<![CDATA[The Bread Monk - Not By Bread Alone]]>Tue, 13 Feb 2018 14:06:19 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[Saying goodbye]]>Sun, 17 Aug 2014 04:48:43 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/not-by-bread-alone/saying-goodbyeThis post doesn't have anything to do directly with diabetes, but I wanted to have someplace to share my reflections with my Breadheads and others. Picture
It's that time of year when parents are saying goodbye to their children as they head off to college, the military, or careers.  Facebook is awash with pictures of packed cars, new dorm rooms, the first apartment, and the bus to boot camp.  It can be a difficult time for parents, sometimes for mothers especially, or so I've gathered from various social media.

Most people rarely think about it since it's not explicitly in the Scriptures, but Jesus and his mother Mary went through the same experience.  The image to the left is of a stained glass window in St. Patrick's Church, Arlington IL.  It depicts Jesus taking leave of his mother just before he begins his public ministry. I hadn't ever seen this image anywhere else, in stained glass or any other medium, until I searched online and found a few paintings.    It's beautiful in full length view, but when you look up close  you appreciate the artist's true genius.

The detail on the halos, their clothing and  hair is quite remarkable, but what I love best of all are the expressions on their faces.  Mary wears the expression that mothers have worn for millennia as they said farewell to their children.  You can see that she is thinking, "My darling son, do you have to go?" but she says nothing because she knows he must.  Jesus looks upon his mother with great tenderness and a little sadness.  One of my students commented that he looks like he's trying not to cry.  

This window was made in an era when artisans were sent as young apprentices to live with their masters. I have no doubt in my mind that the artist captured the expression on Mary's face so perfectly because he had seen it on the face of his own mother.  When my own mother sent me off to college she wrote me a note that I treasured, then as now. She quoted Kahlil Gibrain's The Prophet:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

At the bottom of the page, she wrote: "Now is your time to fly."
Be assured of my prayers for all those going out into the world for the first time, 
and for those whom they leave at home.
<![CDATA[According to His purpose]]>Mon, 11 Aug 2014 14:54:07 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/not-by-bread-alone/according-to-his-purposePicture

"We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose."

       Romans 8:28

This verse just about the clearest statement I’ve found of what my attitude towards my diabetes should be---to believe that according to God’s plan, at once mysterious and gradually being revealed to me, it is his divine will that I should have this condition.  And even though some days it seems like a burden and a curse, I’m convinced that my disease is drawing me closer to God, day by day, that He can create good from ill, that He can transform me into a new creation, that He is conforming me to the image of His beloved Son.

Paul states that this gradual transformation happens for “those who love God.” Not that my love for God causes these effects in me—it’s all God’s doing, not mine—but rather loving God opens me up to the power of His grace, enabling me to submit my will to His, even compelling me to do so.  What did St. Vincent de Paul quote so often?  Caritas Christi urgit nos .  I remember Abbot Claude preaching on this text once (it’s from one of Paul’s epistles) and demonstrating from the original Greek that it’s not our love for Christ that urges us, but His love for us that compels us to fidelity, obedience, and service.  Everything is a gift. 

<![CDATA["Too deep for words"]]>Fri, 07 Mar 2014 03:58:29 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/not-by-bread-alone/too-deep-for-wordPicture
Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakess; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words."

                               Romans 8:26

I'm not sure if this has anything to do directly with diabetes, but I do know that this verse is a comfort on those days when I am so overwhelmed that I can't even think what to pray about, let alone what words to say.  It's similar to days when I am feeling some deep, nameless emotion and am casting about in my memory or my iPod for a song to express it adequately.  I guess the emotion most often would be called "longing": longing to be made whole, to be loved, to be fully known and accepted by another, to become the person I am meant to be ---"sighs too deep for words" indeed. 

Sometimes that longing is sad and empty, and sometimes it's joyful and bursting at the seams, and sometimes it's both at the same time.  Or to change the analogy,  the emotional rollercoaster we ride as diabetics could use a better safety bar!  My point here is this: if you are struggling with your diabetic self-care and don't know how to pray about it, this text remnds us that as baptized Christians we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, who prays within us in a language our heart understands, even when our head can't make sense of it. 

