For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘first communion

Take This Bread: A Spiritual Memoir of a Twenty-First Century Christian by Sara Miles, 2007, Ballantine Books, 294 pp.

This book was so rich and full it is hard to describe. The pink pen I was using to make notes and stars and underlines seemed to bleed across every page. Sara Miles is a beautiful writer with a powerful story and a profound witness of faith to share.

Take this Bread is a spiritual memoir centered around the experience of feeding and being fed and developing a theology of the Body of Christ. Miles’ story begins with an atheist childhood and early adulthood spent as a reporter covering left-wing radical revolutionaries, who shared whatever scant food they had with her. The turning point comes one day when she stumbles into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco. She receives her first communion there, unprepared and uneducated, and finds her life transformed by the sacramental experience. She experiences a mystical encounter with Christ’s body in the bread and in her connection with the bodies of those around her. With joy and trepidation, she launches on a quest to understand this experience and share it with others. This pursuit leads her to found a food pantry at St. Gregory’s, and then more pantries across the city.

Take this Bread is her interpretation of those experiences as a journey of hunger and its satisfaction, and the deep connection between the hunger of the body for food, the hunger of the soul for God and the hunger of the creature for community. Miles makes a passionate argument, grounded in mystical experience and biblical theology, that our mortal bodies matter, that the Body of Christ is all about our bodies connecting with other bodies we might not choose to know or love, and that God blesses all of it when the hungry are fed.

This summary does not do justice to the beauty and passion of her writing. Here are a few of my favorite passages:

From her war reporting years:

What I learned in those moments of danger and grief informs what I now call my Christianity. It was a feeling of total community with others, whether or not I was like them, through the common fact of our mortal bodies. We all had bodies that could suffer and be killed; we all had hearts that could stop beating in an instant. In war, I looked at other, different people and saw them, face-to-face—and in seeing them, felt a we. (p. 39)

From her first communion at St. Gregory’s:

There was an invitation to jump in rather than official entrance requirements. There was the suggestion that God could be located in experience, sensed through bodies, tasted in food; that my body was connected literally and mysteriously to other bodies and loved without reason. (p. 64)

From her experiences at the food pantry:

This was where I found my faith: a faith expressed in the wild conceit that a helpless, low-caste baby could be God. That ugly, contaminated and unimportant people embodied holiness. That my own neediness and misfitting, not my goodness or piety, were what God intended to use. … The kingdom was the same old earth, populated by the same clueless humans, transformed wherever you could glimpse God shining through it. (p. 222)

Throughout the course of her memoir, Miles talks about sacraments beyond communion (baptism, anointing, marriage), about her disappointment with the imperfection and rigidness of the church, about the various people she comes to know through the food pantry, about family tensions and forgiveness. Take this Bread is a treasure trove for preachers, an affirmation of social justice and social service Christianity, a witness to the mystical power of the sacraments, a moving spiritual autobiography and a bold theology of the Body of Christ. I can’t say enough to describe it, and I can’t recommend it to you highly enough. As Anne Lamott is quoted on the cover, this is “the most amazing book.”

 

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B celebrated his first Communion today, a few weeks shy of his third birthday. We were visiting a parishioner in a nursing home, taking communion for Christmas. As I was setting it up, he got very inquisitive about what I was doing, and he said, “I want to have communion too!” That was enough to make me say yes.

As a child, my parents decided that we should not take communion until after our confirmation, usually around age 12. Because everyone in my home church went forward to kneel at the altar to commune, I remember feeling conspicuous, excluded and isolated sitting alone in the pew. I remember being angry that people thought I wasn’t old enough to understand, and a sense of righteous indignation that anyone would try to deny me access to Jesus’ own body and blood. Clearly, I understood what communion was all about–I should have been able to partake. This experience has given me a passionate commitment to the openness of the communion table to this day. Christ invited everyone to partake at the table–no one should be denied access to Christ’s table, for any reason.

In reaction, I decided I would never deny B the chance to come to Christ’s table. I also decided that I would not ever allow him to participate without some explanation of what we were doing. This is not “snack time.” Since we will be serving communion at the family-oriented Christmas Eve service, I figured that would be his first time. I had planned to spend some time explaining it in advance. But today he asked to be a part of Christ’s table, and I could not deny him. Prepared or not, today was the day, this nursing home room was the place.

As I filled the tiny cups and stacked the silver platter with wafers, I explained to him that this was very special juice and bread–that we didn’t eat until we heard the story, and that the story was about Jesus. This bread and cup help us remember the story about Jesus. Then I proceeded to perform the short liturgy for home communion. B listened carefully throughout, and paid attention appropriately. He was probably more attentive than the resident we were visiting!

When the time came to serve, I served my parishioner first, then broke my piece in half and gave some to B. He held it until I said, “take and eat,” and he took and ate. I had to tell him to wait, not to grab the tiny cup of juice that was so tempting, but he waited patiently while I served her and took a sip myself before giving him the rest. Then he drank, and sweetly collected the cups and carried them to the trash.

Oh, the life of a preacher’s kid! What an odd collection of spiritual milestones he will have!

Who knows if he will remember this, but it was a special moment for me, to include him in this holy sacrament, to bring him into the circle of Christ’s family table. I pray it will be the first of many, many tastes of the bread and cup, and that he will always feel welcome at the table.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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