I have fasted in my life — once for a period of two months. Eating at dawn and sunset each day but going without during the day. In times of spiritual depletion, the deprivation was hard.
When my faith dimmed, I felt the pangs acutely. No meditation or praying could fill the emptiness that ate me from the inside out. That is all I know about hunger. If you can even call it that.
When we invoke the global problem of hunger we often invoke pictures of the emaciated and malnourished. Looking out at the world as they do from eyes that are suspended like planets in their sockets. Children with stretched-out, birdlike hands, swollen-bellied and gaunt. Their heads look unnatural, almost too heavy for their necks. Skin on their arms wrinkled as if they were 100 years old. There are sharp edges on the bodies of the starving. Their hipbones and ribcages push out from under skin that is paper-thin and dry. Fragile. As if it would disintegrate in the face of even a slight breeze. The pictures are hard to look at, encapsulating as they show what it means to suffer.
What real hunger, starvation looks like is well documented. Medical journals chart exactly what happens when the body is deprived of food and water, and how it begins to turn on itself to survive. There are stages in the biochemical response once the body goes into starvation mode. But the feeling itself has been described in various ways.
First an empty gnawing that gains volume until it becomes agonising. Pain follows. Internal writhing. Desperation. Fantasies about food taunting you, assaulting the mind. They say you can even smell what others have eaten — so heightened become your senses. Then you go numb, feel numb, ultimately when you are so starved and numb you refuse food. The body begins to shut down. Conserving energy. You are tired. About 805-million people are malnourished in the world, according to the United Nations, one in eight of us.
But in this world of ours we are hungry for more than just food. All around us are snaking queues of the emotionally emaciated, the love-starved, the affection-deprived. Thirsty for a drop of affirmation, a crumb of attention, affirmation that they are worthy.
I saw the Checkpoint report about Congolese Pastor Alph Lukau, praying and anointing an estimated 7 000 women at Gallagher Estates, preparing them for a husband-finding miracle. A miracle that costs a premium R450 in the door and R3 000 for the VVIP experience.
I didn’t know that you could buy front-row seats to God but I’ve been educated. The women had travelled from far and wide to have their ring fingers blessed with oil — arriving
at that venue with a purpose and hope. Some left the meeting with stars in their eyes and a dream in their hearts. Three months, if not sooner, and finally a man, and possibly marriage to a man that God wills. A blessing.
There are many like the women there who have been waiting for the nourishment of a loving partner, someone to sustain and add flavour to their lives. Someone they could sup with, be edified by.
For those waiting a long, long time a kind of emotional hunger has set in and they have been dying — being eaten from the inside out. Feeling the pangs of loneliness, the stabbing pain, the desperation of solitude. Becoming numb and hopeless eventually, giving up, and like the physically hungry who would even refuse food, may refuse a genuine offer of love and companionship when it actually comes.
It was painful to see those women there and I can say a lot about why, but what I wanted to focus on was the fact that the meeting demonstrated how many people are out there crying for love and companionship.
I have had many a wet shoulder from friends aching through the absence of love. I have felt it too myself.
It may seem audacious and insensitive to make any comparisons between the physically starving and the emotionally starving but in my mind they both represent suffering, and beyond the marketing of what love is and how it should be, our experiences attest to the reality that, without it, we are empty and we suffer.
We may not look like the people huddled over food drops from aid helicopters, scrambling for grain to crush and boil in a pot, but many of us are hungry for a soft place to land, a hand to hold on to, soothing words, shared laughter over a mutually understood joke, a knowing glance, a dance, tangled sheets and bed hair, the blessings of companionship over breakfast and lunch and dinner, candles and conversation.
Someone who is there. Always there — and you are full. Never empty.