Spiritual Gifts: Sustenance

hungry We’re reaching pretty low in Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs again this week with the spiritual gift of sustenance.  Literally, SUSTENANCE deals with necessities that support life:

1a: means of support, maintenance, or subsistence : living
b: food, provisions; also: nourishment
2a: the act of sustaining
b: a supplying or being supplied with the necessaries of life
3: something that gives support, endurance, or strength

Despite how highly evolved as a species we like to think we are, our lizard brains still crave what was scarce early in our evolution—sweets and fats.  Our hypothalamus, pituitary and adrenal glands release chemical messengers commanding our bodies to eat as much as possible of this stuff when we find it and to store the energy for leaner times that are sure to come.

Lean times predominate for many people on this planet we all share.  Some don’t have enough to sustain life.  The number of children under 5 years old dying from malnutrition daily would fill seventeen 747 airplanes.  One airplane crash grabs headlines for weeks.  Teams of experts spare no expense finding the root cause to ensure it never happens again, but plane loads of toddlers  die hungry every day without so much as our notice.  Meanwhile, Americans eat enough extra calories every day to feed an additional 80 million people.  The problem for us in the US is brain chemistry maladapted to lean times that never come.

We can tip the spiritual gift of sustenance out of balance by sins of omission—ignoring others’ or our own needs—and by sins of commission—taking more than we need.  The obvious spiritual discipline of abstinence that counteracts gluttony, to use seven deadly sins language, is fasting.  Perhaps the best all-around spiritual practice for taming the will, fasting especially leads us to recognize our dependence on God.  We learn to see the great abundance set before us, and we can learn respect and moderation concerning all natural desires.  Fasting requires practice for proficiency, however.  A growling stomach, if one is unaccustomed to it, can hijack attention, and we can find ourselves spending every moment of our fast planning what we’ll eat when it’s over.  Many Lent observers abstain from a few favorite foods as more manageable reminders of how abundantly God sustains us.

The spiritual discipline of engagement that brings focus to the gift of sustenance is celebration.  Enjoyment of pleasure in conjunction with faith and confidence in God give us an opportunity to recognize our life and pleasure as gifts to us.  Jesus worked his first miracle at a celebration.  Engaging in celebration as a spiritual discipline is about fully enjoying simple things rather than extravagant consumption at the expense of others.  The point is to have some fun, for God’s sake!

Reaching higher in Maslow’s hierarchy, we have other needs—safety, belonging, love, respect, self-esteem—and God sustains us in many of these ways, too.   For today, though, let’s give thanks for food.

Join the conversation.  How do you balance your need for food with the needs of others?

Copyright 2013 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.