Many of us grew up with our mothers admonishing us to chew slowly. Not many of us knew why and what benefit we would gain if we did. I sometimes wonder if we ever really grasped the benefit as we race through our meals, often eating “on the go.”
Chewing slowly not only allows for better digestion, but it has the added bonus of better hydration, easier weight loss or management, and of course we can actually taste and savor the food we are eating.
It does mean we must shift down into first gear to do so.
As I consider the sweet times of fellowship with the Lord during solitude and silence, I am keenly aware it only occurs when I deliberately slow myself down to rest in His presence. Those times with Him are immeasurably richer when my time in the Word and dialoguing with Him around it are a foundation for the level of intimacy solitude and silence bring.
I wonder how often we fail to chew slowly as we read in His Word. Quiet times must sometimes be compressed into shortened periods and we sometimes listen to the Word over iPods on our way to work or school. These and other times around the Word all help us focus on the Lord and nourish our spirits. They are good, but there is quite a difference between the enjoyments of dining at a table versus grabbing something at a drive through window.
I love what Judith Kunst reminds us about the Talmud in The Burning Word:
“Turn it and turn it again,” the Talmud says of the scriptures, “for everything is contained therein.”
Her words suggest to me the value of savoring the words that I read in the Word. She, in fact, points out that the Jewish tradition of reading the scripture called Midrash encourages that slow chewing on the Word.
Listen to Judith’s description:
“The Holy Scriptures abound with gaps, abrupt shifts, and odd syntax that puzzles, even confounds, any reader of scripture. Jewish Midrash views these troubling irregularities not as accidents or errors, or cultural disparities to be passed over, but rather as deliberate invitations to grapple with God’s revealed word – and by extension – to grapple with God himself…
Midrash views the Bible as one side of a conversation, started by God, containing an implicit invitation, even command, to keep the conversation – argument, story, poem, prayer – going.”
This interaction with the Word makes sense to me as a living document, a letter written from God to His children. As I read passages now that I know well and have read many times before, it is not unusual when I chew slowly to discover something new or fresh I somehow did not see at other times.
Chewing slowly allows me to notice the texture and subtle flavors of any food. The same is true with the Word.
It also reminds me of a few years ago on a trip to California. We visited some of the vineyards for which California is famous. If the vintner was present in the tasting room, we were taught to approach a glass of wine more slowly to discover all its nuances. It meant holding the glass up to allow the light to filter through the wine and notice the subtle or bold colors produced by the winemaker’s skills. It meant holding the glass of wine to the nose to discover its fragrance.
The vintner would slow us down even then to notice not just one fragrance, but a variety of complex notes. Swirling the wine in the glass before sipping it added another dimension by the addition of oxygen to the wine that had been bottled (closed off from air) just moments before. Then, and only then, were we advised to sip and taste the wine and enjoy all it contained.
In the first portion of Psalm 34:8 (ESV), the psalmist invites us:
“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”
I think the vintner’s lesson about wine serves me well in reading scripture or considering the Midrash manner of reading the Word.
Only then can I discover the richness of the dialogue meant to guide my relationship with the Lord. It is also from that rich interaction I sense His nudge to come aside to be alone with Him and allow His whispers to draw me into intimacy with Him.