Into the Wilderness: One does not live by bread alone

Week Three: The giving economy

One of my favourite sayings of Richard Rohr is on my mind this week,

“We do not think ourselves into a new way of living, we live ourselves into a new way of thinking.”

In times of change and wilderness, it can feel quite unsettling. Our daily routines are familiar and comforting – the people we see day to day, the places we travel to, the ways we gather. As we enter a time of new ways of living, we lose many of those familiar touchstones.

This week our climate reflection is on the the first temptation in the wilderness. While fasting, Jesus is challenged: “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

Jesus responds by referring to the lessons of the Exodus story, “‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4 1-4). 

Jesus is inviting us to recall the lessons learned by the Israelite people after fleeing Egypt. Like Jesus, the people were hungry in the wilderness. They were stressed about how they would eat and survive in a new time and place. This worry consumed some of them so much that they longed to go back to enslavement in Egypt. Back to what was known.

Though new and overwhelming, their time in the wilderness made way for new relationships to creation and each other. The story tells us they relied on Manna for food. They were taught by God to collect manna in the morning They were told it was useless to collect more manna than they needed, but they tried anyway. Manna could not be stored or collected in surplus because it would spoil. Manna did not make a good commodity. Manna was there – enough for all. Manna was a gift.

How different to be in a world where food was only a gift to receive. People struggled with this new relationship.

In the book Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer distinguishes between seeing our food and land as part of a market economy, versus a gift economy:

“The exchange relationships we choose determine whether we share them as a common gift or sell them as a private commodity. A great deal rests on that choice… The market economy story has spread like wildfire, with uneven results for human well-being and devastation for the natural world. But it is a story we have told ourselves – and we are free to tell another, to reclaim the old one.

One of these stories sustains the living systems on which we depend. One of these stories opens the way to living in gratitude and amazement at the richness and generosity of the world. One of these stories asks us to bestow our own gifts in kind, to celebrate our kinship with the world. We can choose. If all the world is a commodity, how poor we grow. When all the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become”

– Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, pg 31

The gift of sap running. Photo: Kyle Spradley / University of Missouri

In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer shares many personal, vibrant examples of the ways in which creation gifts us – with stories of wild strawberries, maple syrup, wild leeks… Creation is generous. When we see our food as gift, rather than commodity, we learn how to be in relationship. We listen to what the land needs in return for that gift – to take only what we need, never take more than half, and be careful and honourable in our harvest so that we are not depleting or destroying. When we receive a gift, we share it in a different way with others. We pass along the generosity.

In the wilderness, we are invited to see food as gift and change our relationship to creation and each other.

When I first wrote this reflection, weeks ago – we were in a very different time. While we may choose to find our way into a reflective wilderness during lent, we are not usually thrust into an actual collective wilderness like this. We are living in new ways – at home, away from routines, away from dear ones. We are living with new worries and fears, new priorities and realities. Some things that had value, suddenly have less. Some things that were common, suddenly are difficult to find.

Like many who have entered the wilderness before us, we have an opportunity to live ourselves into new ways of thinking. As we become more physically distant, we can see our interconnections in new light. While stores close and needs rise, we can recall that we are all a part of a gift economy – and we have the gifts we need to care for each other and the earth. “When all the world is a gift in motion, how wealthy we become”. Taking what we need. Sharing what we can. Reaching out to support our neighbours. Singing from our windows. In this time of change, may we find we ourselves free to tell a new story.

Two musicians in Turin, Italy, playing music for the street while in isolation. March 13, 2020
 Nicolò Campo/LightRocket via Getty Images

Practices for the Week:

  • This week we read the chapters: The Gift of Strawberries and The Honourable Harvest. They are filled with stories inviting us deeper into the gift economy. We invite you to read along with us 🙂


  • An important part of the Honourable Harvest is asking the permission of plants, animals, and the land before receiving their gift and harvesting them. Listening for permission from creation is not something we are accustomed to. During a walking meditation or a hike, find a place outside you feel drawn to.  Approach this place in silence and ask permission to sit and just be there. Listen for a few moments to see how nature responds. You may receive a “yes” or a “no”. You might feel your response, or sense it. It might be in the sounds or movements around you. While this might feel strange, this meditation opens our hearts to a new way of listening. If the response is no, you can find another spot and ask again.  (From Planting Seeds, Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village Community, pg 161-162)