Posted by: smstrouse | August 12, 2018

Bread of Life for the Hungry Heart

900_Viktor-Hertz_Hungry-heart-1Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart

When I was a little girl, I’d sometimes go into the kitchen and say, “Mommy, I’m hungry.”
My mother would say, “What are you hungry for?”
I’d say, “I don’t know.”
She would then go through a list of possible snacks.
“Do you want some cheese?”   “No.”
“Do you want an apple?”   “No.”   
“How about some orange slices?”    “No”
“A bowl of cereal?”   No.”
Finally she’d say, “I don’t think you’re really hungry.”

She was undoubtedly right. I was probably bored or in need of attention other than the food kind. I think of those times when now, as an adult, I will wander into the kitchen in search of – something. Have you ever opened the refrigerator door and just stand there looking? The fridge might be filled with all kinds of good stuff, but there’s nothing that appeals to you. So you start looking in cupboards, and maybe find a cookie or a couple of crackers. But somehow, even these are not satisfying. Sometimes hunger isn’t about food.

One of our great modern-day theologians, Bruce Springsteen, put it like this:
Everybody’s got a hungry heart; Everybody’s got a hungry heart.
Lay down your money and you play your part; Everybody’s got a hungry heart.

It’s All About Food for the Soul
This hunger is what the writer of John’s gospel is getting at in his long chapter, in which he portrays Jesus going on and on and on about being the Bread of Life. In last week’s reading, Jesus made it clear that he wasn’t talking about physical food – although make no mistake about it, physical food is important, but that’s another part of the gospel and a different sermon. This Bread of Life series is all about the hunger in our souls. When one eats to satisfy physical hunger, the satisfaction is never permanent. Only the bread of God that gives life to the world will ultimately satisfy the deepest hunger.51dGKNZ7YnL._AC_US218_

We might also call this hunger ‘longing.’ Another contemporary theologian, actually a Sufi teacher, has written: “The soul’s longing is a universal theme. The innate longing to unify with the Divine . . . reaches out towards the eternal. Such longing opens our hearts towards a greater understanding of our beings, our lives, our souls, and the Divine that embraces all that exists.”

And lest you think this is just a recent discovery, St. Augustine wrote in the 4thcentury: “O God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” 

How the Church Got It Wrong
This hunger is a universal theme, not restricted to any age, place, or any one religion. It’s a longing expressed by those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious” or by those who would never even use the word spiritual, yet who seek for something that gives meaning to their lives, that feeds their hunger for community, for purpose, for something bigger than themselves. Unfortunately, the Church hasn’t always been very good at conveying the message that John tried to hammer into us: there is Divine food, Bread of Life, enough for everyone, with lots even left over.

Well, it’s not surprising. John says that even Jesus had a hard time convincing people. They could only see a local kid, Mary and Joseph’s son. Who did he think he was, talking about bread from heaven? Who he was was a thoroughly spirit-imbued teacher who was so completely connected to the Divine within him that he could envision all people living so closely and intimately within the heart of God. He longed for his friends and followers to feed off of his example and open their hearts to the Divine Presence.

Unfortunately what happened was that Christianity became codified, written into creeds and doctrines that made faith a matter of believing a set of assertions put forth by the winners of the great theological debates of the 4thcentury. Maybe even more unfortunately, John’s gospel has often been used in the service of a kind of Christianity that turned the great “I Am” sayings into a way of excluding those who don’t believe in the same way, creating barriers between those who are in and those who are out.

Hooray for the Mystics!
But throughout the ages there have always been those who have seen things in a Hildegard of Bingendifferent light. Thankfully, in recent years there’s been renewed interest in the experiences and writings of mystics, who were all too often were ostracized and even punished for their trouble: from St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi, the German mystics, such as Hildegard of Bingen and Johannes Tauler (who had a profound influence on Martin Luther), to contemporary thinkers, like Brother Wayne Teasdale, author of The Mystic Heart. Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong even nails it in the title of his recent book – The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic.

But it was theologian Henri Nouwen who said that we’re all called to be mystics. Now you might be thinking that that’s going too far. But hear me out. I know that for many people, when they hear mysticism, they immediately think of heavenly apparitions, visions, and other woo-woo behaviors. But what if we said that mystics are those who have “a learned capacity to recognize God within themselves, in others, and in all things.” (Fr. Richard Rohr, What the Mystics Know)?  “The mystic is anybody who finds union with God in real life — in the bread and wine of Communion, in moments of creativity or in flashes of awe-filled wonder, in the overwhelming love that carries us beyond ourselves into the source of all life. We might say that every experience of grace is a mystical experience.” (Mary M. McGlone, Do You Love Me)

So in these “I Am” sayings: the Good Shepherd, the Gate, the Vine, the Way, Truth, Life, Light of the World, Bread of Life – you might imagine the Presence of God reaching out for you. In Jesus, we can see the embodiment of this Presence, beckoning to us, longing for us to come into that Presence, to go more deeply into a way of being that is, in actuality, the fulfillment of what humanity is meant to be. That’s what Jesus is talking about. He’s not telling the disciples to obey rules, he’s inviting them to share his heart.

