Better than Sin
I love baked goods; that’s no secret. I love them, but I can’t live on them alone. I mean, if I were starving and all there was to eat was an endless supply of say, cupcakes, then, of course, I’ll survive. I think I dreamt that once. It was a good dream.
But given the choice (and that’s the operative word here) I’ll have my brussels sprouts and my lean proteins and then once in a while when I’m feeling particularly inclined, I’ll have my cupcakes and I’ll eat ’em too.
Food isn’t sin; eating isn’t sin but how we place these things in our lives, how much power or sway, can border that. This is why when I have my cupcakes I eat ’em too. I love them, but I don’t loooooooove them. That’s just me.
I’m thinking about this today because we’re on the verge of the Nativity Fast and because I’ve been struggling through enjoying reading the Philokalia for a while now. I’m not sure St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain was quite thinking about tasty sweet baked treats when he crafted together the work in the Philokalia, but I like to think he’d be okay with it on some level.
When I do the deep reading like this I confess it occurs to me that this whole “living well” thing is too hard for normal people like myself. How can living as though there are eternal things possibly compete with what feels good, what looks good, what tastes good in the moment? I read the words in the Philokalia, these operating instructions for living as an Orthodox Christian and I just think, “how can it really be better than sin because you know, sin feels awfully good in the moment.”
No, really. I do think that. I mean I don’t act on it because deep inside of this blurry nous I do get it. I do believe that sin isn’t better but you know, it’s a hard sell in a world like ours. Let’s just admit that. Worldly things have a lot of marketing dollars.
Lest you think that I’m going to jump to comparing cupcakes to sin I’m going to disappoint you. Cupcakes feel good, they look good, and they taste good, and sometimes they are good, but they are not sin, and this is the point here. I’m not on a desert island with only cupcakes to eat; I have choices. The choices I make are driven by a variety of things. Knowing my motivations goes a long way in understanding myself, my desire for the consumption of said cupcakes and the inclination to, in times of stress, eat too many damn cupcakes.
But the cupcake isn’t the thing. For me, identifying the sin is kind of a big deal. If I mistake the thing for the sin then I’m in real trouble. I might cut out the cupcakes and just transfer that behavior to something else because it’s easy and because I’m looking at the wrong set of operating instructions.
This is a forest through the trees moment, a cupcake through the pastry shop moment. And this brings me then to gluttony, the deeper understanding of it. The word, gluttony is derived from the Latin word, gluttire meaning “to gulp down or swallow, an over-indulgence and over-consumption of food, drink, or wealth items to the point of extravagance or waste.” So I ask myself as I read the wise words in the Philokalia each morning– if it isn’t the cupcakes, what is it that I need to put down, put aside, bring back in line so that I can live well, so that I begin to believe again the truth of the matter– that being in right relationship with God is better than sin– feels better, tastes better, breathes better.
Most mornings I don’t have an answer for this. Most mornings I walk away leaning a bit more slightly toward the conviction but still sorely tempted to throw it aside in favor of something easier, trendier, faster or more expedient. I do all of this in an attempt to circumvent the fear that feeds the deficiency I feel– I’m not good enough. I don’t have enough time. I’m not making progress. I need something to fix me, and I need it right now.
Cupcakes are at hand, brussels sprouts are probably better. If I take a beat and remember the design, the operating instructions, the promise that being well is more than a moment of satisfaction then perhaps I’ll put that cupcake down, not in defeat or deprivation but in the confidence that there will be another cupcake in my future. It’s that kind of trust that I’m working toward as we move into the Nativity Fast.
I am, however, going to eat a cupcake this week to tide myself over. Full disclosure.