I am a priest.
In my role as a priest I perform a sometimes bewildering array of functions. I lead public worship. I accompany people in rites of passage. I share leadership in a community of faith. I preach, teach and give spiritual support to people in a variety of life circumstances. I pray with people "in good times and in bad."
But there is one thing I do as a priest that for me more than any other captures the essence of priesthood and connects the varied tasks I perform. Sunday by Sunday, and many days in between, I stand at a table in front of a group of people and break a piece of bread.
In this simple act of breaking bread I embody deep realities that I hold to be profoundly true about life.
The bread I break says that the beautiful, complex world in which we live is like a marble heated to precisely the right temperature and then dropped in cold water.
Done properly, the marble remains intact, but reveals beneath the surface a beautiful filigree pattern of fine cracks.
While not completely shattered, my deepest experience of life tells me again and again that life is run through by an intricate web of delicate fractures. We live always on the edge of the abyss of the brokenness that is an unavoidable reality of human existence.
Most of life does not work all that well. Human communities are fragmented and bewildered. Many human relationships are paralyzed by pain and trapped in confusion.
Much of life is spent navigating the dark terrain of our own brokenness.
There are no easy answers to the dilemma of being human.
But, the bread that I break as a priest also points me beyond the painful conundrum of the human condition to a deeper reality.
The sign of bread-breaking was entrusted by Jesus to a small, fragile community of broken men and women. In this act he reminded his followers that brokenness never has the final word. There is always a way beyond the pain.
In Jesus I see the truth that "the light shines in the darkness" and the darkness "has not overcome it."
In the most challenging realities humans face, there is always the presence of light and beauty. We humans always have the capacity to choose gentleness and compassion. Wherever we look, if we look carefully with hearts open to wonder, we will find flowers breaking through the cracks in the concrete, opening to the warmth of the sun.
When I stand at the table and break bread, I never stand alone. I stand with my brokenness in a community of broken beings. We bring the cracks of our lives and find that when we are honest about our human condition, the light breaks through and we find new strength and hope in the presence we discover.
Leonard Cohen sings:
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
He might also have said, that's how the light gets out.
When I break bread, I coax the brokenness out into the open and the light shines more brightly.
The beauty and strength of our true deep nature grows stronger in the company of other cracked beings. Refracted through the beauty of broken vessels, the enduring majesty of our nature is revealed and deeply shared.
Christopher Page is the rector of St. Philip's Anglican Church in Oak Bay, and the Archdeacon of Tolmie in the Anglican Diocese of B.C.
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