Knowing Jesus in the Breaking of the Bread

Jesus and the two disciples On the Road to Emmaus, by Duccio, 1308-1311, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, Siena.
Jesus and the two disciples On the Road to Emmaus, by Duccio, 1308-1311, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Siena.

Two friends walk along the road, speaking quietly to one another. They are hopeless. They are sad. When Jesus was alive, they were full of hope; he would redeem their nation, set them free. But Jesus is dead, and with him, all their hopes.

A stranger appears. “What have you two been talking about?” he asks. The friends look at each other, and then at the stranger. What else would they be talking about? For three days, all that anyone has talked about is the fact that Jesus—the one that was hoped to be the Messiah, the one to redeem Israel—is dead.

“Do you really not know what has been going on around here recently?” they ask.

“Tell me,” says the stranger.

They tell him. Jesus—the prophet who was so powerful, who healed the sick, gave sight to people who were blind, fed thousands of people with just five small loaves and two fish, and who taught everyone about the kingdom of God—is dead.

“We had hoped that he would be the one to redeem us,” they say, “but now he has been dead for three days. Even worse, now there are odd stories about his tomb being empty, and women seeing visions of angels telling them that Jesus is alive again.”

“Well,” said the stranger, “don’t you realize that all of your Scriptures say that the Messiah, the one to redeem Israel, would have to suffer and then enter into glory?”

Far from being a tragic and unexpected turn in the story, this suffering and death–and the transformation of that suffering into glory, that movement from death to life–had to happen, if Jesus was really the Messiah.

They must’ve wanted to hear more from this stranger, because they invite him to stay.

And when the stranger takes bread, gives thanks for it, and breaks it, they suddenly realize: the stranger is Jesus!

Supper at Emmaus, Giovanni and Francesco Cagnola (?), 15th c.
Supper at Emmaus, Giovanni and Francesco Cagnola (?), 15th c.

Jesus, who taught them about the kingdom of God, who healed the sick, who gave sight to the blind, and who fed thousands of people with just five loaves and two fish; this Jesus was now breaking bread and giving it to them. Their eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread. They were blind to who he was, but now they could see. It is a miracle.

And then, suddenly, Jesus is gone.

But he is not really gone. Once they come to understand that he is not dead at all, they realize that he still is the one to redeem all people.

Knowing this, they cannot stay where they are.

Though they’ve been traveling for much of the day, they immediately return to Jerusalem to tell everyone what has happened: Jesus has risen. Jesus is alive again. We recognized him when he shared bread with us.

It’s typical of Luke’s gospel that their transformation in understanding who Jesus is should take place over a meal. It even sounds a bit like the first meal in the Bible, but in reverse. When Eve and Adam eat the fruit, their “eyes are opened”; when these two take the bread that Jesus has broken, their eyes are opened and they recognize him, and the truth and power of his teaching:

“were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” 

The one who redeems us lives, and we want everyone to know. We will make him known as we continue to break bread in his name.

“Eating together was an important aspect of the early church’s
common life—a powerful symbol of unity both with Christ and
with one another. Eating with the poorest, the weakest and the
most vulnerable is an essential aspect of those early Communion
meals.” (Eat With Joy, p. 68)

“As God betstoweth his benefites upon us, let us beware that
wee acknowledge it towardes him, by doing good to our
neighbors whome he offereth unto us, so as wee neither
exempt ourselves from their want, not seclude them from
our abundance, but gently make them partakers with us, as
folke that are linked together in an inseparable bond.” (John Calvin, sermon on Deut. 15)

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The Eating Disorder You Don’t Hear Much About

The thing about a disorder like anorexia is that it eventually makes you look something like what the dominant culture regards as most beautiful, and achieving that ‘look’ becomes more important than, say, staying alive.

And it’s perfectly socially acceptable–for the most part–to tell skinny people how ‘good’ they look. When I was 17 and recovering from major thoracic and spinal surgery, I returned to school fragile and emaciated from the ordeal, only to hear “Oh my God, you lost so much weight–you look so good!!!”

Only a few sane, mature adults registered the appropriate shock and concern at my wasted appearance. Our culture is so sick that we think “sick” looks “so good!!! Anorexics are even praised for their self-discipline.

Image credit here

On the flip side, it’s seldom recognized that many people who are obese are actually suffering from an illness–compulsive eating disorder–that is often moralized as a lack of self-discipline.

