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Bread and Ashes

A few days ago I led a slightly unusual Lenten retreat day for the Church of the Heavenly Rest and the House of the Redeemer in NYC. We focussed on bread, and for most of the day we baked, while we thought and prayed together about the many stories in scripture that involve bread.

Bread comes about, as the narrative of Genesis tells it, as a consequence of the fall - of the loss of the garden of Eden and its easy fruit. When God gives Adam and Eve their marching orders, bread appears as an ambiguous sign of life and death, of hope and of mortality. God says:

By the sweat of your face
   you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
   for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
   and to dust you shall return (Gen 3:19).

These words that introduce bread into the scriptural narrative are of course the very ones that were used when some of us received the sign of ashes on Ash Wednesday. We are dust - and bread is dust, too.

Bread is a gentler version of ashes; it comes from the e…

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