God in a Bag of Fresh Peaches

I have been cleaning my room today (which is guyspeak for “listening to music and looking at all my cool stuff”) and stumbled on a book of poems, called Sixty years of American Poetry. I came upon a particular one that really captured my imagination; it is called “From Blossoms,” and it was written by Li-Young Lee. With permission from no one, I reprint it here:

From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Aside from simply exhibiting a simplicity which seems to exemplify American poetry at its best, this poem struck me as being particularly Eucharistic. It begins by tracing the steps which lead up to the sweet feast: the bag of peaches comes from the blossoms, which came from the boy at the bend in the road where they turned at the sign; there was a purpose in all of this, it was no accident. Just as, when the Eucharistic meal is prepared at Mass, the celebrant says over the bread: “Blessed are You, Lord, God of all Creation, for through Your goodness we have this bread to offer which earth has given and human hands have made; it will become the bread of life.” (Or something similar; I don’t have the exact text in front of me.) But this echoes that same purpose which opens the poem here, and speaks of the fruitful stewardship to which God has called humanity.

“Sweet fellowship in the bins” is perhaps one of the loveliest lines. Just as the Eucharistic bread is made from many grains of wheat, it is offered from the triune God (in himself the first community) to the whole fellowship of believers who come forward to receive, to “take what we love inside.” Once within, we pray that it will flower so that we might “carry within us an orchard,” reaching out to be the vessels of abundant life which Christ freely offers (John 10:10). And we who commune hope that, by receiving the same Bread of Life, we will be transformed into the living Body of Christ and share in the sweetest fellowship of all. And that transformation will show itself in outward signs, in the care with which we treat one another; just as the orchard offers shade in the summer’s heat.

Of course I cannot gloss over the pithy descriptions of eating the peach itself, enjoying “dusty skin and all.” It reminds me of my breakfast this morning; as I was sitting down to my bowl of Cheerios with sliced banana, I opened up the novel I’ve been reading, but with the first spoonful I realized that by reading I was distracting myself from the act of eating, which seems wasteful. Simple as they are, I really like Cheerios a lot, and when you add the crisp sweetness of fresh fruit…well! I’m glad I put the book down. All things in their own time.

But taking the time to relish my breakfast gave me the time to reflect on its Eucharistic aspect; not that I believe my Cheerios were transubstantiated, but that somehow, when Christ shared the Last Supper with his friends, and whenever he fed people, he was showing us the dignity of food; for if he himself, who we believe to be the Son of God, came down from heaven to “break bread” with us, then how rich a reminder of his loving presence is a meal! The little domestic joys of the simplest meals, while blessings in themselves, also remind us of the bread of angels which we receive at Mass.

When I was a child, I was told that one must not chew the Eucharistic species, as a cow chewing her cud; but rather, we ought to let it dissolve in dignity on one’s tongue. And that thought dovetailed the vague sense shared by many cradle Christians that whatever is holy must be treated with a detached reverence. As I got older, I began to wonder why God would choose to use such a prosaic symbol as bread (albeit in wafers unlike any bread I ever ate anywhere else). In fact, I still wonder why he chose bread. But a biblical scholar once told me that the Greek word which Jesus used at the Last Supper which we translate as “eat” might be better translated as “chew;” that the word had a real sense of connecting the act of consuming the Blessed Sacrament with the very thing all animals do to stay alive. (Incidentally, cows belong to an order of animals known as ruminant animals; from their chewing on cud for nourishment we get the word ruminate; to think deeply about something. So perhaps we ought to be like cows, carefully preparing our food to be digested rather than rushing through each meal.) So now I do chew the Host, as I would any other bread; and in doing this, I don’t think I’m demeaning the Body of Christ, but rather acknowledging how he glorified bread. And I even note the slight sweetness of the host, and relish the fact that he can use such simple means to offer such richness to me. So the miracle of Eucharist is two-fold: the transcendent Lord of Lords is made tangible, the infinite, small; and, that all meals, even dusty summer peaches, are made a foretaste of heaven.