Why are you talking about having no bread? – Mark 8:17
“You shouldn’t feed this kind of food to these people. If they are hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.”
There’s a hunger beyond food that’s expressed in food. And, that’s why feeding is always a kind of miracle.
Food helps the sick and injured when the cook’s intention is incorporated in the “broth”.
Delicious food can be one of the last experiences of physical joy for the dying.
Food and healing go together because when you feed others with integrity, you help them heal.
Sharing food in the food pantry is a sacrament.
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The food pantry was in the basement of a church right off the village green.
And, I hadn’t even darkened the door in a church in over thirty years; not as a congregant, not as a guest. The closest I came to the inside of a church or syagogue was a graveside burial service for an older relative in a military cemetery outside Culpepper, Virginia. I also attended a Jewish wedding in a hotel in Baltimore.
When I became a pantry volunteer, I found myself in the local interfaith community, a stranger in a foreign land. Right away I noticed that, intermixed with the need for peanut butter, shoppers showed a strong spiritual need for connection, acceptance. This was the hunger beyond food. The closest many shoppers ever got to a church or synagogue service was the pantry line in the basement of the building.
A food pantry is another way to have a religious service. Sharing food is the prayer. Food distribution in the pantry is a spiritual experience.
When things really get going, pantry volunteers regularly distribute thousands of pounds of cereal, beans, soup, grapes, lettuce, carrots, and squash, bread, cheese, eggs.
A liturgy is hidden in how we process the shoppers through the barn, the hallway, and the pantry room. The pantry offers Communion to a group of people in the middle of a spiritual journey.
In the beginning, I didn’t see this. Then, I began to get glimmers. I saw things in people’s faces – I didn’t know what. I couldn’t explain it. But I recognized it. I saw an expression, and had an “aha” moment.
This Communion doesn’t require much. Shoppers and volunteers simply sign in at the food pantry door. People came from all different places spiritually and religiously: agnostics, atheists, B’Hais, Buddhists, Christians, Confucians, Jains, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Russian Orthodox, Shintos, Sikhs, Zoroastrians.
Early on, I saw something in a person’s face but didn’t know what. I couldn’t pinpoint, describe or explain what I saw.
The man who lost what he believed was the last job of his life…
The old woman with her toddler grandson who chose his own apple at every pantry visit…
The senior wearing a baseball cap with “Korean War Veteran” embroidered on the front…
They came through the line and took what they needed for the week: tomatoes, a bag of salad mix, squash, onions, potatoes. They received what they chose with no strings attached. Our nation’s abundance stocked the pantry.
Volunteers distribute food unconditionally to everyone who shops, without exceptions. Hungry people pour through the basement weekly and leave, their arms loaded. Some of them get almost more fresh produce and Bread Alone bread than they can carry.
And, if they can’t carry it, Richard, Robert, Jamie, and Little Mikey (the entire Allen family) help.
This family has a mission. They help get supper from the pantry into people’s cars and on its way to their homes.
Each week I opened the pantry when I unlocked the outside door with a key. The locked building also housed a beautiful sanctuary. As volunteers, we were allowed in the portion of the hallway where the pantry and storeroom were located.
Each turn of the key reminded me that a church with no one in it is just a building.
We encountered faith in the pantry outside the church sanctuary on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. With little or no religious doctrine, these weekly encounters were as freeform and varied as a faith can be because the State of New York insisted on secular food pantries. I felt our pantry represented civic religion – belief in things without including God. Everyone going through the pantry had a different doctrine.
It was all okay.
The whole thing reminded me of the birthplace of Lyndon B. Johnson at the memorial built in his honor in Johnson City, Texas. After spending time at the memorial, I realized I visited a deeply religious and spiritual place…but it was civic.
There’s room for civic religious beliefs in the pantry. After all, worship can happen in the most varied placees: inside a jail cell, a cemetery, on Facebook, at a family table, a roadside shrine, a person praying on a rug at high noon in a parking lot somewhere, a mountainside, a stream, a hospital room, a monastery.
All it takes is for someone to be alert to what’s happening.
For me, every shopper and volunteer has meaning and is cherished. Each and every one is of profound value. It doesn’t matter whether or not anyone else sees them as successful or beautiful or useful even. Success, beauty, and usefulness doesn’t impact anyone’s worth. Everyone in the pantry is worthy.
That’s what matters.
Looking back on my time in the food pantry, no one else saw any similarity between Communion and the food pantry.
Church members never noticed the most popular service in that building each week fed the hungry at the food pantry in the basement.
And, I didn’t either in the beginning.
Later, when I recognized the face of God, I got it.
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In the food pantry, forgivenes is as necessary as groceries. Opportunities to experience forgiveness pop up like dandelions on a spring lawn.
And, forgiveness, like those dandelions, finds its own time.
Forgiveness doesn’t undo the damage. It doesn’t mean the person who wronged you is going to become your new best friend.
