Recently I experienced a moment of gastronomic bliss….and I didn’t get it at a Starbucks, Wendy’s or Cracker Barrel. Nor did it come from a Publix or Whole Foods hot bar… It found me when I stepped into a little “American and Latin” coffee bar that had opened near the VA Hospital, a few blocks from my neighborhood. I ordered a soy milk cappuccino, and couldn’t help noticing the loving care and attention the barista at the espresso machine gave to each beverage on order. I had never thought of coffee as an art, but watching this gentleman was like witnessing an artist absorbed in the process of sculpting a masterpiece.
Noticing my curiosity, the barista, who also happened to be the owner of the café, paused from his work and opened up an unpretentious brown paper bag for me to get a whiff of the coffee beans organically farmed back in El Salvador and sent directly to his store. Eyes shining with pride, he told me about his award-winning coffee-grower friends back home, and then his crew of family and friends from various parts of Latin America who were in the back kitchen cooking up artisanal street foods. Then he served my tiny steaming cup to me as if he was presenting a mound of gold from a sunken ship he had spent 5 years traveling to. In the froth on the top of the drink floated the foamy image of a flower.
Sipping this cappuccino, I wasn’t merely taking a swig of coffee…Yes, it was really good coffee, but it was more than that…I was tasting El Salvador… I was drinking in the American dream…I was savoring the sacred chemistry that happens in one’s body and spirit when receiving food and drink that are offered with genuine reverence and love. For a cappuccino-length moment, I was one with God/Goddess/Universe/Creator…and I didn’t have to wait until Friday night prayers, Saturday afternoon sweat lodge, or Sunday morning services to get there. All I had to do was walk myself into a local eatery that lovingly offered the tastes of another land.
We, the American people, sometimes forget about the treasures we have in our midst. We get absorbed in our jobs, our kids, our pets, our daily routine. We get caught up in the whiplash of chaotic and divisive politics. We get stopped up with fear when the economic sands shift beneath our feet. Yet despite all this, we must remember that everyone requires sacred communion, regardless of which religion or non-religion we practice. We all have an innate human need to connect with people, places, and experiences that inspire us, enwrap us with a sense of harmony and well-being in the world, and energize us to feel fully alive. If we aren’t getting enough of this in our daily existence, we must remember to make an effort to carve out time for it. This is crucial because those of us who don’t get frequent enough doses of this are at the greatest risk of succumbing to anxiety and depression.
The good news is that sacred communion can happen any time, any place, and with anyone. It’s especially easy to stumble upon it when traveling…we open our eyes wider, we listen with more interest, our senses are awake and anticipating being delighted with our new surroundings. This rejuvenates us, and we return from vacation with renewed strength and vigor. But even when we can’t jump on an airplane, we can still connect with other destinations. The world is right here in our own American towns and cities. It’s in the restaurants, dance schools, stage venues, and houses of prayer that are owned, directed, or populated by immigrants. So let’s all take advantage of this wonderful resource. For our health, let’s “travel” often to nearby places where we leave our own English tongue at the door. Let us speak the foreign language of food served with reverence, of music that whispers to the spirit, of shared laughter and hand gestures that do better than a dictionary full of words.
Events like the upcoming Atlanta International Night Market take the opportunity for communing to a new level. I hope that many people will voyage out to this event and find a little piece of paradise in something they taste, hear, see, or feel, that will recharge and renew them. I hope this event will inspire people to continue to look for ways of finding communion with the people of the world who live among us. We need this more than ever in today’s increasingly polarized country…every moment of connection brings us closer to inner peace…and the more people reach inner peace, the closer we all are to world peace.