Friday, October 16, 2009

Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness Should Not Lead to Spiritual Gluttony

In revisiting the Beatitudes, I found this post - modified slightly to fit my reflections now:

Hunger and thirst have 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 general compromise is to eat three times daily - and exercise enough to burn the calories we consume when we eat.

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 AND church activities reduces the amount of time they have available to spend with family and friends - and/or serve the needy - and/or develop talents - etc., 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 souls.


Michael said...

Good post but I have two comments:

1) Most Church ACTIVITY cannot be claasifed as spiritual nourishment, and

2) the Prophet Joseph said on more than one ocassion that our GREATEST responsibility in this life is to seek after our dead and perform their work.

Papa D said...

I agree, Michael, on both counts - but I think, in reading the D&C, that it is evident that that statement presupposes a proper balance in focus on one's living family. I view it as a statement about the importance of work for the dead in the pantheon of potential foci - with the foundational assumption that family is receiving first focus. After all, Joseph was chastised along with others more than once for neglecting his family in the performance of his other duties. The idea that NO success can compensate for failure in the home includes, imo, "church success" - and it is through that lens that I view discussions like these.

That really is my central point - the need for a proper balance. Such a balance does not place ANYTHING "above" family, but rather it recognizes the need to craft and construct what I would call a "real life" carved from competing claims on our time - one that is difficult in many ways explicitly because it is tailored by the Spirit to one's own unique circumstances.