I am three years old, and I am hungry. I sit in a honey-colored wooden chair and press the small of my back up against its hard slats. My two brothers, my sister, and I are in the kitchen…waiting.
There is a crusty loaf of homemade bread on the counter, and my mother stands in front of the stove, stirring flour in a cast-iron skillet. Four hungry faces watch her every move. Flour and water—it’s all she has. And this crusty loaf of bread. Soon, the acrid smell of scorched flour permeates the kitchen, and she adds water, making a pasty gravy that will bind pieces of bread to our stomachs, gluing down the hunger pangs.
I still remember the thick roll of that meal on my tongue—how the taste of burnt flour and disappointment clung to the air around me. My hunger was not satisfied when the bread was gone.
This would become my very first memory—my beginning.
I used to wonder if this first experience of empty was my seminal moment—the one that planted the very heart of me. It seems I carry that yearning with me always. And I don’t exactly know why, but that soft ache is more insistent during the beginning weeks of a new year. Here I stand, on the brim of a new beginning—and the days stretch impossibly out before me. Silver sleeps on nearby hills and all the earth inhales. I look out over the landscape of this world, and I see that I am not enough. There is no way I can fill each of these days to the full.
And the hunger that I was founded upon stirs deep within me once again.
On the church calendar we are still in Christmastide. This is the season commonly known as The Twelve Days of Christmas—beginning Christmas Day and ending January sixth, the day of Epiphany. This is the day tradition holds that the Magi arrived in Bethlehem. We don’t know much about these wise men; scripture tells us only that they came “from the east.” We have no firm evidence about their specific origins, but custom tells us that they traveled far, possibly journeying for as long as two years.
I wonder about the kind of deep hunger that would drive a group of foreigners to a strange land, with only a star to lead them through darkness. It must have been a powerful tugging at the heart, this thing that led them to leave it all behind and seek after the One. Their hunger led them to Bethlehem which, in old Hebrew, means House of Bread.
They went to Bethlehem to be fed. The wise men traveled to the house of bread—to the Bread of Life; isn’t this where I must let my yearning lead me? Do I dare to embrace this hunger as invitation? As a call to make this long journey of life a quest to seek out Jesus in everything? Through the dark of the night and in the stink of the stable and in the royal halls of Herod and in the House of Bread—looking desperately for the Bread that gives life. Looking for Jesus in everything—every moment.
I look out over the landscape of this world, and I see that this is the only way that hunger can fill. When I let it awaken me to the moments of completeness in this aching, yearning world—to the fullness of Christ breaking into this life again and again.
And I see that hunger makes a very good beginning.
OTHER POSTS ON BEGINNINGS: