“Once upon a time, somewhere far back in ancient human history
– so far back that personal survival was the only concern –
a defining event must have taken place.
Someone didn’t eat what he found when he found it,
but decided to take it back to the cave to share with others.
There must have been a first time.
A first act of community – call it communion –
in the most elemental form”
Robert Fulghum 1995:79 “From Beginning to End. The Rituals of our Lives”
It was a ritual reminder that civilisation depends on sharing resources in a just and humane fashion.
Bread, Bread, Bread, All kinds of bread. crusty bread, endless slices of buttered toast, croissants, baguettes, bagels, rye bread, sourdough bread, white bread, raisin bread, stuffing, croutons, buns, rolls, breadsticks,… I could go on and on and on.
The gospel readings prescribed by our lectionary have Jesus talking about bread.
“I am the bread of life. I am the bread that came down from heaven. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, and if you eat it, you’ll never die.” I decided to bring you this basket of bread. The aroma of freshly baked bread makes us feel hungry
Jesus keeps promising to satisfy that hunger; Jesus is the bread of life, bread for the world, bread that provides eternal life. So, what is it exactly that we are hungry for?
As humans we all share this insatiable hunger for something more. Something beyond mere food. Something beyond that which we can explain with words. Something beyond all the images and symbols. Something beyond our very selves. Something that we call God.
This longing to know, this desire to touch or be touched by, this hunger for that which is bigger than us, more than us, beyond us, out there and yet deep, deep, within here, this appetite that drives us to seek out, to question, to wonder, is the very stuff that drives us as a species. We call this something God. Others call it by other names; names like knowledge, wisdom, force, energy, spirit or love.
When I introduce myself as a minister people react in different ways. Some respond by saying, I not religious but spiritual. There is a hunger for spirituality in an increasingly unstable world. Yet, underlying their spiritual hunger, there is a common thread of yearning to be better, to be more compassionate individuals, with a greater sense of connection to the mystery of the divine.
When I was at the café, “The Apron“, with Dorothy. I asked Ram a question: “Are you religious?”. With a puzzled look he asked me what it meant to be religious. Whereas when I asked Shelly the same question, she responded by saying, “I am religious because I don’t eat beef and pork, as Hinduism forbid this?”.
I am spiritual but not religious. Is there a difference? I wonder? What does it mean when people say: I am spiritual, not religious? And what does it mean when I say I am religious. Break into groups to discuss.
To some, being spiritual but not religious, is a phrase that has come into fashion as religion has gone out of fashion. I am the first to admit that there are all sorts of good reasons for religion to fade from favour. All the abuses of religion, who is in & who is not, clobber verses. I have heard the phrase, “I love Jesus, but his followers scare me to death.”
We live in a world fractured by the tensions between religions. Religious fanatics and fundamentalist of all sorts of religions have given religion a bad name. So, it isn’t surprising that those who have turned their backs on religious institutions would describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. There are days when I’d very much like to join the spiritual-but-not-religious crowd myself.
The phenomenon of spiritual but not religious has been described as the fastest growing denomination in the world.
Spirituality is the new buzz word as we all struggle to deal with our hunger for that something more in ways that will not lock us into religious practices that feel too confining, or demanding, or off-putting. That old time religion may have been good enough for some, but today people want newfangled spirituality. And who can blame them. I have heard two sides to the argument: religious and spiritual. The religious type describe spiritual as new-aggie, self-involved, selfish, unable to commit, lacking a desire to serve others, that they are incapable of forming or living in community. On the other hand, the religious are viewed as incapable of genuine spirituality.
Where does this leave us? We are living in the midst of one of the greatest changes and challenges as to how we seek, see, and think about the one we call God. As human understanding and knowledge of reality expands and our ability to access information about that knowledge increases. It is as if more information is leading us down a path toward a wilderness that is both exciting and frightening to wander around in.
Yes, there is a lot of stale bread in our religious past and present, but there is also some really nourishing bread. Yes, wonderful bread capable of feeding millions of starving multitudes within those who are daring to explore spiritual practices which move us beyond the limits of our comfort zones.
At the end of the day as for me, spirituality and religion are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to be both spiritual and religious. Indeed, religion without spirituality is like manna past its sell-by date, rotting away and stinking to high heaven. We are after all human beings and by our very nature we are beings who require other beings in order to thrive. We are called into community with one another and we bring into our communities our spiritual practices and once we do that we are about the task of being religious.
By definition the word religion – showing reverence to the sacred or religion means re-connection. Religion at its best is about reconnecting us to creation and our creator and just as importantly reconnecting us to one another.
Bread can be toxic to some, just as religion can be toxic. But we’ve created all sorts of non-toxic bread, we even have gluten-free breads that are capable of nourishing us. Surely, we are just as capable of creating non-toxic religion, we can create religious practices that are boredom-free, that are capable of nourishing us. It is time for us to begin to recognise the manna that each of us — both spiritual and religious folk — bring to the table, so that we can feast together and begin the real work to which we are called and share the wealth with which each of us have been blessed. We can be both spiritual and religious, as long as our religion and spirituality are recognised for what they are — integral partners in our quest for the one we call God, some call reality, knowledge, wisdom, force, energy, spirit or love. Spirituality, like manna, takes on a whole new dimension when it is shared. In community our spirituality is different. Yes, in community, spirituality is religion, and when infused with spirituality our religion is manna. We all need to experience spirituality in solitude. All religions, at their best, encourage solitary spiritual practices, but even the most solitary among us, also needs to practice their spiritually in community, and when we practice our spirituality together we are practicing religion. We are spiritual and religious beings. We are nourished best when our religion is spiritual, and our spirituality is religious.
The bread comes down from heaven is to be taken metaphorically, perhaps taken as the way to life. Heaven is not a place; it not up there somewhere. It’s a quality of life, a way of being. The bread that domes down from heave is the people, relationships, experiences, practices, beliefs, attitudes, teachings, love, and anything else that nourishes, sustains, strengthens, energizes, empowers, and encourages us to remain in the game, to continue playing, and to become more fully alive.
God is encountered in flesh and blood in the everyday-ness of our life. God actually shows up in the flesh and blood.
We are the very embodiment of God in this world.
In Jesus we meet a human who saw himself as bread for the world. In Jesus we meet the kind of companion who inspires us to be bread for one another.