"Thirty-three times," Grandmother could be heard to declare over any given meal, "you've got to chew each bite thirty-three times!"  And the three generations at her table would dutifully attempt it, as, if truth be told, most of us grand kids watched each other, poised to pounce should one of us appear to fall short of that magic thirty-three, "you only did twenty, I counted!"  To which my grandmother would admonish, "mind your own," between her meticulously masticated mouthfuls. 

As an adult studying Macrobiotics, no less than fifty chews is recommended, one hundred preferred.  And for all the bodily benefits we've come to understand.  It would make sense to remind ourselves to chew as we head into the Winter holiday season known for  tables groaning beneath the bounty of the harvest this November.  For the sake of our digestive tracts and immune systems, not to mention the weight management challenges presented by the likes of mashed potatoes and pie.

But that's not what I'm thinking about.  Actually, our physical health may be the least benefit, possibly even a mere side-effect of a successful chewing practice.  The greater value may be in the fact that it makes us stop.  And pay attention.  To bring ourselves into the moment.  Fully present.  Which boosts our other immune system -- the spiritual one, where peace and calm await us if only we could pause long enough to notice.

That's a message we sorely need on the threshold of this season that too often bears down upon us, body and soul, with as much stress as celebration.  Take a moment.  Breathe.  Chew. 

But there’s another way chewing an extra moment can help preserve our health: the moment we’d do well to consider not what’s going into our mouths, but what’s coming out.

Sometimes a family holiday dinner serves up greater challenges than spreading the table and getting folks together around it.  Some times we find ourselves biting down on something besides hot rolls. Sometimes it’s not the tang of cranberries but the stab of a snarky retort lingering on our lips -- or a thoughtless tease, or a bitter resentment that wells up between the sweet potatoes and the pea salad.  Sometimes it's a stubborn pain still gnawing at us from deep inside, or the looming secret we still struggle to hold down that makes everything else hard to swallow.

Perhaps, then, the best time to remember to chew is when what lands our tongue would serve not to heal but to harm, not to feed but to fight, not to warm but to wound. 

Brother pokes your political sore spot again with his radical views?  Chew.  Mom gives you a hard time about your new tattoo?  Chew.  Cousin uses the meal blessing to once more to call you back into the family’s religious tradition?  


Fairly vibrating with the urge to point out to each the error of their ways in meticulous detail backed up with citations from the latest research and quotations from most enlightened and evolved leaders? 


At least thirty-three times.



    Rev. Amy Carol Webb is joyfully the minister at the River of Grass UU Congregation in Davie, Florida.  Amy also serves the larger faith community, speaking and singing at interfaith events, welcoming denominations, and serving on the Board of the Ecumenical Institute at St. Thomas University in Miami.  “Ministry,” Amy says, “is at its depth a continuing conversation among our authentic, imperfect selves within the shelter of compassion, joy and faith that we may heed the call to be transformed and transform our world.”


    November 2015