Saturday, March 31, 2007

This I Believe, Jennifer

I believe in bread--bread rising, bread baking, bread breaking and butter melting into all the cracks and crevices of a freshly cut warm loaf. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother baking bread....measuring, sifting, kneading and leaving dough to rise on the barely warm radiators, covered with dishtowels still kept in my own cupboard. She would bake for our meals, for friends, for inexpensive Christmas and birthday gifts, and even one year to help us raise money to buy my father a new navy blue bathing suit for Father's Day. Though bread for me and my family is now typically purchased--brown, dense and nutty rather than white and soft--there are some bread rituals each year that tie me back to her, and to the mothers and grandmothers before her.

Bread is not simply a family affair for me, but a spiritual act as well. I break bread with a community of family and friends after we together read a covenant of shared beliefs--beliefs in reconciliation, justice, and our shared responsibility in creating a better world. The words and the bread are intermingled for me, and I think of my church communities through the lens of the loaf--the Portuguese sweet bread of one church, the wheat pitas dipped in wine at the next. No matter the bread we break, or how distracted I am as I lift my piece toward my mouth, there is something in the silent chewing and savoring that brings me fully present. The idea of hereafter, heaven, the kingdom of God, or the ever-elusive peace I seek is for a moment no longer a concept but a reality, present in me, around me, and yes, even through me. I think of the movie "Places in the Heart," closing with a scene of that deeply divided community breaking bread with one another--the living side by side with the dead, black rubbing flesh with white, the murdered passing the plate to the murderer. So it is inside me--the contrary, divided aspects of my own nature for a moment transformed.

Bread....sustenance, symbol, sacred. Mindfully eating a single bite of bread might be my most radical spiritual act.