One of the great gifts of living at the Monastery is the view from my cell window. It’s not just the beauty of the Charles River; it’s the activity that takes place on it that captivates me, which resonates with my own deep-seated need.
I rowed crew off and on for fifteen years before entering the Monastery last winter. Watching the stream of crew boats cutting across my window now, I remember the feeling of being in a boat and I can imagine myself in one again. But more than anything, I feel the beauty of it all. I feel it in my body as tension unknotting in my stomach, as a weight lifting from my shoulders. In this physical response, I become aware of how important this encounter with beauty is for me – not only in watching the river, but in countless small and unexpected ways each day. I realize how much this beauty nourishes me, giving shape and color and texture to my day – to my life. And I recognize, deep down, how my senses, my memory, and my imagination – all those faculties that allow me to find, experience, and appreciate this beauty – are total gifts from God.
You may be surprised that this image of a crew boat on the Charles River emerges in the context of the familiar line from the heart of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today our daily bread.” I know I was. You may be surprised that beauty, not bread, is the need I name. I know I was. It can be difficult, for those of us who don’t lack food or experience the sharp pangs of hunger, to know how to pray this petition. It can feel abstract, disembodied. Are you, like me, lucky enough to feel far removed from the precariousness and scarcity that we hear about in the Israelites’ journey through the desert, or that we read about in stories of famine, or that we see around us in those who sleep on the streets? Are you blessed enough to know you will have bread today?
You might not know the urgent cry for bread that haunts others. But we all have needs. We all have hungers. And I think that by identifying them, and in recognizing how these needs affect us physically, we can begin to recapture something of the immediacy and materiality of praying for our daily bread.
In praying to God to meet those needs, to nourish us, we are invited to move beyond ourselves to trust in and rely on God’s limitless provision. And, perhaps most importantly, when we name our needs and realize how often their satisfaction lies beyond our control, we can grow in compassion for those whose lives are more precarious and whose needs are more urgent than our own. In recognizing our commonality as needful people, we can stand alongside our brothers and sisters, placing our trust in the God who gives us our daily bread, in all its many forms.