The spiritual meaning of chocolate

swiss chocolate

Leave it to someone like me to look for the spiritual meaning in chocolate.

On Thursday morning – after months of planning, preparation, and packing – our flight was, we were told, making its final approach to the Zurich airport. We would soon be arriving to start an exciting new chapter of our lives in Switzerland.

Around me disheveled people who had spent the night sleeping awkwardly in their narrow economy seats were beginning to stir, doing their best to look presentable after the long flight. Cabin lights came on, and flight attendants who hadn’t been seen in a few hours were now moving quickly up and down the aisles.

Then something happened that I had witnessed on previous flights, but had never thought much about. The flight attendants were passing out chocolate. Not a lot, but a tiny square wrapped in foil with the iconic Swiss white cross on top.

I looked around and saw most people unwrapping their chocolates and eating, which is what I did. A few put theirs in a carry-on bag, presumably to enjoy later or to share with children and grandchildren. But I became unmistakably aware in that moment of a deeply spiritual event.

A few years earlier I had flown to the Philippines as part of a Habitat for Humanity construction team. On the approach to the Manila airport, people around me were growing noticeably excited. Faces were pressed up against cabin windows to catch a glimpse … of what I wasn’t sure. It was dark. And after so many hours of flying, crossing the dateline and even landing briefly in Japan, I didn’t know if it was nearly dawn or early evening. I didn’t care.

But the people around me did. And when the wheels touched down, the entire cabin erupted in cheers and applause. A few older people near me held tissues to their eyes, mopping up tears. I had never seen a group of people so thrilled to have landed, to be – I could plainly see – home.

The Swiss people around me on Thursday morning were not noticeably excited about our approach to the Zurich airport. They did not press their faces against the cabin windows. I’ve read enough to know that Swiss people do not become noticeably excited about very much, certainly not about a plane approaching a runway. For the Swiss being reserved is something of a proud national trait.

But in the chocolate I sensed something remarkable.

I hope it’s not irreverent to suggest that there was a feeling of communion in that moment. The chocolate was clearly meant to evoke a memory, to remind us – even those of us who weren’t Swiss – about our identity. This is what it means, we were told, to be Swiss.

No matter who you are, they seemed to say, no matter how long you’ve been away, no matter how much you may have forgotten about your home, this tiny square of chocolate will remind you of all you need to know.

It’s good to be here at long last. And even though I was raised to believe that Dutch chocolate is the finest the world has ever known, I was glad to be included in that communion service on Thursday morning.

And as with that other kind of communion, I’m already looking forward to more.

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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17 Responses to The spiritual meaning of chocolate

  1. Sharon and Bruce Bunker January 25, 2014 at 6:43 am #

    Wonderful! We can relate to that feeling of communion. We have new Swiss neighbors who came calling with a box of those individually wrapped chocolate squares. And that was apparently in reciprocation for a First Pres Christmas poinsettia and church information I had dropped off at their house. So as we savor them we realize it can mean more than a tasty treat.
    All the best to you and Susan.

    • Fred Anderson January 25, 2014 at 9:34 am #

      Doug,

      In the factoid beneath the puzzle pieces, where you identify the states in which you have served churches, you failed to mention Pennsylvania.

      Might not hurt to add that since a number of folk from Pine Street are reading.

      Glad you’ve made it safely there and are stepping into some routines.
      My experience with the Swiss is that routine is fundamental to the management of the day.

      Questa and I are at Lago Mar, having come down early for some rest. It is a wonderful 73 degrees here while it is 13 in NYC.

      blessings,

      fra

      • Doug January 25, 2014 at 11:17 am #

        Hi, Fred. Thanks for the response. As you you know, I served two churches in PA, one as a student pastor and then Pine Street where I was ordained…33 years ago. Will always have tender feelings for both, but especially Pine Street. (FL people always feel the need to report temperatures in January, but never in August!)

        • Doug January 26, 2014 at 12:04 am #

          BTW, thanks for including the link to your church’s new web site. I like it.

  2. Mandana January 25, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    After reading your blog just now, Mother and I enjoyed the ‘virtual’ Swiss chocolate with you! lol :0)

  3. Barbara Keith January 25, 2014 at 10:41 am #

    Susan & Doug,

    Warm wishes to you both in arriving to you “new home” in Switzerland! We miss you both already!

    Thoughtfully,
    Barb & Tom

  4. Sandy Steffen January 25, 2014 at 10:45 am #

    Dear Doug,

    We had a wonderful response to our event, A Glass of Hope, to kick off Hope First. We had 55+- First Pres people, every age and very diverse to come & enjoy some hors dourves & drinks at the Tower Club, even Connie & Andy! We have almost that many who have signed up for the Hope South Florida vision tour on the 1st. Please keep Hope First in your thoughts & prayers. The team felt great about the positive vibes from the group but we still have a long way to go!

    The Swiss chocolate is fabulous! Our best to you & Susan

    • Doug January 25, 2014 at 11:12 am #

      Sandy, I’m so glad. As you know, I strongly believe that the church must look beyond its wall, that God calls us to be active in the world, that the church is missional. Have some chocolate – Dutch or Swiss.

  5. Linda Strodtman January 25, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    Zurich airport is an interesting place to fly into as well. It feels like you are going to touch both sides of the mountains when you fly in to land.
    Besides chocolates, the Swiss are very prideful of their flowers and particularly in their window boxes. You will have fun for sure, best wishes. Linda

  6. Georgia Hamilton January 25, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

    Doug, I loved the comparison of Swiss chocolate to the communion experience! Blessings to you and Susan on your newest adventure. I’m so glad we’ll be able to shre in it.

    Georgia

  7. mike January 25, 2014 at 7:22 pm #

    Hi Doug –

    That’s quite a photo. A bar of chocolate with a cross on it. Made me think about the term “Chocolate Christian”…something we should work at not being. Was that a subliminal
    message? Pretty slick stuff if it was!

    Oh…you probably want to know this.
    It was about 75 degrees today – wind chill took it down to about 72 🙂

    Be well.

    Mike

    • Doug January 25, 2014 at 11:59 pm #

      Thanks for the weather report, Mike! Gloating is the Floridian’s favorite past-time in winter.

  8. Michael Putt January 25, 2014 at 7:25 pm #

    We are not offended you didn’t mention us(no news is good news.) However, I wonder what your explanation would be for the chocolate on the pillow at your favorite 4-star hotel?
    Mike.

    • Doug January 25, 2014 at 11:57 pm #

      🙂

  9. David Taylor January 26, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    Good luck to you both in Switzerland! Do either of you ski? Some of my fondest memories are of ski holidays to Wengen and Cloasters 🙂

    • Doug January 26, 2014 at 11:19 am #

      Trying to decide if taking up skiing at this stage of life is a good idea. I know how to hike, so am good there. Saw on LinkedIn that you’ve got a new position too. Congratulations!

      • bob sadowski January 27, 2014 at 9:37 am #

        Hiking is safer and you will see a lot more BIG PLUS much easier to eat chocolate. Enjoy your new life over there.

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