I want to start by saying I really loved this book, and going back through it makes me love it more.
I’m a fan of Miles’ first book, “Take this Bread,” and I adore her experience of an open table and her church’s practice of it. For those who haven’t read it, she wandered into St. Gregory’s Church, took Communion without being baptized first or really knowing much of anything, and in eating that bread, she knew Jesus. Hers is an incredibly powerful witness to the mystery of what happens at the Eucharist.
But I’m UCC, not Episcopal, and I realize I have less at stake than people in her own denomination might have. The first time I knowingly served Communion to an adult I knew had never been baptized, I got over the need for a rule immediately. No way would I ever turn a person back for that reason, or really any, because who’s to say how God might work through bread and juice? Clearly, in Miles’ case, powerfully.
Her writing is frank and profane and utterly holy, full of gorgeous phrases, images, whole paragraphs.
This second book gathers stories from her work at St. Gregory’s, where she now runs a huge food program, in the following categories: Feeding, Healing, Forgiving, and Raising from the Dead.
I have dog-eared pages and marked them to be able to find the quotes that stirred something in me. The first section takes us back to the feeding ministry, and it feels fresh, not like a repeat of Take This Bread. The second section is about healing, both about being called to it and how prone to burn-out healers can be. The shorter third section is about forgiving, and how hard it is to do and how important. The last section explores the forms resurrection takes, and within the focal story, what a family is or can be.
Here are some of the passages I want to be sure and remember:
Prayer can’t cure. All prayer can do is heal, because healing comes embedded in relationship, and prayer is one of the deepest forms of relationship–with God and with other people. And through relationship, there can be healing in the absence of cure. From “Healing,” p. 85
On burnout and asking for help,
And yet, when I could force myself to do it, I saw how getting to the point of asking was an essential part of my healing. As much as I might fantasize that my real friends, my most beloved family members, the best priest or teacher or spiritual director would guess just want I wanted and provide it, the fact was I had to ask. I had to put myself in a place of truth, or admitting that I needed help.
“What do you think I should do?” I’d finally say to Paul. I hated being told what to do.
“Honey, I’m worried,” I’d finally say to Martha. I always wanted to be the one who told others not to worry.
“I’m afraid,” I’d finally say aloud. “I’m upset. Hold me.”
And then, usually, I’d discover–no matter whether the person I asked had the perfect response, whether the help disappointed or delighted–that something had changed. I wasn’t alone with myself, with my ingrown desires and denials, with the thing that I’d been stewing about in private. I’d given myself over to a relationship. From “Healing,” p. 100
One more, okay? This time she’s talking about family and the way Jesus came to break them apart, according to his own words.
But Jesus was not talking about the cozy, affective private household idolized by contemporary Christians. In Jesus’ time, family ruled as much as the temple did, or soldiers of the imperial army. Your very name, your identity, was determined by whose son or daughter you were. our role in life was completely circumscribed by your position in the family. Your freedom as an individual was negligible inside the family and in the network of families that made up tribes and nations. The father ruled the mother, the mother-in-law ruled the daughter-in-law, the elder brother ruled the younger brother.
And central to the construction of family, of course, was who was outside it. Families existed–in fact, just as they do now–to define outsiders. Widows and orphans, illegitimate children–these people had no power, no authority, no place. They were not full humans, because they did not belong to a family.
Jesus just burns that sucker down. From “Raising the Dead,” p. 152
It’s not that Miles is telling me things I didn’t already know on some level. It’s her *way* of telling them that feels sharp and fresh and invitational. When I read about her church, I want to go there. I mean, I am not someone drawn to Byzantine chant. Not at all. I’m less formal and less liturgical. But I would like to be there and feel it wash over me, because she makes it that real. It’s brilliant writing. I hope she writes another book.
I’m not quoting my favorite paragraph, because I hope you’ll buy her book yourself, but I’ll tell you where to find it: the second paragraph on page 99.