Canterbury Press, 9781848252141, £12.99
The Christian faith has its genesis in, its heart in, its reason for existence in the Eucharist. ‘Take this bread’, ‘take, eat, this is my body’, ‘I am the living bread’. The Bible is an integral part of the faith, however, it is Holy Communion which is the defining shared act that marks believers out as adherents to Christianity. Take the Bible out of the Eucharist and you have no sacrament, but take the Eucharist out of the Bible and you would have no Bible. Jesus Christ takes bread, blesses it, breaks it and shares it. It is his body, broken for us. It is food, a table spread to be shared with all who are hungry. Sara Miles, atheist, radical, lesbian, cook, mother, reporter, walks into a San Francisco church, takes the bread that is offered and eats it. Her life is completely turned over, transformed, resurrected. In that piece of bread the incarnation is made tangible, touchable, chewable, absorbable. She is still a radical, lesbian, cook, mother and reporter. But she now takes that bread and shares it over and over with everyone who is hungry and approaches the table.
This is a book about the utterly inclusive, utterly rule-breaking, utterly giving Christianity that my head believes in but my heart and my faith is too halting, weak and self-absorbed to fully embrace. Sara turns the altar into a pantry and every week 250 of the most vulnerable, destitute, lonely and outcast in the community come to receive bags of good food which would otherwise be denied them. The sacrament of Communion flows out into the world in a thousand unexpected ways. And my description makes this sound like a feel-good, do-good piece of left-wing social action. But it is much more and much more uncomfortable and challenging than that. It is personal – about Sara’s relationship with food, radicalism, sexuality, Christ, the Church; it is political – about the built-in inequalities of agri-business that force millions of tonnes of good food to be wasted while many go hungry; it is about the power of food to break through barriers, to draw people together, let them share in their common humanity; it is about the evil inherent in sectarianism and church politics; it is about confronting prejudice; it is about meeting Christ in the other. The prose of this book is easy to read, the content is challenging to the core, there are insights into food, feeding, faith, relationships, liturgy and the incarnation on every page. One which sticks with me is: ‘The Bible is not the Word of God – the Word of God is what’s heard by the people when the Bible is read.’ Another is the finding of the sacramental outside of the proscribed ritual of the sacraments. I cannot recommend this book too highly and I’d love to hear the response of others.