Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Little Dab'll Do Ya

Grapes in El Priorat, Spain
Images on my mind: a raisin, a plate of appetizers, Sabbath, as I write on this unseasonably warm fall day, enjoying the sunshine after a great walk with Fargo and Rebel.
First, a raisin. Several months ago, I listened to Jon Kabat-Zinn speak about mindfulness, being in touch as much as possible with the moment, the surroundings, with self, right then and there. He spoke of a workshop in which participants were given a raisin, a single raisin; not a handful, not a boxful, just one raisin. For the next ten minutes they were to be mindful of the raisin, without eating it. They observed its wrinkled texture, the color, the feel, the smell. One guy put his in his ear. Finally, after appreciating all they could in those ways, they could put their raisin into their mouths--feeling it on tongue and cheek, then teeth as they bit it. POW, it was an explosion of flavor. It was as if they were tasting raisin for the very first time. They were mindful of the raisin and so experienced a raisin.
Kabat-Zinn continues about how in our normal eating we are apt to be jamming another handful/forkful into our mouths while still chewing the first bite. Mindful not of the first bite, nor of the succeeding texture, aroma, taste. I know this can be true for me, even when I'm not at a fast food place.
With that experience in mind (I used an almond, rather than a raisin), I have tried to be increasingly mindful of food and beverages, as well as other experiences, on this sabbatical time. I think it has helped me slow down to see, hear and experience even familiar things, people and places in new ways.
Certainly this mindfulness has enhanced my appreciation of the presentation of food in several restaurants in which the plates were as pleasing to the eye as they were to the mouth. Last Saturday I had a unique dining experience that went right along with my "taste and see" theme. The historic Elk Mountain Hotel in Elk Mountain, Wyoming hosted a gourmet dinner of all wild meats. Far from elk steaks roasted on an open fire, (thought there is nothing wrong with that), this multi-course dinner was as formally and pictorially presented as any I have ever had. The European-trained South African chef delights in using local foods, but with European flair (her words). Just as with the French cuisine I enjoyed a month ago, each course was composed of small portions, sensuously seasoned and delightful to savor visually and orally. We took three and a half hours to enjoy the food, the ambiance, the fellowship.
(For the foodies among the gentle readers, the menu included a starter of salmon pate, appetizers of wild boar, duck pate, venison and cranberry sausage; butternut bisque, fresh salad greens with sugared pecans and a delicate citrus vinaigrette; pheasant breast, seasoned with white wine and juniper berries, and polenta cake; fillet of venison with tiny green beans and sweet potato gratin with chipotle; pavola with a mix of berries; chocolate truffles and coffee with Kahlua layered with whipped cream)
These experiences challenge my thinking about abundance. So often I think of abundance in terms of large amounts, great numbers, big sizes. I sensed abundance when I saw countless clusters with grapes beyond number. Seeing one hallway of an underground wine cellar with one million (yes, truly, one million) bottles of Cava seems like abundance to me. BUT, what is it to truly taste one--just one--perfectly ripened Syrah grape, picked yourself from the vine? That is an amazing taste of abundant proportion.
This thinking is further supported by Allesandrao Scorsone, the events manager at government headquarters in Palazzo Chigi, who offers this word of advice for those wishing to enter the world of wine, "You need to drink less, but drink better. A good glass is all you need, just one. However, it must be the right one."
Even as I am formally away from church responsibilities, I am considering how these thoughts may play out for me as an individual and for the church at large. Could it mean living as simply as possible (plain food, simpler clothes, fewer activities, less responsibility, more restfulness) for six days and then using the resultant savings and energy for celebrations that may not be quantitatively larger, but qualitatively distinct where abundance is celebrated on a different scale? The POW taste of a single raisin, the grace-filled offering of one sip of really fine wine and service rendered with careful preparation and care; with appreciation of a small choir whose presentation is savored by those who sing and those who hear; where the space of silence is valued as much as the sounds of prayer, music, preaching. Could it mean a different preparation on Saturday (getting all the chores done on Saturday) so that the whole of Sunday--from sunset until sunset might be experienced with a greater sense of the gift it is--time to rest, reflect, feast with God, family and friends, letting God be in control, etc. Could it mean feasting on one carefully and lovingly prepared dish rather than a feast of huge abundant proportions?
That is enough for this moment and perhaps the answers will surface as I enjoy eating this one, single raisin.

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