Photo credit: Kate Remmer
Readings: Exodus 16:13-18, John 6:25-35, Secrets of Heaven #2493 (see below)
See also on Youtube at: https://youtu.be/FrqSEMKJN9I
Today we are going to consider the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread.” There is a give and take in all prayer: we praise God and reach out to God, and we speak of what we wish might come to pass, we speak of what we want and need. This section of the prayer is about our well-being. One of our most basic needs is nourishment, and in these words, we ask that this nourishment be provided.
And of course, we recognize that nourishment comes on several different levels. There is physical nourishment; the literal bread that of which the prayer speaks. Physical nourishment is a constant need, something that we require daily. So, we pray for the ongoing fulfillment of this need. But we also know that spiritual nourishment is just as vital as physical nourishment. There are many things that feed us at a deeper level, and the list of those things is long and individual.
But these nourishing things, either from food we imbibe or activities that uplift, are still things that come to us from the outside. Swedenborg offers us to a slightly different view. He indicates that in the bible, “bread” represents the “good of love,”(1) or what I tend to call the “goodness of love” because that phrasing makes a little more sense to me that way.
What is the goodness of love? Well, it is simply the way that love is good, the way that love produces goodness. And in what way is love good? Well, Swedenborg sometimes calls the “good of love” the “good of mutual love.” Love is inherently connective. Swedenborg writes that the main goal of love as a force is the “joining [of things] together.”(2) Love wants to join things together, and the mutuality that occurs as a result is good, is the very being of goodness.
And it is God, of course, who is the source of all love; whose inmost being is composed of this primal force. Divine Love is evermore reaching out. Secrets of Heaven tells us that the goodness of love flows into our internal selves from God.(3) It is constantly happening, it is how we are alive. Moreover, since measures of time in the bible always correspond to states of being, the words daily and this day, correspond to the state of having this provision in every moment, forevermore. We read from Swedenborg:
In heaven, the Lord imparts this food to angels moment by moment, thus perpetually and eternally. (4)
Thus we see another reframing: that the petition “Give us this day our daily bread” is not actually transactional, it is not that we have to ask for it to get it, or that we won’t get it if we don’t ask for it. We are already receiving it, for it is against God’s nature to be withholding. So the question becomes, rather, how might become more aware of what we are already receiving, or what is already available to us? Give us this day our daily bread might be usefully paraphrased as: Help us to feel and experience your love that is constantly flowing into us.
We heard in our Swedenborg reading today about how angels experience this reality. That their center of happiness comes from the provision of the Lord’s inflow, and so they therefore are not consumed by thoughts of the past or the future. I found the last part the most interesting:
But although angels have no care about things of the past and are not worried about those of the future they nevertheless have a most perfect recollection of things of the past and a most perfect insight into those of the future, because their entire present includes both the past and future within it.
Our reception of our daily bread, God’s good of love, does not bring us into a hazy blissfulness that no longer perceives the past or future. Rather, as we more fully inhabit God’s inflow, we more perfectly comprehend the past and future because we recognize how fully both are connected to our present. That the past brought us to our present, and that the present will give birth to our future. In receiving God’s inflow, in working to become aware of it and to make space for it, we become more deeply grounded in the present moment. What a beautiful gift this is, and yet, I think there is something still more powerful to be excavated from this verse.
Just as last week, where we found that a statement about God’s will necessarily leads us into the practice and discipline of the submission of our own will, today Give us this day our daily bread invites us into a contemplation of giving and receiving, and how that places us at the center of a powerful nexus point.
We read in Divine Providence #220 that: The union of temporal and eternal matters in us is the Lord's divine providence, [and that] the Lord unites spiritual and eternal things to physical and time-bound things, doing so according to acts of service. What this means is the way that God’s divine providence is active in this world, is real and concrete and operative in this world, is through the process of joining together what is earthly and what is spiritual IN US. And how to does that joining together happen? Through acts of service.
Essentially, the temporal and eternal are conjoined, spirit and earth conjoined, by the actions that *we* take, the service that we give to one another. In the Lord’s prayer, we ask that God give us something, and God does, but doesn’t let that be it. The giving both sustains us and summons us. God works both inside and outside of us, reaching us directly through our internal depths and reaching us indirectly through what we experience from others. Our daily bread is given in these two ways, nourishment from within, nourishment from without, placing us firmly at a sacred threshold, looking both inward and outward all at once, and taking our part in the way God’s providence is extended.
You may have already heard the poet laureate Amanda Gorman recite her amazing poem “This Hill We Climb” at this week’s inauguration. (I promise you, you will get tired of me quoting this poem so much but...) It begins thus:
When day comes we ask ourselves,
where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry,
a sea we must wade
We've braved the belly of the beast
We've learned that quiet isn't always peace
And the norms and notions
of what just is
Isn’t always just-ice
And yet the dawn is ours
before we knew it
Somehow we do it
Somehow we've weathered and witnessed
a nation that isn’t broken
but simply unfinished…
And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it…
This is the hidden truth that is held within the asking for our daily bread. The dawn is ours before we knew it, the bread is ours before we asked for it. But once we do ask for it, and we accept it, we take our place in a web of connection, a web of nourishment from both within and without; in receiving we recognize the flow and how the flow must continue ever outward. We recognize that God is in the business of uniting things through love, uniting spirit to earth, uniting the eternal to the time-bound, uniting people one to another, and doing it through the ways we care for each other.
In this way our daily bread becomes the spiritual nourishment that which will quicken and support and enliven us as we all work to further the presence of spirit in the world, when we move what is unfinished one step further towards wholeness, when we move what “just is” one step further towards justice. This is God’s divine providence: this is bread from heaven that gives life to the world, this is our manna in the wilderness, given in holy remembrance and gathered side by side.
Next week, we will consider forgiveness, and that will feel thorny and complicated and maybe also like freedom, like shaking off the chains and soaring in the vast blue sky.
But today it is preceded by a basic acknowledgement: we need, and in needing we look to another, first God and then by God’s gentle direction, to those who are beside us. “Give us this day our daily bread” is not just petition; it is also prophecy. Even as we ask for our daily bread, we know that it is given, even as we ask for our daily bread, we find ourselves woven into a larger tapestry of giving and receiving, enfolded into God’s plans for the way heaven and earth are to be connected and strengthened.
Our wellbeing, tied up in everyone else’s wellbeing, just the way God intended it. Whoever comes to me shall never go hungry (John 6:35)…Amen.
(1) Emmanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven #7966
(2) Ibid #4351
(3) Ibid #4352
(4) Ibid #2838
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat. 16 This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Everyone is to gather as much as they need. Take an omer for each person you have in your tent.’ ” 17 The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. 18 And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” 29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” 30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” 32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.” 35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Secrets of Heaven 2493
I have spoken to angels about the memory of things of the past and about consequent anxiety concerning things of the future, and I have been informed that the more interior and perfect angels are the less do they care about things of the past or think about those of the future, and that this is also the origin of their happiness. They have said that the Lord provides them every moment with what to think, accompanied by blessing and happiness, and that this being so they have no cares and no worries. This also is what is meant in the internal sense by the manna being received 'day by day' from heaven, and by the 'daily [provision] of bread' in the Lord's Prayer, as well as by the statement that they must not worry about what they are to eat and drink, or what clothes they are to put on. But although angels have no care about things of the past and are not worried about those of the future they nevertheless have a most perfect recollection of things of the past and a most perfect insight into those of the future, because their entire present includes both the past and future within it. Thus they possess a more perfect memory than can possibly be imagined or put into words.