Saturday, April 5, 2008

Managing Hunger and Thirst

I fasted Wednesday, and as I was sitting in a networking meeting watching everyone else eat a delicious lunch, my mind wandered to thoughts of diet and eating habits. In the middle of that contemplation, I had an interesting thought related to this month's resolution to hunger and thirst more after righteousness. It really was something I had not considered previously and dealt with proper ways to construct a diet - to "manage" hunger and thirst.

As I said in my last post, feeling hunger and thirst has one, and only one, purpose - to prompt the one who is hungry and thirsty to eat in order to quench that hunger and thirst, thus protecting the body from the damage that inevitably occurs from lack of nourishment. Thus, we feel hunger and thirst when we are in need of physical nourishment and are at risk of physical harm. As I was considering that (what hunger and thirst really are), I was struck by the correlation between how similar a good physical diet and a good spiritual diet are - and how wise the counsel is that we receive from our prophets and apostles.

Nutritionists teach that the absolute best way to construct a diet is to eat small meals throughout the day - as often as every 2-3 hours - a little food each time - just enough to "take the edge off" and satisfy the hunger and thirst that is felt as we burn away the calories (nutritional energy) provided by our food. In other words, the best way to manage food is to eat just enough to make the hunger and thirst go away (to replenish our physical energy), then repeat that process each time hunger and thirst is felt (when that physical energy is used). Obviously, that is not possible for most people in the course of their daily lives, so a good compromise is to eat three times daily - in the morning, around Noon and in the evening.

Other patterns of diet are not as healthy, since they ignore the warnings signs (hunger and thirst) and procrastinate the alleviation of those signs. For example, a "feast and famine" approach is unhealthy, as it does not provide steady nourishment (along with a host of other issues), while extreme diets might produce immediate and dramatic weight loss but rarely are sustainable, since they are incapable of establishing nutritional habits, and often cause problems with organs that are overtaxed by too much and then too little nourishment. Often, once the initial weight loss is achieved, old habits return - creating a yo-yo effect with weight control, which brings its own set of issues and complications (both physical and emotional). The effects of binging and purging are obvious and destructive.

There is one other habit that deserves to be considered: gluttony. Gluttony is partaking in excess, in this case going beyond dietary need and wrecking the proper balance that produces optimum health - and it generally is accompanied by a lack of proper exercise, through which excess calories (nutritional energy) are burned away. When gluttony is practiced to an extreme degree, morbid obesity creates all kinds of health issues. It is an incredibly destructive dietary practice, and it is available only to those who have access to a surplus of food. In a very real way, it is a case of selfishness, since it consumes food unneeded by the consumer and takes that food away from others who actually need it.

It is interesting to compare this to the advice and counsel we have received for feeding ourselves spiritually. The general forms of spiritual nourishment are fasting, prayer, scripture study and pondering/contemplation. The counsel is and always has been to fast at least monthly (and more often whenever necessary), pray at least morning and night and at various other times when appropriate (and keep a prayer in the heart always), read the scriptures at least daily, and ponder/contemplate the things of God always. This creates a situation in which you are fed spiritually continually, where there is some form of spiritual nourishment occurring at the very moment it is needed. There is no feasting and famine - no "extreme diet" - no binging and purging - just a steady stream of nourishment that maintains an optimum state of spiritual health.

There also is no gluttony in this approach, as the constant and daily aspects of spiritual nourishment should be undertaken within the context of our other responsibilities of life. Caring for our families includes time in "occupational" pursuits (outside of or inside the home) and recreational activities; we set aside time for the development of talents; we engage in the service of others; etc. This allows us to "burn away" our excess spiritual energy, tone and strengthen our spirits, and create a properly balanced soul.

I have seen the effects of spiritual gluttony in the lives of some people I love deeply - people I know are good, caring, loving, spiritual individuals. They are good people at heart, but the inordinate amount of time they spend involved in individual spiritual activities reduces the amount of time they have available to spend with family and friends, thus reducing the amount of "spiritual energy and nourishment" they are able to "burn away" to provide spiritual light and heat and nourishment and energy for others. Just as with physical gluttony, it removes spiritual nutrition from others, lessening their opportunity for spiritual nourishment. In some cases, it leads those they love the most to assume that they are not loved as much as the pursuit of spiritual nourishment - creating, in one example I have seen, the impression that dead people (temple work) are more important than live people (family and friends and neighbors).

It is important as we hunger and thirst after righteousness that we do so in a proper manner - feeding our spirits like we should feed our physical bodies - creating real balance in the nourishment of our soul.

My next post will be about the implications of hungering and thirsting after "righteousness" (as opposed to "spirituality") and how that pursuit leads to being filled with the Holy Ghost.


Anonymous said...

Great thoughts- thank you. For many, we "naturally" understand the physical cravings for food and drink, and it is easy (usually) to satisfy those needs.

Perhaps in part because of a preoccupation with physical needs but also for various other reasons, I believe we often overlook our spirit's needs.

