The hungriest time for true country folk is in the spring. Larders empty, stores thin, and nothing yet producing, unless you’ve got a few winter cabbages or a very well attended greenhouse. This is the gap between the last stored apples and the strawberries of May.
I’m not telling you a story that I’m living. I go to the grocery store to stock my shelves, and this late winter I’m not yet out of applesauce, or grape or even rosehip jelly. Nobody here is risking deprivation, let alone starvation.
But I have plotted out my spring garden, and started the first few tiny seeds underneath the window. The garden I’ve planned is ambitious — for me, quite ambitious — and yet I am aware it will not feed my family. Even with two rounds of broiler chickens, we will have to go to the grocery store.
What if you couldn’t?
What would the spring mean then? These rivers of mud? The adorable baby animals? The warming ground and the lengthening of days?
It might be something other than Cadbury Crème eggs.
Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, we say, as we enter the season of Lent. I’m giving up chocolate. I’m giving up coffee.
I’m giving up my surety of survival. I’m giving up believing that I’m not going to die.
Harsh medicine…these ashes. Given my choice, I’d rather imagine myself immortal, weightless, somehow unbound from the earth. I’d rather think that this is God’s plan for me, that I’d be free of sorrow on this plane, I’d be that one lucky girl who skims the surface, keeps my hands clean, carries less than one full body’s share of grief.
I’d like to believe it. But it wouldn’t be true.
Better harsh medicine than the slow poison of numbness. Better to know that I will die, so that I know what it is to be alive. Better to face the hunger head on than to dream it away…and find I’ve also dreamed my life away.
We are so distant now, from the hungry gap. We can hardly imagine what it would be like, to have no grocery store…no factory food system to blend the four seasons into one. But we are not distant from the original hunger. We are not distant from the precarious and mortal seasons of life.
Jobs could be lost, debts unpaid, chances missed. Medicine could fail to provide the cure. Depression or anxiety could rip hope out by the roots.
We are in the hungry gap. Daily, yearly, in the hungry gap. Here…is the hungry gap that never ends.
Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust, we say. Let go the weight of hubris. Accept a healthy, hopeful, true humility, in which we are blessed and beloved, though we are not free from pain. We are named and held, though we are not free from sin. We are magical, God-breathed creatures, though this life’s reign ends six feet under in decay.
We may feel the hungry gap this whole wide life, dotted though it is with bright June gardens and October feasts. We may feel the bite of hunger all our lives. But we will not for a minute believe that we are forsaken. We will not for a minute forget that holy, holy can be dressed in mud. And we walk in grace.
We step into the hungry gap, and step into the fullness of this life: hungry, human, wracked, beloved, full.