Queso is just Spanish for cheese, but when I was in graduate school, I used to visit a Mexican restaurant around the corner from my apartment. Unlike the other Mexican restaurants in the area, who gave you chips and salsa, this restaurant always started you off with fresh chips and a bowl of their salsa and a bowl of their queso dip. The queso at this particular restaurant was amazing. There would always be salsa left in the bowl, but the chips and the queso dip would be gone. To this day, I am grateful for the chef, Tomas, who would create that amazing dip which tantalized my taste buds, and would make me give thanks for all those who contributed to its coming into being, from the farmers who cared for the ground on which their cows fed, to their sacrificing their milk, to those who knew how to make the cheese, to those who brought it to the restaurant, so Tomas could make the queso and I could experience the fullness of all those who gave and give thanks. I am also grateful to Tomas for teaching me how to make his recipe when I left Georgia. Perhaps for you it is not the queso, but for me it is. So whatever your “queso” is that provokes a spiritual experience and desire to give thanks, think of that while I reflect on my queso.
So when I think about queso, the first thing that comes to mind for me is pleasure. Throughout my studies, I have been exposed to those who were about finding pleasure in what one eats and those who did not. For example, Saint Augustine, struggled with his need to rein in his senses. In Book X of his Confessions, he wrote about his attempts to “take food at mealtimes as though it were medicine" and to "fight against the pleasure in order not to be captivated by it." His concern was that finding pleasure in created things could replace our desire for a deeper relationship with the Creator. Augustine was not able to envision a God who was pro pleasure and pro being able to eat food as if it were not medicine. Being one who loves food, and has always seen it as a celebration of God’s creativity and artistry, I struggled with some of Augustine’s teachings.
When I read The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis, I found someone who articulated my queso experience. Lewis distinguishes between "Need-pleasures" and "Pleasures of Appreciation." The enjoyment we feel upon receiving a Need-pleasure, water to quench thirst, for example, or the scratching of an itch, is intense, but short-lived. However, with Appreciation-pleasures, nonessential things, which awaken us to delight, like delicious smells and tastes and scenes of beauty—the sensation intensifies over time. Greed—the repeated cry of "Encore!" to, say, Tomas’ creamy and spicy queso—may transform a Pleasure of Appreciation into a Pleasure of Need, draining out of it all the lasting enjoyment.
Lewis would advise one not to avoid pleasure, but to "have" and "read" it properly: to receive it, openhanded, as both a gift and a message. "We know we are being touched by a finger of that right hand at which there are pleasures for evermore. There need be no question of thanks or praise as a separate event, something done afterwards. To experience the tiny theophany"—the small sign of God's presence—"is itself to adore."
So when I am blessed with one of the queso moments in my life, I remember that this is a gift from the Creator, which I am to fully appreciate and adore. It is God’s way of saying to me, “I am here.”