Saturday, November 19, 2005

Intentional Eating

I was troubled with stomach pains. Pain when I was empty. Pain when I was full. Discomfort with spicey food. Distention with bland food. The doctor said I probably had an ulcer in the making. I was to eat small meals, several times a day. Sit down. Savour my food. Stop rushing. Eat peacefully. At table. Never eat on the go, and never do anything but eat when I was eating. It sounded easy enough.

Intentional eating. No distractions.

Do you know how often people call the pastor at meal times? When else is she home?
How peaceful is a family meal table when adults need time to share the day, and two middling girls need focused attention?
Cups of tea and boxed cookies consumed while I visited shut-ins? Surely that was not what the doctor ordered.

Mid-morning seemed an appropriate time for my first small meal in solitude. It was an effort to put aside my current book, The Alphabet of Grace. When eating alone I always read. The side of the cereal box in French, if nothing else were available. I reluctantly relinquished Frederick Bueckner, and chose herbal tea in a china cup, a tiny bunch of grapes and three dry crackers.

I sat for a long time looking at these offerings. The task of eating anything seemed impossible.

I plucked a grape. Weeping. What was this? Tears for a grape? It felt heavy in the hand. Gigantic in the mouth. More tears, silent, streaming. I would choke on this one grape and be found dead at the dining room table. The need to chew and swallow was growing. The body responds with saliva when food is placed in the mouth. It’s natural. But it is one of the things you don’t notice when you eat on the run.

Something holy was happening. A singular sacrament. With an effort of will, finally, I bit into the grape. Brought body, mind and spirit to the task. Felt its skin. Tasted its juice. Saw its deep purple colour in my mind. Sensed the other half dozen grapes waiting on the plate would be a surfeit of blessing. Reverently, prayerfully, I swallowed the grape.

What a struggle food had been for me all of my life. Too much. Too often. Too hurried. With a flash of parallel insight, I saw my whole life as a banquet, consumed but not savoured. Awash with tears, I choked down the grapes, the three dry crackers and the tea. There was a necessity to go through this ritual. To taste and see.

The intentional meal was a life altering experience. I marked it by writing a poem and offering that poem to Frederick Bueckner, in my first ever and only fan letter. He wrote back, by hand, some time later. And I still have the poem.


Life is a large grape,
hard to swallow whole,
tough as chicken,
big as a balloon in my mouth,
but insignificant enough
to make the necessity of chewing it,
an embarrassment.
The task's to get it down.

What holy hesitancy is this
to bite, bear down and masticate,
chew it up with clenched teeth,
let the juice run down over my chin,
empty myself of saliva in the living of it?

I distract myself from my devouring,
read a book,
write stories in my head,
dangle from the chandelier,
I have managed half a lifetime of grapes
in this manner,
some sustenance,
no substance at all.

Now this one grape,
commands me to taste it,
know it for itself.
I fasten on it,
will not let it go until it blesses me,
my first and last supper.
It bleeds between my teeth,
and I weep my grace,
anger and reverence,
and glory.

C.K. after Frederick Buechner


bobbie said...

has it only been a year since i held that hand? it seems like a lifetime reading your words connie. you write like my mother always dreamed to write.

you paint with words, such a feast. as one who struggles with food for the lifetime i've been on this earth i will draw strength from your experience and try too to find time to have intentional meals, to be present as the banquet is prepared before me.

thank you beautiful one - you are calling forth beauty within me today!

annie said...

I am a (somewhat reformed) cereal box reader myself!

Oh Connie, what a beautifully layered piece this is. So much to think about in physical terms, and then, on a a spiritual plane as well. What a challenge it is to move beyond simply consuming to savoring.

I have a couple of Buechner quotes I like and have been wanting to read some of his writing. Is there any particular book you wuld recommend?

BTW, thank you for the explosion of comments on my blog this morning, which I quickly consumed. Now I'll have to go back and savor them! Thank you so much.

daisymarie said...

Tremendous. And incredibly timely for me.

Intentional eating. I accept the challenge.

anj said...

Beautiful Connie, a celebration, a brokenness and a call to our own table. Such beauty on my screen. Thank you.

Barbara said...

Your ability to bring the true emotion to your writing strikes me everytime! Keep up the great work!

steph said...

Powerful Connie. I have my printed copy to read and digest and sit with the truths you are speaking. I need to hear them myself right now.

Fred said...

Very nice. It's especially timely here in the U.S. since most of us ate far too much yesterday. I wonder how many consummed too much with very little enjoyment?

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