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Friday, July 27, 2007

Sense in the senses

One of the most gruesome sights I can recall on TV (of a non violent nature) was of a speed eating contest. Donut after donut after donut, it never seemed to stop; bulging cheeks, inflated bellies, an obscenity of excess. This got me thinking about sensory overload, the gluttony of the overwhelmed senses. There is seemingly just no getting away from this assault on our inner life. The background noise that makes us fearful of silence, the visual drenching that leaves us blind, the adrenaline rush that demands attention but offers only diminishing returns.

Two things tend to happen at this point. Some switch off entirely and, stupefied, retreat into a frightened corner. Others, more wise, guard the senses and seek a place of retreat where the “is-ness” of things and God himself can be allowed to room to breathe in our souls. Here we can savour creation and God; we can truly “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Not overwhelmed by our passions we can attend to God and truly enjoy both Him and His world. I suppose it’s the spiritual equivalent of “chew your food” and the rationale of fasting. A piece of fruit that is eaten in a leisurely attentive fashion satisfies much more than a voracious and tasteless swallowing and gulping. In the former food is encounter, in the latter, food merely fuel.

Consider the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist and how much care and reverence attends the feast. We do not take Christ lightly, we prepare, we wait expectantly, we greet Him, we receive Him lovingly. In his great book “For the Life of the World” Fr. Alexander Schmemann reminds us what a holy event eating is and should be. This touches upon not only Holy Communion but any good thing that we consume. It is that fatal separation of the physical and the spiritual that lies behind our peculiarly western sickness; the deadening idea that nothing common is holy. Left to our passions and our own devices in a God-erased world, that which is truly good turns to sickening dust and ashes in our mouths.

How then can we regain our senses unless we first train them? We cannot. We must, particularly as Orthodox Christians, exercise restraint in order to appreciate God, each other and the good things He has given us. We must give him thanks before, during and after we consume and measure what we want by what we need. If not, we shall not only finally destroy ourselves but also the very planet that we live on. We must once again in Christ become priests and not destroyers of creation.

The time is short. Even as we live so shall we die and dying well, that is to ourselves, so shall we live forever in God the Giver of all good things. Glory be to Him for all his many and excellent gifts! Savour them well.


Anonymous said...

I remember having to read that comment by Fr Schmemann many, many times: I just couldn't understand it. How can simply eating be holy? Communion, yes, but eating? Thanks be to God the fog lifted after 20 or so reads...I'm a thick one.

Thank you for the reminder Father. It is a constant struggle and one I all too easily give up on without a battle. Christianity, Orthodoxy, is so hard at times: it demands so much. But God gives back far more. May I remember this. Your prayers please; you have mine.

Father Gregory said...

The struggle is hard for all of us but the gains immense. We shall pray for each other, and, by the grace of God, "meet merrily in heaven."

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