our thirsting souls, but because in our mental gymnastics to defend or explain God's gracious gift, we want to deny the very condition of our souls that make God's gift so gracious.

Particularly in the lives of the saints we see this mystery lived out. The most filled and the most satisfied are those with the greatest thirst. Divine eros (longing for God) grows, not shrinks, as we come closer to God.

Today I am visiting my daughter whom I see only once or twice a year. My feeling of love for her and my longing to be with her increases as I am on my way to see her. When I finally hug her, I feel a kind of satisfaction, but it is a satisfaction mixed with a kind of sadness. I kiss her forehead to express my love to her, feeling deep in my heart how inadequate any expression is and hoping that somehow through each little expression of love she will feel safe and protected and loved and free and all of the thousands of things in my heart that I cannot express. And so I am satisfied and hungry at the same time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Fr. Michael,

Thank you for this thoughtful response to my question. You are right, 'This paradox is a hard saying, who can understand it?' Maybe satiety isn't our enemy if it is simply knowing, like Peter, that we have nowhere else to go, that we are helpless to feed ourselves and quench our own thirsts. Back to the first rung of the ladder...

I really appreciate the analogy of loving your daughter. To know my father loved me was a satisfying comfort, but it also wasn't a single event and I never got tired of receiving more evidence of his love.

Welcome home!