Let us pray for one another in our Lenten journey.
<![CDATA[Our present sufferings]]>Sun, 16 Feb 2014 20:29:22 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/not-by-bread-alone/our-present-sufferingsRomans 8:18 
“I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory to be revealed to us.”

This passage is often used at funerals, especially when the deceased underwent a long, painful illness or had a hard life.  I'm sure that people are comforted by the idea of their loved one in glory after so much hardship and pain.  We don’t know what specific sufferings were in Paul’s mind when he wrote this.  Was it his physical ailments?  Persecution by his opponents?  The times he spent in prison?  He didn’t know the Roman community—the letter is meant as a means of introducing himself to the Christians there—so we don’t know how they might have interpreted his words either.  Given the historical situation, it’s likely that he was writing about human suffering in general, the common inheritance of all people.  One thing is certain: for Paul, suffering has no meaning apart from Christ.

Some days I realize how silly it is to call my diabetic condition “suffering”.  Compared to the experience of the desperately poor, exiles and refugees, abused and neglected children, laying off the donuts is no big deal.  And at other times, it feels like a genuine hardship to moderate my portions at meals, to avoid certain foods that other people seem to enjoy without negative consequences, always having to calculate, to plan ahead, to think before every choice.

Is that the biggest hardship? Never to be spontaneous, carefree, unthinking?  Welcome to childhood’s end!  “The unexamined life is not worth living,” Socrates declared, and what I just described is not really being carefree, just careless.  It is good to be without needless worries and anxieties, but not without personal accountability and consideration of our actions.

Back to the issue of suffering.  Whatever the degree of suffering which we experience because of diabetes and its attendant cares, it is a “momentary light affliction” compared to the glory that awaits us.  Lest I be accused of having a medieval mindset, in which all pleasure is suspect and heaven the only happiness we can expect, I hasten to add that this glory about to be revealed is not only that which awaits us in heaven in all its fullness and permanence.  God also wants us to live lives of fulfillment here and now, to “have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

And I would go further and say that the present suffering is nothing compared to the glory being revealed not just to us but also in us—a reflected glory to be sure, not anything we claim as our own, but the glory of Christ’s resurrection shining through us, a witness to the world that He has conquered sin and death.  By our successful management of our diabetic self-care as a spiritual discipline, we can be a witness to Christ’s power to transform our lives. 

Be assured of my continued prayers for your health and happiness.

Next post: Help in our weakness
<![CDATA[Set your mind on the Spirit]]>Fri, 31 Jan 2014 21:08:17 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/not-by-bread-alone/set-your-mind-on-the-spiritRomans: 8:6
“To set the mind on the flesh is death, 

but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

At first reading one might think that Paul is telling his readers not to pay any attention to their bodies, their physical selves.  But in Paul’s writings as elsewhere in the New Testament, “flesh” refers to humanity in its creaturely limitations, its lower nature, especially as demonstrated by our human tendency to sin (see also John 6:63).  In Romans 7:14-25, Paul describes how he wants to do what is good, and to follow a spiritual law, “but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin.” 

So one interpretation of Roman 8:6 might be to see it as a warning against concentrating too much upon our human weakness, on how often we fail to follow our diabetic Regime.  We think about how we fail to exercise regularly, fail to monitor our blood sugar, fail to make good choices at meals, fail, fail, fail.  We certainly need to be aware of our shortcomings, but dwelling on our failures can lead to disappointment  and depression, and can even make us give up trying all together.  If you’ve noticed this tendency in yourself, now may be a good time for an attitude adjustment.

But I think that Paul’s point is more profound, and has greater consequences for my spirituality.  “To set the mind upon the flesh” means to allow my outlook to be formed by my lower nature, to view my life and judge it according to worldly standards and secular values.  And those standards and values are about pursuing pleasure without regard for the consequences, consuming food, sex, power, entertainment and material wealth without restraint.  To set the mind on the flesh means a life without proportion or balance, one which leads ultimately to emotional, spiritual and physical death.

