The turkey has yet to be carved, but already, the sugarplums have begun dancing in my head. Only this holiday season, they’re wearing a bit of a mischievous grin.
As they bow and curtsy so cutely, I’m reminded of a sin I’d chosen for years to ignore: gluttony.
I’m likely not alone in having blissfully overlooked this sinister sidekick. Gluttony has become so infused into our culture as to be rendered nearly invisible.
But if we look at its definition, its conniving glare seems to appear everywhere.
At its most basic, gluttony is defined as “a habitual greed or excess in eating.”
Derived from the Latin “gluttire,” which means to gulp down or swallow, gluttony isn’t merely the act of eating for sustenance but indulgence.
Most religions admonish it, and canonized Christian saints have written about it.
In his “Summa Theologica,” St. Thomas Aquinas identified five different ways to commit the sin of gluttony: eating food that is too luxurious, exotic or costly; eating food excessive in quality; eating food excessive in quantity; eating hastily; and eating greedily.
Aquinas tied our food consumption with sins of the flesh, identifying that when we moderate our food intake, we can more easily refrain from other kinds of sin, too.
For years, I’d ignored the connection, but as I became more intent on getting my soul into shape, I realized Aquinas’ wisdom. To live a more balanced, God-centered life, I’d need to pay better attention to this most basic of human necessities: food intake.
Soon enough, I began to see how what I consume, even in private, impacts others.
“Live simply so others may simply live,” is how the bumper sticker put it, and I think we can apply this to so many of our daily decisions, from clothes shopping to vacation planning to food eating.
Despite devastating poverty even among our own, we Americans obsess over our food presentations. Our offerings can’t be novel enough, our portions big enough. Placing inordinate attention on certain things, we risk neglecting our neighbors whose basic needs haven’t been met.
Our passions say much about our priorities.
I don’t mean to judge unfairly, however, knowing well how easily gluttony can enter our lives. Often, it evolves without ill intention.
My own tango with gluttony emerged out of either stress — other matters took precedence — or sheer busyness. Rather than pausing to consider healthier options, I grabbed the first tantalizing thing to fall onto my path and moved on.
But at some point, the physical ramifications came and inevitably, the spiritual ones, too.
So I started making changes. With the help of a wrist application to track my input and output, I discovered how off-kilter I’d become, and became more intentional, which has led to more balance.
Through this, I’ve also rediscovered the good feelings that come with temperance.
And I’ve been reminded that without God’s help, as in so many things, conquering temptation would be downright impossible. The human will alone will not cut it.
This doesn’t mean food can’t be fun. Unlike cows, who happily graze on the blandness of grass, God made us to desire tasty foods. Food carries a twofold purpose for humans: pleasure and sustenance.
Sin enters in not in our enjoyment of food but when we take it too far, allowing the pleasurable part to overcome the sustenance aspect.
As I’ve made better choices involving what I consume, my soul has responded with more clarity and contentment. In becoming more aware of what I need to survive, I’ve become more thoughtful about those who daily struggle to do the same.
But things could get difficult very soon. The sin of gluttony loves this time of year; it delights in our propensity to indulge as we gather with family and friends to celebrate.
As we approach this season, maybe rather than being fearful over how out of control we might get, we could commit to praying for balance; not to forgo every delectable treat that appears but for help in taking on gluttony as a holiday challenge.
This might include a chant: “Figgy pudding is my friend but king-sized portions have to end.” With some forethought, we’ve got this thing.
So bring on the turkey, the pumpkin pie and the fruitcake, but in moderation, please, and with a brisk walk around the block afterward to cap it off.
With the excess we deny ourselves, perhaps we’ll even find new ways to bless others.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on Nov. 21, 2015.]