Me give up my faithful friend of fifty years and more! Unthinkable! But this is what I’ve done. I’ve given up smoking my beloved pipe! The friend that brought me so much joy, was there to comfort me when times were bleak, and then came to my rescue when I was in need of inspiration. Let me now tell you how we met.
When I started that was socially acceptable, and women even said they liked a man who smoked a pipe. That was good for my morale! And there was no health-scare about the effect on the smoker himself, and certainly not on any one who happened to inhale the clouds of smoke he was puffing out. But then, with the advance of medical research it was realised that smoking did enormous harm to the health, not only of the smoker, but also of those around him.
I cannot claim that I made a heroic struggle, a powerful act of will, in giving up my pipe. In fact I’d made previous attempts and had dismally failed. There was the occasion when I’d thrown my pipes and tobacco into the incinerator, only to rush out and re-equip myself at the tea interval of a Test Match in which England was being thrashed. Weak old me needed the comfort of my pipe!
But what has now forced me to give up smoking was my ending up in hospital with viral pneumonia. Afterwards I learnt that over the years I’d developed chronic emphysema. What had been a comfort and joy had seriously damaged my health and had caused me great distress in hospital. So really the decision to stop smoking was easy.
And there’s a positive side to what had been the sacrifice of a good and comforting friend –my pipe. My sense of taste improved. And that, I realised is why expert wine tasters don’t smoke. Nor, for that matter, do they eat pickled onions or a strong curry while drinking a good wine. Instead they prefer to cultivate a sensitive palate by foregoing the joys of strongly flavoured food –or a pipe.
These musing about the way we can effect the sensitivity of our palates got me to thinking about how we can influence our taste for the things of God –for better or for worse. This can seriously alter our spiritual well-being or health.
For example, we can easily be led astray by keeping bad company. Reading unsavoury books or looking at similar material on the TV or Internet may be fascinating and exciting. But this can lead us to developing a taste for this kind of thing. If so, it’s likely that our palate will become jaded for the things of God. The same will be true if we become preoccupied with materialism or obsessed with sensual pleasures. Our heart will be where we think our treasure is to be found. And gradually our palates –our minds –will become coarsened.
But if we avoid such influences and seek only what is wholesome the Holy Spirit will help us gradually to develop a taste for divine things. We will learn to savour them and enjoy them. As I’ve found with giving up my pipe the sacrifice was worthwhile. My palate has become more sensitive and my health has improved. So too, it’s worthwhile giving up harmful delights if that helps me to savour the infinitely greater joy of what God has to offer. That’s nothing less than himself.
If you doubt it, listen to the psalmist who urges us, “O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him,” [Ps. 34:8].
Just as giving up my pipe has helped me to have a better appreciation of food and drink, so, too, I must try to develop my taste for the things of God by being more discriminating in what I look at. That must be essential to my way of meeting God. A good Lenten resolution for all of us!
Isidore Clarke O.P.
(Next week Peter will meet God through a good cursing)