Our Bread of Life

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I’m writing today from a camp in the foothills of the Adirondack mountains. There’s no television, no cell phone service and very few full-time neighbors along this forest-lined road. The lake is calm for the moment. My mostly-solitary life here will be ending soon, and I’ll return to the busyness of more conventional society. I often wonder what I’ve learned during my stay this year…

Today’s readings tell of Elijah’s humility and honesty; St. Paul’s instructions on living life in the Spirit, and Jesus’ teachings on Bread and Life. If there’s one thing I can assure you of, gentle readers, is that spending this much time alone can bring almost anyone to say with Elijah, “I am no better than my ancestors.” Any illusions I had of patience, holiness, generosity, or ambition were peeled away when solitude brought the unwelcome insight that I can get really frightened, struggle with prayer, and that I rarely truly sacrifice myself – for anyone. Solitude offers few distractions – as the saying goes, “you can run, but you can’t hide.”

However, I’ve also learned that, like Elijah, just when I’ve felt the most discouraged, the Lord provides. Elijah got a welcome hearth cake and a needed jug of water; God gave me cleansing tears, and good words to wipe away my discouragement and sadness. I’ve also been reminded that we aren’t half as bad as we sometimes think we are, and that a lot of the criticism we get comes from people who are distressed and take it out on us. We don’t fight back, and as a result, we get angry, sad, and frightened. As the Psalmist said, “I sought the LORD, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.” I’d like to add anger and pain to that list, too…

But then there’s that Mystery of the Bread – Jesus, who says that he is the Bread of Life. We’ve all known what it’s like to run out of regular bread. And it usually happens just when we need it the most. When I run out of bread, I get upset. Then I want bread more than anything else. Bread is a staple of my life.

The question is, would we get that upset if the Staple of our spiritual lives – our Bread of Life – Eucharist – wasn’t here? How much do we really value our Bread of Life? Or do we take Eucharist – and Jesus, in all his manifestations – for granted? Eucharist is a sacred, holy moment, and its Bread and Wine a rare and precious nourishment – a Mystery worth spending time exploring in our thoughts and prayers…

Dorothy A. Hathway, CSJA