Obey the loaves

This morning starts out with a series of disjointed religious observations about reconciliation.

Order of Worship.

The very format of a Christian service incorporates reconciliation in the order of worship, although there is some variation in the interpretation.  One contemporary writer places “confession and reconciliation”  together after the “approach”.  The order is

1. APPROACH (music, welcome, invocation, hymn, Old Testament reading)
2. LITANY OF CONFESSION AND RECONCILIATION (and Lord’s Prayer)
3. COMMUNITY: RELATING TO EACH OTHER (prayers)
4. LISTENING TO THE WORD (Old and New Testament readings, hymn, sermon)
5. RESPONSE (hymn, prayer)
6. COMMUNION (distribution of bread and wine, hymn)
7. COMMISSION [Dedication to commitment and service for week ahead, benediction, music recessional]

In case anyone is not sure about the “sins”, they are spelled out:

For the greed which exploits others and wastes the good earth…
For wanting more and more while so many have less and less…
For our indifference to the suffering of the poor: the hungry, the homeless, the tortured and the oppressed…
For the lust which misuses others for our own selfish desires…
For the pride which leads us to trust too much in ourselves and not in You…

It is these sins, or perhaps merely being in the physical world instead of the spiritual one, or perhaps just not having been able to resolve all the social problems and issues of our day, that distances us from God. The ritual acknowledges the distance, and brushes off the dust of whatever ugliness we’ve encountered during the week for the purpose of putting aside barriers to spiritual closeness with God.

Another writer places confession of sins further on in the order as part of the conversation with God and as a response to hearing the words of God:

Consider the flow of our worship: gathering; hearing God’s Word; responding to God’s Word by an expression of faith and confession of sin; making our offering to God and lifting up our prayers of Thanksgiving.

I could quarrel with all those semicolons and especially with the omission of the Harvard comma, but this particular writer’s historical musings are an interesting tangent.

Communion.

I suppose this is the ultimate reconciliation with God; killing God, tearing apart God’s flesh, eating God, and drinking God’s blood to achieve a numinous merging with the deity.  The Biblical basis for communion is in John 6:56 “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him”.

Islam.

This means submission to God. The Islamic worship of God is simple.  A call to prayer, several repetitions of postures (called “rahkans”) including leaning at a 90 degree angle with hands on knees, on hands knees with forehead touching the ground, and standing, either looking at the palms of the hands or with one hand over the other. But what is the God being submitted to?  A God you can carry in your stomach in the form of bread? I admit I don’t know all the Islamic conceptions of God, but for sure the Moslem god, like the Jewish god,  is one who sends rules, lots of them, and expects them to be obeyed, but at the same time is regarded as being merciful and compassionate. (most verses of Koran begin “bismallah al-rahman al-raheem, “in the name of Allah the merciful, the compassionate.”)

Before the prayer is a washing ritual, each area being ritually washed three times.  There are areas in the mosque for ablutions, or some people do it at home beforehand.  The bedouin in the desert is also allowed to ritually wash with sand before praying.  It’s a physical religion and it’s impossible to miss the grounding symbolism of kneeling on the ground and touching the forehead to the earth. More subtle is the circle created by looking down and at the open palms of the hands that serves to short-circuit sensory inputs, quiet the crowd, and focus the worshiper.

Whatever the Islamic notion of the nature of God, one reaches harmony with God  by submission, by blind acceptance of dogma, by erasure of all individuality and critical thinking.

[Hmm, in the Christian example of the order of worship, the purification is an internal one, a questions of purity of heart.  In the Islamic example, purification is accomplished by external ritual washing, similar to the native American purification ritual of cleansing oneself externally by smudging with smoke then offering smoke to the four directions, sky, and earth. Does physical purification lead to spiritual purification–or are they even different? Ooops, pork.]

The image of submitting to communion bread in the stomach is irresistible.

So, give us this day our daily bread.  This is cinnamon bread.  I’ve never seen it before and it’s quite good.

cinnamon bread

Apparently the loaf has been sprinkled with cinnamon mixed with something sweet, folded over, and pinched shut before baking. I could smell the cinnamon in the bakery without opening the package. The shops in the Arab neighborhood are already stacked with cases and cases of dates in preparation for the start of Ramadan on Saturday.  I have mine and this year will probably fast at least one day of Ramadan.

So back to the religious background of reconciliation…

Contemporary theologians like to cite John 6:56 for the cannibalistic backstory of the communion ritual, but to me that’s like reading one entry in a thread without taking the whole context into account.  The context of ritual cannibalistic communion is none other than the story of the loaves and fishes.  After that miracle Jesus retreated, walking on water, to another area where the crowds eventually found him out.  Here is the rest of the story, told in the fusty 1901 translation of the American Standard Version:

25And when they found him on the other side of the sea, they said unto him, Rabbi, when camest thou hither? 26Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate of the loaves, and were filled. 27Work not for the food which perisheth, but for the food which abideth unto eternal life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him the Father, even God, hath sealed. 28They said therefore unto him, What must we do, that we may work the works of God? 29Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. 30They said therefore unto him, What then doest thou for a sign, that we may see, and believe thee? what workest thou? 31Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread out of heaven to eat. 32Jesus therefore said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, It was not Moses that gave you the bread out of heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread out of heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which cometh down out of heaven, and giveth life unto the world. 34They said therefore unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. 35Jesus said unto them. I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall not hunger, and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

So, 1) the crowds were fed with the loaves and fishes miracle–that is, they had bread in their stomachs 2) then they searched for Jesus on account of the loaves and fishes. 3) Jesus gave them bread as a ritual, to satisfy them.  I’m sure the answer to the reconciliation problem is in here somewhere.  Or not.  Or, it just might be in the story of the Lightbringer whose fall from heaven is the result of his refusal to worship Adam (or was that James), the image of God. Instead of eating and/or submitting, maybe I should be getting ready to “march into hell for a heavenly cause.”

The planet Venus is the lightbringer, the first radiant beam that does away with the darkness of night. It is a symbol of the development of the divine light in man, for the first awakening of self-consciousness, for independent thinking and the real application of free will. It means the bringing of the light of compassionate understanding to the human mind.

At any rate, the bread does not satisfy, give me something more circular.

Palestinian style date bread

Note: This last photograph bothered my a lot and I almost changed it. The reason? I’m taking the photo with my right hand–the camera is very difficult to operate any other way, and that only leaves the left hand for breaking the bread. But it is also ingrained in me, for some reason, that bread must be taken with the right hand. Bread and water. They are both sacred. Money and tobacco can be accepted with either hand, and the bread is actually broken with both hands, but bread and water must be accepted with the right hand. When a child drops bread (or chips) on the floor, the adult says “haraam”–forbidden. it would be easy enough to use some utility to flip the photo right for left so it looks like the bread is being taken with the correct hand, but I’m leaving it as it is, as a reminder of the bedouin and Christian regard for bread as sacred and as a demonstration of the cognitive dissonance that can be set up when we don’t observe taboos.

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