It was early evening, late July, 2002.
A red-and-gold restaurant in Wuhan, China. The tables were like giant cheerios around big iron pots of boiling, spicy broth. The idea was, you load your blue plastic plate with various raw members of the plant and animal kingdoms and stew them yourself tableside. (Then you smile delightedly at your hosts while the food burns all the way down.) I didn’t mind the selection process until my kind Chinese friends began to lend a hand, piling my plate high with every delicacy I was bound to enjoy–such as a black stringy thing seven inches long. It looked exactly like a reptile. . . it was a snake. A sweet Chinese girl cooked it for me. I just trusted her when she said it was ready. And, grimacing smiling in anticipation, I chopsticked it in whole, swallowing the thing in segments.
What did it taste like? I’ve been asked more than a few times what that snake tasted like. I think I said, “Chicken.” But here’s the rub. I was a little preoccupied with the process and my surroundings . . . and though I may never be presented with that particular culinary experience again in my entire life–I completely forgot to taste it.
Tasting something requires more effort than eating it. First, you have to hold it in your mouth long enough. This is probably the part I neglected with the black snake. The process can be rather complex, as initial bursts fade and later, subtler flavors develop on your tongue.
Second, there is work involved. You quite often have to chew on something a time or two to release its flavor. A little research has yielded an astonishing array of advice on this topic, but the classic recommendation is to chew everything at least 20 times. I think I also skipped this step with the snake, probably expecting a tough, chewy texture.
And finally, you have to pay attention. To really get the most from tasting anything you have to think about what it tastes like. (There’s a reason why you serve after kick-off if you burn the nachos, friends.) You have to compare it a bit to other things you’ve tasted. You might ask yourself a few questions about it: Is it too salty? Is it sweet? Is it still alive?
Sometimes I think we read our Bibles like I ate that snake: in big, dutiful gulps. And when anyone asks us what our reading’s been tasting like, we answer automatically: “Chicken.” We may manage the discipline required to crack the covers and skim the words, but we forget to come ready to taste. If we sit and just read with our eyes for x window of time, the only (worse than worthless) thing we often walk away with is the tiny mental pat our own sense of duty bestows on our backs as we rise. Now, I know God uses his word and in his grace often we are grabbed by all kinds of flavors on the way down whether we are tasting for them or not. But if it tastes like chicken a little too often, could it be that we aren’t holding it in our mouths and chewing it? Could it be that we’ve forgotten to ask ourselves what it tastes like?
Sit down and savor!
“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
“For it is no empty word for you, but your very life . . .”