a man is lying dead
on a busy street
in carefree cape town
the crumbs of excess
he is far from home
an ordinary young man
in want of an ordinary life
or just a piece of bread
and so he eats his own shadow
consumes the last twinkle in his eye
swallows handfuls of poisonous hope
his teeth crack biting the pavement
the world passes by
except those who know
the taste of a shadow
and stop to mourn him
Jesus declared himself the bread of life. He also proclaimed that we, his followers are his body, made part of him precisely by consuming the bread of the Eucharist. It is an almost scarily simple and visceral instruction - not think this, or even believe this, but simply eat this. Eat this and by doing so become my body in the world - become in our turn the living bread that brings life and peace to the world...
Those who imagine and enable such bread are themselves examples of what it is to be bread for others. Which brings me to reflect on what it might be to think of ourselves as the bread that God is making.
A notable bread maker and theologian Peter Reinhardt compares the process of bread making by the baker, with the process of soul making by God. He writes
"In its simplest form, bread is made of flour, water and salt—in other words, it's like clay. When we add leavening to it, in the form of yeast, we bring this lump of clay to life – the word leaven derives from a root word meaning “to vivify, or enliven.” - and we saw the amazing bio-chemical reality of that kind of reaction when Ross created his elephant's toothpaste yesterday.
"The bread-making process is a series of growths and humblings. First, the yeast feasts on starches and sugars in the dough and, as a by-product, burps thousands, perhaps millions, of carbon dioxide molecules into the dough, blowing it up much as a glass blower forms a bowl from hot molten silicon. This fermentation gradually changes the flavour of the dough as well as the chemistry among all the ingredients. A new creature is coming into existence.
When we punch down bread dough.........it springs back, strengthened in flavour and character, building upon the fermentation already present. Letting some air out of the dough is a necessary passage if the dough is to become truly great bread.
(Similarly) Acquiring virtue develops in us the resiliency to continually spring back no matter how many times we are punched down by life’s vicissitudes, developing our own flavour and character but also, and more importantly, laying the foundation for an empowerment of the soul.....(think of this when responding to yet another mean email or Facebook post!) .There can be no growth, no evoking of the fullness of our own (or our bread’s) potential, without enduring punch downs. They lead to humility. But humility is a powerful creative force; it is a manifestation of one of the energies of God, and what could be more empowering than that?"
"When we put ourselves in God's hands to be bread, God keeps messing around in our lives, elbows deep in flour, never quite finished, making us ever more delicious and nourishing. The process is dynamic, creative, intimate and sometimes painful. It's not easy being bread. Nobody ever said it was. Jesus certainly never said it was, he who was broken and gave himself, a cruciform loaf, an Easter bread of unexpected rising."
Or as Bishop Catherine Roskam put it "God the great baker woman is constantly working to make of us the best bread possible- the bread that is life for the world; the bread we have it in us to become; the bread that allows itself to be consumed so that others may live eternally. We are bread people to be consumed by people who hunger for living bread."
Cynthia Bourgeault describes our purpose and its impact well when she writes, 'When age and grief strip us of our dignity and our hard won humanity so that we do not know whether we are coming or going, so that we do not even know who we are—and the ravages of age are only one form of this agony—what remains?..........
All that remains is people. There is nothing else. This is why naked capitalism and war are such a violence against God. They say other people do not matter but exist merely to be exploited. Yet people are all we have.
When we are undone, and can no longer be ourselves, God's only hands for us are the hands of others. The only real bread of life is people, people who are prepared in a small way—or much more— to be consumed by our need for care." People indeed who care that children are being taken off illegally into detention, or that children do not have food for breakfast and lunch in the holidays and care enough to pack those granola bars and cuppa soups and give them to the children so that they have bread - or whatever the work may be in our context. At St Luke's in Toowoomba we are trying to work out how to make our kitchen available to Afghan refugees as a place where they can cook and make food to sell to support themselves and their families. We are seeking to be bread that others may make bread and in their turn become bread for others. )
"If we do not eat this bread, if we do not consume this way of being and "become what we eat," unless we "eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, [we] have no life in [us]."
As Cynthia continues "The self-preserving life which will not be consumed, which will not be bread for others, will still grow old and die.
"Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. [But]this is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die." (John 6:49-50)
This is not about Hebrews of an old dispensation versus the new Christians. This is about Homo sapiens learning to be human. We can all eat. There is almost always manna in the wilderness, unless we hoard and steal and kill. But life that is eternal, that has a quality beyond mere biological persistence, that is more than selfish genes… that life comes only when we allow ourselves to be consumed." And to be consumed, we have to be willing to be found - as individuals, as church, on Facebook and Instagram and on the street.
So today are we ready for this? Are we responsible and responsive enough? Are we hungry enough for God, to allow God to take us, knead us, shape us and bake us into fresh bread and give us to a hungry world to be consumed, that there may be life and life eternal? This as bread dough is to be stretched, to be extended in space and time. Indeed this teaching IS difficult, yet as Peter said 'to whom else shall we go", for this is the source of eternal life for ourselves and our world. So may we be this dough, this bread both today and for generations yet unthought- which brings me to a final poem, Bread Generations by Jean Atkin
The grandmothers said, it’s an art like fire –
They said this
is the very nature
Snare in a white bowl
your kitchen’s tiny alchemy
of airborne spores.
Observe them strengthen
through a pale brown week of bubbles,
then raise like a thin,
For unleavened bread
has no past.
The grandmothers said, keep some starter
back in your dish
to be fed like a kitten
like a fire.
They said, think ahead, provide
for the ones that follow.
Call them in.
a bakers’ rising.
May the bakerwoman God bake, break and remake us. May Christ, the bread of life, feed and sustain us and may the Holy Spirit sharpen our hunger and guide our hands. Amen
reflection by Penny Jones for ACSQ Clergy Summer School, January 2016