You Might Be a Mystic If . . .
Last Sunday I invited you to be on the lookout throughout the week for ways that you sensed that God was trying to feed you with food that gives life. Perhaps, as you reflect on some of those moments of insight, you might also recognize – in light of Fr. Rohr’s definition – that you’ve had a mystical experience. 

Another criticism of mystics is that they are otherworldly, totally unconcerned with earthly matters. But that also is a misconception. I quoted a Sufi teacher earlier. Her name is Dr. Nahid Angha and I do meditation with a student of hers. You may or may not know that Sufism is the mystical tradition of Islam (at this level of religion, there is a great deal of common wisdom). The evening after the election in 2016, I was scheduled to go to meditation. To be honest, I was depressed and didn’t feel like going anywhere. But I did decide to go. Sufi meditation is all about connecting with the Divine within your heart. And I spent about 40 minutes in silence, sometimes struggling to feel any connection at all, sometimes feeling an overwhelming Presence. At the end of the meditation, I felt a profound peace that I wouldn’t have thought possible that day.

We then talked about how, as people of faith, we deal with the heartbreaks and injustices of the world. The wisdom of that evening, which I’ve lived by ever since, is that when we connect with the Divine Presence in our hearts, we are infinitely more capable of doing the work we need to do in the world.

What Drives You?
Another important learning was that even the times that my mind is distracted, when I can’t feel the connection – it’s of value to simply recognize the longing. And this made me think of a psychological test I took years ago. The purpose of the test was to determine what your drivers are, what motivates you and influence your thinking, feeling and behavior. Basically, they’re the internalized demands and expectations of the authority figures in our lives. They’ve become such an integral part of our being, we don’t usually even recognize them for what they are. 
There are different versions of the list of drivers, but the one I remember has five:

  • Be Strong
  • Be Perfect
  • Please Others
  • Hurry Up
  • Try Hard                      

Now there are plusses and minuses to these drivers. And self-awareness is key to emo-tional health. But I was thinking also that these drivers also represent ways that we want to be fed. If my driver is to please others, I hunger for love, acceptance, validation. If my driver is to be strong, I long for autonomy and control over my environemnt. If my driver is to be perfect, I am restless when I make a mistake or can’t live up to the expectations of myself or others. 

imagesAnd if one (or more) of those is my driving motivation, my deepest hunger, then I’m really in need of life-giving food. Another thought came to me as I wrote this, of the acronym H.A.L.T., which stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. It’s a check-in tool used by people with dependency or addiction issues as a way to avoid relapse. But you don’t have to have a drug or alcohol problem to need HALT. All you have to do is ask yourself: what is my deepest hunger? What have I tried to do to feed that longing?

We all do something. If I’m hurt or angry, my drug of choice is a bag of Utz sour cream and onion potato chips. For some people it might be chocolate, alcohol, shopping, a new relationship. None of these bad on their own (well, except maybe the chips). But when used as food to feed our deepest hunger – empty calories. Only Bread of Life, life-giving food – deep connective experiences with the Presence of God – can truly satisfy. That’s what Jesus is talking about in John’s gospel.

Your Invitation
So this week, my invitation to you again is to partake of the mystic sweet Communion of vessels-ministry-the-heart-of-god-lightthis table. And to go out again and pay attention to those moments of creativity, and flashes of awe-filled wonder, to experiences of overwhelming love that carry you beyond yourself into the source of all life. 
Be fed. Take it in. Drink it up. Savor the mystery and the wonder. And don’t worry; there’s plenty more where that came from. There’s enough for you to have your fill and then some to share. You are mystics –like Jesus – deep within the unity of God and with arms stretched out to the world.  Amen

Hungry Heart: a Song by Bruce Springsteen print by Viktor Hertz

John 6:35, 41-51
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever be hungry; no one who believes in me will be thirsty.”

The Temple authorities started to grumble in protest because Jesus claimed, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They kept saying, “Isn’t this Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph? Don’t we know his father and mother?  How can he claim to have come down from heaven?”
“Stop your grumbling,” Jesus told them. “No one can come to me unless drawn by Abba God who sent me – and those I will raise up on the last day.  It is written in the prophets,
‘They will all be taught by God.’

Everyone who has heard God’s word
 and has learned from it  comes to me. Not that anyone has seen Abba God –  only the one who is from God  has seen Abba God.
The truth of the matter is, those who believe have eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, but they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, and if you eat it you will never die. I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live.









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