(I just finished reading Julie & Julia–which, incidentally, is the literary equivalent of, say, peanut M&Ms–so forgive the slightly maudlin use of food references.)
It was an encouraging, refreshing, and at the same time challenging weekend on the road. Travel is sometimes stressful for me, but usually I stress out beforehand at the thought of not being in my familiar little box, and then the trip itself turns out to be quite freeing. (Notable exception: traveling with my parents.) When I am with my friends, I can’t think constantly about myself anymore, and that turns out to be a pretty good thing since that is probably what got me into the box in the first place. The thing is, I am still pretty terrible at self-care sometimes, and being with others improves my functionality (you know, eating, sleeping, getting out of the house) rather significantly. Example: It feels like forever since I’ve actually sat down and eaten something resembling a square meal rather than grazing absentmindedly on fruit and cereal throughout the day (or worse, feeding the dragon). But while I was traveling I’m proud to say I ate at every mealtime and kept it down. And you know what? It actually felt pretty good, not just the physical benefits of actually getting some nutrition, but the emotional and mental boost from thinking, feeling, and acting like a healthy person.
Spiritually, as well as physically, I’ve had a fairly malnourished year and a half. Even when I made it to church or flipped through the Bible on my own, there was still a strange specter of starvation–of loss–lurking on the edges. Since coming back home, I’ve had to relearn how it feels to be filled, primarily through community, and that’s honestly been kind of uncomfortable at times. The week I went back to Lima, a lot of things happened that awakened fearful hunger again, and I jumped the tracks big time. It took me about a week to regain a tentative footing, but I was still scared. And then this weekend I got to see Madeline. Madeline was my small group leader in college, when I was part of Chi Alpha, the campus ministry of the Assemblies of God. The world always seems to spin just a little more steadily when she is around, and the only way I can think of to explain it is that she really does channel God’s presence in a way that I can understand more readily than most other approaches. There’s probably a strong emotional/mystical bent to it, and that’s why DonQuixote and I tended to clash over it. Throughout the course of graduate school, I lost touch with that presence within and around my own heart, and I’m still not sure I have it back.
Anyway, we went to Madeline’s church on Sunday, and if my current spiritual life is bread and water, then this church service was like a three-layer German chocolate cake. (And let’s say the church I regularly attend at home is, say, raw bamboo.) The songs, the smiles, the swaying, the bloody altar call…honestly, I kind of wanted to walk out, not because I was offended or angry, but just because I felt bad that this used to mean a lot to mean and now…I wasn’t sure what it meant. But I stayed, and tried to steep in it as well as I could, and in the end it wasn’t bad at all, just somewhat unfamiliar. I’m not entirely sure if church services that provoke emotional extremes on a regular basis would be good for my spiritual health, but if I’ve learned anything in therapy it’s that emotions are part of my personality whether I like it or not, and as such they need to be acknowledged and addressed or they are just going to implode eventually. That may not need to be done within the context of a religious organization, but I think community is definitely necessary.
I came back feeling hungry in a healthy way. I needed a reminder of what healthiness looks like, what I can be if only I choose to do so. Maybe a little chocolate cake every now and then is a good thing, as long as I work it off afterwards, and maybe even if I don’t. (More on that in the next post.) For now, I am thinking about the care and feeding of a healthy appetite; physical, spiritual, emotional, or otherwise.