What does God taste like?
"How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than the honey to my mouth." (Psalm 119:103). So what does God taste like? I’ve just finished the BRF Guidelines series on John’s Gospel by Franciscan priest resident in Cyprus, Andrew Mayes – and it has been an eye opener, literally. Each new morning I have my quiet time in the lounge overlooking the fields backing onto our new house. And I begin with a time of listening to God or more precisely, in the words of Mother Theresa, listening to God listening to me. How long? Well, as long as it takes for me to drink a very large cup of freshly made cappuccino. I had already stumbled onto the practice of engaging my senses in prayer. So to answer the question which Mayes asks: for me, God tastes like my favourite drink. However, it can be difficult to drink a full cup of cappuccino with your eyes closed. So knowing that Jesus, like his Jewish contemporaries, prayed with his eyes open I am developing the discipline of doing the same. It can be difficult – we are so easily distracted by visual stimuli: an acrobatic squirrel, female pheasants pecking their seeds, the white blossoms on the magnolia. The question I have been asking myself – are these distractions or in fact, pathways to appreciating God’s presence? Am I being adventurous or just lazy? I even feel vaguely guilty by not closing my eyes. Two weeks ago we started Mayes series entitled Sensing the divine: John’s word made flesh. He writes in the introduction: “This journey through John’s Gospel will help us to reconnect with the ground beneath our feet. It will stimulate a re-engagement, a re-enactment, with God’s world which is brimming with epiphanies.” “This is going to be interesting,” I thought. Mayes is seeking to answer the very questions I have been asking. For John’s Gospel, as Mayes points out, is sensational. It brims and overflows with tangible signs, calling us to discover a new sensibility –that is, a fresh receptivity to insights through our senses. Smell the scents, taste the wine – you won’t find any better vintage than at Cana. Above all Jesus enters our world as flesh and blood. His body is real – he feels fatigue, he experiences thirst: he bleeds. As John opens his first letter with this understanding of Jesus’ physicality: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1) And this Jesus we may know today. I hadn’t realised this but John uses the word know no less than 109 times. Such knowledge, he teaches, brings life; “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:2) We may know God in our heart – that is, again in Hebrew thought, where our reason, will, temperament and sensitivity converge at the very core of our being. Our relationship with him is not just cerebral for there is not one part of who we are which may not engage with the God who made us. For Mayes points out that knowing in the Hebrew mind comes through encounter and intimacy. John understood that the active use of the sense plays a vital role in the development of our relationship with others, with God’s world and above all, with God himself. So the risen Jesus invites Thomas to explore his wounds with his fingers, his acute sense of touch. Jesus in his risen glory, in a way we cannot comprehend, continues as flesh and blood. For God enters our world in the person of Jesus and so location is important – as demonstrated in all four Gospels. What Jesus did and said is forever bound up with geography. Just say the words Bethlehem, Cana, Gethsemane, Golgotha. Timing too is everything, especially for John which he relates to the annual festivals, especially the Passover. The hour of Jesus’ passion is the very same time that the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the temple. As Mark Stibbe points out “Christology and chronology are inseparable.” Above all Jesus invites us as he invited the first disciples to “come and see.” Jesus calls us to be curious, inquisitive, enquiring. The challenge of John’s Gospel is to open wide our eyes and see what God is showing us, to see the world sacramentally. We find it difficult, like the Samaritan woman at the well, to see beyond the physical. Jesus encourages her to see beyond the physicality of the water. “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.” (John 4:13f) Again speaking to the disciples, he challenges them and us to see beyond the physical: “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35). We are to welcome the aroma of God as Mary, at some considerable expense, offers Jesus an exuberant, extravagant, fragrant act of adoration. As John recalls years later: “And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:4) Throughout the gospel of John the presence of Jesus continually impacts all our senses. After all it’s his world made through him, and so rather than turning down our sensory capacity in order to encounter him in the here and now, maybe we should turn them up. Something to ponder over a cappuccino.