Oddily, and quite appropriately for this weekend, I was doing a bit of fall cleaning, shuffling around boxes and such when I unearthed a book that I received many moons ago Sleeping With Bread (1995) by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn. I smile as I remember that day when I got this copy. It was on a retreat with other people I worked with. I think the retreat theme was on gratitude and led by a wonderful and gentle woman, Joan, who certainly knew how to bring to the heart and soul, a life-giving experience. I recall that she had next to her prayer table, a wicker basket wrapped in a beautiful cloth where the books were nestled in; just like a loaf of fresh bread. So I find myself reading the front cover of the book , saying in essence, that the book is about holding what gives you life. Love that.
Just in framing this pondering…these are my own musings and personal perspectives of the book and intent as it spoke/speaks to me. So here goes. Not everyone likes to read books that are kind of a warm fuzzy as I like to call them. You know the kind of book, the ones that hold stories and life lessons, moves the heart or mind, inspiring or prompting you to reflect, hopefully feel something more. In this keeper, it is about a process, called the examen, in which basically it is asking you to be open to examining self around two main questions: for what am I most grateful? for what am I least grateful? Interesting that the authors guide you by thinking on questions of a spectrum nature. Half full half empty. Well is not that a fine how do you do? So, Happy Thanksgiving… what am I most grateful for? Oh let me count the many.
Not surface gratefulness but deep life level thinking with questions crafted in a certain way to get at the heart and mind of being grateful, and then finding yourself possibly opening oneself to share. And as the authors of the book describe it, it is an examen. The book contains stories and examples of a personal nature, as each of them are quite different in discernment, and sharing. But also connecting with other stories from other people around world to bring a bit more clarity to own search. For me, the examen seems to be a way of reflecting and then sharing with others, what I like to call a life-giving nugget, to nourish the soul. Of course not everyone likes to share about self of own thoughts (especially the ‘not’ part of questions) which is entirely okay. Nor do some people like the warm fuzzy. I get it. So don’t do the warm fuzzy but maybe do the warmth thinking. Personally, I think it can be freeing at times. Allowing one to let go really and just…bleat belt shout holler murmur whisper… and then share, giving one’s bread away so to speak.
That is a key thought. Each of us, even when we do not think so, have something to give, life-giving even. No one is a blank slate and for sure have life experiences that have shaped to be who you are at this moment. Knowing one can be a down Betty (not being unkind to any people named Betty) or a frown or a half empty cup to others, one can also reach in and pull out the warm bread to give others. Why bread?
The idea of bread for the authors’ of this particular book came from their discovery from “the image of WWII orphan children sleeping with bread to reassure them that they would eat tomorrow as they did today. Many of them survived the concentration camps only because other prisoners had given them their own last piece of bread to these children.”(p.44) Sleeping with bread. I get it. A hope for the next day, holding on. Can you imagine? If nothing else I believe that there is in each of us an empowering moment of knowing we can choose one’s own way to do the good.
Bread. Fresh bread. Warm. I can taste it, smell it. Right now I am thinking of the aroma of fresh baking from Mary’s Bakery nearby, especially their bread…just coming out of the oven. Yum yum yum. Weakness here. My mom used to make her own bread (among many other things), loaves upon loaves. BEST DAY dinner…soup and sandwiches, crust included. Sandwich franchises – eat your heart out. Yep, no comparison yah’ll. Even frozen then thawed…umumum…mom’s bread tasted divine. Fresh-out-of-the-oven, melts-in-your-mouth kind of taste, so not going to give it back. Thanks mom.
To receive the bread but also to pass it along. The whole notion of bread and life. Hmmm As a person of faith, bread becomes the Bread of Life for me. Sustaining and nourishing for a life time. How to be nourished? Bread certainly does both, literally and metaphorically, fill you up. Unless of course you are on the no- bread-kind of diet…that’s for another time. Maybe one has to look at a closer inspection, maybe the ingredients. I look at the questions these three authors of the book began with and also brought to mind others reframed (p.7):
When did I give and receive the most love today? When did I give and receive the lest love today?
When did I feel most alive today? When did I most feel life draining out of me?
When today did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, others, God and the universe? When did I have the least sense of belonging?
When was I happiest today? When was I saddest today?
What was today’s high point? What was today’s low point?
But in all this, I think the message for me is to look at both life questions and give gratitude and value to both. Because it is in the opening up of ourselves. Will the answers be life-giving? I chuckle and shake my head. Not always. At the end of the day, it is up to me to respond and decide as it will be up to you. Give the time to put in the ingredients to make ‘fresh bread’. Just saying.
So on this Thanksgiving day as you and I gather around the dining table to break bread, social distancing in place or some facsimile there of (no holding hands for grace this year my friends), let us think of all that we have this day. Blessings.
Let us give thanks.