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Bread, Body, Spirit: Finding the Sacred in Food Paperback – May 1, 2008

4.8 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Review

A Buddhist master had a cook who was a simple man. One day, the cook burned his hand while preparing a meal and suddenly achieved the Buddhist goal of enlightenment, as the nature of all existence became clear to him. Excited, he asked the master what he should do next.

"Keep cooking," came the answer.

The story comes from Tibetan lamas by way of Lama Surya Das, a Buddhist teacher and author in Cambridge, who values its elemental wisdom: You don't need a house of worship to encounter the spiritual; it's found in the pattern of daily living, such as cooking the food we need. (Emily Dickinson made the same point in a poem, though not about food, that Das likes to cite: "Some keep the Sabbath going to Church / I keep it, staying at Home / With a bobolink for a Chorister / And an Orchard, for a Dome.")

The story of the cook is Das's contribution in a forthcoming anthology, Bread, Body, Spirit, which draws on numerous traditions and their takes on eating. Explaining the motivation behind the volume, editor Alice Peck, writes in the introduction: "Everybody needs to eat, to be nourished. It's simple. It's unending. Food presents us with a vast opportunity: through our experiences of food we can sustain a constant connection to the Sacred that pervades our lives."

Glimpsing the divine in a hot dog won't surprise devout believers who say grace before every meal; gratitude for plenty in a world where many starve is a recognition of blessing. Yet Bread, Body, Spirit includes contributions from outside organized religion. "Since You Asked," a poem by Williams College English professor Lawrence Raab, comes from the pen of a self-described agnostic.

The poem ponders an imaginary dinner attended by "everyone you expected, then others as well: / friends who never became your friends, / the women you didn't marry, all their children. / And the dead―I didn't tell you / but they're always included in these gatherings."

Reached on his cellphone during what Dickinson might call a moment of mundane spirituality, walking his dog, Raab says that as a nonbeliever, "what's sacred [in the poem] would be the communion of one's self and one's family and friends, extended imaginarily outward" to include phantoms from an existence that might have been. The only overt reference to religion and food in this particular poem is a playful mention about multiplying "wine and chickens." Tweaking the Christian story of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish was a bit of "sly humor" aimed at his Jewish brother-in-law, Raab explains.

The spiritual backgrounds of the contributors are as diverse as cuisine. Das's biography, for example, contains as much kosher as karma. Born Jeffrey Miller in Brooklyn 57 years ago and bar mitzvahed on Long Island, he quips that he's "Jewish on my parents' side." Study and tragic experience (he knew one of the students shot by National Guardsmen at Kent State in 1970) drew him to Eastern religions, and he became a Buddhist.

Julius Lester is the son of a Methodist minister who found Judaism in midlife. His essay in the book, "Braiding Challah," describes how he used to bake the Shabbat (Sabbath) bread on Fridays. A retired academic who lives in Belchertown, Lester had been intrigued by Judaism since learning as a boy that his maternal great-grandfather was Jewish. As an adult, he had a vision in which he was Jewish and happy. He converted in the early 1980s.

His essay highlights one of the many ritualized uses to which religions put food. "Cooking for Shabbat each week," Lester writes, "I am becoming a part of the Jewish people. Every dish I cook has been cooked and eaten on Shabbat for centuries." But it's his second sentence that leaps at a reader: "Judaism is not in the knowing; it is in the physicality of doing."

Downplaying knowledge seems an odd stance for an intellectual writing about an intellectually storied religion. Yet in an interview, Lester noted that Jewish ethical teaching stresses mitzvot, the commandments to moral conduct.

His is also one of the more mouth-watering entries in the book. "I especially like the Sephardic dishes like fassoulia, a simple but delicious stew of beef, green beans and pearl onions, or lamb tangine, a lamb stew with prunes and almonds."

(Rich Barlow The Boston Globe)

About the Author

Alice Peck is an innovative editor and writer. She serves as a consultant to many published authors and produced screenwriters. She spent years writing, developing and acquiring material for broadcast and cable television as well as feature films before devoting herself to writing and editing books.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: SkyLight Paths; 1 edition (April 18, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594732426
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594732423
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 22.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,280,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By David Gernand on July 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
I found this wonderful book quite by accident when doing a search for "bread" (I bake almost daily and am always looking for new recipes!). BREAD, BODY, SPIRIT is the kitchen equivalent of nighttable reading (perhaps butcher block reading might be an appropriate term). I've found myself picking it up to read variuos passages while stirring a custard for a batch of ice cream or waiting for a sauce to simmer. Many of the entries have struck a chord. "Deer Season" reminded me of my childhood growing up in a family of hunters and as I'm a fan of the writing of Barbara Kingsolver I was happy to read her essay "Free Breakfast." Always enjoyable, I find this book to be more than just entertainment as it consistently reminds me of why I love to cook and love to give away most of my creations to be shared by others.
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Format: Paperback
You are what you eat, as the old proverb goes. "Bread, Body, Spirit: Finding the Sacred in Food" is a look at how food affects one's psyche and spirit. Drawing upon research of both eastern and western religions, "Bread, Body, Spirit" is an intellectual and thought provoking look at how the human spirit is fueled. A poignant and thoughtful title, highly recommended.
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This is a truly wonderful collection of poems and prose on spirituality as it relates to food, preparation, serving, eating, respecting, sharing, conserving and enjoying. What a wonderful gift to discover the sacred in life's most essential activity. Reflection throughout life is one of our greatest gifts; this book shares so many; through these writings I was truly lifted to so many wonderful thoughts. In the Book of Common Prayer we acknowledge that "through rest and returning we shall be saved." Whatever your faith tradition, or none at all, rest and returning to this wonderful book is sort of what it means to be saved from the sin of taking the seeming ordinariness of our lives for granted; being saved in part is to be rescued from dreariness and the ingratitude from which it springs; this book is about the possibility of that salvation in respect of life's most basic element.
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