Many years ago, I read a book about European children who were evacuated during the bombing raids of WW2. Some relocated to distant relatives in the countryside, like the Pevensies in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But many others endured periods of prolonged hunger and homelessness before settling in refugee camps. Adults working in the camps noticed that these traumatized children could not sleep at night, fearing that they would wake up hungry or displaced again. Eventually, they discovered a simple solution: each child was given a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. With this simple reminder that they had eaten today, and this assurance that they would certainly eat tomorrow, the children were finally able to sleep.
I thought of that story a lot while reading John 6 these past few weeks. How can we 'sleep with bread'? How can we hold tight to the reality that Jesus has fed us before, and Jesus will certainly feed us again? Surely this is the idea that Jesus is getting at when he teaches his disciples to pray for daily bread (Matt 6:11), to acknowledge their hunger and rest in the certainty that God will meet it.
So I wanted to share a few suggestions about how we might "sleep with bread," or to use that wonderful word from John 6:56, how we might "abide" in Jesus as he abides in us as our bread of life.
Practice a simple Daily Examen. This is truly such a helpful way of identifying our hungers and noticing how God is feeding us. At the end of each day, welcome God's presence, review your day with gratitude, and ask yourself:
When did I feel most alive today? Where was I feeding on the life of God?
When did I feel life draining out of me today? Where was I left hungry?
Enjoy scripture. Just as Jesus is the bread of life, he is also the Word of God, and he feeds us through scripture. One way of feasting on this Word is through lectio divina, a contemplative reading practice. I find this method particularly nourishing; it approaches scripture more as an encounter with the Living Word rather than as a text to be studied. (I also love studying, but it doesn't always feel like feasting in the same way!) These are the instructions for lectio divina that I have loosely practiced for many years. Side note: we can trace some form of this practice back to our buddy Origen; listen to David's "Imitate Me" sermon about his approach to scripture if you haven't already!
Feast on communion. Wendell Berry has written that we marvel at the miracle of Jesus' turning water into wine, but we forget the miracle by which he turns water into grapes. I love that reminder of the everyday miracle of grapes, these delicious products of seasons and weather, sunshine and soil, vinedressers and scaffolding and pruning shears. The same could be said of every ingredient of our eucharist bread and wine, as we explored Sunday. (In case you're curious about the bread dough from Sunday, I wrote an article with the recipe for Anglican Compass a couple years ago.) These small, edible miracles remind us that creation was intended to meet human hunger and nourish us with the life of God. Like our ancestors in Eden, we so often feed our hungers with things that are not God. But in communion, we get a foretaste of that original garden fellowship restored. We feast on miracles, on "God's love made tastable." Has it been a while since you've come to church and received communion? Come and eat!
Set a welcoming table. The early Christians were known for setting tables that broke down social divisions between men and women, slaves and free, rich and poor (you might remember Paul's strong rebuke to the Christians in 1 Corinthians who were enforcing class divisions at their table). When we come to the table in this way, we are enjoying another foretaste of the new creation, when our divisions cease and humanity is united in worship around a banquet table (Rev 19:6-9). How might you set a table for people who are unlike you? How might you extend hospitality to people who are hungry for God, as we all are? You do not need nice dishes, a large table, a well-decorated home, or impressive food to extend Christlike hospitality. Loving our neighbors and setting a table is about showing up hungry and believing God will feed us with the humble ingredients of our ordinary lives. I've been reading a wonderful book called We Will Feast about the dinner church movement, and it has stirred such a longing for our church (beginning with me!) to grow in our practice of hospitality toward those outside our walls. Let's pray and look and listen and be courageous in extending our tables together.
How are you "sleeping with bread"? How are you holding fast to Jesus, entrusting your hungers to him? Liz and I are always here to listen, pray, hunger and feast with you -- we'd love to hear from you!