Eating Meditation

Open Table volunteers

Gathering the human community around food is one of our favorite pastimes. But when we are in each other’s company we are usually talking, so not necessarily paying attention to the food we are eating. When each of our groups serves a meal in our ecumenical Open Table ministry the serving is fast and furious, so there is not usually time to actually eat with our street friends.

They are often in a hurry to eat so they can journey down the street to use their Salvation Army voucher to be admitted for the night. Even though our street friends eat fast, they always take time to express their gratitude for the great meal. Our volunteers prepare the food with love, and it seems the ones eating can tell.

This week Ms. Reed, a newer street friend, shared a story of how she had worked in her professional field for many years, earning as much as $90,000 a year before her parents both died suddenly. That turned her world upside down. She said she gave up on life after that. She quit her great job. She started drinking heavily and lost her home. In time, she landed on the street.

When she found a supportive friend in the Salvation Army director, she felt some hope returning to her world. And when Rev. Sonya Lars, pastor at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church where we serve each week, offered her friendship and some work to do for the church, she said it saved her life.

Her face radiated as she told her story. Her sense of dignity was returning, You could see in her eyes the gleam of a person beginning to feel their worth again. I would say her simple radiance is the divine shining through her.

She said her work had prevented her from getting to the meal line earlier, so she was the last one to be served. But she humbly accepted that and expressed heartfelt gratitude to be on her way up from the bottom. When she ate you could see eating meditation happening. She was savoring the taste of a delicious meal for sure. But more than that, she was delighting in the taste of redemption, of eating the love put into the meal, and treasuring the experience of consuming a new life just emerging.

Eating meditation is one of the fundamental practices of training in mindfulness. I am going back through these fundamentals in an online version of mindfulness based stress reduction to review what I started learning in my first training eighteen years ago. I have to say eating mindfully is like starting over for me. It is very hard to slow down enough to savor. I am out of practice.

But watching Ms. Reed savoring this week helped me. Today is Thanksgiving 2015. May all of us who have food to eat and good company to enjoy practice eating meditation this day. May we pause for a moment of silence and reverence. May we really practice inner stillness, like starting our lives over, and then may we know savoring as if for the first time. And may we find simple radiance, as we too have been given this day for cherishing.

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About soulcare4u

I am the author of Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic World, published by Wipf & Stock and available through Amazon.com; and of a blog on Wordpress.com, "A Contemplative Path." I serve as the founding spiritual director of The School for Contemplative Living (www.thescl.net), adjunct faculty of Loyola University, and as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director in private practice.
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