Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Little At A Time

Besides his mellow and affectionate disposition, another sign of Baxter’s maturity is a change in his eating habits. He certainly still has his appetite, but he satisfies it differently now. When Baxter was younger, he gobbled down his food. As soon as the feeder would deliver a new portion, he would run to it and inhale it all. Within five minutes, his meal was over. Sometimes he would eat so fast that he couldn’t keep it down. It all got stuck somewhere in his esophagus, and there just wasn’t enough room to hold it all.

Now the picture has changed. Baxter still runs for his food, but he ingests it differently. He will chomp down a part of the meal and then stop. He goes for a drink of water and walks away for a rest or bathroom break. After ten or fifteen minutes, he goes back for a little more. This routine continues for perhaps three or four visits to the feeding station. After that, he usually leaves just a few morsels for a mid-morning snack. He paces himself through a meal, and I am sure his digestive track is grateful for this slower intake that allows time to process the contents.

How do we take in the nourishment life offers us? Do we savor its taste, aroma and satisfaction, or do we absorb it just to survive? We can go about our days just getting things done, because they are necessary for our work, our families or other obligations we have assumed. At the end, we are exhausted and frustrated. Tomorrow, it all starts over, and sleep is simply a recharging station we use to have the energy to get through another day. This approach can leave us feeling empty, while our schedule is full. We go through the motions of a full life, but interiorly we are queasy and upset. The stomachs of our souls are growling for genuine nourishment.

Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) To grasp the rich life Christ offers, we need time to take it in, to reflect on what is happening in the light of faith. We want to see ourselves as characters in the story of God’s saving mystery in Christ. This understanding is only possible if we sit quietly and look at the particulars of our lives slowly and carefully. The deepest meaning where God is knitting our lives together is not caught on the run, gobbling down experience after experience, and feeling overloaded. This level is disclosed in bits and pieces with time to fully digest the details where God is often hidden.

Sometimes the scene is dark and bitter, and we are tempted to spit it out and move on. At other times it is light and sweet, and we want to overindulge in it, filling our outlook with self-importance and self-pride. Only with slow and careful reflection on all of it, do we see the true picture where God’s grace was upholding us, guiding us, nourishing us and moving us along. Bit by bit we see a pattern, a hidden and holy presence, a movement that is transforming us. At feeding time when we are starving for soul food, we often miss this divine milieu, but in the quiet of the night, with time to digest the
day, we can savor its nourishment and allow it to build up our strength and vitality.

In the German language there are two words for eating, fressen and essen. Fressen is what animals do when they tear into their meals to get as much as they can for fear that another animal may come and steal it. Essen is what human beings do when they have overcome their fears and take time to dine, to share nourishment and savor its goodness. Maybe Baxter is becoming a little more human in his eating patterns. Maybe we need to become a little more human in our pattern of life. Plato attributes to Socrates the line, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” To nourish our spirits, we need to take the time to digest what God gives us in the course of our lives.