I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’m a fast eater. Regardless of whether it’s a garden salad or a filet mignon, once I get my hands on my utensils, I start cutting, sticking, and scooping up food at a steady pace. I politely shove it into my mouth and swallow, and then I either move onto the next bite or start multitasking.
In the back of my mind, I see it as a bad habit, a product of absentmindedness, or borderline rudeness, but it has never struck me as something of any spiritual consequence until recently.
It all started last year when I joined a contemplative prayer group that meets once a month and encourages members to practice spiritual disciplines. Quite frankly, I joined the group because my wife insisted, and I didn’t want her to think I was unspiritual; but I wasn’t looking forward to it. I mean, for me, the phrase “spiritual discipline” conjures up memories of miserable attempts to fast and pray while fantasizing about eating Cocoa Pebbles.
Anyway, to my surprise, there are more spiritual disciplines than fasting and praying, although fasting and praying have their place. For example, there’s being silent before God, journaling; there are creative ways to meditate on scripture; and there’s something called consciousness examen.
Consciousness examen is prayer that involves reflecting on our lives and looking for ways the Holy Spirit moved during the day. Basically, it’s a multicolored, spiritual X-ray, an opportunity to relive the day and see where God was at work in the ordinary. If you want some good guidance on it, click here, but here’s how I do it:
- I open myself to gratitude for all kinds of random stuff that blessed me during the day;
- I ask God for help in being real with Him;
- I become aware of the ways I moved with God during the day and the ways I was moved by insecurity or fear;
- I recognize that I’m forgiven for the ways I failed; and
- I invite God to show up and give me the grace to see His activity in my life the next day.
As I walk through a prayerful review of the day, I begin to see that so many of the ordinary moments in the day weren’t ordinary at all – and like a stained glass window, the Spirit’s illumination brings out patterns, colors, and meaning that were invisible in the dull light of my hurried life.
Through this practice, I find myself constantly surprised at how little I engage with my own life, how unaware I am of God, how often I simply go through the motions. And that’s where the spirituality of eating comes in.
I’m starting to realize that I live my life like I eat my food – jamming it in and swallowing, barely tasting it, ungrateful for the preparation, barely aware of the flavors. So I’ve begun slowing down in general, appreciating the surprise run-ins with friends on the street, being fully present for tender, but tight, hugs from my daughter – and yes, I’ve actually been chewing and enjoying my food.
So, for example, the other day I came home and my wife had whipped together one of her staple Puerto Rican dishes. I sat down at the table, prepared to shovel it in, but then I stopped and decided to experience it.
Good. Gracious. The flavor of the fish, tomato base, green olives, potatoes, raisins, and brown rice burst in my mouth, perfectly complementing one another – even the texture was pleasing. Yet somehow, in six years of marriage, I hadn’t really noticed it like I did at that meal. It makes me want to slow down and see what the rest of my meals really taste like, what the rest of my life tastes like.
Basically, I’m developing a taste for the present, a hunger to experience God in the moment – not just when I’m prayerfully reflecting on my day. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8).