Wednesday, 2 October 2013
Forgetting Myself at the Feast
It was date night after a particularly demanding week. My husband suggested we try the pseudo-British pub across the street from my work. Too tired to care and to hungry to think, I was glad he made the decision. We placed our order and then began to download our weeks with each other. It was messy. Projects mingled with problems, conversations mixed with complaints. We didn’t try to sort it out, we just dumped. It was also personal. My take on my week. His take on his.
Then our food arrived. I had to take this picture–the bacon laced burger demanded it. The onion rings sizzled it. Our conversation changed, “These are so good!” “Here, try this,” my husband stuffed a garlic french fry into my already full mouth. For a brief while we forgot ourselves, reveling in the feast, praising the cook, sharing the goodness that filled our plates.
Bring yourself. Lose yourself.
When I talk about hunger on this blog, I insist on talking about our feelings. Hunger is messy, much like our feelings. We don’t always know what we’re hungry for. Food preferences may reflect our upbringing. Cravings may indicate a nutritional deficit, though I’m not sure what that says about my craving for chocolate cake.
The same is true about spiritual hunger. It’s messy. The swirl of emotions, longings, hopes, fears, dreams, and hurts can be hard to articulate, much less sort and answer. That’s why I believe the best thing to do with our hunger is to bring it to the right place, to God in his word. To paraphrase David Powlison, in his forward to A Praying Life, feasting on Christ means “bringing my real life to the real God.”
So much for hunger. But when I talk about feasting, it’s time for my feelings to take a back seat. That’s because while my feelings are real to me, the feast is just plain real. When I come to God’s word, the feast that is spread before me is God himself, his character, his words, his actions, his promises, revealed in the person and work of his Son. A solid meal is laid out for me in the Scriptures. I lose myself in order to focus on him.
Eugene Peterson wrote about God’s people in prayer, but his words can be applied to Bible study:
They took the trouble to find out what was revealed, to observe closely, to understand responsibly, to use their heads…their souls were mostly murky. But they went to their knees in a pool of light…prayers conditioned by God’s word, not by the soul’s moods.
How am I doing at feasting?
I’m saying this because I know our tendency to subjectivity. Our individualistic, me-centered thinking is absorbed from our culture, including our church culture. We hear a phrase like “feasting on Christ” and immediately we ask, “How am I doing at feasting?” Our attention naturally turns inward, on ourselves. This is more than cultural, it’s a primary characteristic of our fallen condition, a condition we continue to experience even after we’ve become Christians. But the point of the feast is Christ, not us. I don’t need to worry about how I’m feasting. He has given me a blessed opportunity to turn my attention to him.
Still we may ask, “Do I feel God (or Jesus) today?” Because we use the word “God” in the same sentence with “I”, we think we’re being God-centered. But the subject is still me, and the subjective is still ruling my thoughts. At this point how I feel isn’t critical, what I believe is. The goal of feasting isn’t feeling, it’s receiving.
When feasting is hard work
Now this doesn’t mean feasting is always easy. It can be hard work:
- to tear ourselves away from the daily grind of problems and performance.
- to tear ourselves away from the inner turmoil of competing voices.
- to see Jesus in the text before us.
- to taste grace.
- to hear good news.
Even when we see the feast, we might not like what we see. We may have to wrestle to receive it. We may want to argue with God. We may need to fight to believe the truth we’ve seen. But we don’t need to force our feelings. Feasting isn’t wrestling to feel, it’s wrestling to trust.
So come to the feast and forget yourself. Believe and receive. Join
…those…who have tasted the goodness of the word of God…Hebrews 6:5