Bread —a simple word that often conjures up a wealth of pictures and memories especially if one is hungry. Often the most enticing thing in a supermarket or bakery is the smell of baking bread. There is nothing quite like it.
I think I have mentioned before that Andy and I like to listen to audio books on long journeys. Our current choice, which we anticipated as a light-hearted fictional tale, is a story which contains harrowing accounts of the holocaust, well-worth reading (The Storyteller, Jodi Picoult). A motif of bread runs throughout the book as the author uses the lens of bread-makers to weave the tale, it is this I am focusing on today. Descriptions of the bread frequently enliven the text — brioches, challah, various fancy buns. Just listening to it makes our mouths water. We frequently turn to each other and exclaim, “I could just eat that!”
After a longer journey last week, we arrived home and needed to prepare dinner. Thoughts of hot bread were still swimming around our heads, we opened the freezer and pulled out a prepared baguette and popped it in the oven to bake. We wanted to eat nothing but fresh bread. Such is the power of words.
Bread has sustained humanity for centuries. It is not surprising then that it is mentioned often in religious texts. The focus of the Gospel lectionary for the last two weeks has been bread — the feeding of the five thousand, recalling the story of manna in the wilderness and the declaration by Jesus that he is the bread of life. Stories that are well-known, capturing the imagination of generations of readers. Stories that have both physical and spiritual implications.
I am writing this sat outside with the feel of sun beating down on my back. I am not thinking about the details of each story but pondering the metaphor of bread. The need for sustenance, and how that relates to life and caring for others.
The first thing I considered was the huge compassion for those who were physically hungry. The pre-eminent concern in both the story of the feeding of the five thousand and the gift of manna was ensuring everyone got enough to eat. In our work with foster children taking care of physical needs is the priority. Hungry, hurting children and teenagers can’t think about anything else. It is no use trying to talk to them until they have been fed.
And it is not just the children, I know when I come home from school the first thing I do is put the kettle on. I take care of the physical then I can focus on the myriad of tasks I need to do. So, in the stories the physical needs are taken care of before the spiritual. I find much to ponder in this idea. In many ways, it is a reversal of what is often taught about spirituality.
Then after the people have been fed the texts turn to a spiritual application. As I continue to muse on the metaphor of bread and life, more questions to ponder arise. Questions that may be relevant to me individually, or for us together as a community, or even nationally and internationally.
Am I (we) hungry? If so, why?
What sustains me? What sustains us as a community?
How am I (we) feeding others?
Questions that will keep me thinking about “bread” during the coming week.