I was at the altar rail looking at the bread resting in my palm. I’d heard the words, “The Body of Christ. The bread of heaven.” Did this bread offer any hope to the people of Libya or Japan? Did it include them? If not then what was I doing there? Surely there are no outsider’s in the embrace of the Holy? Surely there is not a litmus test for being “In” or “Out” with the Holy?
The Libyan and Japanese people, along with international relief workers, fighter pilots and peacemakers had not been mentioned in church by name. They were very present in my heart as I went to receive communion.
As I ate the bread of life I imagined the Holy bandaging the wounded, feeding the afflicted, encouraging the dispirited and begging for mercy. “Look! I am one of these. I am a Japanese survivor; I am a Libyan resister; I am a fearful pilot or frightened henchman of Qaddafi. I am you whose heart is cracked open by what is happening. I am you and I am each one of them.”
As I sat in my pew, my palms open in meditation I thought of bread, breath and life. The word “spirituality” means, “breath of life.” If the “bread of heaven” in my stomach is the bread of life then surely it is the breath life for all?
Is this what Paul is getting at when he says to the Galatians, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one.” Or is it all dependent on the qualifying words he add, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus”?
Paul was proposing a radical idea – all previously accepted divisions were of no importance for the new Christian religion emerging out of Judaism. All those in the known world of his time were included. That is, if they believed. The evolving story of humankind’s relationship with the Holy is only ever understood in the context of the history and culture of that time. That is also true for how we approach Paul’s letter written two thousand years ago. Paul’s qualifier is clear. It is what it is.
Would Paul include that qualifier if he was writing today? Would he rejoice or squirm at the way in which its exclusivist tone is used to declare the supremacy of one religious path over another?
I wonder what Paul would say about those who have claimed that the tsunami and unfolding disaster in Japan is the work of God answering the prayers of Christians? Paul may be a stumbling block to many people of faith but his own life journey reveals a person whose heart was cracked open to new possibilities about the Holy; a person who was willing to let go of his old ingrained religious assumptions of who was “In” or “Out.”
So who does the bread of life feed? Is the breath of life rationed? Are you in or out with the Holy? As the bread rested in the palm of my hand on Sunday I remembered the Gerald Manley-Hopkins poem about the Christ who, “plays in then thousand places. Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his” to be discovered everywhere. I swear that bread is about communion. A communion of discovering the Holy who existed before religion revealed in the disguises of many. And each lovely in limbs and eyes.
Robert V. Taylor is a speaker, author, blogger and Chair of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation in New York. He is honored to be a guest blogger for the Darkwood Brew series on Galatians. Visit him at www.robertvtaylor.com or www.wakeupforlife.com