Giving Thanks For Torn Bread


Last week, the  awesome Kaya Oakes, who’s written several beautiful personal essays for KtB, entrusted us with a new one, which she felt was a little more experimental, less linear than her other work. “Torn Bread” is a searching, self-reflective exploration of the feeling of receiving Communion from a female Episcopal priest, as a feminist Catholic who cannot do so in her own church. It was, in short, an excellent example of what we try to publish here at KtB: “first-person dispatches from the margins of faith.” Which is why I thought it should be republished in our new partnership with Salon.

I admit I was surprised at how quickly the vitriol began to appear in the comments. Atheists wondered how a civilized post-Enlightenment human being could still believe in “sky fairies,” whatever those are.  A conservative Catholic blogger took issue with Kaya’s “pathetic”, “little” story, particularly her use of the word “bread” to mean, they assumed, the Body of Christ. Clearly, they said, a mistake of ignorance. Nope. She meant bread. That’s when I realized: we weren’t in KtB land any more. Framed as “news” on Salon, some readers seemed to have what one kind reader on Twitter referred to as a “tin ear” for the requirements of personal narrative, which need to leave room for doubt and struggle, and which don’t usually pretend to offer any kind of prescription for what the reader should do. We at KtB love a good political rant, but this is not that.

So I want to send many thanks to the readers and bloggers who recognized this piece as the narrative it was, and offered thoughtful readings of her conflict with Catholicism in light of their own.

Claire Bangasser writes the blog  A Seat At The Table, in which she “re-imagines a Church engaged in dialogue with people at the margins.” Her post “Add Women And Stir,” said of “Torn Bread,” “A Catholic woman goes to an Episcopalian woman priest to receive the Eucharist. I understand her, I have done the same.”

Michele Somerville waded right into the hostile waters and wrote the following comment: “You claim Oakes keeps returning to church even though “she doesn’t like what she’s experienced.” This could not be more inaccurate. She loves her involvement in her church, writes eloquently in Radical Reinvention about the joy of her life in the Church. Furthermore, Oakes, an author who teaches sacred texts at one the finest universities in the nation, can hardly be characterized as someone “who does not have the first clue about what she’s experienced.” I couldn’t have said it better.

And the good “anarchist reverend” Shay Kearns shouted out “Torn Bread” on his “Links I Love” post: “She writes with such passion and love.” So true!

This week’s feature helps reflect what I mean by the importance of personal narrative, especially when it comes to religion writing.  “The Golden Helmet of Jubilation” by Mary Valle is both exactly the same and completely different from Kaya’s story. Mary, too, is a Catholic who has always been conflicted about the Church. But she has decided to give up trying to like things she doesn’t really like, and instead pray to entities that actually give her comfort. Like the Beatles. And Loki. (So there, Catholic purists!) Opposite of Kaya’s circumstances, in a lot of ways. And yet, both make an explicit point of distinguishing themselves as seekers from other believers they encounter–Kaya knows other women make other choices relative to the church, and she has nothing against them. Mary feels no bitterness, and wishes her many friends in the Catholic church nothing but love. It’s just not for her anymore.

So here’s to writers and readers willing to look beyond the black-and-white, and send us dispatches from the edges of certainty. You are not alone.

Brook Wilensky-Lanford is the author of Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden (Grove Press, 2011). An editor of Killing the Buddha, she lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Follow Brook on Twitter: @modmyth