Cathedral News, February 5, 2017
Salt is an interesting mineral. It is one of the first substances students look at under a microscope, since its crystals display such regularity. To see all those tiny little cubes, like miniature glass building blocks, is fascinating. These little cubes, however, are mined from deposits that can be thousands of feet thick, the deposits left behind when prehistoric seas evaporated.
In cooking, salt is essential to a balanced taste. Conscientious cooks, however, use salt sparingly, as it can obscure the natural flavors of the ingredients, and it is not good for our bodies to consume too much. Modern people, particularly those of us who live in societies that rely heavily on prepared foods in our diets, eat far too much salt, unless we are careful. We read the list of ingredients on food labels and are shocked to discover that the sodium content, the part of sodium chloride that seems to be harmful in high amounts, is listed in the hundreds, if not over a thousand milligrams per serving. Maintaining a healthy intake of sodium and salt requires constant attention to the foods we eat.
When many of us were growing up, salt was salt. That is to say, when you bought salt at the store you may have had three choices: table salt, kosher salt, or rock salt. These days salt has become a gourmet food item. I recently went through a local spice shop and counted over a dozen kinds of salt from which to choose, and that was a relatively small selection. There are salts from different locations and different seas, and there are salts flavored with a broad range of spices. Paradoxically, while we are encouraged by our doctors to limit our use of salt, the marketplace inundates us with the latest and greatest in the salt spectrum.
Salt, however, is absolutely essential for life. A vestige of life having arisen in the salty confines of early seas on earth, our bodies require salt to maintain regular metabolism, and it contributes to the normal level of electrolytes that regulate a host of cellular functions. While our parents were right in telling us to taste our food before we added salt, it’s imperative that what we eat contains a modicum of salt. If it doesn’t, not only is it tasteless, but it is also not fully supporting our health.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, uses salt to draw an analogy with his disciples. “You are the salt of the earth,” the Lord tells his listeners. It is one of those lessons in the Bible that elicits the same thoughts in us as it did originally, for the object of the lesson holds the same place in the world, now as then. Salt is essential for life, and it is “spiritual salt” to which Jesus is referring, and so it is spiritual life that is supported by it.
We are aware that there are a dazzling array of salts on the earth. “Salt is salt” is no longer really a valid understanding, if ever it was. Spiritual salts arise from many locations, deposited through the teachings of spiritual guides over the ages. For Christians, it might be said that salt arises in the waters of baptism. As we are immersed in the life-giving waters, recalling the passage of the people of Israel through the Red Sea, the salt encrusts us spiritually as the waters evaporate and we go on to lead lives as followers of Jesus. Even in Christianity, though, there are a dizzying array of salts, each imbued with a particular flavor and aroma: Orthodox, Coptic, Roman, Syrian, Mar Thoma, Protestant, Anglican, and so on.
Salt gives flavor to life. Without the spiritual salt with which God can supply us, life would be flat and dull, I think. Salt is essential to a healthy life, also, and not only for us. The point of Jesus’ example to the folks listening to him that day beside the Sea of Galilee is that they could provide, and were called upon to provide, salt to a world that was both in need of it and that could be enlivened by it. We are not merely containers of salt; we are salt shakers. God calls us to go out into the world and spread salt around, sharing it as we go. It gives a whole new meaning to “Shake it, baby! Shake it!”
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