Take This Bread A Radical Conversion, The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first century Christian

From Publishers Weekly
Where is it written that literary women must move to coastal California (if they don’t already live there), become Episcopalians and write conversion memoirs? Miles, like recent memoirists Diana Butler Bass, Nora Gallagher and Lindsey Crittenden, loves Jesus and detests the religious right, though she is also critical of “the sappy, Jesus-and-cookies tone of mild-mannered liberal Christianity.” Mild-mannered she is not. Converted at age 46 when she impulsively walked into a church and received communion for the first time, the former war correspondent suddenly understood her life’s mission: to feed the hungry. What her parish needed, she decided, was a food pantry-and within a year (and over opposition from some fellow parishioners) she had started one that offered free cereal, fruit and vegetables to hundreds of San Francisco’s indigent every Friday. Not willing to turn anyone away, she raised funds and helped set up other food pantries in impoverished areas, occasionally “crossing the line from self-righteous do-gooder to crusading zealot.” For Miles, Christianity “wasn’t an argument I could win, or even resolve. It wasn’t a thesis. It was a mystery that I was finally willing to swallow.” Grittier than many religious memoirs, Miles’s story is a perceptive account of one woman’s wholehearted, activist faith. (Feb. 20)
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Review & Commentary

One thought on “Take This Bread A Radical Conversion, The spiritual memoir of a twenty-first century Christian

  1. Review

    TAKE THIS BREADA Radical ConversionThe spiritual memoir of a twenty-first century Christianby Sara MilesBallantine Books, New York, 2007, Hardback, 283 pp., $24.95

    A Review by G. Richard Wheatcroft

    The day after I bought this book and had read about half of it, I experienced myself being fed with bread by this memoir. I wanted everyone to know this astonishing story even before I wrote this review, so I sought the author on the Internet, found an announcement of her book, and forwarded it to everyone on my e-mail list. In Sara Miles' memoir, which spans over thirty years and several countries, you will find bread for yourself and experience what is involved in being bread for others.

    The author begins her memoir by inviting us to the family table. Her father and mother were children of ministers and missionaries. During adolescence each began to question and reject many Christian doctrines. When her parents' met and married they never went to church. She writes, "My parents atheism proclaimed this world, in its physical beauty and fascinating human complexity, is what mattered." She, her sister Ellen and her brother David believed them. When she was eighteen she traveled to Mexico City and enrolled in a Friends' World College founded by Quakers and communists. During her time there she experienced what was later called The Corpus Christi massacre. People who were marching to support opening the university system to the poor were attacked by the Mexican police. Many were wounded and at least twenty-five were beaten to death.

    Sara returned to New York where she entered the "world of restaurants. She writes that this experience of feeding people became a "central part of my life, informing way I experienced friendship and community, political organizing and eventually belief." An accident when "three gallons of boiling brine drenched" her legs led to a job helping lawyers of the Center for Constitutional Rights research and write about cases of human rights violations in Nicaragua after the overthrow of the dictator Somoza by the guerrillas of the Sandinista front. During the 1980's she covered revolutionary wars in El Salvador, the Philippines and South Africa. She shares what she learned living in the midst violence, writing, "What I learned in those moments of danger and grief informs what I now call my Christianity. It was a feeling of total community with others, whether or not I liked them, through the common fact of our mortal bodies." She adds. "Never was that feeling stronger than when people fed me, which they did constantly." After six months, fearing for her life because of the fighting, she returned to the United States and settled in San Francisco.

    One day, five years later, she walked into St. Gregory's Episcopal Church. She recalls that "she had no earthly reason to be there. I had never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord's Prayer. I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian – or, as I thought of it rather less politely, a religious nut." When she joined others gathered around the family table for her first communion she received "a piece of fresh, crumbly bread" and heard the words "the body of Christ", then was handed the goblet of wine with the words "the blood of Christ." She writes, "something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me." She cried. She realized that what she had been doing with her life until that moment, "was what she was meant to do: feed people." Reflecting on what had happened she began to understand that "God could be located in experience, sensed through bodies, tasted in food; that my body was connected literally and mysteriously to other bodies and loved without reason."

    Acknowledging that "questions are at the heart of faith" she found that her first year at St. Gregory's "would begin and end with questions." She began to "deacon" at the Eucharist. As she served week after week, "flooded with hunger and gratitude," she began to be concerned about the people who lived in poverty near where she lived. Then one day she opened a fund raising letter from the nonprofit San Francisco Food Bank which stated that more than 90,000 people in the city, most of them children and women with families, lived with the threat of hunger. A picture began to develop in the back of her head of establishing a food pantry at her parish. She writes, "It was communion, after all, but with free groceries instead of bread and wine." And then she knew "This is it, I thought, what I'm supposed to do: Feed my sheep."

    Driven by this vision she helped establish a food pantry at her parish. She told the people at St, Gregory's that the pantry would be church and not a social service program. The Sunday after the pantry opened, she was baptized. After several years Sara, after much discussion, argument, and persuasion, convinced the clergy and vestry to open the food pantry after the Eucharist. Her rationale was that "We could feed more people, offer more of our members the chance to serve, and make explicit the connection between Holy Communion and free groceries."

    Near the conclusion of her memoir Sara shares that she experienced a crisis of faith.She struggled with the question, "what is my faith going to cost?" This question, she writes, returned her to the "fundamental practices that had stayed central for me, such as just following what Jesus did." She concludes, "As I'd discovered as a student in Mexico, a reporter in war zones, a cook, learning from experience instead of memorizing a formula forced me to pay attention. Doing the Gospel rather than just quoting it was the best way I could find out what God was up to." Take This Bread.

     

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