Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Brief Musings on Bread (and Fasting)

photo by Steven Depolo, Creative Commons Attribution license

Three sayings about bread wove themselves together in my mind recently, and they seem appropriate for a time when many are beginning a season of fasting.

I recently came across this quote for the first time by Nikolai Berdyaev, who was a Russian religious and political philosopher:

"Bread for myself is a material question.  Bread for my neighbor is a spiritual one."

As many people enter into Lenten fasts, I wonder about the connection between denying "bread" (or chocolate, or donuts, or...) to ourselves, and being mindful of our neighbors, near and far, who are without bread.  Is there a connection?  Should there be?  World Vision Youth is organizing a solidarity fast, and although the word "Lent" doesn't seem to appear anywhere, the timing is just right.

I don't remember when I first heard the most famous words of the Brazilian archbishop and liberation theologian Dom Helder Camara, but they have stayed with me:

"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist."

We might think that political and spiritual questions can (and should) be kept separate, but as simple a topic as food (and hunger) reveals that, if we believe that "bread for my neighbor" is a spiritual question, one that we are willing to seek answers to, any effort providing that bread soon leads us to more questions, which are often unpopular, even dangerous, politically.

The sung blessing for a meal that ties together these two quotes for me is one I learned here in Nicaragua, that has been shared through the Latin American Council of Churches' (CLAI) Liturgy Network:

Bendice Señor nuestro pan

y da pan a los que tienen hambre

y hambre de justicia

a los que tienen pan.

Bendice Señor nuestro pan.

English translation:
Lord, bless our bread.
and give bread to those who are hungry
and give hunger for justice
to those who have bread.
Lord, bless our bread.

May our bellies, whether filled, fasting, or hungry, hunger for justice.

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