Invite All Your Senses to the Feast



I’m sitting here, leaning firmly against squishy homemade flannel bags filled with field corn; bags I’ve warmed in the microwave, each of them aligned with a sore spot in my back or neck. And I am sighing with gratitude and comfort. I’m breathing in the first truly cool air we’ve enjoyed in central California for a long, long time. I can hear the first tentative drops of rain hitting the patio just outside my door. Ah, yes. So many of my senses are engaged at once, I’m trying to pay attention to each one.

It starts to feel like I’ve been at a banquet, I’m thoroughly sated with deliciousness. Even though I’ve lived a long time now, this kind of satiety is a new experience for me—feeling full merely because I’m paying attention to the details of my day. For decades, the only “full” sensation I knew was caused by overstuffing myself with food. That kind of feeling full was important, very important.

Early in my life, I internalized the idea that food was comfort, reward, gift and friend. I come from a long line of strong women, all of whom loved food. They also used food to do all kinds of things it was never designed to do. I never really knew any other way of thinking about food, and when I heard someone say something that ran counter to my internal understanding, I was mystified. I distinctly remember admiring a very slender girl in my high school youth group and hearing her say, “Eating is a nuisance. I only do it because I have to. I don’t like interrupting my life to stop and eat.”

Say what?

I could not wrap my head around that whole way of thinking about food and feasting. Nuisance? Interruption? For me, meals were central and for good reasons: family togetherness; the beauty of a well-balanced plate of colorful things to eat; the soothing of hunger pangs; the tender taste of well-loved favorites. Food is a very good thing, one of God’s best gifts to us. I think that’s why food and food imagery are so central to the word pictures in scripture.

I always knew that food was WAY more than an interruption in my life. Unfortunately, it soon became too much more. I’ve written before about this journey of mine, and I won’t bore you with the details, but when food becomes solace and/or rebellion, then the true meaning of feasting has become seriously twisted. The gift has been misappropriated. Food is necessary and food is a great gift; feasting is a recognized sign of celebration, joy and human connection, in our Bible and in our larger culture. But food was never meant to substitute for love, acceptance, happiness or even healthy anger.

The truth-I-am-so-slow-to-learn is this: there are many ways of feasting, most of which do not need to involve food at all. The phrase, “feast your eyes,” is a true one, one of the truest I know. Those of us with even one eye that works reasonably well are among this planet’s most blessed people. Ditto to ears, mouth, hands and legs. With these physical gifts, we can celebrate the beauties that are all around us, every single day. Yes, there are also sights, sounds and situations that are far from beautiful, and we are called to do all in our power to help soften the rough edges of life in the communities where we live and work. But over and around and even in the middle of those rough spots, there is always evidence of Beauty. God shows up in the most surprising places.

Wherever you live, whether you love it or barely tolerate it, there are places nearby where you can feast your eyes, your ears, your skin, your heart. A tree, a full-blown flower, a sturdy weed pushing its way through the concrete, the clouds drifting above you can all be inspiring. The breeze on your face, the moon in the sky, the cries of a healthy baby in the apartment next door, these, too, are gifts. They can fill us, if we can learn to pause just long enough to let them.

I still love a good meal. I always will. But I am so relieved and grateful to learn that stuffing myself is no longer required in order to feel full and well fed. Savoring the things that go in my mouth is still a joy and a pleasure. And there is nothing in the world wrong with pleasure! But the best kind of feasting? Well, that can happen in myriad ways, thanks be to God.