Our Daily Bread

By Cynthia Briggs Kittredge

We pray this ancient collect, adapted by Thomas Cranmer for the first Book of Common Prayer:

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“[T]hat we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal” — does this prayer mean to contrast the present and the future?

Does this prayer say that we are to put up, spin our wheels, in the present, all in the goal of gaining the “things eternal”?

How do we manage in this particular day?

Let’s look at the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. We call it the Lord’s Prayer, but it could better be called the Disciples’ Prayer. The Prayer of the Kids. The Students’ Prayer, the Learners’ Prayer. Be a learner. Let us take on the posture of learning.

Perhaps this Disciples’ Prayer has become stale or worn out or something you no longer notice. But look at Luke’s sleek, stark version that goes in a straight line and does not beat around the bush:

Our Father in Heaven.
Holy is your Name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive our sins as we forgive.
Do not bring us to the test.

How does the prayer help us navigate our passage through the temporal?

There’s the future in the prayer, for sure: Your kingdom come. We ask for it to come because it’s not here yet. It has not come. Come, kingdom. Arrive, please. Be here now.

The kingdom needs to come in the future, because it’s not complete yet or yet fully here. We know that when it’s come that the trees are full of nesting birds and the mountains flow with wine and hills are covered with bread and the hungry are filled with good things, but at the moment it’s still the case that people are ill and violent, stubborn, greedy, wicked, kids bully and taunt other kids, trusted institutions betray our trust.

Pray that the gap be crossed from what is not the case to what could be. Make justice. Come make things right, straighten them out, make the rough places plain.

So here we are to pray that God will rule, that the reign of God will dawn.

Is this what’s eternal? The kingdom of God that will last forever, that we will experience after we have finished our passage through time?

Thy kingdom come is about the far-off future — what isn’t. But the next petition in the Disciples’ Prayer is about what is very, very near.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Hear the repetition of the “day” words. In the Greek the word is a rare one: epiousion. It may mean “bread for today” or “bread for the next day,” but it definitely means only one day’s worth. The bread we need for today.

It’s enough to satisfy us, through the night and to the next day.

It’s rice and beans or porridge, poi, or the food they eat in northern Namibia: maize meal porridge, made out of millet. The staple.

Give us today our daily bread.

One summer in college I spent working in New York City at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine’s senior citizen picnic program. People of every nation, all boroughs, Cathedral tour, lunch on grounds. I remember talking with one beautiful a woman from the West Indies in bright colors.

In the islands when I had children, always carry food for the day, you never know where you would be or what would happen, always carry, have on your person, in a basket or a bag, wrapped up, food for the day. Know what you need. Prepare for whatever eventuality might occur.

Give us today our daily bread.

One summer day Jesus was preaching far from village, far from the market, a deserted place. The crowd had grown bigger and bigger, and as evening approached they got hungry.

They didn’t bring it, the disciples hadn’t brought it, Jesus didn’t have it, nobody had the wagon train full of provisions for the festival/rock concert/revival.

Give us today our daily bread.

Another time in the desert, when they were following Moses, the people got hungry. They were particularly hungry for their food from back home, slave food, Egyptian food. They grumbled and complained and were bitter.

“I will pour upon you bread from heaven, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day” (Ex. 16:4).

You will gather it … and every evening … not like poi, or porridge, or maize meal … frosty, flaky, sweet … unlike anything they knew.

Give us this day our daily bread.

It’s the food we need to keep us alive. Learn to pray for that. Ask God for that.

I want to think about the day of daily bread. The manna came every day because that’s how creation was made day by day — it was evening, it was morning, the first day.

The day is the unit of creation.

“At twilight you shall eat meat and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread, then you shall know that I am the Lord your God” (Ex. 16:12).

You’re not allowed to save manna. You can’t put it in a big barn or a storage unit or a silo. Just accept the daily gift.

Every summer I go to an island in the Bay of Fundy in Canada. Long Island, my sanctuary, teaches me about spiritual life. Sunrise to sunset. Tides, food from the neighboring island. Planning. “Desert” in that way. Cook, eat, wash the dishes, put them away. Awareness of the day; of the essentials; staple, ration. Give us today our daily bread. Simplicity makes you focus on the simple. Makes it easier because it’s right there. Nothing else. Nothing extra, but so much. Surrounded by water.

Give us today our daily bread.

And every day we need the right, the modest but essential portion of courage, energy, patience, humor, friendship. We can’t get it all at once for the long haul, but we can get it each day, daily, morning and evening, one day.

There’s a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer in the section on ministry to the sick. But you don’t have to be sick to say it. See page 461:

In the Morning
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

Can you wake up and rise out of bed with that attitude of trusting love?

That’s what Jesus is teaching us here. That’s what he does, that’s what we/you do. Give us this day our daily bread. And on top of that, Jesus says, you would be nuts to think that God wouldn’t give you your daily bread. It would be like a mom giving you a repulsive cockroach or a dad throwing a snake on you, or your good friend refusing to help you. God will have the food for you like the mother in the islands has for her children.

Within the apparent chaos of reality, Scripture affirms a divine rhythm of giving and receiving and seeking and finding, alternating, one after another, like the evening the morning, one day.

Here in this prayer of the kids, the Disciples’ Prayer, we learn how to navigate our passage, take time, handle time and eternity.

The only way is today. This day. The present moment. One day at a time.

Give us today our daily bread.

Today is not second-best to the future. Daily bread is not the opposite of the kingdom of God. We will not lose the things eternal if we are present in the present.

I have a friend, a monk, and Brother Curtis tells a story of the bar with the neon sign permanently affixed to the wall: “Free Beer Tomorrow.”

Another way of saying “Give us today our daily bread.”

Let us learn how to do this together. Let us learn how to trust in a gracious God who feeds us no matter how deserted the place, and who gives us each day our daily bread.

The Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge is dean and president and professor of New Testament at Seminary of the Southwest, Austin, Texas.


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