Friday, January 2, 2009

Chapter __: Gluttony

"In general, mankind, since the improvement of cookery,
eats twice as much as nature requires."

--Benjamin Franklin

The belly of a manic-depressive is never full, and as we well know, we experience from time to time and raging and dangerous appetite. This is more the case in mania, where the appetite for experiences especially rages, and we live it out by gobbling up everything put in front of us. The world is our oyster…and it is especially delicious with lots of melted butter and bottomless bottles of red wine to go with it.

The desert fathers saw gluttony as an especially dangerous sin for young monks. According to Abba Serapion in his “Eight Principal Vices” (complimentary to St. John Cassian’s Conferences), there are three kinds of gluttony.

“The first impels a monk to hasten to eat before the fixed and lawful hour. The second is pleased with a full stomach and with devouring any edibles whatsoever. And the third desires more refined and delicate foods. These three entail no small loss for a monk unless he struggles to extricate himself from all of them with equal diligence and care. For just as breaking the fast before the canonical hour is never to be dared, so likewise filling one's stomach and the preparation of costly and choice dishes must be avoided. From these three causes different and very bad states of health of the soul are produced.”

So gluttony in this way is composed of the lack of self-control in eating at a designated hour; eating with voraciousness; and having a rich palate. Thomas Aquinas expanded on this definition of gluttony to include:

* Praepropere - eating too soon;
* Laute - eating too expensively;
* Nimis - eating too much;
* Ardenter - eating too eagerly;
* Studiose - eating too daintily.

So it would seem that gluttony is less about food specifically and more about appetite in general. When Gautama Buddha lived as a prince, he was in want of nothing. But he was not in this way enlightened. As a result he set off into the world, and fell in with some wandering ascetics. He fasted to the point of emaciation, but still enlightenment did not come to him. And so after a long time sitting under the Bodhi tree, he found that neither extremes of excess or want were the way to enlightenment. Food was not the source of suffering, but desire. Eating or not eating is within our control, but the arising of desire is not. The only way to freedom is stepping out of the cycle of samsara and suffering, from the illusion that the satiation of desire will make one happy and content.

Appetite is a natural thing: when we are hungry, we desire to eat. In this way the desert fathers link gluttony to fornication, maintaining that one leads to the next. Fornication, after all, is born out of the appetite for sex, or, at least, for sexual satisfaction or release. Sexual promiscuity is often noted as one of the symptoms of mania. When some people become manic they have a raging desire for sex, and will look to satiate it anywhere and with anyone available. When I was manic, I had an overwhelming sexual energy, but sublimated it into activities—writing, projects, etc. This, of course, was a safety measure. Illicit sex with strangers is murder for the spirit, and I believe it was only through grace that I did not find myself in bed with strangers looking to satiate my appetite with a desire that was insatiable.

Gluttony is only kept in check by self-control, with self-control consisting of the coupling of grace and free will. For the Christian, we are given the power to overcome vice only through grace, which itself comes through the Spirit and belief in Jesus Christ, who conquered all temptation.
Overcoming vice itself falls to our lot. And ike all things that call for perfection, overcoming sin takes practice. Because it goes against our appetite, fasting from sin consists of painful endurance. As St, Paul writes, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” So it is with us.

Curbing appetites in mania can seem like an impossible task. The appetite for experience is like a river which swells in the springtime following the winter thaw. But mania can become our practice field. When you are manic and devouring whatever food, substance, or person is before you, mobilize your will. Slam on the emergency break, and stop yourself. You will feel searing pain and resistance. This is natural. No one grows stronger who does suffer for it; no one perfects anything except through repetition and practice. Consecrate your suffering to God as a holy offering. Know that it is temporary, but that life after death is everlasting. Scream and yell! But check your appetite, and you will find and appreciate how hard it is to fulfill the words of Jesus, “be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” Practice makes perfect.

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

still waiting for a response from my mom, but hey, some good blogs here. Always a joy to read your thoughts.