This post, written by Amos House Community member Autumn Dennis, was originally posted on the Ministry With* the Poor blog. The original post can be accessed here: http://www.ministrywith.org/blog/view/207/
This article is the second in a series of reflections on Autumn’s experience this summer living and working at the Open Door Community in Atlanta, Georgia. The Open Door Community is a residential Protestant Catholic Worker community. They seek to dismantle racism, sexism, heterosexism, abolish the death penalty, and proclaim the Beloved Community through loving relationships with some of the most neglected and outcast of God’s children: the homeless and our sisters and brothers who are in prison.
Three times a week, the Open Door Community shares a public meal inside of our kitchen with our friends who live on the streets. Before every day of “hospitality”, the residents, volunteers, and friends of the community gather for reflection in the late morning. Now, if you’re a college student like me, sunlight before 7am is potentially fatal; as a result, most days I had no time to really prepare a breakfast for my sleepy head. Most mornings I was left scrambling to put together a meager meal of buttered toast and coffee.
However, as I made this meal several times a week, I remembered all the different encounters I’d had and stories I’ve heard about such simple elements as coffee and bread since committing my life to the streets and prisons. In the writings of Dorothy Day, she describes that before there was a Catholic Worker soup line, there was first a bread line in the Depression, where the unemployed would take up street blocks just to get a shot at some filling bread and warm coffee. A friend of mine who is a death row chaplain says that between getting home late from the prison and waking up very early to get back to the prison, she has no time for any breakfast beyond coffee and toast to wake up and stave off hunger before lunch.
In Western culture, several high-class diets emphasize the total elimination of bread in order to lose weight, even though the economic ability to refuse to eat bread is itself a massive privilege. Today, coffee is a symbol of worker’s exploitation in South America as the need for fair trade, sustainably grown coffee becomes more evident and mainstream. However, the elevation of coffee and bread is not at all recent. In most cultures, bread is a symbol of the “poor man’s food”, the most basic staple of nourishment. The 14th-century poet Hafez even wrote a poem that contained the lines,
so God will think
I got kin in that body!
I should start inviting that soul over
for coffee and
At the Open Door, we believe that Christ comes in the guise of the stranger, the homeless, the prisoner, and the outcast. Every time we share a meal with our friends in soup kitchen, we are sharing a meal with Christ. Every time we huddle around a cold biscuit and a lukewarm cup of coffee, we are connected to the poor throughout the world because these are the staples of nourishment for labor pool workers, for those in bread and soup lines, for those working in fields, for those who serve them, and for all those who do not have the luxury of or time for a full meal.
What if Christ was around today? If Christ comes to us in the guise of the marginalized, what kind of meal would he share with his friends today? I am inclined to think instead of wine, the “rich man’s drink”, and matzo, the “poor man’s bread”, Jesus might use coffee and rolls to teach us how to “do this in remembrance of me.”
I believe the point of Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, and Communion is to be UNITED and REMEMBER. While most of us don’t drink Welch’s Grape Juice and Hawaiian Sweet Bread together as a part of our everyday meals, many of us daily consume coffee and toast. Every time we drink coffee and eat toast, may we be united with the least of these everywhere who might be eating and drinking the same thing before their labor. Every time we drink coffee and eat toast, may we remember who is represented in these new elements, the poor of the world who grew the grain and the coffee, and the Christ that comes hidden in this disguise. Let us reimagine what the Eucharist is and can be, and how we can remember and be united. Let us reimagine and remember the broken, homeless, immigrant, executed, brown Body of Christ.