I was five years old sitting in a pew. My Mom passed a tray piled-high with squares of bread the size of Wheat Thins. I picked one up, carefully making sure to touch most of the other pieces around it first. A grand voice from the front, a voice like Richard Sterns singing “Elvira,” said, “The body of Christ, broken for you.” I put the bread to my nose. “Smells like toast,” I said, in a whisper only our side of the church could hear.
My mom was the daughter of a mid-western school superintendent. Very proper. But she was not uptight proper. She giggled on occasion. This was just such an occasion. I’m sure she thought I was confused, that I didn’t know it was bread. I knew it was bread, but bread smells different from toast. I love the smell of toast. It’s the second-best thing to being in the room when the bread was baked in the first place. This bread had definitely been toasted.
Jesus said, “When you pray say, “Give us this day our daily bread” (among other things). One of the biggest mistakes people make in prayer is this: they try to be too spiritual. Here is why our prayers must be earthy.
Spiritual life is daily
The lingua franca of Jesus’ day was Koine Greek. That sounds special, but in fact, this kind of Greek was not the language of the classics—of Homer and Sophocles–but the common speech of the marketplace. It’s also the language of the original New Testament manuscripts. This everyday tongue did not get preserved in literature. So it fell out of use after the Greeks were conquered by Romans. As a result, early translators of the Bible assumed they were dealing with an exceptional, “spiritual” language.
Then a discovery in a trash heap near Alexandria, Egypt, unearthed loads of papyri with this same ancient Greek. Some of them were shopping lists. What high-church scholars thought of as some etherial tongue was in fact the language of the people.
It’s a mistake to think being more spiritual means being less earthy. Prayer is not an escape from the dailyness of the world, stepping into some alternate reality. People who think so often mean well. They strive for an authentic, heart-felt encounter with the Creator. But the incarnation, God making himself known in appearance as a man, tells us that every layer of life is spiritual. Prayer is not some airy, wispy, layer which only the hyper-spiritual dwell in with flowery words of distinctive anointing. Prayer is common speech elevated by trust. How much greater the trust when it is tied to the reality we know, daily.
God made stuff
“It is good.” That’s the refrain after each creative fiat in Genesis. We live in a broken world. One where tyrants, insecure about their legacy, run over vulnerable people in an irrational bid for immortality. So I understand when people look at the Book of Revelation through the lens of escapist fantasy. I understand when people regard only the supernatural as a worthy spiritual pursuit. But every image of Revelation represents some earthly reality in light of a future hope. Escapism disconnects the stuff God made from the future He has promised.
Dutch reformer Abraham Kuyper said,
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
The Stoics, Epicureans, and Gnostics of ancient Greece took their cues from Plato. Plato’s view of spirituality was simply this: stuff bad, non-stuff good. But God made stuff. When He finished His work he said, “It is very good.” Human rebellion broke creation. It was like a silversmith handing over a mirror he had forged as a gift only to see the receiver let it drop and splinter into a thousand shards. But even a broken mirror can reflect the face of its creator.
Eternity starts now
“Man does not live by bread alone,” Jesus said. But he does live by bread. When the bread of communion was prayed over by the man with the “Elvira” voice, it did not turn into something else.
When you say a blessing before a meal, those words are not an incantation protecting you from undercooked food. But your words can sweeten the experience together around the table. They can remove jaded lenses from a bad day, helping us receive simple gifts with gladness.
These words remind us we are blessed already. They help us see the wonder in the givenness of things. And with our common tongues, the same one’s we use to tell half-truths from our bad day, God lets us borrow a future hope to invest invest it now.
“Consider the lilies.” (Matt. 6:28)