Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Let's talk about food: What does bread mean?

[Salvador Dali, Basket of Bread, 1926]
Bread is an especially rich symbol (see yesterday's post about how symbols have many layers of meaning).

● a freshly baked, crusty baguette
● a thick slice of heavy brown bread, warm from the oven
● two loaves of challah at the beginning of Shabbat dinner
● scones with clotted cream and jam

--or, on the other hand,

● a dry crust
● crumbs
● day-old bread
Wonder Bread

I'm guessing you quickly moved beyond taste and smell to highly personal associations--places, people, feelings, stories evoked by thinking about bread. Symbols invite you to do that.

Consider also some of the many Bible stories that feature bread:

● Passover with its unleavened bread
● The manna that fed the Israelites in the wilderness
● The miracle of the loaves and fishes
● The Last Supper (a Passover meal) with its shared loaf

--or some scriptural statements about bread:

● "If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat" (Proverbs 25:21)
● "Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread?" (Isaiah 55:2)
● "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11)
● "Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life'" (John 6:35)

Ask yourself, what does the bread mean? You'll likely come up with multiple meanings right away. That's how symbols work.

Now think about bread, any kind of bread you choose--

● how its ingredients are grown, harvested, and processed, and by whom
● how it's baked, and by whom
● how it is served and eaten, and by whom

Can you see how bread might enrich your view of life, or Jesus, or God's providence, or ... ?  Again, you're seeing symbols at work--or at play.

I love the prayer in the Roman Catholic liturgy that echoes the Hebrew blessing over bread:
Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,
for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you:
fruit of the earth and work of human hands,
it will become for us the bread of life.
A person could spend hours just parsing that prayer. Once you let symbols loose in your mind, everything looks different.

*   *   *

If you aren't yet convinced that bread is an extremely fecund symbol, find more layers of meaning (from the sublime to the ridiculous) in "The Symbolism of Bread."

This is part of a series of short posts especially for people who attend St Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, IL, where I'm leading conversations about food on September 22, September 29, and October 6. I'll post about food every weekday between September 16 and October 4.


Sue B. said...

This is interesting, but you might also want to consider how someone with Celiac Disease (intolerance of gluten found in wheat, barley and rye)all my life might also feel about bread and what it might symbolize. Bread has never been something to look forward to even before I was diagnosed. I could never understand why anybody would like it or want it in the first place. Sixty years later, I still don't, but I am trying to get past all of my negative feelings about bread and realize what it is supposed to bring to mind to others.

LaVonne Neff said...

Good point, Sue B., and I'll bet there's a lot of symbolism in your relationship to bread too! I'm working right now on tomorrow's post about wine, and I'd already written that there are people who should not eat bread, just as there are people who should not drink wine. I don't think we can borrow other people's symbols, though, and Christians who don't eat bread or drink wine probably shouldn't try too hard to make those symbols work for them. Better to find others that do work, whether in the food category (milk & honey?) or in other categories altogether (lion, lamb, shepherd, etc.).

Sue B. said...

My biggest problem is getting past praying for "our Daily Bread" with everyone else. If I stop and think about it, it is a problem, but I try to remember that for me, it just means sufficient food for the day.

Sue B.