I was reading a story today about Ho rim Ahn, a 14-year-old boy, who is one of the 2900 North Koreans who defected to South Korea in the past year. Somehow these refugees find a way out of their repressive land and into the somewhat less repressive country of China. From there they make their way into a third country and eventually into South Korea where they are granted citizenship.
This boy remarked that his new life in democratic South Korea was much better than his communist homeland. “I feel stronger now. I eat eggs and meat. I no longer have to eat bark,” he said. He was referring to the starvation that the population in his former land is enduring.
The story prompted many emotions in me. One is compassion for him and his countrymen. I will never forget hearing Soon Ok Lee speak a few years ago about her experience in a North Korean prison. Her book “Eyes of the Tailless Animals” is one of the few books that have made me cry. I do not understand why there is not continual outrage at this brutal regime.
It also made me think of the many Americans who do not have enough to eat. They may not be eating bark, but a lot of Americans will not be eating turkey either this holiday season. Charities are suffering a shortage of funds this year that is making the traditional turkey dinner harder to offer to those in need.
The story led me to think of spiritual bark. There is great spiritual hunger in our land, but the hungry often have only bark to eat. It is a depressing experience to go into a Christian bookstore these days. I remember when religious bookstores actually sold books – biblical commentaries, devotional classics, and theological tomes.
Now I go into one of the Christian chain stores and I am bombarded with shelves full of religious trinkets. I go a little deeper into the store and find music. If I go far enough into the back of the store I will find some books, but they are generally thin volumes by religious celebrities.
Further in are shelves of fluffy “practical” books with catchy titles, and rows of Christian fiction. I have read some of them. They taste like bark and have the same nutritional value. If I am lucky I will locate a small section of old classics.
I know there are good books being written today. I buy them online, but they are not in bookstores. It is not the retailers’ fault. There is no demand for them. People prefer junk food – physically and spiritually.
But the most nutritional spiritual food does not come in books at all. It comes directly from the Source. All we have to do is turn our attention inward or outward to the immanent and transcendent God. This God surrounds us in the cosmos and dwells within us as part of the cosmos. “In Him we live and move and have our being.”
This God was incarnated in Jesus, who said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus calls this “true food” and “true drink.”
This is the same nourishment that we experience when gazing at the billion galaxies in the heavens. The awe we feel is the sigh of a well-nourished soul. I invite you to eat your fill. It is so much better than bark.