Some sobering and insightful thoughts about the Eucharist from Sara Miles’s inspiring book Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion:
The entire contradictory package of Christianity was present in the Eucharist. A sign of unconditional acceptance and forgiveness, it was doled out and rationed to insiders; a sign of unity, it divided people; a sign of the most common and ordinary human reality, it was rarefied and theorized nearly to death. And yet that meal remained, through all the centuries, more powerful than any attempts to manage it. … The feast showed us how to re-member what had been dis-membered by human attempts to separate and divide, judge and cast out, select or punish. At that Table, sharing food, we were brought into the ongoing work of making creation whole.
It’s the really hungry who can smell fresh bread a mile away. For those who know their need, God is immediate – not an idea, not a theory, but life, food, air for the stifled spirit and the beaten, despised, exploited body.
Rowan Williams, as quoted by Sara Miles, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion
It may be that vice, depravity, and crime are nearly always, or perhaps even always, in their essence, attempts to eat beauty, to eat what we should only look at.
Thus Simone Weil in Waiting for God. Quoting Weil in an interview with The Other Journal, Barbara Brown Taylor comments:
To learn to look at things instead of devouring them is to discover how quickly the feeling of deprivation can turn to liberation instead. Every time I say no – to more stuff, more speed, more activity, more food – this great big space opens up in my life. … If the church is meant to embody an alternative way of life, then what better witness could there be than a community that decided to live on less in order to live more richly? That sounds like the kind of truth that could make people free.
Wendell Berry opens his collection of essays, Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community, with a piece entitled ‘The Joy of Sales Resistance’, which offers some wonderfully biting sarcasm. Here are a few gems:
The so-called humanities probably do not exist. But if they do, they are useless. But whether they exist or not or are useful or not, they can sometimes be made to support a career.
Literacy does not involve knowing the meaning of words, or learning grammar, or reading books.
The smartest and most educated people are the scientists, for they have already found solutions to all our problems and will soon find solutions to all the problems resulting from their solutions to all the problems we used to have.
Computers made people even better and smarter …. Or if some people prove incorrigibly wicked or stupid or both, computers will at least speed them up.
Having money stimulates the rich to further economic activity that ultimately benefits the rest of us. Needing money stimulates the rest of us to further economic activity that ultimately benefits the rich.
There is no connection between food and health. People are fed by the food industry, which pays no attention to health, and are healed by the health industry, which pays no attention to food. … It follows that there is no connection between healing and health. Hospitals customarily feed their patients poor-quality, awful-tasting, factory-made expensive food and keep them awake all night with various expensive attentions. There is a connection between money and health.
… those earliest Eucharistic meals were not our present morsel-and-sip ritual but a true meal, called the Lord’s Supper because it was the style of share-meal created by Jesus as a meal-symbol of equality within a community that believed in God’s ownership of food as the material basis of life itself. The radicality of God’s egalitarian Christian meal opposed the normalcy of Rome’s hierarchically patronal meal.
Thus John Dominic Crossan in his fascinating book God and Empire: Jesus against Rome, Then and Now.
On to Venice then. But where to begin? Perhaps with the wonderful displays of fruit and veg at the Rialto Market and in many other places.
Laurie Lee, another writer whose prose I admire. Having read Cider with Rosie years ago when we lived in the Cotswolds, not far from where Lee grew up, I am once again enjoying this marvellous memoir of Lee’s childhood in the remote village of Slad.
Consider the following passage about mealtimes:
Jack … had developed a mealtime strategy which ensured that he ate for two. Speed and guile were the keys to his success ….
Jack ate against time, that was really his secret; and in our house you had to do it. Imagine us all sitting down to dinner; eight round a pot of stew. It was lentil-stew usually, a heavy brown mash made apparently of plastic studs. Though it smelt of hot stables, we were used to it, and it was filling enough – could you get it. But the size of our family outstripped the size of the pot, so there was never quite enough to go round.
When it came to serving, Mother had no method, not even the law of chance – a dab on each plate in any old order and then every man for himself. No grace, no warning, no starting-gun; but the first to finish what he’d had on his plate could claim what was left in the pot. Mother’s swooping spoon was breathlessly watched – let the lentils fall where they may. But starving Jack had worked it all out, he followed the spoon with his plate. Absentmindedly Mother would give him first dollop, and very often a second, and as soon as he got it he swallowed it whole, not using his teeth at all. ‘More please, I’ve finished’ – the bare plate proved it, so he got the pot-scrapings too.