We ate at a big city burrito joint not long ago. It’s a good sign when the line meanders out the door and people are pressing forward so that there’s scarcely space to sit. The city was hungry, and so were we. These were some good burritos.
Jesus taught about hunger when he taught us to pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” he was teaching a reliance on God for our daily needs. May God grant us the basics of life: the shelter and support, work and rest, clothing and fresh water, bread. But all Christian prayer flows from the arrow prayer that concludes the Bible: Come, Lord Jesus (Revelation 22:20). All Christian prayer is a longing for Jesus–his presence, his Spirit, his guidance, his power. Prayer wants, above all, him.
And so praying for daily bread strikes me as so much more than merely praying that our basic needs be met. It’s also a prayer that our longings be trained on God. It’s a prayer meant to aim our hungers, a hungry prayer that asks God to be at work in our lives–head, heart, and gut–to inculcate a hunger for Jesus in us. Give us, Oh Lord, a daily hunger for the bread of life, the bread who came down from heaven who is Jesus (John 6:51)–and then satisfy that hunger.
The 19th century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard famously said that “purity of heart is to will one thing,” by which I’ve understood him to mean that the pure heart is one that’s on the road of loving God above all else in all aspects of life. I like it. Maybe we can riff on his line in terms of Jesus’ prayer: purity of heart is hungering for one thing.We’re hungry beings. We claim our hungers. We like them. We define ourselves by our hungers. We say things like, “I’m the guy that likes chocolate.” Or, “I like TV. I like coffee.” Those hungers are what make me who I am. We call them our tastes. I suppose that most of the time this is perfectly harmless. After all, God created the world good and all foods received in thanksgiving to the Creator are good and holy. The late Orthodox priest and author, Alexander Schmemann, writes that all creation “is divine love made food, made life for man.” 1 But sometimes, our hungers can lead us astray. Our hungers become disordered and take on a life of their own and cannot be satisfied. We hunger for the wrong things, or hunger for the right things but in the wrong way. Perhaps this is why Jesus taught us to pray for forgiveness and deliverance from temptation right after praying for daily bread. The hunger for bread can go existentially haywire, and we need Christ to school us in true and enduring and right hunger.
Give us this day our daily bread, our lining up, pressing forward, bottom of the gut hunger for the one thing.
Give us a hunger for you, Oh Lord.
1Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY: rev. ed 1973), p.14