Books about the mystery of the Eucharist are rarely page turners. Exception: Take this Bread—Sara Miles’s spiritual memoir of food and faith.
Her story covers a big colorful canvas of time and place and is populated with a large cast of fascinating mixed-bag characters (rich, old, destitute, schizophrenic, young, trans, gay, stuffy, edgy, old) who are colorful, imperfect, and sympathetic. Miles makes us feel their hunger to be fed and their hunger to feed—to see the divine on the face of the grubby and smelly, the rich and corporate.
There’s really no way to explain the magic she finds in “eating Jesus.” It can only be shown. And Miles shows it over and over in compelling and convincing ways as she struggles with faith in a messed-up world.
“Wait,” Paul said. “You’ve got to taste this.” He wiped his hands on a dishrag and went over to the refrigerator. “Open your mouth.”
“Oh, my God,” I said swallowing. It was grainy and cold and melting and milky and rich and sweet. “Oh, my God, what is that?”
Paul tried to keep a straight face. “Just a light little something,” he said. “Tres leches: you separate the eggs, make a cake, soak it in heavy cream, sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk . . .”
“Wow,” I said. “That’s like, I don’t know, being breast-fed by the Wisdom of God.”
Paul raised his hand and bowed his head. “All glory.”
What better way to show us everyday glory than by pressing together the images of dirty hands; a mouthful of grainy, cold, rich stuff; a face breaking with laughter; and the sort of shocking notion of being breast-fed by the Wisdom God. Then throw in a playful allusion to the Trinity in that tres leches cake and Voila! We get it. Easy as cake.
By narrating her unique faith journey so engagingly, she prompts us to think about our own journey. How have hunger and the urge to feed others affected our choices? She helps readers understand that our failures and doubts are vital to our faith. That paradoxes are ever present. That hypocrisy lurks in the shadows. Yet the magic of the Eucharist is always happening, all around us.
Near the end of the memoir, when Miles’s old friend Millie is dying of cancer, Millie’s son visits. He does not believe in God, but admits:
“. . . sometimes when I’m up in the mountains above tree line, it’s like whoa, you know: There’s a big, big love.”
“I know,” I said.
Christianity wasn’t an argument I could win, or even resolve. It wasn’t a thesis. It was a mystery that I was finally willing to swallow.
I was loved by a big love. In the midst of suffering, of hunger, even of death. Alleluia. What was, finally, so hard about accepting that?
As we swallow the bread, we swallow the mystery. Why is that so hard to understand?
— Sharelle Moranville