The Discipline of Eating Bread

The Discipline of Eating Bread May 3, 2016

Mondays have turned into Matt slewing flour here and there in a sort of a frenzy of bread making. You probably think the words “slewing” and “fenzy” are over the top, but I would invite you to come look at the kitchen floor at the conclusion of his labors, and the kitchen counters, and the entire room really. Actually, I take that back. Don’t come look because you’ll track flour everywhere and I will start shrieking.

Yesterday he made four loaves of bad flour bread for the children, one einkorn loaf, and a stack of einkorn flour tortillas. I’ll just pause for a moment and let you ponder the weight and glory of those words.

Flour Tortillas.

That means cheese, and a hot pan, and some pickled jalapeño.

‘It’s not what goes into a man,’ said Jesus, probably tearing off a fragrant piece of flat bread and dipping it in sauce, ‘that defiles him.’ And yes. It’s not some terrible defilement to eat food. We all have to eat food. But the eating of food has become a psychological burden for me over the last five years. Here I am, surrounded by an overwhelming abundance of food, of every possible kind of food, and all the choices and limitations have slowly narrowed me down to the dumb reality that I feel poor. Obviously I’m not poor. I’m richer than anyone has ever been. But everyday and every moment I find myself picking over the food as if there isn’t any that I can eat.

And I’m not even worried about sustainability and being organic. I don’t have any allergies. I’m not trying to avoid gluten and soy. I am only and singly trying to get to a particular weight and stay there. I’m not sure why I think I should do this, except that I’m pretty sure I will be happy if I do. Actually, I’m not pretty sure, I jolly well know. There is a mark on the scale that coincides with a state of being comfortable in my own self. That single number marks the place where I can move around easily, where I have a goodly amount of energy, where I don’t hate everything and everybody because, for a few moments every day, I don’t hate myself. It’s not a magic number, it’s a good healthy number. It’s the number of un-self-consciousness. And in my tiny bitter mind, it should be a number that includes bread.

Because Jesus is the bread of life. I’m supposed to feed on him. I’m supposed to rely on him. I’m supposed to not eat all the other spiritual garbage out there. I’m supposed to narrow myself down to the singular reality that everything else, but him, will starve me. But if he likens himself to bread, and I can’t eat bread, how am I to cope with anything?

I can hear somebody whispering at me not to be so mellow dramatic. Besides, I stopped too short of Jesus’ whole thought. It’s not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, for sure. It really is what comes out. The sound that comes out of my mouth, as Matt so painfully helped me to see on Sunday, is the true place where poverty can overtake me. However rich I am, the minute I speak I am more than likely going to be making myself poor and sad–poor in spirit, poor in relationships, poor in trust and understanding. The landscape of my past is littered with me misspeaking, me being unkind, me being careless, me probably even lying (although I can’t remember that, probably didn’t happen). The sound that comes out of my mouth is more important than the glutinous, cheese laden, flour tortilla that goes in.

But I’ve noticed, when I’ve not been actually trying to keep from noticing, that the sound that comes off my tongue is a lot sharper and full of poverty when no real bread has gone in all day. And I suppose this is the point of Jesus likening himself to something like bread, and not like, say, well, actually, I don’t want to be blasphemous. There are a lot of things I can eat that stop me from being hungry, but don’t actually carry me along through the day; food that makes the hunger go away but doesn’t bring my soul and body into a state of calm. Jesus, similarly, carries the person who feeds on him towards an everlasting richness and settled rest. You do have to keep feeding on him, but when you do, it’s not like you’ve been munching on a bag of chocolate chips, just trying to keep the world at bay. There’s a necessary fortification that takes place when you rely, however momentarily, on our Lord, that can be likened to sitting down and eating something substantial and good. You can get up and do something, and not scream at everyone like an unhinged banshee.

Well, I suppose you still can, but it’s a lot less likely. The Christian life isn’t supposed to be the sort of discipline of sheer mental strength, where you just say no to everything all the time, and by the power of your will walk up the mountain to glory, saluting Jesus on the way up for his good salvific work, which, turns out, you don’t really need after all. No. The disciplined Christian life is a constant and continual admission of weakness. You have to stop after three hours and eat again, and have a drink of water, or you will die. You have to ask Jesus to help you get through each moment of each trouble. You have to admit that you are poor and have nothing to eat and nothing to drink and just ate a whole bag of chocolate and now you feel sad. It’s not you in the power of your will getting your life together. It’s you eating and drinking and being sustained by the one who sets the table with himself. The discipline is accepting the weakness and eating the food.

And now I must leave you, gentle reader, because I must have a piece of delicately toasted bread with just a thin layer of butter, melted, and another vat of tea. Have a lovely day.

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