What is it like for you to savor? I’m not just talking about delicious food, but any profound experience of beauty or goodness or truth. When I look into myself and others, I find that it’s surprisingly hard to stay in the present moment and savor.
We can consume and devour, insatiably wanting more, ruining ourselves or others in our gluttony or greed or lust. When we do so, there might be a flitting moment of pleasure, but no joy. More often, we do not allow ourselves even to be in the present moment. Rather, we numb ourselves and live a disembodied existence – buried in work, binging on pleasures, or staring at a screen. We find it easier to be passive spectators than actively engaged children of God. After all, we have no skin in the game when we watch the news, distract ourselves with sports, play video games, or scroll through social media.
Meanwhile, God is always seeking to allure us and amaze us with experiences of truth and goodness and beauty. What is it like to slow down and take in the honor and delight of these moments? Not to take a picture and post it on social media – but just to savor?
I struggle to savor, even though I recognize that God has gifted me with a heart that intensely delights in truth and goodness and beauty. I perceive his handiwork in places that others often don’t. Yet it’s a gift that I resist. I’m starting to understand why: I’m afraid to suffer.
When I discover a surprising new truth, I feel an intense arousal and delight, followed by even more longing. It’s as though I am four years old again. I have such an eagerness to discover the truth and surrender myself to it. If I allow myself to stay in the experience, I’ll desire to keep learning more. I’ll ask “why?” a thousand different ways. I will eventually reach moments of disappointment or sadness. I may feel alone or rejected in a mocking world that doesn’t allow time or space for such questioning. For sure, I’ll discover the limits of human knowledge. No matter how much I learn, there will always be more that I don’t know. Savoring means tolerating both the intense joy of learning and the ache of not-yet knowing.
When I stumble on human goodness, I easily cry. It can be an inspiring scene in a movie or a book. It can be a heroic moment in the everyday life of a person that I’ve known for years. Suddenly I catch of glimpse of God’s goodness blazing brightly, and the tears flow. I feel intense joy and gratitude. I feel regret for not having noticed and delighted in this goodness before. I feel that painful ache – an ache for this person’s goodness to be celebrated, an ache for more goodness in myself and others. In the depths of my heart, I long to give myself freely and wholeheartedly in sacrifice. Yet so many other parts of me are terrified of feeling vulnerable and unprotected. I resist a tenderhearted trust in God for fear of what might happen. I readily relate to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in the first half of the story, but not yet in the second. I can be with him lying prostrate on the earth, begging the Father to let the cup pass. I desire also to be like Jesus standing with strength and willingly giving himself over to Judas and the mob. But I resist the vulnerability involved, and often find myself like the turtle yanking his head back into the shell – even when the shell is starting to rot on the inside.
I see beauty every day, when I take the time to notice it. Too often I feel an urge to rush past it, telling myself that I don’t have time to savor it today. When I do pause to take it in, there is so much praise and delight in my soul – and again that longing, that ache, that sense of the eternal Beauty that cannot be contained in this passing world. My intuition knows that this moment of beauty is only a glimpse, and that it is going to fade. There is such a mixture of sweetness and sadness there. It feels easier just to avoid the ache by avoiding the intensity of the beauty.
Yes, even though God created my heart for truth and goodness and beauty, I sometimes resist those experiences. I consume and devour, rather than slow down and savor. I rush on to the next thing, rather than pause and delight. I gravitate towards “rest” that is actually disengagement and numbing out – disconnecting from my five senses and my body rather than being more intensely present in the moment. It takes emotional and spiritual effort to rest in an embodied way, even when I have the time.
I experienced this resistance the other day in the face of a spectacular winter sunset. It was a Sunday evening after a very full week of work, including several overwhelming moments of frustration, powerlessness, anger, anxiety, fear, and shame. I just wanted to “chill” or “veg out,” as we often say. I turned to look around just as I was about to enter my house, and saw the entire western horizon painted with a dozen contrasting shades, all reflecting upon the ice and snow. And I just wanted to go inside and veg out. I fought an intense spiritual battle just to stand there for fifteen minutes. I kept feeling an urge to exit the scene, to pull out my phone, or to go in the house and move on to the next thing. But a wiser and deeper voice within me told me to stay and to savor.
I wept at the stunning beauty. I wept over the resistance within my heart. I felt shame and frustration. My heavenly Father doesn’t mind my sins and struggles, but sometimes I cannot stand them.
We resist savoring because we don’t want to suffer; we don’t want to die; and we most definitely do not want to wait in hope – all the while feeling the painful longing of the “not yet.”
Isn’t it interesting that we sabotage our deepest longings? Part of us would rather be disembodied and joyless than fully alive with our five senses in the present moment. It is often the artist, the poet, the prophet, or the saint who calls us to our senses. I think of the intense delight and praise of Francis of Assisi as he savored God’s creation – all the while suffering in his longing to rebuild Christ’s Church. I think of the words of the poet T.S. Eliot in the early 20th Century: “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” We prefer to be “distracted from distraction by distraction.” Rather than desire and dream and risk, we will settle for “living and partly living.”
God has created us for so much more, and he sent his own Son to awaken these desires in our heart. The child Jesus will awaken these longings that his Father has placed in our heart. It’s a dangerous undertaking that will lead both him and us through suffering and death – and to eternal life. Will we follow?