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What I'm Reading: Take This Bread

I read a lot. Every night before bed. In the bathroom while I'm brushing my teeth or blow drying my hair. If I happen to catch a meal alone. In addition to an array of magazines, I usually have at least two books going. Currently, my bedside table includes: Anagrams by Lorrie Moore, an advance copy of Trish Ryan's A Maze of Grace, Gilbert Meilander's Neither Beast Nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person, Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, and a stack of others that I haven't actually started reading yet.

So I've decided that Fridays are going to be my day to blog about at least one book I'm in the process of reading or have read recently. I hope you'll join in the conversation–suggest books, tell us what you're reading, and add your comments about the questions and problems and encouragements offered in the books I mention.

A few weeks ago, I finished Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, by Sara Miles, and then I had the chance to hear her speak in person at the Festival of Faith and Writing. Her book, as the title suggests, tells the story of her conversion to Christianity. Miles was an atheist who stumbled into an Episcopal church one day. She took the Eucharist and had an intense spiritual experience. She knew that she had just eaten the body of Christ. And it changed her forever. The book tells how she got there and where she went from there, how she started Food Banks all over the city of San Francisco to continue this Eucharistic act through providing hungry people with food.

It's a great book–well-written, thought provoking, surprising, encouraging. But it left me wanting more. The idea with the greatest power in the book itself is that our faith, our spiritual lives, are meant to be lived out in physical ways. Eating the bread of life isn't just a spiritual concept but a physical command. Just as you have received sustenance and nourishment from Jesus, give that to other people. Literally. In the form of oranges and green beans and peanut butter. That physical act of giving will in turn become spiritual. Relationships will form. God will be present and known. The physical becomes spiritual and vice versa. Faith embodied. Embodied faith.

The problem is that Miles doesn't apply that same understanding of the interconnectedness of the physical and spiritual world in other areas of her life. For instance, she is a bisexual and has been living with her partner (now wife), Martha, for years. I'm not saying that she needs to move out or that clearly, as a Christian, she shouldn't be living with another woman anymore. But I am saying that the physical and the spiritual are intimately connected. Just as her newfound faith called into question the food she ate, so too it should provoke reflection over her sexuality and the ways the physical and spiritual intersect and impact one another.

Similarly, when I heard Miles talk, she talked about the power of healing prayer. But she qualified her statement by saying, "healing and curing are not the same thing." I agree with her. In fact, I've written a whole book about an experience where my mother-in-law was not cured of her cancer and yet healing happened, in her life and all around her. And I know there are stories in which a body is cured and yet there is much healing to come. But Miles insists that it is impossible for prayer to have a physical impact. Impossible for God to intervene directly in our lives in a physical way. An embodied faith, it seems to me, believes that God can cure and God can heal.

I highly recommend Take This Bread. But I also hope that Sara Miles will start to take her own advice, to believe that the physical and spiritual realities of life are interwoven. That when the kingdom of God comes among us, hungry people get fed. That in the kingdom of God, sex matters. And that in the kingdom of God, prayer changes things. It heals, and it cures.

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