Meditations on Bread and Wine


I.  According to Zoroastrian legend, Ahura Mazdao bestowed upon Zarathustra a remarkable gift. It came to him in a dream: a golden knife cutting open the earth. The plough. Agriculture, that is, is a blessing, a gift of the gods. Soon after receiving this miracle, Zarathustra derived all grains from the lily, all fruits from the rose. In the language of botany, this translates as monocotyledon and dicotyledon. In the languages of poetry and of the sacred, this translates as bread and wine.

II.  Homer is a great religious poet, and The Odyssey is a great religious poem. Odysseus accepts his suffering, never blaming the gods, always, instead, relying on their mercy. Even when it doesn’t arrive. He trusts that they will bring him home to his wife and child, the poetic center of the epic as well as the poetic center of human history. He never forgets to honor the undying ones with libations of wine. When Odysseus’ son, Telemachus, leaves home to search for word of his father, Homer tells us, “The mistress of the stores brought up provisions / of bread and wine, with victuals fit for kings.” Young Dawn comes bright in the east, spreading her fingertips of rose.

III.  Fermentation is the basis of civilization. Where would we be without wind-borne yeast dropping invisibly into a plate of ground seeds one day in the distant past, or sprinkled, undetected, into a clay jar of wild grape juice? Where would we be without the fungi that turn curdled milk solids into cheese? The oldest written document ever found is a recipe for beer. It was worth the invention of writing, just for that.

IV.  Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.

V.  Cultus, culture, cultivation. How could religion, art, and husbandry ever be separate from one another? Before the Reformation, ploughs were blessed on the first Monday in Lent in order to make sacred the planting of seed. When the planting of seed, the transplanting of the vine are no longer sacred actions, civilization is already dying.

VI.  God set Adam and Eve in a garden. Not in the woods. Not in a meadow. Not on a mountain. Think about that.

VII.  In the Eleusinian Mysteries, at the most sacred point of the liturgy, postulants were shown a golden ear of wheat. The Dionysian Mysteries arose in Greece with the arrival of the grape vine from Thrace.

VIII.  Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

IX.  Christ chose to communicate himself through bread and wine, body and blood. Not only does he thus enter into us, participate in our own flesh, he reminds us of the tremendous sacredness of the union of cultus, culture, and cultivation. The Vine, the Bread of Life. Mystery is not a secret, brothers and sisters, but presence, parousia.

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