Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bread on the Ground

Thursday I was running late to meet Merwyn DeMello* to prep for our day of meetings with faculty and students at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).  I was late and I was lost among the myriad of buildings and grounds.**  This is the excuse I offer to God in my regret that I did not stop for the moment it would have taken me to rectify a wrong.

There on a beautiful sidewalk lay an equally beautiful loaf of bread.  I thought about stopping, but I didn’t.

Why would someone stop to pick up a loaf of bread from the sidewalk if she didn’t plan to eat it herself?  And what would she do with it?

Some of you will already know the answer.

Among my Muslim friends and acquaintances, bread is a sort-of holy thing – the very stuff of life – and it is never thrown away or discarded.  All of the leftover bread scraps are gathered together at the end of a meal for use.  If the bread is stale, it will become the base or bed for soups like tashrib or fried in olive oil as a sort of chip for dipping in humus or simply eaten the next morning for breakfast.

And if one has leftover bread when on the move, you simply leave it in an elevated place, for someone who may need it.  It is a literal leaving of food for the poor, a small but integral and integrated part of daily life which remembers the needs of the poor.

This custom of preserving bread reminds me of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, where at the end of the meal, the leftovers were gathered (Matthew 14.20).  In the West, we tend to focus on the abundance of Jesus’ providing, marveling that from such a small start, there even were leftovers.  But this misses the point of the custom in that part of the world that nothing be wasted, that all be provided for, for those ‘leftovers’ of bread and fish would have just as surely gone to feed the poor as the bread I saw one day walking the streets of Amman, Jordan.

Thus do I offer sincere apology both to the Lord of my life and to the one who may have had need of the bread that I did not simply stop and take the care to place on a nearby wall.

*Merwyn is the co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT).  We spent the day at EMU engaging with folks there about CPT’s life and work and how the Academy and those ‘in the field’ might intersect in more intentional ways.

**Note to EMU admin: I loved the peace in many languages sign pole, but as a visitor, I would have also loved more signage pointing me to The Commons.


  1. This brought a tear to my eye, Beth. What a beautiful tradition, treating our daily bread -- even the leftovers -- as something holy. And our Muslim friends' practice of leaving bread for someone in need is very touching. We would do well to learn more of the customs and practices of our Muslim brothers and sisters. Thank you for this small bit of enlightenment.
    Peace is often obtained by one loving story at a time...

    1. Marilyn, I LOVE this - "Peace is often obtained by one loving story at a time" - so very true and so beautifully said. Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful response. Peace & hugs, Beth