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December 14, 2009

When I first picked up Sara Miles’ Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, I was slightly skeptical, even though it had been highly recommended by my best friend. From the title, it sounded suspiciously born-again, so my guard was up. Within the first few pages, I realized my fears were unfounded. By the time Miles described interviewing Ignacio Martin-Baro in his office as a war-time correspondent in El Salvador (!!!), she needed no further credentials to win my trust:

We weren’t friends. We weren’t even colleagues. I knew nothing about his private life. Once in a while, he’d ask how I was feeling, which is as close as he ever got to a personal conversation. But I felt at home with Martin-Baro. Somewhere in the course of an interview, the man would feed me. I’d be pushing him to explain more about which industrialists were secretly backing which general, or to tell me what he expected when the currency was devalued next month, and he’d pause before answering, then stand up and go out to his secretary’s desk. He’d come back with a tin of imported biscuits — dreadfully dry, just like the fly-ridden homemade Salvadoran ones in the stalls outside the gate, but prettily shaped and nestled in little paper cups — and offer it some. “Here,” he’d say. “Take some.”

Miles goes on to describe her life as a secular-intellectual, lesbian, progressive journalist who rejected religion from a young age, but one day wanders into a church, shares in the celebration of communion, and has her life transformed. “Wanders into a church” is no metaphor:

Early one winter morning, when Katie [her daughter] was sleeping at her father’s house, I walked into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in San Francisco. I had no earthly reason to be there. I’d never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord’s Prayer. I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian — or, as I thought of it rather less politely, a religious nut. But on other long walks, I’d passed the beautiful wooden building, with its shingled steeples and plain windows, and this time I went in, on an impulse, with no more than a reporter’s habitual curiosity.

She traces her spiritual journey through the metaphor of food: as a reporter who was fed by Salvadoran families and Martin-Baro, as a cook and chef in New York City restaurants, as a journalist who writes about food politics in the United States, and finally, as a Christian whose life is transformed by the bread of the Eucharist. She doesn’t stop there though: Miles organized a weekly food pantry at St. Gregory’s for people in her San Francisco neighborhood, which was incredibly successful and become a model of ideal church for its focus on inclusion, unity of physical and spiritual needs, and diversity.

Her book inspires and provokes, since it incorporates political analysis of food production and supply, as well as theological reflections into her story. I hope she keeps writing about her own spirituality, because Take This Bread reminded me why I call myself a Christian.

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