The Israelites don’t recognize the bread, the manna—did you catch that in this week’s first reading? It comes, mysteriously, with the evaporation of the dew, and they look at it and don’t know what it is. I like this. This catapults us into a strange world where bread does not look like bread, but like hoarfrost, which, with pleasant oddness, Merriam-Webster defines simply as “frost.” I recognize this strange world, as much as one can. It’s a world where the sea can step aside and become a road. It’s a world where God can be a person and a person can be bread, and bread, in turn, can be a person, being God.
When I was little, my dad told me that the yeast in the little refrigerated packet was alive, and I looked and looked at the packet and the tiny grains inside.
I just finished reading A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah, a memoir of his time as a child soldier in Sierra Leone. The horrors he recounts are so extreme, and so current, that I was barely able to react to what I was reading. I would go through a passage about bodies and heads split and torn, throats slit, and put the book down in silence and turn to a normal conversation or the SAT vocab lesson I was giving. It seemed unreal, or over-real. I watched myself not reacting.
And then, suddenly, I was looking at another, probably far less violent true story in the bookstore, and I felt this nameless revulsion for it. I wanted, instinctively, to not learn about the world anymore. Reactions were—life is—hiding in me somewhere. Infinitesimal. Like yeast. Unrecognizable. Like manna. Like Jesus.
Bread sits in warmth and the yeast eat away at it, and bread breathes. It grows.
This is the thing—The world is big. I am small. The world has such terror in it that I can’t even look at it without bruising my mind. It’s not safe here, fellow travelers, and nobody gets out alive, and what we do to each other, what we do—No one is good but my Father in heaven. I get you on this now, Jesus, my brother.
And yet this is the strange world. Praise God for its strangeness. There is bread on the ground, even though we don’t know how to recognize it. Our bodies are the Body, which is food, and our spirits are fed, and our bodies, sometimes, satisfied. Praise God for the strangeness. Without the strangeness, how could we stand it?
But as it is, in such a world, I can stand in the face of the tearing, shredding wars, the violence that dogs us all as long as it claims one, and I can offer my little handful of flowers. I can hold out my light green pillar candle, flickering wildly against the blowing fan as I write. I can tell you how a friend came online while I typed this, and told me she was glad I was here, because she had a bad day. And I can believe, a little more with each terror I see, that the small, vulnerable beauty is the only response to the great, roaring ugliness.
Bread in the desert. God in the bread. Me in my smallness, reaching. Hoping. The single flower on the barren ground—The Mystery of Faith.
Rebecca Fullan calls on mercy, grace, tenderness, and stubborn living things like yeast and flowers, for all those of any age in war of any sort. God be with you.