Learning to Eat

I spent last week at Mt. Eagle Retreat Center near Shirley, AR, one of my favorite places on earth. I was there to teach seventeen new (or at least new to United Methodism) preachers about worship planning, sermon preparation, communication, and the like. I did a lot of listening, a fair amount of talking, and a whole lot of eating.

I hate to say it that way, really. I live in a culture that likes to brag about its excess. The amount of food one can consume at one sitting is a badge of honor. Clean the plate of the 72-oz steak and fixin’s, and you’ll get your picture on the wall.

But the kitchen at Local Pastor Licensing School this year was a far cry from an all-you-can-eat catfish buffet. Chef Susan assembled 9-ingredient salads with fruits and nuts I never would have considered. She grilled pickles, baked chicken, and cooked the best omelet I think I’ve ever had. Her cuisine was worth of the classiest restaurant, assuming that your idea of classy is somewhere above Cracker Barrel.

Two thoughts stuck with me during mealtimes. One is something I heard a spiritual director say years ago: a key ingredient to any good meal is hunger. The healthy fare Susan prepared did not have the same filling quality as a super-sized value meal. By the time meals rolled around again, I was usually hungry in a pleasing way. Filling up on M&Ms (and God knows I love M&Ms) five minutes before supper would have not only insulted the chef, but would have detracted from the joy of eating. The best way to enjoy the meal was to come hungry.

My other thought was that appreciating good—really good—food required me to change my approach to eating. The goal was not to scarf down calories the way I do on Tour de Faith, nor to get my money’s worth the way most of us do at a buffet. In fact, I can’t say that any kind of goal played into the meals at all. They were simply places of nourishment, both physical and conversational, that invited participants to savor what was set before us.

Dining at LPLS has reminded me to slow down and enjoy what is both good and nourishing, and to appreciate the art behind it—the skillful preparation and surprising juxtapositions of flavors. The best God offers may not be pre-packaged, convenient, or value sized. The best of anything rarely is. We were not created by God as consumers, but as fellows. God sets a table and invites us to it. Come hungry. Receive what is good.

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