It’s the unglamorous eating disorder. Because while thin people are praised, fat people are scorned. There are cries of war against ‘obesity’ from the highest places in the land while the Goddess of Thin gathers more and more worshipers to herself.

One thing I know is that we are all more than we look like; that we all are beautiful, marvelous, and perfect even in our brokenness because we are made by a God who is beautiful, marvelous, perfect, and who became broken like us to redeem that brokenness.

It would be better for all of us if we could stop keeping score–my disorder’s prettier than yours!–and give grace to one another. A great place to do that is in the breaking of bread, together.

Continue reading The Eating Disorder You Don’t Hear Much About

These are a Few of Life’s Crappiest Things! (Reading Ecclesiastes)

Did you know that this blog got its name more-or-less straight out of a Bible verse?

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t catch that; it comes from Ecclesiastes, which, being a frequently-neglected book of the Bible, is, naturally, one of my favorite books. (I enjoy rooting for underdogs.)

While some writers and preachers like to say that Ecclesiastes is all about how bleak life is without Jesus, it seems to me that the little book pretty well sums up many of the crappiest things about life:

1. Where there ought to be justice and righteousness, there’s injustice and wickedness.

2. Even if you’re strong, beautiful, brave, ambitious, and rich, you’re going to get painfully feeble and old, and, eventually, you’ll die. And, by the way, you can’t take all your stuff and money with you.

3. Everything people do can, much of the time, be chalked up to pride and competitiveness.

4. Rich people just can’t ever get enough money. They always want more.

5. It’s not the most deserving, or strongest, or wisest, or most knowledgeable people that get the recognition. Time and chance have everything to do with that.

6. More knowledge is usually a depressing thing.

So, yeah. Any of these could’ve come from a blog post or op-ed written, well, yesterday, but they’re from this funny little Ancient Near Eastern book that’s part of the Hebrew Bible and Christian Scripture.

By now you’re wondering what all this has to do with the title of this blog. Well, there’s this refrain (of sorts) throughout Ecclesiastes that goes something like this:

There is nothing better for a person than that she should eat and drink and find enjoyment in her work. This is from the hand of God,  for apart from God, who can eat or have enjoyment?

Because here’s the thing about eating: obviously it’s not the most important thing in the world–aren’t things like doing justice, working hard, loving God, loving neighbor, taking care of your family much more important?

Well yes. And no. Because if you don’t eat, you can’t really do anything else. It’s easy to miss this in an overfed culture, but “give us this day our daily bread” is talking about the literal stuff that keeps you alive & kickin’.

Yes, life is marked with death and sadness and injustice and unfairness and depression and general crappitude.

Yet. Yet–

This world is still a beautiful place; there “lives the dearest freshness deep down [in] things.” There is love, there is laughter, there is community, communion, companions–there is the joyful, jovial fellowship around the table and thousands of things to delight our senses.

And food is one of them, a delightful necessity. A chance to nourish others, to be nourished ourselves, and to taste just a hint of God’s goodness.

So, yes. Death and greed and decrepitude and turpitude and all manner of crappiness. And still the ancient Preacher says:

“Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart.”

Yes. Life is more than food. But in this life where little makes sense, food and wine are a spot of grace and goodness—

God’s love made edible. And delicious.

Moment by moment, sustaining us by grace.

How Patriarchy Gave Me an Eating Disorder, Part 2

My husband says I forgot to point out that not only did Ruth pursue Boaz, pretty much proposing marriage to him, but she also went and lay down next to Boaz at night. When he was sleeping. After he’d been drinking.

How’s that for some ‘Biblical’ Passion & Purity!?

{And yes. I totally love and adore my scholarly husband for pointing that out.}

Anyway, OK. Brief recap from part one–

Things I learned from evangelical culture:

Be Pure.

And so be afraid of your own desires.

Be Pretty.

And so be afraid of eating, excreting, and everything bodily.

Be Perfect.

And so walk the fine line between looking great, being ‘nice,’ and pretending that you don’t even care about ‘the physical.’

{Because you have a crush on the cute boy with nice hair who plays guitar for youth group talks piously about wanting to date only ‘spiritual’ girls. And ‘spiritual,’ in the theology of the evangelical youth group, means ‘not physical.’ That’s why the really ‘spiritual’ girls are always ‘dating Jesus.’ Which unfortunately translates, too often, treating the smitten guys around them, with whom they’re ‘just friends,’ like crap.}

My own understanding of growing up Christian, then, meant shutting down everything that was God-given, normal, and healthy.

