WE ARE WHAT WE EAT

Deut. 8:7-18
2Cor. 9:6-15
Luke 17:1-19

Friends, what has God not provided us? It is right to give our thanks and praise. But how can we do so with a good conscience? How can I give thanks for the more than enough that I have received when there are so many who suffer serious want? If it is not just words, what does our Thanks-giving mean? Or perhaps the question is, how ought our practice of Thanksgiving shape our lives?

Why do we – and by ‘we’ I mean, I think, the human race – why do we concentrate so much energy on what we do not have, instead of gratitude for what we do have? What is it about human beings, that we are always craving more? . . . Well, isn’t it natural to want to better our lot in life? Isn’t it one of the wonders of being human, that we are able creatively to overcome conditions of weakness or scarcity? Isn’t that creativity in fact the root of civilization – leading us to develop agriculture, alphabets, medicine? Doesn’t the desire to have more than we need set us apart from most animals; providing us the leisure for those pursuits we have historically considered to be essentially human: religion, philosophy, the arts and sciences?

Yes, that’s all true. And yet it seems to me that our constant appetite always for more and for better must have some kind of invisible limit – a tipping point after which unrestrained ingenuity begins to turn against us, begins to work toward destructive rather than constructive ends. “Take care,” the Deuteronomist warns, “take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments . . . Remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth . . . If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods . . . you shall surely perish.” There is a clue to those limits in these words, if we can only take them to heart. God has set “commandments” and “ordinances” – that is, limits even to our creative desire, so that we do not begin to consume ourselves in our hunger for more and more.

I do not watch television very often. But this week at my father’s home on the news we watched the trajectory of Russian missiles, launched from ships on the Caspian Sea, travel overland hundreds of miles, over Iran, over Iraq, finally strike targets in Syria. It was an uncomfortable feeling, sitting with a glass of wine watching as hundreds of lives were, in a blink of an eye, irrevocably changed. It was not a movie. There were real deaths and real bereavement: fathers, mothers, children. Whole buildings vanished with terrible efficiency. All because we are unable to limit our hunger – our appetite for more power, more control, more wealth, more revenge maybe – I don’t know, just more of More; all because we are unable to pause and give thanks to God, because what we have is enough – and more than enough.

Even here, right at home, I can’t understand what we are doing to ourselves. We live in one of the most fecund places on this earth, and we have come to believe it is ours just to eat: we cut down the forests, dig and drill, pave wetlands for big box stores, stuff people into soulless housing developments, everything as cheap as possible to squeeze out every drop of profit . . . Does it have to be this way? We are told that yes, it does have to be this way. It has to be this way in order to ensure that the economy keeps growing. We need more and more and more: more consumer spending, greater productivity, More of everything. Otherwise, terrible things will happen. The economy will stall. People will lose their jobs. They will lose their homes. Our standard of living will shrink. There will be suffering: we will no longer be able to live in the manner to which we have grown accustomed. We cannot let that happen. So above all, we ought not to limit our appetite. The more we eat, the better life will be.

I don’t know. I cannot argue economics with the economists. All I know is that when I watch the forest of Mt Elphinstone near Roberts Creek turned into a barren clear cut, or when I buy groceries at the nearest strip mall, I am confused with anger and grief. I know that though I am like everybody else and I just can’t seem to stop eating, I know I am already full to the point of feeling sick. All I know is, is that the more the world is covered with only human fingerprints – every forest a ‘managed’ forest, every stream a ‘run-of-the-river’ project – I feel increasingly claustrophobic, that there is an all-too-human net tightening, shutting out the fresh air of the Spirit of God . . .

My friends, when is ‘enough’ in fact exactly what we need? When will we stop and give thanks for what we have, instead of looking for the next thing to eat? I cannot argue economics with the economists. In the terms of the world we have constructed, they are in the right. But my soul grieves for a different possibility . . . . “Take heed lest. . . when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses, when your silver and gold is multiplied, when all you have is multiplied, you forget the Lord your God.”

My brothers and sisters, to insist on justice, to hope for beauty, to expect love – it’s so naïve. Naïve as a child. Perhaps that is why Jesus told us we must become like children if we are ever to see the kingdom of heaven. We have been brought into a good land, a land of wheat and barley, flowing with streams, a land in which we have bread without scarcity . . . how ought the practise of Thanksgiving shape our lives? How are to remember the Lord our God? And the limits God has ordained for our appetite?

God has provided us the way: “On the night he freely gave himself to death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples and said, ‘Take, eat: this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” My brothers and sisters, to practise Thanksgiving is the way of Eucharist. That is what the word Eucharist means: “thanksgiving.” Offering to God bread and wine, we offer God our food, our hunger, our life. God blesses our offering and returns it to us, now blessed, charged with His own life, as a means of Communion with him. This Eucharistic practice begins and is fulfilled at the altar, but it must shape our whole life: ‘we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father.’ Thus whenever and wherever we offer up to God – God’s world, God’s people – from what God has given us, we practise Thanksgiving, our lives are shaped by Eucharist. My friends, let us practise this Eucharist together. For love of Christ, let us richly give of the riches we have been given. For to lift up what we have been given, to stop hungering for a moment to acknowledge, ‘this is enough, this is already so much,’ and to break your loaf in thanksgiving and to share it: this is to receive Christ. And when we receive Christ, we have everything, for we possess the whole world. God bless you and your loved ones during this feast of Harvest Thanksgiving.

AMEN

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Published by

Fr. Travis O'Brian

The Rev. Canon Dr. Travis O'Brian holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the 'Higher Institute of Philosophy' at the University of Leuven, Belgium (yes, the very city where Stella Artois is brewed!), where he wrote his dissertation on the work of Søren Kierkegaard. Travis was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. He is married to Jasmin, and they have a family of four children: Tristan, Fiona, Kamilla, and Matthias.

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