“Helps prevent heart disease?” exclaimed the mother behind me in Aisle 4 at Schnucks, reading from a bag of off-brand Cheerios.
“My child is two! He doesn’t need to prevent heart disease; he needs sugar! I had sugar when I was his age…”
I smiled, amused. In a culture marked by a growing obsession with healthy, organic, low-fat, low-sodium, low-carb, reduced sugar diets, this woman was bluntly determined to raise her child in the good old-fashioned American way. Sure, obesity’s a growing (sorry) problem, but that’s because people don’t have self-control. It’s not like you have to be a health nut to make it in this society; as long as you don’t go overboard and eat a variety of stuff, a fair amount of sugar and fat isn’t going to kill you ~ so why deprive yourself?
On the other hand, there are people like Jonathan, one of my new co-workers at Apple. Jonathan is a vegeterian. Vegetarians tend to invite a restrained aura of respect, partially because most of us simply can’t imagine giving up thickburgers, and partially because we admire their voluntarily strict adherence to their beliefs ~ there are few forced vegeterians. Whether it’s for animal treatment or just a desire to eat healthily, a typical vegeterian has personally chosen to forsake something that most of us admit we have not the fortitude to give up.
However, it has occurred to me that, just as we do for the mouth, we can identify people by what they consume with their eyes and ears. Most of us don’t concern ourselves too greatly with the quality of our intake; we don’t pig out excessively on the vulgar stuff, but limiting our diet to the noblest and purest ingredients is too bland and unnecessary and super-spiritual. We take in a variety of what comes our way and what we feel like at the time.
The fat couch potatoes are the ones who just fill up on junk food and never watch or listen to anything healthy. The reduced-everything health nuts are the paranoid mothers trying to protect their children from every potential bad influence. And, of course, the ultimate vegans are the monks who completely reject the meaty, fleshy, corrupted world.
There is nothing more pure we should be filling ourselves with than the immeasurable and mighty Love that presses us to continually draw nearer and to reflect it in everything we do. The world constantly tries to express love, and may succeed in some small part or shadow. But all too often it steals the name to make of it a mockery, wallowing in selfish pleasure and satisfaction that knows nothing of pure, beautiful, self-denying Love. Yet our diets tend to be full of this fake-love that is shoved at us from all sides.
Perhaps we feel that since we recognize it as fake-love, it will not corrupt our ability to take in the real Love. Strict cultural vegetarianism is not a requirement for a healthy spiritual life. Jesus said that it is not “what goes into a man’s mouth” that makes him unclean, “but what comes out.” How well we express Love is more important than how much Love or fake-love we take in. And yet how can we express that Love if we consistently allow ourselves to consume its selfish and corrupted impostor?
I’ve realized that I’m a bit of a cultural vegetarian. I was raised in a home with atypically stringent standards of visual diet, and I am still uncomfortable with shows and movies that encourage lust or display or joke freely about sex, a sacred act that has been reduced to an extremely pleasurable activity that happens to involve another human being, instead of the beautiful and anticipated culmination of the fantastic journey in which two become one. The crude expressions are something I do not need more encouragement to spend more time considering. I don’t disapprove of a friend with different dietary preferences; we are each abiding by our own standards. But in my pursuit of Love, I generally choose to avoid some of its coarser and baser counterfeits, whether in music or film or some other medium.
Do not mistake me for advocating an enclosed diet of strictly spiritual sustenance, although the monks doubtlessly lead healthier lives than we. Exposure to darkness can be integral to understanding, appreciating, and explaining the light. But there is a difference between exposure and acceptance, between tasting and consuming. Only you can decide how healthy you want to be. Paul tells us to set our sights on things above, and to think on what is true. Receive Love. Give Love. There is nothing more.