Feeding charities are a favorite for our family. We are fans of FoodLink and chip in when they have fund-raisers at the market. We also like to contribute non-perishables directly when we can. There is something tangible about carrying a few cans or boxes of something in to the offering basket. Jesus was not clear on a lot of contemporary social issues, but feeding the hungry was an unambiguous imperative (e.g., Matthew 25:35-40).
So with the tables turned (sort of), I was overwhelmed when several bags of left overs and throw aways from a local soup kitchen turned up at my house. After a busy Week 1, we were feeling a bit tight. This gift liberated our budget. It also delighted the girls (a box of cookies), David (a box of Triscuits), and me (mountains of lettuce) with a wealth of special treats that we had imagined were gone for the 40 days.
What was it like for a stubbornly self-reliant New Englander to accept the charity of others? First of all, my gracious friend saved me the social embarrassment of actually going to the food pantry. I suspect that she sensed that I wouldn’t, primarily because I am not really needy. This is a Lenten experiment by a fully employed and well-off family. I would be—and am to a degree—guilty of taking from those who really need. The dispensation here is that she brought me what had been left behind by their guests, and the wilty lettuce, tired broccoli and spotted peppers would likely have been composted. Secondarily, I wouldn’t have gone because that’s not what stubbornly self-reliant New Englanders do. That’s the sin of pride—more later. But I still feel a little guilty.
Why? Because the slightly tired veggies, sack of potatoes, jar of peanut butter and can of tuna feel like indescribably abundance. As I unpacked, I imagined all the meals that I could make and crossed things off of our meager shopping list. I had wanted potatoes for a Kenyan dish our Lenten study suggested that we try—here they were and more! I had been craving salad—more lettuce than we can eat in several days! And there’s the fish for that healthful diet. It was probably the most excited I’ve been unpacking a grocery sack—ever. I’ve never been much for the God of magic tricks—loaves and fish and all that (Mark 8:1-9). But I do believe—perhaps more than ever—in a God whose hands are the hands of my friend who drove 34 miles round trip to bring us food. Not because we really needed it but because it is part of our spiritual growth and a way for her to minister to us as God’s hands in the world.
So there is the spiritual lesson. But I still feel guilty. Why? Because it somehow feels wrong to be gushing with the gratitude of abundance in the midst of Lent and in the midst of a hungry world. But maybe that’s the point: Gratitude. I have prayed a little more mindfully and with greater joy this week.
We receive this food in gratitude to all beings who have helped to bring it to our table. And vow to respond, in turn, to those in need with wisdom and compassion.