All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Contemplations on the Breaking of the Bread

I wrote this after one of my Confirmation classes. I think it’s
about the best contemplation on the Eucharist that I’ve ever heard,
that is, I like it and it sums it up for me. I always try to look at
the rituals of Catholism through the eyes of an outsider. Are they
silly? Where did they come from? Why do we do them? What does it mean
to believe? And what is belief? They may be silly, but there is a
wisdom that can be grokked if you know how to get in there, separate

yourself from your preconceptions, supersititions, magic, and just see
and know a thing for what it is. Life isn’t any deeper than what we
are. That is, it’s plenty deep enough, thank you. You just have to look
and listen and ponder. It’s all there, the spirits, the magic, the
flavor – all there right in front of you. It’s not weeping concrete
stains in the shape of the Virgin Mary. It’s not miracle medical cures.

It may not even be eternal life in heaven.

And with that I begin my meandering through the true nature of the Holy Eucharist.

The next week we talked about spirits. First we talked about the
spirit of a tomato? They all looked at me quizzically. Eh? Tomato? I
explained where the tomato comes from, where it is grown, how it is
cared for, who picks it, how it arrives at the supermarket etc. The
tomato becomes more than what it would first appear. The tomato, the
more you know about it, its journey, the more it becomes a symbol of
something deeper, and the deeper you go, the more it becomes an icon
– it actually becomes that thing it represents.

Take the beef cow for example. “Ew!” they all chorused. “We
don’t want to know about our food being alive at some point.” They
all shuddered, thinking about the slaughterhouse, the death of the
cow as it arrives at their plate, all ground up and cooked. How can
knowing the path of the cow make our enjoyment of the burger any
better?

Ah, I said, but you miss out on a great opportunity to imbibe more
than just a burger. Take, for example, my experience in the Basque
Country of Spain. We lived near a rural community called Oiartzun in
the north of Spain. In the town, the country folk each raised and
slaughtered their own cow. They would raise the cow for a year or so,
and then they would kill it. They fed their cow the best of things,
alfalfa, cabbage, beets, turnips, the best of things. They would grow
and cultivate an entire plot of land just for the cow.

We were visiting the Aristizabals house one Sunday afternoon. The
family wanted to show off their prize cow. The mother, Maria de los
Angeles, took us to the stall where the healthy looking young cow
stood munching on some nice fresh greens. The cow raised her head and
glanced our way, half-curious as to who were these intruders to her
space. She couldn’t be bothered to turn around and give us her
attention, head down munching on her lunch. Maria de los Angeles,
anxious to show off her cow, grabbed a pitch fork and poked the cow,
yelling, “Yeha yeha.” The cow did not budge an inch. She poked
harder but the cow did not move.

Mikel, the father and cabinet maker, gently clucked to the cow and
patted it on the rump. She turned as easily as if on a trivet. Beautiful
she was, healthy strong, and big. Everyone in the family beamed with
pride for their cow.

Some time later, we heard that Beltza had been slaughtered, the
meat packed into two large freezers in the family’s farm house.
Ekiñe, the youngest daughter, excitedly told us they had
bought a new young calf. She laughed as she told us they had named it
Beltza.

Later, during the Christmas season, Laura and I were invited over
for a holiday season dinner, on the menu, Beltza. I knew her, I
thought.

We shared with the Aristizabals the finest cut of meat from
Beltza, a cut from which there was only enough for one meal. I
remember that meal, the communion, the shared experience, the
newness, the realness, the depth of experience, appreciation for the
life that we had taken as well as the life that we were living, the
sacrifice, the brotherhood, and community. Beef had never been more
alive to me, on my taste buds, but more importantly in my heart.

I had used that story to illustrate to my class how knowing more
about reality around you leads you to deeper satisfaction. Sometimes
it’s not pleasant. Sometimes there is pain, even death, but by
closing yourself off to it, you close yourself off to the richness of
life, the beauty of living. Without awareness, consciousness, life

becomes unseasoned and bland.

2 Comments

  1. Loretta

    True.
    Life without death would be meaningless, anyway, wouldn’t it?

  2. Jim

    I don’t know. I’ve said that i think it is harder when there is no deadline, but I don’t think it’s impossible. Also, I don’t necessarily think death plays any actual operational role in life. If we live differently because of death, I don’t know if we’re not subverting life. I don’t know… lots of contradictions. It’s important to me though to take in the whole of the experience.

    But then again if you take it its conclusion (there is NO death whatsoever), I guess that would mean the sun would never go out. The universe would never go cold. It would just go on and on and on. “Purpose” would certainly be elusive after a few million years.

    It would be like a soccer game that never ended (sometimes it feels like it). I guess you always need some sort of boundary condition to define your system. If you do not have such a condition, then your definition of the system is meanlingless.

    So, I guess you’re right. 🙂 Death is a boundary condition to the problem of life.

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