20 February 2013
Every human body wakes up asking for its daily bread. The body needs nourishment, regularly.
This prayer/request continues throughout the day. Usually it is ordered and controlled. We know a great deal about a balanced diet for proper health. Sometimes it is disordered and damaging.
This daily desire is a prayer of the body which forms the foundation and the framework for being alive. Human flourishing depends upon this asking and receiving.
Of course, few people throughout history have been self-sufficient in organising a response to this prayer. Even a hermit growing their own food would have needed the care and cooperation of others in their early years.
Food supply and sharing is a communal activity. The prayer the body insistently makes requires cooperation with others. Sometimes food becomes the source of conflict and competition, too.
We can observe the positioning of human beings around this daily prayer as it involves individuals, groups, communities, notions. Look around a café or a canteen and consider the complex prayers of the people and their relationship to producers, suppliers, those who serve.
This primeval prayer is the source of what we now call economics, the exchange and negotiation of how human bodies seek sustenance and fulfilment.
In this sense, Our Lord’s prayer ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ is a call to own such a basic, necessary and life-giving desire. Hunger is never just an instinct, which can be satisfied or not.
Hunger, the basic rhythm of each human body, is a prayer - word seeking to be made flesh, life seeking new life. This is the daily prayer that unites all human creatures.
The request is made to ‘Our Father’. There is an essentially collective, communal aspect to flesh being blessed with new life for each day.
This means that the Christian gospel provides the most radical critique and challenge to all who would see food production and distribution as a purely economic matter, subject to market forces and the free choices made by consumers - the supermarket approach to daily bread.
The Lord’s Prayer places this daily prayer in the context of the Kingdom of God, the will of the Creator, the temptation to sinful selfishness and even downright evil.
‘My prayer for daily bread is no different from that of any other human being.'
Prayer so easily becomes personalised in a way that ignores and excludes others. Prayer to ‘Our Father’ can only be explored and blessed within the context of the most radical inclusiveness. ‘My’ prayer for daily bread is no different from that of any other human being.
If the outcomes are so different that one of us has surplus and the other is starving, the issue to be faced is a spiritual one. The issue is about the nature and purpose and power of prayer.
Prayer in this sense is essentially political. It involves recognising my connections with every other creature – nothing less. Prayer can only be made and blessed within the workings of inclusive community.
This political aspect of daily prayer should be the shape of economics, political priorities and voters' values.
When we wake up ready for breakfast, our body invites us to pray, to be a politically active person, to give thanks for the miracle of daily bread, and to own our responsibility to ensure that every such prayer is taken as seriously as our own.
When Jesus teaches us to pray, he invites us to become citizens of heaven, active on earth, for a Kingdom project. That is the point of breakfast. Daily.
Rt Revd Dr Alastair Redfern, The Lord Bishop of Derby.
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