I hope this isn't too much of a threadjack, but do you believe that a primary purpose of this life is to learn to subdue physical appetites? If so, I wonder if this is best accomplished by focusing on "feeding" and strengthening the spirit as you have described instead of monk-like denial of physical needs ("monk" probably isn't the right word here; I do not mean to offend but I think you know what I'm trying to convey).

I did notice this scripture was cited during conference by three different speakers: 1 Cor. 2:14- But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

I love you comment about spiritual gluttony- I had never thought of it in that way. Obtaining the proper balance in all things is one of life's great challenges, in my opinion.

Papa D said...

Jim, you asked: "Do you believe that a primary purpose of this life is to learn to subdue physical appetites?"

No, I don't - but what I believe is a similar in some ways to that. I believe "subduing physical appetites" is a remnant of the gnostic influence on the early church - when original sin and the disembodiment of the Father and the Son was established as doctrine. I think it is wrong, specifically because it categorizes physicality as evil - which led to the terrible view of sex as bad, for example.

I believe that one of our central goals is to learn to handle / live with eternal law in such a way that we eventually can function as Gods, using those laws to become creators in our own spheres. A huge part of that is self-control, but it is not a "body v. spirit" **battle**, imo. I see it more as a process of balance, since I see this body (at least as a type) as a vital part of our eternal growth.

Read my post on "Rethinking Repentance" - or "A Fresh View of Repentance". (Can't remember right now which title I used in the end.) The specifics are a bit different, but the basic concept of changing our perspective by rejecting apostate conclusions is similar.)

Not sure if that answered the question, so fire away with any other clarifying questions.

Anonymous said...

Ray, I appreciate your comments. I've been kicking around some ideas in my head, and at the risk of revealing ignorance (if I haven't done that already), I'll ask your thoughts: what is the relationship between conversion (or having a change of heart, being born again, submitting our will, etc.) to seeking to develop meekness, hungering and thirsting after righteosness, etc.? Are they all the same, or does one proceed the other?

On one hand, it seems like the Christlike attributes that we strive for would be natural by- products of the process of conversion: as I become fully converted, I will naturally hunger and thirst after righteousness. The reverse is also true: as I hunger and thirst after righteousness, I become converted. So, are these really just different ways of expressing the same process?

Papa D said...

Great questions, Jim. I'll try to tackle them one at a time - edited a bit to tackle each broad subject.

1) The nature of conversion

I see "conversion" as the active application of repentance - since each of those terms, in its pure meaning, describes a change. "Conversion" is the *process of action* that occurs when one is "repentant". So, "to convert" means "to repent" - which both mean "to change".

A "convert" is someone who has changed - who has exhibited by his actions the reality of his repentance. "Repentance" is the inward drive that fuels "conversion". The "change of (repentant) heart" leads to an actual change in action - which leads to the "natural man" becoming "a new man in Christ".

The real measure of repentance and conversion is whether the actions produced are true "fruits of the vine" (the things that He wants us to do) or just "the works of man" (what we want to do). If they are "fruits", we have been and continually are changed in our very character - and we will have an eternal reward; if they just are "works", we "have our (earthly) reward".

2) The process

There is a change that can occur when one obeys the commandments, but the mere performance of actions (even good ones) doesn't lead automatically to conversion. If it did, the ancient Israelites would have been fine with only the Law of Moses. **Even more instructive is that simple obedience to law was the cornerstone of Lucifer's plan in the pre-existence.** Think about it: He thought that "never making a mistake" was the ideal - which translates into "strict obedience". The key isn't what you do, but why you do it, because ...

It's not about what you do; it's about what you become. That's why I am focused this year not on "doing things" but rather "becoming more ..." - or "acquiring and deepening divine characteristics" - and letting the actions come as a direct result of my effort to "be more Christ-like".

It's a fine line, perhaps, but I think it's an important line. One says, "I can work my way to conversion" - which is very egocentric; the other says, "Please help me find opportunities to become more like Thee, so I will be able to know and do Thy will" - which is very humble (poor in spirit) and meek.

I'm thinking of writing a post with this basic theme - that should have appeared chronologically between the first ones on grace and the first ones on perfection. Thanks for the chance to give the outline a dry run here.

Papa D said...

Jim, I forgot to add one thing:

"Being born again" is the INITIAL act of a deep desire to change - to repent - to become converted. Just as physical birth is not adulthood, but rather the first step toward adulthood, "being born again" marks a "turning point" - the transition between being "carnally minded" and "spiritually minded" - the moment when one turns from / discards the natural man and turns toward / begins discipleship.

Baptism is the outward symbol of the inward change of heart - the manifestation of the motivation. One can (should) be "born again" without (before) being baptized, since the inward change of heart should precede the outward manifestation - which is why the promptings of the Spirit lead to an acceptance of baptism, which leads to the bestowal of the *Gift* of the Holy Ghost, which leads to the right to recognize needed areas of change, which leads to full repentance / conversion, which changes the very nature of our souls, which eventually makes us truly Christlike and "perfectly whole, complete, finished".