“To set the mind on the Spirit” by contrast means to form my outlook and attitude according to Gospel values, which certainly include the pleasures of food and good company, but also the disciplining of our appetites so we are not ruled by them, the observance of limits, the acceptance of suffering.  To set the mind on the Spirit means a life of balance, which leads to greater physical and emotional health , a peaceful heart and the abundance of life promised my Christ.  

Be assured of my continued prayers for your health and happiness.

<![CDATA[The fundamental goodness of the body]]>Thu, 02 Jan 2014 17:15:04 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/not-by-bread-alone/the-fundamental-goodness-of-the-bodyIn a culture obsessed with youth, beauty and (particularly for women) thinness, it had can be difficult for type II diabetics to develop and maintain a healthy body image, especially since we Type II's are often overweight.  How often have you looked in a mirror or stepped on a scale and said/thought: "I hate my body"?  This kind of negative thinking is self-defeating and damaging, and ultimately can keep us from actually achieving our goal of a healthier lifestyle.  So an important first step in establishing "The Regime" is developing a sense of and appreciation for the fundamental goodness of the body.

The idea that the human body is fundamentally good is an important tenet of the authentic Christian faith, and has a long history in scripture and theology.  It begins with the very first book of the Bible, in Genesis 1:1-25, God creates the material universe, and repeatedly looks upon His creation and sees that it is good.  But after God creates human beings, the text says:  God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Gen 1:31)  So the creation of human beings, including their bodies, is viewed as very good.

This goodness is not based on any merit of humanity itself, but on the fact that we are created in the Imago Dei, that is, in the image and likeness of God (see Genesis 1:27).  The Vatican II document Gaudiem et Spes, (The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World)
explains this idea further:
Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his very bodily condition he sums up in himself the elements of the material world. Through him they are thus brought to their highest perfection and can raise their voice in praise freely given to the Creator. For this reason man may not despise his bodily life. Rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and to hold it in honor since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. 
Of course today we would express this in more gender-inclusive terms, but the concept is clear: the human body is good and is to be held in honor.

For Christians, the clearest sign of the body's goodness is the Incarnation: the fact that the Second Person of the Trinity took on a human flesh and a fully human nature.  Because Jesus' body was the means by which his death could bring salvation to the world, it's clear that the human body is to be held in highest esteem.  Sacraments like baptism and the Lord's Supper also confirm that the elements of the material world like water and bread as well as our bodies themselves are not barriers to holiness but vehicles of grace.

Christianity throughout its long history has had to fight to preserve this belief in the fundamental goodness of the human body.   The Gnostics, the Manicheans, the Albigensians and other heretical groups have denied the goodness of the human body and argued that it is inherent evil or sinful.  Some heretic groups even maintained that there were two gods, one who created good and one who created evil, and therefore we were not responsible for our sinful actions.  Church theologians combated these ideas vigorously as being contrary to authentic Christianity.

One biblical text which I find particularly inspiring is First Corinthians 3:16-17:
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Here is a clear statement, that not only is the human body holy and good, but my own personal body is.  Yes, this very body, flabby and with bad knees, topped with this balding head, afflicted as it is with diabetes and carpal tunnel and sleep apnea---this body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, this fragile human vessel is where God has chosen to dwell, this flesh is the locus for the presence of the Body of Christ in the world.   And if it is so loved and revered by God, who am I to despise it?

These verses of Sacred Scripture of course have some other implications as well, but for now, copy them out on a piece of paper or an index card and tape them to the fridge.  Make them the background to your smart phone or the banner on your Facebook page.  Put them on the wall above the bathroom scale and in the corner of the mirror.  Tuck them into your Bible or your prayer book, and live with them for awhile.  When you get back to this blog, I'll have some further reflections on how we can begin to love our bodies in the way God intends.

Be assured of my continued prayers for your health and happiness.
<![CDATA[The moral squint]]>Mon, 23 Dec 2013 05:20:02 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/not-by-bread-alone/the-moral-squintThere is a tendency among diabetics, indeed among dieters of all stripes, to frame our eating habits in moral categories.  How many times have you said something like this:

"Oh, I was really bad this weekend---I had ice cream twice."
"That restaurant's dessert menu is just plain evil--so much temptation!"
"No more for me, thanks---I'm trying to be a good girl."

