Two weeks ago I stepped off a bus and onto a brand new side of the world, finally having made my way to Altea, Spain after 13 hours of traveling. I stood there, unable to do much else, hungry and exhausted and already feeling the symptoms of jet-lag begin to set in. Quickly after we arrived, my team and I were brought up into one of the Edge staff apartments to join the rest of the Edge Project team. As we walked onto the terrace of the apartment I was struck with the most stunning view of the ocean and watched the sun begin to dip behind the horizon, painting the sky with blues and pinks. Once we were greeted by the large group of Edgies and staff (a kiss on each cheek), we were pointed in the direction of the table of tapas. In Spanish culture, these are light foods like bread and tomatoes, pieces of meat, and slices of fruit that are meant to be a snack before dinner — which usually doesn’t take place until 9:00 or 10:00 pm. That first night, I was weary, unable to take in all that was around me, yet seeing food that was similar to what I ate at home was like seeing mana fall from heaven. I was comforted by the familiarity of bread and oranges, and filled my stomach before falling into bed.
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The amount of things we have filled each day with since arriving feels wild to think back on; two incredibly successful art nights where we made contact with countless locals and travelers, many mornings spent studying the book of John around the city, trips to the open market and local grocery store, cultural excursions, meeting shop owners and making time for conversations with the locals, and the list goes on. My friends and family have been asking about my favorite part so far, and I couldn’t have told you the first week and a half we were here, even though I had already experienced all those lovely moments. But I think I have an answer to it now. On Sunday morning, I had the privilege to attend mass at one of the local Catholic churches, and on Monday afternoon we had an even greater privilege to share a meal with the priest during one of Edge’s community meals. Every Monday and Wednesday, around four Edgies cook for four or five others, creating a group of about ten or twelve. Each meal, we are intentional with inviting locals we have met during the week. And so this week we had a group of twelve at my house; three staff members, eight Edgies, and Padre Pepe.
Personally, I was anxious when I found out he was coming to our lunch. Only after the priest left did I realize I had it in my head that all priests were boring and strict. Because when Pepe arrived, he had in one hand a bottle of wine and in the other a bag of pastries. When we thanked him but told him half of our table couldn’t drink, he made a joke about how he couldn’t either. He was funny, even through translation. Like so funny I was laughing throughout the whole meal. A few people wanted to ask him questions, and he didn’t hesitate to dive in to our deep and theological questions. I sat there in awe, piecing together the Spanish words I knew to try and understand what he was saying before one of our interns, Kyle, translated for him. He talked about his life before priesthood, about how he found nothing that was life giving, and how he dropped everything to become a priest. He talked about how relational his ministry is, and how it is about showing up on doorsteps, praying for the sick and loving those who have rejected the church. Long story short, once the meal was over my stomach and my heart were full. And none of this would have happened without something so simple as a meal.
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Since day one, I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about food, and pondering this gift God has given us. My heart has been searching for what my duty should be when it comes to responding in thanksgiving and gratitude to something we do mindlessly, like eating. What I’ve discovered is that here in Spain, food is relational. Coffee dates aren’t quick. When you are invited for dinner, it means hours of eating and lounging and drinking wine. You ask for a check when you eat out; you aren’t ushered out of the restaurant once you’re done eating. Everything is slower here, which I knew before arrival, but I honestly never thought about what it would be like to take more time to eat. In America, we frankly don’t give anything much of our time. It is a culture of getting the most things done in the quickest amount of time, and that sadly overflows into how intentional we can be with people over a meal, or just in life in general. In these last couple of weeks, God has been teaching me how to slow down and eat and love and explore without haste. I’ve been pressing into and exploring how much we really miss when we move too fast. And so I’ve been trying to ask for the check later. I’ve been eating paella (a traditional Spanish dish including rice and seafood) and gelato slower, really trying to take in all that is around me. When I walk and listen and explore, I’ve tried to breathe in deep, from the stomach and hold it before I exhale. The blues of the ocean look different when they aren’t seen just in passing. I’ve been getting to see the flecks of gold in people’s eyes, and have that conversation I would ‘ve missed if I was in a hurry. And I think this is the way the Lord wants us to experience creation. Because when I’ve lived for the moment I am in, I feel the closest to the Lord. He speaks to me in my moments of slowness: “This is the gift I have given you. Take time to enjoy it”.
-Alena, Edge 2019