In the average household, on your average morning, mothers quote scripture to their children more often than they realize: “Come and have breakfast” (Jn 21:12). This is a resurrection scene by the Sea of Tiberius, and what a way to spend time with The Lord! For many years now, I have loved breakfast. The following, in no particular order, are some reflections on the great and various “meanings” of breakfast.
Breakfast is a great equalizer. It reminds us of our common humanity and of our shared need. As at the end of the day we all need sleep, so at the start, most need breakfast. Everyone’s on an equal playing field. Just as we all catch a cold, bathe, change our socks, sing to music when no one’s around. Kings and queens and soldiers and CEOs and even school kids need breakfast. My 6th grade science fair project was entitled “Does Eating Breakfast Affect Test Scores?” The results were paltry, the methods juvenile, but the subject worthy. For those who would prefer a fancy meal, it no longer remains simply breakfast. A champagne brunch—eighty dollars per plate at the Hotel del Coronado—trespasses upon the basic definition of breakfast: you’ve introduced dinner items (champagne) and have given it a new name (brunch)—a different breed altogether. Even my favorite breakfast, a unique entity called an açaí bowl—a South American berry smoothie with granola, honey and fruit, dusted with bee pollen—still only runs around seven dollars on average. Like all equalizers, we’re reminded that without food, we could not live. Even God, when he lived a human life, ate bread (Jn 21:9) and fish and honeycomb (Lk 24:22). The week before Passover, he spent one of the last mornings of his earthly life climbing the Temple Mount in search of figs, to no avail (Mk 11:12 ff).
Breakfast is strange, and it reminds us of our common strangeness. Men make talk in the tongues of angels (1 Cor 13:1) but at the kitchen table we’re reminded of our animal nature. Some items we’ve stolen from their respective owners: cows’ milk, and honey from bees, and chicken eggs. Or we eat the owner himself—from the Three Little Pigs we have three options: sausage, bacon, or Canadian bacon. Being the last Friday before lent, this morning is a breakfast opportunity not to be wasted, unless you’re planning on eating capybara. Some items we’ve gathered: By boat, we have fruits from the farthest forests of the world that are eaten whole, squeezed into juices, or spread into jams. Of course we also drink a black bean-drink, piping hot from Colombia, which we can neither grow on our own soil nor dream of living without. We have wheat cooked in so many varieties: breads and muffins and bagels. And when we’re feeling inventive, we begin combing food groups such as cereal, pieces of wheat floating in milk that have a strict time limit for their consumption. There’s also yogurt (milk and bacteria), pancakes (wheat, milk, and baking powder), even goetta (pork and oats).
Breakfast is unassuming. It’s an environment of its own yet flexible within these parameters. Normally it’s a small meal, even the French don’t give it a name of its own, petit déjeuner, little lunch. After waking up, we may need some silence with the newspaper. Even kids end up reading the cereal boxes. Real business is reserved for the lunch hour, and family arguments more often occur at the dinner table, but we create needed barriers to keep breakfast breakfast.
Breakfast is realistic. In winter months we make hot items to fortify us before bracing the cold commute. At the beginning of the day, breakfast prepares us to face reality, to be slowly reintroduced to it after slumber. The most important event to ever happen would happen in the morning, telling us to awake and see and tell the others, “He is risen!” I sometimes imagine what the apostles were up to when the women ran to them from the tomb. Sure they were “hiding,” but maybe they were just finishing breakfast. Maybe John and Peter cast their breakfast bowls aside before running to see for themselves (Jn 20:3-4).
So, breakfast is a funny and necessary ritual, something repeated daily that gives meaning to our lives. There’s a great montage from the documentary Life In A Day with people around the world making breakfast. It displays all their first responses to the gratuitous gift of a new day, with a touch of silence and community and some portion of the fruits of the earth.
If you find this post a bit bizarre, it is just a small attempt to exercise what G.K. Chesterton called “the wonder of the ordinary.” Perhaps you, the reader, are next. Maybe you’ll reconsider items such as shoes, pockets, or water, maybe even next-door neighbors—the people living 30 feet away from us whom we hardly know. Then we might learn to look again at things that matter most, like the other people in own our lives, long grown overly familiar to us; or even Jesus himself, who not only valued a hearty breakfast, but knew how to look at all around him as new.
Image: An Açaí Bowl