Daily bread and Buddhist mindfulness

Today’s Mass reading from John (6: 30-35) focuses on Jesus as the bread of life. The reading connects Jesus back to the manna in the desert which the Hebrew people received in their wandering in the desert. The crowd asks Jesus, what sign can you give, like that sign of God’s presence? Jesus responds that He is the bread of life. Implicitly this passage also connects Jesus to the ongoing Eucharistic practices of the Christian community after Jesus’s death and resurrection. The Gospel draws a line of connection between manna in the desert, Jesus as a sign, and the Eucharist.

Today in one of my classes I am teaching a reading by the Buddhist Thich Nhat Han. Among other Buddhist practices that I find useful as a Christian is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a way of being present to the here and now, which Nhat Han describes as akin to watering “the seed of enlightenment, awareness, understanding, care, compassion, liberation, transformation, and healing.” Mindfulness means not focusing on the past or future in a way that distracts us from the gifts of the present. Today is a rainy spring day where I live, and after a harsh winter there are many beautiful aspects of the day about which one can be mindful—birds singing outside my window, trees with small buds on them on the walk to work, interesting reflections in puddles, the absence of snow banks when I drive, etc. It’s easy to miss those small gifts of the day, but mindfulness is a practice of attentiveness that I find resonant with the Examen, which is attentiveness to where God has been at the end of a period of time. Mindfulness brings that attentiveness of “finding God in all things” into each moment.

For me, this all connects well to these Gospel reflections on bread of life. In the desert, the people of God learned their dependency on God through receiving just enough bread for one day and no more. If they tried to save bread up for another day, it rotted away, but every new day there was always fresh bread. We have available to us the daily bread of the Eucharist as our strength, our renewal, and our daily thanksgiving. In all moments of the day, we have Jesus present to us in simple moments like a walk we take, or in each interaction with every person whom we meet, and with whom we can practice becoming loving people.