“Bread and Milk,” New Era, Apr. 1986, 17
Being able to fast on the first Sunday of every month was the unspoken “rite of passage” in my family. The children in my home had to somehow convince my parents of their maturity before Mom and Dad would pass on the privilege and honor of partaking of the spiritual feast that fasting provides.
I’d been looking forward to this honor for months. I had finally convinced my parents that I was ready to make that sacrifice along with all the other mature members of my family. I didn’t know that going without food would teach me about the bread and milk of living.
When that long-anticipated fast day came, I watched my younger sisters hawklike while they gobbled up their toast, eggs, and milk. In my sanctimonious sanctuary on the couch, as I watched each one finish her last bite, I began to seriously wonder why I had begged for this privilege. That day, after long hours in church, I kept looking at the clock. Morning grew into afternoon, and I was still holding firm to my commitment. Then I remembered that I had half a roll of Life Savers in my coat pocket. I figured that I could sneak them out and carry them down to the bathroom, close the door, and lock it. If I flushed the toilet while I rattled the paper, nobody would be able to hear me eating the candy.
I grabbed the Life Savers from my coat pocket, hid them in my dress pocket, and walked downstairs to the bathroom. Then I closed the door, flushed the toilet, and ripped open the paper. Sitting down on the heat vent to eat them, I stared at the cherry Life Saver between my thumb and index finger, about three inches from my mouth. Then the guilt hit. I took the candies and flushed them down the toilet, then walked outside the house and waited.
When Mom called from the house, I slid into my place at the table. My mother and father smiled at me and patted me on the arm. I looked at the table, which held a loaf of sliced bread, a gallon pitcher of chilled milk, and slices of cheese stacked on a china plate. Every Sunday night our family had bread and milk for supper. We would take a slice of bread and break it into small pieces in a bowl. Then we would pour milk over the pieces and eat the mixture with a spoon.
As I took my slice of bread and slowly broke it into the bowl, I could feel the smooth, soft texture of the bread center and the hard, shiny, dark-brown crust. I noticed the moisture from the chilled milk running down the glass, and as I poured the milk into the bowl, it made a frothy top.
It was a simple meal, an ordinary meal, a meal that I had had every Sunday night for as long as I could remember. But it tasted different that night. I distinctly remember the yeasty smell of the bread and the way the cool milk felt inside my mouth. I’ve never had a meal quite like it since.
That meal started to teach me about the bread and milk of living. It started to teach me about the richness of ordinary things. I found that really enjoying life could be as simple as being able to savor an ordinary meal.
Much of life seems ordinary. We wake, work, sleep, and eat—day after day after day. In the repetition, we sometimes forget the miracles of this earth’s harvest.
Take, for instance, something as simple as bread. It’s something most of us eat every day. But have we ever thought about the miracle of the piece of bread? Someone planted the seed, and the warm sun, soil, and rain helped it to sprout and reach beyond the soil and up into the light. Then came the watering, weeding, harvesting, shipping, grinding, mixing, kneading, shaping, baking, packaging, selling, and finally the eating. Maybe we should be more gentle when we touch bread.
The earth is full of good things to enjoy. Each day the miracle of the harvest blesses each of us. A simple prayer before a meal at the family table, where the food of the earth represents faith and service, makes the table an altar of sorts; for here the Creator, the cultivator, the harvester, the provider, and the cook lay their service for us to enjoy.
The real bread and milk of our lives is knowing that it isn’t the big things that need our closest attention. It is the simple meals, the ordinary events that need our careful observation and appreciation. It is our depth, not the breadth, that really matters.
Now, every time I fast, I think about the true bread of life, and the lesson I learned during my “rite of passage.”