“Taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
The sad truth is, it seems to me on this early Sunday morning, that I have spent far too much of my life not realizing how good the Lord tastes. It’s an odd notion for the psalmist to make, I admit. How is it (the wonder and mystery of the Eucharist aside) we can go about tasting the Lord?
The glorious truth is, we have been given a bounty in the tastes and colors and scents that come from the gardens and farms of God’s good creation. What better and further proof, if we have need of that, of God’s presence and action in the world than that of an heirloom tomato just hours from being on the vine? This misshapen and seemingly mis-colored fruit/vegetable (argue about that amongst yourselves!) is as difficult for our modern sensibilities to grasp as is the presence of the creator. We pass it by in the stores and markets because it doesn’t match our expectations of what a tomato is supposed to look like. But taste it…take it in…make it part of you…and the difference becomes obvious. And we find ourselves saying, “So that’s what a tomato is supposed to taste like!” It is our experience of the heirloom tomato, like our experience of God, that makes it real.
My father, who rarely darkened the doorway of a church as an adult, seemed to know this well. For many years when I was a child, he grew a totally organic garden in a small corner of our backyard in North St. Louis. He composted our garbage. He spent his evenings poring over copies of “Organic Gardening” and dreaming of a bigger plot of land than the roughly 15-foot-square portion of our yard that bordered our neighbors (the Hennekeses) and the back alley. On top of our no-longer-used swing set, which straddled the patch, he attached a hose and sprinkler so the water would fall gently on the plants below. During the winter he started most of his plants from seed in our basement, illuminated and warmed by a fluorescent lighting fixture and tended to and watered with extreme care and attention. I’m sure he urged me to help and learn, but I was busy with other things.
But for a man who once considered a call to ministry as a teenager, I can only imagine that his garden became his connection to something sacred – the tilled and well-manured earth as an experience of a God who cared enough to become one of us and walk around in our shoes and experience the good earth’s aromas and flavors and vibrant hues. This is how I choose to remember my father. When his depression and drinking drew him away from his garden, I think he grieved the loss of that connection.
And so yesterday we walked the stalls of the Ferguson Farmer’s Market with our good friends, John and Karen and Larry and Dianne, where we chose tomatoes and leeks and green beans and corn and zucchini and onions and fresh pasta. We took it all to Larry and Dianne’s and spent the rest of the day cutting and peeling and cleaning and cooking (and drinking and laughing and singing). Under the grilling mastery of Larry and the careful guidance of John, our resident chef, who added not only his art but also fresh herbs from his and Karen’s garden, we together created a feast that took hours to eat. Slow food in a fast food world. Communion with friends and God. Grace.
And I thought of my father, hunched over in the garden, urging the tender shoots of onions along the fence, coaxing the peppers and tomatoes and beans to life, cutting fresh lettuce and pulling carrots for dinner. A moment of connection between God, man and earth. Providing for his family in a way that transcended a paycheck and the frustrations of life delivering mail for the federal government. A holy, organic, authentic moment of grace. A moment of knowing that this life is good and tasty and so is the God who gives it.