Sara Miles, Take this Bread; A Radical Conversion (New York: Ballantine: 2007), 283pp.
Sara Miles describes herself as a blue-state, secular intellectual, a lesbian, and a left-wing journalist who developed habits of deep scepticism from covering revolutionary movements in Central America. Her grandparents on both sides were missionaries, but in reaction to that upbringing her parents were actively hostile to religion. So, it's a bit of an understatement that she also describes herself as a "very unlikely convert." But at the age of 46 Miles walked into Saint Gregory's Episcopal Church in San Francisco, partook of the Eucharist, and experienced a radical conversion. She had never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord's Prayer, and knew only one person who went to church. Today she is on staff at Saint Gregory's.
That was some eight years ago and only the beginning of further conversions. Building upon her life experiences as a chef, her conversion through the Eucharist, passion for the poor, and the founding vision of St. Gregory's, in 2000 Miles started a food pantry at her church that gave away free groceries (not meals) with no questions asked and no forms to fill out. Each week food for about 400 families was placed around the eucharistic altar. Such was the open communion and unconditional acceptance that she experienced at Saint Gregory's and intended to extend to anyone who was hungry. Through connections with the San Francisco Food Bank, and the generosity of unexpected donors, the miracle of the loaves multiplied and Miles went on to jump start nine more food pantries around the city.
Mundane food for the body became not only a sign of God's kingdom but, as theologians would say, the actual thing signified. Those who received wanted to give. Care for broken spirits accompanied bread for hungry bodies. If you have spent any time in church you will especially appreciate Miles' candid descriptions of the disruptions and divisions that the food pantries caused at Saint Gregory's. At one point more homeless, schizophrenic, and drug-crazed hungry people came to the food pantry than artsy, proper worshippers to the church services. While Miles saw this as a blessing, others saw it as a curse of sorts.
With her story of radical Christian conversion and the incarnation of daily discipleship Miles will join other feminist authors who have earned a broad readership because of the authenticity with which they have written about loving Christ, the church, and the world—Joan Chittister, Nora Gallagher, Anne Lamott, Kathleen Norris, Marilynne Robinson, and Barbara Brown Taylor come to mind. When I finished her book my mind kept returning to Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 4:21, "The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power," and in Galatians 5:6, "The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love."