Would You Like Some Bread?

My father was a wonderful baker. Have I mentioned that? His doughnuts were so light that you would think they might float away. His Danish rolls were sweet and delicious. He made outstanding cakes and pies. But what people came from far and wide to purchase was his bread. He made different kinds of bread – rye, wheat, cottage, and French. But his best-selling (and frankly, best tasting) bread was his plain white bread.

Every night except Saturdays (because the bakery was closed on Sundays) he would drive down to the bakery to “set sponge.” That meant he would mix the flour and the yeast and the salt and whatever else, mix it in the giant mixer, then dump the sponge dough into a big trough where it would rise over night. The next day, it was ready to shape, proof again, and then bake. It sold for 29 cents a loaf. Imagine that.

I think about my dad’s bread a lot, mostly because I simply haven’t been successful yet with my bread baking. And it came to mind again Sunday because the gospel this weekend was the first of a few weeks of St. John’s so-called Bread of Life discourse.  The interpretation of this part of St. John’s gospel is one of the biggest differences between Catholics and Protestants. Catholics believe that when Jesus said this is my body and this is my blood, he was speaking literally, while Protestants believe he was speaking metaphorically. I’m not going to attempt to change anyone’s minds, although I will tell you that these upcoming gospel readings are some of my favorite. After all, that’s what the Catholic Mass is all about – the Eucharist.

St. John starts off the discourse with the story of the loaves and the fishes. In John’s version, it is Jesus who hands people their bread and fish, enough to feed them all with plenty left over. And when he saw that the crowd was so awe-struck with his miracle that they would immediately try to make him king, he went scurrying. He didn’t want to be their king. He wanted to offer them the bread of life.

Here’s the thing I have to continually remind myself when I pray: God wants me to ask him for what I want, but he also wants me to be open to what he wants for me and what he knows I need. He also wants me to be open to what he needs from me. It’s easy for me to kneel down (now that’s a lie; I’m afraid I rarely kneel to pray) and ask him to heal a loved one or return my child to the faith or keep my family safe when they travel. But I’m afraid to open myself up to listening to what he wants me to do because it may be something that’s difficult or unpleasant.

When I was a little girl, the nuns at my elementary school always told us to listen for God’s call to the religious life, that is, being a priest or nun. I clearly remember going to bed at night and being terrified that I would hear God calling me to be a nun. I needn’t have worried because I’m not cut out for the sisterhood and he, of course, full-out knew that. Still, it demonstrates that my unwillingness to listen to what God wants from me started a long time ago.

As I ponder this reality, it occurs to me that God doesn’t actually need a single thing from me. He’s perfect. But he asks things of me to make me a better person and to make my life and the lives of those around me better.

As always, it just comes down to opening myself up enough to listen to him speak to me.

What Are You Looking For?

Sometimes I will see Bill walking around the house, and it’s clear he’s on the hunt for something. What are you looking for, I’m liable to ask him. My glasses, he might say, or or I left my can of Diet Coke somewhere and I can’t find it.

As for me, if I’m looking for something, it’s almost always going to be my cell phone. I seem to be completely unable to keep track of the darn thing. Always keep it in the same place, I’ll tell myself, just about the time I set it down on the patio table or on the side of the bathtub.

What are you looking for?

After weeks of hearing the lovely Christmas stories at Mass about the birth of Jesus and the visits from the shepherds and the magi and King Herod’s evil plan for the baby Jesus that was thwarted by a dream courtesy of angels, we finally got to hear Jesus speak to us once more in this weekend’s gospel. What does he say to us after all of these weeks? What are you looking for are the words that St. John tells us were spoken by Jesus.

I know how I would answer if Jesus was to appear to me (probably rolling his eyes and handing me my misplaced cell phone) and ask me what are you looking for. I’m looking for easy answers. I’m looking for you to solve my problems, and be quick about it. I’m looking for arrows to point me in the direction I’m supposed to go. I’m looking for a list of things I’m supposed to do and things I’m not supposed to do.  I’m looking for all of those other people to make correct choices and make my life easier.

There is something right now in my otherwise good life with which I’m struggling. It’s largely outside my control which, of course, makes it frustrating and doesn’t stop me from trying my best to control it anyhow. I pray and pray about it, and God seems to be turning a deaf ear to me.

Except that I know he isn’t. A long time ago, I came across this quote: God answers prayers in one of three ways: Yes; Not now; I have a better idea. I remind myself of that when it seems like God isn’t listening.

I also remind myself that I am also not listening to God. I try. I really do. I wish he would speak to me in a dream the way that he spoke to Joseph and the three magi. I wish I could come across a burning bush. I wish a miracle would occur. That would make it easy to listen to God. Alas, the only fire I generally see is when my grill gets too hot and my steaks are aflame.

I love the story in the first Book of Samuel in which Samuel hears a voice in the night calling for him. He runs and wakes up Eli and asks him what he wants. Eli, likely pretty cranky from being awakened in the middle of the night, tells Samuel he didn’t call him and go back to bed. That happens a couple more time times before Eli finally tells him, listen Bud, it isn’t me calling you; it’s the Lord. So the next time Samuel hears the cry, he says, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Boom. It goes on to say that Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him.

I know that every single minute of every single day, God listens to me, speaks to me, and gives me what I’m looking for, which is grace. He doesn’t need to speak any louder. I just need to listen more carefully.