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The taste of God

· Consecrated women ·

Without the senses faith is reasoning about God, with the senses it is an experience of God. Faith, in fact, implies the whole of life and of the person, it passes through the body and its languages which are, precisely, the senses: the parapets of the heart and windows on the invisible.

Taste is one of these senses. It is obvious, because it embraces a rather broad field of experience: from food to all that in some way enables us to taste life; but it is also discreet, given that it is not automatically imposed, but must be trained and developed. It is material and concerns the elementary instincts (hunger, thirst, greed), but the spiritual instincts too, because one can also taste an ideal or God himself. Indeed, until one attains the capacity-freedom for tasting God faith is still poor and superficial.

Scripture already adopts this language: “The ordinances of the Lord are [...] sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Ps 19:10),while the psalmist’s invitation is addressed to everyone: “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8). And Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] says “Come to me, you who desire me, and eat your fill of my produce, for the remembrance of me is sweeter than honey, and my inheritance sweeter than the honeycomb. Those who eat me will hunger for more, and those who drink me will thirst for more” (Sir 24:19-21).

Jesus himself uses the metaphor of food to speak of his relationship with the Father: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 4:34). And Jesus always describes the believer as one who does not live on bread alone, but “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4).

So too in the history of spirituality the vocabulary of taste has served to describe the intimate and profound experience, the experiential knowledge of God and also the hunger and thirst for him, the longing for his face and the desire for the dulcedo Dei [sweetness of God]. This is the true wisdom, in the Latin sense of sapor and of sapere: I taste, therefore I know: gustare, hoc est intelligere [to taste is to know] (William of Saint-Thierry). Among the multitude of texts on this subject we may mention Bernard of Clairvaux’s famous hymn Jesu, dulcis memoria: “Jesus, sweet remembrance, source of true joy to the heart; sweeter your presence than honey and than every other thing […] who tastes you is never sated, who drinks you still thirsts […] Jesus, to the ear you are sweet melody, to the mouth a wonderful honeycomb, to the heart a surpassing drink”. There is a precise point when the taste of the spiritual realities is somehow overcome, it goes beyond the phenomenon of a pleasing sensation, however sincere and intense, and becomes something even truer and more profound, far more than a sensation since it changes and transforms the person. This is what happens when the Lord Jesus is not only a dulcis memoria but becomes food himself, given to us in the Eucharist, a food that nourishes us. There an important and extraordinary thing takes place, humanly unthinkable and incomprehensible and conceivable only at the level of grace: “The soul is transformed into what it eats” (William of Saint-Thierry). It is the highest point for this sense of taste of ours, or our highest vocation, to convert our tastes, to have those of the Lord. As if to say: the Eucharist brings about the transformation of the believer into Christ, of his or her own attractions and gustative inclinations into the image of those of Christ. Thus it is the whole person who is taken up and who finds him- or herself inserted into a reality which is overwhelming and transforms him or her into the external and internal senses of Jesus, into his sensibility and affectivity, into his way of living and dying. He who is lifted up from the earth draws to himself all the living (cf. Jn 12:32), to live anew in every living being. And what is that being drawn by the Crucified One other than a transformation of the inner taste?

We see only two indications concerning the formation of taste (in fact ignored in our rationis formationis). First of all in order to evangelize taste it is necessary to educate others and ourselves in beauty, namely to learn to recognize it in us and around us, particularly in the One whose sentiments we are called to relive, in his word and his way of life, in what he gives and asks of us. Since God is beautiful and it is sweet to praise him, thus the Church, the Liturgy, living together in his name and serving our neighbour and the poor must be beautiful. What is the meaning of prayer if it is not an experience of beauty, if the person praying does not understand that it is simply beautiful to be before God and listen to his words, “wasting time” in adoration? What is the meaning of Christian life if it is not an experience that being meek, patient, merciful, builders of peace, poor and pure in heart is beautiful and gives happiness, and should not be lived as a duty? How can the consecrated life draw one to it if it is not a testimony of beauty? What God do we proclaim if we do not manage to say that the Father of Jesus and our Father does not seek obedient soldiers but happy children, with a palate for the Beatitudes and an evangelized taste? The other pedagogical indication to convert taste and not to refuse or eliminate it is fasting, that is, “the form with which the believer professes faith in the Lord with his own body” (Bianchi) or with which the body, voluntarily deprived of food, becomes a sign of the hunger for every word that comes out of the mouth of the Father, the true food (cf. Mt 4:4). A fasting body becomes prayer, and prayer particularly true, because it is made by the person with the whole of him- or herself, even with the stomach (empty). For this reason, depriving oneself of material food which nourishes the body facilitates an inner disposition to listen to Christ and to nourish oneself on his word of salvation. It makes us understand that we must feel the need for God. And that God can become food which satisfies and feeds. “Through fasting and praying, we allow him to come and satisfy the deepest hunger that we experience in the depths of our being: the hunger and thirst for God” (Benedict xvi). In this sense fasting is an antidote to the intellectualistic reduction of spiritual life or to its confusion with the psychological dimension or with the solely pleasing and not also agonizing sensation of the divine.

Therefore if on the one hand fasting enables us to discern what our normal hunger is, of what we live on and nourish ourselves with, where our tastes go and what the familiar flavours are, so it has the power to make us feel satisfied or hungry, on the other it disciplines our orality, always tempted by the temptation of acquisition and voracity, with regard not only to food but also to things, to others, even to the spiritual experience itself. Until we succeed in ordering our appetites to what are truly the only necessary things: God and his will, like a food that satisfies for life. To taste for the whole of blessed eternity!

For this reason fasting is a sign of love and Jesus asks that it be undertaken without sounding trumpets or putting on a sad face, but rather with a glad mind, in interiority and in secret (cf. Mt 6:16), as something beautiful in itself, in front of the Father. Love is discreet, it does not seek consensus and applause, the taste of doing things for love is enough for it. It is precisely this taste that is the Father’s reward which gives a joy that makes life beautiful.

Amedeo Cencini

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