26 October, 2008


I just happened to look through some old journal entries from when I was at L'Abri in March, and was reminded of a thought I wanted to explore. After one long lunchtime discussion I wrote this:

"At lunch we talked a lot about hospitality, enjoyment/pleasure (food, art, etc.), gratitude...One thought that came to me as a result of our discussion was this: perhaps GRATITUDE is what keeps ENJOYMENT from becoming GLUTTONY. I shall have to develop/unpack that later I think."

Obviously I forgot to do so! Honestly I'm not quite sure exactly how to go about "developing" this, but I'll have a go at it. I'd love to know what anyone who reads this thinks, too.

We take enjoyment from the pleasures of the created world. We take pleasure in beautiful music, beautiful art, well-made and delicious-tasting food, beautiful and comfortable environments. I don't think that this basic pleasure is, in and of itself, a bad thing. As Francis Schaeffer pointed out, God ordered the Israelites to decorate the temple with colorful images of fruit and other motifs; these didn't seem to serve a purpose aside from being beautiful, decorative, and pleasing to Him!

We do know, however, that this pleasure can be abused and taken to the extreme of gluttony. Paul warns of those whose gods are their bellies. St. Thomas Aquinas considered gluttony to be committed when one ate too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily, or wildly. Any and all of these attitudes toward eating (or, for that matter, using any of the pleasing gifts we have been given) would indicate a lack of discipline or reason, an unclear understanding of what food is and how it is to be used. If you eat too much, you are listening only to the urges of your appetite when it may not be wise or healthy to do so. If you eat wildly (which I assume means hastily), you are not taking any time to think about where the food has come from, acknowledging the person who made it, paying attention to what flavors and ingredients have been creatively combined to please and nourish you. Your actions are not grateful.

So is gratitude the attitude that saves us from falling into gluttony? Does approaching food (or art, or music, or fill in the blank) with a humble heart that says, "This has been given to me for my good; I don't deserve it, and I could just as easily not have been given it," help us pay attention to it as we partake of it? And does it cause us to go slowly, stopping before we go over the edge of gluttony? I know, for instance, that I need to stop after two, maybe three drinks. To have more than that would inhibit my judgment, true; but more than that, it would render me unable to actually discern and enjoy the quality of the drink. Andy Crouch's thoughts on "The Pleasures and Perils of Fermentation" left a huge impact on me. I like how he put it:
"If we have any sense we’ll save our precious discretionary dollars for what is best—the best beer, the best wine, the best whiskey, so we will not drink often but we will drink well. We will drink from glasses that bear witness to culture at its best, to the long history of grapes and barley and wheat, to the lingering taste of soil and water and barrels and air. Jesus is the life of the party. He saves the best wine for last. Why would we get drunk, get to the point where we can’t recognize the best wine when it arrives?" This expresses gratitude; an understanding that food and drink are pleasures given by Jesus, and that they were not meant to be assembled and consumed in mindless haste. We are indebted to Him for them, and we owe Him our faithfulness in using them responsibly. Thus the way we consume is an act of gratitude and stewardship.

This is such a basic, cursory ramble, but I'm too tired to try taking it farther tonight :) ...But what do you think?