Bread for the Journey – Strength for the Day
For Christians the assigned readings for what seems like the entire summer all have to do with bread. Not just any bread, but the bread of life. For the ancient Israelites wandering in the wilderness for forty years, this is the manna that God showered down upon them from heaven each and every day. One of my favorite stories from the Hebrew bible is this coming Sunday’s story about Elijah, trying to escape the death threats from evil Queen Jezebel, collapsing exhausted in the desert under the only speck of shade – a broom tree, and falling asleep lamenting his miserable life.
He is fed by an angel, which literally means “messenger,” cakes baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. The angel bids him to “get up and eat, lest the journey be too much for you.” (I Kings 19:7) The text said he “Got up and ate, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb (another name for Sinai) the mount of God.
All of the New Testament readings assigned for these summer months are about Jesus as the bread of life from heaven, paralleling him with the manna, the bread of heaven, and with the bread of angels fed to Elijah. Christians believe the Eucharist (also called the Sacrament of the Altar or the Lord’s Supper) is spiritual food given to us to strengthen us for the living of our lives in Christ.
In Hinduism food is seen as a great gift from God, and eaten with reverence and thanksgiving. Food is offered as a sacrifice to a god as part of Hindu worship. This offering is called prasada. Hindus respect all forms of life, and thus are vegetarian. Buddhists are also often vegetarian, and especially in the Zen tradition, encourage eating mindfully, conscious of how the entire cosmos is present in every piece of food (sun, water, earth, etc.). Muslims also see Allah as the source of all sustenance, and give thanks for the gift of food. In Native American traditions, even when eating meat, the hunter would give thanks to the spirit in the deer or buffalo, or whatever kind of food would be consumed, for giving its life so that we might be fed.
But in all these traditions, there is a distinction between physical food, and spiritual food. Physical food is given to us by our Creator, yes, to nourish and strengthen us. But God also provides us with other “spiritual food,” other things to feed and nourish us on a spiritual level.
In many religious traditions, the sacred text is seen as a form of spiritual food. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Bible is often spoken of as food for our souls. So too with the Hindu Scriptures, the Buddhist texts, the Qu’ran, and also the stories passed on in Native American tradition.
Prayer or meditation, in every spiritual tradition is seen as a kind of “communion” with God, and is seen as a form of daily nourishment for our spirits, as a kind of “soul food.” Muslims pray five times a day. When I was in Turkey a few years ago, I was deeply moved by the chanted call to prayer which hailed from the minarets five times every day. I too prayed every time I heard this call to Salat (prayer). For Jews the traditional Shema is prayed three times a day, morning, noon and night. Some Christians believe that we are to “Pray without ceasing,” as Saint Paul said. (I Thes. 5:17) Buddhist mindfulness means a constant state of awareness that all of life is sacred. In the Hindu tradition I have participated in a living yoga sadhana, which means a commitment to a daily spiritual practice, not just a practice of physical yoga, but of meditation, of healthy eating choices, and of healthy attitudinal choices and of awareness in all of our relationships.
In other words, every spiritual tradition reminds us that the Holy One invites us to be fed and nourished, every single day, not just once in awhile. I ask you, do you eat the bread of life once in awhile? Or do you come into God’s presence each and every day, many times a day, to be strengthened for this journey of life?
Martin Luther is known to have said, “I have so much to do every day that I cannot get by on anything less than two hours of prayer!” After Shakespeare he was one of the most prolific writers, as well as a busy pastor, professor, scholar, husband, and father. So, if you think you do not have time for daily prayer, for daily reading of scripture, for communing with God on a daily basis, think again. In my own life I am very disciplined with certain things. I try to get physical exercise five-six times a week. But I will easily skip physical exercise before I skip my daily spiritual practice. Countless people tell me how much energy I have. I know that my energy comes from the Creator of the Cosmos, who feeds and nourishes me each and every day through my time of prayer, reading scripture, and communion with God.
This day, I invite you to commit yourself to a daily spiritual practice, to open yourself to letting God feed and nourish you each and every day. May you find, as I find, that “your strength (also translated as your youth) is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:5)
This day may you see the Holy One in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the Holy One to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright August 4, 2015
Photo credits: Eucharist at NE Synod Assembly, 2014, Springfield, MA, ld by Rev. Steph Smith, Pastor at Cathedral in the Night; Linda under solitary tree at White Sands, NM; Linda hiking across Kitchen Mesa, Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM; Holy Communion at annual church picnic, Goddard Park, Warwick, RI; Church Beyond Walls’ Communion Table, Providence, RI; quotations from the Qu’ran, Mosque in Turkey; Linda doing yoga in Athen, Greece; Victoria heading out from the Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; Linda at Greek Monastery, Greece