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John 6

Spiritual Hunger

Even an atheist, Franz Kafka, recognized the importance of satisfying his own spiritual hunger. In one short story, The Hunger Artist, he summed up his thoughts. He wanted his other works burned but insisted that this one story be saved.

In a typically bizarre fashion, Kafka has the hunger artist making his living by professional fasting. He is the practitioner of a once venerated profession. Seated on straw in his small barred cage, he is marveled at by throngs of people. After forty days, his fasts were terminated in triumph. His manager would make a speech, the band would play, and one of the ladies would lead him staggering in his weakened state out of the cage.

However, the day arrived when fasting was no longer understood or appreciated by the people. He lost his manager and had to join a circus. His cage was placed next to the animals. He became depressed by the smell, the restlessness of the animals at night, the raw flesh carried past him, and the roaring at feeding time. The people barely glanced at him in their hurry to see the animals. Even the circus attendants failed to limit his fast by counting the days. Finally, he was discovered lying in the straw, and in his dying breaths he told his secret: “I have to fast,” he whispered. “I can’t help it. I couldn’t find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else.”

Kafka was a writer of parables. The parable of the hunger artist is not about physical hunger but about spiritual hunger. Kafka was the hunger artist, and he realized he was starving to death spiritually, but he couldn’t find any food he liked.

The Agony of Deceit by Michael Horton, Editor, 1990, Moody Press, p. 54