“Sir, give us this bread always.” Sounds like a great request. What is not to like about hungering for the Bread of Life? But at this point in the unfolding of the ministry of Jesus, no one, (including the disciples), was thinking about Jesus in the Eucharist when they were asking for this bread. More likely, as we heard in Jesus’ retort, they were hoping for a kind of perpetual soup kitchen. The crowd he fed yesterday was hungry again. It was time for Jesus to feed them yet again. “You are looking for me…because you ate the loaves and were filled.” Instead, he says, seek “the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”
The content of the dialogue matters here, because it sets the stage for Jesus’ response. “Our ancestors ate manna in the desert…” Manna is that mysterious stuff that seemed to ‘fall from the skies’ to feed the Israelites. In her book, One Thousand Gifts, author Ann Voskamp reflects on that gift of manna. “For forty long years, God’s people daily eat manna – a substance whose name literally means “What is it?” (or in another translation: “What is this stuff?) Hungry, they choose to gather up that which is baffling. They fill on that which has no meaning. More than 14,600 days they take their daily nourishment from that which they don’t comprehend. They find soul-filling in the inexplicable (the “What is it?” of life). They eat the mystery.
The command Moses gave when the people gathered the manna was simple. Take ONLY enough for one day. Be present to the “What is it” of your life for one day at a time. You don’t need two days worth. Or a week’s worth or a month’s worth of worry. Just today’s stuff, just today’s mystery. Trust that each day, you will be given enough ‘mystery’, enough unfolding of God’s life for you to be fed and nourished. That is all you ever need ‘do’ and ‘gather’ for yourself. THIS is the invitation to become a daily contemplative.
It is hard to do, isn’t it? At least for me. I am always trying to think down the road, to look to the next bend, to give myself some kind of illusion of control and power in my life by ‘planning’ as well as I can. The invitation to trust that each day’s “what is this” is enough for my prayer and reflection – that is a bid harder to swallow. Shouldn’t my life as a priest, a homemaker, as a carpenter, a retired worker, as a student, as a ______ (fill in the blank) be much more glamorous or exciting or something? Can God really give me in the concrete experience of my life, enough mystery to eat, enough “what is this” to fulfill my deepest hungers?
It is in that context that Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.” I am the ‘mystery’ the daily stuff upon which you will feed, which will satisfy you in a way that no soup kitchen can, that no steak nor choice wine, nor rich food can ever do.
How to do that, to become a daily contemplative? An invitation that changed Ann Voskamp’s life and mine, is to begin a gratitude journal. A little book that you record just 3 things each day for which you are grateful. Three things of the “what is this?” of your life to bring to your relationship with Jesus. (If you want to make it tougher, make sure it is three DIFFERENT things each day – no repeats on your way to a thousand. And build it into your nightly prayer with your kids. Invite each one to say one thing they are grateful for. Or around the Sunday supper table, share one gift, one moment when God has blessed your world.
You see, Jesus has come to satisfy a hunger far deeper than one that growls in the human body. Jesus has come to feed a hunger of the heart and spirit that could only be satisfied by a relationship with him.
“Give us this bread always, Lord. Give us this bread ALWAYS.”