I was terrified of ‘liking’ boys because that might lead “someplace” sinful. So I was choked up, found it hard to talk to boys unless it was to listen to how much they liked my friends.

I was terrified of getting a womanly body. Not just because women were dangerous temptresses, all curves and sensuousness and endangering to a young man’s ‘purity,’ though that was part of it.

Part of it, too, was that I was afraid to take up space. Because, after all, in the evangelical version of womanhood I’d pieced together for myself, a woman’s passive perfection entailed unobtrusiveness.

Let me tell you, I’m not really naturally unobtrusive. Oh, I might be a little shy when we first meet in person. And I’m told my personality is more ‘sweet’ than not. But I also can be a bit of a Scrappy Doo, or, if you prefer, a bit of an Anne of Green Gables kind of girl. One time I smacked a boy in my Sunday School class on the head with a hardback Bible. (Sorry about that, Tommy!) I rather enjoyed debates as a young’un. And none of that’s really conducive to the whole “gentle and quiet spirit” thing that I took to mean passivity.

Somehow, in my mind, cultivating a passive, pure, perfect Christian girl persona got tied in with remaining physically petite. Not being ‘weighty,’ not being a contender. Something to be pursued, not someone to be reckoned with.

And then, too, there was the food side of things. Oh, food. Until a certain point–I think about age 14 or 15–I enjoyed eating and didn’t give undue thought either to food or to my weight. Sure, I was aware of dieting, aware that ‘someday,’ when I was a woman, I’d hate my body just like most of the grown-up women I knew. But I liked food. Not that I was particularly adventurous, but I remember relishing the sweet and sour chicken my dad would cook for my every birthday at my request, the simple pleasure of perfectly steamed white rice, and the lemony explosion of a cold Granny Smith apple behind my teeth.

Somehow, though–and it’s all mixed in, I think, with the passivity and the perfection, the prettiness and the purity–I began to fear my appetite. Just when my appetite should’ve been growing–when I was growing, both in mind and body, more rapidly than I’d ever grown since babyhood–I recoiled from it in fear.

Gluttony was a sin, after all. The body’s desires were suspiciously sinful: “put a knife to your throat if you’re given to gluttony”?!

You combine that with a food culture like ours, where food is plentiful, cheap, and everywhere, and I began to harbor a secret, shameful fear: what if I eat everything? What if I just start eating and can’t stop? If I can never stop? How would I know how to stop?

Obviously, eating was too complicated and dangerous.

Not eating was easier. Of course, then the problem was my hunger would overtake me, eventually, and I’d break down and eat and eat, always, it seemed, too much–enough to trigger fear, panic, guilt; terror over letting my physical ‘desire’ get the better of me.

After all, where might that lead?

And so I was afraid: afraid of wanting to eat, of eating, of liking boys, of boys, of accepting my body, of my body, of going out and of being seen.

I would get dressed under my bath towel, hiding nakedness from myself.

And in all this time, all this was a shameful secret.

Because, after all, this wasn’t the behavior of someone pretty, perfect, pure, or passive.

But that–a tortured, circumscribed, turned-in-itself, endlessly abstemious life–is not the flourishing, fully human life God desires for God’s daughters.

You are God’s. God made you, you are beautiful, and God loves to feed you and to see you flourish–you, as God made you–not you, pressed down and rolled out and cut to fit some other shape.

You, as God made you, are beautiful.

{of course this isn’t the end. there’s more to my story. and to yours. looking forward to sharing and hearing more…}

In Case You Missed It.

So, I’m not feeling so great.

My eyes are burning, my throat is sore and tight, but hey! At least my children are fine. Because there’s nothing sadder than sick kids. Except sick kids with broken bones. Make that sick kids with broken bones in foreign countries.

Which reminds me of one of my favorite posts…here it is, an oldy but a goody. If you missed it this time, don’t miss it now:

(Mis) Adventures in France.

One of the major perks of the whole overseas Ph.D. thing was increased travel opportunities. There was even the opportunity for us to tag along with Tim to study French in Paris for a month with the bill largely footed by a grant! Sounds perfect, right?

Perfect, it most certainly was not.

