Gilead, Part 5, The Bread of Affliction

Part 5, The Bread of Affliction

John Ames recounts when his father gave him a piece of bread after a church had burned. John and his father (a pastor) were helping the members and leaders of this African American church after their church had burned down as a result of lightning. While taking a rest, John’s father gave him a peace of bread as a snack. Yet, John would remember that as an instance of communion.

It was so joyful and sad. I mention it again because it seem to me much of my life was comprehended in that moment. Grief itself has often returned me to that morning, when I took communion from my father’s hand. I remember it as communion, and I believe that’s what it was.

I can’t tell you what that day in the rain has meant to me. I can’t tell myself what it has meant to me. But I know how many things it put altogether beyond question, for me.

(p. 96)


This first line I quoted above reminds me of a line from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. This line arises when a man named Rakitin brings up a situation to Grushenka earlier in the novel. Alyosha, the main character was present in the original situation and in the conversation about it. Rakitin recalls how Grushenka shamed Katerina Ivanovna. Katerina Ivanovna had kissed Grushenka’s hand three times; but when Grushenka God down to kiss Katerina Ivanovna’s hand, she refused to do so. The situation is rather more complicated than as represented. But this is Grushenka’s response to Rakitin bringing up this shameful story:

“Know? [Dmitri] doesn’t know anything. If he found out, he’d kill me. But now I’m not afraid at all, I’m not afraid of his knife now. Shut up, Rakitin, don’t remind me of Dmitri Fyodorovich: he’s turned my heart to mush. And I don’t want to think about anything right now. But I can think about Alyoshechka [Alyosha], I’m looking at Alyoshechka…Smile at me, darling, cheer up, smile at my foolishness, at my joy… He smiled, he smiled! What a tender look! You know, Alyosha, I keep thinking you must be angry with me because of two days ago, because of the young lady. I was a bitch, that’s what… Only it’s still good that it happened that way. It was bad and it was good. […] No it’s good that it happened that way,” she smiled again. “But I’m still afraid you’re angry…”

(p. 350)


Sometimes we notice in reality this alloy of the good and bad, this amassed heap of indistinguishable content, in which exist the most terrible of things and the most beautiful.

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2 thoughts on “Gilead, Part 5, The Bread of Affliction

  1. Can you provide a specific example or two in your life of “this alloy of the good and bad, this amassed heap of indistinguishable content, in which exist the most terrible of things and the most beautiful”?

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    • Well, a few years of my life when I was severely struggling with anxiety and related issues, things were horrible. Nevertheless, some of the most beautiful things blossomed out of those years, the most important of which would be my coming to Christ. But I don’t think that my anxiety and insomnia were for those emotional and spiritual blossoms – by that I mean, my anxiety and other issues were not merely for those “good things.” My purpose of this post was to show the complexity of things.

      Side note, but a related one:
      I read this poem of Wiman’s today that relates to this conversation.

      “AFTER A STORM
      My sorrow’s flower was so small a joy
      It took a winter of seeing to see it as such.
      Numb, unsteady, stunned at all the evidence
      Of winter’s blind imperative to destroy.
      I looked up, and saw the bare abundance
      Of a tree whose every limb was lit and fraught with snow.
      What I was seeing then I did not quite know
      But knew that one mite more would have been too much.”

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