Taste and See: A Book with Way More than a Catchy Title
Ginny Kubitz Moyer explores how Catholicism is a faith of sense(s)
One of the things I most appreciate about my Catholic faith is that it brings together so many different aspects of life.
There’s the fact that I find God in every aspect of my life. There’s the experience of smelling and hearing and tasting at Mass. There’s the tie-ins, all around me, to Divine Providence.
I just love that Ginny Kubitz Moyer, an award-winning author and mom from the California’s Bay Area, is able to recognize this and tease it out into a book that’s a delight to read.
God speaks to me not in mystical, abstract ways but through the stuff of daily life. And like any expert communicator, God speaks to me using the language I know best—the language of the five senses.
Her book, Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses (Loyola Press), is divided into sections based on the five senses. Each of those sections has chapters exploring the senses in concrete ways.
Faith is about living life, in all its messy splendor, and doing so with the awareness that God is present throughout it all. It’s about recognizing that God speaks to us through our senses and that we can live a richer, more joyful faith if we train ourselves to listen.
Moyer readily admits the difficulty of this advice, and that’s why the end of each chapter includes prayer steps loosely styled after the Examen, the daily prayer St. Ignatius taught and that has been an essential in Jesuit spirituality for centuries.
Taste and See is an experience to read. I couldn’t help but nod along as I read Moyer’s reflections on common incidents, things that are so ordinary as to not merit comment most of the time.
For example, a chapter in the section on smell considers Moyer’s deadheading the lavender in her garden. “Deadheading lavender isn’t work to me; it’s aromatherapy,” Moyer writes, and continues:
As with most scents, lavender is an impossible fragrance to describe in words. When I free-associate, though, I have no lack of things to say: Clean. Summer. Fields in Provence. English garden. Fresh linen. Bed and breakfast. A lady’s soap dish. It’s a purifying scent, one that seems capable of dominating any other smell around it, in a good way. It can overcome murk, sweat, and sour laundry. It can change the mood of a room—or a piece of clothing, or a media-saturated mom—like nothing else.
As I bent over and snipped each stalk, rubbing the blooms between my fingers and feeling a slight (and not unpleasant) residue on my skin, I felt myself growing more and more peaceful. My mind, which had been glutted with photos and graphics and status updates, was being refreshed. It wasn’t the click-of-a-key refreshment but a deep refreshment, as if I were opening the windows of my very self to let in clean, sweet air.
As a blogger, I’m the last person to criticize the Internet. But I’ve found that it’s remarkably easy to get seduced into giving it more time than it deserves. Brief two-dimensional glimpses into the faraway lives of other people can sometimes feel more compelling than the concrete life right in front of me, in my very own house and yard. I don’t think that’s entirely a problem; curiosity about what lies beyond our immediate lives is always a trait worth encouraging. That said, there are times when I find myself spinning my wheels online, not really being edified by what I’m seeing and yet oddly reluctant to leave. It’s as if I keep waiting for some update, some little hit, to do what the Internet can’t do—to do what only real life can.
Snip. Snip. With the sun on my head, I worked my way around the fragrant lavender, cutting away the thin fibrous stalks, absorbed and happy. The Internet is a feast for the eyes, yes, but I’m more than just a pair of eyes. Sometimes I need a gentle reminder that real life has three dimensions, and real life has a smell.
The Examen-inspired prayer prompts that follow were no less resonating to me than what Moyer said about lavender (a plant I also cultivate and love!). She offers great reflections, forcing you to stop and maybe narrow your eyes a bit in consideration.
And then she challenges you to stop all the way and pray about it. The prayer, using the Examen method, comes out more naturally and as the beginning of a conversation, if only you’ll pause and listen.
For example, in the “Look Ahead” portion of the section following the reflection above, Moyer encourages:
Find a time when, typically, you would be looking at a screen, and use it to spend some time in nature. Don’t just look at what is around you; take a deep breath and smell God’s creation. Even if you can’t leave home, sit in front of an open window and breathe in the smell of the outdoors.
God made us creatures of senses. We aren’t just minds or souls: we are a glorious combination of both. Taste and See is a lovely way to remind yourself of this.
Don’t read it quickly. Savor it. Participate with it. Allow God to touch you through it.