You’re not going to crawl in bed with that person. You aren’t even going to have to do anything with that person at all.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean you win. Nor does it mean you get away with anything.
You don’t forgive someone for them. It’s not about what they did. You forgive a person for your peace of mind and inner calm so a better, more positive lifestyle can emerge.
Forgiveness means moving on with less baggage. The pain heals because forgiveness sets us free. Go forgiveness!
Forgiveness is an intensely personal experience involving your physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional body.
When a person forgives somebody, frustration and grudges leave it through the thoracic region of the spine as a rush of hot wind. I sometimes feel this happening during a Reiki healing session.
Miracles and forgiveness go hand in hand. Asking for forgiveness invites a blessing because of the spiritual shift happening.
In the food pantry, a volunteer gives away the food. When you can’t give food away without strings, scorekeeping taints everything.
Food pantry shoppers and volunteers remake their lives when forgiveness erases anger, awful memories, feeling harmed.
“That person lives in Shandaken. He shouldn’t even be here.”
“You’re serving entirely too much food to these people. You can’t do that.”
“You shouldn’t feed fresh produce to these people.”
“You’re serving too many people.”
“You’re serving all the wrong people here.”
“You don’t feed this kind of food to these people. If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat anything.”
“Are you sure the people in the line really need the food?”
“Those cell phones are expensive. How can they afford the fancy cell phones and still get free food?”
“How can you keep people from cheating?”
When shame, guilt, and disappointment move on, they separated the future from my past. Otherwise, these negative emotions would have defined my future.
The whole thing is a process. The first step prepared me to forgive someone else as well as myself.
After all, I needed to forgive myself.
Forgiveness doesn’t happen the moment a person says “I’m sorry.” Apologies and acceptances don’t create forgiving.
With the forgiveness process, I got to know myself better. Enough time passed so that I acted differently. It’s easier to forgive somebody when you come from a different place.
When this happened, I realized I wasn’t a victim anymore. Right away, I wanted to stay in this new place. So, I moved in here.
I discovered the old normal was gone when I felt lighter.
I wanted to smile more. I was surprised to learn about this place. The old fear of the building committee reduced itself to nothing.
I still knew the risk of losing the pantry was genuine but now I wasn’t a fear victim.
Forgiveness waited until the time was right, just like the dandelions.
I saw him pushing his cart through Mower’s Meadow Flea Market today. Grandpa looks as good as he always did. It was as if the cops never threw him in the slam.
His adorable little black short-haired Chihuahua mix rides on his colorful cart eating stinky cheese bits he gives her whenever Grandpa wants to show her off.
He entertains tourists with his peace sign, his open smile, and his colorful cart. This particular little Chihuahua adds to the picture.
Although Grandpa Woodstock isn’t a scheduled tour bus stop in town, people come from all over to catch a glimpse and take photos of him smiling. His dog, his cart, and his peace sign add even more color to the scene.
Grandpa Woodstock is worth the trip. He’s a master street theater artist. Frankly, they just don’t come better than Grandpa.
Tourists find him to get a picture taken with him and buy an autographed photo from him.
Coffee at Bread Alone, a meal at Maria’s, a necklace at Gwen’s Gems, a find at Mower’s Meadow Flea Market, an ice cream at Taco Juan’s and a Grandpa sighting are on the bucket list of fun things to do in Woodstock. For many, a Grandpa sighting is first on the list.
I’m grateful to see him up close, and I sigh a quiet, hidden sign of relief when he smiles.
These days I look for what I call the forgiveness smile. People have a unique smile when they release small hills or even huge mountains of baggage. Grandpa’s got it. Go Grandpa!
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“I’ve got my whole live organized…finally! I’ve got it down to three boxes.” she explained.
“See my first box: I’ve got five outfits in it. And, one of them is good. There’s even a pair of boots and a bottle of tick spray here.
“My second box is the bathroom box. It’s got soap, toothpaste, deodorant, and a kazillion plastic bags. And, Look, here’s the toilet paper I got out in the hallway a few minutes ago.”
“And, see, this is my third box.”
I saw a soup pot, a 2-quart saucepan for veggies, and cooking the eggs she always picked up in the pantry. I saw canned goods, and I saw something else our pantry rarely offered: paper towels.
Nothing was frivolous. There’s no room for frivolity as one’s life dwindles to three boxes.
Forgiveness is sometimes an internal, hidden experience. Without the forgiveness smile, it’s difficult to impossible to know when a person practices forgiveness.
By default, I sometimes know who didn’t because I see anger and a stuck life in a person’s face.
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“I’m so sorry I’m late today. I promise, promise, promise not to do this again. I was over at the pet store unloading dog food. Christie and Fraidy were entirely out of food, but now I have a big bag of kibble for them!”
“LeAnna,” I replied. “It was nothing. Christie and Fraidy are part of your family.”
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Dr. Catherine Ponder wrote several powerful prayers about forgiveness. .She wrote books about healing, abundance, and forgiveness. You can find her on facebook and her own website.