Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. - Philippians 3:19
Paul is describing the ‘enemies of the cross of Christ’ in his letter to the Philippians - those who do not follow in Christ’s way, but follow their own desires and appetites instead. Paul’s words bring me back to the gospel reading last Sunday, when Jesus was out in the desert eating nothing for 40 days. Jesus took an intentional time-out in the desert - to empty himself, pray, fast and get closer to God. That image of ‘emptying out’ is a powerful one in the season of Lent. We pour out some water from our overfull glasses in order to make room for God to enter in a new way. Without some emptying out, our lives are too full and hectic to be able to receive the nuanced and sometimes subtle but very deep and profound gifts that we are missing when we allow ourselves to be led by our calendars, our cravings and our bellies instead of God.
I find Paul’s use of the phrase ‘enemies of the cross’ provocative. You may think of a spiritual life as one without strife or anxiety. But Paul is reminding us that following Christ means walking in the way of the cross, for only in the struggles and crucifixions of life will we find resurrection and new life. A life filled with the peace that passes all understanding does not always look peaceful in the way we might expect.
It is a human trait to want to avoid crosses, though. Our gut instincts and our bellies warn us of any kind of perceived danger ahead, which is often important and helpful. But our bellies can also lie to us, telling us that we need something that is actually not good for us. And they can sway us from something that is actually just what we need. That is why in Lent we practice ways to give our bellies a rest and turn our hearts afresh toward heavenly things in order to discern how we are being called to follow Jesus more closely, even when the path does not seem peaceful.