Outside my window, oranges hang from the trees. The scent of their blossoms fills the air, even in the cool of the morning. Beyond them, a lemon tree, and palm trees whose names I do not know. It is early yet; I am still on New York time. Soon I will go out and lie in wait for hummingbirds -- there must be many here in Southern California. Mine at home have yet to appear. It's still too cold.
But when I get home on Sunday, I will put out the feeders, because the hummers will be along soon. Famished from their miraculous northward journey, they'll be even more desperate for food than they usually are. Food is the main focus of any bird's life, so intense is their metabolism, and surely the hummingbird ranks first in intensity among them all.
One of the talks I gave here was about food. We came up with it because it's Lent, and many people undertake some kinds of Lenten fast. There was a lot to say -- how much Jesus had to say about bread, fish, wine, fruit, olive oil. How evocative of blessed memory certain foods are. How sacred and how profane a place the dinner table can be. How indebted we are to those who taught us to cook. How tortured we can become about our eating, how full of self-loathing about our bodies, with obsessed with being too fat or too thin. How ironic it is that millions of Americans die from the effects of obesity while children pick through the garbage for food and more than a billion people go to bed hungry every night. How monstrous it will seem to people a hundred years from now that we were willing to live in a world in which this was true -- Christians' countenancing of this will seem to them the way the antebellum Christian defense of chattel slavery seems to us now.
And how hungry the yeast that causes bread to rise, how hungry and brave -- it enters the mixture of flour and water and swells mightily, only to die in the fire that produces the perfect loaf. How brave, even, the leavings from our tables, ending its life in the compost pile, only to begin a new life as nourishment for something else. How unprepossessing the raw materials of a wonderful dish can be, so different from the beauty of the finished product. Oh, there was a lot to say about food.
But nothing that everybody doesn't already know. I hardly ever talk about anything my audience doesn't already know. The great spiritual truths are always the simplest ones, and we already know them. God's love creates us. All of us are related. Everything affects everything else. Everybody dies. There is more going on in the world than meets the eye. Linear time isn't the only kind of time there is. That's it, more or less.
So why travel thousands of miles to tell people things they already know? Because we forget we know these things. We need to be reminded, again and again. The spiritual life isn't a one-time event-- it's a life pattern, built layer by layer. It takes a while to build it. And it is never finished.