Food for the Soul
Psalm 63:1-8 Isaiah 55:1-9
I have been reading an article in Ode magazine about the importance of good nutrition in preventing illness. Obviously this is not the first time I have heard about this connection. We all know this. The medical establishment knows this. Insurance companies know this, and yet we don’t do as much about it as we could. Much more of everyone’s time and attention are taken up dealing with the effects of poor nutritional habits rather than with preventing their happening in the first place. This morning’s scripture readings strike me as having a similar message, really. They are built on the notion that God offers good food for the soul, and all we need to do is come and get it. But, as in our daily lives, we often prefer to munch on snacks that have little nutritional value. Candy and chips taste so good! And they are quick and easy, with little or no preparation time at all. They meet a craving in us in the short term, that pushes us to consume more and more junk food in the long term. In the end, we discover that we have a pretty awful stomach ache, and are just as empty as we were when we started.
All of us have a longing that exists deep within us. We are hungry for something that goes beyond the simple need for bread. We humans come equipped with what some have called “a God-shaped hole.” Nothing else will fill the hole, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to find something, anything, to fill up that space and take away the longing. All too often we settle for the quick fix rather than actually taking the time and making the effort to discover what it is that will truly satisfy our needs. We each have different things that we fill up the hole with. For some it is work, whether housework or office commitments. For others, it is unhealthy relationships or unhealthy food. Some folks drink too much in order to forget that there is an emptiness inside of them that they don’t know how to deal with, and other folks close themselves off from life and joy because it feels safer to just shut down than to remain open and vulnerable.
Living in such a way as to be aware of the emptiness, is a real challenge for anyone. When Jesus was praying in the garden of Gethsemane near the end of his life, he despaired when the disciples - dear friends who were carefully chosen to accompany him in that terrible time - fell asleep. “Can’t you stay awake for even a little while for me?” he asked. The emptiness was felt even by Jesus himself, as he prayed and wept and waited for those who would arrest him. Even Jesus felt the very human sense of separation from God, and he knew better. So it is natural that we feel it too. And it is natural that we try to fill it with whatever we can find - even good things like friends who we hope will stand by us.
But the truth is, that we are separate from God in so many ways as we move through our lives. The human experience is at least in part about making our way through the world carrying this emptiness inside of ourselves, holding it as sacred, as a holy throne within our hearts upon which God might sit. This, we need to realize, is not the whole truth, though. There are two truths at the center of the human experience, which are opposites. One is the truth of our separation from God, which means we have to deal with the emptiness and longing we feel; but the other truth, is that God is closer to us than anything or anyone else could ever be. God is actually a part of us, held within us, and we are in turn held within God. And so, this emptiness we feel, this longing that we live with is something we experience because of who we are and how we live. It is not the main reality. The main truth of our existence is that we are held and loved and so deeply woven into God’s being, that nothing can separate us. And yet we feel the separation. Jesus felt the separation. I liken these two truths to the experience of flying on a cloudy day. The reality of life on earth is that it is dark and gloomy, but if you have the good fortune to fly above the clouds, you see right away that the sun is shining as strong and bright as ever. Similarly, even when we feel separate from God, even when we hold that empty space within us, we are also held in God’s love and are deeply and inextricably a part of the divine. Both are true and both truths need to be honored.
There are times in our lives when the separation looms so large that we cannot see or feel anything else, even the love of God. At these times, we need to hang on and wait it out. We need to pay close attention to our hearts and let the longing that is deep within us sustain us. We need to hold out for the good food that will nourish our souls, and which only God can provide. It can be tempting to grab ahold of whatever we can find, but if we can wait. If we can be patient, then we discover that the space we create within ourselves, within our lives, becomes something special, something holy.
This morning we will take part in the simple meal that Jesus established with his followers. A chunk of bread dipped in grape juice or wine in and of itself doesn’t seem all that special. It certainly isn’t enough to fill up a hungry stomach. But, when blessed and offered on behalf of the Christ, it can fill up the emptiness. It can satisfy that longing that exists so deep down in our being, we hardly recognize it as a part of ourselves. This morning, before we take part in communion, I invite us all to spend a few moments in quiet, getting in touch with the longings and the divine shape of the emptiness we carry in our souls. (Silence.)
Christ Jesus, you walked this human path before us. You know the pitfalls and the rough places we face. You know how it feels to be so far from God at times that we aren’t even sure who we are. Help us and guide us, so that we might find our way through this frustrating and difficult time. Nourish us today with the bread and cup of your love. Amen.