This past week I had the joy of visiting the home of a gracious friend. We shared conversation and a meal, and the best part was that our time together was punctuated with a lot of laughter. I had never been to my friend's house before, yet I felt very much at home. This was because of the warm welcome I received, but most of it had to do with the meal we shared. The meal was definitely well planned, but there was a sense of playfulness that emerged as we shared in our time together. It was evident that we both were enjoying each other's company whether the conversation was serious or humorous.
This got me to thinking about Jesus and His friends. Have you ever noticed in the Gospels just how much eating and drinking He did with His friends? From the wedding at Cana to the telling of the parable of the Lost Son, right up to His last night on earth, which we remember as the Last Supper, so much of His ministry involved food and drink with His friends...and even His enemies. I think this is because food and drink are what sustain us physically, and spending time with people we love sustains us emotionally. When we are with loved ones, we do not gobble our food down, as we might be tempted to do when we are at work or if we are alone. Instead, we go more slowly and deliberately because we are savoring the conversation and the presence of those around us. We want it to last.
Having just gotten back from a pilgrimage in Europe, something that I noticed is that meals take longer there than they do here in the United States for the most part. Even with how much I thought I could slow down and savor a meal, it was interesting to see that in restaurants in Europe, one does not think twice at the prospect of having a two to three hour lunch. They take time out to dine, not simply to eat, and therefore the routine of the day is divided a bit differently than we do here. It is not that they "waste time" and get little done. On the contrary, they work as many hours as we do, but they simply take the time to really stop, enjoy the meal, and then renewed, return to work. Now I am sure there are situations and places in Europe where they are just as harried as we are, but for the most part, they stop and are very deliberate about meals, even at the most simple of meals. There is definitely more enjoyment when we put our cares aside and simply enjoy the people we are with.
In the midst of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Ignatius has some rules for eating for those making the Exercises. (The Spiritual Exercises are meant to be an extended retreat experience.) At one point during the retreat, he encourages the retreatant to slow down, chew slowly, and really relish the food. (Sorry for the pun, but that is what he says, more or less.) He says to savor or relish the experience. I had a spiritual director once who encouraged me to feel the texture of the food, to smell it, to let its taste open up almost like one does with a glass of wine, truly letting the spices and flavor be noticed. She even had me look at the food, the presentation, so to speak, in order to better appreciate it. When was the last time you did that? Believe me, even though I was dining alone on that retreat, the meal took a longer time because instead of simply eating and not realizing what I had eaten, I was able to appreciate everything about the meal. St. Ignatius was trying to teach something deeper than good gastronomical etiquette: he was teaching us to notice. If we can notice tastes, smells, textures, etc., in a meal, imagine how much more we can learn to notice God around us.
In addition to learning how to better notice God, we also can stop to realize the gift of everything He has given us. If we carry this out habitually in our meals, it will include savoring those we are with, recognizing them as a gift also. In this one act of slowing down and enjoying a meal, we learn so much that can translate to the rest of our daily lives. We can learn to savor God's presence in other encounters with friends or strangers, looking for His presence among and between us. We can learn to savor His presence in nature, in creation. We can learn to savor God's presence in our prayer just like we do with our friends at a lunch or dinner. We can learn to savor His presence in the meal He offers us, His own Body and Blood given freely for us. All this savoring fosters gratitude, and grateful people are joyful people!
Savoring is a form of simplifying, in a sense. We can focus on that which is at hand, giving it full attention, as if it is the only thing that matters at the moment. This goes against our multitasking society, but multitasking is stressful! If we focus on what and especially who is at hand, we give our full attention and then come away with a much deeper, richer experience. Did you ever talk with someone you just knew was not listening to you, but was far off in thought about something else? Such an encounter is shallow and the distracted "listener" misses so much of the person who is speaking, not just what they are saying. (This is not to mention what the speaker possibly is feeling, maybe a bit insulted or hurt.) We miss so much when we are distracted or inattentive. Savoring makes everything seem more alive, richer and more meaningful.
On the pilgrimage previously mentioned, we traveled to Lisieux to the home where St. Thérèse grew up. There was a beautiful flower garden in the yard outside the house. In her autobiography Thérèse wrote about being a little flower in the garden of the Lord. I have no doubt she realized that thought while looking at the beauty of the flowers in that garden as a young girl. In her writing she also mentioned loving the garden in the convent where she lived until her death. She was so able to savor the beauty of a simple garden that she later said she wanted to spend her Heaven doing good for those on earth, showering them with roses. Obviously for St. Thérèse she equated flowers with doing beautiful things for others. Something as simple as a flower became so filled with meaning. She made this connection no doubt because she clearly savored the experience of gazing on flowers in a garden.
I started this discussion by writing about a meal. Think about the meals you have savored, or which have been meaningful to you, and then think of why they meant so much. The odds are that as good as the food may have been, what really made it special are the people who cooked it and the people you shared it with. Savoring the event, the time spent with others, is an art. We have to learn to develop it beyond those occasional times. That is really what savoring is about. It is about learning to take everything in and to celebrate it as a gift. It will then translate to everything around us, from meals, to the things we love to do, to nature, and especially to the people we are with. A good place to start savoring is at the Eucharist, which is the most important of meals, and which sustains us spiritually and in every other way. Instead of going through the motions as is so easy to do with something as routine as Communion every Sunday, really spend time with Jesus. Taste the Body and Blood, feel it enter your body and your soul. Savor the gift of an intimate encounter with the Lord who loves you so much it is beyond comprehension. Savoring makes every gift so much more wonderful, especially the gift of our God!
May we savor every encounter we have this day. May we savor God’s presence around us in nature. May we savor the food we eat and the people with whom we share it. May we learn to savor God's presence in all our gatherings, and may we learn to have a sense of lightheartedness and playfulness that comes with feeling at home. And may we have a heightened sense of gift, which leads us to deeper gratitude for all the Lord has given. Let us meet at the table of the Lord, savoring one another and savoring the gift of our Lord! Peace!
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Heart Speaks to Heart