In August of 2009, we Stones availed ourselves of this opportunity and booked what seemed like a reasonably decent apartment in the 2nd arrondissement. To tell the truth, I had a weird feeling about the apartment and the character that we were doing business with, a feeling that was confirmed when, upon being dumped by our shuttle taxi, we proceeded to sit with our two tiny kids and four huge suitcases on the grimy sidewalk for two hours before a man in a down vest and wool pork-pie hat (ahem. IN AUGUST.) finally arrived to let us into the apartment.

{This is for the search engines: Gilles Bourgogne Paris apartment rental scam warning. Consider yourself warned.}

It wasn’t that there was no apartment. It was that the apartment in question was completely filthy dirty to an extreme degree. As in, only dirty sheets. As in, rotting food in the fridge and garbage cans. As in, piles of junk everywhere. As in, no toilet paper or towels. And the person we were dealing with was really obviously untrustworthy. As in, lied to us. Obviously. And a lot.

So we did not stay there. Well, we did. For the night. Because we had no other choice. We slept there.

On sheets whose cleanliness status was decidedly indeterminate. Having all manner of bizarre nightmares including nightmares of bugs crawling on me.

{Not exactly Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face. Bonjour, Pah-reee!}

The unfortunate housing disaster turned into a happy event because I got to meet the legendary Nora, who resides near Paris, and stay with her for the month, during which time my dear husband demolished her deck and built a new one, my son slipped on a wet floor in Franprix and broke his leg, an old man exposed himself to me while I was walking with my (mercifully oblivious) children, the Franprix denied any liability for the unmarked wet floor because we didn’t “report” the accident at the moment it happened (because, obviously we needed to report a 4 year old shrieking in pain as uniformed employees gaped at us?) My other son got heatstroke, and, THANK GOD, my mom visited for a week.

take it from my son. never let a broken leg stop you from taking the opportunity to sit on larger-than-life bear statues.

Because we were headed to Germany next, we sent our luggage on with a baggage service, Sernam, that somehow managed to “lose” the one bag with lots of adorable petite ladies’ clothing from my sister-in-law’s cooler than cool store.

{I do not think that was an accident. Sernam, I won’t go all Mattie Ross on you because when it comes to revenge I’m much more Les Miserables than Comte de Monte Cristo, but stealing that bias-cut polka dot dress with the red sash that made me feel, however improbably, like a 1950s film star? That? That was cold.}

Oh, and then, on the taxi ride from our beautiful guardian angel Nora’s to the train station, Graeme vomited all over himself and me. And then, when we arrived in Goettingen, Tim got stuck on the train, leaving me with several small bags and two small boys, one of whom had a thigh-high cast. (The other was a mere 16 months old.)

And yet? I still think fondly of our time in Paris. Why?

Well, our friend there. What a gift to have met her. We clicked immediately and laughed ourselves silly over everything and nothing and ate and drank and enjoyed life together. When I think of her hospitality in contrast to the series of unfortunate events we experienced in France, I am as profoundly grateful as I was on that August Sunday when her adorable convertible pulled in front of that crazy apartment in the 2nd arrondissement. More so, actually.

And, yes, you knew it was coming: the food. It’s not that every meal in Paris is haute cuisine. It’s just that the food there, to a much greater degree, is raised and prepared and served with so much care, so much attention to detail, so much love. So much joy. I’m not sure what magic they’re working with food there, but they even have a whole store of frozen food that’s quite delicious, Picard.

{David Sedaris mentions his love for Picard in his hilarious contribution to the Americans in Paris episode of This American Life. You can listen online for free here.}

Yes, good French baguettes really are that amazing. And the breakfasts we shared each day–nothing fancier than coffee with cream and baguettes with sweet butter and various delicious preserves–were some of the best breakfasts of my life. And then, of course, there was the pain au chocolat. And the beautiful, fresh summer salads. And the filet of beef Nora made, barely cooked. And the gratin d’endives au jambon, made by the same lovely person.

Not fancy food. Not “healthy” food, to our American notions of health. Just simple food, prepared well, and enjoyed in good company.

Oh yeah. You knew it was coming. French goats!

Sure, we visited the Louvre, Notre Dame, Versailles, and so on. It’s not that the food was better than those things, or even in the same category, really. But when I think of our time in France, in the cost-benefit analysis, what balances all the crappy things is not having seen the Mona Lisa, or the Louis XIV’s palace, though that was cool (but the Musee d’Orsay was cooler). It’s having made a friend, and, for a time, having lived as a family with that friend, and the means of that grace was then–and is now, when I make Nora’s potatoes to remember–food.

Food, a means of grace and remembrance?

(Sound familiar?)