Bread and Trees

Sometimes it is the stories that don’t quite fit. The off-balance ones and those that sit in-between. They catch our eye and hold our attention. Like celebrating Thanksgiving with a story about the day after the feast.  This coming Sunday, the lectionary points us towards John 6 and a conversation that followed the five thousand’s big buffet.  Jesus had again sought out a quiet place and again the crowds found him.

“Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”

Then he advises them to seek a better kind of satisfaction – not food that perishes but food that endures for eternal life. There is talk about the meaning and use of signs and about Moses, too, before Jesus makes a more direct declaration.

 “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

A mighty promise. This fits in neatly, too, with the pattern of messianic I am statements that John punctuates his gospel narrative.  I am the light of the world. I am the good shepherd. I am the resurrection and the life.  In Jesus’ words here about bread, we hear a promise of communion and ongoing nourishment for those who seek him. Moe than all the multiplied barley loaves in the world, this is the bread that will last.

But still we are hungry. Even while we prepare our feasts in each season, and gather around the table together, we are hungry. Why? Why aren’t we satisfied and filled? Why can’t we just be thankful? Why is there still so much longing?

I feel like there is a prophet somewhere listening wearily to me with her eyebrows raised and a heart full of God’s own love. It’s okay, she says. He never promised there wouldn’t be longing. Just that in Him, hunger and thirst would be answered. Then she whispers the poet’s words:

Water is taught by thirst.

Emily Dickinson’s poem humbles me. It is our own longing that teaches us about the Bread of Life. We are shaped to be filled. That’s how we are made.

When I was a child, I was unsettled by a tree in our garden. It was a great old thing, and my parents said that it must have marked the edge of the farmer’s field, back before the subdivision was built. But age wasn’t the problem; it was the matter of size and belonging. Somewhere, I had learned that the expanse of a tree’s branches mirrors the expanse of its roots, which meant that the whole yard was occupied. Its roots went everywhere. That made the tree a creature of the earth. But not really. What about the wind? It occupied the branches as much as the roots held the earth. I could hardly imagine the branches without it. With or without leaves, day or night, there was always the shift and sway of branches overhead. So the tree was a sky thing.  I worried about this. I wasn’t sure how best to see the tree.

It was a question of what-belongs-to-what. I wanted a cut-and-dried answer as a child. An either/or.  But the tree was belonged to both. Both rooted and sky-dwelling. Both wind-tossed and anchored.

So, too, bread and water. Bread belongs to hungry and to the Giver. Water to the thirsty and to the Well. The signs that Jesus showed through broken bread and the shared cup revealed that we are linked through our longing to the One who shaped us. Our longing isn’t a mark of our failure to be close to Christ any more than the tree’s roots cancel out its involvement with the wind. No, our hunger is the sign of our belonging to Christ.  As Augustine of Hippo wrote 1500 years ago, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

May this coming Thanksgiving be a time of rooted rest and blessing in your home.



About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer currently living in Cardiff with her Spouse and three growing children. Each Monday on the Messy Table, she writes about the practice of reading lectionary and the practical theology of parenting - from birthday cakes to broken hearts and everything in between. Katie also writes Kaleidoscopically, a monthly column in the print edition of the Presbyterian Record. You can also find Katie on twitter @messy_table Subscribe to this blog.