Tonight is book group at Grace Church in Norwalk. We'll be discussing the book by Sara Miles take this bread (the title is actually all in lower case letters, not a typo). Against the backdrop of this book, we'll be asking the following questions:
Who are the hungry, and for what do they hunger?
Have the ideas in this book altered your understanding of the sacraments and how we celebrate them?
Who is NOT called to ministry?
Has this book altered your comfort level of who and how you are in this life?
These questions have intrigued me for a month, since I first saw them. I wonder how the people in the book group will answer them? I do know the book has piqued interest in beginning anew the food pantry at Grace, but without the regulations. And the part where the author's food pantry distributes the food from the altar and worship space of her church has caught interest.
I know I'm not telling you anything about the book, and honestly, I'm only halfway through it. But I know this much about what I've read so far: Sara Miles is an activist who once worked in restaurants, and who once was a journalist in Nicaragua during the wars there. Never baptized or raised as a Christian, she found herself one day at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. When the invitation was issued to receive the bread and wine, the communion of Jesus's Body and Blood, Sara went up and received for the first time and her whole life changed in the moment when she put the bread in her mouth.
I'm hoping that this book will encourage - as in, give courage to - the people at Grace who have read this book to go and do what Sara eventually did at St. Gregory Nyssa. I will support them totally. They will have no work to do to convince me to let them distribute food to the hungry from the altar. I'll help them move it to the floor to make it easier. I'll be there with them as often as I can be.
A bishop is quoted in the book as saying, "There's a hunger beyond food that's expressed in food, and that's why feeding is always a kind of miracle."
Who are the hungry? All of us, every one of us. For what do we hunger? For touch, for community, for some sign we are not alone, even for someone on whom to vent our anger and our frustrations and rage, all part of the desire to know we are not alone.
Who is not called to be a minister? No one.
Has the book altered my comfort level of who and how I am in this life? No - it's kept alive the activist in me that is still trying to find out how, and with whom, I can go out and be and do and lead people into the ways into which I want to go.
Have the ideas in the book altered my understanding of the sacraments and how we celebrate them? No - They confirm and affirm my vision of the sacraments. There is a story of St. David of Wales, that he would go into a farmhouse, in his non-clergy type clothes, and take bread from the kitchen, and wine from the cellar, and sitting at the kitchen table with the household, make communion with them with the stuff from their own home. I have done this as often as I can in my ministry, and I thirst to do it more, to open to people the vision that their own dining table is the place where Christ is met and shared. That anytime bread is broken, anytime and anyplace, with or without special words, Christ is made visible.
I wonder how many households I could get to host an evening in Lent, of companionship followed by Eucharist around the dining room or kitchen table, with the leftovers of snacks and drinks still there? I wonder how many people would come? I wonder what people would think of it? And if they would understand - every table presided over by them is the Lord's table?
Am I going to far to say that? I thought about that before I wrote it the way I did. I believe it. I believe it is true. I wish I were not so encumbered by the need to earn my living at being a parish priest, and I wonder how far I can, without losing my job, stretch past fulfilling the expectations of the congregation I serve to doing, to being about doing the things toward which I am agonizingly pulled.
Perhaps more about this at a later date. Meanwhile, what are your answers to the original four questions above, whether or not you have read the book take this bread?