Wednesday, August 17, 2011

the blessing and the response

We sit together, he, not quite reaching the table and I, with our bowls full of lunch before us. The three year old reaches for a piece of curly pasta and my hand stops it before it enters his mouth.

"Carter, we always have to pray before we eat."



I feel my theology start to wobble.

"Because God has given us this food. Because not everyone has food like this and we need to tell God we're thankful for it."

It was simple enough for him. He can accept things because-I-say-so, most of the time. My words don't have to earn their authority or be tested for accuracy.

But not so with me, with this wrestling spirit of mine.

(Sometimes) I don't know why we are to thank God for our food.

(Sometimes) I wander along the trail a three year old's questioning might follow. If God has given us this food, and there are hungry children in Africa, then does that mean that God is not giving them food?

I don't stay there for long, though. I've worked through that one before, and phrases like "free will" and "fallen world" have helped me to land in a place I feel is theologically accurate, and simultaneously heartbreaking.

We have food, but that doesn't mean that God favors us over them. 

They don't have food, but that doesn't mean God loves them any less. 

I wrestle with the word blessed because, too often, it's used as a justification to do nothing.

"We are just so blessed"

grates on my over-analytical, hypersensitive, prone-to-guilt nerves

because I can't help but hear, over the cadence of those words,

we are favored, 

we are chosen, and

[we'll never say this aloud] 

we just might deserve this, this food, these blessings. 

Carter and I thank God for our food. And I do believe He is the Giver of all things good.

But when thoughts turn to South Africa and her devastating drought, or to Somolia and her outbreak of cholera,

I refuse to quiet the discomfort with pithy phrases of passivity. My status of plenty and the African mother's status of destitution are merely starting points, one could argue, assigned to us by God. But that's all they are--starting points--and nothing in scripture affirms that I am to use my status of


to justify doing nothing.

We thank God for our food.

And then we pray for Hawi, in Nigeria, that his health improves. Carter prays for Toussant, in Haiti, that God would help her to find her parents. We send them money. And we look at globes and talk of hungry bellies and sharing and the stuff of empathy.

I am humbled when I look at my bowl of pasta.

And I don't feel as much blessed as I do responsible.

What will I do with my plenty? What will I do with my blessings? Can I break away long enough from my love-affair with stuff to hear the quiet whispers of the Spirit,

calling me,

beckoning me,

to gaze into the eyes of my invisible sisters,

to extend my hand, across the wide divide between my plenty and their nothing,

to have faith, to believe that

my pursuit of fashion and materialistic trappings is nothing more than a fleeting mirage

and that these women,

I may never meet them, 

are more real than I know.

Our starting points may be worlds apart indeed,

but before each meal, with the utterance of each simple child's prayer, with each pause between impulse and purchase, and with every effort to not become calloused by the overwhelming need,

may our ending points become closer and closer

until one woman's plenty

and another woman's nothing


and the Giver of good things is praised.

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