by Charles LaFond
In our prayer, our seeming favorite one, we ask for our daily bread. Daily. Our daily bread. I wonder what we mean when we say those words? Sure, I know we need food. But like the temptation to turn stones to bread in the trials of the wilderness, I am sure there is a deeper meaning. When Jesus is tempted with turning stones to bread, the temptation is not for toast, or sandwiches, or bread pudding or croutons. The temptation underneath the temptation is power – for if Jesus had the power to turn stones into bread, surely he would be a famous man for such an ability – a conjuror, like the alchemist trying to turn chemicals into gold.
The funny thing is that as a potter, I am grateful for the alchemists. It was their futile attempts to turn chemicals and metals into gold that has led, quite by accident, to porcelain. And I love porcelain. It is not glamorous but it has great beauty.
Our futile attempts to turn hard work, pride, envy, scheming or violent systems into our own versions of gold are, perhaps, able to serve a divine a side benefit. God takes our life-horrors and makes something new of them. It seems to be one of God’s favorite past-times. “What shall I make with this hot bowl of blood and feces…?” says our God as God watches our suffering.
We have, since Epiphany, been imagining our Rule of Life and yet I am sure that the goal of a Rule of life is not just having a Rule of Life. The goal must be something underneath that neat and tidy spiritual discipline. The real goal of Satan’s call to Jesus to turn stones to bread was to make Jesus into the person Jesus must not ever have tried to become – a powerful and popular person of fame. The real goal of the alchemists was to become powerful and popular and to make their employers rich. The real goal of the Rule of life is not to have a Rule of Life. No. The real goal of the Rule of life is to remind ourselves of who we want to be. Our best selves. And that is bread. That is gold. That is salvation and that is peace – world peace. There will always be scapegoats in life and in the church. I have been one. Perhaps you have too. And we know that without scapegoats there would be peace on this earth. “Thy kingdom come” indeed!
What scientists tell us is that people with real power – real presence – are people who know themselves and are honest about who they are when speaking with the world around them. The people in my life who most impress me, and to whom I am most disposed to trust, are people who are very, very real and willing to be real with me. They have “done their work” as therapists would say. They know themselves and they want to live good lives of authenticity and honesty – of kindness and generosity. A priest-friend and mentor from New Hampshire says that adults who are still emotional adolescents, will always seek to disrupt systems so that the resulting conflict weakens the systems and grants them the power they cannot claim by regular, authentic leadership.
When I ask for “my daily bread” what is underneath my request of God in “The Lord’s Prayer” is not simply bread, but the kind of real honesty which bread implies. Give me integrity – a real thing being a real thing. Let me be real by knowing who I am, knowing what I want and finding a way to remind myself of what I want in life so that when I want bread I neither reach for cream-cake nor scotch – just bread. So that when I want friendship I neither reach for fame nor fawning. So that when I want kindness I neither reach for flattery nor fear.
It is so tempting to play alchemy when living life – trying to make simple ingredients into glamor. But in the end, beauty and glamor are as different as bread and icing-filled doughnuts. Beauty is knowing who we are, whose we are, and living that integrity out choice by choice by choice. When I read each chapter of my Rule of Life each day, it is like turning to a post-it note on my mirror “Note to self…remember …this is what you want …many will tempt you today with gold and sugary donuts. Just take your daily bread. It will be enough. It will not be glamorous but it will be beautiful.”