I have a confession to make. I am a foodie. I am one of those people who lives to eat rather than eats to live. It is difficult for me to look at food as simply fuel for my body. The tastes, the aromas, the colors, the textures, even the sounds of food are wonderful. And this time of year is almost heaven on earth, in the food sense. Everything is fresh. Tomatoes, basil, squash, peppers, zucchini, beans, melons, peaches, herbs of all kinds…. Indeed at this time of year it is easy to be a vegetarian because we are surrounded with so much fresh produce and every bit of it tastes as if it came right out of the Garden of Eden— succulent, luxurious, sensual.
Food this time of year is to be savored not gobbled up on the go. This is food we not only eat but wear on our faces and the fronts of our shirts and blouses, with juices running everywhere. No napkins are necessary, just the back of the hand wiped across the mouth, and a tongue to lick up the sweet nectar that is running down an arm.
I cannot imagine life without this food. The raw delicacies we find at farmers markets and roadside stands are worth every rainy spring day and every hot, humid summer day we endure. This food is overwhelming in its flavors and it captures the essence of the season.
One of my very favorite poems is “Love” (III) by George Herbert (see below) the 17th century English metaphysical poet and Anglican priest. He is part of that group of poets that includes John Donne, Andrew Marvell and Thomas Traherne. I first encountered Herbert’s poetry when singing Ralph Vaughn Williams–Five Mystical Songs, a musical setting of five of Herbert’s poems. The music transported me and led me to search out the poems. I was enthralled by the poetry, the images, and the beauty of the language.
What do summer vegetables have to do with this poem? Eating! Here Love welcomes us to a banquet; the most sacred of banquets—Holy Communion. A small wafer of unleavened bread and a sip of wine may not seem like a banquet, but it is the foreshadowing of the heavenly feast to come. It is a meal that feeds my heart and my spirit. It soothes the parts of me that identify with the poet who feels guilty, dusty, sinful, unkind, ungrateful, and marred. When I eat this simple food it fills me up in ways I cannot completely explain.
A young girl expressed it best. One morning she received the wafer and took it back to her seat. Her father saw her sitting and slowly nibbling little bits off of it. He was appalled. He said, “What are you doing? You are supposed to eat the wafer up there,” pointing to the altar. While still transfixed on that little wafer she calmly responded, “I am eating it slowly because I want to savor the taste of Jesus.”
Communion is always special. It is never routine, it is never just a ritual. It is a meal to be savored—a bit of the holy on my lips, in my mouth, on my tongue, a bit of the holy coursing through my veins.
Love (III) by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.