Recently, a number of us made our way down to Flagler Beach in Florida. We walked on the beach, some swam in the ocean, all experienced the drama of a thunderstorm dancing across the night sky above the Atlantic, we talked, we laughed. The time away together was refreshing and renewing. Even running out of gas on the way back couldn’t dampen our spirits (long story — perhaps for the telling in a future Brief Thoughts).
As happens on such outings, there was quite a bit of energy expended surrounding the subject of food. One of us planned the menu, a couple of us gathered groceries, and one of our rooms became the gathering place for meals. Humans know quite well our need for physical food — we spend a great deal of time planning, shopping, preparing then consuming it. On the trip though, I found myself wondering about our need for spiritual food. It isn’t the first time I’ve wondered about this subject. We are very aware of what happens when we go without physical food. What happens when we go without spiritual food?
Early on in my adult life, I worked for a private philanthropic foundation. One of my job duties was to review the many proposals submitted for funding to make sure all the needed information was included in them. I vividly remember an instance when in my left hand I held a request for funding to provide meals to migrant children arriving at our Texas border and, in my right hand, a request for funding to provide theater tickets to inner city children who had never been exposed to the arts. Thinking of those children who had traveled through dangerous circumstances without food and only limited water was visceral. Of course, their hunger was an immediate, tangible need. It was urgent.
I attended the quarterly meetings where board members of the foundation made decisions regarding which proposals they would fund and which they would not fund. Sometimes I was asked for my opinion. The chair of the board was a mentor of sorts to me. He picked up these two proposals, one in his left and one in his right, looked straight at me and asked me what I thought. I am not sure if what I shared surprised him, but it surprised me. My response was that as a child from a poor family I had known physical hunger, but nothing like the hunger the children at the border faced. But I did know what it felt like to have a very empty stomach and how the lack of food made my eyes dull. In my mind’s eye, I could see the dullness of those children’s eyes and it broke my heart. I didn’t stop there though, but went on to share that there was another hunger I had experienced. It was less tangible and therefore, more difficult to explain. It was the lack of stories, of color, of beauty, of music, and of books. I spoke of the first time I was taken to the theater. The dull pain of physical hunger must be satiated, but there is also the dull pain of spiritual hunger that needs food as well. Seeing my first play — a light came on in my eyes. They were no longer dull but bright.
Both proposals received funding.
Mother Teresa said that the greatest poverty she ever encountered was in the United States — it was our spiritual poverty to which she referred. At Koinonia, we work to feed the physical and spiritual hunger. Many times we can do both at the same time. At our communal meals, we sit around the table together and welcome all to join us. While we eat the food and share with anyone who is physically hungry, we also fellowship, talk, laugh, and sometimes simply sit in companionable silence. This feeds the spiritual hunger — the loneliness and isolation that so often plagues us in this modern world.
We do not have to choose between physical needs and spiritual needs. We can use our limited resources to address both. To remember that humans are body, mind, and soul and to neglect one is to neglect the whole human. This is how we feed the hungry physically and spiritually — by eating together, by praying together, by working and resting together.