The blessings of the sacred feast...

There is a story about St. Francis and the Sultan - greatly embellished to be sure and often treated in apocryphal ways in the 21st century - that has grabbed my attention. It appears that in 1219, during the Fifth Crusade, Francis of Assisi made a trip to discuss war and peace with a caliph in Cairo, Malik al-Kamil. There are no records of this conversation - no transcripts or scribal notes - but upon his return to Italy his order - the Little Brothers - chose to live in peace with the Muslims. What's more, there is a small gift in Assisi from the caliph that is still enshrined in the monastery cell where Francis lived.

Two thoughts come to my mind:

+ It is possible for people of good will to find ways to live together as both an alternative and an antidote to the violence and hatred that surrounds them. I think of the work of Clarence Jordan at Koinonia Farms in the 1942 when he established an inter-racial community in the heart of racist Georgia as a parable of hope and reconciliation. I think of the work of Brother Roger - founder of the Taize Community in France - who first built an ecumenical house of prayer that simultaneously served as a refuge for Jews fleeing Vichy France in WWII - only to become a center for spiritual renewal and prophetic presence throughout Europe. Or the healing work George MacLeod initiated during the depression in Glasgow and Scotland through the Iona Community.

I think of the work of the work of Abuna Elias Chacour - Christian priest in Palestine - who has built a residential school where Jews, Christians and Muslims live and study together. (See: Mar Elias Educational Institutions @http://lluker.faculty.ltss.edu/Elias_Chacour.htm) Or the work of Desmond Tutu in South Africa as well as the work of the Peace People in Northern Ireland (http://www.peacepeople.com/) founded by Mairead Corrigan, Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeeown in 1976 who created a witness against the madness and received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work at reconcilation.

+ The United States is aching for a symbolic but transformational way out of our morass of fear, racism and mistrust. And one of the best is found in the sacred feasting of Jesus where meals become places of conversation, trust-building and community. For those who know the story of Zacchaeus, this is a sign of hope. For those who recall how Peter and Cornelius overcame their profound differences over supper, there is hope, too. Feasting is both satisfying and prefigurative: it feeds the body and gives us an earthy way of discovering common ground.

Three of my favorite books warrant comment:

+ One Loaf by Joy Mead of the Iona Community in Scotland shares a host of stories and recipes about the spirituality of bread and the blessings that come from breaking bread with one another. One writer said: A book which explores the making and the mystery of bread: growing, making, baking, sharing in story and recipe, poetry and prayer. In bread we see the true connectedness of all life - the uniting of body and soul, spirit and material. It is not just a symbol of life, it is life itself. Without food, life is impossible, so eating becomes sacred. Take and eat means take and live; to share food is to share our life. Jesus, in a simple act, made eating and sharing sacred.

+ Another excellent resource is The Spirituality of Bread by Donna Sinclair. People of every culture are tied together by the breads they bake. Bread helps us remember who we are and whom we love. Bread gives us calm. It is the opposite of fast food. You cannot make bread in ten minutes and the slow work of kneading and shaping and meditating heals our over-scheduled lives. Bread demands peace; you cannot grow grain in a battlefield. And justice: cheap bread that depends on the loss of the family farm is too bitter to eat. Bread, in fact, rises up out of the past into our fractured postmodern age. When we question all our assumptions and struggle to find a reason for existence, the making of bread gives meaning. There is no rational explanation for this the healing power of making bread has nothing to do with the mind and everything to do with the wisdom of the hands.

+ Feasting with God: Adventures in Table Spirituality by Holly Whitcomb. Curiously, earlier this year - in May to be exact - I wrote about this book saying: There is a theme that I find myself coming back to over and over again: feasting with God. As a metaphor for my spirituality, the feast is rich and inspirational for it is grounded in the reality of hospitality, abundance, joy and sharing. As a spiritual discipline, the feast helps me practice using my resources and time in ways that nourish. And as a way of talking about what is most important to me personally and socially, the image of the feast is almost perfect.

+ A feast is costly - it requires sharing my time, money and space; a feast is beautiful - it demands a well-set table, a clean house and tender care.

+ A feast is intentional - there can be spontaneous gatherings but a feast takes planning; a feast is about community - anything less is self-centered.

And a feast is sensual - it invites calling forth our hearts and bodies along with our mind - a feast treats people as honored guests, practices radical hospitality and gives us all a chance to be our best selves just as God intended. Holly Whitcomb speaks of compassion as cum (with) panis (bread.) She makes the case that table fellowship is not only where Jesus did a great deal of healing, but it is also where we learn to practice sabbath rest most authentically as our hungers are satisfied.

As many of you know, I am a really slow learner but it would seem that this feasting - and building common ground - could be a way embody another parable of hope for these times. My heart keeps wrestling with how might we do that in this community? How might we bring very different - and often fear filled - people together for a feast? For bread? For sharing and conversation?

I don't know the specifics... but I'm going to work on it. These other models - and books - are a starting place. Anyone else have any ideas?

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