That Bread May Abound
In a season of transition, in a time of living between worlds, in a time when writing has not come quickly or coherently, bread has captured my imagination.
Leaving Mozambique came with joys and sorrows and new tensions to live in as I reconciled the gratefulness for the hospitality and familiarity of my Tennessee home that is also filled with uncomfortable luxuries, infinite food options, and potable water running from every faucet. While I am thankful for this abundance, I also know that there is a great injustice in the world that allows me to have a refrigerator and a giant bed while millions of others do not.
But in this tension, there is bread.
I do not wish to imply that bread has not always been a source of inspiration to me. While I recognize many suffer as victims of allergies or dietary trends that prevent them from consuming gluten, I feel that warm, fresh-baked bread is a foretaste of New Creation. And I have some well-thought-out theological backing for that.
For an infinite Being, the God of the Bible seems quite preoccupied by food – bread in particular. When God delivers the Israelite slaves from generations of oppression he tells them to celebrate with special bread. The Feast of Unleavened Bread commemorates one of the most formative events for the Hebrew people. Then as the Israelites wander in the desert, God drops bread down on them to ensure that they are fed. In the Tabernacle and later in the Temple the Israelites are called to bake the bread of presence to offer up to God. The power of God was made known through a prophet who made sure a widow had enough bread to eat.
Then God shows up through Jesus of Nazareth, eating bread with outcasts and sinners and claiming to be the Bread of Life. Not the kale or kombucha of life. The delicious, carb-filled Bread of Life. And he doesn’t seem to just mean it metaphorically. Jesus keeps going around blessing bread, breaking it, and feeding hungry people. Thousands of hungry people.
And then the Passover Feast rolls around and Jesus starts talking about bread again. He blesses it and breaks it and passes it around saying, “This is my body.” And Jesus’ followers latched onto this weird, mystic claim, because they kept getting together to break bread in remembrance of this prophetic idea and they’re still doing it today.
It intrigues me because it’s so simple. God didn’t ask to be remembered in a choice cut of steak. Jesus didn’t say his body was comparable to caviar. Instead the people of God over the centuries have made a bold claim that God is fully present in flatbread and box wine – sanctifying the daily, the basic, and the mundane. The sacrament is incredibly ordinary. All things are being made holy. All things are being made new. All things are being brought into the infiniteness of God.
And that means there’s enough. For everyone.
I have spent a lot of life over-spiritualizing the role of bread. The religious have often minimized our bread-talk to a tiny, tasteless cracker crumb on Sundays and discussion of spiritual nourishment that God brings. And while the ritual of Eucharist is important and spiritual nourishment is real, the whole biblical narrative seems to be marked by stories of God literally feeding people. Real, tangible, edible food for physical bodies is a recurring motif in the story of God. Food for the hungry is an essential element of the good news. God’s kingdom is consistently portrayed as a feast where there’s welcome and plenty for everybody.
Mozambique taught me this. Mozambique taught me that when bread is shared, there is always enough. My friends there taught me that you don’t need to have a lot to share a lot, and that one piece of bread can be equally divided in such a way that everyone in the neighborhood can have some – and that’s not hyperbole. They taught me that it’s not about eating a whole piece of bread alone; it’s about coming together to break it and bless one another.
It is in this simplicity, this hospitality, and in this commitment to feeding one another that we find abundance. When we live as if we are in scarcity we find ourselves afraid – afraid to stop working, afraid to stop moving, afraid to take a risk, afraid of people who look or believe differently from us – because we believe there may not be enough resources, enough money, enough power to go around, or we may lose what we feel we have earned. But Love casts out fear and Love is without end. Divine, life-giving Love obliterates our scarcity mindsets and opens our lives to a generous abundance far greater than what we believe we have earned.
And so I have entered into the communal activity of baking bread.
I got a sourdough starter from a friend, who got it from a neighbor, who started it more than two decades ago. My family collaborates to keep it alive and keep us baking. We bake it and we share it with people in our lives. It is a gift of friendship, of congratulations, of mourning, and of welcome. Bread is suitable for all occasions. It is simple, it is cheap, it is always appreciated, and it is a reminder of abundance. It is a rejection of the consumerism that surrounds us, demanding that we speedily produce more at the expense of quality. It slows us down. And I read somewhere that it’s healthier than most other breads, so I’m banking on that being true.
Because when what little we have is blessed and shared there is enough for everyone – in our homes, our communities, our nations, and our world. Abundance is known through generosity. We invite others into it when we give and discover it more every time we receive. The divine economy is dependent upon generosity, not hoarding. It’s dependent upon delicious loaves of bread, not forgotten table crumbs. It is an infinite flow of resources that is halted only by our fear that we may run out. But as Walter Brueggemann writes in “Liturgy of Abundance,”
“Sharing our abundance may, as Jesus says, be impossible for mortals, but nothing is impossible for God. None of us knows what risks God’s Spirit may empower us to take. Our faith, ministry, and hope…are that the Creator will empower us to trust his generosity, so that bread may abound.”
Gluten-free varieties coming soon.