Monday, 18 February 2008

Gluttons to the left of me Gluttons to the right

It is done.
Last night I preached, leading a reflection for the first (and you never know maybe last) time, in the Cathedral. The subject given to me of gluttony has caused much humour to those around me.
I am aware within myself that I never mentioned this to my family (aside from my husband) aware that in facing the fear and doing it anyway that I didn't want to have to be concerned with what others may think with any 'oh how could you, how embarrassing ' etc.
Gluttony is one of those things we notice, we see, we comment on, yet at the same time try to cover up or change in those closest to us.

As the 'big woman' in this generation at least of my family, I have been profoundly aware of the push me-pull you battles in others and indeed myself. Of being out there with people in the world in one respect, and hidden in another. Of my family being proud and supportive of me but also aware of the social stigma as well for them of my size. Speak to most big women (and I suspect men) where you are not surrounded by other big family members and you may well hear the same thing.

Recently I was invited to talk about the culture of size on a popular blog here, I notice I haven't taken up that invitation (sorry Steve) as at the time it seemed all a little too raw. But God has other ideas about us facing issues.

At the time and when I was approached to lead a reflection that later turned out to be on the subject of Gluttony I thought long and hard. Did I want to be one of those preachers who avoided the readings they felt uncomfortable with? Did I want to be that person who was holier than thou, and able to see faults in others whilst ignoring my own?

Of course I did!
I mean come on who wouldn't? It's safe, it's comfortable (momentarily) and yes in the end painfully hypcritical and harmful. So I said yes and I am glad I did. It also worked as a wonderful distraction from the electoral synod that was on at the time.

My reflection came as a part of the evening Choral Service which involved some amasing plainsong. And becasue of the electoral synod there were as far as I could tell, no clergy there.
The congregation was made up of about 180, many toursits drawn in to the Cathedral by the singing.

The supporting readings were

'Do not let yourself be seduced by the delights of the riches of the world, as though they contained something useful on account of vain pleasure. Worldly people esteem the culinary art, but you, through fasting and thanks to cheap food, go beyond their abundance of food. It is written: "He who is sated loathes honey" (Prov. 27.7) . Do not fill yourself with bread and you will not desire wine.' Amma Syncletica (Desert Mother)


As he let the empty gourd fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty. And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do. His reason, or what we commonly take to be reason in our own world, was all in favour of tasting this miracle again. Yet something seemed opposed to this ‘reason’. It is difficult to suppose that this opposition came from desire, for what desire would turn from so much deliciousness? But for whatever cause it appeared to him better not to taste again. Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day. C S Lewis

so here it is my Gluttony Reflection

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight oh Lord my strength and my redeemer.

On hearing that I’d drawn the topic of Gluttony as this evenings reflection two things became clear. The first was that God has a wicked sense of humour, and the second, was that we preach the things we most need to hear ourselves. And I suspect when we address the true meaning of gluttony that there would be very few people around today who hadn’t fallen at one time or another under its spell.

Gluttony’s place within the hierarchy of the 7 deadly sins isn’t simply a warning against overeating. The real power of gluttony is in its ability to invade the space within each of us that we need to be filled with God. The Sabbath space where you and I are called to stop and rest in God.

Gluttony as an attack on the soul, is epidemic in our culture. It is both pervasive and persuasive, manic and enticing. In the reading we heard earlier by CS Lewis we get a sense of just how enticing gluttony can be:

‘As he was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty. And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual, seemed an obvious thing to do. Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity - like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day.

Gluttony represents the addictive patterns, and behaviors, that entangle us daily in a cycle of need and response. Gluttony requires us to swallow whole, without discernment or consequence. It embodies instant short term gratification, that stupefies the brain, and entraps us into a cycle where it becomes more comfortable to fill up, than to empty out,
before God.

Here Sabbath space is abandoned for short term stimulus, be it food, drugs, ideas, religion, tv - what’s going to happen to our Tracey on Coronation Street. Anything when swallowed whole with insatiable need, and without time for true digestion and discernment, has the power to wound our relationship with ourselves, our loved ones, and with God.

By constantly filling up we work to blunt our aching, our need, our yearning,
our hunger for God.

To release the hold of gluttony, is to step into that place between need and response. To claim our disquiet without self-medication, and sit with that unease before the Holy One.
And it is here that we may begin to reclaim our Sabbath space.

The yearning for Sabbath space with God isn’t new.
In the first 600 years after the death of Christ, tens of thousands of men and women left homes, families and communities, to head into the desert in search of God.

The irony (as true then as today) of those who sought to replace worldly distractions and stimulus with, ‘holy distractions and stimulus’ wasn’t lost on the desert fathers and mothers.

A favourite saying of 5th centaury Egyptian, Amma Matrona was:
“We carry ourselves wherever we go and cannot escape temptation by mere flight,”
this 5th Century Desert Mother knew the women who came to her for guidance well. Similarly our reading from Amma Syncletica (in who we find one of the earliest examples of Spiritual Direction and templates for a monastic life) we find a woman who recognized the dangers of both distraction and obsession in those who sought her counsel.

For the novice in the desert, the battle to be released from the compulsive possessiveness of gluttony, was often the first of many, as expressed in this reflection ‘On entering the desert’.

Lord I ache
it feels like I have searched for you so long
and in so many ways
what have I done that I can no longer hear you?
I searched all night till my feet bleed sand,
thought I saw your eyes in the night and imagined,
maybe, just maybe, I had finally done enough to be with you
But it was a sand cat
And when it blinked I was reminded a thousand thousand
times of my presumption.
for my sin
Lord have mercy

Lord I repeated your psalms today
Rolled them one after another off my tongue till my throat ran dry
Then I called your name at the day,
heard my voice bounce of valley walls a hundred times
The silence in between ached
It too, like me craved to hear a word
A sound
A whisper
And that’s how it began
a word
a Psalm
a whisper
But the belly demanded more and I screamed and screamed
But all I heard, was me,
Saying too much
Saying too loud
I cover my mouth
Weak in my will,
Christ have mercy

Lord I begged for food today
when I should embrace the hollow spaces
growing between my ribs,
I fought great battles,
had hunger for dinner,
ate crickets and old fruit
Thought of you and fell down.
If I could just stop the rumbling below
Maybe that which is underneath,
The dark me,
The raging me,
The terrified broken-unacceptable in your sight, Me
may disappear
But instead the wound just aches to be before you.
For that which I have kept hidden
Powerful Lord
Vengeful Lord
Graceful, Loving , Laughing Lord
Have Mercy
have mercy
For just a moment in this magnificent day
May I stop
and feel your mercy

In the invitation to stop and unhand gluttony may we recall this prayer:

Gentle loving God, I desire to be still and know that you are with me and within me.
Grant me the wisdom to allow my soul to be quiet and confident, trusting that you are doing better things for me than I can ask or imagine Amen



Crimson Rambler said...

beautiful work! Thank you for sharing it!

Fringe Dweller said...

Thank you Crimson

It was a good challenge for me. At times such as this a friend of mine reminds me of Mother Teresas comment of 'God never gives us more than we can handle ...I just wish he didn't have so much faith in me"'

Peace to the Prairies