Sara Miles – Food for the Journey
Sara Miles’ book, Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, is breathtaking in many ways for the traditional Christian who believes in the Holy Eucharist. Ms. Miles’ story of conversion does not follow the usual pattern of experiencing a call, undergoing instruction, receiving Baptism and being admitted to the Lord’s table. In Ms. Miles’ case, this ancient path is telescoped and reversed.
Ms. Miles experiences a longing and endures a search that begins with a political turned spiritual sojourn in Central America and her love of restaurants and feeding people. Along the way, she meets with her first catechist, a man who would later become one of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador, Father Martin-Baro. She finds not only an open door at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco, but a communion table that is open to all comers. Her First Communion is a radically transforming experience. It is far from regular bread or even something special, it is, for Sara, the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus the Christ.
St. Augustine’s writings total five million words. (That is about 40 books, each with about 300 pages.) Almost none of his writings allude to that most secret of mysteries reserved only to the baptized – the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Those undergoing instruction, the catechumens were dismissed from the assembly after the Liturgy of the Word. In the restored Rite of Christian Initiation in the Catholic Church, this pattern is still followed, but the Mass is far from secret and is often broadcast around the world on television.
Nevertheless, making one’s First Communion is not the usual entry point into the Christian life. For those of us from the Catholic, Orthodox, Episcopal, Lutheran and other churches with a Eucharistic center, the Table of the Lord is closely guarded. The ultimate sanction is be excluded from the community and the heavenly banquet.
Everything about Sara Miles – her atheist family, her support of leftist causes, her lack of a formal degree, her being a lesbian and mother, make her an updated version of the Parable of the Woman Who Loved Much. She is also a woman whom many Christians would like to reject. Then again, we killed the prophets didn’t we?
Miles’ Eucharistic theology is all about feeding the multitudes – literally and spiritually. The food pantry program, into which she dragooned her reluctant fellow parishoners at St. Gregory’s, led to a broader network of food pantries throughout San Francisco. Her faith and her vision made it more than social work. She brought food and companionship to those trapped in the run down housing projects.
Like the rest of us on the path, the way was seldom clear and never easy. Sara Miles is woman of more questions than answers because faith is not about certainty and certainly not about judgment. Her candor is not only refreshing but it is also healing.
Take This Bread is not only well written. It is moving. For all of us who grew up with First Communion as rite of passage and for all who cherish the Eucharist, this book and its author are a bucket of cold water on a hot summer day. In its pristine truth, the Eucharist is all about community and compassion. The transcendent and the sacred is definitely present in Sara Miles’ experience, but it is a love that overflows into feeding each other and finding God not only in the consecrated host but in the host of all the poor and needy in ourselves and in the world.
This is not a book for the faint of heart but those who want to take heart. Do yourself a favor. As St. Augustine was commanded in a vision ,”Tolle, Lege” – Pick this up and read it! Go to www.saramiles.net.