I'm sure it's possible for some people to make these kinds of statements in a light-hearted and harmless way, but for many of us, they can reinforce an underlying negativity and self-judgment that ultimately cannot help us achieve our goals.  If I fail to make good choices, I tell myself I'm "bad"--i.e., I label myself as a bad person.  This label can lead me to think that I'm a bad person habitually, even fundamentally, and can even make me give up on diabetic self-care all together: Well, I'm a bad person anyway, so I might as well give up and eat the rest of that cake.  
This kind of thinking can also spill over into how we view food in general, for example talking about "good" foods and "bad" foods.

It's wise to monitor our thinking/speaking about our eating habits for a few days and see how often we create a self-destructive pattern by these kinds of expressions.  Rather than seeing everything through "the moral squint" try substituting these kinds of expressions:

I could have made better choices this weekend.  
Today I have to be more thoughtful about what I eat.
That looks delicious, but I really ought to have some fresh fruit.

By using the vocabulary of "choice" we can reinforce that we are in control of our eating habits, rather than being caught in the grip of some demonic influence or that our consumption is based on some fundamental moral weakness.  By making careful, responsible choices about the types and amounts of foods we eat, we can assert control over our health and choose to live in freedom from anxiety and self-rejection.

I don't want to suggest that breaking this pattern of speaking/thinking is easy, especially if we've had "the moral squint" for a long time.  It certainly requires the assistance of others and the grace of the Holy Spirit to make such a fundamental change in our attitudes.  And underlying this change is the need to recognize the fundamental goodness of our bodies---which is the topic of my next diabetic blog.  

Be assured of my prayers and best wishes for you during the holiday season, whatever it is you are celebrating.  ]]>
<![CDATA[What's in a name?]]>Thu, 12 Dec 2013 03:13:56 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/not-by-bread-alone/whats-in-a-nameVery early on in my journaling about my diabetes, I came to the realization that I needed a special name for my program of self-care.  I tend to give everything a nickname.  I have friends named "Slink" and "Stormy", and students with nicknames like "K-dude" and "Smudge" and "Buzz".  In our school stage there are spaces like "The Tower," "The Pigeonhole" and "The Groj" and a tool called "The Wasabi Saw."  Like Adam in Eden, I name things so as to create order in my world.

So what to call my diabetic self-care program, a sometimes disorderly process?  Naturally the word "diet" came to mind immediately and was just as quickly dismissed. A "diet" is often something temporary ("I'm on a diet so I can look good at the reunion") and I intended for this to be a change for life.  I also needed a term that didn't address my eating habits only--diabetic self-care includes diet, exercise, sleep habits, education, support systems, etc.  Besides, "diet" has a lot of negative connotations: often imposed and planned by someone else, ill-fitting and painfully restrictive, like a bad pair of bowling shoes.  Not a word to inspire enthusiasm, certainly.

"Program" sounded too Jenny Craig, and "health plan" too governmental or institutional.  I considered biblical language based on the Exodus, but didn't want to wander in the desert for 40 years if I idolized a doughnut when Moses was on the mountain.  Besides, Scriptural terminology often had a moral overtone I was trying to avoid--more on this problem in my next blog.

Eventually I came up with the idea of  "The Regime."  It is often used in the context of health (e.g., "an exercise regime") and implies going beyond dietary issues to include every aspect of my life, the way a political regime affects every aspect of a society.  It is a word that connotes discipline and order, with a clear plan of action.  It seemed to have all the characteristics I was looking for, and I've been using it ever since.

It's not perfect. Some political regimes are totalitarian and repressive (it's a word journalists use for the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, for example) and don't allow any bending of the rules or "wiggle room."  But in my view, I am the head of this regime, which means I am the one who makes choices for my eating habits, and therefore takes responsibility for them and their consequences.  I choose the exercise routine that's right for me, I assemble my own support staff, I establish the norms for everything.  In The Regime, I'm in charge. 

This last point is crucial.  In AA, people have to admit that they are powerless over their disease in order to become healthy.  That simply isn't true of most diabetics.  Unless a genuine eating addiction is involved or other serious health issues, most of us diabetics have a remarkable amount of control over its effects in our lives.  As one man put it, "I know diabetes is going to kill me eventually---I get to choose how soon."

