A woman walks into a church . . . 

In her honest, moving, intelligent memoir, Take This Bread, Sara Miles recounts her unlikely conversion from a lefty, San Francisco atheist, political activist to a woman transformed by a chance encounter with the Eucharist. The bread of the sacrament was not, for Miles, mere “spiritual” food, but was the reason, the means, the impetus for feeding the hungry of her neighborhood and beyond–drug addicts, con artists, transvestites, and other hurting, hungry bodies.

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As I struggled with bread and wine and belief over the following year at St. Gregory’s, it stayed hard. I began to understand why so many people chose to be “born again” and follow strict rules that would tell them what to do, once and for all. It was tempting to rely on a formula–“accepting Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior,” for example–that became itself a form of idolatry and kept you from experiencing God in your flesh, in the complicated flesh of others. It was tempting to proclaim yourself “saved” and go back to sleep.

The faith I was finding was jagged and more and more difficult. It wasn’t about abstract theological debates: Does God exist? Are sin and salvation predestined? Or even about political/ideological ones: Is capital punishment a sin? Is there a scriptural foundation for accepting homosexuality?

It was about actionTaste and see, the Bible said, and I did. I was tasting a connection between communion and food–between my burgeoning religion and my real life. My first, questioning year at church ended with a question whose urgency would propel me into work I’d never imagined: Now that you’ve taken the bread, what are you going to do?

. . . I didn’t believe in dragging souls into some special club of the saved. “I mean,” I’d told Steve once, exasperated after listening to Donald talk about institutional growth and how to attract new members with our innovative liturgy, “the point of church isn’t to get people to come to church.”

“No?” said Steve, cocking an eyebrow. “What is it?”

It seemed obvious to me. “To feed them so they can go out and, you know, be Jesus.”

I suddenly was abashed. “I mean, I don’t know, I’m new, that sounds pretentious . . .” My voice trailed off. But I meant it. You have been greatly loved, said a piece of the Gospel that had stuck with me. Go and do likewise. That seemed pretty damn clear.

Take This Bread, pp. 97, 265-66