February has meant a lot of things at the Boyd house: Valentine’s Day, Mama’s birthday, and our annual Willy Wonka celebration (which happened on a very low-key scale this year). The fruits of this month have included a serious amount of chocolate and some deep thoughts about life, God, and the spirituality of hunger.
We prepared for the month by re-reading Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, much to my delight. Our young daughters soaked up the funny songs and sayings even more this year; we spent a lot of time giggling over “square candies that look round” and “stickjaw for talkative parents.” But, in the evening when all was quiet, I found myself thinking beyond the chocolates.
Dark chocolate with pecans, dried cranberries, and candied ginger.
The remarkable thing about this story is not only that Willy Wonka makes incredible, magical candies, but that he ends up finding Charlie to train as his successor — Charlie, whose whole family is literally starving. The great hunger of Charlie and the need that Wonka has for an heir meet in a really beautiful way.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” — Frederick Buechner
Charlie’s gnawing hunger follows him all day long, and becomes his guide at the moment when he finds the dollar bill in the gutter. “It meant one thing to him at that moment, only one thing. It meant FOOD.” (pg. 42) In a very practical light, Charlie’s decision to take a dime (and then another) to buy chocolate with that found money is a foolish way to spend it. He could have made a much more cost-effective and nutritious choice. But instead, he follows his hunger, which leads him to a convenience store (overpriced) to buy junk food (garbage for the body). But that is where the magic happens, and it is all because Charlie listened to his hunger.
Am I hungry?
Am I listening?
In the midst of these weeks of feasting on chocolate fondue and chocolate cake and chocolate valentines, I happened to revisit these words of Jesus from Mark 5.6:
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled…
Charlie’s family really knew what it was to be hungry. “The only meals they could afford were bread and margarine for breakfast, boiled potatoes and cabbage for lunch, and cabbage soup for supper.” (pg. 5) At the Boyd house, however, our relationship with hunger can get a little soft. This is true for me particularly in February, when I mostly spend a lot of time waiting to get hungry so that I can eat more birthday cake. But reading Jesus’s words left me wondering:
What it my hunger like?
And what do I hunger for?
Chocolate-covered shortbread cookies.
I try (and often fail) to discipline myself to become hungry for meals — to avoid snacking haphazardly and cultivate hunger. “Appetite is the best sauce,” Jon’s mom often says. Isn’t it amazing how delicious a bowl of steamed broccoli with grated sharp cheddar cheese and salt tastes when you are really hungry? And how unappetizing it is if your belly is full?
When I think about satisfying deep, abiding hunger, I often go back to this beautiful passage from Charlie’s trip down Wonka’s Chocolate River:
Suddenly, Mr. Wonka, who was sitting on Charlie’s other side, reached down into the bottom of the boat, picked up a large mug, dipped it into the river, filled it with chocolate, and handed it to Charlie. “Drink this,” he said. “It’ll do you good! You look starved to death!” …Charlie put the mug to his lips, and as the rich warm creamy chocolate ran down his throat into his empty tummy, his whole body from head to toe began to tingle with pleasure, and a feeling of intense happiness spread over him. (pp. 83-84)
It is because Charlie is so hungry that the chocolate river tastes so good. There are many times — particularly in this month — when the last thing I wanted was a drink from a chocolate river. I have been satiated, not ready for more. It does limit one’s options.
If my belly is full, is my heart overly full as well?
How can I cultivate hunger for the things I really need and where do I go to satisfy that hunger?
Milk chocolate with hazelnuts.
The other Golden Ticket winners exhibit greed and desire, but not hunger. They are satisfied — overly so, in various ways. And yet they reach for more. “I want it now!” shrieks Veruca Salt. Roald Dahl’s book is littered with references to their “fat little hands shooting out to grab” whatever it is they are wishing for. And, of course, it turns out that what they think they want and what they truly want are not the same thing.
Where in my life do I exhibit greed, and how can I cultivate hunger instead?
My favorite chocolate brownies.
Jon and I used to be part of a weekly small group Bible study that consisted of four main elements: worship, Bible study, communion, and “voluptuous snacks.” Snack time was not about a box of Wheat Thins and some packaged squares of cheese. Snacks involved serious effort, and were a joyful opportunity to experiment with new recipes that often oozed with butter or cheese. Or both.
One evening, after a feast of our voluptuous snacks, one of our friends realized that he wasn’t hungry for communion anymore — and that this was a problem. “I don’t want to eat so much at snack time that I’m not hungry for the Lord’s Supper,” he said. There is truth and wisdom here on so many levels.
The joyful intersection of Charlie’s hunger and Willy Wonka’s apprenticeship would not have occurred if Charlie had been satisfied — if he had not been so desperately hungry that he immediately took his found dollar to the local shop for a candy bar.
Is my satisfaction causing me to miss wonderful things?
How can I use physical hunger to remind me of my spiritual hunger?
We’ve been memorizing Psalm 103 around here for a little while. This month, I’ve been particularly thinking about verse 5:
“He satisfies your desires with good things . . .”
I’ve been satisfied with so many celebrations this month. It has been glorious. I am so glad to be 39 years old. We had so much fun making Valentines and little packages of fudge. I thoroughly enjoyed my annual chocolate birthday cake. But now Lent is around the corner, and I think I’m finally ready for a little bit of restraint.
What are my desires?
Can I trust God to satisfy my desires?
I wonder what that will be like.
So, let us plunge ourselves into Lent, trusting that whatever disciplines of restraint or action we engage in, the Holy Spirit will be active, using them to cultivate our hunger for the kingdom and satisfying our desires all at once.
A version of this post was originally published at Ann's blog.