As human beings, we are designed by God with appetites. Our creaturely drives for food, water, sleep and sex keep us alive and sustain the species, but we are obviously far more complex than that. George Otis, Jr.’s “Life Appetites Test” lists 35 possible appetites, and I think he missed a few! Who of us can claim that our own appetites are always in balance and healthy? They compete with and even replace one another. Any dieter knows that eating is often not about hunger. Teens have sex for a raft of reasons that are not sexual. Drugs and alcohol are dangerous in part because their addictive powers can overwhelm other important and socially redeeming appetites.
The season of Lent is an annual reminder that we are by nature not in balance, and that by giving something up we can better focus our attention on God. North American culture has little room for asceticism, and I would argue, little room for God either. We have 35+ appetites ready to take the place of our need for God and a 24/7/365 consumer culture ready to sate them.
In today’s passage, Psalm 63, David speaks to us across time, space and culture about his relationship with God. And he does it in terms of appetites. David thirsts for God. God’s love satisfies him as much as the richest food. He thinks about God all night long in bed (instead of sleeping? while sleeping?). In the process, David frames his relationship with God as a powerful appetite. God’s love is better than life! It’s no accident that this Psalm was written in the desert, a barren place barely able to support life, but with a long tradition of stimulating spiritual reflection. In that place, where hunger and thirst are never far away, David stimulated his appetite for relationship with God. His writing conveys a spiritual capacity that far outstrips my own, and I admire it. I want it. Lent provides me with the opportunity to work at it.
O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.