The Way of Beauty Lent and the taste for God

Taste refers to the appetite and is most commonly understood in the physical sense, the intake of food and liquid.

In its basic expression, taste grasps what is bitter, sweet, salty and sour. An expectant mother may crave a certain taste in food. The goal of taste is enjoyment and union with what is tasted. The loss of taste is an unnerving disorder but can be cured by stimulating the taste buds with medication and natural remedies.

Our contact with food provokes a reflex of pleasure or revulsion. Certain kinds of foods bring the expectation of pleasure and our eagerness to enjoy them. Other kinds conjure up disagreeable expectations, and they restrain our contact with them. During Lent, in imitation of Christ, Catholics and other Christians reduce their intake of pleasurable food and drink and also abstain from meat on prescribed days.

Feeling pangs of hunger symbolizes hunger for God, our full and complete satisfaction. Fasting from a created reality frees us from that object, revitalizes the spirit, and brings self-mastery and interior freedom. To embrace Lenten asceticism is to avoid those things which over stimulate the senses—not only food but also entertainment and the excessive use of electronic devices. The practice of Lenten asceticism is meant to intensify one’s taste for God.

Good or bad, taste is an analogous word extending to clothing, and one’s choice of companions.

Good Taste

Good taste is restrained; bad taste is excessive. Good taste varies with the faculties of an individual that develop from early childhood. The adage, "taste may not be questioned" (de gustibus non disputandum est), has its limits and is not absolute.

Sound taste is not arbitrary but is based on objective criteria and the particulars of truth.

Good taste gives the sense of what is fitting, harmonious, and beautiful, a sense of what is polite and tactful. It displays social or aesthetic value. Good taste applies to table manners and public courtesy, caring for the body, and to dispositions and judgments of the mind that reveal one’s choices. Good taste offends no one.

Impeccable Taste

What is impeccable taste? A person who develops his or her whole person according to the beautiful gradually learns to acquire the art of discrimination. A person with impeccable taste “has an eye for quality analogous to the eye of the connoisseur, who can infallibly distinguish art from kitsch, and excellent quality from average or merely good quality.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, I: 481)

A Sommelier and a Nose in the wine and perfume business respectively have acquired the sense of delicacy; they are connoisseurs. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was known for her impeccable taste, her simplicity of elegance. Experts who know when something is too much, too little, or just right have transformed their professions into art forms. The art of impeccable taste is a never-ending process because it chooses the better of two goods.

The Taste for God

The Psalmist exhorts to “taste and see how good the Lord is” (Ps 34:8). Here taste, used in the spiritual sense, participates in the act of faith. The goal of spiritual taste is enjoyment and union with God. Those with no taste for God or for spiritual things suffer from acedia or spiritual sloth, “a loathing of the spiritual good as if it is something contrary to ourselves.” (Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, “Acedia’s Resistance to the Demands of Love: Aquinas on the Vice of Sloth”)

Acedia, one of the seven deadly sins, was first discussed by the fourth-century desert fathers and is a common problem.

Acedia is an aversion, a restless resistance to God and the Good that sees both as the burden of commitment. Acedia regrets God’s call to friendship and discipleship. “It is like someone suffering from psychological illness and refuses to do the therapeutic work necessary for his own healing.” (Ibid) It is distaste for and disgust with spiritual things because of the physical effort involved in pursuing them. Acedia is an oppressive sorrow that so weighs down a person that he or she wants to do nothing. It is a form of nihilism. These are all classic signs of acedia.

Spiritual sloth is opposed to joy. Are contemporary man and woman in danger of losing their taste for God?

More in The Way of Beauty

If there are people who live in a state of acedia, there are also those who live in the sacrament of the present moment. They are aware that “in him, we live, and move, and breathe, and have our being” and that whatever they do is done to praise, reverence, and serve God (Acts 17:28). J.S. Bach was keenly aware of his God-given talent. He inscribed on his manuscripts SDG, the Latin initials for Soli Deo Gloria, to God alone be the glory. Bach understood that his purpose in life was to give glory and praise to God. His ordered genius proclaims God’s order, and his unfailing genius proclaims God’s infinite creativity.

Despite the frenetic pace of life in the west, the taste for God is beautifully expressed in Psalm 63:2-3, 9:

“O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you! Like a dry, weary land without water ... My soul clings to you; Your right hand holds me fast.”

Whoever can pray these verses is, at heart, a person of joy because he or she hopes in divine providence and waits for the good things of the Lord. Joy is a gift of the Spirit and a direct effect of charity.

“Taste and see how good the Lord is.”

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