By Rick Berube
CSS Associate Chaplain
My young granddaughters may have glimpsed the point made in the animated movie The Lion King when the ruler of all animals explains to the young cub that “We are more than we are… we are one,” but after all these years of life, their grandfather still only occasionally awakens to the beautiful wonder of this interconnectedness.
A friend from way back was able to grasp this understanding early on in his years. Aware of the soothing and healing effects of this mindfulness, he is inspired to move through life with much courage and grace, repeatedly reclaiming a balance in his life.
An artist living under the labels of various psychiatric disturbances, he is gifted with the ability to pull many things within his environments into their oneness – whether socially interacting with family members or friends, walking quietly in a nature reserve, or bumping into people on a busy street. It is as if he sees, hears, and feels things as mere extensions of himself, understanding that he is a small part of the larger reality that surrounds him.
Tying into a coherent conversation with this complex soul can stretch my attentiveness at times, but it is quite rewarding to be ushered into his world. Constantly shaken by the twists and turns of a complicated life, he is forever thankful to the Spirit, who inspires him to constantly return to that bigger picture, that power greater than himself that draws him in. In those moments, he remembers that he is greater than just himself. He knows that he is one with an integrating, healing and merciful God, and one with all of creation.
So what does this have to do with feeding the hungry? Well, the need is there for us to look beyond ourselves and to draw on that sense of oneness if we are to understand and attend to the call to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in our midst – the first of which is to feed the hungry.
I was not around during The Great Depression of the 1930s, but I learned that in these Dirty Thirties (exacerbated by local droughts) many Albertan families were left in desperation and hunger.
While I may have flirted with minor desperation on occasion through the years, I have never known physical hunger as such. Along with my peers from most families in the village community where I grew up, my needs for food and sustenance were always met quite adequately. Sure, we heard about the poor and the hungry. We listened to songs, read stories, and saw movies about them. Our teachers and parents told us stories of the suffering poor during that Depression, and visiting Missionary priests from Africa and Central/South America told our school about their encounters with people sometimes dying from hunger. We could only try to imagine their lot in life, and suffering poor mostly remained a concept – a removed, distant, and hidden reality that we thought did not really touch us.
Every year, especially during this season of Lent, we are invited by the Church to become especially mindful of those who suffer from hunger and other manifestations of true poverty in our world – and it is suggested that we abstain from certain conveniences as a possible means to that awareness. Believers are invited to occasionally fast, and in doing so to consciously make the link between those acts of self-denial and the plight of the poor; we can thus be inspired to tend to the hungry, to pray for them, to offer assistance, to offer mercy.
It is not easy for us to imagine how in a society of such abundance, we might attend to the hungry, as we seem to have made great progress in reducing world hunger. Still today, 795 million people – one in nine – go to bed on an empty stomach each night, and even more – one in three – suffer from some form of malnutrition. Even if they are mostly hidden from our sight, we know these people exist in our inner cities (food banks are busier than ever), in our northern communities, and in developing countries. Fasting and trying to grasp that we are one with all the people of our global village is a primary principle behind the practices of Lenten fasting as we seek to expand our awareness, and move beyond our individualism, our compassion fatigue, and our prejudices and judgements regarding the less fortunate.
My honourable friend who acknowledges his psychosis as both a burden and a blessing convincingly affirms that opening up to the realities and needs of others is always rewarded with a sense of joy and soul healing. Self-denial and an awakened mindfulness, perhaps puzzlingly, become the assurance of God’s Mercy towards us.
“We are more than we are… we are One.”