320 pp. Ballantine Books (2008)
I’d be lying if I said that one reason I didn’t walk down the aisle to “accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior” was to get to be like grownups. I too wanted to get in on the magic. So, when I read that Sara Miles was an atheist, and then first participation in the Eucharist “utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry” I knew what she was talking about.
Years after my own conversion and venture into college, I began to develop a deeper Eucharistic theology. For me, Eucharist is one of the few places I find connection and palpable presence with God. Like Miles, I find inspiration to work and pursue justice via the sustenance provided at the table. When I have not participated in the feast of the table for weeks, I find my entire life sags and wanes. The Eucharist centers me, and fuels me.
Sara Miles’s conversion was not “walking down the aisle” or a moment of inner conversion, but participation in ritual. Hers is not a story that speaks from on high, but from deep below—the pits of humanity. Miles would begin a feeding campaign, and throughout the book the talk of food continually returns.
Miles's memoir speaks to polarization currently felt within the American Christian experience. Whether theologically or politically, Christians build walls of conservative or liberal identity, and then refuse to engage what lives outside those walls. Communion, Eucharist, challenges those beliefs. Communion provides the space for all to be welcomed, and to remember that all belong in the body of Christ. Moreover, for the church-at-large, doing away with meaningful ritual must not occur. For Sara Miles the Eucharist began a life centered on the life and mission of Christ.
Miles tells the story early in her memoir of time spent working in Mexico. On the Church holiday Corpus Christi, plainclothes thugs armed with guns and batons supplied by the Mexican police descended upon marchers outside her residence. They killed at least 25 people. For her and others that day would become known as “Corpus Christi massacre,” the murder of the body of Christ.
We need the Eucharist to remind us of the love and compassion Jesus lived into. We need the Eucharist to remind us that whether we are conservative, liberal, or apathetic we comprise one body. The hate spewed from both sides slowly pricks and bludgeons the body of Christ.
Take This Bread reminds me that I don’t need to agree with every person. In fact, I don’t want to agree with every person. But, I want to be able to break bread with people and share in the moment of fellowship. For those that speak unbearably harsh words against humans because of their sexual identity or political affiliation, I find it hard to be loving and welcoming. Yet, the harder pill to swallow is the fact that we share in the same body of Christ, and yet hate remains the outcome of their actions.
In the words of the 7th century mystic Isaac of Nineveh, Miles recalls, “Did not our Lord share this table with tax collectors and harlots? So do not distinguish between worthy and unworthy. All must be equal for you to love and serve.”
May this be our prayer. May it be so.