Abby loves to eat.
(She loves to laugh, too, and to jump in her exersaucer, and to roll laps around the living room, and to watch her sister dance or play or read, but those are topics for other posts).
Gone are the days when I could leave her on the floor with a few toys while Katie and I ate lunch: Abby knows when mealtimes are, can see when others are eating, and she wants to be a part of that action. She’ll crane her head back, trying to catch my eye, growing increasingly agitated until I move her to her chair and give her food of her own. In the past few weeks, she’s begun smacking her lips at me – an action used both to express the desire for food and excitement and anticipation once it’s put in front of her. She opens and closes her mouth, my baby bird, ready for me to fill her up with good things.
This hasn’t always been the case, of course. In those early weeks of solid food, when anything other than Mama’s milk was foreign and strange and not to be trusted, she often put me in my place with withering looks of betrayal as she gagged and spat and scrunched her little nose at what we offered her to eat. Like her sister and every other baby before her, she found those first few tastes of solid food horrifying and bitter, not to be savored, not to be enjoyed, good only to be spat out.
The psalmist exhorts me to “taste and see that the Lord is good,” and I’ll admit I don’t always know what this means. It isn’t as though God is a strawberry or a glass of milk, something I can literally sink my teeth into, something I can feel sliding over my tongue and down my throat.
I try to drink deep, to pull from nature, from scripture, from church, to mull over my experiences, my theology, my relationships and in so doing, to taste the divine. I think of Eve with her fruit, of Ezekiel and his scroll, of Jesus being bread, being wine, being living water, of all the ways scripture uses physical food, this messy, corporeal, everyday material, to point us to sustenance eternal. My mouth waters, my soul thirsts, and I long to taste this name sweeter than honey, to savor the beauty of God, to draw my energy, my hope, my life from His goodness.
Often, I do: I find a morsel of the Word that settles sweetly on my tongue. A taste of beauty, of my daughter’s grin or a puff of cotton in an azure sky or a baby gosling trailing after its mother, lodges itself inside of me. I dwell on the flavor of a hymn lyric or a friendly greeting or a moment of connection in prayer, the goodness of God permeating my very being.
Other times, though, I take a gulp of life, a bite of the Word, expecting to find the goodness of God, and am left with only a bitter taste in my mouth, one that leaves me spitting and gagging, feeling a stinging sense of betrayal.
A friend convinces her preschool-aged sons to try things they think they don’t like by invoking science: citing the studies showing it can take a child as many as 15-20 separate tastes of a new food before they enjoy it, she tells them their taste buds haven’t woken up yet. She makes it fun, an experiment: “Let’s try it this time, and see if they’re awake!”
We’ve tried this with Katie recently. She laughs, tries a bit of something spicy, then reaches for her water. “My taste buds not wake up yet, Mama,” she tells me with a grimace.
She tends to do well at meals, eating a broad range of foods, but, her father’s daughter, has yet to appreciate squash. I tell her it’s good for her, it’s yummy, but she wrinkles her nose at its bitterness, telling me it it’s “not nummy.”
(Funny, this: bitter foods almost always need a second, or a third, or a fifteenth taste. Sweet foods? Not so much.)
I smile, encourage her to keep trying, tell her it might take a long time for her taste buds to wake up.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes things grow on us, sometimes they don’t. We may never overcome an aversion to eggplant or mushrooms or cilantro. Then again, though it might take us a lifetime, we might find ourselves moving past the initial bitterness to recognize the goodness underneath.
I wonder, perhaps, if this same principle is at work in spiritual matters, too. If God, the one who created both the human heart and the human palate, gave us this analogy even as He told us to taste His goodness.
The sweet things, they go down easy, and I’m eager and ready for more. Verses about the love of God. The splendor of nature. Human relationships when they’re going well.
The bitter things, though, take more time. Some days, it seems impossible to see the goodness of God, in the midst of ugly circumstances, in the throes of heartbreak or pain or betrayal. Try as I might, they may always carry with them a hint of sorrow, a list of questions, the taint of a broken world.
This, then, is my hope, as I continue to taste, continue to try to make sense of the painful stories of my own life, the difficult passages in the Word: that, though it may take me a lifetime, I might find myself delving deep, to find, if not goodness in the circumstances themselves, the goodness of the God who brings beauty from the ashes.