One Sunday, out lesbian, social activist, and life long atheist Sara Miles went for a walk in her neighborhood and ended up in a nearby Episcopal church taking communion for the first time in her life. Take This Bread is the story of Sara’s conversion to Christianity and how her faith inspired her to open several food pantries for the hungry in the San Francisco area.
Food and community are the two central themes Miles uses to frame the narrative. She begins by writing about her experience as a cook in the early eighties, and how the act of serving meals to others is so intimate; one that connects the chef to the customer by way of a shared reverence for the meal. She goes on to describe her years as a journalist in war ridden Central America, constantly hiding from vigilantes and running from gun fire. She recalls the strangers who housed and fed her all through those years, people whose generosity in the face of danger taught Sara about the power of community. When Sara finds herself taking communion she sees how food and community often intersect through the common denominator of hunger. Miles manages to sustain this frame throughout the book, marking each step of her journey to faith with incidents involving food and community. This is no small task. Not every author is capable of setting a frame and keeping it up throughout the story. Miles’ clarity of intention keeps the entire story firmly rooted.
Even though the book does not explicitly explore what it means to be both Christian and gay (for the most part Miles only mentions her sexuality in passing,) it is an underlying thread that runs through the narrative. Having come out early on in the story, the reader is very conscious of Miles’ sexuality as she becomes more involved in church activities. But the congregation and pantry volunteers often prove to be the very embodiment of Christian love and acceptance. When, persuaded by her teenage daughter, Miles and her long time partner decide to go to the court house and get married shortly after San Francisco starts offering civil marriages to gay couples, the following Sunday at church the entire congregation gathers to bless and affirm their partnership. Even after all the gay marriages performed in California are annuled a month later, thanks to the support of her church Miles knows that her union, regardless of legality, is blessed by God.
Though there were a couple things that bothered me about this book (Miles’ obsessive and often distacting overuse of colons and semicolons for one,) overall I found Take This Bread a highly satisfying read. It’s message of unity, compassion, and love is one all of us could benefit from absorbing.