Last week, Will and I started watching a new Netflix series called Chef’s Table. After the first episode about a famous Italian who created modern Italian cuisine, we were hooked. The second episode started out with the same promise of celebrity—the chef featured is a leader in the farm-to-table and sustainable food movements. But the close of his story ended on a dissonant note. Instead of seeing him in celebration with his family because of his success, he reflected on a feeling of emptiness that he has experienced his entire life, and explained that his workaholism is a way to fill the void. He connected this void to the death of his mother, but then added that he thought he could never rid himself of it.
As I’m thinking about and participating in Lent, I’m beginning to realize that much of Lent is about recognizing our voids and how we fill them. The most basic way is fasting from food—an experience that everyone can participate in. It reminds us of our frailty as humans. Another way people often observe Lent is partaking in times of silence that they would otherwise fill with noise, whether that be music or television or talking. This silence becomes a sort of void, and we easily recognize the habitual ways that we provide noise.
Lenten observances not only point out our voids, but magnify them. The ashes on Ash Wednesday remind us of death and our fear of it, the practice of fasting reminds us of our weakness, and the act of repentance reminds us of our moral culpability. One of the messages of the season is “You are not whole, you are not well.” And hopefully, this both convicts us that our current ways of dealing with emptiness may not be healthy, and that Christ provides grace enough.
The farm-to-table chef that is aching with a void spends his life considering what should be consumed by his guests in a way that will benefit not only them but the world around them. He looks for the healthiest and most sustainable crops to feed his customers. But his soul will never be satisfied by the workaholism that defines his career; he is constantly seeking for something that will satisfy like the wholesome plates of food he offers. I hope to develop his perspective on food, but even more than that, I hope to consume wholesome offerings that actually answer the ache of emptiness, to feast in Zion, to drink of the wine and eat of the bread, to taste the living water.
May we recognize our voids, and may we consume that which is life-giving.