I was another weekday, 12pm lunch time at the office, I grab my lunch pack warm my food, wash my hands and go sit down at my desk and enjoy my lunch. This time around I was having some home made peri peri chicken wings made with the kind of love you taste and smell. As I was enjoying the crunchy texture brushing against my pallet and the hot flavor setting my tongue on fire, it reminded me of the Chicken Licken adverts, and all those extremely dry soul food jokes they use. One thing led to another, and somehow I found myself seduced into philosophical reflection about soul food. I suppose nothing evokes such deep thoughts like a Chicken Licken ad about soul food. “Soul food” is that not a fitting and simple description of the deep and profound hungers of our hearts. I couldn’t help but start to think about what really is soul food? What is the hot wings to my soul? What is the food that gives ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment for our souls?
You see that simple meal satisfied and fulfilled the desire that I had for food. This simple fact led me to an interesting and obvious thing about us as humans. The meal I ate was external to me and it satisfied an internal subjective desire that I had. My desire is internal, it is part of my subjective experience however the desire cannot be satisfied by anything within me – the desire requires something beyond it, or external to it to be satisfied. My desire for food lies within me, however nothing within me can meet that desire only food which exists outside of my subjective desire can satisfy it.
This external – internal rule seems to apply to every other desire, even those that increase in complexity and richness and meaning. Such as our desire for love, connection and relationship. We are relational beings. When a baby cries, it stops when the mother picks it up. The baby’s internal desire for security, connection and love is satisfied by the mother. Love is one of our deepest desires and can only be satisfied when we love someone else and are loved in return as well. The satisfaction of our desires seems very much to depend on external objects, and those deep intangible desires such as love and connection require relationships and other persons. It is this observation which leads Kwame Gyeke in his essay, Person and community in African thought, reflecting on personhood to conclude:
“Communitarianism immediately sees the human person as an inherently (intrinsically) communal being, embedded in a context of social relationships and interdependence…It is the necessary relationships which complete the being of the individual person who, prior to entering into those relationships, would not be self-complete…It is evidently true that in the social context, in terms of functioning or flourishing in a human community, the individual person is not self-sufficient: his/her capacities, talents, and dispositions are not adequate for the realization of his/her potential basic needs.”
Blaise Pascal in his Penseès shared the same sentiments when he said,
“Man, for instance, is related to all he knows. He needs a place wherein to abide, time through which to live, motion in order to live, elements to compose him, warmth and food to nourish him, air to breathe. He sees light; he feels bodies; in short, he is in a dependent alliance with everything.”
In every area of our lives we are in an alliance, dependent on objects outside of ourselves. Why is it when it comes to spiritual desires we think the exception is true. In every area of our lives we can see an internal – external relation between our desires and the object able to satisfy us. Why is it when it comes to the spiritual we think that the object able to satisfy our desire lies within ourselves? To pose it another way why would we think that our desire for ultimate meaning and purpose would be satisfied by something from within us? Why think it is something that we ultimately create? Is it not odd that the highest of all desires would be completely different from the other lower desires? Would we not expect that all the lower desires would be clues like bread crumbs leading us to a much deeper truth.
I think when one reflects of human beings the reasonable conclusion to draw is that our biggest desire for meaning and purpose, our spiritual desire must lie outside ourselves. We cannot satisfy our ultimate desire by looking within, but rather looking outside. Secondly our longing and hunger for relationship points us to the fact that our ultimate purpose and meaning is to be found in relationship, with a person – an infinite person.
Why should our spiritual desire though be fulfilled by an infinite- person? If naturalism is true then we are ultimately the chance product of a purely physical process. It means our ultimate desire will be left unsatisfied because whatever object we choose to fulfill it will dehumanize us. We are relational and communitarian beings and in a world where the fundamental reality or object from which all else emerged and stands in relation to is impersonal – we are like fish out of water. We are looking for what is ultimately personal in a world ultimately impersonal. For example living only and purely for money will destroy us, living for your career and that alone will dehumanize us, any object that is impersonal that we choose to live for – dehumanizes us because we know in our everyday life that our deepest and most meaningful experiences are always in connection with people.
Finding ultimate fulfillment and spiritual satisfaction from the finite and temporal is not enough as well. The world that we live in is transient, impermanent and subject to decay. It is delicately balanced on a knife edge and we are always one moment away from losing all that we find satisfaction in. Caputo conveyed the same warning, “It does not take much for the tenuous gossamer web of life to come apart. A stray bullet, a stray chromosome, a stray virus and wanton cellular division – and the flesh is hopelessly ruined. Events strike a very delicate balance; they form frail, fragile, vulnerable configurations and micro connections.” If our deepest hungers, and spiritual desires are fulfilled by a spouse, a child, a mother, a father, a friend, a lover – should we lose them then we ourselves will ultimately die as well.
In addition there’s always the existential angst and anxiety that nothing good lasts forever and eventually all things fall apart. Ayi Kwei Armah in his classic novel, The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born, has the protagonist lamenting on the pessimism of life:
“…this was the way with all of life, that there was nothing anywhere that could keep the promise and the fragrance of its youth forever,that everything grows old, that the teeth that once were white would certainly grow to be encrusted with green and yellow muck, and then drop off leaving a mouth wholly impotent, strong only with rot, decay, putrescence, with the smell of approaching death”
I also think no human being who themselves are searching for their own spiritual desires to be fulfilled can be big enough to completely and sufficiently fill our cups as well. The solution seems to be pointing towards an infinite person, a love that lasts. A love that is not dependent on the finite and transient and particular.
CS Lewis eloquently sums this up, he says
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
What is the real thing? What is the fundamental reality of all that exists? What is the thing from which all other things come from? If the Christian message is true then God is- but God in a unique way never envisioned before, the mystery of a tri-personal God, a communitarian God, a relational God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. One being, three persons in an eternal relationship with one another, loving one another, communicating and relating with one another. Love cannot be love without other people, it finds its full expression in relationships when different persons connect. Our deepest desire for love, community, communication, connection are all things fundamental to reality because that is how God always has been, is and will be.
And even more remarkably, the Son, removed his cloak of divinity, stepped down from His eternal majesty and joined us in our daily human struggles, our mortal coils. He too felt what it is like to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, to feel heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir too. Albert Camus said about the crucifixion of Jesus,
“The night on Golgotha is so important in the history of man only because, in its shadow, the divinity abandoned its traditional privileges and drank to the last drop, despair included, the agony of death.”
Christ is not a distant God, content in his ivory tower far removed from the daily vicissitudes of human life. If the Christian message is true then Jesus the author of life itself, wrote himself into the very story that he had co-authored. He came and surrendered and laid down his life that we might know him fully, and that we might find the ultimate satisfaction and fulfillment for our deepest longings and desires for purpose and identity in relation to Him. Time and time again he constantly reminded his disciples, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly” and that “I am the bread of life”. What greater satisfaction, fulfillment, soul food and love can there possibly be than being loved by the one who formed us and knitted us to be loved by him?