This post is getting a bit long, so I'll simply end with this thought for you to ponder: I consider myself the head of The Regime, but I have placed myself under the Sovereign King.  So how does the Regime fit into the Reign of God?

                    Let the peace of Christ reign in your hearts, 
                    for this why you were called to be one body. 
                                        And be thankful.  
                                           Colossians 3:15

Next post: The Moral Squint]]>
<![CDATA[The prayer of allegiance]]>Mon, 09 Dec 2013 16:51:48 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/not-by-bread-alone/the-prayer-of-allegianceAfter uploading my last post, I found this prayer in my journal from a couple of years ago and thought I'd share it.

Lord of truth, 
help me to accept the reality of my condition as a diabetic,
and to make the changes in my life that will keep me healthy.
Your Son Jesus declared that the truth would make us free.
Through my acceptance of my disease, free from slavery to illusion,
from bad habits and unhealthy choices.
Grant me the courage and self-discipline to 
learn as much as I can about this disease, its effects on my body,
and how I can remain healthy in spite of the limitations imposed upon me.
I know that even though you have given me a share in your Son's cross,
You desire my happiness in this life and in the next.
Help me to see diabetes as Your gift.

<![CDATA[A firm allegiance to reality]]>Mon, 09 Dec 2013 03:05:24 GMThttp://breadmonk.com/not-by-bread-alone/a-firm-allegiance-to-realityI read once that one of John Paul II's favorite scripture verses was John 8:32: "The truth shall make you free."  He wrote an entire encyclical (a long teaching letter) on the relationship between truth and freedom in the context of moral law titled Veritatis Splendor ("The Splendor of Truth).  I'll be perfectly honest here and admit that I haven't read the entire encyclical, so I won't comment on what Blessed John Paul had to say.  But I do know that there is an essential relationship between truth and diabetic self-care.  In my experience, this relationship has three dimensions: breaking denial, developing a firm allegiance to reality, and arming yourself with knowledge.  

My brother Vincent first taught me the expression "breaking denial."  He teaches health and fitness in a Chicagoland high school, and he uses the term to explain to students how it is sometimes necessary to give up our illusions about an aspect of our life: refusing to accept our limitations, not admitting the need for help, being unable to face our addictions, etc.  Sometimes we diabetics can be in denial about our condition, thinking that it's not that serious, or that our blood sugar is better than it really is.  But that kind of thinking just makes us slaves to our illusions.  By honestly facing the truth of our condition, we can become proactive in our self-care and thereby ensure our future freedom from unwanted consequences like neuropathy and heart disease.  

It follows that once we break denial, we have to establish a firm allegiance to reality.  We have to develop the courage to examine our diet, our exercise (or lack of it!), the effect of our emotions on our eating habits, etc.  For a long period recently I was not testing my blood sugar in the morning---I just didn't want to know how bad it was.  A recent blood test mandated by my doctor for another health issue revealed that my A-1-C was high and that my lack of discipline may be starting to affect my kidneys.  So now, no matter how painful it may be, I'm testing at least twice a day.  

If we develop a firm allegiance to reality, we'll find that the third step, arming oneself with knowledge, will come much easier.  If you know the truth about your weight, blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, etc., you'll have to tools you need to establish a comprehensive plan for your diabetic self-care,  what I refer to as "The Regime" (more on this term in my next blog).  A firm allegiance to reality will compel us to read current literature about diabetes, search for diabetic-friendly recipes and create a meal plan, and amass the knowledge necessary to make wise choices about our lifestyle.

Believe me, I'm not suggesting that these steps are easy.  I struggle with denial every day ("One more doughnut won't hurt") and sometimes get tired of reading about diabetes in the health section of just about every magazine I pick up.  But accepting the truth about my diabetic condition is just part of my ongoing task of discovering who I am: facing other, greater truths about myself, exploring the depths of of my vocation, of who God is calling me to be, so that I can be free to be the real Dominic.  Ultimately, these are steps leading toward a more intimate knowledge of Him who is the Truth, who is the Way to wholeness, who is the source of abundant Life.  

             "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."  
                                       2 Corinthians 3:17

Next post: "The Regime"]]>