I originally wrote this post in response to another December tragedy, but in the wake of the attacks in Paris, here it is again, a call to rise and come together.
Meatless Monday: The Bread Also Rises
In the wake of the Newtown massacre, it feels hard to summon the Christmas spirit, Tiny Tim’s sense of God bless us, every one. Some who should be at our holiday tables won’t be. It is impossible to undo this terrible loss of life. But we can seize this moment as an opportunity to rise, to come together.
Ahimsa, which translates both as nonviolence and universal love, is a term bandied about by Buddhists, Hindu, yogi and vegans, and is the subject or side dish of many of my Meatless Mondays posts. It’s easy to talk about — I mean, who’s really against love? It’s the doing that’s hard to pull off. To the hardcore ahimsa practitioner, an animal that gives its life for your dinner matters just as much as a child, evil thoughts can harm as much as physical weapons. That sets the bar so high for most of us, we can’t even think where to begin.
Begin with rising. Begin with a loaf of bread. Yeah, bread — a little yeast, a little water and some flour. Add some heat and time, and from a sort of mud, you get a sweet-smelling, sustaining loaf that feeds many and comes at the cost of no creature’s life, something far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s an everyday miracle at a time when miracles seem thin on the ground.
The Hebrew word for “blessing” or “prayer” is baruch. In Arabic, it is baraka. In Morocco, baraka is its own kind of blessing. It is showing gratitude for the food you have by sharing it. It is creating abundance. It is the power to multiply food. You don’t have to be Jesus to do it, either. This kind of blessing, the law of increase, requires a practical magic, of making the most of what you have, even when it’s something as simple as a loaf of bread.
In “A Small, Good Thing”, Raymond Carver’s deft heartbreaker of a short story, a couple suffer a tragedy. It is an accident, not the work of a gunman, but they have nonetheless lost their young son and they are gutted by grief. Spoiler alert — at the end, a baker finds out what has happened. He brings them bread. He says, “Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this.” It is choosing light when darkness threatens to consume us, it is a small step towards healing and ahimsa.
“‘Smell this,’ the baker said, breaking open a dark loaf. ‘It’s a heavy bread, but rich.’ They smelled it, then he had them taste it. It had the taste of molasses and coarse grains. They listened to him. They ate what they could. They swallowed the dark bread. It was like daylight under the fluorescent trays of light. They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving.”
Every meal — any meal, even a loaf of bread — can offer the opportunity for deeper connection, for a communion for people of every faith or of no particular faith at all. Bread is a food shared by every culture. It is a unifier. Combine a few simple ingredients, and it rises. Take it in. Let it inspire you to rise, to come together with others, to share a meal with ahimsa, nonviolence and love towards all living creatures.
God bless us, every one.