I have never, nor will I ever, understand the term "al dente." For example, to cook asparagus so briefly that it still comes out bright green and able to stand up on its own. Why even go to the trouble of cooking it? If you are in such a hurry to finish, why not just eat it raw?
As a southerner, I'm proud to say: we don't do al dente. We actually cook our food. We stew things, boil things, we simmer things.
New Years day, I spent most of the morning stewing a big pot of black eyed peas. And no, I did not blanch or sauté them. First, I soaked them in water for an hour. Then, I simmered them for another two hours with cloves of garlic, beef bouillon cubes, salt, pepper, a Vidalia onion and of course a ham bone with lots of fat. After several hours, all those fabulous flavors seeped into those little peas and they magically transformed into a holy work of art.
It's too bad we don't live life like those peas. Sadly, New Years is all about living life al dente. It is a time for gearing up, revving ones' engines about the coming year. We make New Year's resolutions, lists, goals, plans, strategies; we think of ways we can be more productive, more efficient, more successful, and more things to more people; we plot what we can do now, what we can be now, how can we improve life now. Now, now, now!
Perhaps the lesson for 2010 is not to speed up, but to slow down. Not to rush, but to take a slower, more deliberate pace to life.
Life just tastes better when slow cooked. For example, if I had quickly blanched those peas, all the garlic and onion and ham flavors would have been lost. And it's the same with life. When we live life al dente, we miss all the surrounding ingredients: the things of beauty, the things that matter, the people in need.
Jesus' life was the perfect example. His ministry was based upon a slow, deliberate approach to life. Jesus never did anything al dente. He didn't work on a strict agenda. He didn't use a Blackberry or an iPhone. He just walked and went at such a pace that he noticed the things around him; things like a mustard seed, or Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, or the leper by the road, or the woman at the well.
When we insist on living life at a quick al dente pace, we will walk right by the things that made Jesus stop. "I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me." (Matthew 25:42-43)
There is another ingredient we will miss living life al dente. That ingredient is God. To develop intimacy with God, you need time. The theologian Brennan Manning talks about it in terms of "wasting time with God." And why not? We waste time with our loved ones: napping on the couch, taking a long drive, reading the paper. It is the time spent without an agenda where true intimacy is born. Yet, we rarely make an effort to "waste time" with God; to leisurely pray or meditate without an agenda, without an ending time in mind.
As you head into our fast paced 2010, think about my black eyed peas. Think about Jesus and his ministry. Why not simmer over life rather than blanch right through it. Let's make a pact right now: NO al dente in 2010! Life is just better when it's slow cooked.