Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 34:1-8) transports me to a taste-testing festival, where sommeliers see, swirl, smell, sip and savor the spirits on display. The appearance of one is rich with golden clarity, the swirling bouquet an elegant mix of oak and berry. The first attack of taste is sweet but crisp, evolving into a profile of fig and cinnamon, and finishing with a long, buttery, full-bodied aftertaste in the back of the throat. I suspect that the training for wine stewards includes memorizing a thesaurus, so they can continually come up with new words and phrases to describe the experience of the grape on your tongue. My friend Darrell Adams found out from a sommelier that the kind of wine he likes is a gnarly one, which I think means you get the earthy taste first and a fruity finish. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Darrell’s a gnarly guy; I know that.
Did you know that the human tongue has around ten thousand taste buds? The sense of taste must have been important to the Creator, imbuing us with the capacity to distinguish salty, sour, bitter, sweet and umami tastes. Umami – that’s a Japanese word for meaty taste. A vegetarian friend told me they don’t have to go for fakin’ bacon to experience umami; mushrooms do the trick. Having something of a plebian palate myself, I tend to use my ten thousand buds in conjunction with other senses, taking my cues from George Carlin, who said for food to travel from his plate to his palate it had to pass a three-fold test: it had to look good and feel good in his mouth, as well as taste good. That’s why I won’t touch anything with coconut in it. It fails all three tests. Those professional tasters, the sommeliers of the world, base their judgments of good and bad taste according to a five-fold test: clarity, complexity, character, connectedness, and expressiveness. Those seem like pretty good bases by which we can do what the Psalmist encouraged us to do, to taste the Lord. There is certainly a clarity to God’s goodness, but there is also a flavor of complex mystery. There is a distinct character to the Spirit, connected to the values the Psalmist expresses here and elsewhere.
If we are going to take a snootful of the Spirit of Christ, we should first have enough knowledge of that Spirit to recognize it, to know that that is what we are indeed tasting. For the Holy One is not the only spirit on display. In the words of Mick Jagger, the devil introduces himself to us throughout our lives as a man of wealth and taste. To help us distinguish the Lord from Lucifer, the Psalmist gives us some good clues as to the nature of the sacred thirst-quencher. You know you are drinking in the Spirit if it causes the afflicted to rejoice, if it delivers you from fear, if it transforms shame into radiant grace. You know you are drinking in Jesus if it leads you to rescue the poor from troubles, if it creates a refuge for the oppressed. You know you are drinking in the risen Christ if it leads to a contentment in which you lack nothing, if it makes the powerful weak, if it deepens your love of life, if it makes you more honest. You’ll know God is going down your hatch if it prompts good work, if it leads you to pursue peace, if it helps you to erase memories of evil, if it brings you closer to the brokenhearted and helps you to lead crushed spirits to salvation. Pardon my poor taste, but I’ll be doing my best to drink all this in while I’m suckin’ on a chili dog outside the Tastee Freeze (remember that little ditty?)
How about you? Where does this passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.