Anywhere I travel with my girlfriend we seek out unique cocktail bars and on a recent trip to the west coast we discovered one that really put me in touch with the spirituality of the awareness (and the senses), as is key in the Ignatian tradition. Cocktails, like science, require precision. The wrong amount of bitters or juice or liquor can completely change the flavour of the drink. Care must be taken with measuring and only a good bartender can truly “eye” proper amounts. But also the context in which you enjoy a cocktail is critical. A strawberry daiquiri in a dimly lit hotel bar or a manhattan on the beach can take away from the experience.
Sarah and I love bourbon and we discovered a pretty neat speakeasy in San Francisco that carries many rare varieties not found elsewhere. The place was called Wilson and Wilson, accessible only by reservation. Beneath a sign that read “Anti-Saloon League” was a door with a buzzer. I rang it and a girl came to the door, I told her the password previously provided to me and she let us in. We found ourselves in a well patronised dimly lit bar lined by brick walls, but this was not our destination. The girl walked us through two rooms until we reached an unmarked door, which looked like it could have led to a back room. She unlocked the door with a key, which revealed Wilson and Wilson, a speakeasy guised as a private detective agency. The bottles lined the wall like books, four shelves high, requiring a ladder to reach them as in a library. We were handed a folder with “the case” in it, but between the pages of evidence and photos was a menu of unheard of drinks with handcrafted syrups and bitters among pages and pages that listed their entire inventory of hard liquor.
A Sensual Experience
After ordering a “three course” tasting menu Sarah and I clinked our glasses in delight. It was at this when I appreciated the sacramentality of the moment. I was aware of the importance of not only the nuanced taste required to enjoy a cocktail but of the sound of the clink and the prohibition-era music playing in the background, even the sound of the bartender’s metal cocktail shaker. In fact, all our senses were engaged. Each drink had a distinct scent critical to the experience, as if we were wine tasting. The lighting was dim and the wallpaper was black and silver. The glass was cool and the paper of the menu had a matte texture and typewriter font expected of the time. Heck, even the story line made the experience: detectives with a case file, meeting behind closed doors for business. But it wasn’t business—it was an experience of the senses, all being engaged, among good company and good drinks. It created an awareness of the senses as gift that showed me that, yes, even sensual enjoyment can be delightful to God. The very human characteristics that made up what we call “an experience” were made possible by a God who came to earth with five senses and enjoyed wine with his friends at a wedding.
Experience as Prayer
On our trip we had dinner with a friend who was talking about our mutual friend who loves to bake, another task that requires precision and care. He said that when our friend used to bake he would purposely mix things completely by hand—no electric mixer—because for him baking was a spiritual experience. He wanted the full experience, to know and feel that he was putting his love into his creation. For him, this sensual experience of baking was like a prayer, a connection with God via the gifts of his humanness.
Whether mixing eggs, sugar, and flour by hand or shaking up a cocktail, the senses are an easy way to connect us with the One who gave them to us. Prayer is simply a conscious awareness of that connection. There don’t need to be words, just focused awareness of the moment, the feelings, and the experience.
Read more about the importance of sensual experience, care, and enjoyment:
Listen to an audio version of this post…
Music by Kevin MacLeod