Three years ago my second book, which I had written as an act of obedience, was published. Since God called me to write it and clearly carried me through the writing of it, I thought He would make it commercially successful. He didn’t. In terms of sales, it was an utter failure. I was confused and hurt and angry: had I misheard? Had I wasted my time? What was going on?
Six months later I found myself at Laity Lodge (www.laitylodge.org/). Early one morning, I got up and walked out to Sanctuary, an interactive sculpture on the grounds. Seating myself inside and looking up at the Texas sky, I asked God for clarity, for a vision: what was my writing for?
Immediately, an image came to mind. A plate filled with pieces of broken bread. I shoved the image aside and waited. Again, I saw in my mind’s eye a plate of broken bread. I shook my head, cast the image from my mind, and stared harder at the sky. No use. Broken bread again filled my thoughts. Well, that’s rich, I thought. A prosaic plate of passive bread crumbs. Thanks a lot, God. And I promptly forgot about this little vision-quest.
I shouldn’t have been so insulted. And I certainly shouldn’t have been surprised. The Eucharistic bread and wine have been a central part of my spiritual life for 20 years; writing is also a central part of my spiritual life; of course the two go together. Also, the image of broken bread and the story in which it is found have recurred in my life at important times. On my wedding day our pastor read the story of the feeding of the 5,000 and told my husband and me, “If you remember nothing else about this day, I want you to remember this: Jesus is more than enough.” In the dark days of postpartum depression after my first son was born, days in which I felt lost and fragmented and frightened, the words of Jesus after the feeding of the multitude promised hope and joy: “Gather up the fragments,” he said, “that nothing may be lost.”
Nineteen months after my visit to Sanctuary, the image of the broken bread returned again. I had been broken in those months, over and over again. I felt fragmented, even shattered. And into this brokenness came the image of the bread as a symbol of my writing life.
My original irritation with the image nineteen months before had been that it was passive and prosaic. Apparently I wanted an image that was at least beautiful or interesting or active. As I pondered the image, I was struck by the thought that when Jesus broke the bread on the mountain, He fed it to a multitude. Hm. Maybe being broken bread wasn’t so bad after all. My words had been feeding so few for so long that the 5,000 on the hilltop seemed like a dream come true. Was that the promise of this image? I clung to it, hoping that if I just kept writing, I would feed multitudes.
Do you see the problem? I.
If I kept writing, I would feed multitudes. I still saw the words as mine.
Slowly—oh so slowly—I realized that the promise inherent in the image was not that broken bread feeds a multitude. That was only my way in, the idea that allowed the image to break through my distaste. Rather, it was in the very passivity of the image—the passivity which I disliked—that the promise came. If my writing was to be broken bread, I had to give it to Jesus. After all, He surrendered equality with God to become the Bread of the world, broken for many. If I wanted my words to feed anyone, let alone many ones, I had to surrender my writing. I had to be willing to give the words to Him, let them lie passive in His hands, feeding not whom I willed but whom He willed. Sometimes, the bread He broke fed a multitude. Sometimes, it fed a small group of His friends, as in the upper room on Passover. Broken bread doesn’t get to dictate where or when or by whom it is eaten. It simply lies where it is placed and feeds those to whom it is given, be they many or few, rich or poor, great or small.
It is not easy to be broken bread. That is why I have taken so long to embrace this image—and why it continues to be something I’m learning to be and to do. To be broken bread requires, as Hannah Whitall Smith writes, “an interior abandonment of the rarest kind. It means that we are to be infinitely passive, and yet infinitely active also; passive as regards self and its working, active as regards attention and response to God.”
The active part is the writing of the words—there must be bread before it can be broken. I must write, attentive and responsive to God: are these words true? are they beautiful? do they point beyond themselves? And I must write well—there is no excuse for shoddy workmanship in the kingdom of God. The Lord does not want a stale cast-off from the compost heap. He can use that, certainly, if that’s the best I can offer. But over time, as I hone my craft, my best becomes better, and always I must give Him my best—fresh bread, kneaded and baked as close to perfection as I can manage. My words won’t, of course, be perfect because I’m not perfect. They will, of course, be broken even in the making of them, because I am broken. But when they are crafted with attentiveness and care to the best of my ability, they are no less lovely for their brokenness.
After the “infinitely active” work of writing comes the “infinitely passive” work of placing my writing in the hands of God to do with as He will. Though they are broken when I give them, it is the offering that completes the breaking because that is an act of surrender, of giving up, of letting go. It is the interior abandonment. The words are in God’s hands now to bless whom He will. The gathered masses or a single man. To Him the one is no less important than the other.
And that’s part of the breaking, too—working so hard at my craft for so many years and being content with one reader, one person blessed by those hard-won words. That feels like breaking—the breaking of a dream to connect with others, to sit at the table and play the writing game with writers I respect and enjoy, to be one of the writers people respect and enjoy. All that lies in the hands of God, broken bread to be given back or given away, as He chooses.
It takes a long time to be broken enough that One is enough. Often I am not, but in my best moments, I know that my pastor’s words at my wedding were true: Jesus is more than enough. In my best moments I know that yes, absolutely, one is enough—one is more than enough—and I also know that not one word is lost. Jesus gathers them all, holds them all, and those gathered words I thought were lost are food for His people, too. When Jesus fed the multitude, there were 12 baskets left over, one for each of the disciples, one for each tribe of Israel. Somehow, someway, some day, all those words we thought were lost or forgotten will be restored to us—and we’ll see, too, who it was they fed.
Without the breaking of the bread, there could be no sharing of the bread. The bread could not even be eaten.
It would merely sit there on the board, getting stale and moldy. But with broken bread Jesus fed a multitude and still had plenty of leftovers. With broken bread Jesus gathered the leftover fragments without losing a single one. With broken bread Jesus, the very Word of God, handed His body to His disciples and bid them eat.
And He still does.
It is with much joy that I welcome K.C. Ireton to the family of guest contributors to
Cultivating the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
K.C. is one of the finest writers I know and she has been an inspiration to me
for as many years as I have known her.
Find out more about her at her lovely website – http://www.kimberleeconwayireton.net/
and enjoy the beauty you find there!
K.C. Ireton is the author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis. An avid reader, she is especially fond of old books and home-schools her four children so that she can spend her days reading and learning all sorts of interesting things. K.C. is pleased as punch to be writing for The Cultivating Project!